Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Evil of the Daleks Episode 5

The one where the Daleks take the Doctor for a ride...

Jamie is depicted as a real man of action by David Whitaker in this story. Whether he's trying to survive the lethal Crystal Maze-style traps in Maxtible's south wing, pushing Daleks into fireplaces and over balconies, or fighting with Kemel and Terrall, he's very much the "hero" figure. It's probably the first time a male companion has been portrayed this energetically since Ian Chesterton.

But Whitaker doesn't forget that Jamie has feelings too, and the scene where the Scot and the Doctor are reunited reflects that. Jamie feels he's been betrayed by the Doctor, and hasn't forgiven him since their all-out row in episode 3. "You and me, we're finished!" he snaps at the Doctor. "You're just too callous for me." It's reminiscent of similar disagreements yet to come, such as between the Seventh Doctor and Ace in The Curse of Fenric, or the Twelfth Doctor and Clara in Kill the Moon.

Friday, February 16, 2018

The Evil of the Daleks Episode 4

The one where Jamie makes a new friend...

Episode 4 is basically The Trials of Jamie McCrimmon, as a big chunk of it is taken up with action-based scenes of the Highlander either fighting with Kemel, or surviving various deadly traps. Action and fight scenes are never very much fun on audio, so the opening fight between Jamie and Kemel makes for arduous listening, although I'm sure it looked great. The same goes for the closing scene of Jamie and Kemel climbing up the rope to the minstrel's gallery to rescue Victoria - with just the sound to guide us, it loses all jeopardy.

The bond that develops between the Scot and the Turk is a nice touch though, especially after Jamie rescues his would-be killer from a fatal fall from the window. Kemel then returns the favour by saving Jamie from a falling axe, and the two soon become firm friends. It's a pity such a prominent black character has to be a mute brute, but at least Season 4 has shown efforts in casting non-white actors (Elroy Josephs, Earl Cameron, Paul Anil and Mark Heath spring to mind) - it's just that they're rarely strong, principal characters.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Evil of the Daleks Episode 3

The one where the Doctor and Jamie have a right old ding-dong...

Arguments between Doctors and companions are ten a penny these days. You can barely go a week without a companion tearing a strip off the Time Lord for not being human enough, or the Doctor having a dig at his latest best friend for being too human. But in the classic series, by and large, the Doctor got on with his travelling companions pretty well. There was often an atmosphere in the TARDIS during the early to mid 1980s, but as a whole, the regulars very rarely had proper all-out arguments. Barbara vs the Doctor springs to mind in The Brink of Disaster, as well as Ace vs the Doctor in The Curse of Fenric, and Steven vs the Doctor in Bell of Doom.

But there's an argument between the Doctor and Jamie in this episode which gives them all a run for their money, simply because it's so well rehearsed and performed that it seems 100% genuine, and consequently quite upsetting to witness. From the Doctor's point of view, the disagreement is all part of a grand manipulation of his Scottish friend, but as far as Jamie is concerned, this is a serious falling-out. Frazer Hines and Patrick Troughton pull it off so well that the scene is brimming with tension and ire.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Evil of the Daleks Episode 2

The one where the Doctor travels back in time without his TARDIS...

It's lovely to be able to actually watch Doctor Who for once! Season 4 is the only one that doesn't have a single complete story, which is a real shame when you think about how many important changes happen across its nine-story run. Of the 41 episodes that make up the season, only 10 exist in the BBC Archives as I write (Feb 2018). That's only one-quarter. We don't have any episodes from four of the nine stories. I wouldn't say Season 4 is the strongest of the show's run so far, but we're missing out on so much - pirates, regeneration, Daleks, Jacobites, giant crabs and a trip to Skaro!

So to actually see this episode is a rare treat. To see that Dalek manifest behind Kennedy and just watch him, observe what he's up to, before taking action. The Dalek gathers information before reacting to it, just as a logically-minded creature would do, in order to maximise its own advantage. It demands to know who Kennedy is, and when he bolts for it, the Dalek exterminates him, then calmly fades away again. I love how David Whitaker writes the Daleks.

Monday, February 12, 2018

The Evil of the Daleks Episode 1

The one where the TARDIS is stolen on the back of a lorry...

You know, it's a real shame that Doctor Who stopped having individual episode titles because sometimes the stories would really benefit from being able to hold certain information back. When the series dropped the episode titles with The Savages in May 1966, the story titles gradually became more sensational and attention-grabbing (they had to be). Instead of descriptively vague titles like The Steel Sky or Temple of Secrets, instead we got wham-bam screamers like The War Machines, The Macra Terror and The Power of the Daleks.

If you weren't already aware, if you'd not been exposed to pre-publicity, when you sat down to watch World's End on November 21st, 1964, you'd have no idea the story was to feature the return of the Daleks. The cliffhanger, where a Dalek rises inexplicably from the River Thames, would knock you for six and have a real impact. But that element of surprise and delight is lost when you sit down at 6pm and are told right from the beginning that the Daleks are in it this week because this is The Evil of the Daleks Episode 1.

Saturday, February 03, 2018

The Faceless Ones Episode 6

The one where Ben and Polly go back to the start...

In keeping with the sedate pace of the preceding five episodes, the "finale" of The Faceless Ones jogs to the finish line rather than races. Writers David Ellis and Malcolm Hulke have an essentially interesting story on their hands, but it's been plotted and executed somewhat clumsily, making anything which could have been exciting mildly underwhelming. Hulke would go on to pen some of Doctor Who's most intelligently written stories in the Pertwee era (not always the most dynamic, though), while this was Ellis's only successful contribution to the show (he'd submitted various storylines to the Doctor Who office previously, including one called The People Who Couldn't Remember). Sadly, both writers died just 12 months and one week apart, in June 1978 and July 1979.

Their combined legacy has to be regarded as one of the weakest stories in Season 4, but that's not to say there aren't kernels of strong ideas. It's just executed in such a disappointingly uncertain way. Credulity is stretched regularly. For instance, could the Commandant really put a very sudden halt to all outgoing flights from Gatwick just to rally the airport staff to search for 25 hidden bodies? The repercussions for international air traffic would be devastating (which is probably why Brussels gives him a call at the end of the episode!).

Friday, February 02, 2018

The Faceless Ones Episode 5

The one where the Doctor loses a third companion...

The Doctor proves to be a pretty ineffective force for good in this story. I've already written about how writers David Ellis and Malcolm Hulke seem obsessed with having the Doctor seek the support of the authorities, and despite making some of his own investigations last episode, he's still at it now, in episode 5, where he questions the fake Meadows in an effort to convince the Commandant once and for all that something alien is afoot. It doesn't make for very dynamic viewing when your hero spends most of his time lobbying middle managers.

"First Polly, then Ben, now Jamie!" laments the Doctor when Sam tells him that the Highlander has disappeared aboard Flight 419. The Doctor has been clumsily remiss with his burgeoning bunch of companions in this story. Not content to have one companion to get into danger, here he has no fewer than three, who he mislays with the greatest of ease. We haven't seen Ben or Polly since episode 3, and are to understand that they have been taken aboard the Chameleon satellite. Now Jamie's stowed aboard too.