Friday, September 24, 2010

Season Two Wrapup

Hello everyone, the Historian here. It's time to celebrate finishing the first third of the Project with a big post covering Season Two! We started just before Halloween 2009 and finished at the beginning of September 2010, which means we're maintaining our track record from Season One--about 10 months. Speaking of which, if you want to refresh your memory, or just start things from the beginning, here's a link to my wrapup of Season One. And now, on with the show!

Doctor Who Season Two: If I was forced to sum up this season in one word (and, thankfully for your verbose host, I'm not), it'd be CHANGE. From the stability of Season One, we move on to a year where almost everything changes, both in front of and behind the cameras. At the end of the year, only William Hartnell's Doctor and an increasingly battered TARDIS prop and control room remain. And even the Doctor has changed...

Let's start from the top, with David Whitaker turning story editing chores over to Dennis Spooner with the second story of this season. There was a definite change seen in the stories Spooner shepherded; as a perusal of the individual stories (see below) might illustrate, Spooner seemed keen to play with the show's premise, from the comedy of "The Romans" to the experimentation of "The Web Planet," in a way that Whitaker, who had to establish the series' basics, couldn't. Even "The Space Museum" shows an interest in examining the philosophical implications of time travel and destiny. And the last story that Spooner worked on, his own "The Time Meddler," gave us another member of the Doctor's race, the concept of the pseudo-historical and yet another discourse on the responsibilities of time travel! In a lot of ways, David Whitaker may have started things off, but it's Dennis Spooner who really established the familiar Doctor Who we know now. And, of course, one season is all we get of Spooner's story editing, as he handed things off to Donald Tosh at the end of "The Time Meddler" (though Tosh was credited for it).

Then, of course, there are the cast changes. I feel like I've gone on endlessly about Susan, Ian and Barbara's departures and Vicki and Steven's arrivals, so I'll try not to bore you too much here. (Please see the respective story wrapups for all our natterings.) Looking at the big picture, we went from the Doctor, his granddaughter and her two schoolteachers to the Doctor and his two companions, a not-quite-granddaughter-analogue (sort of) and a headstrong young man. We've not only lost our "present day" perspective, we've also lost the original moral center of the show (i.e. Ian and Barbara), allowing the Doctor to take center stage as the series' Star, with supporting characters. It's still an ensemble show, but the Doctor has definitely moved into the more important role. As such, he's also become more of the moral center--a metamorphosis that begins in "The Dalek Invasion of Earth," with his decision to let Susan create her own life and reaches its culmination with his confrontation with the Monk in "The Time Meddler," with his moral stance against disturbing the fabric of history and his disgust at the Monk's cavalier attitude. He has gone from the mysterious, slightly frightening character from the beginning to more of a Doctor that later fans would recognize...although he still has a long way to go!

The other major change is, of course, the departure of first producer Verity Lambert. Again, I think I covered a lot of this ground in "The Time Meddler" wrapup, but I'll just reiterate that it's impossible to overestimate her contributions to Doctor Who. She went on to a long and distinguished career, but I'm happy to say that she never forgot her time on the show. One of the last things she did before her passing was to take part in recording a commentary track for "Time Meddler," and her affection for the series, after all these years, shines through.

Ok, let's run down the stories.

Things started out a bit slowly with "Planet of Giants", a holdover from the previous season. Impressive props, but not so impressive a plot.

Another holdover (the last thing filmed as part of the Season One production block), "The Dalek Invasion of Earth" is fantastic. Possibly the bleakest Doctor Who would get (in the Sixties, at least), which leads to one of the show's greatest triumphs--both the victory over the Daleks and the honestly gut-wrenching departure of Susan. This story also brings us (related to the latter) one of the best on-screen romances ever on Doctor Who. Very impressive.

"The Rescue" brought us both a new story editor and a new companion, Vicki. She isn't a Susan-analogue by any means, and this short story does a good job of establishing the differences between the two "girls." It also presents us with a clever little mystery and gives the Doctor some righteously indignant development.

The first "experiment" of the season, "The Romans" brings farcical comedy to Doctor Who, though it twins it with hard reality. One of the triumphs of Season Two, a clear success.

"The Web Planet", on the other hand, is an amazing experiment that works a bit less well. It's an incredible attempt and, amazingly, almost succeeds. Certainly, Doctor Who has never been quite this daring again!

Next comes "The Crusade," an example of how wonderful acting, dialogue and directing don't wind up fully satisfying if the plot doesn't quite come together. See the various posts for this episode for more of a full explanation.

"The Space Museum," on the other hand, is just deathly dull. Although it has some really interesting ideas none of them are explored in an ultimately interesting way. I've since seen a video of Rob Shearman defending this story as a parody of a dull, bog-standard Doctor Who story...which doesn't quite ring true, if only because this is one of the earlier stories in which the clich├ęs it's supposedly parodying appear. Still, it's a more enjoyable reading that watching the story as is...

I called "The Chase" "a bit of a curate's egg," and I'll stand by that. The return of the Daleks sees an uneven, episodic story. Bits of it are exciting, bits are funny and bits...charitably don't work as well. Still, Daleks. Can't go too wrong with that...at least not for MiniSpoo!

Finally, we come to "The Time Meddler." There is no way I can be objective about this story; for me it's a bit of a masterpiece and it finally gives us a Doctor and companions that would be easily recognizable to a "modern" audience. Just a fantastic way to end Season Two!

Project Report: Change has been the watchword for the TARDIS Project this year as well. We've gone from a high-turnover in participants to a fairly regular group. More importantly, we've gone from my "write things up and try to remember what's been said" to a discussion format that, although it's harder on Ketina's poor fingers, makes the blogging a lot more fun. I will admit that writing the summaries continues to be a bit tedious and take a lot of time, but I'm much less inclined to see blogging as a chore compared to last year.

We continue to do well with the "one episode at a time" pace. It still feels more natural than watching a bunch in one go, both for story pacing and for discussion and enjoyment. I think we had more postponements this year, but, as I said up top, we still seem to be on track. Hopefully, all of this will continue into our reconstruction-heavy Season Three. (Which gives me an excuse to plug Loose Cannon Productions--the best recon makers out there right now.) I know Ketina's a bit worried about getting through the recons and I'm a bit worried about people getting bored and dropping out before we get to "The Ark!"

I'd like to thank all the Project members who joined me this season, Schmallturm, Spoo, MisterMother, Photobug, Ronelyn and, as always, Ketina. And I want to give a special big thank you to MiniSpoo, for delighting us with his all-important six and a half years old perspective!

What's next? Well, next Friday, 1st October, we have a TARDIS Project special! I'm not entirely sure what form the post will take, but look for (at the very least) a discussion of...but that would be telling. And then, on 8th October, we begin the next sixth of the TARDIS Project with episode one of a reconstruction of "Galaxy 4!" We're one third down, folks...here's to the next two thirds!

Thanks for reading and, until next time I remain

THE HISTORIAN

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