Friday, April 20, 2012

Doctor Who: 035 The Faceless Ones

When the TARDIS lands on a runway at Gatwick Airport in 1966 in front of a landing plane, the Doctor, Ben, Polly, and Jamie are forced to run for their lives. When the airport police see them, they're forced to run from the police as well. The TARDIS crew splits up and Polly hides in a hangar for Chameleon Tours, where she promptly witnesses a murder. This is how The Faceless Ones begins.

This 6 episode serial is sadly missing episodes 2 and 4-6. Thankfully, there are a full set of telesnaps and the audio track allowing reconstructions to be made. Oddly, this is the one for which I have the most reconstructions. I have the newer Loose Cannon reconstruction, the Joint Venture reconstruction, the Elaphe reconstruction, and an unidentified reconstruction that uses green subtitles (and spells Frazer Hines' name as "Frazier Hinze" in the credits). For the existing episodes 1 and 3, we turn to the Lost in Time DVD set.

I came to this story with no expectations what-so-ever. I've not heard anything about this story, good or bad, and it doesn't feature any recurring creatures, so I didn't know what to expect. What I got was a story reminiscent of The Invasion of the Body Snatchers with a sinister twist. This is quite a good story and I would love to see more episodes found for it. I'd actually say it's probably the best Troughton story to this point... Let's recap quickly:
  • Power of the Daleks - pretty good... the freshly regenerated Doctor is getting his bearings and Daleks almost always make for an exciting story.
  • The Highlanders - meh... fairly run of the mill historical that introduced Jamie as a companion.
  • The Underwater Menace - pretty sound story with a mad scientist trying to blow up the Earth.
  • The Moonbase - pretty good... again, like the Daleks, the Cybermen usually make for a pretty good story.
  • The Macra Terror - fairly decent story with a cheesy monster prop.
Yes, I'd definitely say this is his best to date. Troughton has really slipped into the role of the Doctor by this point and while humorous at times, the humor doesn't seem to be quite as slapstick and over the top as some of the earlier stories. Oddly enough, while the recorder featured very heavily in several of the earlier stories, it's not used in this story at all. I definitely find myself warming to Troughton as the Doctor by this point. I'm not going to spoil this story with too many plot points, but there were several places that it took me by surprise and I would love to see it in its entirety again. It also seems to be paced fairly well and uses its 6 episodes to good advantage.

I watched all the reconstructions I had for this story and I'd have to say that the newer Loose Cannon and the Elaphe ones are probably the best. The unidentified one was good (other than green subtitles and getting Jamie's name wrong), but it used absolutely no video footage. In addition to the telesnaps and existing footage, the newer Loose Cannon one uses CGI animation for several of the scenes. The funny thing is that the effects they produced are probably better than what originally aired. ;) Loose Cannon also uses faux telesnaps in a few places to enhance the story. I wouldn't have known they weren't original if I hadn't seen the other reconstructions. The only inconsistency I found between reconstructions was in episode 4 of the Joint Venture recon: the Doctor is examining a room and pushes a button which silently opens a secret panel. In the JV one, the captions say he examines the secret area while the other 3 say he doesn't notice the panel open. The story itself bears out that he didn't notice: later he questions someone and asks for the location of something hidden in the secret area.

This is Polly and Ben's last story: when they discover they're back in the time and place they left, they decide to stay. Afterward, the Doctor and Jamie go to retrieve the TARDIS from the airport police only to find it's been stolen, which leads us to our next story The Evil of the Daleks, the 7-part finale for season 4.

With 4 of the 6 episodes of this serial missing, our total for season 4 goes up to 27 and our total for Troughton goes up to 22.

Doctor Who: Dalek Challenge Interactive Quiz

This is an interesting little interactive Dalek trivia quiz that someone put together using YouTube videos. I guess I need to brush up on my Dalek trivia since I got exterminated four times which only gives me the rank of Pig Slave. :p

It doesn't help that I haven't yet seen The Evil of the Daleks. It's next in my queue and I'll be posting my comments on The Faceless Ones soon. Until then, try this out and see how you rank. ;)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Doctor Who: Big Finish First 50 Who Special Offer

This is a great way to get caught up on some of the earlier Big Finish Titles. I used this event last year to purchase the first 10 titles in the Doctor Who range. Prices are £5/each for either a physical CD (plus MP3 download) or download only, which equates to about $8. Physical CD's will also add shipping costs, but shipping to the US is reasonable and fast.

Big Finish - First 50 Who Special Offer

Doctor Who: Region 1 DVD releases for The Krotons and Death to the Daleks

The region 1 DVD release date for the Doctor Who stories "The Krotons" and "Death to the Daleks" has been announced as July 10, 2012.

"The Krotons is the last complete Patrick Troughton story to be released on DVD. Only the incomplete "The Ice Warriors" and the recently discovered episode of "The Underwater Menace" haven't been released on DVD yet.

Hopefully I will make it to "The Krotons" before the July 10 release date. :)

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Doctor Who: Power of the Daleks Re-Imagined part one

This is a little different than my usual posts, but I figured I'd share it. It's a stage version of Power of the Daleks.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Doctor Who: 034 The Macra Terror

At the end of The Moonbase, the Doctor, Ben, Jamie, and Polly had seen a giant claw on the TARDIS' "Time Scanner" which showed them a vision of the future. They then materialize on a colony where everyone is happy all the time... but when the Doctor is involved, things are never as they seem... for this is The Macra Terror.

This is another 4 part serial that is completely lost other than a few censor clips and a little off-air 8mm film footage. Thanks to the off-air audio recordings, a full set of telesnaps, and the previously mentioned footage, we can turn to the Loose Cannon reconstruction. As always, the reconstruction does a good job giving the flavor of this serial.

I was actually quite eager to see this story since the Macra made an appearance in the David Tennant story Gridlock. I knew the Macra monsters were a bit cheesy looking from production stills that I'd seen, but from what I can tell from the existing footage and the telesnaps, it seems that the production team did the perfect thing to increase the terror from these cheesy looking props and just show little glimpses most of the time: a claw here, glowing eyes and eye stalks there, etc. Once the first episode set the story up, I was right there in the thick of things. Also, the cliffhangers for each episode seem to have been done well and had me wanting to watch the next episode. There was a little silliness, but that seems to be Troughton's trademark. :) I definitely enjoyed this story and I now want to go back and watch Gridlock again. :)

The Lost in Time DVD set contains orphan episodes (for which this serial has none) and existing clips of otherwise missing episodes, but I wondered why it contained an 8mm clip from episode 1 showing just the opening title sequence. Then I read that this was the first serial to use the new title sequence containing Patrick Troughton's face. Up until this, the title sequence had been the same as that used on the first episode, An Unearthly Child.

With all 4 episodes of this serial missing, our total for season 4 goes up to 23 and our total for Troughton goes up to 18. There are 2 more serials left this season: the 6 episode The Faceless Ones, and the 7 episode The Evil of the Daleks.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Doctor Who: 033 The Moonbase

The Doctor, intent to prove to Jamie that he's in control of the TARDIS, decides to go to Mars only to have the TARDIS go out of control (like that's never happened before). Instead of materializing on Mars, he materializes at The Moonbase, which controls Earth's weather by controlling the tides using a device called a Gravitron. That Gravitron is what pulled the TARDIS off course. As is the Doctor's habit, he manages to arrive just in time for trouble - this time an invasion of the Cybermen intent on destroying all life on Earth using the Gravitron.

Two of the four episodes of this story are missing, so again we turn to the Loose Cannon reconstruction for the missing episodes and to the Lost in Time DVD set for the existing episodes. Again, Loose Cannon takes the telesnaps and the audio track and improves on them with animated Cybermen mouths, etc. to keep the viewer interested and the end result is very good.

This is the second Cyberman story in the 4th season, the first being The Tenth Planet which introduced the Cybermen. While The Tenth Planet was Hartnell's last story, it was still in the 4th season. Apparently the script for The Moonbase was commissioned while The Tenth Planet was still airing due to positive fan reactions to the Cybermen. It was originally written with just Ben and Polly as companions and the introduction of Jamie required the script to be reworked a bit so that Jamie spends part of the story in sickbay and takes some of Ben's lines for the rest of it. :)

The Cybermen are probably the second most popular of the Doctor's foes, behind the Daleks (who will also make a second appearance during the 4th season). However, unlike many of the other recurring foes, the Cybermen have a slightly different appearance almost every time they appear with the "handles" on their heads remaining one of the constants. In this case, the sock puppet faces from The Tenth Planet have been replaced by more realistic looking metallic helmets/heads. Their voices are also quite different in this story and I found them a little hard to understand at times. Fans have explained the changes in the appearance of the Cybermen: they are cybernetic and are constantly upgrading themselves to be better. This explanation mostly works, but I won't nitpick. :) The Cybermen in this story are certainly even more impressive and alien than the ones from The Tenth Planet.

I said I wasn't going to nitpick, but there are a couple of plot points in this story that don't quite work for me:
  • Polly, upon first catching a fleeting glimpse of a Cyberman, tells everyone it's the Cybermen. They comment that the Cybermen were all killed, then seem to forget about the Cybermen.
  • In Polly's second encounter with a Cyberman, where she got zapped, she definitely caught a good look at her attacker and knew it was a Cyberman, but again when she's talking to everyone, she seems to forget and they again comment on how the Cybermen were all killed. It seems to take them a while to come back to the realization that it is indeed the Cybermen. :)
  • I thought it was a little unrealistic to have the Cyberman hiding in the sickbay on an exam table covered with a sheet, although I did get a kick out of him almost knocking the exam table over when he leaped off of it. :)
  • Many comments are made about the Cybermen being killed when Mondas was destroyed in The Tenth Planet, but there's never really any explanation for how these Cybermen survived.
  • The Cybermen want to destroy all life on Earth, not for revenge, but to eliminate all threats. That seems a little weak for a reason. I guess they need some reason though, unlike the Daleks, who just want to exterminate everything that's not a Dalek. :)
  • After the Doctor defeats them, the Cybermen ships are seen hurtling out of control presumably into the Sun, but I'm not sure what's to keep more Cybermen from returning and attacking the moobase... perhaps these were the only two Cyberman ships in the area?

Now that I've nitpicked, let me say that I did enjoy the story. :) It was very suspenseful and had good pacing. Even with the minor points I mentioned above, it mostly worked and told a good story. :) Besides, the spacesuits in this story were at least a little more believable than what they used in The Web Planet. ;) I also thought it was interesting that the Cybermen know the Doctor even though they've never met this incarnation: "You are known to us." The Daleks also seem to know the Doctor most of the time after a new regeneration.

At the end of this story, the Doctor turns on the "time scanner" to get a glimpse of the future, something he doesn't use very often because it's not reliable (and here I thought the TARDIS was 100% reliable...). On the time scanner, they see a giant claw and the end of the credits promise The Macra Terror for next week. Fortunately we won't have to wait until next week... It will be the topic of my next blog post.

With the 2 episodes missing from this serial, the total for season 4 goes up to 19 and Troughton's total goes up to 14. We have three serials remaining in this season which all having missing episodes. :(

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Doctor Who: 032 The Underwater Menace

The TARDIS materializes on a deserted beach near a dormant volcano, but all is not as it seems... for this is the gateway to the fabled lost continent of Atlantis, the setting for The Underwater Menace. Only one episode of this four part serial was thought to exist until late last year when a second episode was found along with an episode of the Hartnell serial Galaxy 4. Unfortunately, the newly found episodes have only been screened to a limited number of people and the rest of us have to wait to see them until they are released on DVD, probably some time next year. That is... unless you're lucky enough to be able to attend a screening of them next month in Cardiff. The rest of us can watch a clip from episode 2 on YouTube, though.

Episode 2 of this serial marks the earliest surviving footage of Jamie and the earliest complete Troughton episode (although again, episode 3 is the first I'm able to see for now). Until episode 2 is made available to the masses, we have to turn to the Loose Cannon reconstruction for episodes 1, 2, and 4 and to the Lost in Time DVD set for episode 3. I also had the Joint Venture reconstruction of this serial for comparison. As I mentioned in a previous post, it's sometimes helpful to see multiple reconstructions as they have slightly different takes on certain things.

This serial has a little bit of everything: Atlantis, a mad scientist, and fish people. :) Speaking of fish people, I've heard that Troughton and several of the production team were not very happy with the fish people, both their costumes and their method of "swimming" (in the air using wires and slow motion). Apparently this story was cancelled due to fears over the cost of implementing it, then when its replacement fell through, it was reinstated and the episodes were filmed just a week before being aired. Even though the effects might not have been superb, given what was available at the time on the budget they had and under those time constraints, I thought it worked fairly well.

The Loose Cannon reconstruction is fantastic as usual. I love the way that Loose Cannon goes the extra mile in their later reconstructions (one of the reasons they revisited some of the early ones). They attempt to add some variety to what would otherwise be just a slideshow, by using animation and clips from other sources (other parts of the same story, other stories, and sometimes even other shows or movies) where appropriate. In this serial, they used the original telesnaps, but added a layer of animation to give a little movement: examples include animating the lights in the lift, the needles on the power dial, the water dropping in the fish tank, water flooding from the idol's mouth and eyes, etc. All of these add an extra dimension to keep the viewer involved in the story and serve to give a better flavor of what the original story may have been like.

In my earlier posts, I noted how Hartnell had grown on me while watching his serials for this project. Troughton hadn't been having the same effect on me, but I wasn't sure why until I saw episode 3... I think the problem is that Troughton is a comedic actor and much of his comedy is in the expressiveness of his face, where a lot of Hartnell's expressiveness was in his voice. Either that or perhaps I had seen more of Hartnell before starting this project, so it was easier to imagine him from just his voice and limited telesnaps. Either way, Troughton seems to suffer more from having just an audio track and telesnaps than Hartnell.

At the end of this serial, Jamie comments on the TARDIS not being under the Doctor's control... The Doctor, intent to prove him wrong, decides to go to Mars. The TARDIS goes out of control (big surprise) and winds up on the Earth's Moon in 2070 where we have the Doctor's second run-in with the Cybermen this season (and ever) in The Moonbase, our topic for next time.

With 2 episodes of this serial missing, the total for season 4 goes up to 17 and the total for Troughton goes up to 12. Hopefully more of his episodes will be found and we can complete several more of his serials. There are a number of 4 and 6 part serials that are missing 2 episodes, so it wouldn't take much to complete those if the right combination of episodes were found. :)

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Doctor Who: 031 The Highlanders

Continuing on in Season 4, we come to The Highlanders, which introduces the character of Jamie McCrimmon to the TARDIS crew. I was actually looking forward to this story since this is the first appearance of Jamie, Troughton's longest running companion, who would travel in the TARDIS all the way until Troughton's last story, The War Games, missing only the first Troughton serial, The Power of the Daleks.

Sadly, very little footage exists from this serial, just a few seconds in the first episode, mostly from the Australian censor clips. Fortunately, we do have the audio track and telesnaps available to make reconstruction possible. For this serial, I had two different reconstructions available, the older Loose Cannon reconstruction and the Elaphe reconstruction which pairs the telesnaps with the BBC narrated soundtracks -Frazier Hines narrating in this case. The telesnaps are much clearer in the Elaphe, but the newer Loose Cannon one also promises higher quality telesnaps. Hover over the picture here to see the difference. I think for the earlier LC recons, they scanned the telesnaps from Doctor Who Magazine, but later gained access to higher quality images. I'm trying to get a copy of the newer reconstruction and will revisit this story at that time.

My impression of this story was sort of "meh"... Perhaps my expectations were too high, but to me, it seemed to be a fairly run of the mill historical: it wasn't bad, it just wasn't great. The introduction of Jamie was the best part, and Jamie wasn't yet a companion, so his interaction with the Doctor was not what it would later become. I'll have to admit that, being an American, I'm not that familiar with this period of history and most of my knowledge of this period is from movies such as Braveheart, Rob Roy, and Highlander (that last was a joke - "There can be only one!"), so I'm not sure how accurate the history in this story is, although the history itself is very peripheral to the Doctor's story. Perhaps if some episodes of this story are found, or after rewatching, my opinion of this story will improve.

The advantage of watching multiple recons is that they sometimes explain things a little differently and sometimes clarify things that another recon may take for granted. Such is the case in this episode when Polly is practicing with the knife in the barn: the LC recon says she stabs a few times, then drops the knife as Kirsty comes in (leading me to believe she was clumsy) while the BBC narration explains that she dropped it in disgust at the thought of having to actually stab someone with it. The Loose Cannon team tried to add some variety to this recon by adding some clips from movies in a couple of places instead of showing the static telesnaps. The scene of the ship in the fog with the water moving worked, but the scenes of people running around on a boat during the long fight sequence in episode 4 didn't work so well, and I enjoyed the telesnaps in the Elaphe recon better. Perhaps the later LC recon improves on this sequence. :)

One other thing I noticed: in my comments about The Smugglers, I noted that Polly kept being referred to as a "lad", but I don't remember them intentionally dressing her up as a boy. That was actually referenced in this serial: when Kirsty brings in clothes so they can disguise themselves as orange sellers, Polly makes a comment that the last time she was in the past, she spent most of the time dressed as a boy. I don't know if that plot point was left out of The Smugglers, if it was purely visual and didn't make it in the recon subtitles, or I just wasn't paying attention. :p

With all 4 episodes of this serial missing, that brings the total for season 4 to 15 and the total for Troughton to 10. These are going to rack up fast this season. :(

Next time, we travel to Atlantis and encounter a mad scientist who wants to destroy the world in The Underwater Menace.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Doctor Who: 030 The Power of the Daleks

Slipping back into the normal timestream, we return to the series with Patrick Troughton's first outing as the Doctor, The Power of the Daleks. This story again, is sadly lost, although we have snippets from other programs as well as a few off-air 8mm clips. Most of this material was included on the Lost in Time DVD covering the Troughton years although a few additional clips were discovered shortly afterward and appeared in featurettes included with the DVD for Genesis of the Daleks and also on the DVD for Terror of the Vervoids in The Trial of a Time Lord box set.

Thanks to the existence of audio for this story, telesnaps, and these clips, we can again turn to the Loose Cannon reconstruction to give us some idea of what this story might have been like. The story picks up with the regeneration of the Doctor from William Hartnell to Patrick Troughton that we saw in the end of The Tenth Planet. At this time, it's not called "regeneration", but will later become known as that when the Doctor regenerates from Jon Pertwee to Tom Baker in Planet of the Spiders. Ben and Polly are amazed to see the Doctor change in front of their eyes. Polly continues to believe that this new person is still the Doctor despite his erratic behavior. Ben is much more skeptical, though.

The "Power" in the title would seem to be about the Daleks conquering, but is literally about power as in electricity although it's technically a double entendre and stands for both. :) A scientist discovers a capsule containing inert Daleks and figures out how to provide power to them to revive them. I thought the serial started a little slowly, even with the Doctor's regeneration, but by the time it really got going by episode 3, I was completely into it and it turned out to be a fairly good Dalek story. I'd love to see it in its full glory. Perhaps some or all of the episodes will come to light one day. There were only a couple of plot points that didn't completely work for me: there is no explanation of how the capsule got there, why the Daleks are inert, how they survived (the armor would survive unpowered, but the creatures inside wouldn't necessarily), and how they reproduced themselves (again, the armor is obvious, but the creatures are not). Apparently some of this is answered by one of the novels.

I've heard and seen many references to Patrick Troughton playing the recorder, but I've not seen much of it in the few stories of his that I've seen. Early on in episode 1, he rummages around in a trunk and pulls out the recorder. It's even used as a plot point a couple of times during this serial (i.e. to unlock the jail cell). He also plays it several times idly during this serial.

I found it very interesting that this story actually provides a precedent for the duplicitous behavior of the Daleks in Victory of the Daleks. Hearing the Daleks in this story say "I. Am. Your. Ser-vant." definitely reminded me of "I. Am. Your. Sol-dier." in Victory of the Daleks. The Daleks in this story may not have been serving tea to Winston Churchill, but they were serving beverages using trays attached to their sucker arm. I'm sure Mark Gatiss had this in mind when he wrote Victory of the Daleks.

In all, a very good serial, although a little slowly paced at first. Not having the visuals for this one hurts a little as Troughton's voice is not quite as distinctive as Hartnell's when compared with the rest of the cast in this one, and sometimes I had trouble identifying who was speaking.

The 6 episodes of this serial brings the total for season 4 to 11 and starts Troughton off with 6 missing episodes. :( I also forgot to mention that Hartnell's grand total of missing episodes is 65.

Next time, Jamie joins the TARDIS crew in The Highlanders...