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

But wait! Befoooore we go! There's still time to respond to our survey! C'mon, folks! We really want to hear from you!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

"The Time Meddler" wrapup

Hello everyone, the Historian here, with out final wrapup of season two! (Well, all right, the Season Wrapup should be coming in the next week or so, but still.) And yes, this is being written later than I'd planned. I have to be honest--I love this story and I kept feeling I needed to wait until I had the time and energy to do it justice. But I'm quickly running out of time and here we are. Bear with me!

I know I've said it before, but this was one of those Important Defining Stories of Doctor Who's first few years; indeed, it had repercussions far beyond that. Let's start at the top with the show's first major cast change. True, Susan had left, but she'd been almost immediately replaced by a similar (but by no means identical) character, Vicki. But, with the departure of Ian and Barbara and the arrival of Steven, the dynamic in the TARDIS has been permanently changed. As we discussed in episode posts, that had to have been a bit of a risk for the program; it was pretty well established by this point, but not replacing the teachers with similar viewpoint characters (remember, Steven and Vicki are both from the future!), there was the chance the show could lose its audience.

Behind the camera, this story marked some significant changes as well. Dennis Spooner, who wrote the story, had just ceded his job as Story Editor to Donald Tosh (though the latter claims to have done basically no work on the story, it does have his first Who screen credit on it). And, even more importantly, "The Time Meddler" was Verity Lambert's last story as producer, having decided that two years (dating from her pre-production work) was enough for one project. She had shepherded Doctor Who from a few pieces of paper all the way to being one of the more successful programs on Saturday nights; it's really difficult to overstate how important Lambert was to the success of Doctor Who. One of the important things she did was managing William Hartnell, who was not at all happy by all of these changes. William Russell has said that Hartnell's reaction to the news he and Jacqueline Hill were leaving was a feeling of "betrayal," and Verity Lambert leaving put him in an even worse mood...as incoming producer John Wiles would find out very shortly.

And that's not even mentioning the other big change this story brought: the Monk himself! Yes, someone from the Doctor's home (although some fifty years behind) who has his own "time machine!" There had been some implications, previously, that the Doctor might have built his TARDIS (named by Susan; note that neither the Monk nor the Doctor use that title for the Monk's machine), but it seems now that there are others out there--and others from the civilisation that produced them! It'll be some time before we get this much new information about the Doctor in one story....

But enough of that--let's talk about the story itself! There are people out there who dismiss this story as being "dull," that "nothing really happens," etc. etc. True, the story is far more concerned with character that incident, but the plot and characterization are stitched together expertly. Absolutely nothing is wasted; things that seem to be extraneous or forgotten wind up being crucial (Eldred being left in the monastery and disappearing for most of an episode, only to be the prime mover for the climax later as an example). Yes, all right, the Saxons and Vikings are not exactly the most developed of people, but they're exactly as developed as they need to be for the story to work. Yes, Edith seems to recover a bit too quickly (the one real flaw in the story), but balance that against the absolute guts that that whole bit must have taken on a family show in 1965. (As an aside, it completely went over 6 year old MiniSpoo's head.) And yes, of course there's a serious plot hole--the Monk still has his gun and shells outside of his TARDIS at the very least (and, if he doesn't retrieve them, they're odd things to leave in 1066)! Yeah, ok, all of that is true, but to dismiss this story as dull or without incident...that I just don't understand.

What makes this story, quite simply, are the four principals. Or, for most of the story, the two double-acts of Steven/Vicki and the Doctor/the Monk. The interactions between the characters, the interplay and wit, is simply delightful. Peter Butterworth's Monk is wonderful in and of himself, so fun to watch, but when he meets Hartnell's Doctor, they spark off each other. As for the companions, who carry a good deal of the screentime on their shoulders, their bickering bantering works very well and feels like a great preview of things to come for the new TARDIS team.

My goodness, I've gone on. What can I say, I love this story! And I was really happy to discover that the Project crew (most of whom had never seen it before) loved it too. (So much for the naysayers!) Here are the links to the episode posts to help folks easily catch up or look back:

"The Watcher"
"The Meddling Monk"
"A Battle of Wits"
"Checkmate"

Given all the stuff I discussed above, I'd very much recommend checking out Shannon Sullivan's behind the scenes information on the story. And here's the BBC Episode Guide for "The Time Meddler."

Before I end this overlong post, I want to thank Jon and Robin for answering our little survey. Your feedback is definitely being taken into consideration! And hey, the rest of you, feel free to comment or e-mail! You have until 1st October (when we begin season three) to let us know what you think!

Next up will be the Season Two wrapup--coming sometime over the next couple of weeks! (Before the Project reconvenes, I promise!) Until then, I remain

THE HISTORIAN

Friday, September 3, 2010

"Checkmate"

Hello everyone, the Historian here, along with Ketina, Ronelyn, Schmallturm, MisterMother and Photobug, bringing you the last episode of the second series of Doctor Who! Before we begin, a few announcements. Firstly, just as Doctor Who takes a break between seasons, so will the TARDIS Project. Our break, though, will only be three weeks and we will be back on 1st October with a very special Project event! (I'll give you a hint: it slots right into watching Doctor Who in summer 1965, but it isn't "in continuity" with the show.) Have no fear, though, between then and now I'll be posting both the wrapup for this story and one for season two. Announcement number two is more of a plea: We still have not gotten even one response to our survey. Please take a minute and let us know how we're doing!

But enough of that--let's get to the summary!