Category Archives: Review

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

The Happiness Patrol

Back in the late 1980’s, I edited the newsletter for the local Doctor Who fan club, TARDIS (or the torturously named “The Arizona Regional Doctor Who Interest Society.) Amongst other things, I wrote reviews of Doctor Who episodes. A collection of these old newsletters has come into my possession. Here then is my December 1988 review of The Happiness Patrol.

The Happiness Patrol was better the second time I saw it.

My initial reaction was that The Happiness Patrol was easily as bad as Delta and the Bannermen. Upon reflection, I think it falls into the second level awful category, along with the other legendary awful episodes: The Gunfighters, The Horns of Nimon, Time and the Rani and Paradise Towers. (Please note: Until Delta and the Bannermen came along, these WERE the first level awful episodes.)

Briefly, the story goes something like this:

The Doctor arrives on Terra Alpha, a lovely little planet where they play “Lift Music” (Muzak to Americans) from all the loud speakers. True, this is a great evil anywhere in the Universe, but it’s not the evil the Doctor has come to remedy.

I think I should note here that the Doctor specifically states that he is here because of an evil. In Remembrance of the Daleks the Doctor goes to Earth specifically to deal with “unfinished business,” in this episode, he is purposely seeking our wrongs to right. Seldom, if ever, in the Doctor’s past has he started out aiming for trouble. Why this sudden change? Could this be the direction that the producers and writers have set out for Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor? If so, it makes him a far more “serious” Doctor than any who have preceded him.

In any case, Terra Alpha is in the grip of a tyrant (and her pet dog [?]) who insists that everyone be happy. (One wonders if the author of this episode had just listened to that insipid song, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” prior to writing this episode.) With the aide of her evil henchman, the Candyman, she is actively eliminating all the “Killjoys.” One of her favorite forms of execution is smothering people in Strawberry Fondant. Of course, her band of vicious, but smiling thugs, the Happiness Patrol, with this Fun Guns, are also an effective means for dealing with those pesky Killjoys. Oh, did I forget to mention that the Candyman is made entirely of candy, caramel, chocolate, etc? Created by a not fully explained character names Gilbert, who escapes at the end, making us worry about the possibility of a sequel. (Who said Doctor Who was no longer frightening?)

Sounds too stupid to be true, doesn’t it? Sounds to me like John Nathan-Turner refuses to turn down a script no matter how bad it is.

And let’s not forget Fifi. Fifi is a creature (technically very good for a Doctor Who episode) which looks like a cross between An American Werewolf in London, the little creature that gets split in two in the Star Trek episode, The Enemy Within (Not Kirk, the other one) and a Pekingese. Fifi is an incredible beast which can take an exploding bottle of Nitro-9 in the mouth, and come out with only a few bandages (which get removed later in the same episode.)

Plot Synopsis? Nahhhhh, why bother? They didn’t.

Ace and the Doctor do have a nice rapport in this episode, and so far this season, Ace is proving a well-matched companion for the Doctor. I’m going to predict that they’ll try to keep Ace in much the way they kept Jamie during the Troughton era: a long time.

The Happiness Patrol deserves a first look, and it does improve some on the second viewing, and every Doctor Who collector should have it, but how often do you show your friends The Horns of Nimon?

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.

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!

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