Wednesday, February 22, 2012

We've Materialised With Considerable Finesse (Castrovalva)

It wasn't until Matthew Waterhouse watched the fourth
episode of Castrovalva that he realized that he hadn't been
hungover at all.
It’s January 4th, 1982. The Human League are at number one with “Don’t You Want Me,” but are unseated by Bucks Fizz’s “The Land of Make Believe,” a song whose lyrics, by former King Crimson member Peter Sinfield, were supposedly a subtle attack on the Thatcher government. Very subtle, in fact. Also in the charts are ABBA, Adam and the Ants, Kool and the Gang, and, now in the top ten, Kraftwerk!

In real news, AT&T agrees to being broken up, the coldest temperature ever recorded in the UK is managed in Braemar, and, at least from my perspective most importantly, the Commodore 64 is introduced. Although I’m still nine months out from my debut (I’m strictly gestational for Season 19), my parents got me a Commodore 64 in the name of getting themselves one when I was about two, and my earliest memories are of playing it.

This serves, in part, as another transition point then. The fact that my entrance to Doctor Who came at the end of the Pertwee era meant that I remained absent for that in the blog. I was present for the Hinchcliffe era, but those were the stories I watched in 6th grade, largely. The Williams era I missed, but as I noted in passing on The Keeper of Traken, with Warrior’s Gate 4 watched I have now hit the point where I have, in fact, seen every single existent episode of Doctor Who, save, of course, the two as of yet unreleased missing episodes. But I’ve watched reconstructions. (I am rather glad to have had Warrior’s Gate be my last unwatched story. It was a very lovely way to go out.)

The remaining three classic series Doctors divide fairly neatly for me. Davison and Pertwee, as I’ve said elsewhere, made up the overwhelming majority of my parents’ VHS tapes. Since I was not fond of Pertwee, and in the absence of the Baker stories I desired, Davison was the first Doctor I watched with any avidness. I treated him at the time as my second favorite Doctor, behind Baker, but as I loved a theoretical ideal of Baker, this was a lie. Until I discovered the existence of Sylvester McCoy (my parents’ guidebooks all left off in the vicinity of Davison’s regeneration. I knew Colin Baker existed and that my parents hated him, but I’d been a Doctor Who fan for a solid year before I learned that there was a Seventh Doctor) Davison was my favorite Doctor. It’s a little tricky to reconstruct because I found a couple of Davison stories on mislabeled tapes after I’d started getting commercial VHS releases, but the “core” of Davison stories I remember watching young are Castrovalva, Four to Doomsday, Kinda, Time Flight, Arc of Infinity, Snakedance, Mawdryn Undead, The Five Doctors, Resurrection of the Daleks, Planet of Fire, and The Caves of Androzani, though I remember getting The Visitation, Black Orchid, and Earthshock all relatively early as well.

So we are, in other words, now in one of three sections of Doctor Who that I experienced as a child in the general vicinity of the target age range. But unlike the first such section, we’re also in an era I was alive for part of, and even if I wasn’t fully aware of the culture, or, really, of anything other than Big Milk Thing, there is something about the culture one was alive for. Even the things you’re far too young to remember are somewhat more real for having come about in a world you existed inside of. But with Doctor Who the sense is heightened. My parents’ Doctor Who books were mostly stuck in about 1983. Peter Haining’s Doctor Who: A Celebration was the main reference I had. In a real sense, up until late 1993 Davison was, for me, the present of Doctor Who.

All of which said, Castrovalva is an odd start. Doctor Who has very few clear-cut transitions in its time, of course. Few things do. That’s why the terminology of the “long 1960s” and “long 1980s” exists. Because it’s not as though everyone on the planet woke up on January 1st, 1980, set fire to their bell bottoms, and decided in unison that what they really wanted to be when they grew up was a hedge fund manager. But Castrovalva is oddly transitional even for Doctor Who. After the longest gap between episodes in the series’ history the basic act of picking up immediately from the previous story was an odd one. Yes, the story had rerun just recently in the Five Faces series, and there were some obvious issues to deal with immediately, but the degree to which this story follows up on Logopolis not just in terms of the Doctor and company having to escape the Pharos project but in terms of theme and villain is genuinely strange. Put simply, it’s not clear why the Master is here.

But there’s more that’s strange here. The extended time between Season 18 and 19 meant that Season 19 was shot heavily out of order. The production order was Four to Doomsday, The Visitation, Kinda, Castrovalva, Black Orchid, Earthshock, Time Flight. Castrovalva was furthermore the fifth script commissioned, with Bidmead being hired back nearly six months after he finished work on Logopolis to fill in the gap between it and Four to Doomsday. Indeed, Bidmead got the commission only a month before Four to Doomsday started filming, and was asked to incorporate things like Nyssa’s modified costume into the script. In other words, like Meglos (only even moreso) this was an example of Doctor Who going and filling in a transition.

The problem is that all of this got taken a bit too far. The desire to smooth the transition becomes, under Nathan-Turner’s brief, four episodes of Davison’s Doctor not showing up. If the point of delaying Davison’s debut to his fourth story was to make it so that he had the part down in his debut then he must have found this story, in which he essentially doesn’t get to play the character he’d developed over the previous three stories, a puzzling one.

Oh, let’s just come out and say it. Post-regenerative trauma is a dumb invention. It extends out of an egregious misreading of Power of the Daleks. Troughton’s offputting and strange nature in that story isn’t an attempt to create some tradition where the Doctor is confused after regeneration, but a necessary aspect of the jarring nature of that first actor change. Subsequent installments verge into the openly ill-advised: keeping Pertwee’s Doctor functionally out of Spearhead From Space until late in the third episode was a strange decision that works only because there’s a whole new premise to set up in the background before dropping the Doctor into it. Letts, to his credit, practically does away with it in Robot, allowing the new Doctor half an episode of comedic larking before expecting him to get on with it. But for everyone from Davison through Paul McGann the insistence on this tiresome ritual is excruciating. (Indeed, it’s probably the largest problem with the McGann movie - the fact that it forgets to introduce its main character for half the runtime.)

Even in the new series you can see producers struggling with it. It’s notable that Davies simply keeps Tennant out of The Christmas Invasion, and even still contrives to give him a big scene at the ten minute mark to get the big reveal of what Tennant’s Doctor is going to be like out of the way. Moffat uses it to build tension, letting Smith play the part basically as he’ll go on to but using the post-regenerative trauma primarily to ratchet up tension and let Prisoner Zero become more of a threat. And these solutions show what the problem with all of this actually is. The entire appeal of a new Doctor’s debut is to see the new Doctor. So when you go through the first week of a story without remembering to show us what the new Doctor is going to be like you’re fundamentally failing to deliver what your audience is there for.

And then there’s the Master. With nobody having made any effort to come up with a motivation for him beyond hatred for the Doctor the program is, at this point, facing an overt storytelling nightmare. The last time the Master made a hard drive towards overexposure, back in Season 8, he at least had schemes of world domination. So at least when he was defeated at the end of one story he could pick up again with something new. On top of that, Season 8 didn’t have the stories dovetailing into each other on a plot level. But this “trilogy” (and let’s note that a sudden interest in making things into trilogies is  a dead-on symptom of egregious pretension) consists of a single twelve-episode stretch of the Master harassing the Doctor with no interruptions whatsoever and no motivation other than defeating the Doctor for the sake of it. The result is that, by the end, the Master has ended up on something like fallback plan number eight, each one more frighteningly over-elaborate than the last.

It’s astonishing. They bring the Master back to provide an epic menace for the Doctor and then, by the end, are treating him like a pathetic joke. And Bidmead really is, in the end, left with no choice beyond just having the Master be an obviously deluded lunatic at the end of Castrovalva. The scene of him trying desperately to break open the Zero Cabinet is overtly set up as a scene about a man who has gone completely around the bend and become pathetic. But while it’s the best thing to do, dramatically, with what they’ve got here it’s a dumb idea to even have the Master back.

Despite this, Bidmead copes admirably with the Nathan-Turner hell brief - certainly better than anyone not named Robert Holmes ever did. (That he was coping is evident in the anecdote that he picked the name and setting of the story based on remembering a pair of Escher prints hanging in someone’s office that Nathan-Turner hated. The reasons Nathan-Turner hated them, according to Miles and Wood, is that he believed that “art should exist to soothe, not distract.” If I had to reduce my objection to Nathan-Turner to a single fact, incidentally, that would be it.) To his real credit he thinks through the twice-weekly structure and builds a story that is functionally two two-parters on a common theme - something that isn’t done nearly enough in the Davison era.

And despite giving him a bad set of directions the basic idea here is sound. Bidmead was absolutely the right person to have do this story because the particulars of his style are so distinctive and so vividly animated the series over the six stories prior to this. Giving the new cast a chance to establish themselves in a Bidmead-style story provides a needed continuity of theme to the series. And as it descends further down the rabbit hole of embracing continuity in everything but tone and theme, this is sensible.

That said, there’s not a huge amount new to say regarding Bidmead’s approach. He creates a mathematical and logical game, he conceptualizes his ideas in terms of visual event, and he works out a quite nice introduction to the idea of recursion. He’s got another technobabble concept that works out of pure linguistics - “recursive occlusion” belongs firmly in the pantheon of “chronic hysteresis” and “charged vacuum emboitment.” He also ends up defining much of the modern lore of what the TARDIS is. Even though The Invasion of Time is the first big “run around the bowels of the TARDIS” story, there it came off as a desperate attempt to stretch out the story by an episode and get away with doing all location shooting. Here there’s actually a unified aesthetic to the TARDIS that continues the sense from Logopolis of it being an actually scary place.

But the real credit and revelation here has to go to Peter Davison. Steven Moffat has suggested that Davison is the best actor to take the part during the classic series. I’m skeptical mostly because of Patrick Troughton (and indeed, Moffat’s claim that Davison is the only one with a successful post-Doctor Who career was also wrong. Troughton had an extremely busy post-Doctor Who career), but it’s clear from his first appearance that Davison is more of an actor (as opposed to a performer), but it is clear from this story alone that Davison is more of an actor than the series has had before. The most obvious moment is his mimicry of Troughton and Hartnell, which is not impersonation as such, but something altogether subtler. He at once clearly evokes the Doctor he’s imitating and does so in such a way as to make it seem like an echo of them instead of a return. Even Pertwee - a gifted voice artist who probably could have done the mimicry - would be hard pressed to do it in such a way that it felt like Pertwee’s Doctor imitating Hartnell.

But more impressive is just the range of emotion that Davison gets into the Doctor. Davison declines to take on the dashing hero role that the Doctor has been for over a decade now, instead continually reacting to events. It sounds like an utterly basic thing, but this is actually the first time since Troughton that the tone which the Doctor responds to another character is actually dictated by what the other character says or does. Davison has the range to portray the Doctor as something other than an immovable force, and it’s a revelation.

The key scene - and one of the best in the story - is where the Doctor shows the Castrovalvans how strange their world is by having them draw a map and then asking them to locate where things are on it. It’s something that simply wouldn’t have happened in the Baker or Pertwee eras - the overt decision to give the “figure it out” moment to another character instead of giving the Doctor an explanation. This is how it’s going to be for the next three years - the Doctor is going to interact with the worlds of the stories instead of just imposing himself on them.

While it’s the Doctor’s absence from this story that allows Nyssa and Tegan to really take center stage, it’s the fact that Davison is a much less domineering presence than his predecessors that allows them to stay there. Added to this is the fact that Sutton and Fielding have fairly solid chemistry and make a good double act. Though this has disastrous effects on Waterhouse, whose acting finally falls out of the “minimally acceptable” range around here in no small part because he’s stuck on the outside after this. Nyssa and Tegan form a sensible unit, Davison’s style doesn’t require a sidekick to ask him to explain things, and Adric becomes completely superfluous. But Nyssa and Tegan are helped enormously by this new style. Tegan still has her problems, but it’s here that Nyssa reaches the point of being a functional Doctor surrogate. The Doctor may tag Tegan as the “coordinator” of the bunch, but it’s obviously Nyssa who keeps everything going here, her own restrained style working well as a parallel for Davison’s.

So while Castrovalva is a confused story with obvious narrative faults it serves as a useful transition. It’s recognizable both as the sort of story that follows from Season 18 and as the sort of story that will define the next three seasons. The second most difficult regeneration of the classic series has been successfully accomplished. On with the Davison era.

43 comments:

  1. Davison's acting is remarkably strong in the first episode. So it's all the more baffling that they thought it would be a good idea to put the leading man in a box and carry him around.

    And really it's the doc-in-a-box sequence that really lets this story down. Once they get to Castrovalva, it's a lovely story, realised with style and charm (even if the video effects don't manage to properly sell the visual concept). Prior to that, though, it's all a bit of a mess.

    The real problem is that the first two-parter (if you want to look at it that way) only has enough material for about one episode. The Doctor, erratic, lost in the maze of the Tardis interior while the ship hurtles to destruction in the Big Bang itself is great stuff. We then come out of that into a dramatic situation which can only be described as "moderate inconvenience", as two young women have to carry a box through pleasant, sunny woodland for a couple of hours. It just completely deflates the drama.

    As you say, this is the story where the Problem of Adric becomes inescapable. However, tying Adric up in the Master's bondage rack does have one positive effect: it markedly improves Waterhouse's acting. It's quite a common acting exercise to constrain the actor's movements and/or put the actor in an awkward physical position in order to bring a new quality to the performance, and it works here on screen. Just a pity they couldn't have found a way to keep him in there.

    Besides Davison, the most impressive person in this production is the designer, Janet Budden. She makes the depths of the Tardis into a vast, labyrinthine yet visually coherent space, and Castrovalva has an elegant beauty as well as working very effectively as a practical set.

    ReplyDelete
  2. While the idea of the Tardis facing destruction by being forced back to the Big Bang is quite brilliant, it's a pity the explanation is such muddled bollocks. The "hydrogen inrush" bit is kind of OK (if you're going back in time near the Big Bang, it will indeed seem like hydrogen is rushing in towards you), but the Galaxy is quite definitely not the Universe. There's a long tradition in TV SF of getting basic astronomical and cosmological nomenclature wrong, but I would have thought Bidmead would do a bit better. Steve Weinberg's "The First Three Minutes", still the best non-technical account of modern cosmology, came out in 1977, and it seems like the sort of thing Bidmead would have read.


    [I would dismiss the suggestion that "Event One" refers to the creation of our galaxy rather than the entire Universe. The expression "Event One" make no sense in that context, the entire peril that the Tardis is in wouldn't exist, and it turns a brilliant basic idea into a rubbish one.]

    ReplyDelete
  3. I love Castrovalva. It doesn't quite reach 10/10 mostly due to being overly padded between landing and reaching the city, but it's close. IMO The only post-regeneration story to beat it is Power of the Daleks, and I find it interesting that these are the two you identify as most difficult.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think by "difficult" Phil means fraught. Both following Hartnell, and following Baker would have to qualify as difficult tasks. So I think Phil agrees with you - they're both very well handled, all up.

      Delete
    2. Having never seen any of Power of the Daleks except bits of a reconstruction, I'll have to go with The 11th Hour as my favorite post-regen story. Forty-five minutes to introduce a new Doctor, a new companion, the new companion's boyfriend (and future companion), a new TARDIS interior, and lay the groundwork for the season-long arc, and it does so with aplomb and efficiency. Perhaps not coincidentally, it is also the first time since PotD that the new Doctor has been up and running so quickly. No fainting or passing out or psychotic episodes or regeneration trauma.(1) Just ten minutes of figuring out what his new favorite foods are while bonding with a small child and then he's off to the races. The damage to the TARDIS was a bigger problem for Eleven than the regeneration.

      (1) I would be remiss in not pointing out that Seven didn't really have a regeneration trauma either. He was running around and arguing with the Rani about five seconds after waking up and only got waylaid after being knocked out and given an amnesiac drug.

      Delete
    3. Minor note - The Eleventh Hour was a full, um, hour (well, actually 65 minutes), rather than the typical 3/4 hour. The story really benefits from that extra 20 minutes.

      Delete
    4. It really does; when I first watched it on BBC America, it was cut down for time -- which means I didn't get to see the apple, firetruck, and time-passing sequences until I rewatched the whole series online in the run-up to The Big Bang.

      *shakes fist* Curse you, BBC America!

      Delete
    5. A number of things that were cut from "The Eleventh Hour" were things they BBC America obviously thought weren't important for that episode -- but in fact they set up points for the season's plot arc, things that would pay off in subsequent episodes, except for those viewers who hadn't seen them!

      When BBC America reran "Last of the Time Lords" they cut out the scene of the Master singing "I can't decide."

      The worst thing is they don't even have a little warning at the beginning saying "this episode has been edited for time."

      Delete
    6. Strangely even the iTunes version of Last of the Time Lords lacks "I Can't Decide," which makes me wonder if that's actually a rights issue over the music a la "Ticket to Ride."

      Delete
    7. Since the "I Can't Decide" sequence is the single best scene of the RTD era, and possibly in the entire history of the show, I'm not sure whether it's more depressing to think that it has been derailed by a petty legal issue or that someone at the network decided the episode was better off without it.

      Delete
    8. Though "Ticket to Ride" isn't even allowed on the region 1 dvd, whereas "I Can't Decide" is.

      Delete
  4. I do love Castrovalva, although its perhaps unfortunate that in the space of three stories the Master has evolved from an interesting adversary with a competent plan (which gets (mostly) ruined by the Keeper being clever enough to summon up the Doctor) - to a complete loon who likes to make people wear buckets on their heads. Then again maybe he's been unhinged by accidentally vaporising a third of the universe.

    Its a pity that episode 2 is so, erm, bland - although I don't remember that being an issue in the playground to be honest - and the new format did give us delighted kids to talk about the best show in the world on the day after it.

    At least Bidmead has managed to merge the "cool but weird concept" of Logopolis with the "nicely played talking roles" of Traken and come up with three neat characters that let you explore the idea of the town - providing handy exposition alongside charming dialogue. From the novelisation, the "History up to the current day" part was brilliant, although Mergrave trying to understand the map is even better on the screen.

    As for memories of the story - I've seen it so many times that the one that pops into my mind isn't of the broadcast, but of anticipating and watching the Video Release - and being relieved that the effects hadn’t age too badly.

    Alas, it’s pretty evident from the story that the Tardis crew doesn't really work on some basic levels - almost like JNT had written the Baker/Ward/K9 characteristics on a dart board and generated his new Doctor and companions in some esoteric version of Bullseye.

    Considering the juxtaposition of Ongoing Drama and Michael Sheard in the two posts are you going to take a look at that other great of British TV - Grange Hill?

    ReplyDelete
  5. Given how much Matthew Waterhouse seemed to enjoy being tied up in the Hadron web (why, that's an anagram of...), it's a pity the show didn't solve several storytelling and character problems all in one go by having Adric run off with the Master at the end.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The Fall of Adric could have been some compelling television and it could have worked on a variety of levels. Adric works as a character with the “father-son” relationship with the 4th Doctor. Once that is gone there really is nothing for the character to hang his hat on.

      He has all the necessary flaws to go bad. The ego, the intelligence, the loneliness or feelings of not being appreciated , the “fifth wheel” factor. I think Adric works better as a villain, or at least the understudy of one. Adric going evil is constant reminder of the Doctor’s failure and I think Davison’s Doctor could have played it well. It also would have created two nice story arks of redemption for both the Doctor and Adric.

      For the Master it is a pretty decent victory, he has usurped and perverted the father role of the 4th Doctor and corrupted one of the Doctor’s companions. Not a bad day’s work if you ask me and it gives him some relevance down the road.

      I’ve never cared for the Earthshock ending, it seems so wasted and written as an easy way out of dealing with a difficult character.

      Delete
    2. I think his scenes in this story confirm that Adric did indeed have something to hang his hat on...

      Delete
    3. Big Finish actually did a story called "The Boy that Time Forgot" in their 5th Doctor/Nyssa line that has Adric as a villain. It is also a bit of a sequel to Logopolis

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Boy_That_Time_Forgot

      Delete
  6. he believed that “art should exist to soothe, not distract.”

    This from the man who gave us the 6th Doctor's personality and wardrobe? It was all an attempt to soothe us? So Nathan-Turner really was an alien.

    ReplyDelete
  7. There's a long tradition in TV SF of getting basic astronomical and cosmological nomenclature wrong

    One of my favourites: in the original Battlestar: Galactica, they're constantly moving from one galaxy to another, yet we're told at one point that their ships travel "at the speed of light."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Blake's 7 also can't make up its mind whether it's set in one galaxy or spans several galaxies.

      I was very annoyed at school in our French lesson when we tackled space things... our French text book seem to treat the Solar System and "l'univers" as synonymous. Being asked which is the hottest planet in "l'univers" was frankly insulting; and then having to argue the toss with my French teacher that it wasn't Mercury, as the text books suggested, but Venus, just added injury to afore-mentioned insult.

      Delete
    2. In the recent Green Lantern movie, Abin Sur says that he is headed toward the nearest inhabited planet (namely Earth) -- and then we see him in intergalactic space, headed toward a galaxy, presumably ours. I suppose it's possible that from his location Earth was the closest inhabited planet in the Milky Way, but it seemed dubious.

      Delete
    3. I remember laughing out loud in the theater during the portentious (pretentious?) opening narration, which declared that the Guardians divided the entire universe into 3600 sectors, one for each Green Lantern. I did the math once out of boredom and concluded that Hal Jordan's sector included well over ten million galaxies and that even visiting each inhabited star system for a second each would take vastly longer than his life span, let alone stopping along the way to fight crime and stop alien invasions.

      Delete
    4. Yup. Those figures are from the comics, too. Though recently the comics have "addressed" the problem by, heh, doubling the number of Green Lanterns to 7200. Which is like saying, "I couldn't leap over the Empire State Building before, but hey, I just lost 20 pounds."

      Delete
  8. I've always loved the dreamlike aspects of these three stories, especially Castrovalva. The warped geography, the history books that go up to the present moment, even the cryptic nature of the TARDIS's data banks. It seems to work like a living puzzle or a lucid dream.

    Speaking of living puzzles, I wonder if our good blogger will tackle The Adventure Game - though not part of the US childhood, I think its status as BBC science fiction (and the presence of Janet Fielding in one episode) qualify it for at least a couple of paragraphs.

    Also Jim'll Fix It - not just for its presence alongside Doctor Who in the Saturday tea time schedules, but also the notion of a crazy-costumed eccentric with magical furniture (in this case, his bigger-on-the-inside chair) who sends children on magical adventures.

    I'm very excited, by the way, that Stanley Kubrick and Philip K Dick are apparently two regular commentators on this blog:

    http://daily.greencine.com/archives/stanley-kubrick.jpg

    http://newsimg.bbc.co.uk/media/images/47750000/jpg/_47750668_006408884-1.jpg

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'd expect Jim'll Fix It to turn up in a Beyond the Government entry at some point in the Colin Baker era.

      Delete
  9. Incidentally, my own experience of this new Doctor was one of frustration. After the anticipation of the Five Faces build-up, and new-found curiosity about the idea of the same character being played by different actors, we sat down to watch Castrovalva ep1 on a stormy January evening, only for the power to go out and plunge us into darkness.

    ReplyDelete
  10. You might think this is about the Doctor, but apparently not.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And Alex Kingston's character in the new series of "Upstairs Downstairs", who plays an archaeologist recently returned from Egypt, is apparently not River Song.

      Delete
  11. I'm glad Dr Sandifer has finally got here. I can't stand Tom Baker. I find him painful and awful to watch, the way he doesn't even try to act; the way he doesn't regard the programme or stories as anything other than props against which to bounce his own awesomeness.

    To me, this is where Doctor Who starts. The Tom Baker years were horrid; finally we have an actor for the Doctor who actually wants to play the role instead of just be on TV as much as possible. However annoying the companions, that instantly makes it better than anything in the past seven years.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And here is where it all starts to go downhill for me. Davison is undeniably a good actor, but I never cared for his take on the character; none of the supporting cast is as interesting as the companions of the '70s; and, above all, the quality of the material (with a few exceptions, such as Kinda) is entering the decline that reaches its low point in the mid-'80s.

      If I had to choose, I prefer even Colin Baker's Doctor to Davison's, despite the fact that I think Davison is the more talented actor and despite the fact that (to the extent that I've seen these years of the show) I think Davison had a greater number of half-decent scripts. I'm hoping that Davison fan Phil will show me a way in to appreciating these stories, because (with, again, a couple of exceptions) I haven't gotten there on my own. I don't even like the much-beloved Caves of Androzani.

      Delete
    2. Based on my limited adult experience, I'd say that at least with the Sixth Doctor the script writers are on something like the same page as Colin Baker. When it comes to the Fifth Doctor, I'm not sure some of the script writers are even on a page at all.
      Holmes and Davison are on the same page for Caves, but it seems to me a toned down version of Pertwee.

      Delete
    3. I think Colin Baker would disagree. IIRC, he once asked the director of one of the Trial of a Timelord stories, regarding a particular scene where the Doctor was doing something stupid, whether the Doctor was being mind-controlled, whether the Doctor was being stupid for some unknown purpose, or whether the whole scene was a deceptively altered video generated by the Valyard. The director had no idea what he was talking about.

      Delete
  12. I think Tom Baker does some fine acting - there are certainly periods where his heart isn't in it whereas his ego is, but equally there are many more occasions where he genuinely gives it his all and puts in a wonderfully alien performance. I love Peter Davison too, but you need the seven years of Tom Baker for Davison to really work in comparison.

    ReplyDelete
  13. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I never took to Davison and, like Jesse above, this is where I began to withdraw my investment in the show. I'm looking forward to Phillip explaining just what is so good about this era. To me it all seems washed out, too brightly lit, pastel coloured posturing with no-one (starting with the writers) actually believing a word they're saying. The move to weekdays didn't help either. This is the point where, for me, the programme ceased to be DOCTOR WHO's adventures in Time and Space! and became a TV show featuring an actor playing a character called the Doctor.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. For me the pastel colours were just as much a part of this era of Doctor Who as the colour schemes from any other era. There's something wonderfully evocative, for example, about the pale pinks and translucent whites of Castrovalva.

      Maybe it's an age thing, but for me the Davison era is Doctor Who at its most dreamlike - Kinda, Snakedance, Enlightenment, Four To Doomsday, Castrovalva, even Black Orchid to a certain degree. Still adventures in time and space, but also touching something deeper.

      Delete
    2. There certainly is a dreamlike quality to Mawdryn Undead -- enough so for me to forgive all the story problems just for that weird Gothic setting in the sky.

      Delete
    3. Event better, it's an art deco setting! :)

      Delete
  15. Apologies for my tardiness on this response-I’ve been a combination of sick/on vacation/without my own computer over the past few weeks. If you like, imagine I borrowed a TARDIS and returned to last Wednesday to post this comment.

    Anyway, “Castrovalva”-Or rather, as far as I’m concerned, Peter Davison’s era in a nutshell. I share neither Phil nor SK’s adoration of this era, nor Jesse’s disdain for it. Honestly, these three years are a bit of a non-entity as far as I’m concerned. Nothing outright pisses me off, but nothing really works for me either. Part of it may be because Peter Davison was never my childhood Doctor in the way Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker were, though I don’t think that’s a terribly valid argument (as I intend to explain in oh, five seasons or so, let’s say?). I like Peter Davison as an actor: I like him a lot. A Very Peculiar Practice is a classic, and he’s great in All Creatures Great and Small and on Law and Order UK (in which he co-stars with Freema Agyeman, which I think is just awesome). I don’t mind Nyssa and Tegan, though, like much in this era they fail to leave much of an impression on me and even Adric I can tolerate *slightly* more here than I can in Season 18 (mostly because there’s no Romana-I’ll probably address this around “Earthshock”). No, I think the real reason this era fails to leave much of an impression on me is a big philosophical, mental disconnect I have the creative team and the way they chose to interpret the show this time around.

    Since we’re bringing up this whole notion of “a small man against the universe” (via the “Cold Fusion” entry) let me place myself firmly in a camp opposed to this conception of The Doctor. Pertwee and Tom Baker were superheroes, as we’ve remarked frequently on. Even if we take this interpretation as a problematic one (and I for one am not inclined to disagree), going back to the 1960s doesn’t seem to quite paint The Doctor as much of a “small man” to me either. There was always something guarded and unpredictable about Hartnell and Troughton, *especially* Troughton, whose best episodes seemed to paint him as a mysterious, ageless figure from beyond the beginning of space-time with some inherent connection to fiction and the engine of raw creativity. Those who want to complain about The Doctor being a cosmic arch-gamesmaster under McCoy would be remiss not to note the seeds were sewn here, and by no less than David Whitaker-The show’s first script editor and one of its most influential writers ever.

    (cont'd)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Troughton was marginal: He always lurked in the shadows and operated behind the scenes, using this to his advantage. However, he was resolutely *not* “small” or “meek”. I always got the sense in those stories he was incredibly old, incredibly wise and incredibly powerful, even if he was great at hiding it and never trying to steal the spotlight or draw attention to himself. The same is true of Sylvester McCoy, and exponentially more so: Indeed, we’ve noted before “Evil of the Daleks” is essentially a Sylvester McCoy story 20 years early. I’ve not shied away from claiming McCoy and Troughton are at the top of my list of favourite Doctors, nor hesitated in praising people who invoke their performances, most notably Katy Manning and Lalla Ward.

      What I’m getting at here is that probably my biggest problem with Peter Davison’s Doctor is the strides taken to humanize him and make him vulnerable. I mean I know *why* it was done-Tom Baker was larger than life and invincible and a contrast was desperately needed to keep the show going. And, to his unending credit, Davison’s great at playing the character this way and constantly knocks it out of the park. That being said, this reading has never sat right with me. Doctor Who in the Davison era is a Boys’ Own Adventure series with a flawed but likeable lead. It’s a very *good* Boys’ Own Adventure series with a flawed but likeable lead (at least when it wants to be-that last year and a half or so is definitely spotty, fanwanky and uncomfortably gun-happy), but see that’s not Doctor Who for me personally. This is the same problem I have with huge swathes of the New Series, especially under Tennant and Smith. The Doctor can’t be a flawed, human lead in his story because he shouldn’t ever be playing the lead in *any* story. He’s not a hero; he’s the spark of creativity that lurks just outside the boundaries who allows stories of heroes to come about.

      Anyway, that’s my two cents worth. Looking forward to following the discussion, as always!

      Delete
  16. WGPJosh:
    "Those who want to complain about The Doctor being a cosmic arch-gamesmaster under McCoy would be remiss not to note the seeds were sewn here, and by no less than David Whitaker-The show’s first script editor and one of its most influential writers ever."

    I always got the impression, so it was a delight when I had it recently confirmed for me, that after the Apolcalypse following Season 23, that JNT, forced to remain at the helm of a show he desperately wanted to be gone from, decided to search for "a Patrick Troughton type". And by God, HE FOUND ONE!!

    People tend to say their first Doctor is their favorite. Well, after Cushing, Pertwee, Baker, Davison, Troughton, Colin and Hartnell (in that order for me, yes), I was totally shocked when McCoy became my favorite Doctor. And slowly, I realized Troughton was my 2nd-favorite. Although, Tom Baker's era simply had the BEST stories with the BEST structure.

    Although, when it comes to Daleks, nothing tops that 2nd Cushing film. (I can still hear the music in my head when I think about it.)



    "see that’s not Doctor Who for me personally"

    Exactly how I see it. The other 6 of the 7 Doctors (sticking to the original 26 seasons) ALL seemed to be "The Doctor" to me. Davison-- DIDN'T. And I'll say it again. Albert Campion seems more like "The Doctor" to me than whatever the hell it was Davison was doing on this show for 3 years. (With Brian Glover as his sidekick, he'd have to be.)


    My favorite bits here-- "One, two..." "Three, sir!" (Ooh, someone's been watching HOLY GRAIL again!) "You may know chemistry, but one of us is deluded about geography." (That line actually made me LAUGH tonight!) And of course, "The books are five hundred years old... but they chronicle the history of Castrovalva up to the present day."

    My intro to Escher was a wall poster of "Relativity"-- the 3 intersecting staircases existing impossibly in 3 different directions (it could work in a zero-G environment). I got books of his stuff. In my 10th grade math class, we spent half a year on Geometry. Our end-of year project was to construct a 3-dimensional object. Most people did Dodecahedrons and the like. ("MEGLOS", anyone?) I built a model of "Relativity". NO KIDDING. (about 14" x 14" x 14") Half my class said it was impossible, it's just an optical illustion. Some of Escher's drawings are, but not this one. I wish I stil had it. My DAD crushed it under some boxes. IDIOT.

    Anthony Ainley completely falls apart by the end of this one. Might have beena good way to go out, f they'd actually shown more at the end. I also wish there'd actually be a shot of the city disappearing, as they had at the end of THE OUTER LIMITS episode "The Guests". Oh well. The sad thing is, I've written stories with a character based on Ainley (which has nothing to do with DOCTOR WHO), and I feel I've given him better writing than he ever got on this show.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Phil, have you ever seen any of All Creatures Great And Small? I remember Davison being pretty good in it as the second sidekick.

    ReplyDelete