The Bells of St. John

Was there ever a more poorly named episode of Doctor Who?

The series 7b premiere of Doctor Who introduces us (or re-introduces us, depending on how things shake out) to Clara Oswald, the Doctor’s latest companion in the TARDIS, and indications are she’s going to be a cracker.

The Story
People’s minds are being stolen and uploaded to the Internet.

Meanwhile, if “meanwhile” is a meaningful term in a story about time travel, the Doctor is in 13th century Cumbria, in seclusion as a monk, contemplating how to find the twice dead Clara/Oswin Oswald. (in The Snowmen/Asylum of the Daleks respectively.)

The titular bells are nothing more than the phone in the TARDIS door ringing. It’s Clara (21st century version) calling for tech support on the Internet – having been given this number by a mysterious woman down at the shops telling her this number was for the “…best help in the Universe.”

The Doctor arrives but is too late to stop Clara’s mind from starting to be uploaded. He saves her and now discovers she’s been upgraded with super computer skills.

The rest of the episode is spent in a cat-and-mouse game between the Doctor and his enemies, both seen (Miss Kizlet) and unseen (the Great Intelligence.) Along the way we see, very clearly spelled out, that there is some uncanny connection between the various incarnations of Clara, but is this Clara projecting onto the others, or are they projecting onto her?

Commentary
Overall it was an enjoyable episode. The nuggets about the mystery of Clara pepper the story nicely and the concept of “harvesting” minds for food, if ludicrous, is diverting enough.

Although it should be no surprise after The Snowmen, the reveal that the Great Intelligence was behind the plot was disappointing. First because Richard E. Grant was acting as the voice of the Great Intelligence and not Ian McKellan and second because it’s now certain that we’ll be stuck with this rather uninteresting Doctor Who villain for the rest of the series.

It was good to see UNIT back, if even in a periphery capacity. Did the Doctor tip them off, or were they working on the problem, too? Will we see one more pitched battle between UNIT and the Great Intelligence? (see Web of Fear, the first battle between the Great Intelligence and the precursor to UNIT.). Might the Yeti come back for a surprise visit?

Finally, who was the mysterious woman who gave Clara the Doctor’s phone number? It seems obvious, but oh-so-depressing that it was probably River Song. Time travel what it is, will we ever be rid of this troublesome woman?! With the loss of the folks, the Ponds, it’s time to seal this chapter of the Doctor’s life.

Conclusion
All-in-all, I was happy with the episode and enjoyed it. It’s good to have the Doctor back on our screens.

Episode 100 – 100th Anniversary Special – 2001 A Space Odyssey

In this episode we review something different – a movie big enough to be called a classic!  2001: A Space Odyssey.

The Reign of Terror – Review

Prologue

I am a completest. I hate incomplete collections.

It might surprise you then to know that I have not watched every available episode of Dr Who. Oh no, in fact, it is that completest attitude that prevents me from watching the incomplete stories. Yes, they’re available on the Doctor Who, Missing in Time collection, but I’ve not watched them.

What this means in a practical way is that, when they “find” a lost episode that completes a story, I have “new” Dr Who to watch! Of course, that means new episodes of classic Dr Who are few and far between.

A year of so ago, they stumbled upon an extremely agreeable formula to me. For the classic second Doctor story, The Invasion, the two missing episodes were recreated using the original sound recording and full animation. It was a brilliant solution and I finally watched the Invasion. Then, things went quiet. There were rumors that it was too expensive and that the disc didn’t sell well enough to justify the cost. Whatever the reason, no subsequent animated recreations were announced – until recently.

Not only was the first Doctor story the Reign of Terror recently released, but the announcements of the release of the first Doctor’s final story, The Tenth Planet and the second Doctor story, The Ice Warriors have recently been made.

The suits have indicated that two animated episodes is the maximum they can afford per DVD release (although, one wonders how animated series like the Simpsons or Family Guy can even exist at that rate.)

If two is the limit per story, we can still hope to see the following stories

First Doctor

  1. The Crusade (2)
  2. Mission to the Unknown (1)

Second Doctor

  1. The Underwater Menace (2)
  2. The Moonbase (2)

It’s not as many as I could hope for, but perhaps they’ll get their costs down and be able to expand to 3 or 4 episodes per story.

The Reign of Terror

Reign of Terror is the eighth Dr Who story, set in a time when the Doctor is still a cantankerous almost anti-hero to Ian’s classical hero. Ian and Barbara are still very much the trapped and largely unwilling passengers aboard the TARDIS, the the show was still firmly trying to “teach” to younger audiences and still willing to produce “historical” episodes.

Summary

The Doctor returns Ian and Barbara to 1963 Earth only to discover it’s 18th century France during the (you guessed it) Reign of Terror. They soon run afoul of the revolutionary fervor and are separated (in the case of the Doctor) and sent to prison for beheading (everyone else.)

The story follows three plot lines. Ian makes his own attempts at escape, while Barbara and Susan are rescued on the way to the Guillotine and take up with anti-revolutionary conspirators. Meanwhile, the Doctor impersonates an important official in his efforts to rescue everyone else.

The story concludes with the end of the Reign of Terror and sets the stage for Napoleon’s ascension to ruler of France.

Analysis

Despite this being six-parts with a lot of “in jail, escape from jail, return to jail” action (or inaction) and having no aliens to battle, I rather surprisingly enjoyed this story. I was particularly pleased with parts of the story where the Doctor was manipulating other people to do his will. The story shows off well the first Doctor’s keen and devious mind.

Ian, and particularly Barbara fared less well and were basically bumped around from one capture situation to the next. Susan basically got sick and was nothing more than a hindrance during the episode. It’s no wonder Carole Ann Ford chose to leave the series first. Her character was wasted in this story.

The Animation

Finally, I would be remiss to fail to mention the animation. The previous animated story, The Invasion, was done by a completely different studio and was perfectly acceptable, if a bit stylized

There’s no good way to put it, this new animation style used in Reign creeps me out. The characters faces spend too much time moving needlessly. The features on the face are too shadowy around their features and most disturbingly, the large glassy, pool-like eyes move back and forth aimlessly like some evil doll.

To say that I’m not a fan of this animation style is an understatement; however, to have the story back once again, I wouldn’t trade it!

Episode 099 – Star Trek – Series Overview – Part 3

The countdown comes inexorably to an end with a surprise guest host.  David joins Ben and Eugene to discuss the third and final season of Star Trek.

Warriors of the Deep – Review

How I ever mentioned how much I love the Silurians?  Have I ever mentioned how incredibly frustrated I am by them every time they come on the screen?  They’re a double-edged sword for me.

The idea that an earlier sentient race evolved on Earth before man is one of Doctor Who’s best-ever concepts for a menace.  How many science fiction movies and books have taken the trope of mankind being launched into the future (or perhaps returning to Earth after abandoning it millennia ago) only to discover that some “lower order” of life has evolved into man’s former niche of dominant sentient being on Earth?

The Silurians take that idea and flip on its head.  What if we were the later usurpers of the sentience throne on Earth?  How would they feel?  How would we feel?

It’s probably right to say that human opinion, given similar circumstances, would be divided.  There would be those that saw it as an opportunity for peaceful coexistence and those that saw it as a battle that could only result in the total annihilation of one species or the other.

I would imagine most people would fall somewhere on the spectrum in between.

This is what I liked originally about the “Doctor Who and the Silurians” (the only televised episode to include the name “Doctor Who” in the story title.)  The Silurians represented us – none wanted peace as their first course of action, but there were those that could be convinced of peace, those dead set on war and those that had their prejudices and could be led into war.

In the original story, the humans reflected the Silurians almost perfectly – it was only the Doctor, the outsider who could see the situation as an opportunity for peace first.

This is why, long and a bit slow that it is, I love “Doctor Who and the Silurians.”

Even the original story; however, frustrates me – mostly because of the gross scientific errors introduced into the Doctor Who timeline.

Later episodes have just squandered the Silurian concept.  Still during Pertwee’s era, the Silurians returned in the form of their underwater cousins, the Sea Devils, this time being egged on by the Master in a tale that used the Silurian backstory only as a shortcut to further the Master’s plan for escape and revenge.

And then the Silurians were left for a long, long time only to finally both return in the 20th anniversary season’s story, “Warriors of the Deep.”

The Story

At some point in the future, mankind remains locked in the Cold War (oops, failed to predict that in 1983.) Now, hidden undersea bases wait to rain down Proton Bomb annihilation on the enemy at any moment.  It is a tense time and the world is on the brink of war.

The Doctor, Tegan and Turlough arrive just in time for (A) enemy agents to sabotage the base and (B) the Silurians and Sea Devils attacking the base with the plan of destroying the human world with a Proton war, leaving the planet devoid of humans and perfectly suited for reptiles.

A typically pedestrian story follows.  The Doctor and crew are captured as spies just when things start to go bad, the Silurians inexorably take the base with lots of tedious scenes of “we can’t stop them” type battles and finally the Doctor, failing the Silurians again and being forced to kill them.

And let’s not even mention the Myrkah, the Doctor Who monster effect that single-handedly raises the reputation of the Pertwee-era “Invasion of the Dinosaurs” out of the mire of the bottom of the worst.

The Disappointment

Of course, I was looking forward to the Silurians’ return (less so the Sea Devils) but this story is so generic that any alien menace could have been substituted – and the story would have had less baggage.

That brings me to the second area of disappointment.  It’s as if the writer of the story knew nothing more about the Silurians and Sea Devils than what they read on the back cover of the Target novelizations.

What’s Good

Disappointed as I am with the story, there is one thing I like:  The set design.

During the later Tom Baker and early Davison eras, set design took on an industrial look.  I thought at the time that it immediately looked dated and, to my now 25 year older eyes, it does; however, once in a while – and I can’t say why – one of the sets looks good.  The sea base sets look functional and believable.

Yep, set design, it’s the best I could come up with.

 

The Dominators – Review

Back in the summer of 1968, The Doctor was travelling with headstrong 18th century scotsman Jamie McCrimmon and had just been joined by brilliant young mathematician and astrophysicist Zoe Heriot, of the 21st century. This team, with the regenerated ‘cosmic hobo’ Doctor is just about my favourite, so it’s always a pleasure to watch them in action, but this adventure is not one of their best. If you’re a Jamie fan you’ll enjoy the fact that he gets to make a lot of the running in this one, but the Doctor and Zoe are underused and the production show its limitations in both budget and imagination. Continue reading The Dominators – Review

Episode 098 – Star Trek – Series Overview – Part 2

In Part 2, we look at season 2 of Star Trek and have a go at the Prime Directive.