Wordy shenanigans

SusanTheEscapeIn the episode “An Unearthly Child,” Susan claims to have created the name “TARDIS” from the initials of the craft’s proper name, Time and Relative Dimension in Space. There’s been a lot of discussion about whether or not this is true, because the term is used by all of the Time Lords and it’s highly unlikely they would have adopted the term from Susan.

It doesn’t seem to be a problem in my mind, if you consider that we’re speaking English when we call the craft a TARDIS but its real name is Gallifreyan. Susan could have created the acronym from the English translation of the Gallifreyan name (possibly to make it pronounceable for humans), while the Time Lords use a completely different word to refer to it. When a Time Lord says its Gallifreyan name, either through the TARDIS’ translation circuit or through the translation we get by being the audience of the show, we hear the word “TARDIS.” Thus, there’s no contradiction: the Time Lords have their own word for it, and Susan created the acronym.

This is the kind of thing that occurs to you at two in the morning.

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“The Dalek Invasion of Earth”

first-dw_dalek-invasion-of-earthLast night’s classic episode was “The Dalek Invasion of Earth,” a First Doctor episode from his second season in 1964. If you couldn’t tell, it has Daleks and it’s set on Earth. It’s the second First Doctor episode I’ve seen, so even though I have a good idea of what he’s like from my reading, I’m really only getting to know him.

Spoilers below, of course, starting with a very short synopsis.

The Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Susan land near the river in London in the latter half of the 22nd century, to find that the city is devastated: the Daleks have invaded the Earth and taken over. Rather than killing everyone, the Daleks have conscripted humans as slaves and put them to work in a mine in Bedfordshire, and it’s up to our protagonists to find out why and do something about it.

From that description, it doesn’t sound like anything exciting, other than having Daleks to fight against, but I found this episode to be very engaging, and that surprised me. I have to admit that it’s difficult to watch the old episodes without being biased against its slow pacing and terrible special effects, and that bias grows the older the episode is. This episode has its moments of long, tedious shots of lack-of-action and people starting to die long before the Dalek-shooting effect is played, but otherwise, the story moves along very well and it didn’t feel like a six-part episode.

Very early on, the TARDIS crew gets separated. Ian ends up stowed away on a Dalek ship that takes him to the mine, while the human resistance group stages an attack on the Daleks and gets decimated, with Barbara fleeing with a woman named Jenny and the Doctor and Susan fleeing with David Campbell and Carl Tyler. Eventually, the separate groups determine that they need to get to the mine to stop what the Daleks are doing and begin their journeys in that direction, but the real story is what happens along the way. Ian and his traveling companion (I don’t remember his name) have a straightforward story, in which they infiltrate the mine, but Ian gets to display his cunning and resourcefulness. Barbara also takes charge of her situation, taking Jenny, who has lost all hope by this time, under her wing and counseling her, as well as figuring out how to get past the Daleks in a variety of different ways (including stealing a large truck and running over Daleks). The Doctor’s and Susan’s adventures are more interesting, as the Doctor, the expert on the Daleks, clashes over authority with David Campbell, who knows the local situation: the Doctor is the only one equipped to figure out what the Daleks are actually doing, but David knows the lay of the land and how the Daleks are operating. At the same time, Susan and David are falling in love. The Doctor begins to realize this, and it’s touching how he reacts. Thus, all three storylines are interesting, and since the show cuts back and forth between them, you’re kept invested in the story to find out how they all turn out.

This is Susan’s final episode, and it is famous for its final scene, in which the Doctor bids farewell to her. It’s a beautiful scene and worth watching, even if you don’t watch the episode in its entirety.

In short, this was a wonderful episode, with a good story, character development for all of the principal characters, and a heart-rending finale (and Daleks whizzing down ramps – looked like so much fun for the operators). I’d definitely recommend this episode for anyone who wants a good example of the First Doctor, or for any classic Doctor.

“The Five Doctors”

After a hiatus of about eight years, I re-upped our Netflix subscription so that we can borrow all of the classic¬†Doctor Who episodes they have. The idea is that we can watch all of them, and choose to buy any of them that we like. I’m hoping to eventually own every episode of the classic series, but it’s prohibitively expensive to do that quickly, so I’m hoping to buy the good ones first at a rate of about once per month. That’ll put me on track to own all of them by, oh, 2023 or so.

Richard Hurndall, Peter Davison, Jon Pertwee, Patrick Troughton

Richard Hurndall, Peter Davison, Jon Pertwee, Patrick Troughton

Last night’s viewing was “The Five Doctors.” It was the 20th anniversary special, aired in 1983, during the tenure of the Fifth Doctor, Peter Davison. It brought back the First Doctor (played by Richard Hurndall, as William Hartnell had passed away eight years earlier), the Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton), and the Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) for a combined storyline that also featured the Master (Anthony Ainsley) and a whole slew of companions, including Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney), Susan Foreman (Carole Ann Ford) and Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen), as well as the Fifth Doctor’s current companions (Mark Strickson’s Vislor Turlough and Janet Fielding’s Tegan Jovanka). The show itself was a single episode, ninety minutes long.

“The Five Doctors” was remarkably fun. Technically, it wasn’t a great episode – the plot suffered a bit from having to shoehorn in so many characters. Basically, a mysterious figure kidnaps the four Doctors and their companions (the Fourth Doctor was also kidnapped with Romana II but got stuck in the time vortex; plot-wise and title-wise, all of the Doctors needed to be kidnapped, but Tom Baker chose not to return to the show, so they used footage from the unfinished episode “Shada” and got him lost in the vortex) and drops them into the Death Zone on Gallifrey. They all individually decide that they must get to the tower in the center, and the show bops back and forth between the four different groups, showing their progress. They eventually figure out who the mysterious figure is and defeat him, and then bid farewell and return to their own timestreams.

The great part of the episode was seeing all of the old Doctors and companions. Mr. Troughton and Mr. Pertwee played their old roles extremely well, and the dialogue was spot-on. Amazingly, Mr. Hurndall not only looked like the First Doctor, but played the old, grumpy curmudgeon perfectly. In general, it was like watching bits of episodes of the old Doctors, spliced together into one big episode, and really, that’s all it needed to be. I found myself smiling and happy at the end, and definitely willing to buy the episode for myself.

That said, there was one thing that they could have done better, to make it an even more immersive experience: they failed to show that the Fifth Doctor would know and recognize the companions and be extremely happy to see them. In the most important example, the First Doctor, accompanied by Susan, walks into the TARDIS (the Fifth Doctor’s) in like he owns the place and demands to know why these strangers, Turlough, Tegan, and an unconscious young man on the floor, are in “my TARDIS.” Turlough and Tegan point out that it’s the TARDIS of the Doctor on the floor. This was a great scene, as the First Doctor finally realizes that he’s been pulled out of time and is looking at his own, previously unknown, future incarnation. However, the Fifth Doctor revives shortly afterwards, and the First Doctor introduces Susan. The introduction is necessary, as Turlough and Tegan don’t know her, but he’s addressing the Fifth Doctor. The Fifth Doctor says, “Yes, I know.”

And that’s it – no special greeting or love for the granddaughter that he abandoned 350 years earlier. Perhaps they thought it would be really weird to have the Fifth Doctor treat Susan as a cherished, long-lost granddaughter when Ms. Ford was 12 years older than Mr. Davison, but it was completely in-character: the First Doctor had not wanted to leave Susan and missed her dearly. In the comic book¬†The Forgotten, the Tenth Doctor underscores this when he specifically asks to see Susan one last time, so that he could apologize to her. A short bit of dialogue showing this in “The Five Doctors” would have reminded the audience that yes, the Doctor has a family and a history that is complicated by his regenerations, and given Susan more of a spotlight, which she definitely deserved.

Except for this one issue, “The Five Doctors” is worth the watch. It’s not deep or emotional or mind-blowing – it’s just a lot of fun.