Return To The Valley Of The Wrinklies

Page 7 of 9 Previous  1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9  Next

View previous topic View next topic Go down

Season 19 - Castrovalva

Post by Frank on Sun Oct 04, 2009 2:17 am



Castrovalva

January 1982

A little preamble before I get into the story proper.

When the first episode of Castrovalva went out on the 4th January 1982, the Doctor Who landscape had shifted. Not only did we have a younger actor taking on the role, in the form of Peter Davison, but the programme itself had been uprooted from the traditional Saturday tea time slot and was now sitting in a twice weekday position in the schedules. Whether this was something that Nathan-Turner had planned or whether it was foisted upon him from the upper echelons of the BBC, the effect on viewing figures was dramatic and it introduced a wider audience to the show.

Consequently, from this point on we start to see the programme begin a further transformation into, some would argue, a 'soap' format. Personally, I think it took on the flavour of 'Morecambe And Wise With Monsters', to paraphrase a recent debate, but I'll talk about that much later. Just keep an eye on the guest casting from here on as it's certainly Nathan-Turner wearing his 'light entertainment' and 'variety' hats in earnest.

Oh, and Eric Saward took on the job of script-editor. More of him later.

Anyway. Where were we? Oh, yes. The Doctor fell off a radio telescope in foiling the Master's diabolical plan to subjugate the Universe, regenerated and acquired three companions. Cue Peter Davison. Or Davidson as some irritating people kept saying at the time. Castrovalva picks up where Logopolis left off and carries forward many of Bidmead's themes from Logopolis - namely block transfer computation and recursion and the abstract philosophical implications they bring into the story. Bidmead, wanting to inject some hard science into the series, does tend to make things a little dry for the palate but the concepts are not just a vital spark within the story. They also inform us about the series as a whole, the structure of story telling, the repeated ideas being used and the importance of the will.

There is a great focus here on both Nyssa and Tegan as they try to pilot the TARDIS whilst the Doctor literally unravels himself as he progresses deeper and deeper into the ship. The theme of the hero disintegrating and then re-emerging in a new form is central to this depiction of regeneration. A lot of this actually paraphrases a very popular text of the time - Joseph Campbell's 'Hero With A Thousand Faces' - which places the Doctor as a mythical figure rather than a bog standard SF hero. Campbell's notion of 'apotheosis' - the hero's ego being disintegrated in a breakthrough expansion of consciousness - seems perfectly in tune with the idea of the Doctor's regeneration here. He also goes on to say that quite frequently the hero's idea of reality is changed; the hero may find an ability to do new things or to see a larger point of view, allowing the hero to sacrifice himself anew. Indeed, the Doctor has defeated the Master, disintegrates, shows flashes of his former selves and then is reconstituted. And on a larger scale, you could see each Doctor's era as a form of apotheosis - certainly with Davison we have his era bookended by two remarkable stories; this and Caves Of Androzani. The latter is very much about a final sacrifice for the hero.

For two episodes, we also get to see much more of the TARDIS and we see the Zero Room. A story which reduces the hero to zero, then? This really is about starting from scratch isn't it? From literal unravelling and disrobing of the Fourth Doctor in the TARDIS to nothing and back again as the Fifth Doctor emerges from the Zero Room. And zero implies - year zero, ground zero - the TARDIS falling back to Event One and the hydrogen in-rush and the beginning of everything. The TARDIS interior here is very much a different proposition than that depicted in Invasion Of Time for example. Here, we see the rooms of the occupants and former occupants and a cricket pavillion. But all streamlined into the white corridors and roundels that again become a visual trope in this era. No swimming pools, old Victorian hospitals shot on location this time. No siree!

I really like the relationship established here between Tegan and Nyssa. They are companions in adversity and play a dominant role on the first three episodes at least whilst the Doctor and Adric are very much the male characters skirting round the edges of the their relationship, either impaired and weak, or captured and subjugated. Davison is much more confident here and it was probably a very good idea to schedule this story later in the production block. Compare him here to the rather nervous and tentative version he gives us in Four To Doomsday. The Doctor, a hero, is not only disintegrated and transformed, but his position as the lead character is also changed. The series becomes an ensemble piece rather than about the Doctor and companion. This also ties in with the vulnerability that Davison brings to the role. He's a fallible hero rather than the know-it-all super ego of the Tom Baker days. Does this change of emphasis drain the vitality out of the character, I wonder? Is the Doctor too concerned with 'getting down with the kids' from this point on?

And so to Castrovalva itself, as a place. Considering the time it was made, I think the town square set, the costumes and the lighting are the real triumphs here. It's a magical place but director Fiona Cumming also manages to imbue the setting with a listless, will-less atmosphere entirely in keeping with the machinations of the Master. The location filming is also rather exceptional too, again imbued with a misty, languid aura despite its lushness. Cumming also gets good value for money out of Michael Sheard and Derek Waring. The dawning realisation that both Mergrave and Shardovan have, that they're phantoms being manipulated in an unreal world, is beautifully played by them both. And Shardovan's will to shatter the illusion brings the Moebius loop narrative to a satisfyingly dramatic conclusion. Certainly, the ensemble playing from Davision, Sutton, Fielding and the guest cast are one of the strengths of the story. And the scene between the little girl and the Doctor where she shows him how to count is one of great subtle power that stands out in the final two episodes.

Anthony Ainley is still hanging on in there with a half-decent characterisation of the Master and the use of disguise here is still fresh and it's only later that he'll become a caricature, 'hehehehehehehe-ing' his way rather boringly through several average stories. He's pretty good as the Portreve but the whole disguise thing does go on to be a load of old nonsense in the end, doesn't it? As a shell in which to hide on this block transfer computation of a world, it works fine, but it just becomes a pointless exercise in future stories. And Davison does some passable imitations of his predecessors (and imitation and disguise are a central theme in Castrovalva and the way it dovetails into those theories I've been babbling on about recently - the original, the copy of the original etc ). It's certainly one of many hallmarks of the Nathan-Turner period - repetition, flashback, imitation - to the point where it would seem the Doctor Who text is beginning to eat itself. The Master's trap - the block transfer computation of a fictional town on the planet of Castrovalva, itself a recreation of the Escher print - is just another instance of the way the series, from this point on, starts to fold in on itself.

So, not at all a bad start for the new series in 1982. Refreshingly different, full of lovely ideas and concepts and a promising debut for Davison. But with three companions and a Doctor in the TARDIS, it's impossible to sustain and whilst everyone gets a fair crack of the whip here, it's easy to see that keeping character development going is going to be a bit of a strain. The cracks will soon start to show.

DVD Features:

- Commentary from actors Peter Davison and Janet Fielding, plus director Fiona Cumming and writer Christopher H. Bidmead
- Being Doctor Who - Peter Davison discusses his casting and time as the Fifth Doctor (13 mins)
- Directing Castrovalva - Fiona Cumming talks about directing Peter Davison's debut story (11 mins)
- The Crowded TARDIS - by the end of Tom Baker's tenure, the TARDIS crew had grown from the usual one companion to three. This featurette examines the reasons behind this change of direction. Featuring actors Tom Baker, Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton, director John Black and script editor Christopher H. Bidmead. Narrated by George Williams (11 mins)
- Blue Peter - Peter Davison - Peter Davison interviewed on the popular children's magazine show
- Swap Shop - Peter Davison - Noel Edmonds interviews Peter Davison, with questions phoned in from young viewers (20 mins)
- Deleted Scenes- two deleted scenes from the story
- Theme Music Video - a brand new remix of Peter Howell's version of the theme music for the series, exclusively remixed from the original multitrack master. Option to listen to the music in either stereo (default) or Dolby Digital 5.1 surround versions

NEW BEGINNINGS - 3 disc set (BBCDVD1331, Region 2, Released 22nd January 2007)


Last edited by Frank on Mon Feb 01, 2010 9:22 am; edited 1 time in total
avatar
Frank
Justified and ancient

Number of posts : 922
Age : 55
Location : Over the rainbow
Awards :

Registration date : 2008-11-03

View user profile http://www.cathoderaytube.blogspot.com

Back to top Go down

Season 19 - Four To Doomsday

Post by Frank on Mon Feb 01, 2010 9:21 am

We haven't had a bit of classic Who for some time and now the hoo-ha has started to die down from the conclusion of the RTD era I think it's time we got back to the original series whilst we wait for Matt Smith to grace our screens.



Four To Doomsday

January 1982

"I wouldn't dream of interfering with your monopticons!"

After the sophisticated understatement of Castrovalva, Four To Doomsday comes as a bit of shock, really. It's a very confused and confusing production and is rather shown up by its predecessor in the season. Overall, its a frustrating 'throw enough ideas at the wall and see what works' kind of story that one minute you're left feeling utterly underwhelmed by it and the next excited when something interesting actually happens.

Most of all, it feels like a throwback to the Hartnell days and with Terence Dudley scripting it suddenly dawns on you that perhaps he still thinks that this series is the same one he knew from the 1960s and that taking this approach will do. Arguably, this is the first serious mis-step by Nathan-Turner since Meglos and that was directed by...Terence Dudley. JNT: Note to self, avoid using Mr. Dudley.

It resembles The Ark in its peculiarly anachronistic feel despite the talk of microchips and research labs. The plot is bonkers: a big alien frog is heading for Earth aboard a huge ship. On board he has a population of native Australians, South Americans, Chinese and a Greek philosopher and they're androids. The frog plans to shrink the population of Earth and use the planet to make a load of silicon chips. His ultimate plan is to go back in time and meet God. And it's about the relative merits of freedom under tyranny or something...the surveillance society...and stuff and has lots of traditional dancing bits too.

And talking of dancing, most of the story seems to be padded out with various displays of traditional ethnic performance. It's almost like a variety show has turned up in the wrong studio and the performers have wandered into the set. I kept expecting to see Bruce Forsyth appear, muttering 'Good game, good game!'

You do kind of wonder who that blonde haired, young chap is that's wandered into the story. He seems to have been offered the part of the Doctor and spends quite a bit of time actually thinking someone's made a terrible mistake. It's plain that Davison really hadn't figured out what he was going to do with this. Unlike the previous incumbents in the role, who all more or less arrived and turned up the 'eccentric' oscillator switch to 100% and then spent the next three to seven years reducing and refining its effects to achieve their desired performance, Davison does the opposite. He switches off the eccentricity and the effect is an occasionally spiky blandness and an insecurity about how to deliver certain lines. Yet, by the end of Castrovalva he seemed to have figured it out. Pity then that Doomsday was actually recorded before that story and let loose on an audience before he really understood what he was doing.

Not only is Davison not quite hitting his mark but there's a bit of a struggle going on between the three actors playing the companions as to just who the heck they are. Tegan begins her two and half seasons worth of moaning here and slaps the TARDIS console around quite a bit, Adric does a complete volte face and becomes a naive little fascist and doesn't even notice how ridiculous he is and Nyssa goes ga-ga for androids. All sterotypical, broad brush strokes that tend to get repeated throughout this and other seasons when the script-writing gets a bit woolly and they're stuck trying to come up for stuff for three companions. To keep one companion, Mr Producer, may be regarded as fortunate; to keep three seems like over-indulgence.

Despite its mediocrity, there are some things to enjoy. Stratford Johns is rather delicious as the evil frog-god Monarch and the bobbly green make up looks good even today and Paul Shelley as henchman Persuasion displays some sinister comic timing. The set design by Tony Burrough is actually the main attraction here and is a visual treat but it seems so wasted on a rather standard story like this. The biggest disappointment is John Black's direction. He triumphed with The Keeper Of Traken but here he makes little effort to make a dull script better, engage the audience and to curb some of the pointless shouting matches between the regular characters. The effects are so-so, with the monopticons a minor triumph whilst the space-walk sequence involving Davison and a cricket ball, setting off those 'bad science in Doctor Who' alarms at full blast, is a little bit of a CSO nightmare as well.

But in the end this is full of unrealised ideas, trendy for the day science and has a final trouncing of Monarch that's such an underwhelming non-event you wondered just why they bothered. No wonder Nyssa passes out at the end...it must be exhausting to be so bland for nearly 90 minutes.

DVD Special Features

Commentary - With Peter Davison, Janet Fielding, John Black and Matthew Waterhouse. As per usual with Fielding, she is none too complimentary about the story or the show and Waterhouse can very often come across as irritating. Davision demonstrates what a good 'company' man he must have been having to deal with these two whilst making the show.
Studio Recording - Enjoyable look behind the scenes with raw studio footage from Davison's first day in the studio and showing how pressurised it was making the show. You can find out how they moved their monopticons too.
Saturday Night At The Mill - Early bit of PR from Peter Davison on the weekend variant of Pebble Mill chat show. Also involves making milk shakes. Yes, you read that.
Theme Music Remix - It's 5.1 remix time again.
Photo Gallery - Maintains the high standard of previous DVDs if you're into collections of publicity stills, design reference material and Stratford Johns looking like a frog.
Info text, Radio Times Listings, Coming Soon trailer for The War Machines.

Four To Doomsday (BBCDVD2431 - Region 2 DVD - Cert PG - Released 15th September 2008)
avatar
Frank
Justified and ancient

Number of posts : 922
Age : 55
Location : Over the rainbow
Awards :

Registration date : 2008-11-03

View user profile http://www.cathoderaytube.blogspot.com

Back to top Go down

Re: Return To The Valley Of The Wrinklies

Post by The Co=Ordinator on Mon Feb 01, 2010 10:27 am

An epitome of Bidmead Bullschit. Very Happy

_________________
avatar
The Co=Ordinator
Tony the CyberAdmin

Number of posts : 11054
Age : 58
Location : On a box, in TC7, long long ago..........
Awards :


Registration date : 2008-11-03

View user profile

Back to top Go down

Re: Return To The Valley Of The Wrinklies

Post by Patrick on Mon Feb 01, 2010 11:02 am

The Co=Ordinator wrote:An epitome of Bidmead Bullschit. Very Happy

I thought Bidmead was gone from the show by this time. Or did he commission Four To Doomsday before he left?

_________________

Check Out My Book:
Licence: Reviewed, 50 Years Of James Bond Movies
Dr. No through Skyfall


Now Available On:
AMAZON (for Kindle Readers); BARNES & NOBLE (for Nook Readers);  Apple iTunes (for iBooks on Mac or iOS); and KOBO  (for Kobo Book Readers)


What Are You Doing Here?
avatar
Patrick
Fast-Living Admin

Number of posts : 7956
Age : 50
Location : 5,900 feet above sea level
Awards :


Registration date : 2008-11-04

View user profile

Back to top Go down

Re: Return To The Valley Of The Wrinklies

Post by stanmore on Mon Feb 01, 2010 11:52 am

Patrick wrote:
The Co=Ordinator wrote:An epitome of Bidmead Bullschit. Very Happy

I thought Bidmead was gone from the show by this time. Or did he commission Four To Doomsday before he left?

According to Brief History of Time Travel, he did commission Four to Doomsday, but at the time it was described as "a satire on bureaucracy and megalomania"... It was probably very different from how Bidmead originally envisaged.
avatar
stanmore
Justified and ancient

Number of posts : 1669
Age : 33
Location : wishing you peace
Awards :

Registration date : 2008-11-07

View user profile

Back to top Go down

Re: Return To The Valley Of The Wrinklies

Post by Zoltar on Mon Feb 01, 2010 6:40 pm

Great to see this thread back. Smile

_________________
Wrinkles should merely indicate where smiles have been.
-Mark Twain
avatar
Zoltar
Caring Mod

Number of posts : 5371
Age : 46
Location : The wilds of New Jersey
Awards :


Registration date : 2008-11-07

View user profile

Back to top Go down

Re: Return To The Valley Of The Wrinklies

Post by Patrick on Tue Feb 02, 2010 7:09 am

Zoltar wrote:Great to see this thread back. Smile

Great to see Frank back.
Very Happy

_________________

Check Out My Book:
Licence: Reviewed, 50 Years Of James Bond Movies
Dr. No through Skyfall


Now Available On:
AMAZON (for Kindle Readers); BARNES & NOBLE (for Nook Readers);  Apple iTunes (for iBooks on Mac or iOS); and KOBO  (for Kobo Book Readers)


What Are You Doing Here?
avatar
Patrick
Fast-Living Admin

Number of posts : 7956
Age : 50
Location : 5,900 feet above sea level
Awards :


Registration date : 2008-11-04

View user profile

Back to top Go down

Re: Return To The Valley Of The Wrinklies

Post by Zoltar on Tue Feb 02, 2010 8:07 pm

Patrick wrote:Great to see Frank back.
Very Happy
Yes indeed. Very Happy

_________________
Wrinkles should merely indicate where smiles have been.
-Mark Twain
avatar
Zoltar
Caring Mod

Number of posts : 5371
Age : 46
Location : The wilds of New Jersey
Awards :


Registration date : 2008-11-07

View user profile

Back to top Go down

Re: Return To The Valley Of The Wrinklies

Post by The Co=Ordinator on Tue Feb 02, 2010 11:20 pm

Yeah, but have you seen his front? affraid Laughing Laughing

_________________
avatar
The Co=Ordinator
Tony the CyberAdmin

Number of posts : 11054
Age : 58
Location : On a box, in TC7, long long ago..........
Awards :


Registration date : 2008-11-03

View user profile

Back to top Go down

Re: Return To The Valley Of The Wrinklies

Post by Frank on Wed Feb 03, 2010 7:32 am

Pleased that my return has been hailed! Apologies for not being a regular visitor or poster here over the last six months but I'm a victim of my own success at the moment and tend to spend a fair bit of time writing stuff for the blog.

But now that the RTD era has drawn to a close and we wait for that Smith/Moffat era to begin I've a bit more time to post reviews of Classic Who back on here too.

More to come. 'Kinda' by the weekend!
avatar
Frank
Justified and ancient

Number of posts : 922
Age : 55
Location : Over the rainbow
Awards :

Registration date : 2008-11-03

View user profile http://www.cathoderaytube.blogspot.com

Back to top Go down

Re: Return To The Valley Of The Wrinklies

Post by The Co=Ordinator on Wed Feb 03, 2010 8:22 am

Oh no - not Kinda...........................................

_________________
avatar
The Co=Ordinator
Tony the CyberAdmin

Number of posts : 11054
Age : 58
Location : On a box, in TC7, long long ago..........
Awards :


Registration date : 2008-11-03

View user profile

Back to top Go down

Re: Return To The Valley Of The Wrinklies

Post by Zoltar on Wed Feb 03, 2010 6:48 pm

Frank wrote:Pleased that my return has been hailed! Apologies for not being a regular visitor or poster here over the last six months but I'm a victim of my own success at the moment and tend to spend a fair bit of time writing stuff for the blog.

But now that the RTD era has drawn to a close and we wait for that Smith/Moffat era to begin I've a bit more time to post reviews of Classic Who back on here too.

More to come. 'Kinda' by the weekend!
Looking forward to it. Smile

_________________
Wrinkles should merely indicate where smiles have been.
-Mark Twain
avatar
Zoltar
Caring Mod

Number of posts : 5371
Age : 46
Location : The wilds of New Jersey
Awards :


Registration date : 2008-11-07

View user profile

Back to top Go down

Season 19 - Kinda

Post by Frank on Sat Feb 06, 2010 6:47 am



Kinda

February 1982

“You can’t mend people!”

This is an odd one. It divides opinion, I suspect.

OK, let's get the problems out of the way first - it's the one with the silly pink snake (box ticked) and lots of extras in brown tan and grass skirts (box ticked) and a final box ticking, when let's face it, with it being an all studio based story its production design doesn't hold up well in some instances. Whilst the studio bound jungle can just past muster in some scenes, you are drawn to the fact that the studio floor has just been littered with pot plants and dead leaves and no amount of those can give you the impression that you're seeing events take place in a very dense tropical jungle. The Dome is also a bit slung together with odd bits of stock scenery we've seen before, although there are some good laboratory sets and corridors, but it's horribly overlit. After the subtlety of the lighting and design in Castrovalva and the superb production design in Four To Doomsday this is a bit of a let down.

However, you should forgive it these sins because there's a stunning script, some extraordinary and symbolic themes and metaphors and several brilliant performances that make Kinda into one of the most rewarding of atypical Doctor Who stories. It's clear the Bidmead modus operandi is still in force, even though by now Eric Saward was script editing, and you could see this as a synthesis of all the changes that have occurred to the series since 1980. Despite its production limitations there's a palpable atmosphere to the story with a boiling hothouse of psychological mind games layered into the narrative.

Kinda as a script is overburdened with ideas and is really trying much too hard to be many things: a Garden Of Eden/Genesis parable; a post-colonial satire; a Buddhist inspired psycho-drama...and it clumsily flashes up all the symbolism in none too subtle a way and this is probably because director Peter Grimwade has made the decision to do as much of that with the visuals as he tries to do with the actors performances. He pulls off a bit more than he can chew here whilst some of it is really innovative (the use of early video processing effects) some of it is downright clunky (the TSS mobile armour, the snake).

The story takes the relationship between self and other, between the knowable and the unknowable, one of the series' overall obsessions, in fact, and we see it symbolised through the eyes of a major character, Tegan. This is a story about Tegan's repressed desires (the dark forces from the inside) being manifested in the outside world and what effect they have on the balance of nature and power. This is a philosophical debate between the unbridled knowledge, knowledge as power, the innate natural, ego-less power and energy of the Kinda as opposed to the technologically boxed in, repressed, anxious energy of the 'not-we' colonists. There are a lot of boxes in Kinda - the TSS mobile armour, the box of Jhana, the 'wicker' version of the TSS made by the possessed Aris, the Dome and its holding cells and indeed Tegan's mind. And they are all about holding in energy - whether destructive or healing.

The focus on Tegan's journey is very welcome as it gives Janet Fielding a particularly good opportunity to shine. She's quite superb in this story and it's only spoilt by some unnecessary bickering between her and Adric towards the end. And I'm glad that writer Christopher Bailey was commissioned to explore the after-effects of her possession in Snakedance for instance as we rarely get to see the after effects of an experience on a member of the TARDIS crew. Her lasciviousness as the Mara-possessed Tegan, the portrayal of a companion's sexualised self allowed to create anarchy amongst the Kinda, is something that the series rarely, if ever, touched upon in any depth and it's ironic that after this interesting treatment of a companion's repressed ego the series avoids any further exploration of the companion as a character and increasingly treats the female companions as window dressing ('for the dads' was the excuse that was always trundled out) or asexual children until the introduction of Ace, I suppose.

The obvious symbols - characterised by Todd (the typically repressed female boffin in white coat and specs), Sanders (unsympathetic pith helmeted colonial bully), Karuna and Panna (the wise old crone/young acolyte) - tend to lack subtlety but I do like the way that the Doctor is portrayed as the ‘fool’ here as it does dovetail with the vulnerability and innocence that Davison starts to imbue the character with. The inter-play between Davison and Nerys Hughes is flirty but full of mutual respect and Todd would have made a refreshing addition to the crew if John Nathan Turner hadn't been so determined to occupy the TARDIS with three child like companions. It’s almost as if Liz Shaw has been marooned on Deva Loka. Davison certainly cements his playing of the Doctor with this story and offers a nuanced performance.

Towering over all of this is of course Simon Rouse’s bravura appearance as Hindle. Both Rouse and Fielding are the two powerhouses running through the story – Tegan as the unshared mind, dreaming and opening herself up to ‘mind-rape’ by the Mara and thus freeing her ego, Hindle as the delusional, id-driven, broken man, repressed and repressing. Rouse truly acts his socks off here and really does manage to give you the world as seen through Hindle’s paranoid eyes. A world of invisible threats, dangerous plants, where you shoot first and ask questions later simply because you refuse to make any comprehension of the world you’ve ended up in. He is clearly the story's interpretation of the psychological dead end of colonial imperialism along with the blustering Sanders, an equally intriguing turn from film veteran Richard Todd, whose name conjures up all sorts of 'Sanders Of The River' redundant colonialist associations.

And this story owes a huge amount to our old friend the New Romantics. The then creative explosion in pop video production is reflected in Grimwade's treatment of the journey into Tegan’s mind. It is a stunningly rich visual moment as the camera zooms in on her eye, the image pixelates into darkness and we find ourselves in a 1980s Visage pop-video. It might look primitive now but then it was a true sign that the surface as depth televisual qualities of music video had been embraced fully by the series with a director pushing as hard as he can to reflect the ever-proliferating video culture of the time.

The ‘wherever’ that Tegan finds herself in seems to be a polar reflection of the TARDIS and its crew. The game of draughts as played out by the crew at the start of the story becomes a high contrast nightmare complete with a bizarre structure that must be some sort of anti-TARDIS. And everyone seems to be wearing Steve Strange’s cast-offs. I think it’s an arresting sequence, playing with our expectations, subverting the typical TARDIS arrival scene, and in a rare psychological exploration digging around in Tegan's psyche. The prophecy sequence later in the story, where the release of the Mara threatens to re-start the ‘wheel of time’ is less successful. All sorts of time-pieces end up being used to rather crudely symbolise this idea but again Grimwade pushes it visually with video trickery, a load of dry ice and plenty of Dutch angles to suggest the imminent end of everything if the Mara gets its way.

The conclusion is unfortunately rather a damp squib because the whole thing is building up to such a fever pitch that I think trying to make the darkness of the Mara a tangible thing - a huge snake - was rather doomed to failure anyway. The rather dreadful pink snake with a floppy jaw is one of those instances, similarly with the awful Skarasen puppet in Terror of The Zygons, where a poor visual effect prevents a story from attaining its true status. Grimwade and company should have left the threat as unseen, unknowable but I suspect the feeling was the show must have its monsters and monsters it indeed got!

Kinda isn’t about religion (e.g the parallels with Buddhism). It’s about you, me, us. It’s about how we face outwardly into the world, how we deal with the unknown sides of our personalities, our repressions and our fears. Our own Mara. The colonial theme is a bit obvious really (relying on Conrad's Heart Of Darkness perhaps) in the serial's positioning of Western thinking in opposition to Eastern thinking perhaps but it’s more about what makes for a healthy mind, an actualised self-hood, in a world that threatens to engulf us in chaos and darkness.

For me, this is a richly themed, highly theatrical, story with much visual inventiveness that’s capable of rewarding the viewer on repeated viewings. It’s certainly one of the best scripts to be produced under the Doctor Who banner and concludes a period of the show where exciting, complex ideas could be realised in abstract ways both dramatically and tele-visually.

Kinda (BBCV5432 - Pal VHS - Cert U - Released October 1994 - Deleted)

All four episodes now available to purchase on iTunes.


Last edited by Frank on Tue Mar 02, 2010 4:11 pm; edited 1 time in total
avatar
Frank
Justified and ancient

Number of posts : 922
Age : 55
Location : Over the rainbow
Awards :

Registration date : 2008-11-03

View user profile http://www.cathoderaytube.blogspot.com

Back to top Go down

Season 19 - The Visitation

Post by Frank on Tue Mar 02, 2010 4:10 pm



February 1982

‘You’re being a very stupid woman’

‘That isn’t a very original observation’

Eric Saward’s first script for the series is a fairly old-fashioned, rather gentle affair when you compare it to what he has in store for us later in the series. This was striking in 1982 because it was the first story with an historical setting for some considerable time and harked back to the successful formula of, for example, The Time Warrior where science fiction and historical pastiche fused together.

It opens directly with a 17th Century sequence in which ‘something’ lays siege to a manor house. It’s a nicely judged scene, full of atmosphere and menace, lovely period detail and sympathetic lighting. The brief sequence is well played by the guest artists, including John Savident, and Paddy Kingsland's music isn't too intrusive here. It’s a good start.

However, it’s badly let down with yet another ‘let’s have an argument in the TARDIS’ scene that follows on with the Doctor coming across as a harassed parent dealing with unruly argumentative teenagers. Davison’s performance is pretty much on the mark here as he’s managed to synthesise the ‘old man in young man’s body’ aspect of this portrayal. He’s also rather unsympathetic towards them, echoing Hartnell’s tetchiness, and it’s clear that there isn’t room for three companions because it will lead to similar scenes lumbered with bad writing and characterisation. Something’s got to give eventually.

Once you get the TARDIS crew out of the TARDIS the situation rapidly improves. The plot gets going with the Doctor finding the empty manor-house and slowly becoming embroiled in the machinations of the criminal Terileptils. The location work is superb, imbuing the story with a true sense of Englishness, giving the story a chance to expand beyond the confines of a studio based story like Kinda. The Richard Mace character is really charismatic, helped by Michael Robbins' performance, and the partnership with the Doctor is witty yet archly cynical.

At the time I was all for dumping the other three companions and just having Mace and the Doctor travelling through time together. It was refreshing in comparison to the rather unsympathetic trio of Tegan, Adric and Nyssa who are all clamouring for space in the script with only Tegan and Nyssa really getting any good coverage in the story. One of the other problems here is that the actors are stumbling to give consistent performances and a number of scenes are woefully wooden. Only Davison, Robbins and Michael Melia, as the Terileptil leader, consistently hold this together with their performances.

It’s also significant as the story in which the decision to get rid of that ‘get out of jail free’ card – the sonic screwdriver - was made. Was it a good decision? At the time it was assumed it would force the writers to come up with better solutions to the various dilemmas in each story and was probably a wise move. However, compare it to the super-fetishisation of the sonic screwdriver in the current series and you can see that actually the writers only used the device sparingly in the classic series. It’s certainly something the new series should consider but I guess the marketing boys wouldn’t be happy. Its demise can either be seen as yet another element of Nathan-Turner’s radicalisation of the format or a cynical action to grab press and fan attention. A brave decision that eventually kept the prop out of the series until 1996 and in a way was a small but pivotal development of the Doctor’s vulnerability under Davison’s tenure.

I’ve always liked the Terileptils too. A noble, warrior race quite subtly brought to life in the script with nifty bits of world-building (refugees of the tinclavic mines of Raga, indeed) and Michael Melia’s performance giving them a world weary sense of desperation upon finding themselves on 17th Century Earth and struggling to survive. Again Melia and Davison play off each other very well and the debate about the rationale for war and existence, power and genocide doesn’t descend into a slanging match. It’s a measured and spirited discussion, each manoeuvering into their moral positions with righteous indignation. It’s rather beautiful in its simplicity and it gives the ‘monster of the week’ eloquence and intelligence as well as overweening pride in their superiority.

And it's good monster design too that helps convince the audience. Yes, it's obviously a man in suit but back in 1982 it was rather impressive to see the series using animatronics for movement of the mouth and gills. It added dimension to what would normally be half-masks or full masks that would only work depending on how well they were made and how good the actor was inside them. Even now it still looks reasonably good and with Melia's performance managing to get out from behind the mask, the Terileptil leader is a convincing character.

However, there are often moments of sloppiness in the script. It’s particularly the ending that doesn’t work because as we all know the Terileptil’s ship is still sitting there even after Nyssa’s comment about giving future archaeologists a bit of a headache during the Pudding Lane in flames scenes. More than just a headache I would presume, Mr. Saward. Perhaps we can ret-con it and assume that an early version of Torchwood sequestered the technology.

Peter Moffatt’s direction is a tad lacklustre. ‘Inoffensive’ would be the word and this shows up in some of the blocking and fight sequences where a more dynamic director would have given us something more vital, I feel. He’s not good at action and has a tendency to lock off the camera and just let the actors get on with it. There are less visual flourishes here than in, say, State Of Decay where he managed to pep up the visuals and found a style that was complimentary to the script. However, this version of 17th Century looks good and the Pudding Lane sequences, especially the TARDIS arrival sequence, offer a sense of scale to the story and are well lit and realised. It’s just Tegan trying to brain one of the Terileptils in the fight sequence that doesn’t quite convince and these sequences seem a little hampered by poor choreography.

It’s the beginning of a new phase for the series with Saward looking to move the show into action adventure and phase out 'think pieces' like Kinda and Warriors' Gate. For better or worse, it’s here I think that a kind of blandness begins to set in to the series perhaps related to its weekday 'soap' timeslot and the attempt at establishing a 'family' ensemble cast out of the Doctor and his companions but briefly and sweetly The Visitation was a momentary breath of fresh air.

DVD Special Features:

As usual the Restoration Team work their magic and spruce up the picture and sound. The DVD also offers a number of features.

* Commentary - with director Peter Moffatt and cast members Davison, Sutton, Fielding and Waterhouse. Peter Davison and Janet Fielding have no compunction about taking the wee out of themselves, their performances and the show. Matthew Waterhouse chips in occasionally but would rather obsess about having his hands in his pockets and very annoyingly read out the cast and crew names at the end of the episodes.
* Directing Who - a 25 minute featurette on Moffat's work as director.
* Writing A Final Visitation - a brief recollection from Eric Saward about the script, its development and what influenced him to write it. Gin, I presume.
* Scoring The Visitation - one of those rare occasions when one of the series' composers gets a look in. Paddy Kingsland briefly offers some analysis into this particular score.
* Music-only option - Paddy Kingsland's score as an isolated track. Much as I love the work of Kingsland et al on Doctor Who at this time there was still a tendency to over score the episodes. Still, a lot of this is suitably atmospheric.
* Film Trims - a collection of additional dialogue and shots cut from the episodes.
* Photo Gallery - rather a mediocre collection of stills this time. Could have been quite extensive considering a whole book, Doctor Who The Making Of A Television Series (Alan Road, Puffin 1982) was written on the season and this story and was chock full of images. A PDF version would have be nice.
* Production Subtitles - always fun to watch in combination with the audio commentary and, as usual, full of trivia about the story.

The Visitation (BBCDVD1329 - Region 2 DVD - Cert PG - Released 19th January 2004)
avatar
Frank
Justified and ancient

Number of posts : 922
Age : 55
Location : Over the rainbow
Awards :

Registration date : 2008-11-03

View user profile http://www.cathoderaytube.blogspot.com

Back to top Go down

Re: Return To The Valley Of The Wrinklies

Post by The Co=Ordinator on Wed Mar 03, 2010 1:36 am

Nice review there young Frank. I have a soft spot for The Visitation mainly as a result of Michael Robbins wonderful performance. Like you I wanted him as a companion!

_________________
avatar
The Co=Ordinator
Tony the CyberAdmin

Number of posts : 11054
Age : 58
Location : On a box, in TC7, long long ago..........
Awards :


Registration date : 2008-11-03

View user profile

Back to top Go down

Re: Return To The Valley Of The Wrinklies

Post by Patrick on Wed Mar 03, 2010 7:07 am

I have a soft spot for Visitation, too. First off, I loved how it gave us a science fiction explanation for an historically significant event. And then there's the fact that only a couple of weeks after I watched it, my High School English Literature class was assigned to read the Diary of Samuel Pepys... who goes on at some length about the Great Fire of 1666.

Frank, once again your reviews are always appreciated.

_________________

Check Out My Book:
Licence: Reviewed, 50 Years Of James Bond Movies
Dr. No through Skyfall


Now Available On:
AMAZON (for Kindle Readers); BARNES & NOBLE (for Nook Readers);  Apple iTunes (for iBooks on Mac or iOS); and KOBO  (for Kobo Book Readers)


What Are You Doing Here?
avatar
Patrick
Fast-Living Admin

Number of posts : 7956
Age : 50
Location : 5,900 feet above sea level
Awards :


Registration date : 2008-11-04

View user profile

Back to top Go down

Season 19 - Black Orchid

Post by Frank on Mon Mar 08, 2010 9:55 am



March 1982

'It's fancy dress?'

'Yes'

'Well, we haven't got any costumes'

'Oh. I was just thinking how charming yours was.'

The first two-parter since 1975 and the first purely historical story (e.g. no science fiction elements except for the TARDIS and the Doctor) since The Highlanders, Terence Dudley's Black Orchid is much more than it seems.

On the surface it's fluffy, period drama and another of those quiet little stories in the vein of The Visitation. It has really lovely location filming, particularly the train station and the cricket match scenes and, despite some studio sequences suffering from being slightly over lit, the sumptuous production design for Cranleigh Hall is another example of that old adage 'period is what the BBC does best'.

It's also got a great guest cast. Barbara Murray, Moray Watson and Michael Cochrane all seem to get into the swing of things really well, with Murray and Watson especially bringing sophistication and experience to the story. The regulars all get a bit of time in the limelight too - Davison continuing to develop the vulnerable 'brother-figure' Doctor and flashing us in his dressing gown (anyone else get a little thrill from that sight of Doctor flesh?...not seen since Pertwee pranced around in the shower in Spearhead), Sarah Sutton at last gets something to do other than burble on about telebiogenesis, Janet Fielding does the Charleston and Matthew Waterhouse confirms that Adric is a greedy little gay boy after all. We'll get back to his 'crush' on the Doctor in Earthshock...

So just put aside for a moment all these fluffy bits and rather lovely, witty one-liners - much of it coming from the comedy displacement of the Doctor and crew adjusting to 1920s mores - and you'll find Orchid really is, at heart, very black. In fact, its hidden depths elevate it somewhat from its also-ran status for me. Yes, it can be a bit dull if you're not really in the mood for it but if you want to see an Agatha Christie whodunnit given a bleak Freudian twist then this is for you. And it's all so terribly, terribly English, don't you know - hence the cricket, the frocks and the English country house. Perhaps producer Nathan-Turner had one eye on the penchant for English nostalgia and the Brideshead market in the U.S.

Why so black? Well, the Cranleighs are a right weird bunch and Terence Dudley's script (definitely his best for the series) is an odd little tale rather out of time. He still thinks it's the 1960s, bless, so this does come over a little old-fashioned even for the 1980s. However, he goes all Gosford Park on us and you've got a mother locking up her own disfigured son George (there's a whole 'disfigurement in Doctor Who' vibe that this is plugging into), his fiancee decides to get engaged to his brother Lord Cranleigh and he has a sibling rivalry bordering on the Oedipal about all the attention that his brother George had. And what the heck are those ropes for in the bedroom?

So we've disfigurement, jealousy, sadism. Orchid is about surface respectability and the murkier depths of family shame being constantly in flux. It is about upper class manners being maintained in the face of encroaching liberalism (the Charleston was viewed as an outrageous dance), the English stiff upper lip (emulated literally by the Indians minding George) determination to maintain one's appearance despite all around you going to Hell.

There are masks and costumes that further add to the dislocation of the English veneer. Murder, dark emotions, death and blame are constantly being covered up, excused, put away or locked away. Could George be the personification of sexual madness - a man rendered inarticulate of his feelings, desire and senses? He has become bestial after his brush with the dark side of nature and he's been punished for his curiosity. If there is ever a story about the repressed British then this is it. It's like a dark version of the dinner party scene in Carry On Up The Khyber.

But Orchid isn't a comedy. This ends with the death of a deeply frustrated and physically and mentally scarred man whose mother locked him up to maintain her dignity. Murray really understands this aspect of the character and plays this confused woman - from accusing the Doctor of murder to the fragile funeral mourner - with great sensitivity. Sarah Sutton is also rather good as Ann Talbot/Nyssa. She manages to subtly create two separate characters within one frame and it shows you that with the right material she can deliver. The cockiness of Talbot, with English stuffiness and reserve despatched by George's molesting advances, and then Nyssa's genuine fear as the house starts to burn down is a fine showcase for Sutton's talents. Pity she didn't get any more stories like this.

Tegan is all flirty and shows off to great comic effect and Adric doesn't quite know how to handle all this girly stuff and finds great comfort in that other Freudian notion - rabid consumption - and diverts his carnality into clearing the dinner table. The Doctor ends up inviting all and sundry into the TARDIS to prove a point after a rather frustrating day nipping along secret passages (more Freudian imagery there) and finding natives with big lips strangled and dumped in cupboards. Passages, closets, bedrooms - it's all heavily symbolic and a deliberate homage to Dorothy L Sayers, Ellery Queen and Christie.

The harlequin is also a rather redolent symbol too - for it equally sums up the Doctor as a childish and capricious individual and George as a darker, confrontational force, unformed and unadjusted. The harlequin figure is the scene of tension throughout the story. Is he the good Doctor or is he the monster George...or is he both? And what of the 'Black Orchid' itself? Because it is black one assumes its symbolism is reversed and here instead of it being an emblem of fertility it is the opposite. It represents curiosity damned, procreation nullified. A flower with a double aspect - one which takes back what it gives.

With its two part format, juxtaposing of surface and depth, Black Orchid sits as a companion piece to the later The Awakening in some respects. Granted, there is no alien influence in Orchid save for the Doctor but there are themes in both that are complimentary, especially those concerning fertility. So despite it's often flippant tone, Orchid is a tight bundle of psycho-drama wrapped up in period packaging with a real sense of desolation at the conclusion. Certainly one of Davison's better stories and far subtler than the thud and blunder of Earthshock which would follow.

DVD Special Features
:
As usual the Restoration Team work their magic and spruce up the picture and sound. The film sequences here are particularly lush. So much so that the inclement weather in the party scenes is a really obvious continuity problem. The DVD also offers a number of features.
* Commentary - cast members Davison, Fielding and Waterhouse tear the story to shreds with Davison revealing a particular hatred of the script and the harlequin costume. Sutton appreciates the story more, especially as it gave her more to do. It's all in good spirit though even if they aren't that complimentary to what is at best a reasonably entertaining two episodes.
* Now And Then - Another of Richard Bignell's lovely day trips to to the locations.
* Points Of View - Great to see the witty Barry Took putting down the various complaints about the programme's timeslot and lack of good monsters.
* Film restoration - The Restoration Team offer a look at how their collection of feather dusters and Mr. Sheen makes the old footage sparkle like new.
* Blue Peter - Simon Groom and Sarah Greene visit Berman‘s and Nathan‘s in 1982, the film and television costumiers, and shuffle into a few sweat stained cossies from the series. Groom strips off to his underpants!
* Stripped For Action - The Fifth Doctor - Another in the continuing series of excellent documentaries that detail the comic book history of the series. The Fifth Doctor strips were always considered as some of the best ever done and this shows you why.
* Deleted scenes - If you like more dancing footage then you'll love it.
* Photo Gallery - adequate collection of stills with some lovely shots of Davison in cricket mode. I can see why he was embarrassed about the harlequin cossie judging by some of the publicity shots here. Some good design images too.
* Production Subtitles - quite brief and not quite as full of trivia this time round.
* Coming Soon, Radio Times listings and continuity...

Black Orchid (BBCDVD2432 - Region 2 DVD - Cert PG - Released 14th April 2008)
avatar
Frank
Justified and ancient

Number of posts : 922
Age : 55
Location : Over the rainbow
Awards :

Registration date : 2008-11-03

View user profile http://www.cathoderaytube.blogspot.com

Back to top Go down

Re: Return To The Valley Of The Wrinklies

Post by Dave Webb on Mon Mar 08, 2010 10:13 am

Black Orchid stands out as one of my favourite stories ever. I think in part that's because it coincided with my discovery of H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos stories and then the RPG 'Call of Cthulhu' rapidly thereafter. It's also set in the '20s, so it's slap bang in one of my favourite periods of history (nothing all that astounding about the period, it just looks gorgeous). In terms of looks and matter, it's a natural favourite.

Looking back, I think it holds up remarkably well (other than the afformentioned continuity problems), and it's interesting to compare it to The Unicorn and the Wasp - after all, Black Orchid is along the lines of something Christie might have written, whereas Wasp is a cheap way to get a celeb author on screen and face to face with the Doctor. Wasp owes rather more to Clue than it does to actual Agatha Christie, but they're both set in the 20's archetype - the large country house populated by the upper class, they both deal with dark secrets with a genesis on Other Shores and they both have that peculiarity of the fictional upper class: problems can be made to go away through sheer willpower and selective memory.

I think that locking George in the attic is a very Rochester solution, and perhaps that's more Freudian. Is George an Id?

Also, if there's Freudian thinking afoot, perhaps this is why this specific collection of companions doesn't work too well.

Adric is clearly either an Ego or an Id, depending on the needs of the story (he's rather Id in this one), but so is Tegan. Nyssa makes an effective superego, but that leaves The Doctor with no role unless he completely overshadows Nyssa. Essentially there's one person too many in the Tardis, so roll on Earthshock

_________________
Nucleus Cetum Ex Orbita. Unus Caetis Maximus.
sparacus wrote:Invalid response.
avatar
Dave Webb
Mod in Occupancy

Number of posts : 1175
Age : 48
Location : Leicester
Awards :

Registration date : 2008-11-04

View user profile http://unsatirical.blogspot.com

Back to top Go down

Re: Return To The Valley Of The Wrinklies

Post by Patrick on Mon Mar 08, 2010 11:39 am

I have to admit I was less impressed with Black Orchid than I was The Visitation. The two-parter felt a bit too much like an episode of "All Creatures Great And Small." It was enjoyable, but it wasn't a story that made a great impression on me.

I do, however, remember the train station very well. I really liked that train station as a location for the story. So imagine my surprise when, almost twenty years later, it showed up in the first Harry Potter movie. I recognized it instantly.

And Dave, your point about there being one too many persons in the TARDIS was echoed by a DVD extra on the Castrovalva disc in the "New Beginnings" box set. The special was titled "The Crowded TARDIS."

_________________

Check Out My Book:
Licence: Reviewed, 50 Years Of James Bond Movies
Dr. No through Skyfall


Now Available On:
AMAZON (for Kindle Readers); BARNES & NOBLE (for Nook Readers);  Apple iTunes (for iBooks on Mac or iOS); and KOBO  (for Kobo Book Readers)


What Are You Doing Here?
avatar
Patrick
Fast-Living Admin

Number of posts : 7956
Age : 50
Location : 5,900 feet above sea level
Awards :


Registration date : 2008-11-04

View user profile

Back to top Go down

Re: Return To The Valley Of The Wrinklies

Post by The Co=Ordinator on Mon Mar 08, 2010 11:54 am

Black Orchid has Michael "Cocky" Cochrane. By definition it is Awesome 10/10. Very Happy

_________________
avatar
The Co=Ordinator
Tony the CyberAdmin

Number of posts : 11054
Age : 58
Location : On a box, in TC7, long long ago..........
Awards :


Registration date : 2008-11-03

View user profile

Back to top Go down

Re: Return To The Valley Of The Wrinklies

Post by Dave Webb on Mon Mar 08, 2010 2:27 pm

Patrick wrote:And Dave, your point about there being one too many persons in the TARDIS was echoed by a DVD extra on the Castrovalva disc in the "New Beginnings" box set. The special was titled "The Crowded TARDIS."

The dynamic of such a small ensemble has to be done a lot better than it was for the 5th Doctor. You either stop at three - where you can (and let's keep it Freudian for the moment) have an Id, an Ego and a SuperEgo - or you expand the cast mightily and have a proper ensemble of about seven recurring characters. Even numbers don't work outside The Man from UNCLE.

In the case of the Crowded Tardis, you've got things badly unbalanced. Three aliens and Tegan leaves our viewer association figure as being the gobby Aussie, it burdens Tegan with doing all the asking of questions since the other two are Science Bores. Nyssa and Tegan might have made for an interesting dynamic, given that they are often polar opposites. Adric and Tegan, or Adric and Nyssa, might have made for some hint of romantic tension or perhaps have created a strong sibling bond (especially Adric and Nyssa, since they have both lost homes and people). But all three simply creates an unwieldy situation. It's a shame.

C=O is, of course, entirely correct about the always excellent Michael Cochrane. As evidenced by his Tour de force in Ghost Light where he's found hunting the Crowned Saxe-Coburg. He's one of the reasons that I don't actually care whether Ghost Light makes sense: it's full of awesome performances, including Sylv at the very peak of his Doctorness. Ahhhh, for just one more season of Doc 7.

_________________
Nucleus Cetum Ex Orbita. Unus Caetis Maximus.
sparacus wrote:Invalid response.
avatar
Dave Webb
Mod in Occupancy

Number of posts : 1175
Age : 48
Location : Leicester
Awards :

Registration date : 2008-11-04

View user profile http://unsatirical.blogspot.com

Back to top Go down

Re: Return To The Valley Of The Wrinklies

Post by stanmore on Mon Mar 08, 2010 2:38 pm

I am glad we didn't see Matthew Waterhouse's attempt at romantic tension. Do you think it works, Dave, for the three (well, two and a half) stories of Nyssa and Tegan?
avatar
stanmore
Justified and ancient

Number of posts : 1669
Age : 33
Location : wishing you peace
Awards :

Registration date : 2008-11-07

View user profile

Back to top Go down

Re: Return To The Valley Of The Wrinklies

Post by Dave Webb on Mon Mar 08, 2010 11:22 pm

stanmore wrote:I am glad we didn't see Matthew Waterhouse's attempt at romantic tension. Do you think it works, Dave, for the three (well, two and a half) stories of Nyssa and Tegan?

Not terribly well, but mostly I think that's because there's no attempt to do anything with the companions. Time Flight has the Master in it, there are two Davisons and Omega in Arc of Infinity, Snakedance is Tegan centric (and I've not seen it in ages)...so there are lots of other things for the writers to play with.

_________________
Nucleus Cetum Ex Orbita. Unus Caetis Maximus.
sparacus wrote:Invalid response.
avatar
Dave Webb
Mod in Occupancy

Number of posts : 1175
Age : 48
Location : Leicester
Awards :

Registration date : 2008-11-04

View user profile http://unsatirical.blogspot.com

Back to top Go down

Season 19 - Earthshock

Post by Frank on Sun Apr 04, 2010 7:15 am



March 1982

'Oh dear, it's all getting rather silly, isn't it?'

‘I’m just a mouth on legs’

The problem with Earthshock is that it should have been just a one-off. Unfortunately, it became the repetitive template for more of the same and swung Doctor Who off in a direction that I think did a lot of harm to the series post 1983. From now until the end of the classic series we’ll see various seasons littered with the dead and nearly dead bodies of continuity obsessed, plot holed ‘blockbuster’ high adventures that are often ill-fitting and uncomfortable within the Doctor Who format (Warriors Of The Deep, Resurrection Of The Daleks, Attack Of The Cybermen and Silver Nemesis are the big casualties whilst Caves Of Androzani and Revelation Of The Daleks are more or less saved by good scripts, excellent casts and by a brilliant director on both).

To me it was obvious that Saward took a big gamble with Earthshock, it really paid off and then he spent most of Season 20 very slowly turning the ship of state that was Who onto a course that would allow him to zerox the Earthshock template for the following year. His vision for the series slowly evolves into one that is populated by violent gun-runners, mercenaries, traitors, big bads and their victims. Not many of his protagonists are that fully developed (Lytton comes close but then he’s just a riff on Philip Martin’s John Kline character from Gangsters and he also tries to emulate the Bob Holmes doubleact motif in later stories with some success in, for example, Stotz and Krelper, Orcini and Bostock) and the victims (Kyle, Styles, Stein, Stratton, Bates etc) are often ciphers.

Earthshock as a one-off shows that the series can do anything within the spread of a season and the fact that it sits in a season of think pieces and historical stories and is waywardly different in tone is to the series credit. However, as a pattern cutter for much of what Saward would do from now on it’s formulaic and padded and is not a template on which to sustain the fortunes of the world’s longest running SF series. Conversely just as the Fifth Doctor gets a much talked about and admired watershed space adventure with returning enemies Saward also plants the seeds for the mixed fortunes of future seasons.

So what did we get back in 1982?

Director Peter Grimwade pulling the stops out, chucking them on the floor and stamping on them in order to inject the whole thing with such drive. The editing might seem a tad slow to us now but back then it was fast – lots of short scenes all intercut rapidly MTV style made everyone sit up and take notice. That first episode is beautifully moody as the Doctor and companions explore the caves whilst Scott and his troopers home in on the malevolent androids. Just sit back and watch Grimwade deal with all the elements, marvel at the atmospheric lighting, and the superb score from Malcolm Clarke which seems more like a truly 1960s Radiophonic experience that insists on using weird noises and effects.

It’s a pity that the first episode is hamstrung by the now typical ‘argument in the TARDIS’ scenes between Tegan, the Doctor and Adric, leaving poor ol’ Nyssa playing devil’s advocate again. There’s a weird frisson between the Doctor and Adric. A bit of daddy/son bonding that goes beyond the paternalistic, suggests an Adric slightly uncomfortable with a youthful Doctor and a TARDIS full of equally youthful women and is miles away from the Adric relationship with the Baker Doctor in Season 18. Much of this is rather crudely handled foreshadowing, really.

A little tiff that underlines the love the characters do have for each other is just to ensure that the death of Adric hits home emotionally both with the characters and the audience. Pity, the audience had already disinvested from the character by now, finding him annoying and unappealing, and it’s just too late to start re-investing characters with qualities they never really had time to explore in the first place. Matthew Waterhouse at least got a memorable exit from a series that really didn't love Adric very much. The denouement of Earthshock was a shocking twist that worked then but looking at it now it just has a slight whiff of crude exploitation about it.

Davison is again utterly marvelous here. He’s got a handle on the Doctor and is starting to push against the envelope to see how far he can take it. The vulnerability is certainly tested in Earthshock on many counts and then he adds in a sense of desperation, tenacity and that charming reluctance to get involved that was Davison’s hallmark of a Doctor who wanted to do nice things like play cricket, have tea and cake but inevitably ended up shouting at Adric and facing up to Cybermen. And rarely had we seen a Doctor so out of his depth by the climax of Part Four.

The sheer thrill of that first episode’s cliffhanger is what stays in the mind. The camera pulls back and the Cybermen are revealed. I’m sure many fans leaped into the air at that point. A brilliantly handled 25 mins brought to a show-stopping conclusion. By episode two we’re back in Nathan-Turner land. He’s revisited the use of flashbacks – the Cyberscope images of the previous Doctors – and the casting certainly raised an eyebrow at the time. Beryl Reid as the Captain was an odd choice. She does rather come across as your aged Aunt Margaret wearing a leather jacket. It doesn’t really work apart from the ‘camp’ spectacle it invokes and perhaps that was JNT’s motivation.

She does her best but she’s too mumsy to really be able to stand up to Cybermen. If Earthshock is itself a foreshadowing of James Cameron’s Aliens then where does casting Reid come from in such a tough as nails blockbuster as this? She can talk the talk but she can’t walk the walk. It's a classic example of Nathan-Turner using his light entertainment clout to secure recognisable names for the series in order to shoehorn them into atypical roles. She's there as celebrity value only.

At the time this was lauded as a real return to form after the bold experimentation of Season 18 but if you examine it closely you'll find there's barely a plot and lots of plot holes and oddities. Cybermen gossiping amongst themselves rather too much; a Cyberleader, well played by David Banks, displaying a nasty streak of cruelty and revenge; a Cyberbomb planted in some caves on Earth apparently in secret and yet the Cybermen hijack a freighter and fly it into the Earth and then cause power drains that actually threaten to prevent it reaching its destination. Some strange non sequiturs and a lot of padding.

Scott and his troopers are Saward’s ‘cannon fodder’ and James Warwick is rather too earnest to be believable. His delivery of some lines is often hilarious because he’s trying too hard to be tough ('it...could be rough') and is just ending up looking like an estate agent packing guns in space. The script doesn’t give him much room to do anything else and it’s a relief that Davison and to an extent Fielding, Sutton and Waterhouse keep the thing on track with the same ensemble playing that was such a standout in Black Orchid. Tegan is so ineptly brave in this and Fielding makes her bumbling quite empathetic. Sutton doesn’t get much to do again, her best moments are in episode one and after that she’s confined, in a typical move that clearly shows up that there were too many companions to write for in the series, to the TARDIS with Kyle? Why is Kyle there? She does not have any function beyond the first episode and with it being hard to write for a Doctor and three companions it just seems ludicrous that she’s still around cramping Nyssa's style.

Waterhouse puts in a good little performance here, showing how Adric can work as a companion with the Doctor, man to man as it were. The TARDIS is so full that the regulars have struggled to provide the audience identification that’s needed so desperately at this point. It was inevitable that Saward would want to chop someone down and show that all this running around in space and time can have consequences. Adric’s death is tragic. Tragic in that it is pointless and manipulative. The character's demise is slightly hampered by Waterhouse's obvious reluctance to get his hands burnt by the pyrotechnics that blow up the keyboard. It really should have been re-shot.

The other characters reactions are handled well apart from the TARDIS scenes where Fielding is ineptly trying to clout Cybermen and Davison is feverishly rubbing Adric’s star for excellence! Like the gold clogging the Cybermen’s chest plates, all the business with the Cybermen firing guns in the TARDIS, blowing up the console, the Doctor shooting the Cyberleader (who is positively savouring the death of a companion) all tend to be a series of dramatic escalations that slightly over-egg Saward's pudding.

Earthshock is a rollickingly good adventure, if rather empty and illogical at times, and Grimwade’s care and attention does show in the way the narrative is propelled so fast that you have’t got time to fall into the plot holes and in his determination to drive the story visually and in his editing. The make-over of the Cybermen is fine, particularly the hint of something organic beneath the mask, and the battle sequences are well handled, some of the best in the series so far, as are the production design and visual effects. The sets for the caves and the hold of the freighter are terrific. The stand out moment – of the Doctor seeing the Cybermen on the monitor screen – is a synthesis of performance and directing that could not be bettered. Even Graeme Harper's own Rise Of The Cybermen climactic reveal of the marching Cybermen owes much of its power to this scene.

It was enormously popular at the time and rightly so. It’s adventure with a big A, a pastiche of the summer blockbusters that had dominated cinema screens since 1977, but it lacks the depth and subtlety of say Castrovalva or even Saward’s own The Visitation. From here, repetition and an over abundant dependency on the programme’s past move into top gear and the innate charm of the series is too often overshadowed by a smug self-awareness.

DVD Special Features:
As usual the Restoration Team work their magic and spruce up the picture and sound and also offer us new CGI effects to replace the 1982 vintage effects. The DVD also offers a number of features.

  • Commentary - cast members Davison, Fielding, Sutton and Waterhouse offer another amusing commentary with the first two slipping back into their amusing wee take of what they are watching whilst Sutton throws in slightly more respectful comments. Waterhouse tends to spend more time repeating lines.
  • Putting The Shock Into Earthshock - Brief documentary that looks at the making of the story, contemporary fan reaction including comments from Saward and the late Peter Grimwade.
  • Did You See? - A nice archive treat as a 1982 edition of BBC2's review programme celebrates the return of the Cybermen to the series.
  • Film sequences - A collection of restored film material from Part One offering alternate cuts that didn't make it into the finished episode.
  • Isolated Score - Malcolm Clarke's rather splendid score on a separate audio track.
  • Photo Gallery - a good collection of black and white and colour stills.
  • Production Subtitles - another text commentary packed with trivia.


Earthshock (BBCDVD1153 - Region 2 DVD - Cert PG - Released 18th August 2003)[list=1][*]
avatar
Frank
Justified and ancient

Number of posts : 922
Age : 55
Location : Over the rainbow
Awards :

Registration date : 2008-11-03

View user profile http://www.cathoderaytube.blogspot.com

Back to top Go down

Re: Return To The Valley Of The Wrinklies

Post by stanmore on Sun Apr 04, 2010 8:55 am

You know, "lacks the depth and subtlety... of The Visitation" might be the harshest thing I've ever seen in a review... Smile
avatar
stanmore
Justified and ancient

Number of posts : 1669
Age : 33
Location : wishing you peace
Awards :

Registration date : 2008-11-07

View user profile

Back to top Go down

Re: Return To The Valley Of The Wrinklies

Post by Sponsored content


Sponsored content


Back to top Go down

Page 7 of 9 Previous  1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9  Next

View previous topic View next topic Back to top

- Similar topics

 
Permissions in this forum:
You cannot reply to topics in this forum