Hello everyone, the Historian here. Well. Here we are, finally, at the end of one of the most fabled, most epic Doctor Who stories of all time. So, here we are, twelve episodes, over three months (because of some breaks), and an exhausted Project team later. (Though, to be fair, only Ketina and I made it through every single episode!)
So, as I asked the team after we finished, was it worth it? On the whole, I'm going to say yes, though I don't think all of the Project members would agree with me. (Heck, MisterMother decided to skip the rest of this story after watching a few of the episodes.) The story is considered a masterpiece by many fans (especially those with memories of seeing it as kids), but I think it is, at best, a flawed masterpiece.
For one thing, it's too long. About 3 episodes too long, I'd say; as Spoo said in the last episode discussion, the "Master Plan" plot would have made a great seven-parter. Admittedly, most of the filler was enjoyable (especially anything involving the Monk), but it was painfully obvious that it was filler. When you get right down to it, the plot could be said to fit into episodes 1-6 and then parts of 10-12, but even those had long scenes of…nothing. (The space radio operators chatting about what to watch on space telly, Chen and Karlton's apparent flirting, Steven and Sara's interminable trek through the jungle, etc. etc.) By the end, you could tell that even the cast and production team, some of whom hadn't been thrilled about a 12 part story from the beginning, were experiencing a bit of story fatigue.
But the episodes that consist entirely of filler, while dragging the story out, were a lot of fun, sometimes more fun than the central plot. The Christmas episode was fun mainly for the "legendary" novelty value, but the three episodes with the Monk were pure fun…mainly because of Peter Butterworth's wonderful comic acting. One wishes for more, another whole story of the Monk's inept attepts at revenge. (Carry On Timelord?)
Moving on to one of the serial's good points, he came in for a lot of ribbing, but I want to talk a bit about Kevin Stoney's Mavic Chen. True, he was a white man in very heavy "oriental" make-up, but Stoney created a character you just couldn't take your eyes off of. Chen's master manipulation and eventual disintegration ("You can't kill me, I'm immortal!") is compelling…far more compelling, ultimately, than the Daleks and their Time Destructor. It's not easy for someone to steal the show from the Pepperpot Menace, but Mavic Chen did it ably. Which made his final fate even more effective.
And then there's Sara. Jean Marsh does a fine job of playing the "fill-in companion," although she has a rocky start. I know the team had some issues with her going from stone cold killer to caring companion--though Marsh (and the writers) are smart enough to keep at least a bit of a prickly edge to her character. I think the best testament I can make to how much Sara came to mean to this story and the team is shown by our reaction to her death in the last episode discussion.
Katarina…poor Katarina. Poor Adrienne Hill. In some ways, she was as much a casualty of the change in producers (Verity Lambert to John Wiles) as the vacuum of space. Wiles and Donald Tosh realized, quite rightly, that she didn't work as a character out of her element. Sure, it's always good to have a "what's that Doctor" character, but she took that to an extreme that the show couldn't handle at this point. Thankfully, a later production/writing team would find the balance necessary for "historical" companions.
And, of course, this is the story that introduced Nicholas Courtney to Doctor Who, after he got beaten out by Julian Glover for the part of Richard III in "The Crusades." True, Bret Vyon only lasted four episodes, but Nick was a high point in every one of them.
Not much I can say about Peter Purves, other than Steven isn't always well served by these scripts, often being overshadowed by Bret or Sara. But when he is able to shine, Purves rises to the occasion. (He is, for example, wonderful in the Monk episodes.) And William Hartnell, regardless of the behind the scenes problems (and there were many) and his failing health (which finally seems to be starting to be visible on screen), is clearly the life and soul of the show. Some scenes without him are very good, but he brings an energy to every episode that is undeniable.
Then there are the writers…ok, Terry Nation has gotten a lot of bashing over the past few…months. And yes, some of it was undeserved; there are a lot of great ideas early on in this story. But there's a lot of recycled stuff from his previous Who scripts too. If you include the petrified one in the first Dalek story, he's had five jungle planets/areas in four stories. The "spine" of this story involves the Daleks chasing their enemies, through both time and space…a lot like "The Chase." The "[vi]taranium" reminds one of the special metal developed by the scientist in "Dalek Invasion of Earth"--"dalekanium." And then there's the moment in almost every Nation-scripted episode in this story where the action stops dead. Sometimes there are plot points in those scenes, but they seem to stretch on for far longer than they're actually on screen. Once Dennis Spooner takes over (apparently using Nation's outline), the plot flaws remain, but the dead spots (with a few exceptions!) basically disappear. And the dialogue becomes less portentious, more snappy. And his decision to bring back the Monk (which was not in the outline) was sheer genius, reviving a flagging story. Think how boring the mid-Chase episodes would have been without him!
As for the direction, well, Douglas Camfield seems to have done a fine job. Certainly, the existing episodes look good, and the stills give a good idea of how shots were set up. Not a lot to say, but I wanted to mention that this was another strong story from a strong director.
Ok, I'd better post the links to the episode writeups before I type all night!
"The Nightmare Begins"
"Day of Armageddon"
"Coronas of the Sun"
"The Feast of Steven"
"The Abandoned Planet"
"Destruction of Time"
And here are links to the BBC episode guide and (for all the behind the scenes info) the Brief History of Time (Travel) page for the story. I'd really recommend checking at least the latter out. And, of course, I can't say enough about how wonderful the Loose Cannon Productions reconstruction was. It's probably one of the best ones yet and I can't recommend it enough. Check it out, you'll be glad you did. (2 videotapes and postage, a deal you can't beat!)
Finally, a little trivia quiz for our readers: believe it or not, this story was only the third and fourth time the TARDIS had touched down on "present-day" (i.e. in or around the year of transmission) Earth after leaving it during the first episode. Can you name them all?
So, the Doctor and Steven have left Kembel for the last time, moving through time and space towards a story that is completely different from this one. Change, and not a moment too soon! (That is, tomorrow night!) Until then, I remain