Friday, May 29, 2009

"The Temple of Evil"

Hello everyone, the Historian, Ketina, Ronelyn, Schmallturm and Kroroboros here, happy to welcome back writer John Lucarotti, writer of "Marco Polo," for his second Doctor Who historical. Definitely a contrast in tone and approach from Terry Nation's "Marinus" epic. How did we feel about it? Find out after the summary!

Episode summary: First aired 23 May, 1964. The TARDIS leaves Marinus and materialises in what Barbara--who goes out to investigate, along with Susan--recognizes as an Aztec tomb. She examines the artefacts around the body, picking up and absently putting on a snake-shaped bracelet. Susan discovers a wall that pushes up to reveal a door to the outside and Barbara decides to investigate while Susan gets the others. But the door closes after Barbara and she is accosted by an Aztec priest, Autloc, who orders the guards to take her! The others enter the tomb, the Doctor complaining that Barbara shouldn't have gone exploring on her own. They exit the tomb and the door closes behind them--they are cut off from the TARDIS! After looking around, believing the temple and city to be deserted, they too are met by Autloc who calls them servants of Yetaxa and tells them they will be taken to her. They also see Tlotoxl, an evil-looking man who Ian describes as "the local butcher." The guards bring the three to Barbara, who is arrayed in finery. It seems that the priest, having seen the snake bracelet on her arm, believes she is the reincarnation of the ancient priest Yetaxa--Barbara has been hailed as a god! Autloc and Tlotoxl (who turns out to be the "High Priest of Sacrifice") come and greet the four. Barbara declares that her handmaiden will stay with her, but the two men should be free to move about the city, the better to find some kind of way to reenter the tomb and get to the TARDIS! Outside, Tlotoxl declares that Ian should become a sacred warrior, vying for the right to lead the Aztec army. Ian agrees, if only to not make waves. Autloc takes the Doctor to the Garden of Rest, a place where the over-50s can spend their days in comfort, dispensing wisdom. Ian, meanwhile, is taken to the house of the warriors, where he meets Ixta, a fierce warrior and Ian's "rival." Ixta tells Ian that, when the time comes, he will happily kill Ian to prove his worth, and reveals that both he and Ian, as sacred warriors, must help in the human sacrifice at the day's end to bring rain. The Doctor, meanwhile, has met an intriguing woman, Cameca, in the Garden of Rest. She tells him that the temple/tomb's architect has passed away, but she will introduce the Doctor to his son, who is a warrior. The Doctor is very obviously intrigued, and not a little smitten with this woman. Ian then appears in warrior's garb and tells the Doctor of his role in the sacrifice. The Doctor warns him that he must go through with it and not interfere. Ian agrees, though he isn't happy about it. The Doctor returns to the temple to tell Barbara, who declares that, as a god, she will forbid it and attempt to abolish human sacrifice. Think what the Aztecs could be if the good, and not the evil, could be preserved in memory after Cortes! But the Doctor is adamant she should not interfere: "You cannot change history--Not one line!" The time for sacrifice comes and Ian and Ixta lead the victim up. Ian is told to hold the man's feet and Tlotoxl is about to drive home his knife when Susan (who the Doctor has attempted to shield from the scene by keeping her in the temple) bursts out calling them to stop. Barbara also calls for the sacrifice to end, while Tlotoxl calls blasphemy! The victim, denied his "honor," leaps from the top of the temple...and the heavens open. Barbara declares death is not necessary for rain and demands Susan be spared for her crime of interrupting the ceremony. She should be sent to the seminary to learn more of the Aztec ways and customs. This decides Tlotoxl: Barbara is no Yetaxa, but a fraud, and he will find some way to destroy her....

Well, this was certainly a change, wasn't it? There is no question that this is a far more complex, more mature script than we've seen in some time...since "Marco Polo," in fact. It feels well thought out and certainly well-researched--the episode feels authentic (in a mid-60s BBC costume drama way), from the names to the costumes. Even Ian's warrior garb, which could have been laughable with its feathered headdress, manages to feel right, somehow.

That's not to say everything was transcendent, of course. The beginning amused us--Barbara enters an Aztec tomb and immediately begins to touch everything and plunder it! Lara Croft, eat your heart out! And, as Kroroboros put it, Doctor Who would probably be a lot less interesting (certainly the stories would be shorter) if Barbara didn't decide to just wander off on her own quite a bit of the time. On the other hand, the inquisitiveness is a trait she certainly shares with the Doctor, which is why it's so funny when he complains about it! (As a Historian myself, I think I can understand history teacher Barbara's exploring impulse, especially after she mentions the Aztecs as a special period of study for her, but my fellow travellers were less sanguine about it.) Ian's horror at the idea of sacrifice and then his realization that he has no choice but to do as the Doctor says is well-played, as is Susan's playfulness that turns to horror. As for the Doctor, he's his usual self: inquisitive, humourous, passionate and playful, but cautious when necessary. His insistence to Barbara that he knows that time cannot be changed (indeed, that entire speech) makes one wonder what there was that he regretted, what he would have changed, but could not. A wonderful scene.

We also get our first "mwah-ha-ha"ing villain since Tegana in the actually kind of creepy Tlotoxl, although some of us felt he chewed a bit more scenery than necessary. Still, he looks to be quite the menace; a symbol of the orthodoxy that Barbara is attempting to destroy who needs to hold on to his power whatever the cost. I'd hesitate to call him a fanatic only because he seems well aware that power over the people is more important (to him) than service to the gods, but he's just as dangerous as the most fanatical for all that.

The other supporting characters are all right, in their way, though less colourful than the ones mentioned previously. Autloc seems a typical well-meaning, but slightly befuddled priest, under Tlotoxl's thumb but trying for the best. Ixta feels like a bog-standard "warrior rival who doesn't understand the other isn't a true threat" kind of character. Cameca, we're told, is a very interesting woman and a fine conversationalist, and, yes, we do get a bit of that (certainly, the Doctor seems to think it's the case), but it feels like we're being told she's interesting rather than being shown it. Her screentime has been minimal, though, so hopefully she will be developed more fully in future episodes.

Obviously, we enjoyed this episode a lot, minor quibbles aside. At this point, I'm not sure if it was a return to the historicals or just the script itself (which, unlike much of "Marinus" doesn't feel as though it was written quickly) which grabbed us. Whichever, we had a very enjoyable 24 minutes!

Until next week, I remain



Ketina here,

Let's jump in using the old standby review method...

First, the good: I thought the sets were quite good. In particular the costumes and props. The plot so far is fairly straight forward but enjoyable, if mildly predictable. For example, I'm totally expecting the warrior Ixta to be the son of the architect who build the temple. We'll see next week, I suppose.

The silly: Mostly on the part of our villain Tlotoxl (say that three times fast!). There were definitely teeth marks on the scenery from this guy, much more so than Tegana from Marco Polo. He shows up stooped over, crazy hair, and creepy makeup. You know he's the villain from the get go, and even the Doctor points it out immediately. Not subtle, Tlotoxl.
Also silly, Barbara getting into a fix once again. Although I adored her impersonation of a god. Very good, Barbara.

The bad: What happened to that fantastic fight scene from back in "100,000 BC" and why are they incapable of repeating it? It was simple, yet well done. Yet here in the Aztecs I've seen better stage fighting in a high school play. Schmallturm thought it looked intentionally staged, as though Ixta was showing off for Ian. That at least would be one explanation for how bad it was, but I personally don't give the director that much credit.

So in summary, while I enjoyed the episode it did have it's weak points. But these classic episodes definitely continue to be entertaining.



Wednesday, May 27, 2009

"The Keys of Marinus" wrapup

And so, we've come to the end of another story, Terry Nation's "The Keys of Marinus." A long-time favorite of Ketina's and a sentimental favorite of mine, neither of us had seen it in years. Of course, we were both used to seeing it slightly out of context, immediately after "Inside the Spaceship," without "Marco Polo" between the two stories. Seeing (sort of) the lost historical did, I think, change how we viewed "Keys," far beyond understanding the continuity of Ian's Chinese jacket (or, as Schmallturm would have it, the "flaming chicken" jacket). The episodic nature, which worked so well in the absence of "Polo," causes "Keys" to pale a bit, with very little development shown in any of the mini-stories within the whole. Even the murder mystery (the most developed by far) was a bit thin. It's fairly obvious that these scripts were written quickly, as the "Brief History of Time (Travel)" page for "The Keys of Marinus" details.

All of the above might sound a bit more dire than it should, so let me hasten to add that we did enjoy ourselves quite a bit watching these episodes. I think the main problem (only for Ketina and me, of course), besides the episodic nature of the serial, is that it didn't quite live up to our memories of it. And, in a general sense, the story suffered from following "Marco Polo," which kind of blew us away, recon or not. Still, there was a lot to enjoy, even with the "Altos' lack of pants" jokes, the weak jungle episode, the Knights Who Said 'Ni,' etc. We've talked about it in the individual episode posts, so I won't go into detail here...but I will use that as a segue for the handy episode post link recap!

"The Sea of Death"
"The Velvet Web"
"The Screaming Jungle"
"The Snows of Terror"
"Sentence of Death"
"The Keys of Marinus"

A few final notes: Something I hadn't realized (though I should have, if I'd thought about it), but "The Sea of Death" has the first TARDIS materialisation on screen in the series! Pity it was a bit of a naff model shot (which was repeated in reverse to dematerialise the ship in the final episode), but still--neat, huh? This story also saw the first of the vacations for the regulars; William Hartnell's absence in two episodes was down to his receiving two weeks off. In the coming weeks, we'll see the others take an occasional episode break. Finally, for those interested in an "official" overview, here's the BBC episode guide for the story. Fun reading!

Starting this weekend, the TARDIS crew takes a break from science fictional shenanigans and goes back in time for another historical. Until then, I remain


Friday, May 22, 2009

"The Keys of Marinus"

Hello everyone, the Historian here, along with Ketina, Ronelyn, Schmallturm and Kroroboros. And here we are at the end of another story, with the last, eponymous episode of "The Keys of Marinus." What did we think of this final episode? You'll find out after the summary!

Episode summary: First aired on 16 May, 1964. Over the phone, Susan tells Barbara that "they" plan to kill her, while Ian has been condemned by the Millenium tribunal to death! Barbara, Sabetha and Altos decide not to tell the Doctor of Susan's predicament, so he will spend all his energy on helping Ian. The three then decide to ask Aydan's wife, Kala, for help, figuring she too would want to get the ones who murdered her husband. She proves no help at all, saying she knows nothing of Aydan's friends, but she sympathizes, telling Barbara she knows how it must have been when Susan called her. After the three leave, Kala opens a door to reveal Susan, tied up and gagged! Kala's phone rings and a mysterious voice tells her to kill the girl and that he will retrieve the key that night. In a holding area, Ian waits for a hand on a clock to reach a star symbol...when it will be time for his execution. Meantime, outside the courtroom, the prosecutor, Larn, offers condolences to a despondent Doctor and Tarron places the evidence from the trial--papers and the mace that had acted as the murder weapon--into a locked cabinet. At the same time, Barbara, walking away from Kala's, realizes that Aydan's wife couldn't have known that Susan called her, and the three race back just in time to capture Kala and stop her from killing Susan! They call Tarron, who interrogates Kala, but it does not help Ian's case, as the woman claims Ian was the one who gave her orders. But Susan remembers that the mysterious voice on the phone said he would retrieve the key. The Doctor, who knows where the key is, lays a trap. When a mysterious figure goes to retrieve the Key from within the mace, police jump him and the Doctor unmasks Larn! Later, after sending Altos and Sabetha back to Arbitan early with the first four keys, the Doctor and his companions take their leave of Tarron and return with the fifth Key. But meanwhile, Altos is being interrogated by Yartek, leader of the Voord, who killed Arbitan back in episode one. After Yartek threatens Sabetha, Altos tells him "the old man" has the fifth Key. Susan, Ian, Barbara and the Doctor meet up again, the Doctor having satisfied himself that the force field has been removed from the TARDIS. Thinking that things are a bit too quiet, they ambush a Voord. Ian and Susan go in search of Arbitan, while the other two look for Altos and Sabetha. Ian and Susan go to the control room and discover a figure in Arbitan's robes with the hood up. He claims that the machine discharged energy and they cannot come close to him and asks about Altos. The two travellers realize something is odd, since Arbitan knew Altos, but Ian gives him a Key anyway. The two then go to find the others, Ian revealing he'd given "Arbitan" the fake Key from the jungle area. The crew and Altos and Sabetha flee as Yartek puts the fake Key in the machine which explodes! Later, the crew says their goodbyes, leaving Sabetha and Altos to begin their new life together...

Whew. The summary actually kind of belies the fact that this episode felt like it went very fast, possibly because of the"split" nature of the plot. About two-thirds of this week went to finishing up the murder mystery (which, to be honest, they kind of gave away last week) and the last third being a wrap-up of the plot from episode one, which did feel a bit rushed. All in all, it mostly worked though, bringing a pretty okay story to a pretty okay end.

I, for one, liked the design of the Voords, though Schmallturm thought the wet/drysuit look was kind of silly. The big question, of course, is why they still had the suits on; it was implied back in "The Sea of Death" that the Voords wore the suits (and they are most decidedly suits) to protect themselves from the acid. So why continue to wear them? A religious thing, maybe? Or perhaps they're needed for some other reason as well? The script doesn't say, but I suppose they're wearing them to look suitably "monstery." And yes, I will grant that, as neat as I think the Voords look, the "Yartek masquerading as Arbitan" thing was silly. The helmet didn't quite fit in the hood of Arbitan's robe, did it?

Another thing that I found funny (but that no one else remarked on) was Ian being executed "when the big hand gets to the star!" I don't know why, but the simplicity of the clock just struck me as silly. It's as if Terry Nation said, "We want a science fictiony clock, but something ridiculously simple...I know, one hand and only one piece of notation...hmmm, ess effy...I know, a star! The kids like that, right?" Or maybe that's just me.

As Schmallturm said, "Wow, I didn't think Ian was that smart!" Meaning, giving Yartek the fake key. It seemed obvious to me, though I have seen this story before, many years ago (more about that in the wrap-up). But this episode did give everyone something to do, even (miracle of miracles) Sabetha and Altos, who got their "protect each other from Yartek" scene. Barbara quickly picks up on the rather obvious (to me) clue dropped by Kala in a very natural way. Susan realizes "Arbitan" is a fake, among other things, and the Doctor goes from despondent to triumphant very nicely. I just can't get enough of Hartnell and the evolution of his character.

A couple more plot notes: As Kroroboros put it, regarding Barbara and the others' overpowering Kala before she could kill Susan, "If you're going to kill somebody, lock the darn door!" We also noted that old Terry Nation recycling plan again, this time with plot points: both Kala and Yartek are tripped up by making conversational slips, Kala about Susan's call and Yartek about Arbitan not knowing Altos. (Though, to be fair, the latter case was just kind of icing on the "he's not really Arbitan, is he" cake for Ian and Susan.) It's a small point, but having both in the same episode really made the, er, coincidence stand out. (I'm surprised David Whittaker didn't nip that in the bud!)

All right, any more from me (about the story in general) will come in the wrap-up post later this week. Next week, though, back to the historicals! Until then, I remain



Ketina here,

Well, overall the episode wasn't too bad. I liked the wrap up to the court case / murder mystery plot. My favorite bit was at the end when the Doctor points out that the investigator could learn a little about skepticism from Pyrrho. Ian says it was lucky that the Doctor had read Pyrrho and the Doctor remarks "Read him? No, I met the man." or something along those lines.

There were a lot of little gaffs that unintentionally added to the humor this week. Several lines of dialog were mildly muffed by various characters for instance. But the standout for me was the Voord tripping on his own flipper. Creepy costume until you see their feet. Flop flop.

I was a little disappointed at how quickly they resolved the final plot with the Voords, but I suppose there wasn't enough time after the murder plot, and it didn't have enough to fill a full episode entirely on its own. Ian's turn around with the key was clever, although obvious to me as well, but that was about the only good bit during that plot.

Sorry, not much from me this week.



Friday, May 15, 2009

"Sentence of Death"

Hello all, the Historian here, along with Ketina, Ronelyn, Schmallturm and Kroroboros, nearing the end of our journey across the planet Marinus. It's court drama time this week, so let's get to the summary!

Episode Summary: First aired 9 May, 1964. Ian walks forward into the room and sees a man lying on the floor and the Key in a display case. As he moves forward, he is hit from behind and a man in black gloves puts a mace in his hand as he lies unconscious, then steals the key as an alarm sounds...Ian awakes to find himself confronted by an Investigator, Tarron, who tells him he is accused of murdering the guard (who turns out to be Arbitan's follower, Eprin) and demands Ian tell him where the Key is hidden. Tarron also reveals that by the legal ystem of this city, Millenium, Ian is presumed guilty unless proven innocent! As Ian is held, the others search for the Doctor, who finally turns up just before Ian's hearing and promises to defend his young friend. The Doctor manages to get a bit more time out of the tribunal and sends Altos and Sabetha off to the library to find precedents. Meanwhile, he, Barbara and Susan go to the scene of the crime where the Doctor expounds on his theory: the true murderer was the first one apparently on the scene--the relief guard, a man named Aydan! The Doctor also says he knows where the Key must be hidden. Barbara and Susan are sent to confront Aydan at his home. He is infuriated and lets his composure slip, but Susan also lets slip the fact that they know where the missing Key is. After the women leave, Aydan calls the Prosecuter, Larn, that the strangers know where the Key is! At the trial the next day, the Doctor tricks Aydan into confessing and he is about to tell all--including the names of his co-conspirators--when he is gunned down, as his wife Kala watches in horror. The Tribunal, though convinced Aydan did the actual killing, appear unconvinced that Ian was not involved and let the sentence of death stand. Meanwhile, Barbara, Altos and Sabetha are called out of the courtroom to received a phone call--it is Susan. She has been kidnapped and says "they" will kill her unless the travellers do not reveal the location of the Key! Susan kidnapped, Ian being led away to be executed, and Barbara does not know what to do....

Well, this was a pleasant change of pace! No stock footage, a much more complex plot, the full cast back together...Sure, we had plenty of quibbles (which I'm sure we'll elucidate below), but we really enjoyed this episode. And I, for one, noticed our first example of writer Terry Nation's environmentally sound name-recycling. Tarron sound familiar to people who know Nation's later work?

Truth to tell, there was far more to like about this week than to complain about. The Doctor's return was incredibly welcome; William Hartnell's absence was definitely detrimental to the last few episodes. He remains interesting, quirky and charming in a way that the others (although they, too, can be quite good) aren't quite. Ian also shines this week, especially in his reaction to the law code of Millenium; for a man used to the Common Law's guarantee of innocence, the presumption of guilt was a bit of a shock and William Russell did a fine job with it. (I made a "Napoleonic Code" joke, but I am, after all, the Historian.) Barbara and Susan were a bit less well-used; their best scene had them as simply props in the Doctor's reconstruction of the crime. Susan's slip of the tongue at Aydan's house (which we had other problems with) comes across as less of a mistake and more of an obvious plot plant. Still, not everyone can be the center of attention in an episode and, though they were given little to do, Carole Ann Ford and Jacqueline Hill do the best with what they're given. Altos and Sabetha, though, are basically dead weight here; other than a rather amusing scene examining law books ("Look, Sabetha! According to Yothuk vs. Arrios..."), the episode wouldn't have lost anything without their presence.

About that scene in Aydan's room...the weakest part of the script in the opinion of most of us. Given that it was the introduction to the character, we had absolutely no idea just who Barbara and Susan were visiting and confronting. Some of us, in fact, mistook Aydan for Tarron--as one of us (Ketina? Ronelyn?) pointed out, dark haired men with the same basic build, a similar hairstyle and wearing very similar uniforms can be a bit hard to tell apart! It was just very abrupt and it wasn't until well into the scene that I was able to connect this new guy to the "relief guard" that the Doctor had talked about; it felt like the previous scene had been edited or a different scene introducing Aydan was omitted. It didn't hurt the story too much, but it was a bit needlessly confusing.

One point that is a completely unfair quibble has to do with the "phones" used by the people in the futuristic city. Although fancy (rather silly, actually) looking sparkly wands are used as hand receivers throughout the rest of the episode, the phone in the vault uses a normal (well, normal for the 60s-80s, anyway) handset receiver. Ketina and Schmallturm explained this away by saying that everything in the vault must be old, antique, so the communication system would be too. Then we all agreed it was just a bit of a design flub.

All in all, though, this was really great. A fun, if simple, murder mystery with a "Perry Mason" courtroom reveal and the promise of a (hopefully) satisfying conclusion next week. I'm sure there is more to say, but I think I shall turn things over to my companion in commentary, Ketina. Until next week, I remain



Ketina here.

Well, I enjoyed the episode, but I must say that things were a wee bit confusing. It was pretty far into the episode before I figured out that Aydan and Tarron were two different guys. Which explained a lot at the end, but almost required a second showing just to clarify it.

Silly: The hats worn by the judges looked like those paper things worn at the end of roasted turkey legs. And when Aydan is shot there is a tableau as all the character stare a the fallen body for what seems an eternity before his wife Kala finally freaks out. Surprising, NO screams this week by either Barbara or Susan, at least as far as I can recall. Not even when Aydan's shot. This could be the first episode without a scream since The Unearthly Child.

I also liked the "science" used throughout the episode. Their explanation of psychometry used to determine who last touched the murder weapons was neat. They also mentioned giving Kala a technobabble drug to calm her down, which I found amusing given the prevalence of similar drugs used today.

Nastier cliffhanger to leave things on this week as well. Even after getting a confession out of Aydan, Ian is still to be executed. How will The Doctor get them out of this one? :D


Friday, May 8, 2009

"The Snows of Terror"

Hello everyone, the Historian here, along with Ketina, Ronelyn and Schmallturm, welcoming you back to Marinus. So let's get on with it!

Episode summary: First aired 2 May, 1964. Barbara and Ian collapse in a freezing, snowy landscape. Barbara wakes momentarily to see a fur-clothed man leaning over her and taking the Key they'd gotten in the jungle...and then awakes in a hut where the man, a fur trapper named Vasor, helps rub the frostbite out of her hands. He rescued the two from the mountain, he says, and warns her that the cold wouldn't have gotten them--the wolves would have. Ian wakes and Vasor tells them that "a mad stranger" helped him carry the two of them before going out again to look for two girls. The stranger must have been Altos, Ian surmises, and the girls Susan and Sabetha! Ian wants to go out after them, but Vasor will not give him a fur for nothing, so he is forced to part with his travel dial. Taking a fur, a lantern and a bag Vasor gives him, Ian goes out into the darkness, aware of the cold and the wolves. Vasor and Barbara finish their meal and, helping to clean up, Barbara discovers a drawer containing three travel dials and Sabetha's necklace containing the Keys! Vasor says he traded it to the girls, who he'd found in a cave, for flint and food. And now that Ian is out of the way...he won't be coming back, Vasor says, as the bag he carries contains something to draw the wolves...Ian, meanwhile, has found Altos, who is lying in the snow with his hands tied. While Ian revives him (and rubs feeling back into Altos' bare legs), they discover what is in the bag: raw meat! Ian flings it away and the two make their way back to Vasor's hut, where, inside, Barbara is fending off his violent advances. Ian and Altos arrive, Barbara breaks away from Vasor to open the door, and the three force the trapper to take them to the cave where Susan and Sabetha wait. Those two, meanwhile, are looking at the remains of their fire in the ice cave. They decide to explore the cave, if only to keep warm, but get totally lost and wander further into the mountain. Discovering a precarious-looking rope bridge, the two cross and enter a chamber where they see strange figures! Meanwhile, the others arrive in the cave, Vasor protesting all the while that there are "demons" lurking there. They force him to lead them further in where they discover the girls, who had fled to the rope bridge. Everyone but Vasor crosses, and the trapper frees the bridge and casts his side into the chasm! He leaves, believing the others to be trapped. With no other choice, the group goes on and finds the figures, which turn out to be four frozen knights guarding this area's Key, trapped in a block of ice. There is a pipe system meant to melt it out. They begin the melting process, then return to the chasm to figure out a way across. Ian and Altos get the idea of taking huge icicles (we think), freezing them together and laying them across. One person will cross, be thrown the rope bridge (which they've pulled up on their side), secure it and help everyone cross. Meanwhile, the women have gone back to get the now thawed Key...but that's not the only thing to have thawed, as the knights come to life and come after them! Ian fends them off and Susan, risking her life as the "bridge" isn't fully frozen yet, crawls across and secures the bridge. Everyone crosses and Ian throws the bridge down again just in time to send a knight plunging to his death. Vasor, back in his hut, is looking at his ill-gotten gains, the keys and travel dials, as our friends burst in. He tries to take Susan hostage, but the knights are battering down his door and a sword gets him in the back. Everyone turns their dials and--a museum. Ian moves forward and sees a man lying on the floor, just as someone hits him from behind and knocks him out! The strange, gloved figure puts the weapon in Ian's hand, then reaches into a display case, steals the Key that is there and leaves as an alarm sounds...

Ok. I'm going to start off by saying I think we all enjoyed this a bit more than last week's episode (except for Schmallturm, who wasn't here last week). There was more actual story here, more things happened. That being said...we still had quite a bit of fun, but there are some huge flaws, from the gratuitous stock footage wolves (or wolf, I should say, since there was only one) to the use of cellophane technology to stand in for ice to the workboots painted silver that the knights wore... (Ronelyn caught that one, I completely missed it.) And yes, the key guards were immediately referred to, anachronistically, as "the Knights who say 'Ni!'" by pretty much all of us. To be fair, there were a bunch of good things too--which I'll mention below--but they are let down a bit by the sets and general "we're a bit low on money" vibe this episode gives off. Though I quite liked Vasor's hut; it was really the second half of the episode that had apparent budget issues.

Now, some good things: Vasor himself is great. He's essentially a big bully. A lot of bluster when he has the upper hand, but he completely folds if he's truly threatened--not to mention being more than a bit superstitious, which makes one wonder about the rest of the planet (that we've seen) being more in a science fiction/developed mode. No real explanation is given, but I suppose he could be a product of the collapsed civilization, post dispersal of the Keys...or something...Anyway, Barbara is also excellent in this episode. Again, she proves herself to be resourceful and intelligent. Her fight with Vasor shows her spirit and strength. We love Barbara here. Susan also had her moment, the "I'm lightest, I'd better go while they're distracted or we're all dead" bit at the bridge. Ian is...well, he's a man of action. Not much more than that, really. Altos and Sabetha are...there, that's all we can say about them. (Other than could someone please get Altos some trousers, please?? This came up a few times, especially after the "rubbing his legs to get rid of frostbite" scene.)

I am going to try to leave discussion of the rest of "the silly" to Ketina (and I'm sure she'll have more to say about a few of my points above), but I have to mention our big question: why did Altos, Barbara and Ian leave their travel dials and the Keys in Vasor's hut when they forced him to go up the mountain? We came up with a few kind of answers, but they're all extrapolations. No real reason was given onscreen except "an excuse to go back to the hut so we get closure on Vasor." As much as we did enjoy this episode (and, despite our many quibbles, we did enjoy it) we all definitely agreed that the script was not the strongest we've seen this season. Not the weakest, maybe (and it's certainly stronger than last week's), but not as developed as, perhaps, it should have been.

Next week, though, looks interesting: Ian framed? And the Doctor's return! Can't wait! Until then, I remain



Ketina here,

This week on Doctor Who, we learned how to cure frost bite, how to avoid advances of lascivious trappers, the importance of pants in a cold environment, and how to build a bridge.

The Historian already covered the good bits. So let's talk some more about the silly, which was pretty much everything arriving at the cave onwards. For one thing, where did the light come from in the caves? They distinctly show that it's night out side, Ian carries a lantern when looking for lack-of-pants boy Altos. Yet, when we switch to Susan and Sabetha in the caves, the fire has just died and they have no torches or other sources of light. Yet the caves are better lit that either the cottage or outside. Glowing ice? No explanation.
Then as the party faced the "great chasm" below the fallen rope bridge, I was reminded of the jumping scene from horrible episode from The Daleks, "The Ordeal". Yet, even though the jump was about half the length as the leap in "The Ordeal" Ian sees it as too short to make. A jump of about four feet too short to make. Yeah.
Also strange was the scene where Ian was fighting the mighty Knights, and the rest of the companions, except for Susan, stood by. Doing nothing. They just stood there, staring down the tunnel. No attempts to help the man, no cries of encouragement, not working on the ice bridge or reconsidering jumping. No, they're just standing there as Ian and Susan both risk life and limb, as it were.
These issues are all in addition to the silliness of wolfie stock footage, leaving the keys and bracelets behind, cellophane ice, the Knights Who Say Ni, and did I mention the lack of pants.

Oh, and screams from both Susan and Barbara this week. Even justifiable they do scream a lot, don't they.

And even after all that, we did enjoy the episode. Hopefully things will get better with The Doctor's return next week.



Saturday, May 2, 2009

"The Screaming Jungle"

Hello everyone, the Historian here, along with Ketina, Kroroboros and Ronelyn, continuing our journeys on the planet Marinus. This week, a bit of an arborean adventure...

Episode summary: First aired 25 April, 1964. Susan clutches her ears to cut off the sound of the whispering jungle...just as it stops and Ian, Barbara, Altos and Sabetha reach her. She is hysterical, so Barbara helps her to calm down while Ian and the others search the area. There seems to be an alcove, choked with vines (which are all over the area), leading into a building. Ian and the Marinus people decide to search along the building's walls while Barbara helps Susan. Susan tells her about the whispering, saying that it seemed familiar...and evil. Barbara realizes she can make it through the vines into the alcove and does, just as Ian returns. At the end, she discovers an idol with the Key on its forehead! She wrenches it off, but is unable to get away as the idol's hands close and it pivots in the wall. Ian and Altos recover the Key, and the group determines that Susan, Altos and Sabetha will go on to the next area while Ian searches for Barbara. But before she leaves, Sabetha discovers that the Key Barbara found is a fake! Ian climbs the idol and is taken into the wall where he finds a courtyard and barely escapes a death trap, thanks to Barbara's warning. She tells him that the whole place is booby trapped. They attempt to open a locked door, but fail. Ian goes to find something to help, and the door opens while he's gone. Barbara enters and is tangled in a net as the ceiling descends on her, while Ian is trapped behind a barred wall! An old man, Darrius, stops the descending ceiling, and seems on the verge of believing Barbara when she tells him Arbitan has sent them. Ian frees himself and the two discover that Darrius is being strangled by a moving vine! They free him and he gives them a clue to the location of the real Key: a series of letters. He also warns them that the darkness will bring the "whispering"...and then he dies. The two enter his laboratory and discover a safe, which is an obvious blind. They begin to search the lab when Barbara notices darkness has fallen outside. Meanwhile, Ian has found Darrius' notebook and reads that he was trying to find a way to speed up Nature's ability to erode the environment. Suddenly, a whispering fills the room and the two realize it is coming from the plants and vines outside--as Darrius had theorized, the plants' ability to overtake and destroy the building has accelerated! Vines crash through walls as the two suddenly realize what the letters and numbers Darrius gave them as a clue meant: A chemical formula! They find the jar with that label, take the Key inside and turn their travel dial. The two appear in a snow-swept area, where the temperature is sub-zero. Although Ian urges her to move or they'll die, Barbara is so tired and cold and cannot move....

This episode was...far less interesting than the previous one, for us. It's a simple, almost bog-standard SF story, just like the last one, but it feels less interesting for some reason. The idea of acceleration of Nature's fury is a very good one (as Doctor Who would find several more times over its history), but not a lot is done with it here. The booby traps are fun, but, again, there's not a lot of there there. Darrius is another old man scientist, much like Arbitan, but less interesting. Again, we don't really find out much about him. It's nice to see Ian and Barbara alone for a bit, and it's nice to see Barbara's rebellion against Ian treating her like "Dresden China" (though you'll note that the first thing she does when she's in danger is scream for him), but the whole episode just felt slight. Altos and Sabetha continue to be just kind of there and Susan basically only got to be hysterical--although we did get the information that she'd left first because she didn't want to say goodbye to her grandfather, because she doesn't like to say goodbyes, which might come up later. Really, though, there wasn't very much going on here.

The effects were simple, but effective. Yes, the arms of the statue/idol were human arms, and yes, they twitched once or twice, but I was impressed by the attempt, when the trap was sprung, to make their movement look mechanical. The plants were also pretty good, given the limitations of the time.

I feel like there's something more I should say. This wasn't bad, by any means, not at all. It was a fairly fun 25 minutes. But, really, that's all it was; fun, but not engrossing. Thus far, this serial has not really kept up the riveting interest of the previous, though it's been fun. We'll have to see where it goes next, I suppose! I've no doubt, whether we're on the edge of our seats or not, we'll still certainly enjoy it.

That's all for me. Until next week, I remain



Ketina here,

The Historian already covered most of what was interesting about the episode. I generally agree that it was mildly okay, with nothing particularly special happening.

The good: I liked the solution to finding the key was discovering a chemical formula. And the traps were pretty cool.

The silly: Pretty much all of Darrius's death scene. The dying man urging Ian to come closer, and then speaking his final cryptic words in a perfectly loud enough voice, while sitting upright, and then falling over dead. Thud!
The special effects for the plants also bordered on silly, however they're really no worse than similar killer plant effects shown throughout the history of Doctor Who. The first of many killer plants. :)
And we get obligatory screams this week from both Susan and Barbara. Many from Barbara.

I also completely missed the reference to Dresden China. Possibly a generational thing. My immediate thought was that Dresden was in Germany not China, and that Barbara was making some kind of obscure political or historical reference. But The Historian pointed out to me what she meant - fragile. Like plates! Of course. ;)