Friday, January 30, 2009

"The Ordeal"

The Historian here. Although I've been almost laid low by a cold, here I am. (Perhaps I caught the illness from that Dodo girl. No, wait, that hasn't happened yet. Never mind, in time...) At any rate, this week, Ketina and I were joined again by Ronelyn and Schmallturm as we watched the sixth episode of this serial.

Episode summary: First aired 25 January, 1964. Ian, Barbara and the group of Thals discover their comerade has disappeared in the pool as he was standing guard. Their expedition continues and Barbara and Ganatus discover a passage into the mountains, which will hopefully lead them to the unguarded end of the Dalek city. Meanwhile, the Daleks have decided that a neutron bomb would take too long to assemble and they begin to consider a different method for irradiating the atmosphere of Skaro. The Ian-Barbara Thal party continue their journey through the mountain. Ganatus' brother Antodys refuses at one point to go on, triggering a landslide that cuts off any retreat. Meanwhile, the Doctor, Susan and Alydon discover a way to confound the Dalek's spy cameras using reflected light. The Daleks, however, are tracking them through vibrations. The Doctor and Susan disable some kind of electrical box with Susan's TARDIS key, but are ambushed and taken prisoner by the Daleks, who reveal that they plan on opening their nuclear reactors to irradiate the planet, exterminating the Thals in the process. The Thal Underground Expedition, meanwhile, has discovered they have to jump across a gap to a small ledge. Everyone makes it over except Antodys, who falls while tied to Ian, who clutches onto the wall for dear life....

After watching this episode, I made the remark that the true "ordeal" was making it through this week's installment. This episode is a sure sign that the serial was originally comissioned as a six-parter, but expanded to a seven episode story. Although not completely without incident (unlike a few corridor-running padded episodes to come, I should think), the story contained here probably could have been told in half the time. Still, the writing itself was amusing, especially Barbara and Ganatus' banter that bordered on flirting. William Hartnell, though hardly in this episode, shone whenever he was in a scene. His joyful destruction of the electrical circuits was definitely the high point for me.

If anyone is interested in keeping track, this week there were two more variations on the "E word," we had two "exterminations," bringing the total Dalek E count to five, if I'm remembering right.

Astoundingly, that's all I really have to say this week, so I shall turn things over to Ketina. Until next week, I remain



Ketina here. I must agree whole heartedly with the Historian that getting through "The Ordeal" was an ordeal. There was a point towards the end when I was literally gnawing on my arm just waiting for SOMETHING to happen. But it never did...

The good... okay, I found something. I did like the bit where they used the mirrors to mess up the Dalek's spy cameras. And there were several good moments from The Doctor, what little he was actually on the screen.

But the bad... oh the bad. The vast majority of the episode was watching Ian, Barbara, and three Thal's spelunking through caves. It was so painful. Just jump already! Just jump! Why are you walking over the little rocks when you could go around them? Scared guy is so gonna die... and there he goes.

The silly - Schmallturm's comment that one of the Dalek operators was named Peter Murphy, the same as the singer of Bauhaus. He then proceeded sing "Bela Lugosi's Dead" in the voice of a Dalek. I guess you just had to be there.


Friday, January 23, 2009

"The Expedition"

Hello all, the Historian here. Tonight, Ketina, Ronelyn and I were joined by Schmallturm to watch the fifth episode of this serial. Let's get to it!

Episode summary: First aired 18 January, 1963. The TARDIS crew debate whether to try and get the Thals to help them retrieve their fluid link from the Daleks. Reluctant at first, Ian provokes Alydon into a small act of violence (determining that the Thals' pacifism was philosophical, not biological), and then convinces him that the Daleks pose a clear threat to the Thals if they are not stopped. Meanwhile, in the city, the Daleks have experimented by giving the Thals' anti-radiation drug to select groups, with disasterous results. Determining that radiation is necessary for the Daleks' survival (their mutated forms having adapted to it), they determine to set off another Neutron Bomb, putting more radiation into the atmosphere. Meanwhile, the crew and the Thals have split into two groups: one will make a frontal assault on the city and the other (including Ian and Barbara) will traverse the mountains and the swamps, and attack the city from its unguarded back. But dangerous, mutated things lurk in the swamps, and one of the Thals screams as the others go running....

After the heights of the last episode, this one was a bit disappointing. The early interactions between the crew and the Thals (especially between Ian and Alydon, especially) seemed a bit "mannered" to me. I'm glad Alydon admitted to knowing what Ian was doing, because otherwise he would have come off as a bit dim. Which makes one wonder how serious the Thals' pacifism really is, when it can be broken so easily. On the other hand, the Daleks continue to be fantastic, full of character--the head Dalek keeps his head when those around him are panicking. The movement is fluid--far more so than the Daleks ever would be again. On the other hand, the tickertape scene shows the design of the Daleks in a rather silly light, and the blow-up pictures of extra Daleks (saving the budget while giving the appearance of a Dalek army) was fairly obvious. Still, this episode gives us an absolute classic bit of Dalek dialogue, paraphrasing, "We will not adapt to the environment of this planet, we will adapt the environment to us." Just wonderful. And the idea of nuclear war--both the Thals' reaction of "We destroyed the planet once, we can never allow it to happen again" and the establishment of the Daleks as surpreme villains by their cavallier decision to use a neutron bomb and destroy more of the planet to suit their own needs--speaks greatly to Cold War attitudes and nuclear fears. Of course, this is a product of its time, but it is a testament to everyone involved that it all still resonates strongly with us today.

I want to say something about the swamp effects, but I'll mostly leave that to Ketina. I will say, though, that the set design continues to be wonderful. This first alien world of the series is very well realized and very alien.

Enough from me! I'll leave you to Ketina. Until next week, I remain



Ketina here,

The good - the story is getting pretty fun. I liked Ian's manipulation of the Thals, convincing them to fight. And some of those Thals are really cute too. ;)
I also liked some of the effects. The monster in the swamp was cool and subtle. Just eyes and this thing slowly rising up from the muck.
The Dalek's were pretty cool too - I don't recall them ever moving this smoothly before until the new Doctor Who series. I was initially bothered by the Dalek's reaction when they realized what happens when they take the anti-radation drugs, but then later when you see the Dalek leader calmly trying to solve the problem, I realized that it was a great representation of their monomaniacal behavior. Intially they start giving all the Daleks the drug. In order to keep up efficiency they give it to them in groups. Then when the realize that the drug is killing them, they freak out, Immediately thinking they're all gonna die, while the dying Daleks spin in circles. And then later they've calmed down, with the apparent Dalek leader working out the problem, analyzing the situation and coming up with a solution. Not a good solution for our heros, however. :(

The goofy - There were several small fluffs. When they Daleks are looking at the pictures of the TARDIS crew one of the pictures changes just before the Dalek leader asks them to change it. And then at the end you hear the scream as one of the Thals gets found by something in the swamp while the focus is on the other characters, and a visibly long moment goes by before any of them react. I could imagine the director someone shouting "action."

Genuine moment - When the Doctor mispronounces Chesterton and Ian calls him on it. Was this an intentional scripted reference to Bill Hartnell's classic line fluffs? :)

Well, that's all from this week for me folks.


Friday, January 16, 2009

"The Ambush"

The Historian here with the fourth episode of this second serial, along with Ketina and Ronelyn. Things moved briskly this week, so let's do so as well. On to the synopsis!

Episode summary: First aired 11 January, 1963. The crew (with Ian inside a Dalek casing) continue their escape. Although a real Dalek intercepts them, Ian (with some assistance from a very clever Susan) manages to bluff his way into getting everyone to a lift area. Unfortunately, the Daleks then realize the subterfuge and the crew barely escapes up the lift in time! At the top of the tower they are in, the crew look down and see the Thals approaching the city--walking straight into a trap. The TARDIS crew make their way down to the street level of the city and split up, with the Doctor, Susan and Barbara heading back into the jungle and Ian staying to warn the Thals. Meanwhile, the Thal leader, Temmosus, approaches cautiously with his small band, into a courtyard where food and supplies have been piled. Unbeknownst to him, the Daleks lie in wait. Ian arrives a moment too late as the Daleks appear to attack the Thals. Thanks to his warning, though, only Temmosus and one other are killed. The rest, led by Susan's friend Alydon, escape with Ian into the jungle. Later, the Thals and the crew share information. The Doctor discovers more about the history of the planet, Skaro, and Ian and Barbara are frustrated by the fact that the Thals refuse to fight, even to defend themselves. The Doctor convinces the crew (except for Susan) to leave, letting the Thals and the Daleks deal with each other themselves, when Ian realizes that the fluid link (the very component the Doctor removed from the TARDIS to keep them there in the first place) has been taken from him by the Daleks when they searched him. It's now down the city.....

I thought this was a marvelous episode. Easily the highlight of the story so far, there were no extraneous or slow scenes. Everything worked, from Susan's wink to Ian in the beginning to the fear of the persuing Daleks to the massacre to the very end. Ray Cusick deserves tremendous kudos for his Dalek city designs. I think Ketina wanted to talk about it below, but I'll say that Ronelyn and I spent some time discussing the honestly alien asthetic of the whole city.

This was an episode with a lot of highlights and no "lowlights." Some favorite moments include Ian's run through the city, conveyed very well by slightly askew direction. Lots of little things, like the Thals going back to the city to try and recover their dead (they recovered one body, but not that of their leader) was nice too, as were the Thal's history records. In fact, all of the things that I felt slowed the plot down last week (mainly Thal interactions) worked very well this week. Ian and Barbara's exasperation ("Pacifism only works when everyone agrees to it;" yes, a paraphrase, sorry) is very interesting, especially in the context of post-war Britain. (They both would have been children through the war, yes?)

Obviously, the highest high are the Daleks themselves. I neglected to mention the first ever "Exterminated" last week and this week we got two more. (All referring to the TARDIS crew, the beginning of a proud tradition!) With their silent glide (Temmosus doesn't even hear them enter behind him--they make no sound whatever) the Daleks are truly creepy. And in just a few episodes, they've gone from ambiguous and seeming somewhat paranoid to chilling killers, destroying (as Ian says) anything unlike them. They've turned into very nice baddies indeed, although their exact catchphrase, making them fodder for playground play, hasn't quite solidified yet. I'm left in no doubt as to why the Daleks became the focus of a nationwide phenomenon!

There are many, many other things I can say about this wonderful episode, but I've gone on too long already. I certainly can't wait until next week to see how the crew gets out of their predicament--and hopefully begins to help the Thals as well! Until then, I remain



Ketina here. I liked this episode a lot better than what we've seen of these early stories so far, although there were a few goofier bits.

The silly - The Dalek's leaving food and toilet paper for the Thalls. - Okay, The Historian says it wasn't supposed to be toilet paper, but it sure looked that way to me.
Also silly - The Thal's outfits are pretty over the top.

Confusing - the elevator effect was a bit confusing. First it looked like the elevator was moving closer and then father away during the same trip up going up. The Historan said that's due to first seeing the elevator from above and then later from below, however I found that unnecessarily confusing. It also made it look very peculiar when they showed the shot of throwing the statue down the elevator shaft, showing small bits of debries falling down. And what the heck are souless killing machines doing with abstract statuary anyway?
There was also another strange editing cut between the escape from the city with Ian and the Thals running to suddenly everyone is safe in the jungle. Maybe if there was some type of fade that indicated time had passed would have made this a little more evident.

And the good - I really liked the design of the Dalek city. For example, in this episode we get to see the Daleks interact with the various door switches and wall buttons that the TARDIS crew found so mysterious and confusing. Seeing the Daleks use these various switches smoothly and naturally was really cool. It's also cool when the Daleks magnetize everything to stop doors from opening and Ian's Dalek from moving.
I also liked seeing all the little historical artifacts that the Thals were showing the Doctor. Although at this point I've already figured out that the Thals were warriors that became peaceful and the Daleks were scientists that became killing machines, and I get the feeling that's the mystery that they're trying to get across with the story. But, maybe I'll be surprised.



Monday, January 12, 2009

RIP John Scott Martin

The Historian here. One of the biggest stars of Doctor Who you've probably never heard of, John Scott Martin passed away this January 6th. He probably appeared in more episodes of the show than any other actor, mainly playing various monster roles. He was most famous as a Dalek operator--indeed, it is fitting that we remember him at the same time the TARDIS Project is in the process of covering his first appearance on the show during the original Dalek serial.

And so, we raise our flagons high to John Scott Martin, 1926-2009--the greatest Exterminator of them all!

Until next time, I remain


The image is that of Mr. Martin "exposed" behind the scenes of the season four story "Power of the Daleks," which we will get to! Eventually!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

"The Escape"

The Historian here, along with Ketina, Ronelyn, Cz and SumGuy, to watch the third episode of this serial. Let's get to it!

Episode Synopsis: First short 4 January, 1964. Outside the TARDIS, Susan discovers her follower. He turns out to be the beautiful Alydon, a tall, blond haired member of the Thal race. He tells her that the Thals have survived, but are now in danger because their small plots of land will no longer yield viable crops. He takes Susan back to the edge of the forest, after giving her a second set of rad drugs. The Daleks confiscate one set of drugs, but leaves Susan with the other and the crew uses them. In the forest, the Thals gather and wait for the Dalek response to their plea. The Daleks decide to use Alydon's trust in Susan to lure them into the city and get her to write a letter stating that the Daleks would help them survive. In the conversation of the Thals, we learn that they were the warriors and the Daleks teachers and philosophers before the war--are the positions now reveresed? Meanwhile in the city, the crew deduce that the Daleks must run on static electricity...and trap a Dalek using the cloak Alydon gave Susan. Ian and the Doctor, repulsed, take the apparently dead Dalek creature out of its casing (though we cannot see it). Ian gets into the casing and the crew take off down the corridor, with Ian-Dalek "taking the prisoners for questioning," as the escape begins. Meanwhile, the Dalek creature stirs in the cloak on the floor....

This episode sees a surprising advancement of the plot, with the introduction of the beautiful Thals--to counteract the ugly Daleks. Yes, it's beauty=good, ugly=evil, but it feels a bit more nuanced here, thanks to the Thals' description of life before the war. Admittedly, this then leads to a pastoral vs. technological thing; paradoxically, this can often be found in SF of the time as some of the excitement of technology gave way to the horrors of potential atomic war.

The Daleks themselves are, again, magnificent. They show a surprising amount of character, especially compared to some of their later appearances. In fact, the Daleks completely overshadow the Thals, who come off as fairly dull. There's a significant amount of time given to the relationships among the Thals. Though this will probably become important as the story continues (there are, of course, four more episodes), at this point it felt a bit tedious.

The crew was wonderful; it was great to see them working together and their deduction of the Daleks' power source, among other things, was really fantastic. The group have started to really come together as a team instead of just four people thrust together by circumstance. Terry Nation's writing shines best in both the crew's dialogue and that of the Daleks, though it falls down a bit when it comes to the Thals.

As usual, I know there is more to say, but I am currently a bit short on concentration, so I will turn this over to my impatiant companion, Ketina. Until next time, I remain



Ketina here.

I started the episode shouting "take the drug!". But then the Alydon points out that they might not know how they work, so I forgive Susan. :P

The silly - the Thals are apparently the Arian race of the Doctor Who universe. There was a moment when I was thinking it was the Daleks vs. the Nazis, but the Thals do not appear maleviolent.
The odd - there was a strange edit the confused me for a bit. After Susan meets Alydon, and he mentions bringing her back to the city, there's a brief cut to the Dalek's discussing things and then Susan is back in the cell with The Doctor and companions. At first I thought there was a scene missing, but then Susan explains to everyone else what happened in the intervening time.
The good / bad - I liked the way they figured out how to disable the Dalek, but, apparently as usual, I thought the scene went a little long. I was also annoyed that Ian and The Doctor make the ladies leave the room when they were opening the Dalek casing. Feminist growl - I'm not normally this bad, but these early episodes seems to bring it out in me. Okay, I do get why they asked Susan to leave (guarentee she's scream) but I think Barbara could handle it. Ian's macho behavior just continues to irritate me...

And you never do get to see them take the drugs on screen.



Friday, January 2, 2009

"The Survivors"

This evening, Ketina, Ronelyn, Cz and I sat down to watch the second episode of this serial. Let's get to the synopsis!

Episode Synopsis: First aired on 28 December, 1963. Ian, Susan and the Doctor look for Barbara and discover a room containing instruments, one of which is a geiger counter. They discover the high level of radiation in the atmosphere which explains their fatigue, headaches, etc.: they have radiation sickness. They are then captured by strange robot-like creatures (who shoot Ian when he tries to escape, paralyzing his legs) and taken to a holding area where they find Barbara. The creatures, identifying themselves as "Daleks," interrogate the Doctor, believing him to be a creature called a "Thal." They tell the Doctor that 500 years ago a neutron war was fought between the Daleks and the Thals. The Daleks retreated into their underground city (which they say they cannot leave) and the Thals (what was left of them) ran into the jungle where they (according to the Daleks) mutated. (It's worth noting that the hand that touched Susan last week appeared to be human and, as the Daleks are trapped in their city, it had to have been a Thal.) The Thals have managed to survive on the surface despite the radiation, and the Daleks want to know their secret. The Doctor remembers the drugs that had been mysteriously left outside the TARDIS and the Daleks agree to let one of the crew go back and retrieve the vials (although they secretly plan to take the drugs for analysis, letting the travellers die) and Susan, who is affected the least by the radiation, though she is certainly far from well, elects to go. She makes it to the TARDIS (with a follower who she does not notice) and is about to leave to return when....

Definitely an episode that continues the "set-up," we get a lot of exposition. This week, of course, we get our first full glimpse of the Daleks and they look marvelous. Although the props would get a bit ratty as the years went on, here they're brand new and quite disturbing. I can understand why people went mad for the things. As Barbara asks, are they robots? Are there...things inside? And then the Daleks confirm that the casings are just that...what's inside? Creeeeepy! And the Daleks themselves feel very different; for a while, it's not clear whether they are malicious, paranoid or what. They think the crew are enemy Thals; they apparently have no conception of any creatures from outside their world and, despite what they tell the Doctor, they don't believe his story of not being a Thal for a second. It's also worth noting that I believe this is the only (or one of the only; can anyone else think of any other instances?) time the Dalek gun is used to a non-lethal effect. In fact, the first time we see a Dalek fire, the first time we see that wonderful, simple negative effect, it is for a non-lethal shot--and it's implied that the weapons themselves are not lethal! (The Dalek tells Ian that a second shot would make his leg paralysis permanent, not kill him.) I know that Ketina will talk about Susan running through the forest, but I thought it conveyed the fact that she was both panicked and in an altered state (due to rad sickness) quite well. Speaking of which, they actually did a fairly good job with showing what they could of the effects of radiation; some of the symptoms aren't exactly television viewing, but headaches, fevers (which make you feel cold, not hot; they didn't get that one right!), dry heaves, altered states, etc., are all pretty accurate. And, of course, the idea of the neutron bomb, which kills people but leaves structures intact, was still science fiction in 1963--and very accurately portrayed as well!

I suppose I should note the "Billy-Fluff" this week of "glove" for "drug." He also seems to sit before he is ordered to, not after, but that's questionable. At this point, Hartnell seems to have been doing fine, scriptwise. The general caliber of acting is still fairly strong, though the ravages of the rad sickness kind of led to a bit of overplaying--gasping and fainting and oh, if you see what I mean. It all worked, don't get me wrong, but it's a criticism that could be leveled, I suppose. There's also the idea of "acting big" for the stage that we still see. Still, the regulars are strong in their characters and the Daleks, which should have been one-note, are simply marvelous. I, for one, cannot wait until next week! But for now, I turn things over to my compatriot. Until next time, I remain



Ketina here, with my regular silly feedback,

The good - The Daleks were awesome. It amazes me how little they have changed in 40 years. Differences certainly, but mostly subtle visual ones. Much different than how the Cybermen change over the years.
I also liked the creapy whatsits that were tracking Susan through the jungle.

The bad - As The Historian already mentioned, once more we have "running in the woods" cam while Susan is deliriously attempting to return to the TARDIS. I'm not a fan of the extreme closeups like those. I was also frustrated by how everyone was unwilling to allow Susan to return to the TARDIS on her own, even though she was the obvious choice, being the healthiest and the only one left who could open the door. The argument being that she's only 15 and clearly terrified.
And at at the very end, it was everything I could do not to scream at the TV "take the drug yourself before you leave, you idiot." My fellow viewers blamed that to the radation sickness. But I think someone who's supposed to be as smart as Susan should have figured it out. I don't like the inconsistancy with her character - sometimes smart and sometimes not so much. Inexperience vs. book smarts, I guess.
Oh, and the pace is still slow. Okay, just kidding, it wasn't as bad as it has been, :P

- Ketina.