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


1 comment:

Alzarian said...

And now we get to meet up with the Doctor again and a bit of 'Perry Mason' court drama. I also like the silly hats of the judges!