Wednesday, 20 November 2013

The Randomiser - 50 Years of Doctor Who Stories - Part 3

On day three of our pissing over the legacy of Doctor Who by writing quick, random and let’s face it, poor reviews, we’re covering stories from two Doctors who never changed their trousers.

The Five Doctors

No, I haven’t cheated. The fact that my random drawing system produced the 20th Anniversary story is purely coincidental. I wanted Caves of Androzani.

I’ve seen this story a few times and I must admit, I enjoy it more with each watch.  There’s (obviously) references flying all over the place, some hammy (but great) acting and of course – there’s Five Doctors.  Well, technically only 3 of the actors returned – William Hartnell sadly passed away 8 years previously, so the role of the First Doctor was played by Richard Hurndall. Tom Baker declined to return, so clips from the unused Shada were used in this.  Hartnell does appear at the start though - the marvellous clip of him saying goodbye to Susan in The Dalek Invasion of Earth is used as the pre-titles sequence.

The story sees someone attempting to ‘collect’ all the Doctors and place them in Gallifrey’s ‘Death Zone’ – a area put aside for ‘The Game’, a long-banned Time Lord pursuit that saw them collect different aliens to make them fight. Can The Doctors get themselves back together and find out who is behind their kidnapping?

Of course they can!

Coming in at around an hour and 40 minutes, The Five Doctors is pure joy. The pacing of the story works well and you never get bored watching this, as your eyes will be constantly glued to the screen with all the goings-on.  There are some very convenient plot devices (like there being roads on Gallifrey, Sarah wearing a rain coat when being dragged up an hill and let’s not forget - torches placed at the foot of a dark cave!) but those just wash away when you see The Doctors arguing with each other and the Master creeping around, trying to ‘help’ – and then his day being ended prematurely when the Brigadier punches him!

It’s a great shame that Tom wasn’t involved, but Hurndall, who was given more to do following Tom’s no, does a good job of playing the First Doctor. It isn’t an exact impersonation, which I think was for the best, but I could have done with less of him calling himself (the Fifth Doctor) ‘young man’, when he’s actually younger than him! The idea of having another actor to play the role worked, simply because many people watching at the time, wouldn’t have seen Hartnell in the role.  Remember – this was 20 years later and repeats were never shown. A market for VHS was a few years away, and it’s not as if they had the episodes in the BBC vaults to sell!

The availability of certain Doctors wasn’t the only thing to hamstring this – the writing proved to be difficult too. Robert Homes was originally slated to write, but after a disagreement with script editor, Eric Saward, Holmes left the production and Saward went cap-in-hand to Terrance Dicks. Terrance actually tells a good story about this – Saward wanted both Holmes and Dicks to write a script each and the best one would be chosen.  Dicks declined, claiming that it was ‘disrespectful’ to both himself and a man who he called ‘the best Doctor Who writer’, so Holmes went ahead to write a draft (entitled The Six Doctors – the ‘sixth’ being a Cyberman-created First Doctor – hence why he looks a bit different) but it never got past it’s first draft.

I think, in the circumstances, Dicks did a great job. It can be difficult to get in enough lines for 4 Doctors, a few companions AND to give preference to the current Doctor and his team, especially with the amount of rewrites that had to be done with availability/budget issues, but it works.  As I mentioned, the pacing really helps this to tick along and it just shows that you can do a Doctor Who ‘feature’ on telly, so it bodes well for the upcoming Fiftieth!

The main thing I can say about this story, without going into details and spoiling it more than I already have, is that it’s very fun.  I think it’s something that you can show to a casual Doctor Who watcher (as they generally know what the show is about) but don’t show it to any new watchers. They won’t appreciate the threat of the magnificent Raston Warrior Robot – they’ll just laugh at it!
                                         
Do yourself a favour this Anniversary - get a copy of The Five Doctors and whack it on. It’s fun all the way through!

Terror of The Vervoids (or Trial of A Timelord - Parts 9-12)

The Doctor is giving evidence at his trial.  His defence sees him show his future adventure aboard the spaceship Hyperion III, with Mel Bush.  He and Mel have been summoned to investigate a murder, but who is doing the killing and where are the bodies going?

Okay, I know this is technically part of one story, but each story is a story, within a story, if that makes any sense at all? Plus they’re all assigned individually production codes, so if I see these as different stories, I will. So ner.

Needless to say that my long-winded introduction is more entertaining than Terror of The Vervoids.  To sound extremely blunt – it’s a bit boring.  The pacing really lets it down – and it’s not because of the cutaways to the court room, which in all fairness, were by far the most entertaining aspects of this story.

What I do like though, is the sneakiness of the Vervoids. They don’t come to the forefront until late on, maybe that is the problem that hampers the script, but I thought it was a nice change not to have ‘the monster’ popping up constantly. The other happenings in the story just didn’t transpire to offer anything vaguely entertaining. I don’t want to see Mel telling The Doctor what to do, I don’t want to see Honor Blackman, complete with tracksuit, on a exercise bike.

Ah, Honor Blackman. The former Bond girl who was brought in to give this some credibility.  Even Sean Connery (in a wig) couldn’t give this any credibility. To be honest, she just wings her way through this and I felt no feeling for her, or any of the other characters.  In fact, my favourites were the Commodore and the Stewardess.  It doesn’t help when you’ve got your guest ‘star’ not doing much, but judging by the script, there’s nothing much more she could have done.  Pip and Jane Baker have a poor reputation amongst fans, which is a shame because their earlier story, Mark of The Rani, is one of my favourite Sixth Doctor stories.  When you look at stories like this though, you can see why they get a rough ride.  There’s nothing much redeeming about it, even if the Vervoids look like a group of talking penises.

The story is also notable for the introduction of Melanie Bush. Oh Mel! She came in telling the Doctor what to do and screamed her way through many a story (her screams could be heard even when a mask was covering her mouth, amazing that).  Her character just shows the quality of writing at the time – on Big Finish Audio, Mel is great. She’s a really likeable person and fun to listen to, but here, you just want that laundry basket, that she got dumped in, to be thrown into the fire.  The idea of introducing her before us seeing how The Doctor met her, seems like an interesting idea, but with the future of the show up in the air at the time (and knowing what we know now, with the sacking of Colin Baker) it seems like a strange twist at a time when they needed to keep viewers, not confuse them with unlikeable new companions and plot ideas.

The show was really in a flump at the time, but I don’t think most of the blame can be levelled at John Nathan-Turner. He wanted to go a few years beforehand, but wasn’t allowed to move on.  He had to stay to keep the show going, when it desperately needed a fresh eye and a bit of investment, which wasn’t forthcoming by the BBC. It’s all well and good patting yourself on the back and jumping on the bandwagon when things are going well, but when it’s going bad, you need to offer support.  Doctor Who didn’t get the support and you could argue that this couple of years ruined the careers of a few key people, namely Nathan-Turner and Colin Baker.  It’s sad to think of what might have been and this story just sums up the era – trying, but just not good enough.

I’ll never say that you shouldn’t watch a Doctor Who story, but if you ever watch Vervoids, I would do it as part of The Trial of A Timelord series.  I mean, what kind of lunatic watches these stories individually? Oh.

Come back tomorrow for more cheerful nonsense, as we choose more random stories. I bet you can’t wait.

We're looking for contributions for the Anniversary Issue of our fanzine see here for more information (and a free download of our latest Issue!) or e-mail us at fishcustardfanzine@googlemail.com

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