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By johnbensalhia, Dec 8 2017 05:25PM

The end of an era’s a hoary old cliché. It’s always used when a TV programme reaches its natural conclusion (something that should have happened to Scrubs or The Big Bang Theory after their first seasons) or when a band announce that they are quitting the music business (well, until they decide to reform five years later when a big fat cheque is dangled in front of their eyes).


Doctor Who, though, has plenty of these ’End Of An Era’ moments - The regeneration of The Doctor. The departure of a companion. The last Keff McCulloch score. One of the big daddies of the end of an era is of course, The War Games.


Consider the following: The War Games is the last transmitted 1960s story. it’s the last black and white story. No more groovy Troughton title swirls. Jamie leaves. Zoe leaves. Doctor regenerates. You could write your own book listing all of these milestone departures - an epic in itself, much like The War Games.


After the 12-episode beast of The Daleks’ Master Plan, The War Games boasts a nearly-as-impressive 10 episodes. The common consensus, though, has been to skip the first eight episodes and get straight to Episode Nine, when we find out about The Doctor’s background. Luckily, all 10 episodes exist this time around, and sitting through these again, I think the earlier judgement’s a bit unfair. The whole adventure has an epic feel about it and right from the opening moments of Episode One, there’s a feeling of doom and oppression that never lets up until The Doctor’s spun away into the ether.


At first, we’re supposed to think that the time-travelling trio has blundered into the First World War. However, as events progress, we quickly find out that it’s not that simple. Cue General Smythe and his great big sideburns.


Not only does Smythe have a TV screen in his bedroom (he can catch all the main TV packages on it, you know), he's discovered the concept of Skype nearly a century before it became commonplace. He also has a pair of scary hypnotising glasses that make his victims forget things that they shouldn’t know about. The old hypnotising trick is The Demon Headmaster in reverse. I’m not quite sure how glasses are meant to hypnotise people, but it does establish that any Four Eyes in The War Games is a bad ’un. Not exactly a great advert for speccy kids watching The War Games in the 1960s. Maybe the speccy aliens should have gone to Specsavers to get some X-ray laser eye surgery or hypnotic contact lenses.


The intrigue is well set up in the first episode and there’s a sense that this is going to be the Second Doctor’s toughest challenge. In a neat anticipation of the Time Lord trial, The Doctor faces his three-strong panel of judges like a psychotic version of Britain’s Got Talent. And sure enough, the verdict’s a unanimous Off Off Off Off With His Head, as he’s sentenced to death at dawn. The first episode hits the ground running in establishing the mystery and doomy atmosphere.


That’s not to say that the next seven episodes are poor relations. The key to The War Games is that it’s like a mystery set of Russian Dolls. The mystery is gradually uncovered bit by bit. How are a bunch of effete Romans only a stone’s throw away from World War One? How does the War Chief know The Doctor? Who is the mysterious Waaaaawwwww Laaaaaaaawwwwd that the Security Chief keeps mentioning? All of these puzzles are thrown at the viewer, but what’s satisfying about the 10-episode format is that there’s enough scope to work it all out in a measured, logical and satisfying manner.


Admittedly, there is padding. There are lots of capture/escape/recapture scenarios and an awful lot of bickering. What the 10-episode length does allow though is for Malcolm Hulke’s and Uncle Terrance’s talents for characterisation to show through.


Good thing that the BBC didn’t release The War Games back in the days of omnibus videos, since you’d be looking at scrolling credits for about one hour, due to the sheer number of characters. They all work to varying degrees, but even the minor players are well defined. Captain Ransom clearly isn’t that much of a hit with the laydeez, given that he’s reduced to bumbling and gimbling like an imbecile when Lady Jennifer uses him as a diversion for Carstairs to see The Doctor. Private Moor is a young, inexperienced boy who’s easily fooled by a baldy in a monocle. Harper is strong-willed and not so easily duped - incidentally, Rudolph Walker is brilliant, giving some welly to what’s actually quite a minor role.


Interestingly, the humans and the aliens have their own personal battles to fight. Carstairs and Lady Jennifer are torn between following the rulebook and following their instincts at a sham trial that they somehow know is wrong. Luckily, they plump for the latter choice, and in the process, make rather a charming double act when helping The Doctor. David Savile and Jane Sherwin are well cast - Savile’s Carstairs in particular makes for a good substitute companion, like a heroic, typically British ancestor of Ian Chesterton (probably not so much an ancestor of incompetent Rory). I like to think that when he’s whisked away in Time Lord mist, he’s catapulted into Lady Jennifer’s swanky mansion where they end up choosing to marry over a cup of tea and a plate of scones.


The aliens though, have more issues to deal with. In particular, I’m talking about the power struggles between The Security Chief, The War Chief and The Waaaaawwwww Laaaaaaaawwwwd. It’s a three-tier system in terms of power. At the bottom of the pile is The Security Chief, although this is no surprise. He’s a pompous, jumped up midget who’s always on at The War Chief for some reason or other. Presumably, the two went to school together, where The War Chief picked on The Security Chief something rotten and stole his tuck shop money in the process.


Then there’s his voice which is - um, interesting. Let’s make no bones about this - The Security Chief has possibly the oddest speaking voice in Doctor Who history. It’s like he’s swallowed a pickled egg whole, and it’s got lodged in his throat, thus causing him to squawk in short, sharp bursts like a constipated duck. It doesn’t help either that he says and does the same things over and over again.


Here then is your cut-out and keep Security Chief Drinking Game:


* Take a swig of beer whenever The Security Chief puts a futuristic watering can on his head to grill his hapless victims.

* Take two swigs when The Security Chief struggles to come up with a witty insult: “Whaaaaatttt. Eeeeeh. Steeeeoooopeeed. Foooooool. Yooooooo. Aaaaaaaahhhhh.”

* Quaff half a pint of beer whenever The Security Chief starts a girly bitch-fest with The War Chief.

* Down a pint whenever The Security Chief muses over the wonders of a “Speeeeeeeece. Taaaaaaaam. Macheeeeeeen.”

* Down a pint, then a Mojito and then 10 vodka shots whenever The Security Chief refers to The War Lord - or The Waaaaawwwww Laaaaaaaawwwwd as he calls him.


Next in the pecking order is The War Chief, a slimy Abanazar lookalike who’s slightly more sympathetic than The Security Chief, although that’s not saying much. When he’s not spending his time hectoring his squawking number two, The War Chief is pondering on how to achieve total power. The arrival of The Doctor proves to be a godsend, since he plans to form an alliance with his old ‘friend’.


However, even The War Chief’s not totally in control, since he always has to creep behind The War Lord’s back. Naturally, he’s caught in the act, and sentenced to plastic gun oblivion by The War Lord (presumably, he regenerates off-screen). I think that Uncle Terrance is too harsh on Edward Brayshaw’s performance when he’s talking on the DVD commentary. Brayshaw’s acting is far better than bwa-ha-ha-ing moustache twirling, and he adds a degree of vulnerability to the character, especially in the scenes of his downfall.


The War Lord doesn’t need to worry about the acquisition of power, since he already has it. He’s such a badass that all he has to do is stare at someone to get them to do his bidding. The casting of Philip Madoc is inspired - Madoc’s average height and softly-spoken voice shouldn’t invoke pant-wetting terror among his subordinates, and yet The War Lord is one of the most convincing human baddies in Doctor Who. Madoc is absolutely spot-on - although his performance as Solon (in the Tom Baker outing The Brain Of Morbius) is his most memorable, The War Lord is just as chilling, and certainly on a par with both Solon and the vicious tourist officer in The Goodies episode on South Africa.


It’s a crying shame that this is the regulars' last story. Both Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury make the most of their last few days on Doctor Who, combining dedication (Zoe’s rescue of The Doctor), humour (Jamie’s meeting with Arturo Villar) and poignancy (their leaving scene) in equal measure. Patrick Troughton is also at his best - every element that makes his Doctor so successful is encompassed here. Humour. Brains. Duplicity. It’s all here, and what’s more, he’s shown to be more vulnerable than ever. He’s clearly upset at having to summon his race for help, and his last plaintive comment at Jamie’s and Zoe’s departure speaks volumes (“They’ll forget me, won’t they?”).


The Time Lords’ portrayal is interesting. They’d never seem so awesome again. They can slow down time in a bid to stop The Doctor escaping. They can reduce the all-powerful War Lord to a screaming baby. And in the cruellest fashion possible, they mind-wipe Jamie and Zoe, and send them back to their original times and places. And for their piece-de-resistance, they banish The Doctor to Earth and force him to regenerate. The Time Lords are pompous. Unwilling to interfere. But they are also seen to be brutal. They are like a collection of The World’s Strictest Fathers, and it’s all there to see in the last episode.


The last episode is a belter, not just because of the script and acting but because of David Maloney’s fine direction. Maloney has produced some great scenes up till now: The reflection of the materialising TARDIS in a muddy puddle. The close-up shots of the hypnotised Earthlings. The frenzied pace of Episode Nine. In the last episode, Maloney cranks up the action even further. Maloney gets the best out of all the actors and keeps the action rattling along at breakneck speed. Who would have thought that trial scenes could be so exciting?


The Doctor knows that the game’s up. He humours Jamie and Zoe after they persuade him to escape from his cell and into the Dry Ice Time Lord Krypton Factor Course - but his body language and weary speech betray a beaten man. The farewell scene is the most touching of the 1960s (especially The Doctor’s last sad wave) and to make matters worse, Jamie and Zoe are technically back to Square One. They both learned so much in the TARDIS - not just knowledge about the world and its wonders but about friendship and learning to feel emotion. So to have Jamie return to his old bloodthirsty ways and for Zoe to be reunited with Tanya Lernov and Leo Ryan (ugh) with only fading dreams for souvenirs is very sad.


Technically, the Time Lords kill The Doctor off, and force him to live like a peasant on Earth. The ‘regeneration’ scene (well, as near as you can get - we don’t see him change into the Third Doctor) is the creepiest out of the lot. Future offerings would draw more on emotion, but the Second Doctor’s last moments are disturbing in the extreme. Alone and burning up in a kaleidoscopic void, the last we see of the Second Doctor is his headless body screaming out as he spins off into a black hole. Dudley Simpson’s off-kilter music only adds to the uneasy feeling (Simpson’s music has been back on form, incidentally), topping off a memorable if uncomfortable end to the reign of the Second Doctor.


The War Games may be regarded by some as overlong, but the lasting impression is one of a big epic blockbuster, full of high stakes and tragedy. It's very well produced, with some striking costumes and groovy 1960s sets from designer Roger Cheveley. Just be glad that it’s still complete in the BBC archives and out on shiny new DVD.


The end of an era.


* Moving on to the next eras of Doctor Who, they are covered at length in these 3 ebooks:

JON PERTWEE ERA

UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B071P3CQ9M

US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B071P3CQ9M


TOM BAKER ERA VOL 1

UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0746NQZ4J

US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0746NQZ4J


TOM BAKER ERA VOL 2

UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B077K8MN2P

US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B077K8MN2P

By johnbensalhia, Dec 8 2017 05:13PM

With only two more wacky adventures left for the Second Doctor, you would have thought that his penultimate story would be a humdinger. Well, think twice, since in the end, all we get is the Wild West in Space.


Welcome The Space Pirates, a tale that just pips The Dominators to the post to scoop the Dullest Story Of Season 6 prize. Maybe I’m biased, since I find western-type stories to be a bore. Here, we’ve got two main opposing factions: General Hermack and his nondescript set of English actors pretending to be American. And the eponymous pirates, as led by Caven.


Neither side is particularly inspiring. Hermack’s crew is rather faceless. Hermack himself has a rather strange accent that’s hard to fathom. Consider it an odd cross between upper crust English, Hungarian and Italian - although maybe I need to rinse out my ears. Despite a whole load of famous names including Jack May (Dangermouse), Donald Gee (Born and Bred) and George Layton (appearing in another Doctor series entirely), none of Hermack’s crew really stand out. Layton seems to be impersonating Peter Sarstedt with his 1969 helmet haircut and droopy moustache. On the other side of the tracks, Caven and Dervish are also clichéd villains, all melodramatic ham and little in the way of character.


To add insult to injury, we also get Milo Clancey, a great big pain in the derrière. Clancey is supposed to be a comedic outer space cowboy, complete with knackered spaceship and poor breakfast facilities. It’s a nice idea, but Clancey just isn’t funny. Robert Holmes, for once, is off the boil and labours the humour too much with rather ponderous ‘jokes’ and monologues. Gordon Gostelow’s performance isn’t great either and that whiny, Deputy Dawg voice tries the patience very quickly.


It’s odd that Holmes’ first couple of Doctor Who stories failed to hit the spot with fans. The Krotons has been lambasted for its shoddy production and comedy monsters, but The Space Pirates suffered an even worse fate - it got ignored. Mention The Space Pirates to the average fan, and it’s a fair bet that even they’ll draw a blank. “It’s the one with… um, pirates in.” The real fault of this story is that nothing happens. There’s very little action, and even when something does happen, it comes across as poorly executed: for example, The Doctor, Zoe and Jamie falling Scooby-Doo-like into a black pit at the end of Episode 3. The remainder of the tale has characters doing lots of talking. I mean lots. So much so, that it doesn’t really matter that most of the episodes don’t exist, since the soundtrack could probably tell the story anyway - although, the listener will probably have gone to the Land Of Nod before the end.


It also doesn’t help that The Doctor, Zoe and Jamie are shunted to the sidelines for the first couple of episodes. It’s hard to muster up enthusiasm when you’re stuck inside a futuristic broom cupboard. While the trio of Troughton, Padbury and Hines are excellent as always, there is a bit of weary fatigue creeping through. That said, it does set things nicely up for The Doctor’s ultimate fate in The War Games: Cut off from the TARDIS and totally helpless. Troughton’s very good here - From his initial chiding of Zoe (“Zoe, don’t be such a pessimist”) to his realisation of his folly in repelling the TARDIS rather than bringing it back (“Oh dear, what a silly idiot I am”), Troughton’s melancholy Doctor chillingly suggests that this latest incarnation is heading towards the finish line.


It’s difficult to comment on Michael Hart’s direction. Luckily, this is the last instance in which I get to comment on a Doctor Who story from recons and soundtrack, although in this case, there are no telesnaps to comment on. What I've got is the existing episode, and that doesn’t inspire much confidence. It’s too static and plodding, and after the visual treats of Michael Ferguson’s direction in The Seeds Of Death, it’s a bit of a comedown. The bizarre soprano shrieking is also a big mistake, since A. It’s like fingernails being run down a blackboard and B. It sounds too much like the lone warbler at the beginning of Star Trek.


Mind you, with the American accents, the OTT earnestness and the soprano, The Space Pirates could have passed for Star Trek on one of its off days. All we needed was William Shatner turning up to snog Madeleine Issigri and her rather odd hat. In the end though, Madeleine decides to give The Doctor a crafty peck on the cheek, the saucy minx.


In its favour, The Space Pirates does boast some stunning model work. John Wood’s spaceships are excellently realised and pre-empt shows like Space 1999. They are also quite topical, given the greater interest in space travel at the time. The first man on the moon was only a season away when The Space Pirates went out in March 1969, and so viewers will doubtless have been comparing the ships with the NASA vessels coming through on their black and white TV sets.


Despite that though, The Space Pirates is one long, slow, drawn-out fart of a story. There’s not enough material here for a four-part story, never mind a six-parter. Holmes’ script is uncharacteristically lazy and not that funny, while the actors and the director try in vain to breathe some sort of life into the whole thing. Unfortunately, the end result suggests that the Doctor Who production team were fast running out of ideas again, just like at the end of the third season. A change was needed fast, and sure enough, such a change was just around the corner.


* And you can read about some of those forthcoming changes in my Doctor Who ebook guides all about the 1970s tales!

JON PERTWEE ERA

UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B071P3CQ9M

US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B071P3CQ9M


TOM BAKER ERA VOL 1

UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0746NQZ4J

US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0746NQZ4J


TOM BAKER ERA VOL 2

UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B077K8MN2P

US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B077K8MN2P

By johnbensalhia, Dec 8 2017 05:05PM

About 15 sets of waffle ago, I mentioned that remakes were more common than you think in Doctor Who. The Moonbase was a blatant remake of The Tenth Planet. And then two seasons later, along comes The Seeds Of Death to mimic The Ice Warriors with all the gusto of a Les Dennis and Dustin Gee 24-hour marathon.


The Ice Warriors are back with a vengeance and are again hell-bent on terrorising an isolated bunch of quaking Earthlings. We get the same sort of characters as before. Radnor is Clent but without the stick and the limp. Eldred is the stubborn, anti-authoritarian old goat like Penley. Miss Kelly is the Ice Maiden replacement for the frosty Miss Garrett, but with a big, blonde ponytail that’s so stiff it could probably remain intact in the face of a nuclear explosion.


The one notable difference between the two stories is that the Ice Warriors aren’t so scary this time around. Whereas in their début, the Warriors were unearthly giants that could turn your average Scottish hippy into quivering jelly with a clench of - well I suppose you could call them fists - this time around, they’re not so threatening. Most of the time, the Ice Warriors plod aimlessly up and down corridors, narrowly avoiding collisions with the scenery. When one of them materialises in the T-Mat cubicle on Earth in Episode 4, it then decides to do a jolly dancing jig.


The Ice Warrior Shuffle is the low point of The Seeds Of Death, although even the victims’ deaths lack punch. Characters tend to wave their arms in the air and dance around like drunkards japing about in a hall of mirrors. At least Alan Bennion adds some degree of authority as Slaar the chief Ice Warrior, his hissing, sibilant tones providing enough chills for the kids and for Fewsham.


Ah, Fewsham. The first five episodes revolve around the breakdown of the poor sod as he’s mentally tortured by the Ice Warriors. We’re frequently treated to close-ups of Fewsham’s creased visage, which resembles a cross between a gnome and a little boy that didn’t get any Christmas presents. Life doesn’t so much rain on Fewsham - it downpours on him on a constant basis to the sound of booming, mocking laughter.


In order to survive, Fewsham is forced to carry out the Warriors’ fiendish plan of transmitting deadly seed pods to T-Mat Cubicles across the globe. He is also forced to betray his work colleagues and also apparently beam The Doctor into the middle of space. It’s all rather pitiful, like watching a school bully picking on his victim on a loop. At least Fewsham does get to die a hero’s death as he finally shows some gumption by betraying the Warriors’ plan to The Doctor back on Earth. Terry Scully does a great job of playing the luckless worker, and as the DVD commentators point out, he’s got the perfect craggy, anguished expression to carry it off.


The other characters are a bit harder to warm to. It doesn’t help that the blokes inexplicably wear Y-Fronts on the outside of their trousers. We’ve seen Radnor’s and Kelly’s types before - huffy, by-the-book bores who speak in pompous, know-it-all voices. Eldred, likewise, is the archetypal grumpy old man, pottering about in his museum and moaning to himself like Victor Meldrew in the Science Museum.


The subject of new vs old also rears its head again. This time, swanky T-Mat cubicles are pitted against old-fashioned rockets. Personally, I can’t see what’s wrong with travelling by T-Mat. Compared to travelling by bus or train, it’s a breeze. No delays. No traffic jams. No smelly weirdos plonking themselves next to you. No grumpy bus drivers, who I swear have some sort of grudge against all passengers. Pop yourself in the cubicle, and bingo! You’re at your destination in seconds. Again, though, the message seems to be Don’t Put All Your Eggs In One Basket, as Radnor and his team place too much reliance on the T-Mat system, which inevitably goes awry. Problem is, we’ve already had this message in The Ice Warriors, and to be honest, it was actually more subtle than in The Seeds Of Death.


I like the idea that museums of the future feature inventions and gizmos that are still in prototype form today. At least The Doctor, Zoe and Jamie pretend to show some interest in Eldred’s relics. With only two more stories to go after this, make the most of one of the best Doctor/companion teams in the series’ history. Patrick Troughton shows no sign of fatigue, turning in a performance that takes in endearing goofiness (the clowning around in foam at the end of Episode 5) and surprising ruthlessness.


It’s rare to see The Doctor commit murder so freely, with the aid of his portable oven, and he seems oddly dispassionate when the orbiting Warriors are sent on a one-way ticket to the sun. “You tried to destroy an entire world,” he retorts gravely when chided by Slaar for his actions. Not only this, but The Doctor’s somehow found a magical sideburn grower, since they’ve grown to Tennant proportions after he’s had his holiday-influenced power nap in Episode 4.


Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury are also well up to their usual standard, even if, as Padbury notes on the commentary, Jamie’s more clueless than usual.


Padbury, in particular, captures Zoe’s character well in this story - a mix of faithful companion and bossy boots know-it-all. Her best moment is when she snaps at the anxious Earth team for getting their knickers in a twist when The Doctor, Zoe and Jamie go up in the rocket. As for that scene in which they feel the G-force: it’s priceless - never has there been so much gurning in Doctor Who. This scene would only be beaten by both Jon Pertwee (when he starts wrestling with a rubber Nestene, Goodie-style) and Sylvester McCoy when he starts pulling strange faces while ranting at Light.


One big boost to The Seeds Of Death is Michael Ferguson’s accomplished direction. Ferguson takes a rather run-of-the-mill script and turns it into an ambitious, fast-paced action adventure worthy of the big screen. Some of his shots are truly inspired, such as the backward countdown over Kelly’s face, the shot of Jamie and Zoe sipping on futuristic Slush Puppies (as shot through a transparent wall) and the attacks on the Ice Warriors (with fast, negative alternating jump cuts). Ferguson’s also adept at handling the action sequences, including the cliffhanger to Episode 5 and the odd chase in what seems to be a Hall Of Mirrors. Did the base on the moon build their own funfair to alleviate their boredom?


Those sequences are quite comedic, thanks to Troughton’s considerable comic timing and also to Dudley Simpson’s rather daft score. I’ll make a grudging confession here - this is one of the very few Simpson scores that I'm not keen on. Normally he comes up with the goods every time, but that annoying piano/glockenspiel plinky-plonky theme (first heard when Radnor et al lose contact with The Doctor’s team on the rocket) grates and to make matters worse, it’s repeated to the point of annoyance throughout the story.


The Seeds Of Death is still enjoyable fare, thanks to the efforts of the regulars and Michael Ferguson’s crisp direction. It doesn’t quite have the same impact that The Ice Warriors had, but it’s still worth a look - if only for the hilarious sight of a foam-covered Troughton waddling around like a snow-covered penguin. No wonder Wendy breaks into unscripted giggles.


* Classic monsters ahoy in the 1970s run of Doctor Who and these are discussed (along with lots more!) in my ebooks on sale now:

JON PERTWEE ERA

UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B071P3CQ9M

US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B071P3CQ9M


TOM BAKER ERA VOL 1

UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0746NQZ4J

US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0746NQZ4J


TOM BAKER ERA VOL 2

UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B077K8MN2P

US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B077K8MN2P

By johnbensalhia, Dec 8 2017 04:59PM

Waiter, there’s a Krotons in my Season 6 soup! Popular opinion says that it’s not worthy of being there - it’s too chewy. Too rubbish. Whatever.


Despite popular opinion, in actual fact, I don’t mind The Krotons. Maybe it’s because I have fond memories of seeing it as a 7-year-old kid when the BBC repeated it in the Five Faces Of Doctor Who season that went out in winter 1981. A steady diet of The Amazing Adventures Of Morph, Codename Icarus and Blake’s 7 all made the long winter evenings a bit more palatable, but to have Doctor Who on school-week nights was a real treat. Then look what happened with Season 19...


My over-riding memory is the cliffhanger to Episode 1 in which The Doctor is menaced by a suspicious-looking robot snake thing that threatens to reduce him to a pile of ash (after the Krotons’ automated device has mistaken him for one of Thara’s hothead rebels). Clearly The Doctor has The X Factor though, since the Krotons scanner brings up a great big X, like a robot Louis Walsh. What I remember thinking is that Tom's Doctor would have dealt with the snake far more effectively than the little chap with the bowlcut and the bow tie…


Even to my 43-year-old bleary eyes, The Krotons still isn’t all that bad and actually stands up quite well. You can’t exactly say that it’s the cream of the Robert Holmes crop - there are still one or two sticking points among the good. I suppose, taking the rubbish cooking analogy further, The Krotons shows signs of tasty Holmes morsels to come - it’s just that the end product is a bit undercooked in places. Masterchef judge, anyone?


The plot of The Krotons is a tad simple, and doesn’t scale the heights of Holmes’ more complex plots. Gonds are living in thrall to a couple of cardboard mobile jukeboxes with Brummie accents. The jukeboxes only select the best brains in the land and kill off the dead wood. Doctor shows up, investigates, and defeats the jukeboxes with a blast of acid.


Despite the simplicity of the plot, there are a couple of neat ideas at work. I like the way in which the Gonds are duped into thinking that they’re going to Krotons Academy For Swots, when instead, they’re inevitably going to end up as a pile of dust, after falling foul of the corrosive vapour jets. The deaths are actually quite brutal - poor old Selris doesn’t have a hope in hell after sacrificing himself to help The Doctor and Zoe. Getting disintegrated by corrosive acid vapour isn’t the most painless choice of death, although it inexplicably leaves overgrown medallions and axes intact.


The other aspect I like in The Krotons is the rivalry between The Doctor and Zoe as they battle it out to be the Biggest Clever Clogs In The Room. Is Zoe cleverer than The Doctor? She certainly flies through the tests with incredible speed, and would probably leave Jeremy Paxman agog in slack-jawed astonishment at her brain power. When it’s The Doctor’s turn, he gets more questions wrong - although I guess he’s too flustered to do as well as Zoe. Not only is he under pressure to beat Zoe’s score, he’s also probably dreading the Psychedelic Chair Of Doom that awaits them in the Krotons’ domain.


There are some surprisingly neat directorial touches added by David Maloney. The aforementioned Chair Of Doom scene is well shot with fast, distorted camera angles and close-up gurning shots of The Doctor and Zoe. The snake’s POV shot at the end of Episode 1 adds to the tension as does the last shot of The Doctor’s hands blotting out the screen. Even the shot of the revolving Krotons heads works well. All of which compensates for some ropey effects elsewhere - the opening shot of the sticking hatch is crying out for a retake, while the shot of the Gond city looks like a four-year-old’s junk modelling effort at playgroup.

The bad effects are frequently cited as a failing of The Krotons, which is true to a point. The lack of decent characters is another valid criticism. Most of them are bland clichés - The duped ruler. The hothead son. The doe-eyed damsel-in-distress. The boo-hiss baddie. And his gimp.


Most of whom seem to be indulging in some barmy haircut competition. There’s Selris and his comedy afro. Beta and his prodigious Del Amitri mutton chops. And Vana and her corkscrew 1980s perm.


Not all of the characters are too bad though. James Cairncross is good as Beta, and gets some amusing comedy scenes with Jamie when they’re stirring up the acid solution. Stealing the show though is of course, Philip Madoc, one of Doctor Who’s best guest actors, who gives his all, even with less demanding roles like Eelek. As a result, Eelek becomes a far more believable political backstabber rather than another faceless cliché. But if it’s unintentional laughs you’re after, then your best bet is the bumbling Custodian of the teaching machines. With a face like Agaton Sax and the voice of Inspector Clouseau who’s been at the helium balloons, the Custodian’s a bit of a sad case, who’s easily overpowered by a weedy looking bunch of hotheads.


The Krotons too are a bit of a laugh, it must be said. They’re too lumbering to pose a serious threat, and the Brummie voices are a harsh reminder that in actual fact, there’s two blokes sitting in a corner of the studio floor bellowing into modulated microphones.


Overall though, The Krotons is not as bad as its reputation suggests. Even if some of the effects and acting hamper the end product, and even if the plot’s a bit too simple, it’s still entertaining. Pie ’n’ mash rather than a swanky gourmet meal, but sometimes pie ’n’ mash hit the spot, no?


* Plenty of Robert Holmes classics reviewed in these Doctor Who ebook guides by me!

JON PERTWEE ERA

UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B071P3CQ9M

US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B071P3CQ9M


TOM BAKER ERA VOL 1

UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0746NQZ4J

US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0746NQZ4J


TOM BAKER ERA VOL 2

UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B077K8MN2P

US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B077K8MN2P

By johnbensalhia, Dec 8 2017 04:54PM

It seems to be a common myth that any Doctor Who stories with more than six episodes tend to drag. In theory, it’s a good point. You’re looking at three, four, maybe even five or six hours worth of one Doctor Who story, which is a hell of a lot. Funny thing is though, in practice, virtually all of these stories such as The Daleks' Master Plan, The War Games and of course, The Invasion all hold up really well.


The Invasion takes us from the fantasy mists of The Land Of Fiction and plonks us back in the groovy summer days of the Sixties (let’s not even start on the continuity debates of when the UNIT episodes are set). The eight-parter acts as a dummy run for the Pertwee years in which The Doctor helps UNIT with an Earthbound threat against the whole of humanity. In this case, it’s the dreaded Cybermen, who, this time are apparently at the beck and call of suave entrepreneur Tobias Vaughn, the head of International Electromatics.


Oddly, for a Cyberman adventure, they don’t really figure much in the story at all. They’re not even seen until the end of Episode Four, and when they do finally show up, they barely get any dialogue. That said, maybe less is more, since the sequences that they are in have acquired an almost legendary status. The shots of them marching outside St Paul’s Cathedral is one of the all-time iconic images in Doctor Who. Similarly, the final battle between UNIT and the Cybermen is a much-celebrated sequence in the show's history. Even the Cybermen themselves have undergone yet another makeover, with slightly larger heads, new blaster guns and rather silly voices that threaten to undermine their terror factor.


Still, that’s nothing compared to the Cyber Planner or Cyber Director or whatever it’s called. The Cyber Director is Vaughn’s conduit with the Cybermen, reporting to him from behind a large wall panel that never wants to open or shut properly. To the untrained eye, it resembles a badly stacked rack of dinner plates, with a couple of party balloons thrown in for good measure. It also has the daftest voice imaginable – think of Miss Othmar, the unseen teacher in the Charlie Brown cartoons, and you know what I mean. It only seems to have two main topics of conversation: “Whaa. Whaa. Whaa. The humaaans must be destwaaaaad.” Or after Vaughn’s put an order through, the plates wobble, the Director makes a noise like a farting computer printer and then says: “It has been agweeeed!”


In the end, The Doctor mainly locks horns with Vaughn himself. Vaughn is the Alan Sugar of his day, an entrepreneur with power-mad ambitions. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a 1960s version of The Apprentice, although judging from his choice of second-in-command, I can’t imagine that the criteria for winning could have been too high. Vaughn has put the plan into action by slyly including barely detectable circuits into his electronic gizmos, so that when activated, all users will be distracted by the piercing signal, thus paving the way for the Cybermen to rule supreme. Vaughn also has delusions of grandeur, frequently breaking off mid-episode to muse on how he will be able to rule the world. Inevitably, he fails to recognise that he’s just a pawn in the Cybermen’s game, although for a while, it looks like he could be a genuine force to be reckoned with.


For one thing, he manages to put on a front of genuine charm. He offers Jamie the latest in transistor radios. He urges a Cyberman to be brought out of its cocoon with the air of a baron inviting his guests to come in to his swanky dinner party. He even laughs when Zoe wrecks his state-of-the-art answering machine.


However, all this masks a ferocious temper and a sadistic streak that breaks through with unnerving regularity. He practically breaks his desk in two after giving it a hefty thump when grilling Rutlidge over UNIT’s actions. There’s also that creepy sequence when he goads Watkins into shooting him. Watkins pumps bullet after bullet into Vaughn’s chest, but amazingly, the deranged businessman is laughing his head off as he lives. Whether Watkins should have aimed for the head is another matter, but it only goes to show the power that Vaughn apparently holds.


Which all falls apart like smoke as the Cyber Director turns on him in the last episode, forcing him into an uneasy alliance with The Doctor. Vaughn’s motives are interesting – he considers himself the only man worthy to lead the world, which he regards as a mess of uncoordinated ideals. Delusions of grandeur? Or is he really a genuine benefactor? Whatever the motive, Vaughn’s many-faceted character makes him one of the most memorable Sixties villains, and he’s played perfectly by Kevin Stoney, who makes a welcome return after his earlier appearance as Mavic Chen in The Daleks’ Master Plan.


His lackey kills me though.


Not literally, of course, since Peeeeaccckkahhhh couldn’t even swat a fly properly, let alone kill someone in cold blood. Peeeeaccckkahhhh is the king of useless lackeys, managing to balls up every single task that he’s given with clod-hopping inefficiency. Given endless chances to capture The Doctor and Jamie, he’s reduced to a naughty schoolboy who’s caught out by the headmaster. We do see the cracks in Peeeeaccckkahhhh’s personality, though. He bites his nails to the quick. He sweats like a pig at the first sign of trouble. Heck, it even looks like he wears a rather dodgy toupee (look at the scene outside the lift in Episode Three). He’s meant to be a sadist, but in the end, he provides more comedy gold than Al Murray could ever dream of.


Both of these characters, and the Cybermen provide enough headaches for the newly-established UNIT team. The idea of having a dedicated taskforce to deal with alien threats is a fantastic one, and in a way, pre-empts Torchwood (except without all the sex and gratuitous violence). It’s headed perfectly by Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, played brilliantly by Nicholas Courtney. Lethbridge-Stewart belongs to that rather charming era of civil manners and stiff upper lips. He’s shrewd, clever, if a little prone to blatant sexism, dismissing Isobel’s offers of help with casual nonchalance. Even Benton shows up here, while his second-in-command Captain Turner provides some unintentional humour at times (“Cheeky!” he responds to Isobel’s nickname of ‘Dolly Soldier’ in the voice of Graham Chapman’s Colonel character from Monty Python’s Flying Circus).


Talking of Isobel, she epitomises the Sixties to a tee. Kooky. Mini-skirts. Pro-feminism. She makes a great companion to Zoe, as they both form an unlikely friendship. The scenes of her proudly demonstrating her ancient gramophone and the concept of old-fashioned photography to an incredulous Zoe are amusing, and again, hark back to a simpler time, which was free of ipods and mobile phone cameras. The whole eight episodes seem to draw on Sixties thrillers such as Blow Up and The Ipcress File, not to mention Don Harper’s twangy Sixties jazz music.


All of which is brought to life by Douglas Camfield, who by now has this action-packed sci-fi adventure jape down to a fine art. Every single shot is well judged, making the Cyberman look even more imposing thanks to clever camera angles. The set-pieces are too numerous to mention. In addition to the aforementioned classic sequences, there are the scenes in the sewers, the tense stakeout of the Cybermen by The Doctor and Vaughn, and the moody introductory sequences when The Doctor, Jamie and Zoe hitch a lift into London.


And luckily, these can be enjoyed again in animated form, thanks to those good people at Cosgrove Hall. The animated Episodes One and Four are excellent substitutes for the missing tapes, and overall, they add a neat, film-noir interpretation to the story. The likenesses are very good indeed, and they capture Troughton’s facial expressions to a tee. Troughton himself is on good form throughout the story, and his many sparring matches with Vaughn display that perfect combination of unassuming goofiness and total authority – the best line of his is easily the “We’ve got the Professor”, as he smugly grins at Vaughn like a little boy that’s just scored 100% in his first O-Level paper.


Ahead of its time? Very possibly. The Invasion lays down the groundwork for the Pertwee years in fine style. It also shows how irritating machines can be, too. Who knows, maybe your MP3 player secretly houses a circuit that threatens to take over your mind. And how many times have we been faced by a fool computer answering machine that brushes off your urgent request to make an important phone call with a casual “Party not available. Good day.” And the big boss entrepreneur is still big news in 2017, as dinosaurs like The Apprentice and Dragon’s Den continue. Still, at least the entrepreneur in The Invasion heads for an almighty fall by the final episode, so maybe the current economic climate may hold some nasty surprises for all smug money-making machines yet.


The Invasion is hugely entertaining, pre-empting the early '70s in fine style. Admittedly, the budget doesn’t allow the story to reach its full potential – the Cyber ships look like cotton reels on strings, while the big battle between Vaughn’s men and the UNIT troops is reduced to a panicky monologue by nervy scientist Gregory. Despite that, the story rewards repeated viewing, even at eight episodes long and stands as one of the highlights of the season.


* And you can read all about the 1970s take on Doctor Who right here!

JON PERTWEE ERA

UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B071P3CQ9M

US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B071P3CQ9M


TOM BAKER ERA VOL 1

UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0746NQZ4J

US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0746NQZ4J


TOM BAKER ERA VOL 2

UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B077K8MN2P

US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B077K8MN2P

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