“Masquerade” and “Breaking Bubbles and Other Stories”

As I’ve noted before, I jumped ahead to the most recent Big Finish main range audios to keep up with the current stories, with plans of listening to all the others as I obtain them. For the early stuff, I’m trying to go in order, but then some synopsis captures my attention and I’m off the beaten track again. It doesn’t help that I’m buying them out of order. Anyway, I recently listened to “Masquerade” and “Breaking Bubbles and Other Stories”, and here’s my thoughts on them.

Spoilers of course. Always spoilers.

masquerade“Masquerade” is the third in a trilogy of Fifth Doctor stories, with Nyssa and Hannah Bartholomew, a new companion that the Doctor first encountered two stories ago. The story begins with the famous “Doctor”, a friend of Voltaire, visiting the estate of the Marquise de Rimdelle in 1770 France. The Doctor’s niece Nyssa senses the presence of something out in the fog, something she calls the Steamroller Man. And there’s a dead man in the cellar who tells the Doctor that the Steamroller Man is coming to smash the manor and kill everyone. Now, you can’t listen to a story set up like and not know that something odd is going on. It turns out that this is a computer simulation-type thing created by human scientists who are trying to work on a way for humans to survive long space trips, such as colonization trips to new star systems. Something’s gone wrong with it this time, though, and they soon find out that it’s been co-opted by a group of alien races who had been displaced by human colonization and are trying to get revenge and trying to stop human expansion. They plan to use the simulation to destroy the humans, first here, then on Earth. (It’s a bit too involved to explain how this would happen.)

I will admit I wasn’t giving the audio my full attention (I was playing Diablo 3 while listening to it), but it really wasn’t very riveting. Though there were a few misleads and cliffhangers along the way, it was pretty straightforward. Nyssa was very important during it, trying to counsel the scientists as they came to grips with the things that were happening to them. I think the thing that I didn’t like about the play was that I felt no sympathy towards the aliens. They were right to be angry about the injustices they had endured at the hands of the humans, but they were otherwise unreasonable and single-minded. It would have been a far better story if it had emphasized the moral conflict the Doctor would have when considering both sides of the story, but that was more or less ignored. The ending of the story and the departure of Hannah, however, was very well done and quite emotional.

breakingbubbles“Breaking Bubbles and Other Stories” is a series of four short plays, “Breaking Bubbles”, “Of Chaos Time The”, “An Eye for Murder”, and “The Curious Incident of the Doctor in the Night-Time”, featuring the Sixth Doctor and Peri. I’ve only listened to two anthologies of shorts so far, this one and “Circular Time“, and so far I’ve enjoyed both of them quite a bit. Part of it is that it’s nice to have bite-sized chunks of the Doctor to enjoy every so often. But I do think that both of these anthologies have had a couple of exceptional tales.

“Breaking Bubbles” and “An Eye for Murder” were good stories. In the first, the Doctor and Peri find themselves in the garden of Empress Safira Valtris, and they soon find that she’s actually a deposed empress, living on a prison ship. Because she’s royalty, she can’t be harmed (assassinated or executed), so she lives in what’s basically a holodeck, giving her the comforts of royal life. Her captors immediately take the TARDIS crew prisoner, as they assume they’re here to help Safira escape. Well, the empress is trying to escape, and she does nearly do so, but when things go awry, it becomes apparent that her planned bloodless escape is about to turn very bloody, and the Doctor convinces her that this is not the way she wants it. In the second, Peri is mistaken for a mystery writer and is co-opted to find the author of threatening letters at a women’s college in England on the eve of World War II. Among the faculty is at least one Communist sympathizer and a Nazi sympathizer. This was probably the weakest of the stories in the set, dealing with the politics within the college. There was an alien threat, too, but the focus of the story was on the faculty.

You can probably tell that “Of Chaos Time The” is an unusual story from its title. It starts out with the Doctor wondering where he is, why he’s there, and who the person with him is. It’s not that he’s woken up in a strange place: he’s on his feet, running down a corridor with a person he doesn’t know, and that person is obviously following his instructions. He then finds himself in a completely different situation, again with another person he doesn’t know. As the story proceeds, he finds that he’s jumping in time, within one length of time in his life, going in random order through a series of event that Peri and everyone else is experiencing normally. As he’s going through things in the wrong order, he has to figure out what’s going on, why it’s all happening, and how to start it. As the story progresses (and I’m not going to divulge the story, because this is a great one to listen to without spoilers), he inevitably sees later parts of the story and figures out what he needs to do in earlier parts to both make the later parts happen as he saw them and solve the situation. The base story is interesting in itself, though nothing particularly memorable; it’s the time jumping that makes it wonderful. This story is a masterpiece of temporal trickery.

The final story, “The Curious Incident of the Doctor in the Night-Time”, is remarkable because of how it was presented, and it was easily the story I enjoyed the most. The main character in this one is a boy, Michael, and he’s also the narrator for most of it. He’s making an audio diary of the events that happened to him, and from the beginning, it’s obvious he’s autistic, and his observations and thoughts about the things that happened are striking. His father, a hardware/garden store worker, loses his job and blames Michael, because he thinks Michael told his boss that his father had stolen his collection of 129 garden gnomes from work, and later that day, his father gets killed while fishing to let off steam. Michael, however, notices that there are now 130 garden gnomes and realizes something is wrong.  He goes to investigate, and this is how he meets the Doctor, who is also investigating the gnomes. In true Doctor Who style, it turns out that the gnomes are actually malicious aliens who had been frozen on Earth to lock them away from the rest of the universe, and the 130th gnome was there to release them and destroy the planet.

The real story here, though, is Michael’s journey through the story, dealing with his disability and with his father’s death (which he is unable to understand for quite a while, and then unable to accept when he finally does understand). I’ll admit that I don’t know much about autism, but at least in my opinion, the portrayal of the character and his difficulties was beautiful. I would recommend getting this audio release for this story alone. It’s that good.

And that’s the main range for now. Next time, I’ll be switching gears a little, because I just received in the mail the set of CDs I’ve been waiting for: the Gallifrey range. I’m eager to hear more of Romana and Leela, and finally meet Narvin and Braxiatel.

 

“The Kingmaker”

The_Kingmaker_cover“The Kingmaker” is story number 81 in Big Finish‘s main range, a Fifth Doctor adventure with Peri Brown and Erimem. I listened to this audio a few months back, in January, but I didn’t really get it. I had been given a project at work that was purely visual and mostly mindless (unlike my usual work which involves both thinking and writing), and I realized that I could listen to audios while I worked on it. (I am so jealous of the artists here: they get to stream episodes of the X-Men cartoon to watch/listen to while they draw. I wish I could have Doctor Who on all the time.) I listened to “The Light at the End,” which was great, and then I listened to “The Kingmaker,” and it was just meh. It felt very talky and fragmented, and I just figured that it was an uninteresting historical, which was sad, because I love history and how Doctor Who goes back to tell stories about historical events.

A few days ago, I found Time Scales, which is a site devoted to fan ratings of Big Finish audios. It also has ratings for Doctor Who television episodes, but to me the main benefit is that it tells me what audios I might be interested in. (By the way, if you’re going to visit that site, please note that if you omit the “the” from the URL, you go to a site that attempts to download a virus onto your computer by pretending that it’s an update to Flash Player. Ask me how I know.) While I was browsing the site, I looked up “The Kingmaker,” and it has a rating of 8.7. This is fantastic. To give you an idea of how good that rating is, only seven of the modern TV series episodes has a higher rating than “The Kingmaker.” An 8.7 puts it in the top ten of the hundreds of Big Finish Doctor Who episodes. So, I had to listen to it again, give it a second chance.

And I’m glad I did. “The Kingmaker” is utterly brilliant.

Now I realize that I just reviewed Dead Air and said it was wonderful, and you might think, “Geez, you just say anything that’s related to Doctor Who is fantastic.” Well, that’s not really true. I’d like to think that I have some aesthetic discretion, and I have pointed out some not-so-wonderful audios and books. “The Kingmaker” is just wonderful on so many different levels.

Spoiler-free synopsis and review:

If you’re familiar with British history and the War of the Roses, you know that the Kingmaker was Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, a man who was at the center of English politics and over many years controlled who was on the throne and who wasn’t. One of the mysteries stemming from this period is the fate of the two sons of Edward IV. The princes and heirs to the throne, they had been put into the care of Richard of Gloucester when Edward died, but Richard imprisoned them in the Tower of London and took the throne himself as Richard III, and no one knows what happened to the princes. It’s assumed that Richard has them killed, but it’s never been proven.

In “The Kingmaker,” the Doctor decides to go find out what happened to the princes. He lands in 1485, after the princes have been imprisoned in the Tower, and heads out while Peri and Erimem go to change into period clothes. The TARDIS hiccups and lands again in 1483, just after Edward IV has died and Richard has taken custody of the princes, but Peri and Erimem don’t realize that they’re in a different time zone than the Doctor until after they’ve left the TARDIS, and when they look for it, it’s gone and they’re on their own, stuck living in 15th century England while the final events of the War of the Roses unfold around them.

As I noted before, this story operates on so many levels. At its core, it presents and solves the mystery of the two princes, in its own very Doctor Who way, which is in itself satisfying. Then there’s the complexity of having two sets of characters in different time zones, with the one in the future trying to figure out what happened to the ones in the past, while the ones in the past are trying to figure out how to get themselves out of their situation and are trying not to change major historical events. The guest characters in this are all well-defined and well-performed, and Richard especially has an incredible amount of depth; you never quite know if he’s good and honorable or evil and despicable. Then, there’s the ending. Or the endings, as it were. There are at least three moments in the play in which you think, “Oh, ok, that’s what happened! Great story!” and then it throws something else at you and you realize it’s not the end. The reason why it works like this: nothing in this story is unimportant. Every detail matters.

One other thing that makes this story delightful is its style: anachronistic and irreverent, without overshadowing the main plot. For example, Peri and Erimem spend some time working in a pub owned by a man named Clarrie, and when he trains them to be tavern wenches, he gives them scripts to upsell the customer (“Now, when the customer orders a pork pie, what do you say?” “You know, sir, that pork pie would wash down well with a pint of our fine house ale.”). He then mentions that they’re good workers, a lot better than the ones that he can get from “an agency.” If you’re not used to it, it can be a bit surreal, but it injects a lot of humor into what might otherwise be a very serious, talky tale, and prevents the audio from sounding like history class.

Overall, without going into any spoilers, this story brings together a large number of unique concepts and characters and ties them all together into a wondrous whole, in an atmosphere of both mysterious danger and irreverent humor.

Spoiler-full review:

And I mean, spoiler-full. If you don’t want spoilers, you shouldn’t be reading this.

I think the thing that really impressed me about this is the complexity of the plot and how you never quite know what Richard is doing until he does it. You don’t even know if he believes what Mr. Satan tells him at the beginning of the audio. However, the motives of his actions are all explained. The revelation that as a mysterious historical figure, he’d been visited by time travelers before who wanted to know why he did what he did and that he had no intention of attempting to take the throne until he’d been told that that’s what he did was amazing, both because it influenced his life and decisions so profoundly and because it gave us a glimpse of the damage caused by time travelers who aren’t careful.

Then there was the fact that he learned on his own about the Web of Time and that the time travelers were terrified of the Doctor, and used that knowledge to his own ends, to find out more and manipulate the Doctor, this mysterious and powerful figure. That whole section, where Richard explains what happened and tries to get the Doctor to give the order to kill the princes, bears listening to again. And yet, Richard was a character with a well-established personality and goals, and he stuck to them. He was loyal to his brother, only seizing the throne because history said he did so, and repeatedly noted that he would do anything, but only if he had a very good reason to do so. As a bonus, his attempt to manipulate the Doctor gave us another instance to watch the Doctor face his responsibilities head on: does he order the death of the princes to preserve the Web of Time, or does he spare them like he personally wants to do? Luckily for him, he’s the Doctor: he can look at a situation and make connections no one else can between disparate events, and he figures out what the big secret is, saving the lives of his companions.

The reveal of the villain behind everything was unbelievable, hilarious, and absolutely awesome at the same time. And a non-evil villain, too. Perhaps he was rather insane, but his intentions were good, at least from the point of view of his society and history. His fate, and Richard’s, was totally unexpected, and I’d like to think pretty unique in Doctor Who stories. Usually everything gets put back in their right places; this one didn’t quite accomplish that, but close enough…

This audio was just brilliant, and I need to listen to it again, to get all of the details down. I can definitely see why it’s ranked so high, and if anyone were to ask me to recommend an audio that I’ve listened to, this would probably be the one I’d choose.

“The Mind’s Eye”

Bf102_mindseye_big“The Mind’s Eye” is #102 in Big Finish‘s main range of Doctor Who audios, featuring the Fifth Doctor, Peri, and Erimem.

In a not-too-spoilerific synopsis, the Doctor and his companions find themselves on a jungle planet where the plants trap and kill people by inducing a dream state as they grab and immobilize their victims. While the Doctor and the human research team investigating the plants try to save Peri and Erimem, we also get to see the worlds that Peri and Erimem create in their dreams, the worlds that they would like to live in.

The overall story is pretty average, with its somewhat predictable twists and turns, if you’re familiar at all with Doctor Who stories. The supporting characters were well-performed, but rather shallow. To me, the interesting part was seeing the dreams, especially Erimem’s, because I’m not very familiar with her character and it told me quite a bit about her, and prompted me to go to Tardis Data Core to find out more. I have listened to at least one other audio with her (“The Kingmaker”) but it didn’t touch on her history or personality at all, unlike this one.

I think I’d like to see a bit more meat in these audios, more situations in which the Doctor must make a moral choice or teach the companions or supporting characters something important, or stories which deal with the companions’ histories more. This particular audio was really very straightforward, with the evil very recognizable and not nuanced at all. While this was a fine adventure and I enjoyed it, I’ve heard better.

“Planet of Fire”

It’s just been one of those weeks. Meetings to go to, errands to run, tasks to be done. So many demands on my time, I didn’t even visit WordPress at all yesterday. Hopefully it will all go back to normal on Monday. I’ve even not had the time to watch much Doctor Who, and so this discussion of “Planet of Fire” is from watching it three nights ago. I hope I remember everything I wanted to say.

As usual, spoilers ho!

There are some images you find that you just have to post.

There are some images you find that you just have to post.

“Planet of Fire” is the penultimate Fifth Doctor episode, in which Vislor Turlough and Kamelion depart and Peri Brown joins up. I’m going to start with the shallow statement that this episode has something for everyone, as Peri, who spends much of her time in the TARDIS wearing deep-plunging blouses, is introduced in her bikini, while the Doctor, on this desert planet, spends the entire episode in his dress shirt and suspenders. I never realized before how good those tailored high-waisted trousers can look on a man. Ok, back to the actual intelligent discussion of this episode.

The bulk of the episode is set on a planet called Sarn, inhabited by a tribe of people who worship the fire god Logar, but have odd bits of technology that they revere as gifts from the god. The Doctor, Turlough, and Peri (who Turlough had brought into the TARDIS after saving her from drowning; the Doctor didn’t know she was there)  arrive there when the TARDIS is sent there by Kamelion. The Doctor and Turlough get embroiled in the affairs of the tribe, who believe that the prophecies of the volcano erupting and the mysterious “Outsider” arriving as a gift from Logar are coming true, while Kamelion, controlled by and looking like the Master, forces Peri to work against the Doctor. Meanwhile, Turlough is getting far more involved in and concerned about the tribe’s welfare than he normally does, and it turns out that the god Logar and his gifts of technology are the tribe’s misinterpretation of the crash of a spaceship from Turlough’s home planet of Trion, and in fact, the “Chosen One” who directs the tribe is Turlough’s brother. Eventually, the Master’s plan is revealed: he’s been shrunk to about four inches tall due to an accident while working on his TCE (Tissue Compression Eliminator), and came to Sarn because the volcano emits numismaton gas, which will restore him, though it requires the volcano to erupt, which would destroy the tribe.

So, that summary isn’t the most coherent thing in the world, because the episode is far more complex. First, it portrays a religious society and the problems they have with heretics and loss of faith. While Timanov, the head priest, is completely faithful to his god and follows what he believes is the god’s words, the Chosen One, Malkon, questions the god’s apparent orders to execute the unbelievers, and refuses to sentence anyone to death. Meanwhile, there are unbelievers who seek out evidence that the god doesn’t exist and after finding such evidence, have to decide on whether or not to denounce the god, knowing they’d be put to death. Then later, when the “Outsider” appears at the foretold time, they begin to question their own conclusions about the existence of the god.

The arrival of the two Time Lords on the planet also tests their faith. The Master immediately and happily accepts the title of the “Outsider” to make the tribe do what he wants and turn on the Doctor. In contrast, the Doctor refuses to claim that he comes from the god, and in order to save the tribe, explains exactly what’s going on to them, so that they will make the decision to evacuate the planet. In all, it was a very interesting exploration of faith and how it can be twisted and exploited.

I think, though, the best part of the entire episode was Turlough. This was his swan song and his story. He was the one who figured out what was going on – that the spaceship that had crashed was his father’s and the Chosen One was his brother – since he recognized the symbols and the technology he was seeing, and then figured out how to use it to unify the tribe. Malkon, the Chosen One had been shot and was near death, so Turlough, who had the same symbol on his arm as Malkon, stepped up and claimed that he, too, was a Chosen One, then took command of the tribe. He also made the sacrifice to save them: he was a political exile on Trion, and the only way to save them was to call for a rescue ship from there. In doing so, he would be arrested for violating his exile. Luckily for him, general amnesty had been granted and he was free to finally return home.

One last interesting part of this episode was the final interaction between the Doctor and the Master. The four-inch Master finally got the numismaton gas to work and he grew to full size, but he didn’t know that the Doctor had changed the controls, and he became stuck in the flames when the numismaton gas stopped flowing. He begged the Doctor to turn off the flame, first threatening him, then offering him anything, then finally, begging for mercy, before he finally disintegrated. Throughout it all, the Doctor watched him with a stony expression – a very uncharacteristic decision, perhaps spurred by the fact that the Master tried to kill both the Doctor and the whole tribe in his quest for restoration. The other interesting thing about this exchange was the Master’s final words: “Won’t you show mercy to your own -”  The sentence is never completed, and I’m sure there have been multitudes of discussions about how it was going to end.

All in all, it was an enjoyable and thought-provoking episode, and though I haven’t seen all of the episodes in the Peter Davison’s final season, if this is any indication, I can see why he thought that if he had known how good this season was going to be, he would have stayed on for another year. The only thing I think they did poorly in this episode was the scenes of Peri wandering the desert – very obvious filler. I’m looking forward to seeing more of this season, as much as I am looking forward to seeing more Seventh Doctor.

“The Caves of Androzani”

tcoa“The Caves of Androzani” (henceforth abbreviated TCoA) is the last episode of Peter Davison’s era of Doctor Who, and it’s considered the best episode of Doctor Who ever. That might be hard to believe for people who are primarily familiar with the modern series, that the best episode comes from the classic series (that it’s considered better than, say, “Blink”) and that it’s a Fifth Doctor episode (and not from Tom Baker, Jon Pertwee, Patrick Troughton, or William Hartnell), but it seems to be the general opinion among those who are fans of both the classic and modern eras that if “The Caves of Androzani” isn’t the #1 episode, it’s in the top three.

I watched it back in October or so with no idea that the episode rated so highly, with only the knowledge that it was the Fifth Doctor’s regeneration episode, and as such, I was mostly watching it to see the Doctor get embroiled in some situation, win the day, and sacrifice himself (I knew the circumstances of his death beforehand). As such, I was immensely disappointed and the episode didn’t make much of an impression on me at all. Since then, I’ve learned a bit more about the show and decided to give it another go.

Before I continue, here’s a link to an article that I’ll reference at least once. It’s from a blog called Classical Gallifrey, which did in-depth analysis of all Doctor Who classic episodes. Its treatment of TCoA is a little down the page, behind the “Read More” link at the bottom of the entry. The analysis is extremely long and I only skimmed it very lightly.

Classical Gallifrey

Now, onwards! Spoilers ahead.

I think my second viewing of TCoA was very well-informed by my recent viewing of “The Robots of Death.” I noticed during that episode that a major part of it had to do with the personalities and relationships of the people working on the mining vehicle. In the modern show, the episodes mostly focus on the Doctor and his companions, with the guest characters forming a backdrop against which they play, but in the classic show, it seems that often the guest characters are the meat of the story, with the Doctor and companions being almost completely incidental. This is the case with TCoA. The Doctor and Peri arrive on the planet Androzani Minor and get embroiled in a political war between multiple sides. The planet produces a substance called spectrox that prevents aging, making it “the most valuable substance in the universe,” and everyone wants to control it. The main players in the war at the start of the episode are

  • Morgus: The man who owns the spectrox mining operation and lives on Androzani Major
  • Sharaz Jek: A strange masked man who lives down in the caves and, with an army of androids, steals the spectrox and kills off the miners
  • The President: The president of the government on Androzani Major, who nominally has control but is beholden to Morgus to keep himself young and knows Morgus has bought most of the government
  • Chellak: The general of the army tasked  by Morgus with cleaning Sharaz Jek out of the caves
  • Stotz: A mercenary who supples Sharaz Jek with weapons, but is loyal to whoever pays him

This is just at the beginning of the episode, and only the most important people each faction; there are a couple of other characters that have major effects on the story as it goes along. When we first enter the caves, Sharaz Jek has established his operation in the caves and has been holding off Chellak’s forces for six months, pretty much running circles around the army. With the spectrox mining being hampered, Morgus is not making the profits he’s used to and is getting desperate to get rid of Sharaz Jek. The episode is a tale of political and military maneuvers, as different factions learn what’s going on, stage attacks and schemes, and change allegiances.

Where does the Doctor fit into all of this? He and Peri land on Androzani Minor and enter the caves to explore. They fall into a growth of raw spectrox before being found by Chellak’s men, who accuse them of being gun runners for Sharaz Jek. They spend most of the episodes bouncing back and forth between the different factions, who each believe they are spies for some other faction. Meanwhile, they discover that raw spectrox is toxic to humans (the sickness is called spectrox toxaemia) and that from their brief contact with it, they are both dying. There’s only one antidote for it, the milk of a queen bat that lives far down in the caves where there is no oxygen. None of the factions have the equipment to go down there, and are certainly willing to let the supposed spies die.

Thus, the episode is a complex web of intrigue, some of which is due to the already tense situation in the caves, and some of which is due to the introduction of the Doctor and his companion, as each faction who finds them assumes they’re enemies and adjusts their plans based on what they think the Doctor and Peri have learned and are going to do. Meanwhile, throughout the episode, the Doctor is completely powerless, at the mercies of whoever has captured him at the moment, but his only concern is to figure out how to save Peri. From the moment he finds out that Peri is sick, all he wants to do is cure her, and when he finds out the sickness is fatal, it becomes his driving force. This desire gives him the impetus to break out of his chains (while he’s in a spaceship and captured by the mercenaries) and commandeer the spacecraft to return to the planet and acquire the milk of the queen bat for the antidote.

There are a couple of other things worth mentioning about this episode. I will note that both of these I got both of these ideas from the Classical Gallifrey link I posted above. First, the direction. This was the first episode Graeme Harper directed for Doctor Who. If you don’t recognize his name, he directed ten episodes during David Tennant’s run as the Doctor, including “Army of Ghosts”/”Doomsday”, “Time Crash”, “Turn Left”, “The Stolen Earth”/”Journey’s End”, and “The Waters of Mars”.

sharazperi2Now, I will tell you plainly that I don’t know a single thing about directing in a show. I can’t tell you if a specific director is good or bad. I can only tell you what I see when I watch something, and to me, it looks like in TCoA, Mr. Harper took Doctor Who in a completely different directorial direction. One of the things that I sometimes have a problem with while watching the classic episodes is the feeling of unreality: the cheap sets, the brightly-lit interiors, the stodgy characters standing in a row delivering their lines to each other, the long shots of slow monsters plodding across a desolate landscape, that kind of thing. Quarries looked like quarries, and caves looked like, well, cheap sets made of papier mache. Mr. Harper turned that on end for TCoA. He used the lighting to darken everything except the most important things in the scene. He positioned the actors in natural poses and arrangements. For some shots, especially the incredibly creepy scenes of Sharaz Jek with Peri, he positioned the camera low and intimate, to draw you closer to the characters. Sure, the sets were still cheap, but he focused you on the characters and the action, and thus you don’t notice the rest. He concentrated on depicting the story, rather than shooting the script, to considerable effect.

The second thing I wanted to mention was a very short bit (probably only two seconds) that has wider implications on the story and the lore of the show. I wouldn’t have noticed this if Classical Gallifrey hadn’t pointed it out. When the Doctor has commandeered the spaceship and is returning to Androzani Minor, he’s already well into the late phases of spectrox toxaemia and, like Peri, is going to die soon. He’s sitting in the pilot’s chair staring at the viewscreen and hallucinates for a moment, seeing vertical lines covering the viewscreen screen. He concentrates and they go away. As it only lasts for a second or two, it just looks like something that was thrown in to emphasize that he’s really sick.

What Classical Gallifrey points out is that the vertical lines weren’t on the screen – they were over his entire field of vision, and if you pay attention to them and to the end of the episode, you’ll see that they’re exactly the same lines that appear in his vision when he starts to regenerate. The point of the scene was not that he was sick, but that he was dying at that moment and willed himself to delay his regeneration until he could save Peri. Up until this point, I had thought that the concept that the Doctor could delay regeneration was invented for the Tenth Doctor’s story in The End of Time, but no, the Fifth Doctor did it first. Also, his stopping his regeneration in order to continue trying to save Peri only underscores his tenacity and his devotion to this companion who he barely knows. (Read Classical Gallifrey’s discussion of this point: it’s far better than anything I could ever write about it.)

I have to admit, on second viewing, I’m still not sure about everything that happened in those caves. There were so many tricks and turnarounds that I’m not sure who ended up on top. But I was completely engaged in the story – all of the characters were intricately designed and interesting to watch, even the ones you end up hating – and I do think that this was a fantastic episode. #1? Not sure. I’d have to watch it a few more times to really grok it. But top 20, at least. I’d put this episode up against the best that the modern show has to offer, and it’ll beat out a lot of them.

Greetings and a few mutant Daleks

Well, apparently the Doctor Who: Legacy Facebook page found my mini-strategy guide and posted it, deluging this blog in views! I don’t think I’ve ever had anything I’ve written reach more than a few people. Thanks very much for visiting! I hope the strat guide helps!

Sadly, I don’t have anything really interesting in mind to say today to all these visitors. Ironic, huh?

We watched “Revelation of the Daleks” this weekend, a Sixth Doctor/Peri episode. It wasn’t a very strong episode. Ignoring the DJ that interrupted the action every five minutes (I mentioned him in a previous post), the story went along pretty well after the Doctor and Peri finally got to the necropolis; before that, the episode spent way too much time following them as they walked. I’ve noticed that the classic episodes love to have many different factions warring with each other, so that you never quite know who to trust. In this episode, there was Davros and his Daleks (ok, you know he’s gotta be the main bad guy), the corporation running the necropolis, the girl in love with the main mortician, the morticians who were getting suspicious of the necropolis’ leadership, the rebels who were infiltrating the necropolis, and the assassin and his squire. All of these characters kept you in suspense for quite a while.

The overarching plot didn’t work well, but there were some gems along the way. I think the thing that really didn’t work for me was that Davros was demanding money from the corporation running the necropolis. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone in Doctor Who care about money. It might have worked better if Davros had made it clear that he needed more money to fund his project (creating Daleks from human bodies in suspended animation), but even then, no other evil villain in the show has ever cared about the financing of his empire.

The first thing that did work very well was why Davros was stopped. You might have noticed that he was creating Daleks from humans. That’s not exactly something that Daleks would like, since part of their credo is racial purity. Near the end of the episode, real Daleks show up and kill the mutant Daleks, then take Davros back home to punish him. Never mind the fact that if none of the other events in the episode had happened, the Daleks would have stopped Davros anyway: the show stayed true to its canon and gave a reason for the real Daleks to appear and actually choose not to fight the Doctor – Davros was a bigger threat.

The second good thing was the way that the assassin and the Doctor worked together while imprisoned by Davros, through expressions and gestures. The assassin character in general was well-characterized and had a very interesting backstory, and had a noble death.

I think the worst thing about this episode was Peri. She spent the entire episode complaining. The last time I saw Peri was in “The Caves of Androzani,” in which she did complain a lot, but had a fantastic story with Sharaz Jek. I’m hoping that her general characterization is more like in Androzani than like in this episode.

I will say, though, that this is the first Sixth Doctor episode I have seen, and I like him. He is arrogant and obnoxious, and a man of action. He’s very different from all of the other Doctors I’ve seen, and yet is still the Doctor. Brilliant!