Tag Archives: season 7

The Doctor, Doctor Who and The Silurians (1970)

silurians

I don’t know if it says more about me or about this story that I’m going to spend this post talking about its title. Or maybe there just comes a time in every Doctor Who blog for the inevitable post about story titles.

Doctor Who story titles are contentious. Several early stories don’t have official titles, which gives us ample opportunity to argue about what to call them. Me, I like 100,000 BC (as the best of an inaccurate lot), The Daleks(because I just can’t come at two stories called The Mutants) and Inside the Spaceship(which avoids calling that story The Edge of Destruction, which would bug me only because its second episode is the nearly identical The Brink of Disaster. If there was a third episode, presumably it would have been called The Verge of Devastation. And so on, unto lexicological exhaustion).

Then there are stories like this one, which inconveniently buck the series’ norm. It seems that just because of just one dodgy title card, we’re doomed to have to call this story Doctor Who and the Silurians. To me, it’s so obviously a mistake that I prefer to retrofit it into consistency and just call it The Silurians. The level of pedantry which insists on calling it Doctor Who and the Silurians extends to people who want to include punctuation marks in The Invasionand respect the unusual-for-the-time capitalisation of ATTACK OF THE CYBERMEN. Even though most Doctor Who story titles are capitalised.

These days, we’re sticklers when naming multi-part stories rather than giving them overarching titles. Strict accuracy requires that we call that Series 3 finale Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lordseven though it’s deeply irritating to do so. Still, we should think ourselves lucky that it hasn’t been retconned into the classic series, lest we have to invent still more titles for those early nameless tales. The Edge of Destruction/The Brink of Disaster might be just about acceptable, although needlessly repetitive, but can you imagine The Daleks’ Master Plan? Pedants would insist on Invasion/Invasion of the Dinosaurs. (And by “pedants,” I mean me.)

I tend to lean towards DWM archivist Andrew Pixley’s point of view, expressed in an article once where he basically said, “Call ‘em what you like. We all know which story you’re talking about.” The more salient point is that The Silurians and its awkward title reminded me that some people like to call our lead character “the Doctor” and some like to call him “Doctor Who”. And both sides often vehemently claim that the other’s wrong.

How did this start? In the 1980s, that very earnest time to be a fan, there seem to emerge a sort of mantra about this. “The character’s name is the Doctor. Doctor Who is the title of the programme.” See? I even remember it off by heart. It was reflective of a kind of strict adherence to accuracy because the TV series never referred to the character as Doctor Who. Except for the time when it did. And when the film did. And all the times the character had been credited as such. Which were many.

So there was a kind of party line which said that, on the weight of evidence, he was called the Doctor, not Doctor Who. And that fannish insistence then came to be seen as a hallmark of obsessiveness. It was the sort of thing an Anorak might say. And it came from a place of isolation, of cutting oneself off from the rest of the world where most laymen, from the press to the TV announcers to any not-we you happened to meet, called the character Doctor Who. Insisting on calling him the Doctor was a kind of stubborn ignoring of public opinion.

Lately though, there’s been a resurgence in people wanting to call our lead character Doctor Who. It’s, in part, a deliberate swipe at the obsessiveness of fans and their insistence on clinging to an imaginary “fact”. It’s also a reaction to fans who say things like, “the character’s name is the Doctor,” which marks themselves out as fans and separates them from the majority of casual viewers. It’s a bit cooler, these days, to refer to Doctor Who. And it also has the added benefit of riling those more earnest fans. It’s a call to not take the show so seriously.

(Doctor Who is probably just more efficient anyway. “Jodie Whittaker is the new Doctor Who,” is a sentence that tells you everything you need to know.Jodie Whittaker will play the Doctor in the next series of Doctor Who” doesn’t have the same punch. “The Doctor” is a term that always has to be put in context. “Doctor Who” explains itself.)

This divide between the Doctor fans and the Doctor Who fans gets commented on in World Enough and Time/The Doctor Falls (to use its full title, and to note that it’s not called World Enough and Time/Doctor Who Falls). In it, Missy is role playing the Doctor and introduces herself as Doctor Who. When Bill asks her why, she says because it’s his real name, and there’s some cockamamie story to go with it. But the crucial bit comes when the Doctor says, “Bill, she’s just trying to wind you up.”

Writer Steven Moffat has decided to play it all out in front of our eyes, complete with some advice to the Doctor fans to calm the Foamasi down. He loves to quietly reference the funny little things which divide us as fans. It’s amazing he didn’t get round to what the rules are to qualify as a companion and whether those Morbius faces were earlier incarnations the Doctor. Or Doctor Who.

None of this offers anything of note about The Silurians. I apologise Silurian aficionados! Um, CSO, Peter Miles, lots of caves, remarkable efforts to extend the plot…

But it might be some recompense to make this observation: that if you’re the sort of person who’s going to sit through a 7 episode morality play, with fuzzy picture quality, variable colour, music played by kazoo and monsters with muppety voices who do everything by waggling their head and flashing their head light…. And then read a blog post about it… you’re probably the sort of person who thinks about the difference between the Doctor and Doctor Who. Well, that’s what I’m banking on anyway.

LINK TO Fear Her: In both, Doctor Who faces trouble with drawings on walls.

NEXT TIME: Doctor Who goes supersonic in Time-Flight.

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Pumping slime, filling time and Inferno (1970)

infernoThere’s lots I don’t get about Inferno. But let’s start with goo.

At Project Inferno, they’re busy drilling through the Earth’s crust, when a bright green goo starts oozing through the drill head. This goo is remarkable stuff. It causes a physical change of the people unfortunate enough to touch it, transforming them into hairy, murderous beasts. It also heats their bodies, to the point where they can superheat wrenches and scorch walls, although it leaves their clothing unsinged. So far, so standard for a Doctor Who sci-fi gunge.

But this goo causes more than just a physical change. It also imbues the people it infects which a desire to perpetuate, even accelerate, Project Inferno. The first of its victims, Harry Slocum (Walter Randall), turns bestial and then acts with sophisticated intent to spark a surge in the nuclear reactor. In the parallel world to which the Doctor (a uncommonly intense Jon Pertwee) travels, infected technician Bromley (Ian Fairburn) fights his way towards the drillhead, intent on mayhem. And when chief crazy Stahlman (Olaf Pooley) eventually succumbs to the ooze, he does everything he can to keep the drill going, including infecting others for the cause. This seems like more than a natural phenomenon. Surely there’s a intelligence behind this ooze?

If there is, Inferno tells us nothing about it. Why has the goo only appeared now, as the drilling reaches its climax? Is it programmed somehow with instructions which its victims have to play out? Surely this is someone’s malevolent plan?

Apparently not. Apparently it’s a natural reaction to the drilling. If so, it makes Inferno an odd story, one that warns if you mess with nature, it will bite back of its own accord. It’s a bit like In the Forest of the Night, in that it suggests that the Earth has an in-built defence mechanism.

Although that doesn’t make sense either, because why would the Earth unleash a super programmed green goop to transform humans into its own primordial agents, only for those grunts to bring about the planet’s destruction?

“A terrible thing,” the Doctor says at one stage, “a murder without a motive”. Well, a. how would a murder with a motive be any better, but more to the point, b. how about some superpowered green slime without a motive?

****

Next, there’s the extraordinarily unhelpful computer.

Within Project Inferno, there’s a computer, a big shiny featureless box. It’s funny to see it being treated more like a faulty household appliance; it’s accused of being “temperamental”, and there’s talk of it “packing it in” when Stahlman removes a fuse-like microcircuit from it. Still, it’s the device which starts ringing warning bells about the drilling.

It’s a surprisingly prescient machine for something that runs on fuses and looks like an oversize coffee table from Ikea, but it’s not great on communication. We never quite find out what it says. The Doctor tells us that it warns that the drilling be stopped, but it never says why. Other contemporary stories like The Ice Warriors, The Invasion and The Seeds of Death featured computers which could talk. Just as well Inferno’s one is mute, as it might have given the game away:

COMPUTER: The drilling must be halted immediately!

DOCTOR: Why do you say that, computer?

COMPUTER: If drilling continues, green goop will emerge from underground and transform everyone into primitive, yet surprisingly premeditated, beasts! Then when penetration zero occurs, earthquakes and volcanoes will destroy the world!

Still, I’m probably being too hard on it and I certainly shouldn’t compare it unfavorably to today’s technology. It’s just the 1970s equivalent of that unintelligible symbol on your car’s dashboard that lights up when something’s wrong, but doesn’t tell you what it is. It’s that indecipherable error message that pops up on your PC to say ‘run time error no. 17′ but offers no guidance on how to fix it. As I say, unhelpful, but a portent of things to come, in the fictional and the real worlds.

****

The Doctor manages to pad out the whole story by slipping sideways into an alternative universe. There, everything’s a dark fascist nightmare. Liz Shaw’s (Caroline John) a Nazi, the Brigadier’s (Nicholas Courtney) Mussolini and Sergeant Benton’s (John Levene) become a regular. All our supporting characters are there too, in a twisted version of our world. Only our beloved mute computer’s the same, which only goes to show that the barriers of reality itself are no impediment to the market reach of Ikea.

But here’s the thing: where’s this universe’s Doctor? Perhaps he’s dead or was never exiled to Earth or perhaps, as someone somewhere once suggested, he’s regenerated to look like Jack Kine and become the tin pot dictator on this world. It’s a question no-one ever asks, but it’s an opportunity missed. Perhaps the later episodes might have had an interesting left turn, had our Doctor discovered the corpse of his alternate somewhere, or perhaps found him alive and enlisted his help in getting back home.

What’s that you say? An element too much? There’s already so much going on in this story, what with alternative universes, hairy monsters, mad scientists and the end of the flippin’ world. You want to add a duplicate Doctor too?

Frankly, yes. Take a closer look at Inferno and it’s mostly padding. Cutting back and forward from our world to the wicked one takes up some time. As does the stop-start romance of Sutton (Derek Newark) and Petra Williams (Sheila Dunn). And the problem with dual narratives, is events have to happen twice.

It’s only the pacy direction of Douglas Camfield and Barry Letts that keeps the whole thing moving so swiftly. But there’s plenty of room for a bit more plot. I’d certainly take a fascistic Pertwee, but I’d settle for an explanation as to what the hell’s going on.

****

Still, there’s that cliffhanger to Episode 6. Ooh, that’s creepy. As grim as it gets.  Not even dodgy CSO can spoil that one. As the Doctor desperately tries to kick start the TARDIS console, his allies, Elizabeth, Greg and Petra look out of those garage doors and see a wave of lava oozing towards them. Certain death: agonizing, inexorable and inescapable.

I’ll make fun of Inferno until there’s no tomorrow. But truthfully? That shot’s the only one in Doctor Who’s long history that’s ever really scared me. Well played, Inferno. That’s some skillful use of goo.

LINK TO Meglos: both feature cast members from Doctor Who‘s first story (Jacqueline Hill and Derek Newark).

NEXT TIME… We travel with understanding as well as hope (and an elephant) aboard The Ark.

Pulling chicks, new tricks and Spearhead from Space (1970)

spear

I’m onto my fourth copy of Spearhead from Space. Having grown up on various repeats of it on ABC TV, I’ve now shelled out for the VHS release, the original DVD, the special edition DVD and now the Blu-ray.

I’d be annoyed about this, except the story keeps looking better and better. I remember my shock upon watching the first DVD release and seeing for the first time after many viewings that the fancy new Doctor’s (fancy Jon Pertwee) fancy new jacket was not black, but deep blue.

The reason why this story stands up to multiple scrubbing ups is… oh hang on, I’ll get to that later. Let’s instead watch the Doctor pick up a chick. Our hero may have just survived a traumatic regeneration, but as soon as he recovers, he wastes no time in proving his fitness. With the ladies.

His first goal is to warm up the show’s cool new lady scientist, Liz Shaw (Caroline John). Her new employer, the Brigadier (Nicholas Courtney), has been having a decidedly tough time breaking the ice with her; she smirks dismissively at everything he says and generally treats him like the village idiot. But then the Doctor breezes in with his new body, waggles his eyebrows at her and soon they’re getting on like a house on fire. “Do I really have to call you Miss Shaw?” he complains with mock indignation, and Liz giggles coquettishly and readily consents. The Brig needs to take notes for when he’s out on the pull.

But he needn’t worry. Turns out the Doctor was just buttering up this bird to get her to steal the TARDIS key for him. As soon as he gets it, he’s trying to abscond. Alas he can’t because the Time Lords have put the mockers on his beloved machine. As he creeps out to face the music, he slumps into a dejected funk and puts on the whole naughty schoolboy act. As a routine, it’s pure Troughton and a reminder that Spearhead from Space is not entirely the bag of new tricks for the series it’s often hailed as.

Sure, it’s the first story made in colour but on transmission most people were still watching in black and white. Yes, it introduces the new UNIT format, but that had already been trialled in The Web of Fear and The Invasion. And it’s very similar to The Invasion. Both feature quite a lot of stylish faffing about until the Doctor builds a gadget to beat the monsters. They even share locations.

The real difference with Spearhead is that it’s all shot on film. For the first time, the show’s characteristically patchwork style of cutting between video recording shot in studio and film sequences shot on location is dropped and we get a single, consistent look. In future years, the show would achieve this consistency by adopting video for the exterior shots, which only served to make a cheap show look cheaper. Spearhead remains the only classic Doctor Who with that cool, textured look of film which makes a cheap show look very swish indeed.

The difference it makes is palpable. Suddenly Doctor Who looks like The Avengers. Director Derek Martinus is energised to give us the best of his work on the show. We get sequences the likes of which we’ve never seen before.

In Episode One, the Brigadier is jostled by a scrum of newspaper reporters, and the camera is right amongst it in a way in could never have been in studio. In other scenes, he goes for high angles, peering down at his subjects, and rapid cuts to emphasize the action, which would have much harder to do in Doctor Who‘s traditional multi-camera style.

But it has its disadvantages too. Shooting interiors on location means they look like real places, because they are real places, rather than studio sets. That doesn’t mean they always look like the places they are meant to.

For instance, the halls and corridors of the BBC’s Wood Norton training facility never look like a hospital for a minute. UNIT’s makeshift lab has a number of moveable panels serving as would-be walls, helping hide the fact it’s in a big old hall of some kind. Goodness knows what would a truly alien setting – the interior of a Nestene spaceship, say – had looked like mocked up in a vacant office or something.

Indeed, what would Doctor Who have looked like if the producers had managed to convince the powers-that-be that the show should always have been shot on film? Or perhaps at least one story a year? Presumably interior sets would have been built at Ealing or something. But what would have happened to the electronic effects that Doctor Who came to depend on so heavily in the 70s and 80s? What about all that CSO? Spearhead‘s effects are all bangs and flashes and squibs. It’s hard to think about the show being full of practical effects. Nevermore a laser beam. Goodbye to roll back and mix.

It’s impossible to know how much of Spearhead‘s reputation relies on its total film look. But it does represent a sudden jump in quality from what Doctor Who‘s viewers were used to. I’m sure you’ve seen the previous adventure The War Games and whatever its merits (and there are many) it’s last few, mostly studio bound episodes look quite ramshackle.

By contrast, Spearhead offers some sequences which are startlingly effective. They would have been palpably different to even viewers still watching in monochrome. The most successful sections are in the mid episodes, with that sole Auton stalking through the woods, and jumping boldly in front of a UNIT jeep, killing the driver. And of course, there’s also the famous sequence in Episode Four when they break out of shop windows and hunt down early morning commuters on the street.

But these sequences would have been shot on location anyway. What we really need is a version of the story with all the interior scenes VIDfired so we can see what it would have looked liked if made the conventional way. And here’s the genius of it – it would be an excuse for yet another DVD release.

Get to it, BBC Worldwide! This sucker will pay for it again. I want to see how blue that jacket can get.

ADVENTURES IN SUBTITLING: This is not actually a mistake, I just want to point out my favourite of the Brigadier’s lines. It’s after Mrs Seeley is attacked, and he offers to:

BRIGADIER: I’ll lay on an ambulance.

Well, OK. If you think that will help…

LINK TO: Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks. Tentacles really are difficult, aren’t they?

NEXT TIME: The Repulsive Red Leech. Nah. On balance I think I prefer The Crimson Horror.