Doctor Who Project: Death to the Daleks

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Tell me, have you ever tried Venusian hopscotch?

This time, the Dalek story title wheel lands on an alliteration, but at a stretch, it’s possible that Terry Nation’s “Death to the Daleks” (Story Production Code XXX) actually could apply to the story itself, since the dozen or so Daleks in the story do perish at the end. Alas, as with most things Dalek in the early 1970s, the title, and the story, aim for the grandiose and provide the pedestrian.

Surprise, Daleks!

In keeping with one of Nation’s favored themes, a terrible plague threatens the outer colonies of almost all species. Only one planet, Exxilon, inhabited by a Stone Age civilization, possesses the cure in quantities sufficient to save the millions who suffer from the disease. Both the humans of the Marine Space Corps and the Daleks (of, um, the Daleks) want this miracle substance, parrinium, and would gladly fight each for it, if only their spaceships and energy weapons worked once they neared Exxilon.

For even the TARDIS succumbs to the energy-draining powers of the “forbidden city” of the Exxilons’ ancestors, who were old when the universe was young. Their city, imbued with a form of bio-technological sentience, was meant to be their crowning achievement, but in standard science fiction fashion, it realized they were an impediment to its efficient functioning and killed off most of them. The remnants worship the city, reduced to chanting and incense-heavy sacrificial ceremonies in its name.

The main course awaits her fate

Terry Nation must hold some grudge against the TARDIS, as for the second story of his in a row, the TARDIS runs out of a vital component (here energy, previously oxygen) and remains useless to the Doctor. Even in “The Daleks” back in 1963, he sees fit to render the blue box hors de combat, with the Doctor pocketing the fluid link to force everyone to investigate Skaro to find a replacement. The notion of the inviolable TARDIS never quite took with Nation, it seems, and he uses whatever plot device he can to get the Doctor out of its safe confines. At least the Doctor has an oil lamp handy with which to guide his way out of the blacked-out TARDIS, as one does…

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Doctor Who Project: Invasion of the Dinosaurs

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Planet? Spaceship? What are you talking about?

Doctor Who has never been accused of subtlety, but Malcolm Hulke’s “Invasion of the Dinosaurs” (Story Production Code WWW) manages the closest thing: misdirection. From all the evidence on display, one expects the six episode story to be what it says on the tin, a tale of dinosaurs rampaging across London. Taking a page from Robert Sloman’s book, though, Hulke brings us an extended diatribe on pollution, zealotry, and nostalgia. Plus, yes, dinosaurs. So many dinosaurs.

An empty city

At the start of the story, the scenes of deserted London streets summon some of the series’ most striking visual moments to date: Daleks crossing the Thames with Big Ben in the background, Cybermen marching in front of St. Peter’s Cathedral, and Autons smashing forth from a high street window. Here, director Paddy Russell paints an eerie, desolate setting with a few deft strokes. But then, she has to add the prehistoric stars to the mix.

UNIT vs the dinosaurs

For a variety of reasons, the dinosaurs never actually appear threatening. In part, the combination of puppetry and green screen/CSO effects, though executed with great audacity, doesn’t work to great effect. Soldiers fire their weapons away from the beasties superimposed behind them, and the puppets jerk back and forth, particularly the Tyrannosaurs Rex model. Even when the seams aren’t showing, the Doctor insists to all who listen that they are (mostly) pea-brained vegetarians anyway and not to be feared. By the final episode, where the Doctor and the Brigadier drive a jeep under a Brontosaurus, the effects begin to come together, but at that point, the saurians have been relegated to plot nuisances.

Rare amongst Doctor Who stories, the true villains in “Invasion of the Dinosaurs” take up most of the character list, such that everyone seems in on the conspiracy: a Minister of Parliament, a British Army general, a mad scientist, and…Captain Mike Yates?
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Doctor Who Project: The Time Warrior

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I’ve never heard so much gobbledygook in my life, but I suspect you know what you’re talking about.

To usher in Season Eleven of Doctor Who, series regular Robert Holmes introduces another of his larger-than-life characters, in this case Linx, the titular character from “The Time Warrior” (Series Production Code UUU). But the title proves rather incongruous, for though Commander Linx, the squat Sontaran commander, has managed to transport scientists from the twentieth century back to medieval times, he does so for no reason other than to repair his damaged spaceship, so that he can return to the eternal war between the Sontarans and the Rutans.

Meet Commander Linx

However, this time-shifting ability of the Sontarans serves merely as an excuse for the show to play historical dress-up once more, with everyone getting in on the medieval act, from Jon Pertwee clomping around in a suit of armor to new companion Elisabeth Sladen showing off both a Maid Marian outfit and a Robin Hood outfit. Assuming one discounts the jaunt to ancient Atlantis in “The Time Monster” and the limited 1920s ship scenes in “Carnival of Monsters,” “The Time Warrior” marks the first visit to an historical Earth setting since the Second Doctor’s swan song in “The War Games” some four years prior—and even that wasn’t really on Earth.

Guess who!

It’s a comfortable setting for the series, despite the long absence of pseudo-historical stories from the screen, and it shows. The BBC knows how to costume for that time period like no other production team, and they can dress a castle set with far more believable detail than they can, it must be said, outfit a spaceship. Too, there’s more than a bit of the feeling from “The Time Meddler” about this story, with an interloper from beyond the stars interfering with the natural progression of human history through the introduction of modern weaponry. It just feels like home.

But where the Meddling Monk wanted to alter history for his own, somewhat fuzzily rationalized ends, Commander Linx simply wants to get home, so he can get back to all the killing. And if he needs to arm a local bandit from the Middle Ages with long rifles and a killer robot, well, so be it…
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Doctor Who Project: The Green Death

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In a funny way, he reminds me of a sort of younger you.

Sometimes in Doctor Who, the monsters and their villanous plans represent the main event, no matter how assiduously the actors pursue their craft. In Robert Sloman’s “The Green Death” (Story Production Code TTT), the malevolent miscreants (giant maggots and a crazed computer, in this case) and their associated hijinks are very much put to shame by the power of the actual story, that of the Doctor realizing he is losing a companion, and the strength with which Jon Pertwee and Katy Manning carry off the six episode farewell.

In happier times

And it’s just as well the Doctor’s impending heartbreak sustains “The Green Death,” since the ostensible story itself makes no sense at all. In quick summation: a corporation secretly run by a megalomaniacal, self-aware computer has discovered a process to extract more gasoline from petroleum, but the byproduct, which is being pumped into an abandoned Welsh coal mine, causes ordinary maggots to turn into giant versions whose bite causes all human cells to decay (and turn a bioluminescent green), to say nothing of the giant flying creatures into which they eventually metamorphose.

Maggots of the giant variety

Yet the maggots, it turns out, have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the computer’s plan; they’re simply an unforeseen side-effect of a refining process so powerful (and profitable) that the U.K. Prime Minister orders UNIT to help the corporation, Global Chemicals, hide evidence of the creepy-crawlies by destroying the mine entrances. Perhaps years of Yeti and other invasions have made giant insect infestations sufficiently run-of-the-mill that no one notices or much cares anymore.

Time for Top of the Pops?

The crazed computer’s real goal is to turn all humans on the planet into efficient robotized creatures using a form of mind control inflicted via souped-up stereo headphones, a revelation that comes pretty much out of nowhere after several episodes being devoted almost entirely to the mine and its unwelcome inhabitants. It’s another story altogether shoehorned into what could have been a strong, tightly-focused commentary on the lengths humanity is willing to go for cheap, abundant energy—throw another gallon in the tank, and never mind the maggots.

Luckily, we get to see Jo fall in love over several episodes, and in truth, that makes all the parlous plotting and half-baked stories worthwhile.

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Doctor Who Project: Planet of the Daleks

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We can never leave here. Never! Never!

Perhaps nothing sums up Terry Nation’s return to Doctor Who in “Planet of the Daleks” (Story Production Code SSS) better than the fact that said planet has a core of, um, molten ice, a geological anomaly that inevitably plays a prominent role in the story’s outcome. It’s a typically outrĂ© Nation conceit. Presumably this odd planetary structure would make hollowing the core out simpler than if it were molten lava, but unlike that plan of the Daleks, this one involves learning the secret of invisibility from the inhabitants of the planet, Spiridon, a jungle world whose savage lifeforms presumably drove the natives to evolve this ability as a protective measure. They also wear purple fur coats when it gets cold, slightly defeating the invisibility adaptation.

Purple is all the rage this season on Spiridon.

But rather than simply establishing a small research outpost to exploit the Spiridonian’s prestidigitous power, the Daleks also store tens of thousands of their brethren in suspended animation there—effectively, their entire military force—in order to retrofit them with the invisibility power for the forthcoming “invasion of all the solar planets” alluded to in the prior story, “Frontier in Space.” A fortuitous single point of potential failure, then, and one which a band of brave Thals (q.v. “The Daleks“) discover and trigger to thwart their eternal enemies.

The power of molten ice!

Though the Dalek War took place generations earlier, the Thals sent a mission from Skaro to hunt down the Daleks. Their two primitive spacecraft crash-land on Spiridon, killing several Thals instantly, but after much derring-do and many scenes of self-sacrifice, the dwindling band of tow-headed non-mutants manage to crack open the walls of the vast Dalek hibernation chamber, letting in torrents of molten, er, ice, freezing the regiments of pepperpots in place for centuries.

Oh, right, and the Doctor and Jo show up, but probably only because Terry Nation’s contract required him to write the Time Lord into the story.
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Doctor Who Project: Frontier in Space

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Only you could manage to have a traffic accident in space.

Just when you think it’s safe to go back into the water, Roger Delgado returns, the Master’s smile as cutting as a dorsal fin ripping through waves. Series regular Malcolm Hulke’s “Frontier in Space” (Story Production Code QQQ) starts out with verve and pace, dropping the Doctor and Jo immediately into a tangled web of interstellar intrigue. Two great empires of the 26th Century, that of Earth and that of Draconia, find themselves unwittingly lured into war by a mysterious third party employing highly advanced ultrasonic technology that disguises their mercenary Ogrons as the other side. Months of raids by the incognito Ogrons on Earth and Draconian shipping has left tensions between the two powers strained to the breaking point.

Friend or Foe?

By the middle of the third of six episodes, the viewer has been lulled into suspecting one of the characters already introduced—perhaps the warlike Earth General Williams or the honor-bound Draconian Prince—of organizing this subterfuge in order to further some hidden agenda. Two and a half episodes seems like just enough time to wrap up a political potboiler. But then, pretending to be the representative from an outlying Earth colony, swoops in the Master, and the entire story turns on a dime.

Behold, the Master

The strategy of withholding Delgado from the story for so long works brilliantly here, and one is forced to look back at hints the Doctor dropped about the fear-based disguise technology being far too advanced for the Ogrons, essentially just brute muscle, to have developed themselves. One even, perhaps, briefly moots the possibility of the Daleks being in play because of the Ogrons’ prior association with them (in “Day of the Daleks.”) And then, behold, the Master appears, putting rest to all those suppositions. It’s an electrifying moment, a real triumph of pacing and patience and plotting.

And yet, there’s immediately a sense of trepidation. For as pleasant as Roger Delgado’s appearances are, the Master’s plans don’t tend to result in gripping psychological or political drama, nor do they frankly ever make much sense. He’s more often than not a delightfully screen-stealing blowhard who falls prey to his own skulduggery. Will that be the case here?

Well, yes. But only until the real villains show up…
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