Monday, November 17, 2014

The Davison Years - An Overview

Since during the 50th I ended up watching so many Pertween and Tom Baker stories (and since I have seen them over and over so many times) I have temporarily skipped them and gone on to the Peter Davison years. It was interesting watching the Fifth Doctor and the Twelfth Doctor at the same time. Some very interesting parallels. Some people think that story arcs are more part of the new series, but the Fifth Doctor had several arcs that were quite strong.

Peter Davison's era started with a return to the more filled out cast of the early Hartnell and Troughton eras. Other than the odd episode, none of the other Doctors have had such a full cast. Davison's era has one major flaw - the writers couldn't grasp how to deal with three companions at once and they used several tricks that in the long run make some of the stories weaker.

But as I traverse the end of the Classic Series, I find that I must rate the series in two ways. One by the individual stories, and the other by the Doctor, his companions, and his adversaries. While the individual stories are sometimes a bit weak, the characters remain good in spite of that.

Castrovalva - This story is mostly a vehicle for the Doctor's post regeneration trauma. It is also the third Master story in a row. The Escher-esque location is interesting and the Master's trap is good, but the story seems weak. Davison gives a masterful sequence where he channels his previous personas and the touches of past incarnations are nice. 

Four to Doomsday - Some really excellent guest stars help carry off this story. The Doctor and his companions need to save the Earth from a danger before anyone on the planet is even aware that there is danger. The aliens have been to Earth before and the time spans are astounding and the characters who populate the ship add some nice depth.

Kinda - Insanity is the danger in this story. Not one, but several people, including Teagan, go a bit crazy. The Doctor has to trace the problem back to the source and finds that Teagan has set something loose.

The Visitation - While trying to land at Heathrow, the Tardis misses and lands hundreds of years earlier. The Tardis crew discover an alien invasion and a plot to destroy humanity. In the process of stopping the alien menace, they witness a fire start in London.

Black Orchid - The first historical drama since Highlanders using one of the same tricks to keep the Doctor and his companions in place, The Tardis vanishes so the Doctor accepts a mis-identification and has a chance to play cricket and get involved with a mystery. The story is short but memorable.

Earthshock - The Cybermen are back. They are set on crashing a ship into Earth, setting off a huge explosion. The Doctor tries in vain to stop it, only managing to move the ship in time. Adric is determined to succeed and stays behind needlessly and is killed when the ship crashes on Earth in Mexico leading to the extinction of the dinosaurs.

Time-Flight - A Concorde vanishes and the Doctor has a plan to find it and rescue the passengers. The Master is back, this time in disguise and trying to take control of a powerful artifact. The cast of characters all have something to do, including the second Concorde crew. It makes for a very exciting episode. At the end the Doctor leaves Teagan on Earth since he has finally returned her to her own time.

Arc of Infinity - What do Amsterdam and Gallifrey have in common? Omega is back, exactly 10 years after his first appearance. Teagan is looking for her nephew but only finds his friend. The Doctor is faced with death because the Timelords don't realize the nature of the being trying to take over his body. It is a fascinating story. It gets off to a slow start, but by the end it is really good. A nice cameo by future Sixth Doctor, Colin Baker.

Snakedance - The Mara (from the story Kinda) is back, this time trying to regain physical form. This was an interesting story guest starring a very young Martin Clune. He is superb as the spoiled heir to the throne.

Mawdryn Undead - Not only is the Brigadier back, but twice over. Several stories weave together to come to a single conclusion. A race who pilfered Timelord regeneration technology are cursed with eternal life in quickly degenerating bodies. They want the Doctor to free them by giving up his remaining regenerations. In order to save Nyssa and Teagan, he must do that. Because the Brigadier is not a Timelord nasty things can happen if his two selves touch, but that is what happens at the exact right moment, saving the Doctor, Nyssa, and Teagan. This episode also introduces Vislor Turlough, a person out of time or place (it is never clear if he is alien or a future human - I assume future human is the more likely) who is in service to the Black Guardian, who has finally tracked the Doctor down (check out The Armageddon Factor from several seasons previous).

Terminus - Turlough's sabotage forces the Doctor to land in a very unusual way (by linking a door inside the Tardis with a door in a ship). They are tied to a plague ship that is docking at a healing facility, except few get healed and the process is far from accurate. They are taking advantage of a unique radiation leak from a derelict ship. The Doctor realizes that this ship may have caused the explosion commonly known as The Big Bang. This story holds a special place for me as I read the novelization long before I got to see it. Probably one of my favorite Davison episodes, except the part where Nyssa decides to remain to perfect the treatment process.

Enlightenment - A unique race with ships sailing on solar winds, with one of the contestants out to kill the others. Turlough is conflicted and doesn't want to do what the Black Guardian wants. The prize of the race is big and the Guardians power rests on who wins. This is a fun episode and really well done.

The King's Demons - This nice two parter is almost a historical story, except the Master is up to his normal tricks, this time trying to disrupt history by preventing the Magna Carta from being signed. It introduces Chameleon, a robot who can take on different identities. Chameleon ends up joining the Tardis crew, but isn't significant until his last story.

The Five Doctors - A personal favorite (and I only watch the original version, not the special edition). A wonderful romp through Doctor Who history with the return of 2 of the previous actors and a marvelous stand-in for the First Doctor. The sad point is the Fourth Doctor, but I think that makes the story stronger. Lots of familiar faces, including from Arc of Infinity. A wonderful way to celebrate the 20th Anniversary.

Warriors of the Deep - The Tardis lands in the future where the Silurians and Sea Devils have formed an alliance with the intent to attack a human missile base to set off a global catastrophe (reminiscent of the US/USSR cold war). The Doctor tries to act as negotiator, but is thwarted by circumstances and stubbornness. It is a very poignant story as he is once again unable to save the ancient species.

The Awakening - A quiet village is reenacting a series of battles and events from their past. But this is awakening an ancient evil that crashed there long ago. The Doctor manages to save the day with little loss of life, though historians would not appreciate him sacrificing the village church to do so.

Frontios - Far in the future, at the end of time, past where Timelords are supposed to travel, one of the last human colonies is struggling for survival and feel that the meteor showers that have killed so many are a form of attack. It turns out they are right. Tractators are behind their troubles and a race memory that Turlough carries provides the key to beating them. Lots of people die, but the colony survives. A bittersweet victory for the Doctor.

Resurrection of the Daleks - The Daleks are at it again. They are after a cure for a virus and seek the help of Davros, a prisoner of the humans. They have linked to 1984 to overcome the prison's defenses and it catches the Tardis. Again many people die. The Doctor manages to win by using the virus. Davros, who thinks he is immune, is caught by the virus on the prison after he releases it himself. Teagan chooses to leave, finding all the death to be too much.

Planet of Fire - An artifact is uncovered on Earth, but it is not terrestrial. The Doctor investigates even though Turlough tries to prevent it. The Master is back and is controlling Chameleon again. This time a young girl gets trapped in the Tardis while they go to a planet where Turlough's people have been exciled. In the end, Turlough risks his freedom to call in help from his people, only to learn his punishment has been lifted. The Master's plans go awry, Chameleon is destroyed, Turlough stays with his people, and Peri begs to stay on the Tardis.

The Caves of Androzani - While looking for quality sand to make a new glass part for the Tardis, the Doctor and Peri are poisoned. The only remedy is a legendary creature, but to get it, they have to contend with a convoluted situation that pits two men and their followers against each other. In the end the Doctor is only able to get enough of the remedy for Peri. Instead of dying he regenerates. This episode has some glimmers of genius, but is obscured by too many things going on.

The Davison era has some really great stories. Few are terrible, the worst ones being just a bit weak and not truly bad. But the good ones are truly great. Davison's Doctor is fresh and different, while still being every bit the Doctor. The companions are fresh and different. It is nice to see how Turlough wants to be good, but his past never quite lets him come up to what we expect of a companion. Though not my favorite era, it is quite enjoyable.

Next up is the Sixth Doctor. My old video tape collection was missing a large chunck of the Fifth and Sixth Doctors so many of these stories are ones I have not seen very often. Then I'm just going to finish off the original series and the 1996 TV movie before jumping to the Eleventh Doctor. I've only watched most of his stories once.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Missy's Army of the Dead

I seriously debated about how to handle reviewing a two part finale. In the end I decided to treat it as one story and write one review.

This story has just about the most shocking opening of any Doctor Who story. A major character, Danny Pink, dies in a senseless accident. When Clara's grandmother tries to comfort her, Clara points out how boring Danny's death was. And she is right. There was no monster, no great evil, no alien presence, just a car.

But what follows is a stupendous story as the Doctor tries to find a way to help Clara. The Tardis telepathic circuits take them to a mausoleum where they encounter Missy, who claims to be an interface android. Something is quite off when she kisses the Doctor as part of the official greeting. The incident throws the Doctor off and he never really recovers for the rest of the story.

We also see that Danny is in the afterlife and he has a visitor. In a flashback, we see Danny in war and his face when he killed someone and his visitor is the boy he accidentally killed.

We are introduced to Dark Water by Dr. Chang. It filters out all non-biological material so only the body shows. The mausoleum is filled with liquid filled tomb with skeletal occupants, but at Missy's command, the water starts to drain.

In quick succession we learn that the Tombs contain Cybermen (a nice reference to the Troughton story) and that Missy is short for Mistress and she is the new incarnation of the Master.

The Cybermen take to the streets when they are greeting by a seemingly insane group of people who take selfies with the Cybermen. But it is quickly revealed that these are undercover UNIT soldiers led by Kate Stewart. The Cybermen take off on Missy's command and on Kate's order, both the Doctor and the Master are drugged.

The Cybermen have flown into the sky, one to each major population center of the world, and then exploded, creating a cloud that seems to only rain on graveyards. In the afterlife, Danny is told he is going back and his body has had an upgrade. Cybermen rise from graves all over Earth. Danny, still in a funeral home, sits up, encased in silver.

The story seems pretty straight forward. The Master is using Cyberman technology to conquer the world, but this is the Master and all is not as it seems. That plan would be too simple. Instead the Master has something else in store.

The writing is outstanding, as it has been all season (or series for my UK friends). The emphasis has been on the characters, their interactions, and how they deal with the monsters. This story brings that theme to the front by making that the key aspect of the story. The Cybermen aren't important (and they really aren't true Cyberment since they are Missy's creations) as much as what they signify is.

When it comes down to the end, not only do we have a huge chunk of character development happening for the Doctor, Clara, and Danny, but for Missy as well. Even her story carries over from her last appearance. Missy is trying to force the Doctor to be like her, to use power. But like the Doctor's oldest friend and bitterest enemy always does, Missy underestimates what the Doctor is capable of.

The finale of this episode was poignant and emotional. The Doctor sees the solution and takes it. Happiness is not the goal - survival is. The Doctor and Clara come away scarred and going their separate ways. We'll see if that holds for the Christmas Special.

The acting this season has been amazing. Capaldi carries off a very alien and Timelord performance and Coleman nails a companion who knows the Doctor probably better than any other. Gomez has been intriguing as Missy and has pulled off the witty yet insane part of the Master's latest incarnation.

And as an added bonus, I complied the facts Clara gives about the Doctor and the facts Danny gives about Clara.
I was born on the planet Gallifrey in the constellation of Kasterborous. I'm a Time lord, but my Prydonian privileges were revoked when I stole a time capsule and ran away. Currently pilot type 40 Tardis. I've been married four times, all deceased. My children and grandchildren are missing, and I assume, dead. I have a non-Gallifreyan daugher, created via genetic transfer.I'm the Doctor.My name isn't Doctor.I don't even really have a doctorate. Well, Glasgow University, but then I accidentally graduated in the wrong century, so technically...

Clara [Oswin] OswaldBorn: November 23rd, 1986.Father: David James OswaldMother: Elena Alison Oswald