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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Doctor Who Rewind - Planet Of The Spiders

With six months of solid Pertwee in the can, myself and my small trusty companion donned our capes and frilly shirts one last time in order to bid farewell to the third Doctor with mixed emotions.

This last story manages to tie up a few lose ends from earlier in the 11th series very nicely and with long time producer Barry Letts writing under the name of Robert Sloman, a theme heavily influenced by Buddhism (one of his passions) gives us a very thoughtful affair about what it means to live a good life.

Being someone who had a real fear of Spiders as a child (and still do) I have vague memories of watching this back in 1974 as a five year old and being scared to death. In fact this story may well have been the source of my phobia.

Captain Mike Yates's story arc from Invasion Of The Dinosaurs is firstly addressed in episode one. Having allowed himself to be compromised by nasty baddies previously, he was discharged from UNIT. Here we see him attending a Buddhist meditation centre in order to find new meaning in his life. What he finds though is some odd goings on in the basement by a group of middle aged men chanting incantations in order to invoke some kind of higher power. They are led by power crazed ego maniac Lupton.

The Doctor, experimenting with psychic ability, is trying to tap into the mind of Professor Clegg at Unit HQ, this backfires when his subject has a heart attack after having a vision of giant spiders (yes, the Doctor indirectly causes his death! Shock horror). This happens when the Prof comes into contact with the blue Metebelis Three crystal from a few stories back, and which he lovingly gave to Joe Grant when she left on her trip to the amazon after getting married. She sends it back with a note that it is causing her a spot of trouble.

At the same time Yates and Sarah Jane witness Lupton's group making contact with a rather large eight legged creature with materialises in the basement. The spider leaps onto Lupton's back and takes control of his mind, issuing commands to him through a voice in his head.

Sarah Jane relates these events to the Doctor and he connects the death of the professor with them.

Most of episode two of the story is taken up with a tour de force Pertwee / Lupton multi vehicle chase. This being his last fling as the flamboyant action thrill seeking Doctor, Pertwee had probably requested they give him a big send off. So we get Lupton trying to steal the crystal and the Doctor giving chase. First it's the Who mobile verses Bessy then we swap to a one man helicopter and plane before finally, a speedboat and hovercraft. It just keeps on coming at you, improbable as it seems. And best of all, Pertwee being the speed freak that he was, is mostly in control of the said vehicles on screen.

There are some fantastic ideas in this story around transformation. One of them involving a character called Tommy, a handyman from the retreat with learning difficulties. In the first half of the story we see him in his child like persona collecting trinkets in a box under the stairs. Nobody really thinks anymore of him than a harmless spare part, but after he comes into contact with the crystal he gains the ability to read and articulate himself. It's a wonderful alternative to seeing the traits the crystal has magnified in others, such as the greed of Lupton. Poor Tommy wants nothing more than to be understood and excepted and that's what he gets.

Of course we also have the Planet of the Spiders itself, Metebelis Three, looking slightly less menacing than when we saw it at the start if The Green Death. And the spiders themselves? Despite this being the 1970's, the actual design and FX to bring them to life are more than effective enough to instil fear into any arachnophobe. Even Pertwee himself looks scared to death when he faces the giant queen.

But in the end, what we have here is a story of the consequences of the Doctor trying to redeem himself. At the retreat, the Doctor encounters an old friend, a fellow time lord and his old teacher from Galifrey, now occupying the body of a Tibetan lama called K'canpo.

K'canpo tells the Doctor that he must return what he has taken, the Crystal. When he took it, he himself started the chain of events that would eventually lead to his downfall and regeneration (and it's in this story that the process of change the Doctor undertakes is referred to as regeneration for the first time).

When the crystal is returned to the queen, it generates a force so strong it kills both her and the other spiders, and leaves the Doctor so weak he can barely make it back to the TARDIS.

After three weeks he returns to unit HQ and staggers out. With a little help from the spirit of his old mentor (who had transmuted at the retreat) the regeneration process kicks in and we see the face of Tom Baker appear.

What Pertwee was given in this story was a chance to throw everything he could at the role he had defined for four years. Of a all the classic Doctors, he was the only one who could mix suave and debonair with die hard thrills and action. There was less of the unpredictability and alien like qualities of other incarnations. But with his Doctor, you felt safe and protected. He was cool and calculated, and never got himself into a flap, despite being in life threatening scrapes.

Initially I was not looking forward to this era of the Rewind. I had gotten it into my head that many of the stories would be tiresome, boring and would plod along at a snails pace. And while there are some bad ones among Pertwee's tenure, the majority hold there own, and benefit highly from his bravado, well scripted stories and wonderful casting.

Having very limited memories of this era of DW, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it, and I feel sure that my childhood self would have loved it too had I been slightly older at the time it went out.

When Sarah Jane pleads through tears, "Don't die doctor", it's hard not to get choked up. And if it wasn't for the fact that I knew what was coming next, I might've been as distraught. As it is, I have been looking forward to the next stage in this journey since the start.

Yes, Tom is coming!

Next time on Doctor Who Rewind, a Robot with a conscience.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Doctor Who Rewind - The Monster Of Peladon

Doctor Who Rewind
The Monster Of Peladon

Klokleda partha mennin klatch, Haroon, haroon, haroon, Klokleda shunna teerenatch, Haroon, haroon, haroon

Yes it's that catchy Venusian lullaby again. Ah so, it's a return visit to Peladon and not a moment to soon, as things seem to be taking a turn for the worst.

Fifty years have passed since all that ghastly business with Hepesh and Grun. Now the kings daughter, Thalira, despite being female (Peladons don't hold any worth or power to their female counterparts) is is struggling to keep the trisilicate miners from revolting against the ruling class.

Leading the miners is Gebek, he's kind of akin to a union rep and has a head for making important decisions, unlike his friend Ettis, who just wants to duff everyone up. The miners beef is the age old-wanting better working conditions.

The trisilicate is needed for the war effort (the Galactic Federation of which Peladon is a member is at war with Galaxy 5).

Miners start being killed when visions of the royal beast, Aggador start appearing and vpourising everyone. Councillor Ortron tries to convince the Queen that this is a sign of displeasure at the alien presence on the planet.

The Doctor arrives with Sarah Jane and is happy to see that Alpha Centauri (the giant eyed six armed alien with the high pitched squeal) is still flapping around quoting federation policy and procedure. The Doctor pledges his support to the Queen to help get to the bottom of things.

With an attack on the armoury by the headstrong Ettis, which threatens trisilicate mining even further, engineer Eckersley (who is in charge of the refinery) persuades Centauri to send for federation reinforcements.

Things turn even worse when Ice Warriors (led by Azaxyr) turn up forcing the minors to continue with trisilicate production. They kill several minors in the process. As a result of this Ortron and Gebek join forces against the Warriors. With Ettis enraged by this he tries to blow up the Citadel. The Ice Warriors impose Martian law on the capital and imprison the Queen and kill Ortron as he tries to protect her.

On a hunch of Sarah Jane, who remembers seeing something inside the refinery, the Doctor investigates the control room and finds the means by which the Aggador trickery is being imposed. Cleverly he himself controls the device and at last the miners have Aggador on their side. It is revealed that Eckersley is working with the Ice Warriors and are both Galaxy Five agents who have devised the whole Aggador threat in order to control trisilicate supply.

Eckersley takes Sarah Jayne hostage and makes off into the mines but is eventually caught when the Doctor greets him with the real fury Aggador, whom the Doctor controls by means of the Venusian lullaby. Eckersley tries to kill the queen but the Aggador kills him first, and is sadly killed himself in the process.

Galaxy five surrenders it's conditions and the Queen seeks to repair the damage to Peladon by appointing Gebek as the new chancellor.

I enjoyed this much more than the Curse Of Peladon. It seemed to have a lot more tension, action and surprises.

Sarah Jane's strong female presence in this story really helps to give the queen confidence in herself. Sarah Jane shines in this throughout from her braveness and inventiveness in advising the queen when the Ice Warriors threaten everything, to her tenderness and sadness when she thinks the Doctor is dead, actually twice in this story. The second time is particularly touching, the Doctor puts himself into a sleep like state to avoid Eckersley's attempts to kill him with massive amounts of interference in his brain. Sarah Jane's tears wake the Doctor from his apparent death.

Elsewhere their are strong performances from the rest of the cast, and it's nice to see the Ice Warriors being as deadly as ever.

As a penultimate story for Pertwee it's gratifying to see him helping his old friends before he embarks in his final adventure.

So, next time on Doctor Who Rewind, it's time to say goodbye to the third Doctor with a creepy crawly classic.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Doctor Who Rewind - Death To The Daleks

Doctor Who Rewind
Death To The Daleks

The clue is in the title. And we certainly know what we are in for don't we?

Planet Exxilon contains a mineral called Parrinium, which cures a deadly space plague sweeping through the Galaxy. A party of marine corps are on a mission to mine this mineral, but have run into some problems with the planets inhabitants, the Exxilons. They are a savage race who sacrifice anything which gets too close to their huge white city of the ancestors.

With the TARDIS power drained by the antenna on top of the city, the Doctor and Sara Jane are stranded. Some really atmospheric opening scenes open this story, filmed obviously in a quarry at night with a green sweet rapper in front of the camera lens with plenty of dry ice. And the sand cloth coloured skin of the Exxilons lurking about in the shadows makes for quite a tense feeling of dread.

With our new 12th Doctor viewers were surprised when he seemingly abandoned Clara (his latest companion) twice in his first episode. But that's nothing new. Here, Pertwee tells Sarah Jane that he'll be waiting outside the TARDIS when she goes inside to change her clothes, then promptly goes wondering off and gets captured by the Exxilons. Poor Sarah is left wondering around in the dark and is eventually taken prisoner by the Exxilons when she ventures to close to the City.

The Doctor eventually escapes and is found by the Marine Corps whose ship has also been drained of energy.

If things aren't bad enough, a ship containing four Daleks arrives and confronts the Doctor and his new pals. But they are rendered harmless and can no longer Exterminate, their weapons also suffering from a power drain. The Corps and the Daleks agree to team up in order to fight against the Exxilons. The Daleks also need the Parrinium as their race are also suffering from the plague.

The Exxilons then try ambushing the lot of them but another party of Daleks who have fitted firearms to their weapons take out a number of Exxilons. The Daleks force them and the Marine corps to mine the Parrinium. The Doctor rescues Sarah from being sacrificed and they flee into the underground tunnels.

There the Doctor has a run in with the business end of an industrial sized vacuum cleaner and they meet the underground Exxilons, fugitives who have chosen not to worship the City. There leader Bellal helps Sarah and the Doctor.

They hatch a plan to break into the ancient city and
take down the antenna which is causing the power drain. When inside they must face tests that the ancients left behind to protect the city. Unfortunately the Daleks have the same plan and are in hot pursuit.

This four part story has a lot going for it. And there are some really interesting ideas in it regarding the three different groups of aliens interacting with one another.

The Exxilons look really good as a scary monster with there scull like faces and dark set eyes. And when they try and sacrifice Sarah Jane to the vacuum cleaner creature down the mines, complete with devil like chanting it took me right back to The Daemons story.

Putting the Daleks on an even keel with everyone else is an interesting twist, though being the Daleks they soon find an alternative way to kill as many Exxilons as possible and start ordering the rest around.

The pay off at the end with the destruction of the City and the destruction of the Dalek ship is bittersweet for reasons I won't spoil, but still rounds the story of nicely.

Next time on Doctor Who Rewind there's trouble at Peladon again.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Doctor Who Rewind - Invasion Of The Dinosuars

Doctor Who Rewind
Invasion Of The Dinosaurs

A rouge secret element of the Government teams up with some mad scientists in order to initiate a plan to take the Earth back to a golden time of prosperity. Sounds nice doesn't it? Well, the only problem is millions of people will die while a few chosen ones get to be hoodwinked into thinking they have travelled millions of miles to a new fertile Earth.

Oh, and there's one other problem. Dinosaurs are invading central London. Well, I say Dinosaurs, what they actually are, are rather pathetic models that are about as scary as a whole night spent with Yvette Fielding on Most Haunted.

Watching the latest CGI fest that was Deep Breath, the Peter Capaldi series 8 opener a few weeks ago, DW fans finally got a proper scary Jurassic meat eater in all it's detailed glory. It had only taken 40 years from the time of this 1974 story where, let's face it, the dinosaurs we secondary to the plot, but very poorly realised puppets.

So the plot, to seemingly roll back time using something fittingly called a Time Scoop. Firstly ancient dino-monsters are temporarily taken from prehistoric times and brought to 70's London, in order to depopulate the city in readiness for the roll back, which will leave a select brainwashed few, to start civilisation all over again.

Those behind this fiendish plot believe that the biggest threat facing mankind is overpopulation. So as you do, they build a secret underground base, bring in some mad scientists, and even infiltrate UNIT by compromising captain Yates as a spy.

Those chosen few members of society whose brains can be moulded to the view that escalating violence and over population need to be remedied, and who have some gift to contribute to a new golden age, are duped into believing that they are in fact on a spacecraft (part of a fleet) on the way to New Earth. But in reality are actually trapped in an underground base.

The Doctor and Sarah Jane are thrown into a Dino infested London, and need to find out where the Dinosaurs are coming from, as well as who and what are behind there appearance.

The opening shots of a deserted London in the first of these six episodes (filmed at 4am on a Sunday morning) are wonderfully atmospheric and really add to the idea that everyone has fled the city.

Sladen is wonderfully nosey in this story and continuously gets herself captured or into life threatening scrapes. She just can't sit still and just has to poke her nose in to everything. But as she is a reporter I suppose it's in her nature.

So, the bug bare of this story then is those Dino's, and yes, you gave to employ a rather large portion of imagination with the nicely filmed puppets on display. Best to close your eyes and insert clips of Jurassic Park or something.

However, if you can forgive the doo dino-bolical puppets you will be left with an intelligent, provocative and engaging story.

And if that's not enough, the scene in which Sgt Benton presents his colour coded pin map of where the Dinosuars are landing is absolutely priceless for the brigadiers droll eye rolling response.

Next time on Doctor Who Rewind, the Doctor teams up, with some old friends.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Doctor Who Rewind - The Time Warrior

Doctor Who Rewind
The Time Warrior

A new monster is unleashed on the audience, one whose head bares an uncanny resemblance to that of a commonly consumed vegetable. And, there's a new lady in the Doctors life. It's the first serial of the 11th season of Doctor Who.

Yes the first appearance by two DW classics. Firstly, in the Middle Ages a strange golf ball spaceship crashes and a mysterious, decidedly short helmeted alien (Linx) walks out, declares Earth for the glory of his home world, and offers local bandit Irongron magic weapons that will help defeat his enemies and make him rich.

Linx's ship is badly damaged, so he hatches a fool proof plan, using an Osmic Projector he just so happens to have lying around, to kidnap several leading scientists and have them help repair it.

The Doctor is investigating the strange disappearances when in walks a rather attractive young reporter called Sarah Jane Smith who simply won't take no as an answer when asking for an interview with him. Smith sneaks on board the TARDIS and ends up dazed and confused in the Middle Ages.

Linx builds Irongron a fighting robot knight, who unfortunately couldn't even defeat a fly. Which puts a bit of a damper on Irongron's plans to take out The Lord of Wessex.

The high point of the this story has to be the reveal of Linx to the audience. That head. That mouth. And that flicking tounge darting in and out of his mouth. You probably wouldn't be able to get away with that now in a kids programme.

Theres a very strong cast for this story including david Daker's wonderfully loud and visceral performance as Irongron. It's all very Game Of Thrones and he certainly seems to put the wind up Kevin Lindsay as Linx. A proper Sontaran, unlike the tamed Strax from the recent incarnation of Who. Elsewhere Dot Cotton aka June Brown puts in a solid role as Lady Eleanor.

Despite the robot knight being a bit if a push over, the story has some wonderful touches. Liz Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith) initially starts off thinking the Doctor is working for Linx and joins the opposition against him. She takes no time at all to finding her feet in this story, not even slightly concerned that she has been taken back in time at all.

The one thing that let's things down a bit is some of the decisions by director Alan Bromly takes regarding FX. For example for the Castle explosion at the end, he opted to use stock footage of an explosion totally different to what was required. Resulting in a disjointed, laughable finale. And although, new CGI effects are available on the DVD, they too are a pretty shoddy affair.

Next time on Doctor Who Rewind, Dinosaur's invade London.