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Posts Tagged ‘Season 9’

I wrote about Meglos a little while ago and, in a spirit of fair but honest assessment, said some fairly harsh things about it. Needless to say I was quite surprised when all my regular correspondents got on at me and told me off for being too harsh about the poor old thing. Well, maybe I should try to take a more balanced and positive approach.

That’s all very well, I suppose, but with some old Doctor Whos the instinct to just let rip with both barrels is very hard to resist. It’s well over ten years since I watched The Time Monster, an oldie from 1972, and a story which I only recall having watched a couple of times prior to this latest occasion. The Pertwee years are, according to fan consensus, one of the few eras of Doctor Who not to feature any of the very worst stories, but you could argue that The Time Monster is the one that comes closest to disproving that thesis.

You know that thing that happens when someone has a great success, attempts to repeat it only moreso, and only ends up with something awkward and campy and rather less satisfying? I’m thinking of the relationship between The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker in Bondworld (Skyfall and SPECTRE too, now I think of it), and Star Trek IV and V, that sort of thing. Well, that’s what seems to me to have happened with The Time Monster: it’s an attempt to copy and surpass The Daemons.

The parallels between the two stories are too numerous and too obvious to bother detailing – oh, go on then. The Master, utilising a fairly transparent pseudonym, is attempting to make contact with and access the power of a colossally powerful being. Atlantis gets mentioned. The Brigadier and his men get stuck on the outside of a peculiar, and economically-realised, force barrier of some kind. The Doctor and the Master don’t actually come face-to-face until late on in the story, and not for long. In the end everything gets somewhat-unconvincingly resolved by Jo Grant offering to sacrifice her own life.

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I could go on about the weird structure of the story, the fact that they don’t actually get to Atlantis until the final third, the peculiarly jokey tone of much of it… but you know what, I’m going to stick to my resolution to try to be positive about The Time Monster and step briskly past all of that stuff. You could even argue that this is in fact some sort of plus, as it lays bare the close connection between Pertwee-era Doctor Who and the original incarnation of The Tomorrow People, which this surely resembles more than any other stuff – it is jokey, it does have strange obsessions with pop-pseudoscience, the plot is all over the place, and yet it’s somehow not as annoying to watch as you might expect.

That’s the saving grace of The Time Monster, it seems to me: the great thing about Doctor Who is its ability to incorporate nearly any idea the writer cares to come up with into an SF-fantasy context. And the distinctive thing about The Time Monster is that, somehow, it appears to include every idea Barry Letts and Robert Sloman came up with, even casually, while brainstorming the story. A plotline about Women’s Lib! Time slowing down and speeding up! A comedy speeded-up Bessie! Race memories! People being brought through history to do battle! Atlantis! Impossibly nested TARDISes! Telepathic TARDISes! The minotaur! The daisiest daisy in the annals of Buddhism! Sergeant Benton in his first nude scene! Seriously, were there any ideas they decided not to use?

At least The Time Monster is never completely dull, even if it’s never remotely credible, it has one of the most ridiculous monsters in the history of the programme, and it never really finds enough for the bodacious Ingrid Pitt to do. It would be very, very easy to tear it apart as a story that tries to do far too much with not nearly enough discipline, but it’s almost wholly innocuous – even the third Doctor is at his least objectionable.

I suspect you really would have had to have been there at the time in order to genuinely love The Time Monster, for this is a rather flawed story if we’re really honest about things. But it’s full of the colour and energy and fun of the period, and the regular actors are all clearly having a whale of a time. So I give this one a pass, avert my eyes and indulge it in all its trippy craziness.

 

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One of the things you become aware of as a long-term Doctor Who fan (and by long term, I mean over a period of decades) is the way that certain stories and periods from the series’ past tend to drift in and out of fashion. You can even see it, I suppose, in the way that the once-beloved Tennant-Davies stories now don’t seem to be quite as adulated as they once were, although this could be because the series currently has a lot of very noisy new followers who tend to dismiss everything they weren’t around for first time.

Nearly everything written by Eric Saward was raved about on first broadcast but is now praised with rather more qualification, while Kinda, which was pasted back in 1982, has been recognised as a rather good story for quite a long time now. The Enemy of the World turned out to be a very pleasant surprise for many people when it turned up a few years ago. The list goes on. (Of course, there are also some stories the reputation of which never seems to significantly alter: Pyramids of Mars has – duh! – never gone out of fashion, The Twin Dilemma has never come into it.)

But if you really want to talk about about the bubble reputation with respect to Doctor Who, you have to start thinking in terms of Jon Pertwee: for much of the 80s the Third Doctor seemed universally beloved, with The Daemons being voted the best story of all time at one point. Then there was a notorious reappraisal of the whole era in the early 90s, with Pertwee’s characterisation criticised as that of a hypocritical, patronising egotist. These days, the pendulum seems to have swung back the other way, with the era as a whole scoring very solidly in the last major poll, and most sensible commentators (i.e., ones who agree with me) recognising the huge debt the modern series owes to the architects of the Pertwee stories.

One beneficiary of the passage of time seems to be Day of the Daleks, a 1972 story which at one point was routinely dismissed as being not quite up to scratch, but these days seems to have been rehabilitated to the point where it’s now considered a rather impressive piece of scripting let down by a few duff creative choices. Certainly, viewed objectively, there is more good than bad going on here.

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Another of those iconic publicity photos depicting a scene that never actually appears in the story itself…

Earth in the 1970s (or possibly 1980s), and the spectre of an apocalyptic world war looms large – which, given this is early 70s Doctor Who, basically means we hear about it over the UNIT HQ intercom a few times. Devastation on an unimaginable scale seems inevitable, unless diplomat Sir Reginald Styles can bring the different parties to the negotiating table. Unfortunately, the stress seems to be getting to Styles, as he seems to be seeing ghosts in his country residence…

UNIT are called in, bringing the Doctor with them, and he rapidly concludes that the ghosts are indeed phantoms – not of the past, but the future. But the time travellers coming back are ruthless, heavily-armed guerilla soldiers, seemingly intent on murdering Styles, and in pursuit of them are the brutal, simian Ogrons. Forces in the future are determined to stop the guerillas’ mission – and at the head of those forces are the Daleks…

Day of the Daleks was, as is well-known, a Dalek-free zone in its first draft, and there were various ructions when the production team put them in without clearing it with Terry Nation first. It is true to say that the Daleks are not exactly centre-stage in Day of the Daleks, and when they are on-screen their realisation leaves quite a lot to be desired – the Dalek voices sound peculiar, and the BBC’s shortage of Dalek props becomes painfully obvious when the Daleks invade the 20th century in force during the climax and a grand total of three of them turn up. If you are a Dalek fan, this story is probably going to be a big disappointment to you (I suggest you soften the blow by watching the DVD special edition, which fixes some of the worst problems).

My suspicion is that the story’s worst failings in this respect are down to a combination of the usual production exigencies (no time, no money) and a director – Paul Bernard – who didn’t really have a handle on the material. Bernard lets some of his supporting cast get away with some extremely eccentric performances – the ‘no complications’ Ogron being only the most obvious – he obviously doesn’t quite know what a Dalek actually sounds like, his handling of some of the CSO is almost painful, and he manages to fluff the editing of more than one of the cliffhangers.

For a long time the fan consensus on Day of the Daleks was that it is a sub-par story because the Daleks aren’t in it much and the climactic battle is rather underwhelming. The latter is largely a production/budgetary issue, and the former is probably a result of the fact that the Daleks themselves were parachuted into the script to give the story another hook and a bit more punch. If you were minded to, I suppose you could blame Louis Marks for not totally reworking the story to put the Daleks at the heart of the story, but this would mean a radical change to what’s already a very solid script.

I hate to be bashing Terry Nation again, but if you compare Day of the Daleks with the two other Nation-scripted Pertwees, it’s a considerably more sophisticated piece of work – the pointless end-of-episode-one Dalek reveal is dispensed with, there are subtleties of characterisation and presentation, and underpinning it all is Doctor Who’s first and most elegant time paradox storyline. It’s not exactly an original concept, but then the programme’s always been more about repackaging literary SF ideas for a mass audience than originating its own.

I think I would rather see the Daleks taking a more peripheral – but still very significant – role in a story as interesting as this one, than being the sole raison d’etre of a tired cosmic ramble like Planet of the Daleks. Looking beyond the Daleks to the story itself reveals something which isn’t perfect, but has a lot going for it.

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So, there I was, smack in the middle of the summer of 1982, school holidays just having started, going about my business quite happily of (I think) a Tuesday night, when the shout went up throughout the house: ‘Quick! Doctor Who‘s on!’

I was astounded, appalled, taken totally by surprise: never mind the several months advance notice of any new episode we enjoy these days, back in that dim and distant past there was not only no internet, but the BBC was briefly in the habit of wheeling out vintage Doctor Who as summer schedule filler material at extremely short notice and with virtually no advance publicity. So it was with Doctor Who and the Monsters, the brief repeat season which first acquainted me with The Curse of Peladon (barring the first six or seven minutes, anyway) and Genesis of the Daleks (although, to be fair, for a while it did feel like if you watched any BBC channel for long enough you would eventually find yourself watching a repeat of Genesis), and got me properly acquainted with the traumatic delights of Earthshock.

Missing the start of some vintage Doctor Who left me nearly as distraught as Adric snuffing it. What I missed was some scene-setting stuff on the distant planet of Peladon at some point in the future*, where the technology level is mediaeval and the dominant trend in fashion is glitter camp. The planet is negotiating to join the Galactic Federation, against the better judgment of High Priest and royal advisor Hepesh. His apprehensions seem to be well-founded when his pro-Federation colleague Torbis is struck down by a mysterious and hairy apparition.

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Well, the Doctor inevitably turns up, in one of his first adventures beyond the bounds of England in the 1970s (or is it the 1980s?), and is conveniently mistaken for the Earthling chair of the Galactic Federation committee (we later learn that the real chair is a rather shouty woman, but no-one seems to have been told in advance who else was coming, which hints at curious lines-of-communication in place within the Galactic Federation). Needless to say, the Doctor throws himself into the role of chairman and sets about solving the mystery of the ancient curse which is apparently threatening the planet’s entry to polite galactic society, while his assistant Jo finds herself on the end of some rather plaintive wooing from the youthful king of Peladon…

There are some things about The Curse of Peladon which very obviously date it to 1972, in production terms at least: King Peladon appears to spend most of his time in David Bowie’s cast-off stage outfits, including hot pants, while some elements of the plot are rather primitively handled – I’m thinking here of the subplot about Jo being propositioned by the king, which is very melodramatic and a bit overwrought considering the two people involved have only just met one another. (The actual story only takes place over the course of a day or so, but at times one gets the impression writer Brian Hayles thinks it’s unfolding over a much longer period – ‘You once told me…’ says the King, which is an odd way to remind someone of something they said only a couple of hours before. But this is being super picky.)

In terms of popular culture, it’s also instantly obvious that the arrival on British screens of Star Trek has had an influence on the SF end of Doctor Who – this is a story about a Federation and interplanetary power politics, after all. But it has had a special Doctor Who spin put on it, or at least it is framed in terms very familiar to long-term Doctor Who viewers: the opposition at the heart of the story is between the reactionary and the progressive tendencies on Peladon, with the progressives being the good guys. What’s also very definitely Who-ish is the way this is coupled to a conflict between superstition and rationality – the villains attempt to use the legend of the curse to further their goals, but the Doctor instantly dismisses this and starts looking for a more concrete explanation. These sorts of plot structures are deeply embedded in the DNA of Doctor Who nowadays, but it’s interesting to see them so fully-formed much earlier in its history.

I suppose one is obliged, when discussing either of the Peladon stories, to discuss their topicality in terms of real-world 1970s politics. Well, unless you take the view that the series was coming out as very pro-entry to the Common Market (as it was then known), then it’s a novel touch but not much more. I think the reason it gets as much attention as it does is because most Doctor Who from this period has relatively little to say about real-world concerns, with the exception of the ecological angle to The Green Death and a very atypically critical look at the back-to-the-land movement in Invasion of the Dinosaurs. It is slightly curious that arch-miscreant Hepesh chooses to garb himself almost exclusively in purple, the same colour adopted by the anti-EU UK Independence Party nowadays – has Nigel Farage got anything he wants to share concerning his inspirations?

Of course, The Curse of Peladon also plays with its Star Trek influences in the way that the various Galactic Federation delegates are not actors in face-paint, light prosthetics and half-masks, but proper monsters, many of them non-humanoid. It may be this embarrassment of riches that led to this show appearing in the 1982 Monsters repeat season ahead of, say, The Time Warrior. Even so, the aliens in Curse are so memorable because they are scripted as diverse individual characters with their own attitudes and agendas. And it’s here that we find one particular reason why I like The Curse of Peladon so much.

The Doctor these days is, virtually, an infallible moral touchstone: if he makes a serious misjudgment in terms of either behaviour or someone’s character, it’s a major narrative beat (see, for example, A Town Called Mercy). Yet it is quite central to the plot here that he jumps to the wrong conclusions with regard to the motives of the Ice Warriors (albeit for understandable reasons): assuming they are the villains, when in fact their intentions are entirely honourable. This is not quite a shot heard round the world in terms of Doctor Who’s treatment of morality – reformations remain thin on the ground, and indeed it seems that individual characters are much more likely to turn over a new leaf than whole races – but it is one of the series’ most explicit affirmations that morality is an expression of personal choice rather than intrinsic nature. And I genuinely think that Alan Bennion’s performance as Izlyr is one of the overlooked masterpieces of masked acting in Doctor Who.

For all these reasons this is a story I have an enduring fondness for – certainly much more than its sequel, The Monster of Peladon, despite the many similarities between them. There’s a lot in here that is very much of the time in which the story was made, both technically, culturally, politically, and in story terms. But there is also a lot which is classic, timeless Doctor Who. All together it seems to me to be a very endearing and highly enjoyable package.

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*The Apparently Now-Obligatory When’s-It-Set Discussion

Nothing approaching an on-screen date is given in either of the Peladon stories, which either makes dating it accurately very challenging, or just adds to the fun. Earth is a member of the Galactic Federation at this point in history, and presumably has friendly relations with the other members. The Federation members at this point, curiously enough, all seem to originate from the same area of the galaxy – Sol, Alpha Centauri,and Arcturus – so it isn’t necessarily a very distant future.

Anyway, I tend to agree with the consensus that Earth can’t have an Empire at the same time that it belongs to the Federation, which rules out the half-millennium between the 26th and the 30th centuries (presumably the First Great and Bountiful Human Empire is the one we see in Frontier in Space and The Mutants). My own personal sense of history is that empires tend to turn into co-operative groupings rather than vice-versa, so – and I am aware this is rather boring – I am inclined to agree with the majority view, which is that this story happens at some point after the 30th century, although possibly rather earlier than the 39th century dating suggested by Ahistory.

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