Sunday, 28 July 2013

Silver Nemesis: The 25th Anniversary Story!

Originally Broadcast 23rd November-7th December 1988

Written by: Kevin Clarke

In a nutshell: A meteor carrying an ancient Gallifreyan weapon crashes to Earth in 1988 where the fight for ultimate power is carried out by a neo-Nazi, a villainous Lady from 1638 and a fleet of Cybermen. Oh and the Doctor and Ace are caught in the middle as the Doctor celebrates 25 years in time and space!

Review: OK, so this review is going to be different to all my others and it’s the only one that will be laid out like this. ‘Silver Nemesis’ is the 25th anniversary serial and was always intended to be. When the series got delayed by a few weeks the running order was even swapped so this episode would air on the 23rd November 1988 itself. With that in mind, this review is going to be ‘movie-length’ and encompass all three parts into one. But Doctor Who A Day set off with the task to review each episode alone so this will still have a clear cut-off point for each episode! So sit back and celebrate 25 years in style!

I don’t think I would be proud if the opening episode was to celebrate the 50th anniversary later this year, but it’s still a pretty strong episode. I wasn’t once bored or unnecessarily confused by the intelligent plotting that’s taken place. The idea behind the story is clever and brilliant and I’m begging to find out more. It’s a sort of “out of the frying pan into the fire” problem except there’s about three different fires and the Doctor is still stuck in the frying pan too! Everything is going wrong for him.

There is a distinct lack of characters and extras, as the episode sometimes feels a little empty in the same way The Happiness Patrol did. We’re cutting to and from the same three stories, which are all exciting and great, but sometimes it just isn’t quite enough. The stage only feels half full as well as we’re watching these few plot threads. That aside, it’s clear a lot of money has been spent on this episode with some great location work and some convincing studio set pieces.

Somewhat surprisingly, there has been very few effects shots, which is usually what lets the show down in the late 1980s. I’m not sure if this was a deliberate move to save money or look better, but I don’t actually miss the effects, I’ve been lost in the story and the acting for twenty-five minutes instead. And then as if the storyline wasn’t great enough, the Cybermen turn up at the show’s climax with a powerful final camera shot which bursts into the closing credits with style. I think this is a very strong opening to the anniversary, although it could be a bit tighter in appearance.

I thought the end to episode one was good, the cliffhanger to episode two has completely blown it out of the water. It’s taken the idea and magnified it a thousand times better! It’s one of the greatest endings and not all too different to one from Planet Of The Daleks nor that of Bad Wolf yet it is still fantastic. I’m not sure this episode on the whole was quite so good, however. The Cybermen are awful in this, something is really wrong with their (very) fat fingers and the voices just don’t work for me at all. Add to that the actors look and walk like actors in a suit, not like Cybermen. There’s no unison to the way they move, they just carry on how they want with no thought or menace.

There’s also the case of the two thugs attacked by ‘social workers’ Lady Peinforte and Richard. I think the prize for the two worst actors in Doctor Who since The Twin Dilemma has found a home. They were just laughable. I don’t even think this is a ‘dark’ story that needs some comic relief to knock it up a bit and cheer up the audience, I think the tone (minus this scene) is spot on and creates a great atmosphere for the episode.

I’m not entirely convinced behind the use of the Nemesis as an explanation for why WW1 and WW2 started, as well as Kennedy’s assassination. It just feels a little too close to home for Doctor Who and I disagree with it’s inclusion. My best guess for the finale, however, is that Lady Peinforte is going to turn out to be the Nemesis because they look similar. Oh and did anyone notice Anton Diffring was walking around with ear plugs in?

I’m still finding myself enjoying this serial, but part two doesn’t add a lot to the mix, it just expands badly on what was already there. I have a feeling the first and third instalments will be the ones to watch so with that in mind - roll on part three!

The third and final instalment is a lot better than the previous but it also feels a little short. I’m left with questions. Questions as to who the Doctor really is and why everyone was after the Nemesis so badly. The Cybermen didn’t explain their reasons until they were given a throwaway line near the end of this serial about bringing back Mondas.

This episode raises a lot of questions about ‘Doctor Who?’, which is very apt for the 25th anniversary as it’s also Moffat’s main plot for the 50th anniversary, which shows we haven’t moved on very much in 25 years! I’m also shocked at the Doctor using Ace to fight the Cybermen as he does here. There’s some fantastic acting and direction through the scenes of Ace battling or running from Cybers, but I can’t imagine any other companion being this brave – not even the new ones! It adds to the ‘Who is the Doctor’ theme as I can’t see him doing this to any other companion.

With all this fighting and running around we’ve lost track of the plot for this episode because there isn’t really any. The Doctor and Ace are just pottering about until the Cybers turn up followed by Lady Peinforte with Richard and then De Flores. It certainly feels a bit limp on the plot side but nevertheless I would’ve liked to see Kevin Clarke write another Doctor Who story, as it feels like he has more to give the show, especially seeing as his first delved into the mystery of who the Doctor really is.

I think this was an acceptable anniversary episode. It raised some questions and doubts about the Doctor (great) whilst carrying some old villains, the Cybermen (great) and had dollops of time travelling (great) and some funny characters (great). But what we didn’t really have was much plot in there, sure there was a lot in part one but afterward it felt more like an action adventure on the scale of Remembrance Of The Daleks but with a whole let less budget. Whilst I’m giving this one a hard time and saying it wasn’t the greatest story, I still came out happy and excited by the adventure, it definitely kept me awake and interested in the special serial, but next time it’s time to see if the series can finish with the bang it started with!

Friday, 26 July 2013

Who@25: The Happiness Patrol (Part Three)

Originally Broadcast 16th November 1988

Written by: Graeme Curry

In a nutshell: Helen A keeps up the pretence of happiness as her government crumbles around her.

Review: I’m interested in seeing how this episode will end, because narratively it should resolve with everyone on the planet being miserable and sadness being restored to a natural state. But then that isn’t exactly a great ending, is it? What I also struggle to come to terms with is Helen A, because I don’t really see her as a bad guy to be overthrown.

I don’t want to get bogged down in all the politics and I don’t have a clue what party I side with, but I don’t agree with overthrowing Helen A. The way things are being run is clearly wrong, yet the way she’s being portrayed is as a ‘nice guy’. I feel that’s why Curry is really trying hard to shoe horn in the disappearances storyline, so we know why she must suffer. I love seeing her unhappiness start to creep out across the episode though. Hancock is playing her as a bit fake through this episode, especially.

And unless I missed the memo, I still don’t get what these rats are in the pipes or why they’re helping the Doctor beyond the reason Fifi is attacking them, but even then they don’t know the Doctor is against Helen A. I can’t describe how bad Fifi looks, but I can’t help but feel saddened when he’s underneath the falling sugar cane though. Poor little thing!

The Kandyman doesn’t make an appearance until just over halfway through this episode and it’s definitely a mistake. I’d forgotten all about him, despite his fantastic and beautiful costume. It seems like Helen A just phones him up after she runs out of ideas, which makes up thirteen minutes, so what can she do with the last ten but phone the Kandyman? Although it’s worth it as it’s a great effects shot when the furnace is burning toward him.

I’m not sure how far discussions and plans got with this episode, but I think it’s widely known the episode was at one stage planned to be screened in black and white to give it more of a noir feel. This would have been awful! There’s so much vibrant and eye catching colour all over the place, most painfully in the Kandyman’s costume, that it would’ve been a shame to lose all these visuals. What is so awful though is when Helen A presses a button for the onscreen ‘futuristic’ computer to flash “escape shuttle ready for takeoff”. How cheap is that?

The final showdown between Helen A and the Doctor is tremendous and heartbreaking and amazing. I really do feel for Helen A and I agree with her, she must’ve started out good but she just got a little sidetracked along the way. I feel sorry for her misguided view and even more sorry for her when she discovers Fifi. Everything she just argued against has all blown up in her face in a couple of seconds. It really is heartbreaking and, for me, one of the most emotional moments in Who. The jazz music finally fits the programme as well as we zoom out on the sad scene. The episode should’ve ended here though, rather than go for the upbeat ending, it ruined the ending for me.

But this second serial is another really strong one and worthy of a celebratory series. I can’t express how much I’m loving this series with two completely different yet very strong stories. I said at the end of Remembrance how much I want this level of excellence to keep going and I’m praying it continues again now. I can’t remember how many years it had been in the 1980s since there was a run of three or more consecutively perfect stories. Could there be a run here? I hope so…

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Who@25: The Happiness Patrol (Part Two)

Originally Broadcast 9th November 1988

Written by: Graeme Curry

In a nutshell: The Doctor visits Helen A and the Kandyman.

Review: I’m not really getting what these ‘underground rats’ are that have been glimpsed once or twice. They feel like the weakest part of the script purely because I don’t get why we’re following them. Back to the Kandyman and the idea of him killing people by giving them pleasure they can’t handle from sweets is just so funny and somehow makes sense too. As is the idea his heart is referred to as his ‘soft centre’. Some of the puns do fall a little flat thought, like McCoy’s “sweet dreams” quip. I almost feel like every line is a pun of some kind, but I think it’s mainly down to the delivery from the actors and the silliness of the plot’s surface.

Daisy K saying how her being sent to death is the first thing she’s been happy about for ages is a very striking remark and it brings me to one of the most controversial parts of this storyline and that’s Thatcherism. It’s no secret in 2013 that Helen A was based on Margaret Thatcher but I was surprised to read that the director thought this from the script and tried to make it less obvious. However Shelia Hancock also got the same from the script so acted it like she was Thatcher. I think it’s a very clear portrayal and the entire plot shares a lot of similarities with the 1980s. Despite not being born until 1990 and being less than acceptable in my knowledge of politics, even I can spot a lot of likenesses. But does that make Joseph C Dennis? Or is that Fifi?

I feel like something is missing from this episode but I can’t put my finger on it. It’s certainly not as strong as the opening instalment and I’m still highly enjoying this storyline, I just feel this episode didn’t exactly further too much. The world of Terra Alpha has been developed and we’ve learnt more about the people and the rules. Part of the problem could, perhaps, be that the sets don’t feel big. Since the beginning we’ve just been spinning between three or four sets and that could be why this episode feels small.

The episode ending is good because it’s different. It adds to that feeling of Thatcherism somehow, giving the episode a real sense of a community that doesn’t work and Sylvester has that face JN-T always dreamt of in the Colin Baker years; he knows how to look scared and bemused as the theme tune kicks in to begin the closing credits!

Who@25: The Happiness Patrol (Part One)

Originally Broadcast 2nd November 1988

Written by: Graeme Curry

In a nutshell: The Doctor and Ace arrive on Terra Alpha, where happiness will prevail.

Review: I think it’s almost impossible for ‘The Happiness Patrol’ to be even better than the opening Dalek story but I’m going to enter it open minded and hope it carries on this series in style and if the opening scene is anything to go by, it certainly has style and tonnes of tone. It feels a bit noir but I think the fashion of 1980s BBC studios let it down, which is a problem that I think stands in the way of a lot of Doctor Who from the JN-T era.

The Doctor and Ace arrive on the scene, talking about dinosaurs. It creates a nice sense of friendship and companionship between the duo, making it much more fun and easy for the audience to get on with the characters. The Doctor talks about not liking the planet much. Compared to how he normally reacts with love and interest, it strikes as being wrong. Now we know something must be wrong with this place. There’s some great dialogue throughout this episode. I think the entire episode has some really strong dialogue and Curry especially excels when writing conversations between two or three characters. The interaction is just great and the dialogue so fast that it’s brilliant. I really wish Curry wrote some more Who stories but sadly this was his sole outing on the show.

The effects have really moved on in the last few years; Helen A being projected onto the fruit machine looks faultless. Overall I’m finding it hard to find anything to disapprove of in this episode. The acting is strong, the dialogue is expertly crafted and the sets are fairly convincing as well. If I were to pick something that was weak, I think it would be the cutting between scenes. It’s unusual to see this in classic Who and we’re following about three or four stories here and it slightly holds up some of the interest in certain characters as we’re spending too much time cutting away from them. I’d be interested to see an edit where the cuts aren’t so rapid.

There’s a surprising turn of events when Harold V is killed via an electrocuted fruit machine. Sophie Aldred really sells the scene, showing so much anger at his ridiculed death and then an even bigger shock (forgive the pun) as McCoy’s Doctor tells Ace that they will make these people pay. It’s rare to see the Doctor hell bent on revenge and it’s the next stage in turning the seventh Doctor dark to go with him blowing up Skaro last week.

I do have a couple of minus points nearer the end of this episode. Fifi is the obvious one. It isn’t convincing but then I don’t think it’s as horrible as people make out, but I’m willing to suspend my disbelief for some of Who’s effects. The other negative point is the noise the ‘go-kart’ makes as it’s driving down the BBC studio when the Doctor and Ace are on the run. It’s very loud and clangy and distracts me when we should have a good underscore present instead.

When Silas P arrives to set up the Doctor it creates a nice sense of continuity with the opening of the episode, with the viewer begging the Doctor to see through the undercover ruse before he gets arrested and executed. The resolution to this is brilliant and so funny, with Silas P ending up looking unhappy instead of the Doctor.

The episode ends with the Doctor being caught by the Kandyman in a pretty decent cliffhanger. I’ve not touched on some of the major talking points of this episode yet, which I’ll turn to over the next two episodes, but this has been a really strong and powerful opening episode. I can’t say it’s better then ‘Remembrance Of The Daleks’ but it certainly does try to give it a run for it’s money. I can’t wait for part two because it’s so much fun. Happiness will prevail!

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Who@25: Remembrance Of The Daleks (Part Four)

Originally Broadcast 26th October 1988

Written by: Ben Aaronovitch

In a nutshell: The Doctor must once again rid the planet Earth from the threat of Davros and the Daleks.

Review: The last time I reviewed an episode of McCoy’s Who I just had to point out how much I love the opening titles and I have to do it again here! There’s just something about the arrangement of the theme with the visuals that teams together and creates excitement for me. I love it!

Back to the episode though and isn’t it odd how the Dalek battleship wobbles onto the exact same spot it landed in before? There are some surprisingly strong emotions flying between Ace and Mike as they finally get a chance to comment on his being a traitor which just strikes hard for classic Who, I’m not used to seeing it too often.

Away from this and it’s Daleks vs. Daleks on the streets of London with some exciting visuals and something I’m surprised we didn’t see more of in 1964’s ‘Dalek Invasion Of Earth’. The Emperor has also arrived on the bridge and I think it’s quite clear this is Davros. The voice gives it away if nothing else. I also believe the little girl who played the ‘fake Davros’ is such an amazing actress, everything she does it very effective and she sells it well. Even those dodgy lightning bolts works (well, maybe not ‘works’ but is average).

“Typical human. You can always count on them to mess things up.” I like McCoy when he shoots lines like this off at or about people, he does it with such panache. Also little touches like when he doffs his hat as the Dalek shuttle leaves the playground. I think his Doctor, like Matt Smith’s, relies on little touches or movements to create the scene. He’s a much more physical actor but that isn’t to say he can’t handle the dialogue. Just look at the amazing scene he gets as he performs a monologue to the Dalek mother ship. I think it’s safe to say it’s gone down as one of the most powerful and memorable scenes in the entire history of the show.

And why shouldn’t it? Every line is just pitch perfect on writing and delivery. This is the ultimate good versus evil battle of dialogue here and the Doctor wins hands down. I’m not a big fan of that Omega device though. I think whenever something game changing in the show happens, it’s the result of a crap and plain effect. This time Skaro has been destroyed whereas in the past we’ve had one of the most important regenerations (from Pertwee to Baker) looking like nothing more than a simple transition shot.

Now what IS a great effect is the death of Mike. The prop of the stairway is shockingly effective as it crashes underneath his body. I was quite surprised by the force used to show this scene, it hits home even harder that we’ve lost “one of our own” at the end of the episode. The final Dalek self destructing (seen in the picture above) is a pretty corny scene but somehow really works. The little pepper pot wobbling around shows how cheap it is and yet it works because it also shows how crazy and unstable it is.

I can’t think of a better serial to open an anniversary series with, this has been truly brilliant and one of the best serials I’ve seen of the show. Certainly one of the best I’ve reviewed for this blog, in fact, I think it’s the best I’ve reviewed for this blog. If the rest of this anniversary series holds up to this level of television we’re in for a real treat. Bit will it? Time will tell. It always does…

Who@25: Remembrance Of The Daleks (Part Three)

Originally Broadcast 19th October 1988

Written by: Ben Aaronovitch

In a nutshell: Two rival factions of Dalek fight over the Hand of Omega.

Review: After the opening three Daleks are blown up, the Doctor comments with disgust “There were living beings in there”. Despite the menace of the Daleks, he still feels sorrow over the death of a life, which is what should happen for the Doctor and something he’s remembered since he blew up a Dalek himself in the opening episode.

I think what I most love about the seventh Doctor is his philosophic ness. Lines such as “weapons. They’re all useless in the end” are great and delivered beautifully by McCoy. I dislike how he never wants to give answers, especially when he refuses to speak to Ace about something important, but otherwise I think it’s safe to say this is the story where McCoy really makes the part his own and shows how strong a Doctor he really is.

The Emperor Dalek has appeared on the scene now and looks…pretty decent I suppose but the voice is awful. I’m not sure what’s wrong with it but it’s just not very fitting for the Emperor, it should be deeper and more menacing rather than a bit…squeaky.

Ironically since noting the Doctor never tells Ace anything we want to know, halfway through this episode he finally decides to sit down and have a chat with her about Omega, Rassilon and the Dalek ability to time travel. It’s a huge info dump but it makes sense and gets the plot forwarded enough so we can continue with the story itself for the remaining ten minutes.

The next big revelation is a brilliantly spooky one. The person we thought to be Davros for the past two episodes turns out to be the creepy little girl with a dodgy motorbike helmet on. Her first line about Ratcliffe serving the Daleks is so effective, starting off in a Dalek voice before returning to that of a small child’s. Sadly after this we get to see some grey Daleks trying to roll down a London street, which isn’t too effective as they wobble all over the street. It’s like a bad nightmare I had called ‘Destiny Of The Daleks’.

The two women, Allison and Rachel, are proving very annoying in this episode. They started off fun by making a joke of how much they’re getting ordered around but they’ve repeated this every single time Gilmore has said anything to them, making it very tiring and tedious. I’m not quite sure why they thought it’d work three times and still be funny but oh well. They were wrong.

The score for this episode has to be one of the best ever, it’s so memorable and exciting, especially when the Doctor and Ace are running away. Speaking of excitement, the end of the episode is also fantastic and fast moving. Mike’s a traitor but we can’t focus on that because there are explosions and exterminating and gun shots before the Doctor’s final comment about miscalculating, which bursts into the closing credit sequence with such annoyance I want the next episode right now!

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Who@25: Remembrance Of The Daleks (Part Two)

Originally Broadcast 12th October 1988

Written by: Ben Aaronovitch

In a nutshell: The Doctor takes action and hides the Hand Of Omega from the Daleks.

Review: I must admit I’m a little disappointed by the opening of the second half, the Dalek had ample time to exterminate the Doctor before Ace opened the cellar door. Something I omitted from my look on the first part was the white Dalek at the climax. The design and state of it is so much better and more effective than the original, black Dalek we saw which looked old and rotted. The white one looks big and has screen presence. Sadly it has to be blown up though I’m sure it’ll get reused somewhere in the future. Ace with the missile launcher is great fun, with her commenting about how she aimed for the eyestalk.

I think this is one of the first Doctor Who stories to really take advantage of the Doctor ‘walking in time’ when he comments about Harry who runs the cafĂ© being in hospital. “It’ll be twins” he comments. It’s brilliant when this happens and is overused a little in the current era and unimaginable in the Hartnell era. Hartnell’s Doctor just wasn’t like that whereas a few hundred years later the Doctor’s attitude has mellowed and he cares enough to look into people’s futures. I really like this Doctor but I also liked Sylvester’s Doctor from the previous series. I think it’s heavily on record how ‘bad’ the last series was, but I don’t think it was McCoy who got it wrong, I think he just wasn’t given any insight from the crew. Here his Doctor is different and brilliant in a whole different way. I think you need to get the mix of the two to provide what we have as the Doctor in the past few incarnations.

The scenes with the Doctor here are very stylised and, dare I say it, slightly gothic. A casket that moves by itself, a graveyard with a blind priest. There are a lot of strong visuals to go on here and it creates a grand presence around McCoy’s Doctor. There is a ropey looking effect as the casket is lowered into the grave by itself but I think I can get over that given the strength of the rest of the episode.

The conversation between Ratcliffe and ‘Davros’ is slow but very interesting. I find it fascinating his reasons for joining the Daleks is because his country fought on the wrong side of the last war. It’s often said how villains need to believe what they are doing is right and this is certainly the case here and it’s one I can admire. I don’t agree with it, but I can understand the reasoning behind the character now. It’s a strong piece and one I wish could be developed more in the show if he were the main villain of the piece.

This second instalment, whilst being a bit slow, is another great one and it has yet another strong scene with Ace finding the “no coloureds” sign in the boarding house window. Ace’s disgust at the sign sells the message well before we get another, rather tongue-in-cheek message from the television screen. I know that line comes under some criticism but I find it quite funny. If the whole title of the new sci-fi show were revealed it’d be too far by a long mile but it just about works for me here.

Of course Ace doesn’t listen to the Doctor and goes to the school where she gets some of the best action sequences I think we’ve ever seen in Doctor Who. The run across the tables and through the windows is really cool and unusual for Who but then the cliffhanger is a little disappointing, as we’ve had it numerous times before. Daleks chanting “exterminate” at someone without shooting. It’s a little old but this has been another pretty strong episode, although it’s mostly a lot of build up. I’m hoping for some pay off in episode three.