Category Archives: British Television

Doctor Who – Enemy of the World – Review

The Enemy of the World
The Enemy of the World

I honestly never thought I’d be reviewing Enemy of the World.  If you’re reading this post then I probably don’t need to tell you about the Doctor Who Missing Episodes Saga and the dramatic announcement of the return of Enemy of the World and the nearly complete Web of Fear and the immediate release of the episodes on iTunes just yesterday.

Instead, let me just tell you about my reaction to Enemy of the World by David Whitaker.

Like many Americans, the first time I saw Patrick Troughton as the second Doctor was in either the 10th or 20th anniversary specials, the Three and Five Doctors, respectively.  Later I would see him again in the Two Doctors.  I was not a fan of his portrayal of the Doctor.  Even when his stories were finally released in the US, there were only about 5 stories available – few were particularly strong ones.  Since then, they have found Tomb of the Cybermen, a particularly good story, and reconstructed through animation of missing episodes The Invasion (also a Cybermen story and the first to feature UNIT) and the Ice Warriors (the first appearance of, you guessed it, the Ice Warriors)

With each “new” Second Doctor adventure becoming available to me, I find myself more and more impressed with his performance and feeling the loss of the remaining missing episodes even more.

The coincidence is almost beyond believing that the most recent animated reconstruction, released just last month, was the Ice Warriors, the story that immediately precedes Enemy, so we have a nice bit of continuity.  In fact, in Enemy, the even allude to having just come from the glaciated world of the future.  Similarly, Enemy ends with a cliffhanger that is only resolved in the first part of Web of Fear, the other newly released episode.  (It’s so convenient, it’s like they picked them from a larger batch of available missing episodes.)

Perhaps I’ve drifted a bit off-topic.

Enemy of the Word opens with what seems to be a budget-busting, nearly all filmed sequence set near Cape Arid, Australasian Zone in the far distant year of 2018.  After a bit of comical larking on the beach, the story launches into a running gun battle and chase that would seem right at home during the Pertwee era.  So impressed with it was I that I intentionally checked to see who the director was.  Astonishingly, it was Bary Letts, the producer throughout the Pertwee era.  The first episode continues with some lovely characterization of the Doctor that leaves no one in the audience in doubt that, clownish though he may be, the Doctor’s mind is a force to be reckoned with.  No future Doctor has ever come close to pulling off that balance so thoroughly.

The story quickly turns into a doppleganger story, that would have been easy resolved if only 45 years ago the writer had envisioned today’s mobile phones.  It seems the Doctor is a dead ringer for Salamander,  a would-be savior and dictator of the world.  The Doctor comes to the attention of Giles Kent, Salamander’s sworn enemy and soon he, Jamie and Victoria are swept into the intrigue.

Salamander is slowly taking over the world, one zone at a time.  He arranges for zone leaders unsympathetic to him to be killed or discredited and replaces them with puppets that he controls.  He has invented devices that can increase world food production and has saved countless lives, but on the flipside, he causes natural disasters such as earthquakes and volcanos just to unsettle a zone and seize the opportunity to take control.

Enemy of the World is a six-part story and tends to slow down a bit, but they’ve wisely chosen to roll out a tertiary plot about underground dwellers that does break things up a bit, although as a whole, the story is a bit disjointed because of it.

Luckily, Salamander spends a lot of his time doing things that are so important that he commands no one must interrupt him.  If it weren’t for that, the Doctor’s deception would have been rumbled by episode 2.  During most episodes we barely see one or the other, with Troughton trading off playing either the Doctor or Salamander for most of an episode.  Here we see a bit of the range that character actor Troughton was famed for, as Salamander is a nasty piece of work.

Jamie and Victoria are largely superfluous to the story, but they get most of one episode to themselves which makes up for the episode in which they are entirely missing, apparently the actors were on vacation.

Speaking of actors, the world of 2018 almost looks like a Gallifreyan Castellan reunion, with guest artists George Pravda as Zone Leader Denes and Milton Johns as the vile and villainous Benik.  Pravda will return to Doctor Who in The Deadly Assassin as Castellan Spandrell and Milton Johns returning in Invasion of Time as Castellan Kelner.

All in all, the Enemy of the World is welcome re-addition to the Doctor Who archive.


Atlantis – The Earth Bull – Review

Since the BBC can’t be bothered to make enough Doctor Who for a single year – even when that year is the run-up to the 50th anniversary – it appears that we’ll have to get our SciFi/Fantasy genre quota elsewhere.

Previously, Merlin was filling some of that gap but now that its gone, the mantle falls to Atlantis.

Tonight marked the premiere episode, the Earth Bull.

In it, our young hero, Jason, is searching for his father’s wrecked (or perhaps just lost) undersea craft.  He dives to the same place his father disappeared and is whisked through a magical gateway – away from our world to the city of Atlantis.

Here he learns that this was his home and that his father took him away to the other world to protect him from powerful enemies.  Now that he has returned, he has a destiny to fulfill.

First up, he and his two new pals, Pythagoras (yes, that Pythagoras) and Hercules (maybe not-so-much the one of legend), are sent to the Labyrinth to battle the Minotaur.

As an hour of television, it kept me entertained and my kids quiet, so I suppose it did what it was supposed to do.

Greek mythology is a subject rich with stories and for some reason, I felt that was a weakness in this first episode.  Apart from the names of the characters, it was the standard minotaur tale – with little of its own story to distinguish itself.  Unlike, for example, the Percy Jackson series of books, which re-rell the old myths with a modern twist and a better over-arching story.  Perhaps Atlantis will pick up as it goes along.  I hope so.

In addition to battling the Minotaur in the bog standard way, Jason also connects with the Oracle of Atlantis.  Want to guess how that goes?  Yep, she foretells the future, but does so in cryptic ways that don’t help.

I don’t know why I’m so down on it.  I love Greek mythology!  I just feel it hasn’t brought anything new to the table so far and the backstory of Jason coming from our world and time seems forgotten already.  Yes, he’s still questing after his father, who might be dead, but the trappings of our world seem to have vanished with Jason’s clothes and a passing line of dialog, which I paraphrase as,  “I just really feel at home here.”

I’m a little unsettled by the choice of supporting characters.  We have established in the world of Atlantis that mythical creatures exist and that curses, enchantments and oracles are all real.  Any mythological convention they wish to use is available to them.  Why then did they choose to include Hercules, but then (apparently) decided to make him a mortal instead of a demigod – and a cowardly, drunken one at that?

On the other hand, the third of our triumvirate is Pythagoras, the famous triangle-obsessed mathematician.  Clearly the real Pythagoras didn’t live in the entirely fictitious city of Atlantis, and yet, here he is.  This curious mix of historical and mythological characters somehow doesn’t work for me.

One thing I will say, the BBC has come a long, long way since the days of Doctor Who in the 60’s.  The production is sumptuous, as we’ve come to expect.  The location filming is in Morocco and they use the locations well.  Similarly, the actors turn in perfectly serviceable performances.

Only the CG effects were a bit dodgy.  The two-headed lizard in bright daylight wasn’t too bad, but the hunting lions at night didn’t look good at all.  Wisely, perhaps, the director chose to take a page out of old school television and film and kept the Minotaur hidden and obscured.  The production didn’t suffer for it, in fact, it built a little bit of genuine tension.

Will I be back next week for the second episode?  Yes, I suppose I will – but I’m looking for something above and beyond just another retelling of mythology.

Terror of the Autons – Review

Looking back at series 7 of Doctor Who we can now appreciate what a radically new incarnation of the show it was: all new cast (the Brigadier excepted), a new producer, a new setting (or at least, constraint) on Earth. And colour. It’s all the more impressive, then, that it comprises four substantial and constently solid serials. The Pertwee era had launched itself with flying colours – the adventurousness of the old show married to the whimsy and flair of The Avengers. Continue reading Terror of the Autons – Review

Twelve Doctors?

Now that Peter Capaldi has been named as the Twelfth Doctor, we can cast aside a couple of clouds that have been hanging over Doctor Who and get back to some proper speculating!

Who the hell is John Hurt’s “Doctor”?

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I’ll be very disappointed with the production team if the best they come up with is, “oh, he’s the actual Ninth Doctor, we just never mentioned him before.”  Despite the fact that even in just an episode before, the Doctors were enumerated explicitly – without an extra Doctor.  (And need I mention that during Peter Capaldi’s announcement extravaganza on TV, they repeatedly referred to him as the twelfth?)

That’s either the single most sloppy, half-assed lazy script planning ever (not to mention downright insulting of the audience’s intelligence) or… the answer is something else.

Obviously, this is a fantasy show written by people who have just pulled this stuff right out their asses previously, so we can’t discount the possibility.  It also means the sky isn’t even the limit for possible explanations.  Therefore, I shall engage in a bit of my own ideas-from-ass-pulling and suggest some ways to explain John Hurt.

Let’s consider one of the few things we know:  The Daleks will be in the anniversary special.  Also, let’s consider that the promotional pictures of the Daleks show them moving through the wreckage of architecture that looks remarkably like Gallifrey.  That more about the Time War will be revealed seems a given.

What do we know about the Time War?

  • We think it was started by the Time Lords launching a pre-emptive strike on the Daleks in Genesis of the Daleks.
  • We think it was fought during either (or both) the Eighth or Ninth Doctor’s lives. (Although, there’s good reason to believe that the Ninth Doctor had just regenerated prior to meeting Rose, making an Eighth Doctor war seem more likely.)
  • We know that the Master was recruited by the Time Lords to fight in the war and given a new life (or life cycle), which he promptly ran away from.
  • We know that the Time Lords under Rassilon (original or namesake?) went ape-shit insane and decided to destroy all of time.
  • We know that the Doctor pushed the button to time loop Gallifrey and the Daleks forever.
  • We know that hasn’t been perfectly successful.

Here’s a couple more things we know about the Time Lords

  • They can grant/transfer additional regenerations (Arc of Infinity/Five Doctors/Trial of a Time Lord/The Sound of Drums)
  • They can scoop multiple versions of a Time Lord up for their own purposes (The Three Doctors/The Five Doctors)
  • We also (sort of) know that a Time Lord who meets himself can remember what his future self did when he ultimately becomes his future self.  (Time Crash – I’m taking a liberty using that as canon.)

What does all that mean?

For starters, one possible explanation of John Hurt is that he is the 13th or later Doctor and that he, and perhaps other incarnations of the Doctor, were snatched up by the Time Lords to fight the Time War.

If they were desperate enough to recruit the Master, surely they’d return to their old standby of turning to the Doctor (multiple times) – especially since the Doctor is the Daleks’ greatest enemy.

That the Time War was a multi-Doctor story seems a no-brainer.

Perhaps John Hurt’s Doctor (hereafter referred to as the Nth Doctor) is the version that pushed the button ending the Time War.  Perhaps the 8th Doctor died trying to stop him.  Every Doctor, 9 and after, would share the memory of the crime he himself is someday destined to commit.

That’s just one possibility – here’s another:

Has anyone considered how random the process of regeneration is?  We know that the Second Doctor was offered a choice (and Romana seemed to be exercising some form of regeneration control at the beginning of Destiny of the Daleks) but refused to take it, but the others are characterized as random.

Most of the Doctor’s regenerations have been accidental, uncontrolled affairs, but was the result pot luck or destiny?  Consider: if Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor had survived the fall off his exercise bike and then regenerated a year later, would the form of Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh have been inevitable?

From a television show standpoint, obviously not, the real reason is because of casting concerns, but, trying to put ourselves in the continuity of the Whoniverse, is it a random scrambling or a set progression?

I rather think it’s random and, as such, even the delay in regenerating of a few seconds could lead to a completely different Doctor manifestation.

Again, looking at the Time Lord’s powers, what might have happened if, in the Five Doctors, the Second Doctor had been injured and regenerated?  Would Pertwee’s Doctor and all the subsequent ones ceased to be or would an alternate time line Third Doctor have been created?

The Nth Doctor might be an alternate regeneration – a product of the Time War – still technically the Doctor, but not the one we know.  The Doctor’s road not travelled.

Of course, all of this is pure speculation, but it is fun to speculate.  That’s really all we can do between now and November 23rd.

Why the Doctor Should Not Regenerate Into a Woman

Whenever the time comes for a Doctor to change actors, some bright spark kicks up the idea of changing the gender of the character from male to female.

I’ll be the first to admit, my immediate, visceral reaction is to respond with, “that’s stupid,” but I’ll admit, that’s an emotional reaction and not one based on any logical reason.

I’m not sure that logic holds true in Doctor Who.  Let’s face it, with the track record of the last few years, they could pull any illogical, stupid excuse out of their collective arses to justify such a change and try to dress it up under that old standby, “It’s such a flexible format, you can do anything!

And, of course, there’s, “He’s a Time Lord, not a Human.  You can’t say what that means.”

Yes, yes I can.  For example, we know from repeated examples that the Doctor’s life depends on his hearts and although he has a respiratory bypass system (Does that mean he can breath through his butt?) he still needs to breath, just less often.  In short, Time Lord biological functions do bear some resemblance to human biology – he isn’t filled with rainbows farted by unicorns – at least, not yet.

I’ll take a stab at explaining why it isn’t very logical that Time Lords would be gender-switchers – even though that’s not why I think he shouldn’t change.

Put simply, like humans, Time Lords/Gallifreyans seem to have biologically similar gender functions. Pairings such as Leela and Andred or Susan and David carry the notion of compatible biology far enough.  Also, assuming that regeneration is still working with the same basic genetic material and that each version of the Doctor is at least a potential recombination of the same genes, not only does a gender swap seem improbable, it confers no evolutionarily beneficial purpose.  How could it provide Gallifreyans with a reproductive advantage?  With the Doctor being the last of his species…  not much point.

There is; however, one circumstance, where it might convey such an advantage.  In certain reptiles and amphibians here in the real world, there are documented cases of spontaneous gender changes – but these always seem to come about in extremely one-sex dominated populations – a necessary step to continuation of the species.  Perhaps, under those circumstances, I could find a compelling excuse.

(For example, if the Doctor and the Master were stranded on an island, and one of them regenerated into a woman…  yes, I could see that as an advantage to both the continuation of the Gallifreyan race and to crap-awful fan fiction writers everywhere.)

But, as I said, the best arguments for a female Doctor are never about plausibility.

They’re about story-telling and role models for young women.

The former is wishful thinking.  There’s no reason to believe that the stories would be any better, nor would they really have any extra flexibility unless they’re going to take Doctor Who down the path of addressing gender issues all the time. They’re simply not going to do that.  Casting the Doctor as a woman would be a gimmick and would not have any meaningful change on the content or pattern of the show, because that’s not what the show is about.

The later argument is the one I find most compelling.  There is a school of thought that says girls need more nerdy female role models.

I agree.  They need to see that women can be smart, intelligent, science-based, competent, inquisitive, compassionate, problem-solving leaders – all those qualities that the Doctor embodies.

They need to believe that a woman can achieve all the things men can do – and not because of some government program that forces quotas or other equality measures – but because they earned it themselves.

I firmly believe that – and that’s why the Doctor shouldn’t regenerate into a woman.

Because a female-regenerated Doctor didn’t earn her place in the TARDIS.  It was handed to her by all the male Doctors that came before.  It’s a cheat.  Hell – it’s an insult.  Romana earned her stripes as a woman and a Time Lord, a female Doctor would have earned neither.  What message does that send to young woman?

By all means, let’s have more female role models on TV and in the movies, but lets make them real ones and not just gimmicks.

114 – Doomwatch – The Devil’s Sweets

Quist and the gang investigate the curious phenomena of increased smoking in Britain.

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