“Destiny of the Daleks”

I really liked the Movellan costumes. I might have to make one for myself.

I really liked the Movellan costumes. I might have to make one for myself.

It’s actually been quite a while since I’ve watched a television episode I haven’t seen before. There are a few reasons for that. First, I’ve been concentrating on audios a bit, and they’re easier to consume while doing something else (usually playing Doctor Who: Legacy). Second, my husband, who isn’t all that interested in the audios, wants to watch the episodes with me, so episodes don’t get watched when it’s only me who’s available to watch. Third, just life in general has been getting in the way. However, we finally sat down to watch “Destiny of the Daleks”, which has been throttling our Netflix queue for about three months now.

Spoilers, of course.

“Destiny of the Daleks” is the first episode of Romana II’s run (that’s Lalla Ward), and features the infamous scene where she “tries on” different bodies before settling on one that she likes. This has sparked a lot of discussion about why the Doctor doesn’t get that luxury, that he has to settle for whatever body he happens to get. I think the consensus is that Romana chose to regenerate and was in a controlled environment, while the Doctor always dies to regenerate and usually isn’t at leisure when he does so, so he doesn’t get a choice.

This is a four-part story that we watched on two different nights, two parts at a time, and we almost felt like abandoning after the first two parts because they were so boring. I’ve stated before that this is the main weakness of the multi-part format of the classic series, that they had to fill a certain amount of time and usually did so by introducing long scenes of people and monsters wandering down corridors or picking their way across quarries. I’m sure we would have finished watching the episode, but it felt like the only reason we came back was because part two ended with Davros coming back to life.

Yes, that Davros. The first two parts had to do with the Doctor meeting up with a race of beings called the Movellans who landed on the planet looking for something. It turned out they had followed the Daleks here, and together, they discover that this is Skaro and the Daleks had come here looking for Davros, who had placed himself in suspended animation so that he could heal from his last appearance. There, see? I just told you everything you needed to know about the first two parts.

Well, except for one thing: the Doctor senses that the Movellans are not being forthright with him, and he’s right to suspect them. They are a race of robots who are at war with the Daleks, and the war is currently in a stalemate, so they came here to figure out what the Daleks were doing, guessing that the Daleks were fetching something that would give them the upper hand. Davros, of course. They capture the Doctor with the intention of using him as their upper hand, and they have an ace in the hole of a device which will destroy all life on the planet if they aren’t able to convince the Doctor to work for them. They reveal that like the Daleks, if they win the war, they plan to go on to conquer the rest of the universe. With the help of released Dalek slaves, the Doctor is able to break free and deactivate the Movellans, disarm the device, and capture Davros.

The second two parts of the episode are a lot better than the first two, only in part because the Doctor spends much of his time getting capture by one side or the other, then outwitting them and escaping, and then getting captured again. But far more interesting is the underlying theme to the episode, which is what happens when two absolutely logical races go to war with each other. The Doctor explains it using rock-paper-scissors: the Movellans are unable to defeat each other at that game because their moves are absolutely predictable, and similarly, neither the Movellans nor the Daleks may defeat the other because they are evenly matched and do not have the imagination to do something the other side can’t predict.

Now, this is what Dalek episodes are always all about: the Daleks always lose because the Doctor does something they don’t expect. This time, however, the failings of pure logic are laid bare, on both sides of the conflict. What’s also interesting is that the Movellans are not carbon-copies of the Daleks. The Daleks have a hierarchy, with the top Dalek (or Davros, once he wakes up) making the decisions and giving orders, while the Movellans make suggestions and the other individuals weigh their suggestions and choose the best course of action from it – two different methods of applying logic and order to the system. And in the end, both sides are defeated by the ones who can step outside rigid thinking.

The only thing that disappointed me in this episode was the characterization of Romana: she displays as much intellect as the Doctor, though she’s restrained, as she’s a much better Time Lord than he is, but she’s a bit too screamy for my tastes. I haven’t yet seen Romana I to compare, but I am very familiar with the mature Madame President Romana from the Gallifrey audios, and she has come quite a long way.

So there you have it, a fun, action-packed episode with interesting themes, punctuated by a lot of imperious yelling from Davros, which he does so well. And now I’m looking forward to the next Netflix delivery. No idea what that will be.

 

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Lull

Even in Lego, this scene makes me sniffle.

Even in Lego, this scene makes me sniffle.

Life’s been a little low on the Doctor Who quotient the past few days. After watching “The Day of the Doctor”, I completely forgot about “The Time of the Doctor” (because I’m not very fond of it) and my husband, while he likes it, didn’t feel like subjecting me to it, apparently. I’ve been wanting to watch some Third Doctor episodes, to finally get a good feel for him and to watch the Roger Delgado Master for the first time, but we’ve been busy with a number of other things. Now that we have a bit more time, we started watching the Harry Potter movies again, so that’s kind of gotten me off track again.

We have watched “City of Death” and “The Happiness Patrol,” and I’ve listened to the Fifth Doctor audio “Loups-Garoux,” but I haven’t felt like sitting down and writing a review on them. I’m not sure I’ll get there, so here are some short statements on them.

  • “City of Death” (Fourth Doctor/Romana II) was fantastic. The story is great – one of the best ever – but what really floored me in this episode was the dialogue: snappy, brilliant, and eccentric.
  • “The Happiness Patrol” (Seventh Doctor/Ace) was surreal, as in, “What was the writer on and where can I get me some of that?” But I enjoyed it quite a bit, possibly because it was so out there. I think the point of it (the main character forcing everyone into her vision of “happiness”) has been rehashed a lot in other works since this one and has become a bit banal, but it still works even viewing it now.
  • “Loups-Garoux” (Fifth Doctor/Turlough) was a good enough audio, though I’m really not fond of spiritual/animalistic themes in Doctor Who, which I view as a science-based sci-fi. (The science is incredibly dodgy, but a lot of the point of the universe is that it’s based on science, even when the science looks like magic). I very much enjoyed getting to see more of Turlough, and was pleased to see him exhibiting his usual self-preservation, but putting his life on the line when someone he cared about was endangered.

Next up in the audio queue are some Charley Pollard audios – her introduction, as well as the two audios about the fallout from her being saved from death by the Doctor.

I leave you now with a fantastic video by bookshelfproductions on YouTube: a recreation of “The Day of the Doctor” in Legos. Watch it: you won’t be disappointed.

Playing with time

I was looking for a pic for this post, and just had to use this one.

I was looking for a pic for this post, and just had to use this one.

I spent a bit of time last night doing some research on the Last Great Time War, because I’ve got this idea for a fanfic set during the war and needed to iron out some details. I found it absolutely fascinating that I spend far more time researching Doctor Who history, both the lore as well as what we see in the episodes, than I ever did for papers and projects during school.  The same activity can be considered work or play, depending on the context.

I wanted to get a good feel for the history of the Time War, how events progressed, and it was completely fascinating – there’s so much that’s been established that’s not in the TV show (and I haven’t gotten to yet in all the audios). Here is a little bit of the history.

  1. The first event is the Daleks creating a virus that would corrupt Time Lord DNA to wipe them out.
  2. The Daleks then hack into the Matrix so that they can use it to invade Gallifrey. Romana traps them in the Matrix and shuts it down, to trap the Daleks in a time loop.
  3. Narvin (from the CIA), unaware that Romana’s fixed the situation, gets the Fourth Doctor to attempt to stop the Daleks from being created or delay their development.
  4. In retaliation, the Daleks try to create a clone of the Fifth Doctor to send him to assassinate the High Council.
  5. The Daleks then attempt to get the Hand of Omega, to gain mastery over time. They are stopped by the Seventh Doctor.
  6. At this point, the Daleks start the Last Great Time War.

In case you haven’t noticed, point 3 is “Genesis of the Daleks,” point 4 is “Resurrection of the Daleks,” and point 5 is “Remembrance of the Daleks.” Basically, while creating the history of the Time War, the showrunners went backwards and worked classic episodes into the timeline of the war. They’re no longer just random encounters the Doctor had with Daleks; there are now reasons for what happened, all part of the Time War’s history. The way they did this is just so cool, fitting this all in. It’s also wonderful to see the pre-Eighth Doctors having some hand in the Time War (it’s always bothered me a little that the Time War lasted for hundreds, probably thousands of years, but the classic Doctors were not involved in it at all [not that they could be, mind you, from a beyond-the-fourth-wall point of view]). I suppose this is one of the advantages of a show with a long history that deals with time travel: you can manipulate the history into loops, creating an even richer backstory than you originally intended.

“The Keeper of Traken”

keeper_2065I’ve been plagued this week with pains in my mousing hand, probably from trying to carry too many things for too long last Sunday, so I took the day off from work. The problem is, staying at home is pretty boring when you can’t use your hands. What to do? Doctor Who, of course! I spent most of the day listening to the audiobooks from “The Destiny of the Doctor” series, finishing the first seven, so only four more to go. Expect a discussion of them by the end of the weekend.

On our third attempt to watch “The Keeper of Traken,” we finally succeeded! Back in September when we first starting watching the classic Doctor Who episodes, I wanted to see the Fourth Doctor to Fifth Doctor regeneration, so I ordered from Amazon the “New Beginnings” trilogy consisting “The Keeper of Traken,” “Logopolis,” and “Castrovalva.” When it arrived, I popped “The Keeper of Traken” into the DVD player, and it didn’t work. The other two discs worked, so we knew it wasn’t our equipment. We watched the other two episodes and returned the trilogy, and sadly, Amazon didn’t have any other copies of it. My husband was especially disappointed because Nyssa is one of his favorite companions and he really wanted to see her genesis episode.

A few months later, we subscribed to Netflix, and one of the first discs we added to our queue was “The Keeper of Traken”: we would finally get to see this episode. The disc arrived and… it didn’t work. We have multiple DVD and blu-ray players, and it didn’t work in any of them. Just our luck. So, back it went to Netflix with a “This disc is broken” post-it on it.

Last month, I reordered “New Beginnings” from Amazon, and this time, the disc worked! So, we finally got to watch it.

Spoilers ahead.

Having just returned from E-space with his new companion Adric, the Fourth Doctor is summoned to the tranquil and harmonious planet Traken by the Keeper, the elder of the planet who keeps the peace on the planet through powers granted by the Source. He’s dying and will be passing on his powers to the next Keeper, but he knows there is danger and wants the Doctor’s help. An evil creature called Melkur landed on the planet years ago and, though it was captured as a statue and isn’t a threat, the Keeper is concerned about it. Meanwhile, a consul named Tremas is about to marry his love, Kassia, but he is also likely to be named the Keeper’s successor, which worries Kassia, as he won’t be able to be her husband if he becomes the Keeper.

It’s impossible to describe more of this episode without revealing the whole plot, so if you don’t want to know what happens, skip ahead to the next paragraph. Since the arrival of the evil Melkur and its calcification as a statue, Kassia has been taking care of it, and she becomes influenced by it, doing things it suggests because she believes it is helping her. She starts out trying to subvert the the Keeper process because she wants to keep Tremas as her husband, but more and more, the statue causes her to manipulate people so that Tremas cannot become the Keeper and the consuls choose Kassia to be the Keeper instead. By the time she realizes that the statue is not helping her (she can’t keep her husband if she’s the Keeper either), the statue is able to fully control her. The Doctor and Adric spend the episode trying to prove that they are not the evil saboteurs the Trakenites think they are and figure out who is subverting the Keeper succession and why.  Finally, the Doctor discovers that this has all been engineered by the Master, who is at the end of his final incarnation and wants to take the Source to extend his life. The Doctor is able to foil his plans, but unbeknownst to him, the Master merges with Tremas and leaves in his TARDIS.

I think I really enjoy episodes like this one in which the Doctor is considered to be hostile, so he has to not only solve the problem at hand but do so while trying to clear his own name. It adds a bit more tension to the overall story, simply because everyone is hunting him. It causes more twists and turns in the plot, too, as different characters come to trust or distrust him as events occur. The episode also handled the supporting characters well. Since Traken is a harmonious planet with no conflict or distrust, the Trakenites are incapable of understanding deception, and so they jump to conclusions very quickly on flimsy evidence.

This episode was also Adric’s first adventure outside of E-space, and he was instrumental in saving the day. One thing I noticed was that both he and Nyssa were very technologically capable, something that modern companions are incapable of, as they are always human. It was nice having companions that actually understood the science and technology they were faced with and could build a device to accomplish what was needed. Interestingly, Tardis Data Core notes that this is the last episode of Doctor Who that did not have a single human in it.

Overall, this was an enjoyable episode: not one of the best, but better than average. It also sets the stage for the next two episodes, as it introduces the characters who are going to be instrumental in the Doctor’s regeneration and recovery. The only one who is not in this episode is Tegan, and she arrives very quickly in “Logopolis.”

 

“The Wrath of the Iceni”

Wrath-of-the-Iceni-The-cover“The Wrath of the Iceni” is the third audio in Big Finish’s Fourth Doctor Adventures, and it’s the first one that I think is really worth it.

Spoilers, ho! I mean, these next four paragraphs tell the whole story, so if you don’t want to be spoiled, skip down to the paragraph that starts with “Now first…” (and there are still a few spoilers after that).

If you know your British history, you know that the Iceni were a Celtic tribe that led a revolt against the Romans who were occupying the British Isles. Now, I don’t know my British history (at least, not that far back), so I really didn’t know what to expect from this audio. At the start, the Doctor and Leela land in Britain as part of the Doctor’s continuing efforts to educate Leela about her ancestral history, but he doesn’t check to see when they landed. Leela hears the sounds of battle, and though the Doctor doesn’t think it’s real, they investigate and meet up with the Iceni in the middle of a conflict with the Romans, and they’re led by Boudica. The Doctor explains to Leela the history of these people, that Boudica and her husband had made a treaty with the Romans that their kingdom would be left jointly to their daughters and Roman emperor at his death, but when he died, the Romans seized the kingdom and raped her daughters. Thus, Boudica was leading her people to revolt against the Romans, for revenge and to evict them from Britain.

Leela, always the honorable warrior, immediately sides with the wronged queen and wants to fight for her righteous cause, but the Doctor tells her she can’t, because the Iceni are defeated and completely wiped out. However, she insists, willing to die for an honorable cause instead of walk away from it, and leaves the Doctor to pledge her fealty to Boudica. Their conversation, however, is overheard by Bragnar, a cook and warrior, and she confronts the Doctor, asking how they can change the fate of her people. The Doctor can’t change it, but can save one person, and he and Bragnar flee to the TARDIS. They’re discovered before they reach it, however, and, considering the Doctor a Roman spy, Boudica locks the two of them up and condemns the Doctor to death.

In order to save the Doctor’s life, Leela tells Boudica that he’s a soothsayer and predicted the doom of the Iceni, and Boudica demands that he tell her what the prophecy is and how they can avoid it, promising that she would let him go free afterwards. The Doctor refuses to tell her, so Boudica threatens to kill Bragnar until he relents and tells them how the Romans have set up the Iceni’s next target, Camulodunum, a town for crippled, retired soldiers, as a decoy so that the Roman army can outflank them and defeat them. With this knowledge, Boudica revises her strategy so that they will be ready for the outflank and defeat the Romans.

As soon as she has the foretelling, Boudica has the Doctor imprisoned again, figuring that she needs him for more future knowledge, angering Leela, who is also appalled that the queen was going to murder Bragnar just to get the Doctor to talk. At the battle of Camulodunum, Boudica orders the wholesale slaughter of all of the town’s occupants – not just the soldiers, who are retired and crippled, but also the women and children, and Leela realizes that while Boudica’s original goals were honorable, she’s given in to bloodlust and has lost sight of what she was trying to do. Leela challenges Boudica and wins the fight, though she refuses to kill the queen. While Boudica rails at her for being a traitor and for not having the courage to finish off her opponent, Leela frees the Doctor and they and Bragnar flee the tribe. The Doctor and Leela leave Bragnar to find herself a new life, while Boudica leads the Iceni further on their path. The Doctor reveals later that he lied – the Iceni are defeated by the Romans, but not at Camulodunum; he made up the Roman ploy to make Boudica think she was changing her future.

Now first, you have to understand that I love Doctor Who historical stories. I love history in general, and like to see how the Doctor gets involved in historical events, without all the aliens and sci-fi stuff interfering. There are very few purely historical television episodes: I believe the last one was “Black Orchid” (and that wasn’t really historical, just a murder mystery – Mr. Davison has said that a writer at the BBC was asked to write an episode for Doctor Who and he just reached in the bottom drawer of his desk and pulled out a murder mystery he had written that hadn’t been used yet), and the last one before that was in either the First or Second Doctor’s run. So, this audio was perfect for me. It’s taught me about the real history of Boudica (or at least, I read the Wikipedia article), as well as woven the Doctor into the events.

Apart from that, I very much enjoyed the depiction of the savage Iceni tribe and the anger of the queen at the Romans. Then, of course, the story here is really about Leela, from her decision to follow Boudica due to the Doctor’s description and not from actually knowing anything about the queen or her people themselves, to her slow realization that the queen is not the ideal, honorable warrior she seemed to be. Then, when she realizes she’s wrong, she does her best to rectify the situation, and has the strength to stand up to Boudica. Moreover, Leela is not able to sway Boudica; Boudica stays true to who she is, and is not “redeemed” in the eyes of the audience.

This audio also has Mr. Baker giving what I feel is his first truly good performance in this series. I noted in my previous reviews of the Fourth Doctor Adventures that he hadn’t quite seemed to get into character yet, but he’s great here. His voice is strong and he sounds like the Fourth Doctor we all know and love. I also think that his dialogue was better this time around, giving him more to chew on. There were a lot of “What did he just say? Oh, that’s the Doctor being the Doctor” moments.

In conclusion, I definitely recommend “The Wrath of the Iceni” as a great Fourth Doctor audio. Looking forward to the next!

 

“Renaissance Man”

renaissancemanthecover_cover_large“Renaissance Man” is the second of the Fourth Doctor Big Finish adventures, featuring Leela as the companion again.

Spoilers!

The Doctor brings Leela to a research institute in the future to see the unveiling of a new wing of its museum. When they arrive, they meet a lepidopterist who tells them about her work. Some time later, when they meet her again, she’s amnesiac and confused, and tells them that “they’ve taken it all.” The Doctor also notices that a bit of information that he tells the museum curator, that the curator didn’t know, appears a few minutes later in an exhibit. The Doctor experiments with this, telling the curator some false information, which also later appears in an exhibit. To make a long story short, it turns out that in the quest for acquiring all of the knowledge in the universe, the curator has been stealing the knowledge from people to put it into the museum, leaving them without memories or skills and barely alive. While he’s able to acquire knowledge from what the Doctor says, the Doctor is immune to the mind wipe, though the curator does steal Leela’s hunting skills. The Doctor realizes that misinformation unravels the curator’s web of information, so he continues to feed lies to the curator, and it all comes apart. When the web is destroyed, the information is returned to its rightful owners, and everyone recovers.

While this concept of this story was unique and interesting, its execution left a lot to be desired. First, the setup of the conflict – the Doctor figuring out what was going on – was rather boring, with too much talking and no action at all. Then, the Doctor realizing that he could destroy the whole thing by feeding in lies means that he didn’t need to do anything: since he had already fed in lies at that point, the web was going to collapse eventually, taking out the need for the Doctor to effect any solution. The most disappointing part of the story, though, was that the Doctor was never in any danger, because the mind wipe didn’t affect him. It would have been a much more interesting story if the Doctor had had to race against the impending mind wipe to figure out what the solution was.

The one thing that did stand out in this story – and I think this is becoming a trend here – is Leela. She was superbly written and performed, and at times, she made me laugh out loud. I leave you with my favorite line from the entire audio.

Villain (paraphrased): There’s nothing you can do, so you’d better just give me that knife.

Doctor: You’d better give it to him.

Leela: AT LAST!! RAAAAH!! (attacks the villain)

An empty TARDIS

Midnight-(Doctor-Who)-picIn contrast to the full TARDIS that seems to be coming up in series 8, I would love to see a bit more empty TARDIS scenarios. It’s not a common thing for the Doctor to not have companions: it only happened once during the classic series (in “The Deadly Assassin”), and once during the modern series (in “Midnight”). I’m not counting any episodes in which the Doctor didn’t have a regular companion but picked up another character that he bonded with closely enough to count as a one-off companion (such as most of the Christmas specials and “Planet of the Dead,” “The Waters of Mars,” The End of Time, “The Lodger,” and “Closing Time.”). 

If the Doctor doesn’t have a companion, the episode must focus directly on him or on the situation at hand. In “The Deadly Assassin,” this allowed us to view Time Lord society from the point of view of the Doctor, rather than any alien (to Gallifrey) companion (Sarah Jane, in this case). The script was more streamlined than usual, because the Doctor did not have to explain everything to Sarah Jane, and in the process, the audience got to experience everything, rather than being told what they were seeing. It also allowed the Doctor to get trapped for nearly two episodes in the Matrix without requiring them to keep cutting back to reality to show what Sarah Jane was doing or getting her trapped somewhere so that they could ignore her. The Master also could concentrate on the Doctor, instead of getting distracted by having to deal with her.

The lack of a companion was even more effective in “Midnight.” A story about what happens when humans are afraid of the unknown, “Midnight” would have played out very differently if Donna had been there to try to calm them down and convince them that the Doctor wasn’t the threat. Even if the humans didn’t listen to her (which they probably wouldn’t), the tension of the tight story would have been broken by Donna’s pleas; part of the strength of the final moments of Sky’s possession came from the various characters starting to doubt that the Doctor was the threat and trying to decide if they should intercede.

Both of these episodes came into being under unusual circumstances. For “The Deadly Assassin,” when Elisabeth Sladen left the show, Tom Baker asked for an episode in which the Doctor didn’t have a companion. “Midnight” was series 4’s “companion-light” episode. Back in series 2, in order to expand the series to fourteen episodes instead of thirteen, they created a “Doctor-light” episode, “Love and Monsters,” in which the Doctor and companion appeared only sparingly so that they could be filming another episode at the same time. In series 3, the “Doctor-light” episode was “Blink.” For series 4, they expanded this idea by filming a “companion-light” episode, “Midnight,” with Mr. Tennant appearing in almost every scene, while Ms. Tate was simultaneously filming a “Doctor-light” episode, “Turn Left.” Take a look at this list of episodes: they were all fantastic, with the exception of “Love and Monsters,” which was a fantastic episode until the Abzorbaloff appeared. (Think about how good that episode could have been if a reasonable monster had been the antagonist.) Doctor Who is a great show, but it excels when it steps outside of its usual boundaries.

In my opinion, empty TARDIS or companion-light episodes should be explored more often, to tighten the storytelling a bit, occasionally give the Doctor more spotlight, and take the show in different directions. It’s not difficult to set up – the companion has to go home for some reason, for example – which makes me wonder if it’s a contract thing, saying that the companion must appear in X episodes per series. It isn’t something that should happen often, though – probably not even once a series – but certainly more than twice in fifty years. Perhaps there aren’t many data points, but it seems to be a successful formula for the show, given that the actors who have played the Doctor have all been dynamic performers who could easily carry an episode on their own.