Doctor Who: A Desperately Confusing Venture

Weighing in at an impressive 800 episodes, Doctor Who has been entertaining audiences for the past 50 years. Yet, despite this vast backlog of content, I know next to nothing about the actual series. For that reason, I’ve decided to watch this unusual show from the beginning, to discover the source of its unique appeal. Come with me as I tackle this daunting sci-fi phenomena from the very beginning in The Complete Doctor Who.

Warning: the following contains spoilers.

Doctor Who: Serial 7 The Sensorites, Episode 6: A Desperate Venture

So, quick recap on where we are at this point. After uncovering the former City Administrator and current Second Elder as their mystery foe, the Doctor and Ian headed off into the aqueducts to search for proof of his guilt. Before departing though, the Administrator (let’s just agree to call him that) managed to hatch one final scheme, having their weapons and map sabotaged before sending them off into the aqueduct’s labyrinthine depths.

Then Carol the astronaut went and got herself kidnapped, which is precisely where we pick up this week, with Carol hauled into the Administrator’s lair so he continue wreaking havoc on the humans.

Now, far be it from me to criticize the Administrator’s villain skills, so far he’s concocted some pretty wicked schemes, but I’m at a real loss to understand his latest brainstorm, in which he forces Carol to write a handwritten letter explaining her disappearance.

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Show of hands who thinks that’s going to work?

Needless to say, his plan goes immediately off the rails with Carol’s friends not only seeing through her silly note, but immediately copping to the fact that she’s been kidnapped.

As they attempt to work out where she is being held, The Chief Elder tells them about the disintegrator room, a rarely used building in another part of the city.

As they head off to rescue Carol, we cut to the Administrator’s lair, where the kidnapper has taken up his boss’ tradition of weirdly poetic monologues.

“All human creatures are naive, they live while they have a purpose, as soon as that purpose is achieved their life has no value left.”

As he stands there engrossed in poetry, John manages to slip into the room and sneak up behind him, only to be discovered at the last second.

The alien grabs some weird sci-fi gadget off the wall, then threatens to fry Carol with it.

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Carol, however, quickly disarms the situation by simply reaching over and unplugging his weapon.

With nowhere left to go, the thug is taken back into custody.

Back at the palace, Susan and Barbara interrogate the alien, which seems like a job that should probably be handled by law enforcement officials, but I suppose a London school teacher and her teenage student is close enough. The thug refuses to reveal his accomplice, but does admit to sabotaging the supplies he gave to Doc and Ian.

As Barbara and Susan cook up a plan to save their friends, the Chief Elder pledges to help them in whatever way he can.

Meanwhile, down in the aqueducts, the Doc and Ian are wandering around lost. They hear some kind of monstrous growling, then notice something moving in the shadows.

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Ian quickly arms himself with their most powerful weapon, a rolled up piece of paper, then movies in to investigate. As he gets closer, he sees what appears to be a human man.

The two tussle briefly before the the man runs off, leaving Ian clutching a patch from the figure’s clothing. After examining it closely, the Doctor reasons that it must be a survivor from the spaceship that exploded years ago.

You’re probably scratching your head over that last sentence, so let me take you waaay back to the third episode of this arc, where one of the Sensorites tossed out a throwaway line about how a group of humans had previously visited their planet, then turned on one another before blowing up their ship.

That’s right, that obscure, half-forgotten detail is now the payoff of our seven part story.

While you wrap your head around that, we’ll head back to the Sensorite palace where Barbara and Susan have cooked up what is actually a pretty good rescue plan. Susan will remain in the palace near a map, while John and Barbara head down into the aqueducts with one of the Sensorite mind transmitters. That way, they can check in with Susan periodically for directions.

As Barbara and John leave, we get an interesting scene between Susan and the Chief Elder, during which she talks briefly about her home planet, “It’s quite like earth, but at night the sky is a burt orange and the leaves on the trees are bright silver.”

It’s kind of a throwaway moment, but significant, given that the show really hasn’t done much with the Doctor’s background.

From there we cut back to the aqueducts where the Doctor has taken to marking the walls with chalk as a means of charting their direction.

After making his latest mark, he and Ian head down a dark corridor only to find themselves surrounded by what appears to be two homeless men wielding giant number 2 pencils.

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The shabby men tell Doc that they’ve been expecting him and ask if the Sensorites are all dead.

Doc decides to play along and they lead him away to meet their Commander.

Meanwhile, John and Barbara come upon their friends’ abandoned map, then notice the Doctor’s markings on the wall. Barbara checks in telepathically with Susan, who is able to chart their location using her offical Doctor Who: Sensorites playset.

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As John and Barbara head off in pursuit, the Doctor and Ian are brought in to meet this guy.

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And yep, he’s as crazy as he looks. Turns out he’s the one whose been poisoning the water as part of a guerrilla war against the Sensorites.

The Doctor tells him exactly what he wants to hear; the aliens have been wiped out and that the planet is now his.

That’s about the time John and Susan show up and nearly blow everything. The Commander accuses them all of being Sensorite spies, but the Doc manages to B.S. him into believing Susan and John are members of a special committee there to welcome him back to the surface. Yeah, that should work.

As the Doctor leads the Commander and his men back to the surface, Barbara’s Sensorite companions are busy setting up an ambush.

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His men go peacefully enough, but the Commander bullrushes the alien, getting a nice shot of the stun ray for his troubles.

Back at the palace, Carol and John agree to take the Commander and his fellow poisoners back with them to earth and the Chief Elder explains that the human’s homicidal urges were probably brought on by mental illness stemming from experimenting with the alien’s mind transmitters.

Not only does this not make much sense, it completely undercuts the thematic underpinnings of the story. The Commander’s appearance makes for a pretty bad payoff storywise, but they could have really done something with it, playing the xenophobic Administrator off against the equally intolerant Commander.

Stranger still, is the lack of resolution regarding the Administrator, who we never see again. That’s right, despite serving as the central villain for a full seven episodes, we never actually get to see his comeuppance. Instead, he is arrested at some point off-camera, with the Chief Elder revealing he will be “banished to the outer wastes.”

Then, because this episode hasn’t been nearly crazy enough, everyone climbs aboard the TARDIS and as they watch John and Carol’s ship depart on their viewscreen, Ian casually says, “At least they know where they’re going.”

This somehow causes the Doctor to go into one of the ugliest meltdowns he’s ever had, yelling, “Implying I don’t? So you think I’m an incompetent old fool, do you? Since you are so dissatisfied my boy, you can get off my ship and the very next place we stop I shall take you off myself and that’s final.”

Fade to black.

Wow. Not even really sure where to begin. I mean seriously, what the hell was going on behind the scenes on this one?

“Okay, this Administrator guy, he’s got to go.”

“But he’s the villain. The whole story’s written around him. We can’t just get rid of him.”

“Don’t worry about it, no one will notice. No, what we need is something outside the box, I’m thinking….cave people. You know how popular they are. Crazy army cave people. With sticks!

“I’m not really sure that’s–“

“Oh, oh and what if at the very end of the episode we have Hartnell completely freak out, just lose it, you know, make the audience feel really uncomfortable right before the credits.”

“I’m not sure that’s such a great idea.”

“Are you kidding me? It’ll be brilliant.”

Well that’s it for The Sensorites I guess. Join us next time for Season One’s final story arc, The Reign of Terror.

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Edge of Tomorrow, Edge of My Seat

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As always, slight spoilers ahead…

Body parts exploding on-screen in epic battles is usually my scene, but I almost passed up Edge of Tomorrow. I’m glad that I didn’t, although I have to say that living through a repeat loop of Tom Cruise’s life wasn’t exactly what I felt like doing for the afternoon. Luckily, by a half hour into the movie, I was able to get the abbreviated and condensed version of his monotonous horror of reliving every day after dying.

There are a few breaking points in the first hour. One is when Cruise as Major William Cage realizes what’s happening to himself and plays along with it to the best of his ability because he can’t find a solution. Then he meets Emily Blunt’s Sergeant Rita Vrataski and she says the infamous trailer line of “Find me when you wake up.” Of course, she has no recollection of this when he actually does find her, but that is finally when our story starts and we understand what we’re dealing with in the movie.

At first, I’m pretty sure the audience doesn’t understand much more than Cruise himself and we’re only allowed to deal with the same confusion that he’s dealing with. Within that, we’re also allowed to experience the new knowledge he gets each time he dies. The poor, sniveling man who, in his own words, “fainted at the sight of blood,” a neophyte who had never seen combat and who never wanted to see combat, was transformed into a pretty capable soldier. The new soldier was one formed by a sense of survival and trying to figure out if the next time he died might be the last time he woke up.

You would think in a movie that repeats a day three hundred times that there really wouldn’t be any forward moving plot, but the writers manage to squeeze it in with humor. Action, sci-fi, humor…checklist complete. I felt like I was right in the war with Cage and Vrataski. The training sets the tone and pacing of the film. I also appreciated how the aliens were winning the war. Sometimes in alien movies, there is a sense that mankind is going to win even though we’re coming up against alien technology we’ve never seen before–it can somehow be dismantled with a rocket launcher or atomic bomb.

I liked that the pace picked up after the first hour, however it seemed to get more clear and jumbled at the same time. For example, when Cage was in different situations with Vrataski and tell her that “this always happens here” or “I know this because you told me before,” it was hard to figure out how many times they had been in the situation before because the viewer is just seeing it for the first time.

The movie is delicious–it’s a mix of genetics with alien fare sci-fi, time bending, and changing the future. Perspective changes all the time. The mission of “win the war” turned into “kill the alien source that we’ve never heard of.” It almost turned into a quest of sorts, with the military back up to prove it.

Of course, the movie did have the trope of “person who really isn’t equipped for task at hand gets trained and becomes the only one capable to finish the job,” but no one ever said you couldn’t teach the alien genre new tricks. As a whole, the movie was a fresh twist on what is usually seen.

I really enjoyed watching it. I enjoyed that it didn’t give a crap about what aliens looked like (or how they were named) and just portrayed them as a hot black mess of speed and agility. I really, really, REALLY  enjoyed that it didn’t try to make the two leads into a romantic couple. That slight hint got completely thrown out of the helicopter window by the end of the movie.

And ah, Emily Blunt. I appreciated her work from The Young Victoria all the way to Looper and she does not disappoint in this. She is one bad boss. They almost messed her up with the almost hint of romance, but they redeemed it in the end and she turned out fine. As a woman lead, she was portrayed with a real sense of agency.

I actually wouldn’t mind living and repeating this one.

The Complete Doctor Who: Serial 2 The Daleks Episodes 1-2

Weighing in at an impressive 800 episodes, Doctor Who has been entertaining audiences for the past 50 years. Yet, despite this vast backlog of content, I know next to nothing about the actual series. For that reason, I’ve decided to watch this unusual show from the beginning, to discover the source of its unique appeal. Come with me as I tackle this daunting sci-fi phenomena from the very beginning in The Complete Doctor Who.

Warning: the following contains spoilers

After the last serial’s unfortunate detour into Flintstones territory, the TARDIS bounces back into the world of sci-fi as its crew finds itself stranded on…

The Dead Planet.

The episode beings with the Doctor and company scoping out their most recent destination through the TARDIS’ view screen. Before getting ready to leave, the Doctor tells Susan to check the radiation gauge, which immediately spikes into the red zone the moment her back is turned.

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Don’t you just hate those time delayed geiger counters?

Outside, the crew stumbles through yet another jungle (is the TARDIS set on jungle mode?), although this one is completely petrified, making it potentially even less interesting than our previous romp through caveland.

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Luckily Ian discovers a strange city on the horizon, which utterly captivates the Doctor to the point that he has to be all but dragged away by his more pragmatic companions.

On the way back, Susan is accosted by someone or something that grabs her by the shoulder. True to form, the Doctor doesn’t believe her.

As Susan pouts and Ian badgers him with questions, the Doctor decides to hell with it and just serves his crew lunch, giving us our first look at the Tardis’ very strange and very awesome food machine.

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I love this thing. It’s such a great combination of high and low tech, almost steampunk in how analog it is. The various foods are created through a series of numbered codes that the Doctor reads off of a handy recipe book. The machine assembles the components, then spits out what looks like a thick piece of chalk.

That’s about the time something starts tapping on the outside of the ship. Everyone is understandably freaked out and demands to leave, but the Doctor’s really taken with that city and delivers the episode’s best line, “I shall do what I want to do.”

Finally, Susan convinces her Grandfather to haul ass to someplace where they’re not in immediate mortal danger. He starts punching in commands until the ship suffers one of its regular malfunctions. Seriously, does anything on this ship ever work right? Like ever?

The Doctor traces the problem to an empty fluid link, which requires Mercury in order to run, which, of course, he doesn’t keep on the ship.

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This seems like it should be a much bigger deal, but the Doctor dismisses it with a shrug, confident they’ll find a nice, healthy supply of the stuff in the strange alien city. Seems reasonable to me, surely earth elements are readily available on cold, dead, alien worlds.

They trek back out into the jungle where they stumble on an unusual metal case full of strange glass vials, which they promptly leave it behind.

Then it’s off into the city where everyone immediately starts to feel sick. Sick. Lost. Malfunctioning time machine. This is playing out like a highlight reel of the world’s worst family vacation. If only they could all get separated somehow we would hit every single item on the checklist.

Whoops, spoke too soon. Ian immediately rectifies this oversight by suggesting they split up, which for some reason involves Barbara striking off on her own while the other three stick together.

As you can imagine, it takes literally minutes for this plan to go off the rails. Barbara finds herself trapped. Her hatch turns into an elevator, which leads her deep underground. She stumbles out, then this happens.

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Remember last time when I called out the final caveman fight as being especially well shot. This is another great example of the show’s occasional visual inspiration. It’s weird, it’s unnerving and, best of all, it does all this without revealing the identity of the threat.

A couple key takeaways here. The Doctor is still pretty abrasive, but we’re starting to see a different side of his personality here. He might not have much of a use for people, but this episode paints him as a man driven by scientific curiosity, which does a good job of rounding out his character. I only wish that he was the focus of the show and not his milquetoast companions, who routinely stand around delivering long exchanges of exposition.

I also like the city sets. Sure, they’re rather simple, but they have a kind of cold, foreboding quality with their long empty corridors and oddly shaped doors.

Episode 2: The Survivors

We pick up exactly where we left off, with Barbara suffering attack from some unknown assailant, while the rest of the crew continues to explore the mysterious city. They enter a random room and stumble upon a conveniently placed geiger counter, which explains why they’re all suddenly feeling so sick.

We also find out that the Doctor lied about the malfunctioning fuel link, because what’s a few dead friends compared to traipsing around a city with nothing in it? With that out of the bag, the Doctor displays his now-legendary compassion, proposing they return to the ship, leaving Barbara stranded alone in the city. Ian is less than pleased with this idea, but it’s all rendered moot a moment later when they find themselves facing down a horde of killer robots.

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This is actually a pretty good reveal, which starts on Susan’s frightened reaction, then pulls back to reveal that they’re boxed in by Daleks. Glad to see we’re getting a bit more variety in the shot selection.

Apparently the good Doctor’s tendency to beat feet is wearing off on his companions, because Ian’s first impulse is to make a run for it. Unfortunately, the Dalek’s hit him with a paralysis ray, which leads to the utterly fantastic line, “My legs. My legs. I can’t use my legs.” Show of hands for who else wants a talking Ian action figure with that as one of its catchphrases.

The Daleks deposit the Doctor, Susan, and Ian in a detention cell where Barbara has already been imprisoned, making this the second time the crew of the TARDIS has been captured. 0 for 2 guys. Now I’m no Time Lord, but if this is going to keep happening, it might be a good time to invest some type of offensive weaponry or maybe just a skeleton key.

The Daleks trot out the Doctor for questioning and through their conversation we get our first hints of what the hell’s happening.

Years ago there was a war between two races, the Daleks and the Thal. A nuclear attack caused the Daleks to burrow into the ground where they remain trapped. The Thal’s true fate is unknown, but the Daleks know they have survived and assume they have become “disgustingly mutated.” This admittedly doesn’t make much sense given that five minutes ago they thought the Doctor was one of them, but seeing as how we’re dealing with a bunch of talking pepper shakers, I’m just going to go ahead and forgive it.

The Daleks believe the Thals have survived due to a supply of anti-radiation drugs, which they are eager to get their hands on. The Doctor finally puts two and two together and realizes that the strange vials they found outside their ship are, in fact, the very same drugs. He proposes letting one of his group go out to get them, which the Daleks are all too willing to agree to.

Everyone is pretty far gone by this point, leaving it to Susan to get back to ship and retrieve them. She does this by engaging in some of the most insane running I’ve ever seen–I swear it’s like she’s powering her legs with her face–but I guess it works for her, because she finally reaches the ship and finds the drugs. The episode ends as she reenters the jungle, then it’s off to credits land.

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Let’s take a moment to talk about the Daleks. They don’t exactly exude menace–they’re actually quite silly, if we’re being honest–but there’s something distinct about them that I can’t help but like. They’re certainly unique and I’ll sure as hell take them them over a tribe of fire-obsessed cave dwellers.

In looking ahead to future episodes it’s interesting that the Daleks really haven’t changed much in 50 years. A few visual tweaks maybe, but that’s about it. They’re also one of the Doctor’s most resilient foes, crossing swords (or, in this, case plungers) with nearly all of the eleven doctors, most often more than once. Much like with the various Doctors, I’m looking forward to seeing how these unique villains develop over time.

Up next: More fun with those wacky Daleks in episodes 3-4.