Thursday, May 30, 2013

Season 3 Overview

Mavic Chen (Kevin Stoney, left) views the Doctor
(William Hartnell), The Daleks' Master Plan
The third season of Doctor Who was one of great upheaval behind the scenes, upheaval that nearly derailed the series. It was a season that saw management directly interfere in the series to the point where it lost the show runners, where the leading man's health began to deteriorate to an untenable state, and where viewing figures began to suggest that perhaps the public was becoming tired with adventures through time and space.

And yet, the third season saw a run of stories that are amongst the most bold and assured of the Hartnell era. From the epic Dalek space opera to comedic historicals to the surreal adventure battling The Celestial Toymaker to the slick action oriented War Machines, the third season saw the series demonstrating that Doctor Who could truly tell any kind of story it wanted. Indeed it was arguably the uncertainty behind the scenes that was responsible for the flexibility of the stories this season.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

"The War Machines"

Aired Jun 25 – July 16, 1966

4 Episodes

Story 27


Written by Ian Stuart Black

Directed by Michael Ferguson


Synopsis

When the TARDIS arrives in London, 1966, the Doctor visits the recently completed Post Office Tower, having sensed evil emanations from the building. There, he meets Professor Brett, who demonstrates his revolutionary new computer, WOTAN, standing for Will Operating Thought Analogue. Designed as a universal problem-solver, the machine can actually think for itself. Moreover, it is shortly to be linked up to other major computers around the world - a project overseen by civil servant Sir Charles Summer.

All is not as it seems, however, as WOTAN has decided that humans are inferior to machines and should therefore be ruled by them. Exerting a powerful hypnotic influence, it initiates the construction of War Machines, heavily-armed, self-contained mobile computers, with which to affect its plan of world domination. The War Machines prove more than a match for troops, but by establishing a magnetic force field the Doctor is able to capture one of them. He then reprograms it to destroy WOTAN.

Now back in her own time, Dodo decides to leave the Doctor at this point. However, the Doctor soon finds himself with two new companions, Brett's secretary Polly and her merchant seaman friend Ben Jackson, whom he inadvertently whisks off in the TARDIS when they come aboard just as it is about to dematerialize.



Analysis

The third season, one of the series' most successful and bold, ends on a high note with The War Machines. It's ironic that a season that was amongst the most variable in terms of tone and style ends with a story that establishes many of the concepts that would form the backbone of the show for much of the next decade, effectively ending the variation of the Hartnell years.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

"The Savages"

Aired May 28 – June 18, 1966

4 Episodes

Story 26

Written by Ian Stuart Black

Directed by Christopher Barry



Synopsis


Having arrived on a far-distant and seemingly idyllic world, the Doctor, Steven and Dodo discover that it hides a terrible secret: the apparently civilized Elders maintain their advanced society by draining off and transferring to themselves the life-force of a group of defenseless Savages. Outraged at this exploitation, the Doctor is seemingly helpless to prevent it when some of his own life-force is tapped by the Elders' leader, Jano. However, in the process, Jano also acquires some of the Doctor's attitudes and conscience. Turning against his own people, he enlists the help of the Savages to destroy the Elders' transference laboratory - a task with which the time travelers gladly assist.

Steven is asked by the Elders and the Savages to remain behind on the planet as their leader. He agrees to do so, and the Doctor and a tearful Dodo leave him to his new life.


 Analysis

Season 3's great run continues, with Ian Stuart Black's enjoyable, if simplistic, scripts and Christopher Barry's tight direction resulting in satisfying story. The series rarely took on allegory so directly as it does here, telling a tale about both the benefits and inhuman degradations of one society exploiting another.

Other science fiction series would tackle this issue, but they would tend to focus on the physical and emotional impact of slavery on the subjugated. The story does that, of course, but it also talks about the cultural impact on both sides of the coin. Other stories would depict the oppressors as indolent and pampered, but it also true that this kind of exploitation often does allow a society the ability to make great strides. Additionally, the cost to the culture of the oppressed is examined as well. Steven and Dodo see the cave paintings of the savages, and Chal admits that they used to be capable of art, but have lost that talent through their "sessions". This mirrors how the exploited become so focused on mere survival that they have no time for advancement.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

"The Gunfighters"

Aired Apr 30 – May 21, 1966


Episode 1: A Holiday for the Doctor
Episode 2: Don't Shoot the Pianist
Episode 3: Johnny Ringo
Episode 4: The OK Corral

Story 25

Written by Donald Cotton

Directed by Rex Tucker



Synopsis

The TARDIS lands in the Wild West town of Tombstone in 1881. The Doctor, suffering from a toothache, seeks out the local dentist, who turns out to be none other than the notorious Doc Holliday, currently engaged in a feud with Pa Clanton and his sons Ike, Phineas and Billy. Lawmen Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson are meanwhile doing their best to keep the peace.

The travelers become entangled in this conflict, with the Doctor mistaken for Holliday, Steven pressed into helping with jailbreak, and Dodo kidnapped by Doc.

Despite his best efforts to resolve the situation peacefully, the Doctor is unable to help and, in the climactic shoot-out at the OK Corral, the Earps and Holliday defeat the Clantons and Ringo, who are all gunned down. The Doctor and his companions say goodbye to Kate and Holliday, with Holliday giving the Doctor one of Doc's wanted posters as a parting gift.  

Analysis

North American actors often get a lot of flak from Brits when we attempt any sort of accent having to do with the UK. The implication is that we Colonials simply can't manage a decent accent, while classically trained British thespians can master any accent. Well, to those people I would suggest they watch any classic Who where an American accent of any kind is attempted. They are mostly laughably bad. And The Gunfighters is no exception.

But The Gunfighters is not a serious attempt to depict the Wild West, nor is it even a serious attempt to depict the event it is supposedly about. Writer Donald Cotton expands upon his aims, begun in The Myth Makers, to undermine any sense of historical accuracy in favour of a comedic look at our expectations of certain periods in our history and our fascination with creating myths around them.

Friday, May 10, 2013

"The Celestial Toymaker"

Aired Apr 2 – Apr 23, 1966

Episode 1: The Celestial Toyroom
Episode 2: The Hall of Dolls
Episode 3: The Dancing Floor
Episode 4: The Final Test

Story 24


Written by Brian Hayles

Directed by Bill Sellars


Synopsis

TheTARDIS arrives in the dimension ruled by the Toymaker, an immensely powerful immortal immortal who abducts beings and forces them to play a series of games, failure at which will result in them being added to his collection as his own personal playthings.

While Steven and Dodo are forced to play a collection of increasingly lethal children's games against the Toymaker's minions, the Doctor must face the Toymaker himself in a deadly, and complex, Trilogic game. Throughout his battle against the Toymaker, the Doctor is rendered mute, then invisible, while Steven and Dodo succeed in thwarting their cheating foes.

The Doctor eventually defeats the Toymaker by imitating the immortal's voice from within the safety of the TARDIS,  a tactic that completes the Trilogic game and destroys the Toymaker's domain as the TARDIS escapes.

As the Toymaker's realm disintegrates, the Doctor predicts that they will have to face each other again. The Doctor celebrates their escape with a sweet from a bag given to Dodo by one of the Toymaker's minions, but gasps in pain…


Analysis

Doctor Who's first and somewhat tentative step into surrealist storytelling is a success, albeit a qualified one. The major high points comes from the way it takes the iconography of childhood and children's games and twists them into something menacing and strange. The idea of an almost omnipotent being who lives to kidnap other beings and force them to play bizarre children's games is certainly compelling, and the Toymaker is well played by Michael Gough. The Toymaker is not a conventional villain in many ways, he is simply an immensely powerful figure who is bored and who is above conventional morality. He does these things because he can, he cares little for what he sees as lesser beings, and this detachment helps create an unusual villain for the series.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

"The Ark"

Aired Mar 5 – Mar 26, 1966

Episode 1: The Steel Sky
Episode 2: The Plague
Episode 3: The Return
Episode 4: The Bomb

Story 23


Written by Paul Erickson & Lesley Scott

Directed by Michael Imison


Synopsis

Arriving ten million years in the future aboard a giant spacecraft, the Doctor, Steven and Dodo are fascinated to discover the ship is carrying Earth's surviving plant, animal and human life, with the bulk of it being miniaturized and in suspended animation. The Ark is on a 700 year voyage to the planet Refusis II, the new home of the survivors.

Unfortunately, Dodo is suffering from a common cold, and unwittingly causes a deadly outbreak among the humans and their servant race the Monoids, as they have no resistance at all to the virus. 

A faction of the humans blame the travellers, and place them on trial, and it is up to Steven to defend them from the charge that they infected the crew deliberately. Luckily, the Doctor is successful in finding a cure, and their lives are spared and they leave the Ark as friends of the crew and the Monoids.

The TARDIS next materializes again on board the Ark as it nears the end of the journey. The Doctor and his companions are shocked to discover that in the intervening years since their last visit, the Monoids rose up and have now enslaved the humans. The Monoids plan to rule Refusis II as well, but while the Doctor and Dodo persuade the native (and invisible) Refusians to help them convince the two races to live in peace, even as Steven leads the enslaved humans in an uprising. As the Doctor and his friends prepare to leave, the two races resolve to live together with the Refusians.


The TARDIS crew depart, but while in flight, the Doctor seemingly vanishes!


Analysis

It's hard to out and out hate any story that contains the line "Take them to the security kitchen" but The Ark is certainly hard to like. It's too bad that the story and the supporting characters are all so tedious, because there is great ambition on display here.