Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Revenge of the Cybermen

'Revenge' of the Cybermen? Ugh, here we start the Cybermen descending into emotive behaviour. While entertaining, David Banks' cyberleader frequently showed too much relish for an unemotional being. Here they crack the odd joke (the cyberleader comments when tying the Doctor up on the Beacon that he won't be around to see the 'magnificent spectacle' of the crash with Voga) and a bit of monologuing about the destruction of Voga ending with "This is good!". The cybermen are restyled from the Invasion cybermen with more pipes and flares (it was the 70s).

Something about it all seems a bit lacklustre. Kellman is a great villain, he sort of comes out on the good side working for the Vogons, but still murdered a lot of people. I can't help wondering why his plan needed to be quite this ruthless, but he was going to help the Vogons blow the Beacon up anyway. The location shooting looks great, the main cast all come out of it well. The ark looks a bit cheaper this time around but the caves of Voga are much richer being filmed at Wookey Hole. It's probably just that the Cybermen are so naff reduced to just a few men with a silly scheme. The Vogon plan doesn't seem so smart either. There's a lot of things that don't add up, such as the Beacon not being able to radio for any help, the transmat removing the cybermat 'plague' by being set up for human tissue, but transporting the Doctor, Cybermen and their cloths and other non-human tissue. The surface of Voga as the Beacon flies over is obviously a revolving log in front of the camera and isn't well realised. The Cybermen fall for the old 'tie them up and leave them to die' trick which has been old since moustache twirling villains tied women to railway tracks. It makes no sense for the Cybermen to do this unless they bizarrely relish imaging the Doctor and Sarah having the front seat for the collision of the Beacon with Voga.

This story is the first to introduce the cyber-weakness to gold, yet oddly enough the only cybermen to die from gold is that injected by the captured cybermat. A cybermat is disabled with gold dust but the Doctor quickly gets it working again to terrorise Kellman. Both occasions when the Doctor tackles cybermen with a handful of dust they he is beaten back, people just can't get the opportunity to use it effectively as a weapon. While being a weakness, it's not an entirely practical one to exploit. Also we can assume that only gold dust is effective, as Vogon bullets are undoubtedly made of gold yet are ineffective. Either the gold needs to be a dust or the gold bullets, like regular bullets, just bounce off. I'm guessing both are true. But compare to Silver Nemesis where anything made of gold cuts through the cybermen like a hot knife through butter. Bullets are ineffective but gold tipped arrows and coins fired from a catapult cut them down. As soon as gold penetrates their armour they die, no talk of "clogging their respiratory systems", it's more like a puncture wound from gold is akin to blood poisoning from a lethal snakebite. Maybe gold in contact with the coolant circulating within a cyberman is lethal, but ultimately you have to ask why?? It's an inert metal.

It's a shame that Tom Baker only met the Cybermen once, and Pertwee only in the Five Doctors. The gap between the Invasion and Earthshock seems a long one with only this unsatisfying morsel in the middle. Hard to imagine now, what with the Daleks appearing in every season of Doctor Who, that you could go for years without these 'regular' monsters. People criticised the 80s for being continuity laden, probably with the nadir being Attack of the Cybermen, but throughout the 70s the old series was braver than the new by constantly creating new stories and pushing the horror to the limit. Currently the New Series relies on its past a lot more than is generally admitted with the Daleks appearing more frequently than ever over the last 6 years, and plays it quite safe regarding horror as seems in line with BBC paranoia regarding receiving complaints on any matter.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Our World

Reposted from Lawrence Miles' blog...

Death to the Daleks

Death to the Daleks was one of my first Doctor Who stories on video well over 20 years ago, alongside Day of the Daleks and The Daleks. But this one is often comes in for more criticism than most Dalek stories because of the many clich├ęs being reused; dying civilisations, ancient cities, a 'quest' with tests and traps to overcome. Some dislike the music, it seems to mostly fit the dark brutal setting for the story. The Dalek music seems a little too jolly though.

I remember it being quite frightening with a brutal level of violence. The story's best moments are all in the dark, at night or in caverns. The Exxilons are probably more frightening than the Daleks, being rather aggressive and thuggish and have a tendency to hit people with clubs or shoot them with arrows. At the beginning of the story the TARDIS loses all power and is stranded in the dark with a thick green mist everywhere. The Doctor wanders off (I never understood this because he promised not to leave Sarah alone, what a git) and Sarah is attacked in the TARDIS by some brute. Various sources have since asked if the Exxilon is still wandering around in the TARDIS, but my impression is that Sarah does a very good job of beating him to death with the starting handle from a car. What we are spared from is the scene of the Doctor dragging the three day old carcass out of the TARDIS before take off.

The Exxilons have a good background and are yet another alien species, like the Daemons or Fendahl, to have influenced ancient Earth cultures. Unfortunately it went rather wrong, they built a living city, which then expelled them and has ever since has drained up all electrical power. The Exxilons descended into barbarism and worship the city as a god. Although there are rebels to this who seems smaller and paler in colour and live underground. The time for this fall is described as thousands of years, but one body in the city disintegrates to dust upon the air in the room being disturbed suggesting it's many many thousands.

The humans in the story are rather one dimensional. Commander Stewart is already wounded and succumbs half way though while hopes for a interesting character in Captain Railton end with a well placed arrow in episode 2. The only well placed arrow of the story, the Exxilons can't shoot for toffee. Peter Hamilton doesn't have much about him but possibly is the vague interest of the only woman on the team, Jill Tarant, who spends most of the story whimpering. That leaves ruthless bastard Dan Galloway who takes command when all the other officers are dead. Cut from the 'ends justify the means' cloth he does deals with the Daleks, agrees to ethnically cleanse the Exxilon society of their underground dwelling rebels. He also agrees to let the Daleks have the Doctor and Sarah, but they never actually get their hands on them. Of course he soon realises he's out of his depth with the daleks and does actually win back a bit of respect by stealing a dalek bomb and sacrificing himself to blow them and their ship up. It's a bit hard to have sympathy because he's been such an arse throughout. But he's the most interesting one of the lot.

Death to the Daleks is an apt title given how many Daleks die, some inexplicably so. The best bit with the Daleks is in displaying a little cunning and being able to quickly overcome the problem of not being able to use their weapons. The energy drain disables their energy weapons, but oddly not their other mechanical functions. In The Daleks they ran of static electricity and merely being separated from the floor cut their power, here they run on "psychokinetic power" which sounds like bullshit. Daleks move by power of their mind now? But back to the point, the Daleks quickly devise ballistic weapons firing darts or bullets and are quick to use them to subdue the Exxilons. The Daleks also allow people to go under the impression there are only four of them when in fact there are more in the spaceship. Reminiscent of Power of the Daleks there. Well we can say four Daleks, it's more like three because whenever four appear in a scene one of them never moves. Clearly they only had three operators and the fourth simply lingers static in the background.

The bad bits are the number that die for stupid reasons. One Dalek explodes after being attacked by a crowd of Exxilons who hit it with sticks. One fights a hopeless fight with the 'root' from the city in the caves and instead of retreating sticks around to be blown to pieces. The worst of all has to be where a Dalek finds that a couple of prisoners are not where it left them, and instead of going to search for them or reporting it, starts spinning in circles shouting that it has failed and has to self destruct. That's just embarrassing. But hell, they did it again in Remembrance of the Daleks.

The story ends with a chase through the city overcoming various intelligence tasks (for what purpose?) and includes an attack upon their sanity that has some of the brightest flashing sequences ever seen in Doctor Who. Certainly a bit harsh on the eyes. The Doctor whips a few PCBs out of a computer and switches a few components and the city goes wild with lights flashing and doors opening and closing at random. Once outside the heroes watch the Dalek ship explode before turning around to see the Exxilon City dissolving and crumbling. Obviously a polystyrene models sprayed with some solvent, it actually looks quite good.

Overall not a great Dalek story. It's a shame the history of the Exxilons has not been expanded, and a story focusing more on them and the humans might have been quite strong without the Daleks being involved. As it stands, the Daleks are at their weakest at times and make a poor showing with them dying for silly reasons.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

The War Machines - On Location

The War Machines has a mix of some very prominent and rather obscure locations. The big novelty in this story is the Post Office Tower, now BT Tower. It was the first full contemporary Earth story paving the way for the likes of the Faceless Ones, Web of Fear and eventually the whole UNIT era. Hartnell works wonderfully in this story and it's a shame that this came late in his era, leaving his Doctor often in historical adventures or on alien worlds. But this isn't a review, just a brief look at some of the locations used in that story.

Immediately jumping out is Bedford Square only a minute's walk from the British Museum. Here the TARDIS lands in the first episode and is shot from various angles including a window of one house. In the row of photos to the back of me when taking this photo is No. 41 which doubles for the Royal Scientific Club.

From here the Doctor heads for the Post Office Tower which can be seen roughly to the North, however he is seen in the next shot approaching from Fitzroy Square along Conway Street which is just to the north of the tower.

The Tower itself is largely unchanged as seen in this shot from Cleveland Mews just off from Maple Street. The angle achieved in the story must be from a platform or window above the ground floor. The Tower has been closed to the public for a long time and has a rather permanent plaque on the wall stating this. :-(

There are a lot of shots taken in various streets during the War Machines attack but this taken in Berners Mews along which the War Machine reprogrammed by the Doctor travels to return to the Tower.

The Time Monster

Last night we had a friend to visit and watched The Time Monster, because the wife loves it so much. You just have to laugh at it, because it's so woeful at times and none of it makes sense. If you keep going until the end though, you are rewarded by the much better episodes set in Atlantis.

At six episodes there's a lot of obvious padding. You could probably do away with episodes 2 and 3 entirely, pick out a few salient points and put them into either episodes 1 or 4, making it a four parter. Episode 2 has a lot of running around, then with the reveal of the Master the Brig calls up UNIT and a wealth of heavy artillery which does nothing but allows for some extended scenes in which the Master calls up various things from the past, a medieval Knight, some Roundheads and a V-1, to attack them. Then the Doctor builds a thing out of old junk (see photo above) which does absolutely nothing to stop the Master. What's the point of it all? Episode 4 does some good stuff with the TARDIS, but Logopolis does it all better in later years.

Speaking of which, this is the one and only appearance of the 'washing-up bowl' interior for the redecorated TARDS but is also conveniently used for the Master's TARDIS. In retrospect it might have been nice to use a normal set for the Doctor's TARDIS and the new one for the Master's, just to differentiate them more. Perhaps they thought they would be getting more use from this set and shifting material for two different sets is asking rather a lot of the production.

That said the sets for Atlantis are actually very good and seem wasted on barely two episodes worth of material. In fact, perhaps they should have set the entire story in Atlantis and dumped all the TOMTIT stuff on Earth. Not that it makes much sense, but all the talk of the crystal 'not really being there' or actually 'being in Atlantis in the distant past' seems to suggest the Master should have just gone there in the first place and not bothered with the complicated research programme and false aliases.

Strangeness abounds. The relevance of the Doctor's dreams are never explained nor the eruptions in modern day Thera, but both lead the Doctor to jump from one conclusion to the next to implicate the Master in all of this. You have the preposterously named TOMTIT and the Master's convoluted plan to push things through the cracks in time. The crystal does all sorts, and can make people older or younger, but this is always rubbish. Why doesn't hair grow and if you are subjected to accelerated time wouldn't you quickly starve to death? Chronos looks bloody ridiculous swinging around on it's occasional appearances, the powerful god idea is far better conceived at the end of episode six.

There's the window cleaner who picks the moment of testing an important government project to wash the windows, pull a big "oooh" face before falling off the ladder. Having worked in a government funded research institute I don't know what's less likely, the fact that someone would even be paid to wash the windows or that an injured man is left left lying around for quite some time before anyone notices, apart from the Master who doesn't care. Maybe it's a weekend, because there only appear to be a couple of people working in the place. When he is found it's left to the Brigadier to sort it out because the government bods seems bored by the inconvenience of a crippled or dying man.

Fortunately all this is swept aside in the second half of the story, after an episode mostly set in the TARDIS involving threats of time rams and the Doctor being ejected into the vortex and saved, we get to Atlantis for the final third of the story. Which is clearly the best bit of all of this but many fans might have given up by the first 90 minutes. This is a shame because the best sets and acting are all present in this part. Ingrid Pitt is very memorable as Queen Galleia and there are some good performances from several of the other Atlanteans. The bit with the Minotaur is pretty bad but thankfully short. Roger Delgado is loving it in this part of the story, the Master oozes evil charm; seducing Queen Galleia and snapping his fingers when wearing gloves.

Atlantis doesn't last so long though and is destroyed with the Master trying to escape with Jo held hostage. But she causes a time ram with the Doctor's TARDIS. They are saved, by Chronos, who in it's own CSO environment appears as the massive face of a woman. So much more impressive than its previous manifestation. Chronos wants to keep the Master in torment, but after the most pathetic begging display from the Master the Doctor puts in a good word for him, but then the Master escapes! The review from the The Television Companion by David Howe and Stephen James Walker calls this overacting 'woefully' on Delgado's part, but I don't think so, it's obvious the Master is not being sincere and is pulling the Doctor's strings.

There are some great moments scattered throughout the story. The Master declining a lunch with the people from UNIT claiming to be a vegetarian who abhors violence is a lovely way to avoid blowing his cover. I love the Masters's line "You're wrong, Sergeant Benton. That is the oldest trick in the book!!" There are some great moments with the Master and Queen Galleia, and the Doctor's 'Daisiest Daisy' story is wonderful. That's probably the best way to look at this story - it's very easy to focus on the negative when so many rate it poorly but overlook the good bits and how funny the ridiculous bits are. It's not the complete write-off that some make out, there's a good story trying to get out here but it's just swamped in padding in the first half.

Friday, 3 February 2012

We Are Scientists

“And now I know you're mad, I just wanted to make sure."

The Doctor has fought many mad scientists among whom are the worst humanity has to offer, others are simply misguided or blinkered by their own fanaticism, usually it leads to their deaths. Here's the run down on my top ten, which goes up to eleven. Because that's mad/I couldn't choose which to leave out/it's the standard set by the BBC iPlayer volume control.

11. Dr Fendelman

Not a bad guy as such, just one who got carried away and wouldn't listen to reason. Was totally fixated upon his work and scientific success until too late. When he realised he was being used by the Fendahl he was murdered by those working to bring it back to life.

10. Prof Stahlman

Another scientist with his judgement clouded by the pursuit of scientific glory, possessed all the worst attributes of Dr Fendelman in abundance. Was aggressive and totally intolerant of anyone attempting to delay his risky experiment to drill into the Earth's crust. Even when contaminated with chemicals from his drilling he did not report the hazard showing a total disregard for Health & Safety. I know it was 1970 but when you turn green and grow hair you should probably bring the industrial accident to someone's attention.

9. Prof Whitaker

Now we get into the distinctly bad scientists. Prof Whitaker is the first of these working on time travel. The loss of grant money gave him a great enough dispute with modern society to want to wipe it out by turning time back to a period pre-dating the evolution of humanity and starting again. There's the glimmer of a noble aim here, but he's still an eco-maniac at best.

8. Prof Kettlewell

Another Professor, who keeps handing out chairs to these loonies? This time an expert in robotics and likely creator of the first sentient robot on Earth. Initially appears to be a kindly old gentleman who has fallen out with the establishment, but actually supports nazi manics who want to annihilate the world with nuclear rockets. At least he had a change of heart though, but more in line with tradition he was killed by his own creation.

7. Prof Lazarus

Prof Lazarus thought he had invented the means for eternal life, to revert his body back to a younger form. Unfortunately it turned him into an enormous monster and drove him utterly insane.

6. Harrison Chase

Perhaps more of an eccentric millionaire than a scientist, but he was hardly your common or garden botanist either. A collector and expert in plant science, he put the acquisition of the rare Krynoid pod before all else and was more than happy to murder people with his own hands to do it. No regard for human life and no time for any attempts to appeal to reason. Ended up mulched in his own compost and missed the moment of his Krynoid blooming and destroying the world.

5. Taren Capel

Robot scientist and psychopath. Raised by robots and had greater affinity for them than humanity itself, in fact had no regard for human life at all. He then attempted to start a robot rebellion and murdered his way through the crew of the Sandminer. Unfortunately died at the hands of his own robots. Oops.

4. John Lumic

An alternate universe crazy who 'created' the Cybermen there on Earth. Like Lazarus he wanted to extend life, particularly as he was terminally ill. But his ambitions extended to taking over the world and converting everyone into Cybermen.

3. Ramon Salamander

Brilliant politician and scientist, very highly respected for his work improving agriculture and tackling world hunger. But in secret he was a madman hell bent on taking over the world. He murdered people behind the scenes replacing them with various accomplices and moved himself into a position of power. His ultimate aim was to subjugate the entire world with the threat of destruction using his control over volcanoes and earthquakes.

2. Prof Zaroff

A completely mad scientist. While his early work in producing food from the sea was highly accomplished he turned to sheer insanity. He disappeared from public life and settled in Atlantis where he came up with a plan to destroy the world. Unlike many on this list the destruction of the world was not an unintended consequence of an evil plan, or a play for power, he simply wanted to destroy the world purely for the hell of it. Or the scientific achievement and personal satisfaction it gave him. Totally disinterested in any appeals to reason he nearly tops the mad scientist list, if only for coming out with the immortal line "nothing in the world can stop me now!"

1. Dr Mehendri Solon

And finally, at the top of the list comes Solon, 'creator of Morbius' as he was desperate to be known. While his ambitions may not have extended as far as personally destroying worlds, the evil he wished to resurrect certainly would. He lies, murders and abuses poor Condo from whom he has stolen his arm, it also seems implied that he has left public view because of questionable ethics regarding his work. And no wonder, Solon is a special kind of mad scientist, while his plan is evil and mad, it shows a distinct streak of egomania. His plan was to piece together a body from bits and pieces in which to place Morbius's brain, yet when the Doctor arrives he immediately sets to work removing his head to attach to the ridiculous homunculus he has built. Not for a second did the obvious occur, that he should perform a straight brain swap, but Solon's pride is such that he is damned if he won't use the body he has made. Seeing as the Doctor slips out of his clutches he ends up dusting off an old fishbowl and putting the brain in that instead. An obviously intelligent man to whom ethics are an unknown concept and common sense is blinkered by his own perceived brilliance.