Friday, March 6, 2009

"The Singing Sands"

Hello all, the Historian here. Before we begin, a small announcement: we will be skipping next week, as I have been unavoidably summoned and must journey to the planet of Hilarus Solum. Have no fear, though, we will return the week following with our next episode!

Tonight, though, we watched "The Singing Sands," episode two of the "Marco Polo" serial. We being myself, Ketina, Ronelyn, Kroroboros and Schmallturm. So, let's get to it!

Episode summary: First aired 29 February, 1964. Tegana and a retainer plan to poison all but the first gourd of water Marco and his caravan bring into the desert! The journey into the Gobi begins, with the Doctor sulking and remaining in his tent when they camp. Marco challenges Ian to a game of chess, while Susan and Barbara go out to view the desert in evening. Later, when all are asleep (or so he thinks), Tegana steals from the tent and poisons all but the first container of water. Susan and Ping Cho also leave their tent to see the night desert (which Susan "digs"). They see Tegana leave the camp and decide to follow him. Marco and Ian, finishing their game, realize all is too quiet--a sign a sandstorm is coming! The girls lose sight of Tegana and Susan convinces Ping Cho to return to camp when the storm descends on them! They hide behind a sand dune, terrified. Meanwhile, Barbara is roused by the horrible noise of the wind, which Marco tells them has been known to sound like howling, musical instruments, drums, even voices calling names. They discover Tegana's absence and Marco determines the Mongol can take care of himself, but them the girls' absence is discovered. The teachers are prevented by Marco from searching until the storm stops and morning comes. Back in the desert, Susan thinks she hears Ian calling to her and tries to move towards the voice...only to see Tegana coming at them! He brings the girls back to the caravan, having realized he would not be able to make it back to Lop thanks to the storm. However, before morning, he steals out and slashes all the poisoned water containers, realizing he would only poison himself if he allowed them to be drunk. The loss of water is discovered the next day; Marco attributes it to bandits. The caravan has a choice: either return to Lop or press on, rationing water, to an oasis some five to seven days away. At Ian's urging, they decide for the oasis. After several days of hard travel, the last of the water is gone with at least a day's travel left to go. Tegana offers to ride on ahead to bring back water; Marco agrees. Just as he is leaving, the Doctor collapses. Ian convinces Marco that the Doctor must rest inside the TARDIS. Marco relents, but says that Ian and Barbara must remain outside. Meanwhile, Tegana reaches the oasis, drinks his fill and laughs. He will leave Marco's caravan to die in the desert.... Scripts Project transcription of episode

Another thoroughly enjoyable episode, though nowhere near as eventful as the last. In some ways, this was more of what I call a "from here to there" episode, though there was a certain amount of character development, especially for Tegana. He is definitely a favorite for us, a truly nuanced character. He isn't evil per se, he is doing what he's doing to advance the cause of his khan against Kublai. I will admit, we had to discuss his plan a bit; the static nature of the reconstruction made the whole "why is he slashing the containers if he was going to poison them? Oh wait, he did poison them, but he's stuck" part less obvious. (To be fair, it's not clear how simple it would have been to see in the original episode either.) Again, though, his actions, when examined for a moment, make sense...which still gives him a leg up on most other Doctor Who villains! Another point where the recon made things difficult was during the sandstorm; the sound of the wind on the recording (which, to be fair, couldn't have been done on fantastic equipment in 1964!) made some of the dialogue a bit hard to hear. I could get it, but some of the others had some problems. And, to be honest, it's probably not quite fair to judge the episode on the (absolutely unavoidable) limitations of the recon, which was still excellent, if a little more static than last week's.

Although Marco and the regulars were uniformly excellent (I loved the entire chess scene, especially Tegana's observations on the game), I think the episode did suffer a bit from the Doctor's absence. William Hartnell was apparently ill during the week, so the script for this episode was rewritten slightly to minimize his involvement; indeed, he only appears (and does not speak) in the last sequence. Still, they cover his absence in the script nicely; one can easily imagine the Doctor, like Achilles, sulking in his tent after Marco's plan was revealed! And the pacing, which was so erratic in other stories, feels just right for this story of a journey; Schmallturm remarked several times how refreshing and different the story was from what he expected from Doctor Who. Indeed, this is very different to one more used to the show as it developed later. The series has found its feet (the regular cast has certainly solidified), but this first Historical story is a new and different world for them to react in--both familiar (it is, after all, known history of Earth) and yet still somewhat alien (Ian's "checkmate" vs. Tegana's "Shah Mat," for example). I think I can say, without doubt, that we're all thoroughly enjoying ourselves; we certainly can't wait until our next episode!

And now, it's time to turn things over to Ketina. See you back here in two weeks! Until then, I remain



Hey, Ketina here.

Well, it looks like The Historian covered most of what I would have talked about this week. I personally didn't like this episode as well as last week's, but it's very possible that's due to the reconstruction aspect and not the episode itself. This format makes a fair critique rather difficult. For example, the sand storm scene got very silly, but that could have been just due to weird sound effects over still images with sand bits being thrown in front of the pictures. I thought the idea of the sound effects was interesting - music and cries intermingled the wind, which is apparently what the wind storms in the Gobi really sound like - but I think they went over the top with some of it.

I suggested Tegana's motive for slashing the water jugs - being caught in the sand storm while trying to sneak out spoiling his original plan. However I think they could have explained that plan change better. And why did he rescue Susan and Ping Cho? Again, I feel that we're missing a lot by not seeing the actual visuals.

Anyway, I feel like I'm just repeating The Historian here. :P




Alzarian said...

Enjoyed this episode. It is refreshing to have someone for Susan to associate with who is close to her own age. She must have loved the chance to talk with someone other than her grandfather and schoolteachers for a change.

I also love the fact that the great threat in this episode is a natural one. You can't reason with a sandstorm, after all.

Alzarian said...

It is great to have the major threat of this episode be something as natural and awe-inspiring as a sandstorm. I'm also enjoying the interaction between Susan and her new friend Ping-Cho. The epic journey quality of these episodes are very welcome indeed.