Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Forget It, Roman. It's Zurich. Thoughts on Roman Polanski.



To misquote Amadeus, "No one is doubting Roman Polanski's talent, it's his judgment to be a fugitive that's in question".

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I believe he is an extraordinary artist, but I KNOW the law must be obeyed. All his talent, all his achievements, all his awards cannot erase the fact that he fled the country and has been on the run ever since.

I have heard in this debate some pretty daft defenses. His life has been filled with unimaginable tragedy. Having your family murdered in the Holocaust would be enough misery for any person. Polanski, however, had a further horror to endure when his wife Sharon Tate & their unborn son were murdered by cult icon Charles Manson and his group of demonic cohorts. That he has managed to keep functioning in spite of all these brutalities is a testament to his strength.

HOWEVER, none of that can justify, rationalize, or excuse HIS crime. Let's put things in perspective. He plied a thirteen-year-old girl with drugs and alcohol, then forced himself sexually on a minor. We must always remember that Samantha Geimer was only two years older than Jaycee Dugard when she was abducted and raped by Phillip Garido. There are differences of course: Polanski forced sex on Geimer once while Garido repeated raped Dugard, and Garido never won an Oscar. I wonder if any of the stars rallying to Polanski's defense will do the same for Garido.

I think people like Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen and Pedro Almodovar are missing the forest for the trees. Polanski may be a great film-maker but great film-making does not give you a free pass to violate laws about having sex with minors. The warrant was legal. He was a fugitive and he knew it. He has been arrested lawfully. What reason is there to release him now? That he won an Oscar? That he makes great films? Roman Polanski has been arrested and now must be brought back to face the justice he fled from. Yes, Ms. Geimer wants the charges dropped. Yes, he has a family now. Yes, he's in his seventies. All these factors should and I trust will be taken into consideration. However, No One Is Above The Law.

Ultimately, I cannot believe Scorsese or Allen or anyone in Hollywood would want their daughters drugged & boozed up in order for some man to rape them. At this moment, we don't know what will happen to Roman Polanski. He's been on the run for too long. We all must learn that You Can't Get Away With It. Even if you make great films.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Doctor X 10: Thoughts On The First Ten Doctors




And Pretty Doctors All in A Row

Now we come to the crux of the matter: Who is the Best Who? I don't like that question. Each version brought his own interpretation to the role, and Hartnell, who originated it, didn't have the burden of comparing his performance with anyone else. Troughton brought humor, Pertwee: action, Tom Baker: alien eccentricity, Davison: a greater compassion, Colin Baker: a hint of outrageousness, McCoy: righteous anger, McGann a greater romanticism, Eccleston: manic moodiness, and Tennant: wistfulness.
 
Now, each has his detractors and defenders, but all I think did the best their talents allowed them to, with varying degrees of success. We can argue about individual stories, but that is another matter. Ultimately, Doctor Who the program will continue. What has kept it going for so long (longer than Star Trek)? For starters, you have only ONE main character to deal with, and you have the ability to go both in space AND time, so you aren't bound by the era or the area. Does it have its flaws? Absolutely. However, as a fan, I found it well worth my time.

In the future, I hope to write reviews on the stories themselves, but I can wait. I hope to have more time. With that, back to the movies.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Didn't He Call Himself Doctor Smith?: Thoughts on Matt Smith as The Eleventh Doctor



The Eleventh Doctor:
Matt Smith (Born 1982)

I am looking forward to Matt Smith's tenure as The Doctor even though I've never seen him act or heard his voice. Colin Baker had an excellent point about regeneration. You don't want Your Doctor to go, he said, but you're also excited because you wonder what The Next Doctor will be like (pun intended). The change from Hartnell to Troughton brought a different Doctor, as did the change to Pertwee, Tom Baker, Davison, Colin Baker, McCoy, McGann, Eccleston and Tennant. Each made it his own, and I hope Smith will do the same.

Tom Baker also made an interesting point. The Doctor, he said, is actor-proof. You could take an established character and make him your own. Each of the Doctors has done so, so why is Smith any different? It will depend on the scripts and the willingness of the public to accept one in the role.

For my part, I'm hoping for great things, and wishing Matt Smith well. That, and I also think the drawing above is quite cool. Can't help it.

Visit Here for Eleventh Doctor Reviews.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Once, Twice, Tennant Times A Time Lord: Thoughts on The Tenth Doctor



The Tenth Doctor:
David Tennant (Born 1971)

My mother never understood my love of Doctor Who. She thought it was a stupid show and made it a point to TELL me it was a stupid show. She would also say that being ugly was a prerequisite to play the Doctor...with one exception. After looking at David Tennant, she decided he was halfway decent-looking. She still hates Doctor Who, but age has mellowed her views on the show from hostility to a cool tolerance.

David Tennant was a welcome change from Christopher Eccleston. This isn't to say the latter was terrible, but he was a terribly unhappy Doctor. Tennant, on the other hand, is for the most part quite jolly. He has a touch of Troughton: a sense of wonder about the things going on around him. He gets Pertwee's ability to be authoritative, even a bit bossy when the need arises. Tennant also brings something of Davison's vulnerability to the role. This is informed by the fact that The Doctor's home world of Gallifrey is supposed to have been destroyed (something I refuse to accept). While he is a happier Doctor than Eccleston, Tennant can also rage like the best of them.

I haven't seen all his stories, so I can't give a Best Of choice. However, I will say that Love & Monsters has earned a place for me as not just the worst David Tennant story, but the worst Doctor Who story of all time.  I hated it so much that I still have not seen Fear Her simply because it was advertised at the closing of Love & Monsters. The association was simply too awful for me to have anything to do with it. I also thought the battle between the Daleks and the Cybermen was not all it could have been. All the pity. I did think his first season (Series Two) was overall quite good.

Now, he will hand over to Matt Smith. I hope for great things.

Stories available: Series Two-Four and two specials, Planet of the Dead and The Next Doctor.

Visit Here for Tenth Doctor Reviews.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Northern Exposure: Thoughts on The Ninth Doctor



The Ninth Doctor:
Christopher Eccleston (Born 1964)
I was very excited when Doctor Who was revived in 2005. So excited that I cajoled a friend of mine to let me watch it at his house since I didn't have cable or satellite. I believe my faith is justified.

Christopher Eccleston's Doctor is in a word, manic. He seems in a hurry to get things done. If the storyline is to be believed, Gallifrey no longer exists. His home world has been destroyed, with him the only survivor. This would make him more dour than his predecessors, and he is. There is a tinge of regret to him, as if a shadow will always be with him, haunting him perpetually. He also oddly, seems to be the most "regular guy" Doctor. There's no air of sophistication (as from the Third or Fifth). Instead, he seems like just a bloke who happens to be a Time Lord.

This might explain that chip on his shoulder he seems to carry, as if he's always worried someone will look down on him. He has a Northern accent, which distinguishes him from all other Doctors. Now, most Americans (myself included) wouldn't pay much attention to such things, but to the class-conscious British this might be an issue of concern.
Eccleston's anger also seems to find more comfort with violence than McCoy's. He has no problem being vengeful, downright evil, with the 'last' Dalek. He goes so far as to threaten to kill him. Yes, it was to save his Companion Rose Tyler, but it still is a marked departure for someone who used to rail against violence to solve things. Perhaps this was a manifestation of the actor himself, who left the series after one season. I don't know what his plans in relation to Doctor Who are, but he seems to be taking a page from Tom Baker: respect but a wary distance.

Now, with the new series there is a change. Rather than having two-to-four part stories, each story is an individual episode with one or two exceptions. Out of the stories in his tenure, the best to my mind is Dalek. It finally makes the Daleks the terrifying creatures they could be. I also thought The Unquiet Dead (where he meets Charles Dickens, brilliantly played by Simon Callow), and Father's Day were well-written and executed. I really don't think there was a bad episode in the bunch. The one I wasn't too thrilled about was The Doctor Dances (not a fan of the welfare state) but that's just being a touch picky. Overall, it's good to have The Doctor in the house once again.

Stories available: The Complete First Series.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Shadows, Nothing More: Thoughts on The Eighth Doctor



The Eight Doctor:
Paul McGann (Born 1959)

With Paul McGann as The Doctor, it's impossible to give a fair analysis. He appeared as The Doctor only once on screen, and that is not available in the United States*. Instead, I will give my impressions of McGann based on my memories of the Doctor Who TV movie.

I was very excited about seeing Doctor Who again, and eagerly started to watch. As the show went on, I started losing interest. Eventually, I did the unthinkable: I switched it off. I like to think that was the beginning of my starting to grow up, leaving aside childish things. Still, it would be nice to have it available if only for completion's sake.

Now, what I do remember about McGann's Doctor is actually quite positive. He seemed more eager for adventure, and more eager to defeat his arch-nemesis The Master once and for all. He also appears frankly less angry than the Seventh Doctor, though not as jolly as the Second. He gave me the impression that he should take part in the affairs of others because it would be interesting.



What I DIDN'T like was the suggestion of romance between the Doctor and his newest Companion, Dr. Grace Holloway (although I think the reports that he kissed her passionately are exaggerated. I don't doubt he did, but I think it was out of joy of remembering who he was than out of an erotic desire).

Less disturbing than this idea of a romance between a Doctor and his Companion is him saying he's half-human. BLASPHEMY, I SAY! There was never anything to suggest he was anything other than what he was for twenty-six years: an alien being, a Time Lord from Gallifrey. Why this was done is irrelevant, the fact that it was done at all was disastrous. I prescribe it to post-regeneration trauma, not to any sense that this is the actual truth.
In fairness, I cannot give a good overview of Paul McGann in the role. He has remained active in audio stories, novels, and comics, and that is good. I hope that the new series will allow him to make a reappearance in the role of the Eight Doctor. It would be a sign of respect. Ultimately, the Eight Doctor is the one I know the least, through no fault on either side.

One last point regarding the Eight Doctor.  There are three schools when it comes to him.  The first is that he is Canon, part of the chain that stretches from William Hartnell.  The second is that he is not Canon and can be ignored.  The third is that he is the last of Canon, with everyone following him being non-Canon.

My view is this: he is Canon.  Sylvester McCoy, whom no one questions as Canon, appeared as the Doctor prior to McGann's regeneration.  Since McCoy regenerated to McGann, he is Canon.

*Update: In 2011 the Doctor Who TV Movie, also known as The Enemy Within, was released on DVD in North America. 

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Scots Guard: Thoughts on The Seventh Doctor


The Seventh Doctor:
Sylvester McCoy (Born 1943)

Sylvester McCoy once beat out perennial winner Tom Baker as the favorite Doctor. I can see why. Like the first Baker and Troughton, he has the eccentricity and whimsy of their versions. Like Hartnell and Pertwee, he can bring a darkness and mystery to the part. He also is the first Doctor to have a faint hint of an accent (Scottish), all which combined to make his tenure a good one. His was the last of the original series, and he made it an elegant swan song.

McCoy has been the Doctor who, to my mind, has been both the angriest and the biggest pacifist. He abhors violence and avoids it at almost all costs. However, he is bent on striking out against those who would do violence. He may appear foolish, but he wasn't. I always got the sense that while he still like humans (or as we're known in other worlds, Tellurians--from Terra Firma), he had grown tired of our inability to resolve things with dialogue. The "Shoot First, Ask Questions Later" mindset was one he constantly goes against, and he is genuinely angry at injustice of all sorts.
 
When it came to his companions, he still had Mel (whom I abhorred), but then found Ace (whom I loved). Ace was a troubled girl with deep family issues, and in the Doctor (or Professor as she called him) she found if not a father figure, a good uncle. On occasion, he could put her through a lot, but it was always with her best interests in mind. Perhaps this was his way of seeing that there was still some stubborn hope in these Tellurians. That perhaps, was the best message McCoy's Doctor could give us.

 

Alas, it was here when the show was put on "hiatus", one that lasted twelve years give or take. It was unfortunate since the show was finally finding its way back. The costume was at least rational, and the stories were improving. Remembrance of the Daleks brings the series almost full circle, returning to Coal Hill, the school where the show had begun. I especially love The Curse of Fenric--among the best the series made. It's one of the few to elicit in me a reaction of fear and suspense. Of the ones available now, Ghost Light was one I did not understand at all. Not one bit. I'd put that one as the worst.

Stories available: Remembrance of the Daleks, Battlefield, Ghost Light, The Curse of Fenric, and the ironically titled final story of the original series, Survival. Delta and the Bannermen was released in September.

Visit Here for Seventh Doctor Reviews

Friday, September 18, 2009

Do You Know How RIDICULOUS You Look?!: Thoughts on The Sixth Doctor



The Sixth Doctor:
Colin Baker (Born 1943)

Actor Brian Blessed, who guest starred on Doctor Who in a part specially written for him, commented in The Doctors: 30 Years of Time Travel & Beyond, about Colin Baker's interpretation of The Doctor. "With Colin", he said, "I got the sense that he hadn't made up his mind how he was going to play it". Baker would pursue one avenue halfway, Blessed continued, and then pull back. This seems as apt a description of Baker's tenure as any I've heard.
Colin Baker WAS NOT the worse Doctor on Doctor Who. If you see his performance prior to being the Doctor as a guest star in the Fifth Doctor story Arc of Infinity, you see he could be quite menacing (silly hat notwithstanding). If he had a strong producer to guide him, he could have been quite a dangerous Doctor, bringing a touch of menace to the role. God Bless John Nathan-Turner, but he was NOT that kind of producer.

Let me state that JNT deserves credit for keeping the show alive as long as he did. However, he did infinite damage to the show by making some awful decisions. However, we can't avoid that fact that Baker should have been more forceful to JNT. He should have also taken greater charge of his interpretation of the character.

 
It wasn't Baker's fault alone. He was the unfortunate recipient of the WORST costume in the series' history (and that's saying a lot). The eccentric wardrobes of Tom Baker and Davison now degenerated (pun intended) into a laughable patchwork that made Colin Baker look like Ronald McDonald's illegitimate son. It might have been done with the best of intentions, but to a first-time viewer, it only has the effect of making him look ridiculous, a figure of ridicule than of interest.

You can't take the character seriously if he's wearing the silliest of costumes. I don't hold the costumer responsible for the outfit: she merely did what she was told to do. THIS was all John Nathan-Turner's fault. It brings to mind what Milton Berle once said. Supposing someone comes out in a funny costume, Uncle Miltie stated. You get a laugh for a few moments, but then what? You've got to carry on with the scene, and now you have to work the funny costume into the act. When you are suppose to have a serious character, you can't accept the insanity of the outfit AND take things seriously. The costumer, I'm told via a documentary on Baker's tenure, created it almost as a joke, never expecting it be what JNT was looking for. She was appalled at the situation, but she did as she was told. Tragically, only Nathan-Turner didn't see until far too late what damage he'd caused by his obstinacy.

Another unfortunate circumstance that Baker faced was falling ratings. The BBC, in their stupidity, held that the reason was Colin Baker. It couldn't be with their decisions of not giving the series the money it desperately needed to bring the show up to the potential it had. Take for example the opening of the season-long The Trial of A Time Lord (aka Episode One of The Mysterious Planet). Even by today's standards, it's spectacular. In fact, I thought the first minute, with its camera movement over a spaceship and the TARDIS being taken into it, had been remade for the DVD release using 21st-Century computer generated effects.

I was stunned to discover that nothing had been altered in that sequence. It is proof positive that IF the budget had been increased it would have rescued The Doctor (far more than Doctor in Distress, an embarrassing We Are the World-type song that is still perhaps the LOWEST point in connection with the series).

In retrospect, it's unfair that Baker got the blame (and the boot) for the low ratings and dreadful stories, which were completely out of his control.  He did the best he could under difficult circumstances, and got nothing but grief over it.

Finally, Baker was saddled with perhaps the two WORST Companions in the series' history. Peri (full name Perpegilliam) Brown is a good idea on paper: the first American Companion. To her credit her American accent is good. However, Nathan-Turner's obsession with exotic names sinks her character, and she really isn't given a chance to do much except run around in skimpy outfits (not that I particularly object, though it does make her more an object than a person). She could have been endured.

Not so Melanie (Mel) Bush. Even as a child I hated her. To this day I still loath her. Brainless vapid twit. She exemplified the worst caricature of a Companion. My only memories of her are of her SCREAMING. A LOT. SCREAMING ONLY AND ALWAYS.

I hated her. I hated her looks, I hated her voice, I just hated her. What do I mean, 'hated'? I STILL HATE HER. Perhaps Bonnie Langford is a very nice person and a talented actress. The stories she was in, however, gave no indication of either. Perhaps I'm being too harsh, but I still wince whenever I think of Mel Bush. Can't help it. Never liked her. Still don't.

All this created a perfect storm from which no actor could have survived. Colin Baker was doomed: by bad stories, a silly costume, sinking ratings, and second-rate Companions. To his eternal credit, he still is active in Doctor Who-related events and activities, and appears proud to be part of the series (if not about how things ended, for which he has every right to be angry).



Even among the ruins, I find love. The slimy sea villain Sil, first seen in Vengeance on Varos and returning in Episodes Nine-Twelve of The Trial of a Time Lord (aka Mindwarp) is a great villain. We also had the first appearance of a renegade female Time Lord (The Rani), so it wasn't all disastrous.

Curiously, though he was the only Doctor to be fired, he will be the first to have all his stories released on DVD (out of the original series). Out of the ones available now, I still think Vengance on Varos is the best. In it's story about televised torture for the amusement of people, it's remarkably prophetic. As for the worse, I have to say The Ultimate Foe. This isn't a criticism of writers Pip & Jane Baker (though most Doctor Who fans seem to have a particular antipathy for them). It has more to do with Mel being there. She was in Terror of the Vervoids, but that story holds up pretty well IN SPITE of her. I also didn't quite understand The Mark of the Rani, but I give it props for the creation of another Time Lord baddie.

Now, what about The Trial of A Time Lord? One massive story, or four? This debate will be going on among fans from now to the end of time. Arguments for the ONE STORY thesis: the title is The Trial of A Time Lord, and they're marked Episode One, Episode Two,...Episode Twelve, Thirteen, and Fourteen. Therefore, it's ONE STORY.

Argument for FOUR STORIES thesis: they involve four distinct settings with four sets of writers. Therefore, they are FOUR STORIES. I can see why people would want this settled in terms of cataloging, but minus that I thinks it's a foolish argument. However, I will give my view. I'm with the Four Stories group. If you remove the setting of Gallifrey and the trial itself, I think the stories could be independent of each other. I liken it to The Key to Time. Nobody ever argues they are ONE story, even though all involve the same objective: finding the six segments of The Key to Time. Like Key to Time, Trial of A Time Lord was a season long. With that, and the fact that there was no one writer for one story, I count them as four. There it is.

Stories available: Attack of the Cybermen, Vengance on Varos, The Mark of The Rani, The Two Doctors, Timelash, Revelation of the Daleks, and The Trial of a Time Lord box set (containing The Mysterious Planet, Mindwarp, Terror of the Vervoids, and The Ultimate Foe).

Visit Here for Sixth Doctor Reviews.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

He's A Fine Old Gallifreyan Time Lord: Thoughts on The Fifth Doctor



The Fifth Doctor:
Peter Davison (Born 1951)


It's only fitting that a British institution like Doctor Who would have a very British Time Lord. In Black Orchid, the first Earth-bound story to star Peter Davison's Doctor, he plays of all things...CRICKET! One of his Companions, Australian stewardess Tegan Jovanka, thought it was wonderful and could follow the game with ease. To his other Companions, humanoids Nyssa and Adric, they didn't know what was going on (neither, let's face it, could almost ANY American).

More than any other Doctor, Davison tried to remind viewers through his performance that he was really an amalgamation of four other people. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't. Davison, however, did manage to put his own stamp on the role. He was the Doctor who was most...human.

I have a special fondness for Davison's Doctor. He was MY Doctor, the first one I saw when I was a child. Curiously, David Tennant's Tenth Doctor also refers to him as HIS Doctor in the mini-episode Time Crash, showing Tennant to not be just an actor but also a fan. To me, this Doctor was a little more hesitant to act, almost as if he didn't want to be where he was at. He could do the job required, but his more introspective nature made things difficult. He had a sense that adventure was something to be endured. No, he wasn't terrible in the role. It was just that he knew what a high cost there was to his travels in time and space.



He was also saddled with some pretty awful stories and effects. Even as a child, I knew that there was something wildly wrong in Warriors of the Deep. While I thought well of the Sea Devils and Silurians, the Myrka was embarrassing. I couldn't take it seriously, nor the sets that I could see could break away with no effort. Janet Fielding (Companion Tegan Jovanka) made a very astute point: that in the BBC, the least-watched programs had the largest budgets while the most-popular ones had the smallest. Reverse snobbery, she called it. She called it right. Time-Flight also could have been a great story IF they had spent the money on it. The fact that they didn't brought the whole thing down.

That being said, I still can't disown The Fifth Doctor's tenure. As bad as some of the effects were (and I don't blame the technicians who did the best with what they had) or as weak as some of the stories were (Four to Doomsday comes to mind), I still have this time as a cherished childhood memory.

And of course, there are diamonds to be found. Of the ones available, I've often thought that Earthshock to be not just one of Davison's best stories but one of the best Doctor Who stories, and The Caves of Androzani (Davison's final story) has now become a classic. Despite the wild popularity of the revived Doctor Who (sometimes called NuWho), Caves of Androzani is still held as among the greatest Doctor Who stories of all time, usually in the Top Five if not Number One slot in polls.

I also think The Five Doctors to be excellent and still holds up quite well, especially given that it's an anniversary special. I can't quite bring myself to say Time-Flight as being the worse, since it IS a good story sadly brought down by lousy effects and cheap sets. I wasn't too thrilled with Black Orchid, but the one I liked the least was The Visitation. Though I liked the ending, I didn't quite follow what was going on for most of it. I might have to watch it again. I'm always willing to give things a second chance.

Stories currently available: Four to Doomsday, The Visitation, Black Orchid, Earthshock, Time-Flight, Arc of Infinity, The Five Doctors, Resurrection of the Daleks, and The Caves of Androzani. Castrovalva is available either individually or as part of the New Beginnings box set which has The Keeper of Traken and Logopolis from the Fourth Doctor, and Warriors of the Deep is available individually or as part of the Beneath the Surface box set with Doctor Who and the Silurians and The Sea Devils from the Third Doctor. The Black Guardian Trilogy (containing Mawdryn Undead, Terminus, and Enlightenment) is scheduled for November 2009.

Visit Here for Fifth Doctor Reviews.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Esteemed Representative of Television: Thoughts on the Fourth Doctor


The Fourth Doctor:
Tom Baker (Born 1934)

Tom Baker holds the record for the longest interpretation of The Doctor: seven years in all. Due to that he has become THE face of Doctor Who. It's his version: the wild, unkempt hair, the long coat and floppy hat, and a scarf that is illogically long, that pops into people's mind when they're asked about Doctor Who. It's this version that was parodied on Late Night with Conan O'Brien, and which was the basis for at least three episodes of The Simpsons.
Baker certainly had the authority of Hartnell, the general goofiness of Troughton, and the action orientation of Pertwee. However, he brought a very special element to The Doctor: his own wild eccentricity. The Doctor wasn't a gruff old man, or a cosmic hobo, or a dashing man of action. The Doctor now was just a bit nutty.
Of course, this is part of his charm, as they say. Baker was successful in meshing all the work his predecessors had done and turn it into gold. His Doctor was highly intelligent, though a bit aloof from everyone, even at times those within his immediate circle. He was nobody's fool, but he rarely let them know it.

However, he was remarkably intimate with Companions Sarah Jane Smith, warrior princess Leela, and female Time Lord Romana. I'm not talking about romance (though with Romana II that wasn't beyond the realm of possibility). Rather, he was more open with them than the Doctor had been with anyone outside his granddaughter from his first incarnation. Baker also made him far more mercurial than The Doctor had been. He wasn't by any means a misanthrope, but he at times didn't invite beings he encountered into cozy relationships with him. Of course, Tom Baker also knew, like all the others, how important the character was to children. As a result, he somehow communicated to kids that they could travel with him, join him in his wanderlust.

 

I do wonder, though, if he stayed on too long. Is this blasphemy? I don't know. Tom Baker IS among the best Doctors, yet I wonder by having ONE actor in that role, does that hinder those that follow? Hard to say.  There were issues with the latter part of his tenure, particularly in that the humor might have been a little overboard.  Was it becoming too jokey, too silly?

Out of his stories, my favorite is Planet of Evil. The visuals show that with enough imagination even the most limited budgets can still produce incredible images. I also thought The Talons of Weng-Chiang and City of Death to be quite inventive and original (it doesn't hurt to have Douglas Adams co-write the latter).

As for my least favorite, there are surprisingly quite a few: The Brain of Morbius (sunk by silly costumes), The Invasion of Time (sunk by silly sets), and The Leisure Hive (sunk by silly special effects). In fact, when I showed The Leisure Hive to my friend, he couldn't stop laughing at just how unconvincing the effects were. I haven't had the courage to watch it since.

 

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

As Easy As Reversing the Polarity of the Neutron Flow: Thoughts on The Third Doctor


The Third Doctor:
Jon Pertwee (1919-1996)

For the 10th anniversary story The Three Doctors, the then-Doctor Jon Pertwee met his predecessors (Patrick Troughton and William Hartnell). Hartnell was very ill at the time and this would sadly be his final acting appearance. His performance therefore had to be pre-taped and then edited to make it look like he was conversing via a monitor with his other selves (watch the program to make sense of it).

Hartnell might have been in real life close to death, but The First Doctor could still put his successors in their place and still be as sharp and curt as ever. "Ah, so you're my replacements, eh", Hartnell says with a hint of contempt in his voice. With a quick word he dismisses them both. "A Dandy and a Clown", he concludes.

Guess which one Pertwee was.

Though Pertwee's costume was much more dashing than his predecessors (and I would argue, than his successors) there was method to his madness. He explained that the cloak was to represent the wings of a mother hen, to suggest that he was a protector of those around him. Pertwee, to his eternal credit, was extremely conscious of the fact that this was primary a children's program, and as such he had a responsibility. As Pertwee stated in an interview for The Doctors: Thirty Years of Time Travel and Beyond, he wanted to let the kids know that regardless of what dangers The Doctor and his Companions faced, "it would be all right in the end. The Doctor would find a way out".

 

His Doctor was more action-oriented, more gun-ho than the first two, which is curious seeing that he spent most of his time in a forced exile on 20th-Century Earth (though it did make stories easier to produce, one might imagine). He also had very little patience with authority figures whom he considered idiots. He was quick to dismiss being TOLD what to do, especially by government officials.

Of course, there was an exception (up to a point): UNIT (United Nations Intelligence Taskforce) under the command of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. The Doctor, having basically nothing to do on our backward little planet, found himself UNIT's Scientific Adviser, and while he wasn't thrilled about it, surprisingly (to him anyway) he became a good member of the group.

Pertwee's Doctor is wonderful because he was able to interact so well with those around him. While he always remained the star, he had little problem (at least on-screen, can't speak for off) having an ensemble with him. The Brigadier was an integral part of the show now, kind of a double act, more Watson and Holmes than Abbott and Costello. Curiously, it was this analogy that brought about one of the Doctor's greatest nemesis during Pertwee's reign: an evil Time Lord known as The Master. As played by Roger Delgado, he was delightfully wicked, feeling no shame, and almost taking pleasure in just how nefarious he could be. Delgado was first-rate playing against the moral but fearless Doctor, both being able to match wits in strong stories.

 

While some fans might have a problem with the Who-mobile (aka Bessie), I do not. We need to remember that the show was aimed for children, so we mustn't be too picky about his mode of transport. Also, let's be honest: with the TARDIS unable to dematerialize for a long time, how else would he get about?

Overall, I like how Jon Pertwee was a Time Lord of Action, who got to the point and had little interest in who he had to go over to get things done. However, this isn't to suggest he was cruel. Like his predecessors, he was quite fond of his Companions. When one of them, Jo Grant, decided to leave his company at the end of The Green Death, you got the sense that he was sad to see her go. Of course, this did allow for perhaps the most famous companion to come in: a scrappy journalist named Sarah Jane Smith.

Out of the stories available, my favorite so far is Carnival of Monsters. It's an inventive double-story, one being the Doctor and Jo trying to escape a nickelodeon-type machine that captures living beings for the amusement of others, and the other involving showmen who try to interest other beings in said machine. I also thought Spearhead From Space (which introduced the living plastic monsters the Autons), was quite effective. As for the worst, I confess not understanding The Claws of Axos. Overall though, I think all the ones available work quite well, even if the lack of money sometimes shows.
 

Monday, September 14, 2009

All the World Loves A Clown: Thoughts on the Second Doctor


The Second Doctor:
Patrick Troughton (1920-1987)

In the documentary about Doctor Who (The Doctors: 30 Years of Time Travel & Beyond), the phrases used to describe Patrick Troughton were that he had a "wizard" and "impish" quality to him. These are very apt descriptions. Troughton, I would add, had a whimsical quality to his Doctor. He could be harsh like the First Doctor, but he was rarely so. Instead, he brought humor, a touch of comedy, to a character who had been a bit severe.

Of course, all other Doctors owe a great thanks to him. He had the unenviable task of having to take over a distinctive character. How could they pull it off? Would the public accept another actor in the role? That they soon did. He, I think, not only had the talent for it, but he had a gentle face, which inspired trust. He soon had people believing that the Doctor had things about him that made a change in appearance possible. That is the key to his success in the role: not that he was ANOTHER Doctor altogether, but merely a DIFFERENT Doctor. He could still be the same being, but one with a new face...and new personality.

Troughton was funnier than Hartnell, more apt to avoid violence than charge straight into it as the First Doctor was. He became The Cosmic Hobo, a Doctor who somehow got himself into situations just by merely being there. That isn't to say the Second Doctor was dumb. Far from it: he was still highly intelligent. However, he wasn't a full-fledged adventurer but someone who, once he found himself in a dangerous situation, knew what the stakes were and got on with it.

 
Above all else, it's the humor that Patrick Troughton brought that makes him a success. He brought that wonderful whimsy to just about everything around him. This isn't to say he made the Doctor into a joke. Rather, the Second Doctor had a little twinkle in his eye, not afraid of seeing the sunny side of life as it were. He had a charm all his own, and if he looked a little silly it was only because he thought the situation was more a slight inconvenience than anything else. Nothing shows that more than whenever he started to play his recorder. He could be trapped in cell, his life in imminent danger, and there he'd be, playing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.

That's what makes his case especially tragic. Out of twenty-one stories, only six survive complete.*

His debut story, The Power of the Daleks, has no know complete episodes, as do the stories The Highlanders, The Macra Terror, and Fury from the Deep.

It might be easier to say which stories survive in full: The Tomb of the Cybermen, The Dominators, The Mind Robber, The Krotons, The Seeds of Death, and The War Games. It's a curious irony that the Doctor with the most missing/incomplete stories has the LONGEST intact story still around (The War Games).




There is another: the Curious Case of The Invasion. This story has two of its eight episodes missing, but it was released on DVD. To make up for that loss, the two lost episodes were animated using the surviving audio track. The animation is quite good--and remarkably effective. The appearance of the villains (I won't give it away) in the animated version, I was told by a friend and artist, was actually more effective and frightening than in the recap where the live-action version was seen.

Out of all the stories available, I think the best is The Mind Robber. It's certainly something never before tried--mixing the fantasy world a captive writer has to create with the elements of science fiction. It also has at the end of Episode One simply the most beautiful sights I've ever seen in any Doctor Who story. I also think The Invasion is quite good and very effective.

A former Companion in the 30 Years of Time Travel and Beyond documentary reflected that the story was almost prophetic about how the attack on London could reflect what was to happen in the future: the nerve gas attack in Tokyo was the example. In fact, I don't think there's a bad story among the DVDs available: The Tomb of the Cybermen, The Mind Robber, The Invasion, and The Seeds of Death.



Out of the collection of surviving episodes under the title Lost In Time (either separate or a box set with the First Doctor): The Underwater Menace, The Moonbase, The Faceless Ones, The Evil of the Daleks, The Abominable Snowmen, The Enemy of the World, The Web of Fear, The Wheel in Space, and The Space Pirates), I think The Abominable Snowmen, The Underwater Menace, and The Enemy of the World would be great stories if found or recreated.

There are also surviving clips from The Power of the Daleks, The Highlanders, The Macra Terror, and Fury from The Deep. I think out of THOSE clips, the one with the best potential would be Fury from The Deep.

The War Games is scheduled for November 2009. He also appears in the Third Doctor's story The Three Doctors, the Fifth Doctor story The Five Doctors, and the Sixth Doctor's story The Two Doctors.

Visit Here for Second Doctor story reviews.

*Update: In 2013 all missing episodes of The Enemy of the World were rediscovered in Nigeria, along with all but one episode of The Web of Fear.  With this, the former, which had been an incomplete story, is now complete.  In 2011, a second episode of The Underwater Menace was also rediscovered, bringing that story now to half-complete. 

As of this update, The Power of the Daleks, The Highlanders, and Fury From the Deep remain the only Second Doctor stories to have no surviving episodes known to exist.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The First He Did Suceed: Thoughts on The First Doctor



The First Doctor:
William Hartnell (1908-1975)

While I'm on vacation (or holiday, as the British say--my first in four years), I've decided to write not on movies but on Doctor Who. I've loved the sci-fi series ever since I watched it on PBS. The thing that grabbed me was the title music. It was so mysterious, so otherworldly. In fact, I think it's one of the best television theme music ever made. Now with its revival, I thought I'd look back at the ten official actors who've played the role of The Doctor, giving my own impressions as a fan as to the pluses and minuses of their performances and stories.

November 22, 1963, like September 11, 2001, was a traumatic day for all those who can remember it. Unfortunately, it was under the horrible circumstances of President Kennedy's assassination that Doctor Who premiered the next day. The launch of a new show with the world still in shock lead to few people noticing. In an act of faith, the BBC took the step of re-launching the show with far better results. The first four episodes of the first story (now known as An Unearthly Child) really reflect the best AND worst of the series. It had a great idea and atmosphere, along with actors who took their roles and situations seriously. However, the story itself (involving cavemen and the creation of fire), seem nowadays a bit silly, almost laughable. It wasn't until the fifth episode (the first part of a seven-part story now called The Daleks) that a legend was created. Through quite a few companions, visits to the past and future, and the first showdown with the Cybermen, the Doctor captured the imagination of the British, especially children.

William Hartnell, the First Doctor, began by playing him as an irascible, grumpy old character. He was pretty arrogant and dismissive of his first companions, but a bit more tender with his granddaughter Susan. In the very early days he was not altogether a pleasant personality. As is true of all relationships, age & time mellow, and the Doctor became more of a grandfather figure to all his companions.

Off the set, however, Hartnell felt at times a bit limited by the role. One guest star on the story The Dalek Invasion of Earth commented on how upset Hartnell was when he had to turn down a role in Doctor Zhivago because of Who, and the schedule also prevented him from attending the funeral of his aunt, who had cared for him in his youth. It also didn't help that he was growing more ill as the series continued. For those of these reasons, he decided to leave the series. However, the show was still a hit, so how to continue? Well, since he WAS alien...

 


Unlike most future Doctors, The First Doctor went to Earth's past often. He visited Marco Polo, the Aztecs, the court of Nero, even pre-Hastings England. It's in this story (The Time Meddler) that I think Doctor Who achieved an important milestone: mixing historic fact with a sci-fi element by stopping a member of his own race (a being known as The Meddling Monk) from rewriting history.

Hartnell should be honored by creating a unique character. Thanks to him, the Doctor proved that intellect was a stronger weapon than sheer force. In all his dealings with villains both earthly and otherworldly he could resort to violence but it was always as a last resort. By and large, he THOUGHT his way out of situations. Hartnell's Doctor was a bit irascible and not embarrassed by showing off how much smarter he was than everyone else--something all his successors would follow.

His Doctor is more grandfatherly, and not just because of his appearance. Hartnell also by the end showed children that things will be all right because he could be trusted to find a solution. He gave kids (and parents) confidence that no matter how dangerous the situation, the Doctor would see them through to new adventures. His costume: an Edwardian-style garb with distinct hat, also added to his grandfatherly persona. The unique outfits would be followed by all following Doctors, with varying degrees of success.

I like William Hartnell's portrayal in the later stories. In the beginning, such as in An Unearthly Child, The Daleks, and Edge of Destruction, he can be short-tempered, suspicious, even slightly cruel and devious to his companions. However, by the time of the four-part The Aztecs, he had a subtle sense of humour (as when he accidentaly gets himself engaged), and his belief that history MUST proceed as is rather than as how one would like it is set in stone. His softening made him a kinder, gentler Doctor, and I think Hartnell hasn't been given enough credit for making him less cantankerous and more a wise elder as he grew in the role.

He was wonderful in the part. I think his performance was quite good: his pauses and fumbles with lines made him appear a bit tottery, but he could also take action and charge of the situation. Crabby, sometimes curt, the First Doctor eventually had his heart in the right place, and he grew to be a character that we as the audience could embrace. That will be William Hartnell's finest legacy to the character of the Doctor.



Tragically, we do not have his entire output to enjoy. Due to a lack of foresight, twelve of Hartnell's stories are incomplete: Marco Polo, The Reign of Terror, the Crusade, Galaxy 4, the one-off special Mission to the Unknown, The Myth Makers, The Dalek's Master Plan, The Massacre of St. Bartholomew's Eve (also known as The Massacre), The Celestial Toymaker, The Savages, The Smugglers, and most tragic, his final story The Tenth Planet.

Three of those (Marco Polo, Mission to the Unknown, and The Massacre) has no known surviving footage whatsoever. Galaxy 4, The Myth Makers, The Massacre, The Savages, and The Smugglers have clips but no known complete episodes, while the rest have full episodes but with gaps*.

While it is terrible that these stories are not available to us, what makes The Tenth Planet especially sad is that the only episode missing is the final one. This is the episode that saw the first regeneration of the Doctor from William Hartnell to Patrick Troughton AND it was the story that introduced one of the Doctor's greatest foes: the Cybermen. Curiously, all the episodes survive in audio form, thanks to the rabid fans who recorded the soundtrack straight from the television to cassettes. Therefore, there is always a chance to recreate them.

This has already happened with Marco Polo. A 30-minute condensed version of the seven-part story was a special feature in The Daleks/Edge of Destruction DVD release. There is also a DVD with episodes from lost stories called Lost in Time. It contains the known episodes of The Crusade, The Dalek's Master Plan, and The Celestial Toymaker. What makes it so terribly frustrating is that these stories were GOOD, at least judging from the episodes and clips that survive. This was at a time when Doctor Who wasn't encumbered by its own history & mythology, where the imaginations of the writers could take the show in any direction the producers allowed them to go. It was also at a time when the budgets were, if never large, at least capable of making the show a strong sci-fi series. Then again, it may be possible that episodes may yet be rediscovered--the eternal hope of the fans. Those episodes may also be reconstructed or animated, as the case with the Second Doctor's story The Invasion.

Out of the stories that are available, my favorite is The Aztecs followed by The Time Meddler. Not only does it introduce another of the Doctor's people (later to be known as Time Lords) but mixes the best of the historic with science fiction. In spite of the heavy criticism I enjoyed The Romans. Not only is it fun to see the Doctor deal with Emperor Nero, but it's OK to have a laugh once in a while. The worst, sad to say, is The Web Planet. This story looks as if it was made for children ONLY. The monsters don't always have to be the most convincing, but boy do they look silly.

Carole Ann Ford: Born 1940 
 
Finally, as to the question of Susan Foreman. Is she really his granddaughter? Could she be the biological daughter of the Doctor's son/daughter, or could it be a term of endearment, with them not being blood relations? That I don't know. I've always favored the "adopted granddaughter" theory, where he rescued Susan from another world and was brought up by him. Of course, there is no way to establish things firmly one way or the other. The Tenth Doctor's situation with a "daughter" himself doesn't clear things up. Ultimately, it's a minor point. Why can't Time Lords have sex lives?

*Update: In 2011, Episode Three of Galaxy 4,  entitled Air Lock, was rediscovered.  That leaves Marco PoloMission to the Unknown, The Myth Makers, The Massacre of St. Bartholomew's Eve and The Savages as the only First Doctor stories with no known surviving episodes.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

DidgeriFools: A Review of Australia (Review #22)

 AUSTRALIA

I keep on falling in and out of love with Baz Luhrmann. Sometimes I love him (Moulin Rouge!), sometimes he makes me mad (Romeo+Juliet). With Australia, an homage to his homeland, I'd say even the felons sent to populate the continent would be embarrassed by it. In his efforts to make a sweeping epic, he's only succeeded in sweeping away two talented actors into a storm of stupidity and a colossal embarrassment for everyone involved, including the audience.

There isn't ONE story in Australia. There are about three or four all slammed together, and that is its chief problem. Lady Ashley (Nicole Kidman), an English aristocrat, is determined to have her husband sell Faraway Downs, the cattle station they own in Australia. Determined to force the issue, she flies from Britain to Darwin in Australia's rough & tumble Northern Territory. She suspects her husband of enjoying the pleasures of 'waltzing Matildas', and is irritated when she is met not by Lord Ashley, but by The Drover (Hugh Jackman, going for another "hunky" role). Lady Ashley and The Drover (we never do learn his real name, though she keeps referring to him as "Mr. Drover", oblivious to the fact that's his job not surname) go to Faraway Downs, where they discover two things: Lord Ashley has met a violent end, and Nullah, a child who is a self-described "creamy" (a person of half-Anglo, half-Aborigine background). We also discover that this station is the only one NOT owned by "King" Carney (Bryan Brown), and thus the only competition to his efforts to land the lucrative Army contracts for their cattle needs. After a violent encounter with her overseer, she persuades The Drover to drive the cattle from Faraway Downs to Darwin.

And all that is in the first HOUR, with another TWO HOURS to go.

Rather that waste time going through all the plots in Australia, it might be easier and faster to give a rundown of all the movies that it stole from. It goes from Out of Africa (all Kidman had to do was say, "I had a station in Australia"), then turns into Red River (perhaps it could have been called The Woman from Snowy River) and dives in straight into Pearl Harbor (pun intended). Throw into the mix a nice touch of Aborigine mysticism a la Dances With Wolves and you've got a monster of a tale that's as large as the Outback, and just as empty.

Where to begin on where it all went wrong? Let's start with the performances.

Nicole Kidman adds another horrible performance to her resume with her Lady Ashley. She is clueless, stupid, completely unaware of anything that is going on, and has this curious, breathy delivery to her speech. She was so dumb that I actually wrote in my notes, "Is this suppose to be a COMEDY?" No one can be THAT clueless with children, especially after said child just lost his mother. It was pleasant to hear Jackman speak in his native accent, but I saw nothing in his performance other than an obligatory shirtless shot, and a near-permanent growl a la Wolverine. Bryan Brown added nothing to "King" Carney, except a chance to wonder why another good actor would want to embarrass his homeland in this fashion. Actually, that could be said of everyone involved. One wonders if cast & crew is ashamed to be from Oz.

Second mistake: story, or rather lack of one. As large and grand and LONG as Australia is, it really has nothing to say. As stated earlier, it tells SO many stories it can't bind them together into one coherent narrative. Lady Ashley's story, The Drover's story, Nullah's story, Nullah's grandfather King George's story, "King" Carney's story, even the continent of Australia's story--none of them gel into ONE EPIC story, just little bits crammed together. If I have to guess the story isn't about Lady Ashley & The Drover, but about Nullah, you've got problems. If one examines Australia, you'll find the story is suppose to center around Nullah--he's the narrator and the film bookends with statements about the Stolen Generation (half-Aborigine children forced from their families, in the style of Native Americans here). However well intentioned all this was, by wrapping up serious issues within a vapid love story makes a mockery of the seriousness of the issues being brought up.

Third mistake: The Magical Aboriginal Mystical Tour. I'm all for Aborigine rights, and the treatment of the native people of Australia by the colonist is a shameful mark on an otherwise excellent reputation for tolerance Down Under enjoys. To its credit the film goes out of its way to respect their traditions: the opening, for example, warns Aborigines that they will see images of dead people, which I gather is something they cannot see. However, Australia takes the "mystic" nature of the People of the Dreaming and carries it to an outrageous extent. The silliest is when there is a stampede of cattle. Nullah races ahead of the cattle, stands right up to the edge of the cliff, then pulls his arms out towards the animals and they all stop. It's so laughable that it becomes insulting: to both audience AND Aborigine. If he's only half-Aborigine, imagine what he could do if he were full-blooded? Maybe he could have stopped the Japanese from bombing Darwin, but that's another story.

Ultimately, Australia fails in everything it tries: love story, adventure, history, respect for the native Australians. You'll get a better and more authentic taste of Australia when you go to the Outback Steakhouse.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Summer Lovin', Had Me A Blast: (500) Days of Summer Review (Review #21)



(500) DAYS OF SUMMER

Bob Dylan has a great song (Love Sick) from his Time Out of Mind album that might some up (500) Days of Summer: "I'm sick of love/I wish I never met you/I'm sick of love/I'm trying to forget you/Just don't know what to do/I'd give anything to/Be with you".

This is an atypical love story in that you can actually relate to the characters. They seem real, with realistic jobs and realistic friends. You also have a slight role reversal. Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is the optimistic romantic who believes in The One True Love, while Summer (Zooey Deschanel) is the more reluctant, hesitant party.

The film, basically, is the story of their relationship told in a non-linear fashion. We jump from Day 287 for example to Day 14. This isn't a gimmick or as odd as it might sound. Memory sometimes works that way. We also get to see how the romance between Tom & Summer (which last 500 days, hence the title), began and ultimately collapsed.

There are wonderful moments in (500) Days of Summer that ring so true to anyone who has been in a romance. For example, there is a musical moment where Tom dances to music after his first sexual encounter with Summer. The feeling of euphoria that comes with this is something that almost every person has experienced: one would feel like dancing after finally being with someone you've been attracted to. The next scene is late in the relationship, where we see Tom miserable and almost at the point of emotional collapse. Another example is early in the film where we hear Tom's voice describe all the things he loves about Summer as we see them on screen, culminating in the song She's Like The Wind. Later, he describes the same things but now they are the things he hates, culminating in his screaming for that song to stop. Who hasn't had that same reaction: where the things you loved about someone are now the things you hate about them?


The two leads are wonderful. Gordon-Levitt is on a roll, giving a smart, sincere, and honest portrait of a man probably in love with love. His highs and lows are true, and he still looks young enough to make him a touch naïve but old enough to ground Tom in early adulthood. He's building up a resume that is eclectic but incredibly intelligent (G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra notwithstanding). Deschanel makes Summer both endearing and aggravating in her hesitancy to fully commit to anyone. We both love her and hate her, just like Tom.

My one complaint would be the narration. While it is limited and relevant to the plot, it was too reminiscent of the show Pushing Daisies, a program that reveled in its cuteness and quirkiness. In both instances, I found it annoying not endearing. However, that is a minor complaint.

Having endured all sorts of lousy romantic comedies where the people are stupid, the friends vapid, the situations forced and unreal, it is good to FINALLY see a film which reflects a romantic relationship in a way that is real, that is true, that is funny and sad, and ultimately, relatable.  (500) Days of Summer gives one hope that romantic comedies can be both romantic and comedic, a rare feat these days.