Neglected Gems Part 2

Continuing my “one under-rated story per Doctor” list.

The Invasion of Time

There are tons of Williams-era stories that I could argue are neglected, and I was tempted by The Armageddon Factor in particular, but I’m going with The Invasion of Time because it has a lot of nice bits, even if it doesn’t completely cohere.  There is some padding and the ending (the Doctor gets a Space Gun and shoots the Sontarans) is awful, but the journey to get there is interesting.

Many Doctor Who stories have suggested that the Doctor’s morality isn’t entirely clear-cut and on several occasions he has cooperated with an enemy as part of a plan to defeat them, but here we spend over two episodes with a Doctor apparently gone completely to the bad.  The scene when he admits his ploy to Borusa is one of the most touching in the series, their relationship being completely believable in a way that it failed to be with later Borusas while providing a rationale for Tom Baker’s increasingly eccentric performance.  A similar scene two episodes later has the Doctor round on his mentor, searching for the Great Key and asserting that he wants to care about the deaths of innocent Time Lords, not to practise detachment like Borusa.

Rodan is an excellent character, really a prototype Romana, and while I like Mary Tamm’s performance, it is hard to see why Hilary Ryan was not asked back.  The Outsiders are fairly uninteresting, but at least they give Leela something to do.  Castellan Kelner makes for a more interesting villain than the Vardans or Sontarans and I like the surreal TARDIS interiors in the final episode.

Terminus

Terminus is an odd, subdued story and not particular good for list posts like this; it’s not full of “Do you remember the one where… ?” moments or memorable jokes or monsters.  It’s a curiously low-key story about character and mood, rooted in the memory of the programme’s earliest years, but more constructive about revisiting the past than stories like Arc of Infinity or Warriors of Deep, mirroring story style rather than continuity points and old monsters.

It’s bleak in places, a story of people stigmatised by society and the drug-addicted criminals tasked with helping them in a form of slavery.  Yet it ends on a note of optimism, with Nyssa staying behind to build a new future for the Vanir and the Lazars and the Garm being granted his freedom.  The sets are cheap, but the skull motif works and Turlough’s character continues to develop in a unique way.  Sadly he would be largely neglected after the next story.

The Trial of a Time Lord Parts 9-12 aka Terror of the Vervoids

In many ways Terror of the Vervoids is the most traditional Colin Baker era story, despite being one of the few not to feature an old villain or monster.  It’s not a million miles from The Robots of Death, a cross between a murder mystery and a base under siege.  It’s easy to mock some less than realistic dialogue, but the story itself is fairly strong and the Doctor is recognisably Doctorish, after the bullying of season twenty-two and the confusion of the previous Trial instalment.  Mel has never been a popular companion, but I appreciate the way that she actually wants to travel in time and space with the Doctor after Peri and Tegan always seemed to want to be elsewhere.

Part three coming soon…

Regeneration: The Changing Style of Doctor Who – Out Now!

I’ve been away from here for too long.  The reason (part of the reason, anyway), is that I’ve been working on a book!  Regeneration: The Changing Style of Doctor Who by D. G. Saunders looks at all of television Doctor Who from An Unearthly Child to Resolution (sadly, there wasn’t enough time to add this year’s episodes), examining the way the series has changed with the changing priorities of different production teams.

From the back cover blurb:

For over fifty years, the BBC’s Doctor Who has taken viewers on adventures across time and space.  At the same time, the programme has crossed genres and styles.  From science fiction to action, horror to comedy and back again.

Regeneration: The Changing Style of Doctor Who offers a penetrating look at the way different showrunners, producers and script editors shaped the Time Lord’s adventures.  Analysing each era in sequence, it looks at story styles, the character of the Doctor and his intrepid companions, and the nature of the villains and monsters they faced, as well as the portrayal of the Time Lords.

An essential guide both for new fans wanting a primer on the programme’s history and for long-standing enthusiasts seeking a fresh perspective on eras they thought they knew.

Available NOW from Lulu.com, Blackwell’s, BarnesandNoble.com, Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com!

The Woman Who Fell to Earth

So, the waiting is over, at last.  The Woman Who Fell to Earth started with the feel of Steven Moffat’s era, with a narrator, most similar to The Bells of St. John, but also like several other episodes such as Listen and Before the Flood, which opened with narration.  This was followed by a scene in a wood shot to evoke a dark fairy tale aesthetic, like much of Moffat’s era.  But this was illusory and soon we were in the midst of a story very much rooted in the real world, somewhat like Russell T Davies’ vision for the show, but arguably more real, with characters that felt like real people doing real jobs, rather than simply evoking other TV genres.  The funeral at the end in particular rooted this in a reality only previously glimpsed in the codas to Black Orchid and Remembrance of the Daleks.  In Doctor Who people die all the time, but they very rarely get buried and mourned.

The lack of advance publicity paid off for me, although I don’t seek out spoilers at the best of times.  I guessed that Grace might die because I did at least know which characters would become regulars, but much of the programme was entirely unknown to me; compare the way in which characters like Martha and Bill seemed well-known long before their first episodes were broadcast as I tried to guess how they would enter the Doctor’s life.

The main characters were quickly and deftly sketched in.  The thirteenth Doctor doubtless needs time to find her feet, in writing and acting, but seemed initially like a slightly generic new series Doctor: gabby, eccentric (although not as much as her immediate predecessors) and questioning, but also genuinely apologetic in a way that has not been seen for a long time.  Perhaps it was this, as much as her gender and height, that gave this Doctor an interesting and unusual air of vulnerability only really seen previously in Peter Davison’s interpretation.  I look forward to seeing how this is developed in the coming episodes.

It was not just the Doctor’s vulnerability that echoed the past.  The larger regular cast evoked season nineteen as well as much of the sixties, the Doctor tricked the villain into defeat in a very seventh Doctorish way (compare with Remembrance of the Daleks, but also The Dominators) and the title sequence was a little reminiscent of Pertwee’s psychedelic spirals, with a tune closer to Delia Derbyshire’s original orchestration than any since Tom Baker’s time.  However, what was most noteworthy was an absence: while there was humour, the wise-cracking, gag-a-minute style that characterised so much of twenty-first century Who had quietly disappeared.   Again, it will be interesting to see how this develops.

If the episode had a flaw – and it’s a minor one – it’s that Tzim-Sha/Tim Shaw was perhaps too Star Trek-ey a villain, both in conception and execution, but even that serves to distinguish it from the approaches of Moffat and Davies, who tended to steer clear of glossy American ‘cult’ science fiction when searching for inspiration.

The greatest achievement of the episode was that it succeeded as a newcomer-friendly, continuity-lite episode, but somehow still feels like the logical next step from the previous thirteen years.  In that respect, the nearest parallel is Spearhead from Space (as relaunch and new Doctor episodes often are), which also quietly reconfigured the programme with minimal fuss and continuity.  The Doctor is most definitely in!