Saturday, April 4, 2009

"Rider From Shang-Tu"

Hello there, the Historian here and, yes, we are a day earlier than expected. Apparently, things alligned rightly to bring myself, Ketina, Ronelyn, Schmallturm and Kroroboros together to watch this week's episode today! Let's get to it!

Episode summary: First aired 21 March, 1964. Ian goes to knock out the guard only to discover he is already dead! Elsewhere in the forest, Tegana's henchman, Acomat, readies his men to fall on Marco's caravan at the warlord's signal. After going back to tell his friends about the dead guard, Ian and company go to warn Marco that bandits must be about. They see Tegana apparently tending the fire, but Ian sneaks past him into Marco's tent. Marco rouses everyone and gets them ready to fight, although Tegana keeps telling him the TARDIS crew must be lying, there are no bandits! Acomat, waiting for Tegana's signal, decides to attack anyway, while Ian gets the very sciency idea to throw bamboo on the fire where it will expand, make a big boom and scare the bandits away! Acoyat and men attack, there's a confused fight, Tegana kills Acomat (so he cannot identify his leader), the bamboo explodes, the bandits run! Later, Marco asks the crew if they will give their words of honor not to attempt escape again; the crew is silent. Marco sighs and restores their privileges (Susan and Ping Cho can be together again, for example), but they and the TARDIS remain his prisoners. Later, the crew discusses their increasing certainty about Tegana's perfidy; Barbara even remembers Acoyat from her captivity in the cave. A rider arrives from Kublai Khan's summer palace in Shang-Tu, carrying a message "requesting" Marco come to him as soon as possible. The caravan presses on to an inn in the city of Cheng-Ting, where they will take horses. The baggage (including the TARDIS, which is being stored in the inn's stables) will follow in the next commercial caravan. Ping Cho walks in on Marco as he writes in his journal, seeing him hide the ship's keys in it. He makes Ping Cho give her word of honor she will not tell anyone where the keys are. Meanwhile, Tegana makes a deal with a corrupt stablehand to buy the TARDIS; the first installment of the payment will be made that night in the courtyard. Susan and Ping Cho have an amusing discussion about fish and their respective homes (Susan is vague), and Ping Cho is distraught that she cannot tell her friend where the keys are. Susan says, "No one will ask you." Later, Ping Cho takes the keys and gives them to Susan, saying she kept her word--she hasn't told where she got them from! That night, the crew make another attempt to reenter the TARDIS. Ian, Barbara and the Doctor make it, but Susan stays to say goodbye to Ping Cho. Before she can leave, though, she sees Tegana about to leave (presumably to make his first payment). She tries to sneak by her, but he grabs her and Susan screams.... Episode transcription

This was a bit of a difficult episode in some ways. The audio, especially in the beginning, was of a lesser quality than the other episodes thus far, though there's nothing that can be done about that. The episode also had a number of sequences containing action and/or important movement. I, personally, thought that the stills and captions in the recon contained all the information a viewer needed, though I know some of us didn't feel that way. There's no question, though, that we've lost some of the excitement the episode had, especially during the fight at the beginning. Until a miracle happens and the episodes turn up, though, this is a heck of a lot better than nothing!

We did get to see more evidence of the "education remit" in this one. This time, though, Ian's science lesson, in contrast to the condensation a couple of episodes ago, felt a bit forced. Yeah, all right, bamboo will expand and (I guess) explode in heat, thanks to the water content, but...well, it felt more tacked on. On the other hand, the history lesson, from the eponymous Rider, felt much more integrated than Ping Cho's tale of the Hashishans. I felt it was integrated nicely, taking just enough time to be interesting, but not enough to feel like an imposition.

As for the characters, we all agree that Marco is starting to feel more and more gullible in his reactions to accusations against Tegana. I chalk that up to his nobility, though some of the others of us are a bit less charitable. Quite simply, Marco's a man of honor and cannot conceive that others might not be. Note how he appeals to the honor of both the crew (not to escape, which they reject) and to Ping Cho (who finds a loophole). Tegana, having far fewer scruples than our friends, exploits this more than anyone, though he really might be overdoing it--note that Marco believes Ian about the bandits, no matter how many times Tegana (who is assuming his men won't attack without his signal) tries to tell him Ian is lying. Tegana himself, though still a decent villain, is now becoming a bit more....not laughable, but a bit less menacing. Although he always seems to just happen to be in the right place to catch the heroes, all of his plans go very badly wrong, don't they? After a while, it becomes less coincidence and more not taking things into account doesn't it? As for Ping Cho, she was simply marvelous here. Her scenes with Susan are simply wonderful and her loophole, which makes perfect sense, is simple and effective. The regulars are all quite good, especially Susan. (To be fair, Barbara and the Doctor aren't given very much to do here and some of Ian's effectiveness in the fight is lost without moving images.) In all, it was a good episode. Perhaps not as good as some of the earlier ones in this serial, but still a lot of fun. We're still looking forward to next week, certainly!

And that's all from me for this week. Until next time, I remain



Ketina here!

Wow, a lot happened in this episode. So to dive right in:

The good: I liked the scene when Susan and Ping Cho were looking at Koi fish and picking out fish that reminded them of each person in their group. It was a nice way to restablish their friendship after their forced separation by Marco Polo.

The disappointing: I wasn't thrilled with the representation of the fight scene at the beginning of the story. The audio was quite bad, and I didn't think the stills did a good job at representing the events. There was a lot of running around before the bandits attacked, and then during the attack itself things were quite confusing. Apparently The Doctor had a sword, but it was never clear if he used it. I know the gist of the scene was that Tegana killed the leader of the bandits before he could give Tegana away, but any other details of the fight were entirely lost to me.

The silly: I found the rather fey inn keeper pretty amusing. At least, that was the impression I got. At the end of the scene they showed a still of Ian and Barbara with amused expressions on their faces. I couldn't tell if it was due to their reaction to the overeager inn keeper, or The Doctor's reaction that the TARDIS was being stored in the stables. A little of both perhaps.
I also was very amused by the corrupt stable hand - based on the stills he looked almost exactly like the assassin with the monkey from the film Raiders and the Lost Arc; eyepatch, monkey, and all.

Anyway, those were my highlights.



1 comment:

Alzarian said...

I adore the fish scene. This relationship between Susan and Ping-Cho is really something special.

Another sequence in which the travellers attempt to escape in the TARDIS reminds us that the driving motivation of much of these early shows is to leave. Considering how they haven't yet established a pattern for the number of episodes in a story, who are we to doubt that this might be the last episode, if it wasn't for the fact that it would miss out on the inevitable meeting with Kublai Khan.

I'm greatly enjoying this historical adventure.