Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Warriors' Gate

This story was just a mess.  The TARDIS is somehow trapped between N-Space and E-Space in a featureless, white void.  I really didn't think the effects could get much cheaper than Meglos, but here we are, at a new low already.  There's inexplicably another crew there who are hilariously apathetic toward their leader, whose name I've already forgotten.  But they're also bad guys.  Who we're somehow supposed to take seriously.  Adric walks around, flipping a coin a lot, but he gets a good moment in near the end with some sort of radar dish thing-y.  The plot develops in a murky miasma of collapsing dimensions, mirror universes (and not the fun kind, where everyone has a mustache), alien slaves, some sort of unobtanium called "Dwarf Star Alloy" and then, for some reason, Romana leaves.  Something about the aliens need a Time Lord for... something.

So it's goodbye Romana, goodbye K-9 and goodbye E-Space.  I'm fairly certain I'm a story or two away from saying goodbye to Tom Baker's Doctor as well.  It's going to be bittersweet - after all, Tom has been MY Doctor since the first time I saw him in City of Death about 16 years ago.  I feel like I'll barely get to spend any time with Peter Davidson in comparison.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

State Of Decay

"State of Decay" tips its hand pretty early, but the way the pieces come together with a healthy dash of continuity makes this a fun episode.  The Doctor and Romana continue to explore the green-tinted E-Space, and we get a name for our regular non-E-Space universe - N-Space.  K-9 (have I mentioned how much I love K-9?) picks up a planet on the edge of his scanners with a surprising amount of technology for the amounts of energy being emitted.  Basically we have high tech toys in the dark ages, complete with a trio of rather gaunt-looking royalty.  We meet the royal trio, as well as the peasants on this planet during some sort of ceremony which reminded me of a cross between "The Lottery" and a buffet line.

When the Doctor and Romana land, its not long before they're grabbed by the rebels who are pro-science, pro-knowledge and so obviously the good guys.  Apparently knowledge is forbidden on this planet.  Meanwhile, Adric ducks out to look for the Doctor and Romana and promptly gets himself grabbed by one of the trio of royalty we met earlier -  Aukon.  Aukon wants him to be one of the 'chosen ones'.  By know, you probably know where we're going with this.

The Doctor and Romana just HAVE to meet these guys, so there's some sizing up between the other two royals and the Time Lords, and sure enough, Romana slightly cuts her finger.  They seem VERY interested in her blood.  Yep, vampires.

To be fair, this is Who doing vampires WAY before it was 'cool'.  So the questions we're left with are: why vampires?  Why the weird disparity between the level of tech on this planet and the apparent level of cultural development?  Will our heroes ever escape the questionably-colored pocket universe known as E-Space?  Probably with the next story, since everything I've read on Wiki calls it "The E-Space Trilogy"

Oh, and Adric?  Kind of a dick this episode.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Full Circle

The Doctor and Romana were on their way to Gallifrey when they slipped through a Charged Vacuum Emboitment which brings them to E-Space.  E-Space seems to be, for all intents and purposes, pretty much identical to our universe except slightly greener.  Look, it's Doctor Who, things like this are going to happen, best to just roll with it.  Apparently the planet Alzarius occupies the same space-time co-ordinates in E-Space that Gallifrey occupies in the regular Whoniverse.  Needless to say, the Doctor and Romana are surprised to see a forest when they were expected to be greeted by men in silly hats.  Apparently, the TARDIS doesn't just use a simple camera to see what's outside.  No, they have to use some technology that shows them the image at the co-ordinates outside the TARDIS.  This technology can't handle the 'negative co-ordinates' in E-Space, so it shows them Gallifrey on the scanners.

While the Doctor and Romana are figuring all this out, on Alzarius we've got another allegory playing out.  This one seems to be about blindly following authority and tradition.  Oh, and watch out for that hubris, too.  We've got a group of teens, including one named Adric.  Adric wears a patch that is his Badge of Mathematical Excellence.  Adric is a nerd.  Adric's older brother leads this group of teens as a sort of 'fuck you mom and dad' to the previous generation who are mostly concerned with repairing their starship that crashed on this planet, oh so many generations ago.  The starship, incidentally, is rather creatively named Starliner.  Way to think outside the box there, guys.  While harvesting fruits, the adults notice eggs appearing in them, something they hadn't seen for 50 years.  This means Mistfall - a semi-regular occurrence which brings poisonous mist, spiders and humanoid creatures from the marshes which look like someone's attempt at a homemade Creature From The Black Lagoon costume who a) didn't want to get sued for copyright infringement and b) just didn't care that much.  This little group is run by 3 people, called the Deciders.  The Deciders decide that everyone must hide in the Starliner until Mistfall is over.  See how that works?

Adric, in an attempt to prove he's not a nerd (he is) steals some of the fruits.  He does this just as Mistfall begins and everyone else is making their way to the Starliner, as per what the Deciders decided.  The senior Decider decides to go after Adric, falls in the swamp and delivers a rather cryptic message as his last words: "Tell Dexeter we've come full circle!"  Dexeter is not, contrary to popular belief, a dubstep band, a cleaning product or an unholy mashup of Dexter from Showtime and Exeter from This Island Earth.  He's the head scientist of the group and NOT one of the Deciders, in case you were keeping score at home.  Once the Doctor decided to go out and investigate, things get interesting...

Quite a bit happens in this story.  I may come across as kind of hard on it, but the plot is actually fairly involved, imaginative if a little derivative and keeps the viewer guessing pretty much right up until the end.  The Doctor has a particularly great moment confronting the Deciders after Dexeter goes a piece too far in examining a captured Marshman.  "NOT AN ALIBI, DECIDERS!"  We get a temporarily possessed Romana, Adric stowing away on the TARDIS and no funny makeup for Tom Baker this time around.  As a side note, the writer of this story was only 17!

One of the things I love about Who is the sheer scope of the universe, and these last 3 episodes are perfect examples.  Each one features multiple different alien species (most with fairly elaborate backstories), different worlds with exotic environments (which sometimes have to be augmented by your imagination in these early episodes) and a wealth of ideas.  No wonder the expanded Whoniverse has so much material - the audio plays from Big Finish, books, short stories, comics and I'm sure there's more than one fan film out there.  I swear Who has been adapted to every storytelling medium save semaphore, Morse code and smoke signals.  While the new Who may be a lot more slick, produced and effects-laden than classic Who, I feel that the new Who is doing a fine job in carrying on the tradition of expanding the universe.

I'm also a huge fan of MST3K, and the guys over at Rifftrax just released their riff of the non-canonical "Doctor Who and the Daleks".  I'm sure I'll post a write-up soon.

A brief note on Full Circle

Full Circle part 2.  3 minutes in. Adric: "It's a homing device for locating the TARDIS"
Full Circle part 2.  3 minutes, 22 seconds in.  Adric, referring to the TARDIS: "I can't remember where it is!"


Ah, Meglos!  As I alluded to in my first post, classic Who certainly has its share of cheap, cheesy rubber monsters.  Here, we have perhaps the cheapest effect I can remember seeing: a cactus. With a menacing voice-over.  Yes, the villain in this story is a plant.  Granted, he's from the desert planet Zolfa-Thura so it KINDA makes sense and thankfully they get him up and around pretty quickly by merging the cactus with an inexplicably present human being.  Then, he goes and traps the Doctor and Romana in a time loop (so we get to see the same little sequence far more often than I felt was necessary) and takes on The Doctor's image.  Why all the effort?  So he and his equally inexplicably present band of Space Pirates can go from Zolfa-Thura to the lush jungle plant Tigella, also in this star system, and impersonate the Doctor.  Meglos wants to steal the Tigellan's source of power, the Dodecahedron - a source of immense power sources apparently named after it's shape.  OK, so they're not the most imaginative people, these Tigellans.  The Tigellans fall into one of three camps.  In a nutshell, they're either scientists (yay!), religious nuts (boo!) or you're a leader (Zastor - friend of the Doctor).  The religious ones worship the Dodecahedron while the scientists want to study it and harness it's power.  Meglos, however, knows how it works and wants it back as it's a Zolfa-Thura artifact.

So the Doctor and Romana break out of the time loop, land on Tigella and doppelganger-y hijinx ensue.  Well, not really hijinx as Meglos does steal the Dodecahedron. What happens next?  <RiverSong>Spoilers!</RiverSong>

This was a fun little episode.  Not quite as interesting as The Leisure Hive, but I always appreciate a good struggle between science and faith.  The goofiness of the bad guy was a bit of a detriment to this episode, but Tom Baker again gets some interesting makeup and gets to play the villain a bit, so that was fun.  Now, if you'll excuse me, we're introducing a new companion in the next episode, so I need to get to watching.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Leisure Hive

This was actually a very interesting episode.  The titular Hive's purpose was probably set up very well in the first episode, and maybe I should watch it again, but as it develops, this episode is about a struggle for the Hive between two races, the native Argolin, with their asparagus-like heads and the discussed but seldom seen Foamasi.  These two races went to war for a whopping 20 minutes, 40 years ago, resulting in the surface of Argolis being irradiated and the surviving Argolins being sterile.  The Foamasi want to purchase the entire planet as they are the only ones who can survive outside of the Hive and the Argolins are, obviously, loathe to sell their homeworld to the creatures that effectively destroyed it.  However, the Argolins are going broke...

Lots of technobabble about tachyons ensues, which for those of you who don't speak Sci-Fi is usually shorthand for something to do with time travel.  Enter The Doctor and the (really quite hot) Romana II. See, the Argolins also have a problem where, once they hit a certain point in their lifespans, they start to age rapidly, so the episode becomes a race where the Argolin's new leader Mena is aging rapidly while the earthling scientist Hardin tries to finish his experiments with the Recreation Generator (here's where the tachyons come in) to reverse aging via a sort of time-stasis field.  Technobabble.  Meanwhile, Mena's son Pangol is ready and eager to take over.  Pangol is a xenophobe and warmonger of the worst type, and also looks surprisingly young considering no Argolin has had a child for 40 years....

Without getting into spoilers, Romana II, a Time Lady and hence someone who is knowledgeable about these sorts of things, helps Hardin with his tests, things go wrong and are set right just in time for the climax.  Tom Baker gets some surprisingly decent (for 1980) old man makeup and while the end feels like it invokes a somewhat familiar trope, it was an effective episode.  Watching Mena age and become more and more feeble while Pangol becomes more and more despotic gives the proceedings a sense of urgency that continues right up to the end.  Part of the resolution involves the Doctor giving the Argolins his Randomizer.  If you missed it, the Randomizer basically sends the TARDIS places at, well, random which was very important when he was being purused by the Black Guardian.  Who is the Black Guardian?   Look it up on wiki - I'm not watching all these episodes again when I have so many unwatched!  The Doctor dismisses the notion that he could still be in danger from the Black Guardian so I'm curious if/when/how this comes into play later.  Overall, a really good episode.

Eventually I'll figure out a rating system.  I might even come back and rate this one.  Who knows?

The Beginning...

Several years ago, I had heard really great things about the new Doctor Who.  Considering this is a series with a metric fuckton of history, I never really felt like jumping in to the new stuff without understanding the continuity that led up to the new series.  I finally heard enough good stuff about it that it pushed me over the edge and I checked it out.  Loved it.  As a result, I decided to watch the classic stuff.  Digital packrat that I am, I found ALL of the classic Who episodes I could (which happens to be everything that wasn't lost to the shortsightedness of the BBC back in the 60s-70s).

Now, back in college, someone who knew I was (and still am) a HUGE Douglas Adams fan had shown me "City Of Death".  For those of you unaware, Adams wrote this story and used major plot points that also ended up in his first Dirk Gently novel.  I loved it, but never followed up on any more Who for whatever reason.  After discovering how much I loved the re-launched Who around about 15 years later, I decided I'd start with My Doctor: Tom Baker.  Seeing as he is also the Doctor with the longest run, I figured once I was done with his run I could take on any of the other Doctors without too much difficulty.  That must have been around 2006.  A few years, a move from WI to CO, a house purchase and a divorce later I had stalled.  I ended up watching MOST of Tom Baker's run, but around Nightmare of Eden/Horns of Nimon is when it happened.  Somewhen between then and now, I started with the first episode of The Leisure Hive and then promptly got distracted by something small and shiny.  Fast-forward to last night....

Last night, I was in a mood.  Nothing sounded good.  Tried Hemlock Grove on Netflix.  Terrible.  Tried an episode of Star Trek TOS (another classic sci-fi show which I somehow never watched).  Fun, but didn't hit the spot.  Finally, I read up where I left off on Wiki and started episode 2 of The Leisure Hive.

Turns out that yes, these old episodes are cheap, but filled with interesting ideas, situations and characters.  Now, the cactus with the menacing voice over in Meglos was a little cheesy (OK, a LOT cheesy), as was the tinfoil back in... I want to say The Invasion Of Time.  But that's part of the old series charm IMHO.  The new Who has lots of effects and a per-episode budget that must rival the budget of some Doctor's entire runs, but it's my opinion that limitations like these tend to make some storytellers better.  Or maybe it's that I grew up reading a lot and playing Zork so my imagination doesn't have a problem filling in the gaps when an effect isn't quite what it should be.

Anyway, the point of this blog is that I'm going to try to keep up with classic Who and blog about it.  Might be a few sentences per episode.  Might be more.  Depends on how much I feel I have to say on a given episode.  Since I watched the rest of The Leisure Hive, all of Meglos, and the first episode of Full Circle (the start of the E-Space trilogy), I'll start with those...