Doctor Who: The Trouble With Cocoa

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 6 The Aztecs, Episode 3: The Bride of Sacrifice

Here’s the story so far: After landing in Mexico during the reign of the Aztecs, Barbara was mistaken for the goddess Yetaxa and decided to use this mistake to try purging the Aztecs of some of the more violent aspects of their culture. Instead, she drew the ire of High Priest of Sacrifice and all around scowl enthusiast Tlotoxl who at last episode’s end coaxed Ian into a battle to the death with the warrior Ixta.

We pick up mid-fight with Barbara looking on helplessly as Tlotoxl tells her to prove her divinity by saving Ian’s life.

It’s a hell of a sticky situation, saving her friend’s life without revealing herself as a total fraud. So, how does she get herself out of it? She holds a dagger up to Tlotoxl’s throat, then orders his crony Ixta to back off.

Ian saved. Godhood maintained. Tlotoxl scurries off, scowling all the way.

So, now that he’s succeeding in nearly killing Ian, Ixta decides it’s high time the two of them became friends, declaring,

“Now that I can defeat you openly, I have no need to destroy you in secret.” Which incidentally is exactly how I open each of my facebook friend requests.

Having failed yet again in his attempt to humiliate Barbara, Tlotoxl gets another one of his cronies to fix up a poison, reasoning that if Barbara is a true goddess feeding her poison will be prove it once and for all.

Professor Poison - BBC

So, could you like make me some poison? – BBC

Unfortunately for him, Ian catches wind of this and heads off to Barbara’s chambers in order to warn her.

Meanwhile in the garden of peace, Cameca confesses to the high priest Ortlock that she has the hots for the Doctor and has purchased a bunch of cocoa beans for the occasion. It seems in Aztec society, making cocoa for someone is the equivalent of a marriage proposal.

Sadly, the Doctor seems to have slept through that particular lesson, because upon seeing her supply of cocoa beans, he insists they brew up a batch right away.

It’s about this time that Ian reaches Barbara’s boss throne room. He warns her of Tlotoxl’s plot, then lectures her on the finer points of playing god. First the Doctor now Ian, seems like everybody gets a chance to put Susan in her place.

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BBC

Then Tlotoxl strolls in with a bowl of strange liquid and urges her to “drink this draft with us as a symbol of our friendship.” Quick tip ladies, if you ever find yourself getting an offer like that, you’re probably going to want to go ahead and run.

Sadly, Barbara is nowhere near this astute and hunkers over the bowl ready to drink. Luckily, Ian’s there to give her the high sign and she stops and demands that Tlotoxl drink it first. He refuses, failing in yet another attempt to disgrace her.

Barbara, having endured what must be his twelfth attempt at exposing her secret, finally just says to hell with it and tells Tlotoxl she’s not Yetaxa after all.

Tlotoxl breaks into one of his villainous grins until Barbara points out that even though he knows the truth, it’s unlikely that anyone will believe him. Then she shuts him down completely saying, “I warn you Tlotoxl, you say one word against me to the people and I’ll have them destroy you.”

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BBC

It’s all pretty badass.

Back in the garden, the Doctor and Cameca are sipping cocoa and talking about their future.

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BBC

 

Camecah casually reveals that they’re now engaged and the Doc busts out his best spit take.

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BBC

Wha?!!

This subplot really feels like it’s from a different episode entirely. Every other character is trapped in a cycle of death and danger, while the Doctor’s skipping through some mid-90s rom com.

So, seeing as how five minutes have passed, you might be wondering what Tlotoxl’s up to now? Well, having failed at his poison scheme, he’s already on to something else, this time turning his attentions to Susan.

I’ll say this for the guy. Brother sure is tenacious.

Now, last time we saw Susan, she had made her opposition to arranged marriage well-known by shouting it to anyone within earshot

Taking that as his inspiration, Tlotoxl strolls in with some creepy weirdo who immediately begins undressing Susan with his eyes. Then, just as he’s about to walk out, he casually adds, “I shall take her as my bride.”

Susan refuses, which, of course means that she needs to be punished.

And what is the punishment you might ask? Well, apparently she’s to be publicly scourged and ridiculed, then have her tongue and ears pierced with thorns. Okay, the thorns and scourging I totally get, but public ridicule? That seems a bit extreme.

Tlotoxl shares this with Barbara, failing to tell her that Susan is the one to be punished.

Now trapped in a very delicate position, Barbara once again reaches out to the other high priest Ortlock to back her play. One of the more interesting elements of this story arc is how Barbara claims she’s trying to do away with blind faith, but keeps exploiting it whenever it serves her purpose.

Meanwhile, Ian meets up with the Doctor in the garden. The Doc shows him something that proves the tomb can be opened, meaning they can get to the TARDIS and blast out of this craphole.

When Ian asks him where he got it, the Doctor responds, “My fiancee.”

Ian: “Your what?”

“Yes I made some cocoa and got engaged.”

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BBC

Another moment of lighthearted comedy, moments after Susan is threatened with a forced marriage.

Cut to: later that night. Ian is sleeping next to Ixta on the ground for some reason??!! I guess they’re like roommates now?

Ian gets up and sneaks off to the garden with Ixta hot on his trail.

In the garden, Ian and the Doctor discover a hidden panel on the outside of the tomb and manage to pry it open. Ian goes inside as the Doc stands watch.

Then, Ixta shows up and the Doctor does a terrible job of playing dumb.

What’s that? Oh, nothing, just standing here. That hole? That’s probably nothing, no reason to put that back in place.

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BBC

Ixta grabs the panel and uses it to reseal the passage, stranding Ian inside just at the passage starts filling with water.

Kind of strange episode this week. Barbara’s still trying to protect her secret, Susan’s being used as a pawn and the Doctor’s having a merry old time. Wonder how all this is going to play out? Catch us next time for episode 4: The Day of Darkness.

 

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Doctor Aztec

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 6 The Aztecs, Episode 2: The Warriors of Death

Last time, the TARDIS stranded our heroes in 14th Century Mexico. Barbara was mistaken for the Aztec god Yetaxa, Ian got drafted, and Susan got carted off to religious school. As for the Doctor…well, he got to hang around the pleasure garden, flirting with one of the aging residents, so he’s doing alright.

Barbara also stopped a ritual involving human sacrifice, drawing the hatred of high priest Tlotoxl.

Needless to say, the Doctor’s none too happy about that and launches into his best Capt. Picard.

“You can’t rewrite history,” he tells her, “Not one single line.”

BBC

BBC

It’s a really good scene that gives Hartnell the chance to really cut loose, while adding some much-needed moral responsibility to their adventures. Prior to this, they’ve  just sort of bounced around doing whatever they wanted, history be damned, so it’s nice to get some sense of their actions having consequences.

Afterwards, the Doctor apologizes for being so harsh, which is also a nice little touch. Not so long ago, the thought of the Doctor apologizing for anything was next to impossible, but now that the group has tightened, he’s falling into more of a Grandfather role.

Since Tlotoxl is now their sworn enemy, the Doctor stresses the importance of keeping the other high priest Ortlock on their side.

As this is happening, Tlotoxl struts right in during their conversation, and when Barbara demands an explanation, he counters with, “I proclaim myself only to my gods.”

That more or less sets the tone for the entire episode, with Tlotoxl playing bitchy cheerleader to Barbara’s popular new girl.

Meanwhile, back in another part of the temple, Ian and Ixta are still fighting over the right to lead the Aztec army. By this point, it’s pretty well established that Ian is the group’s man of action, but this time around, the show catapults him to the status of full-blown badass.

When Ixta tosses a spear into the wall, an unimpressed Ian counters, “Real enemies can hit back.”

Later, in the same conversation, Ian says, “I won’t kill you this time, not this time Ixta.”

It’s pretty fantastic, Jason Statham dialogue delivered by a milquetoast high school science teacher.

Finally, after a great deal of chest-thumping, Ian just holds up his thumb, claiming it’s all he needs to beat Ixta.

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BBC

One Vulcan neck pinch later, Ixta is on the ground unconscious and Ian is strutting away. “Tell him to have a good rest when he wakes up,” he says on his way out. Fantastic!

When Ixta does wake up, Tlotoxl is right there, goading him into a bare knuckle contest with Ian at sundown.

Meanwhile, the doctor’s back in the garden of peace, trying to charm the secrets of the TARDIS’ resting place out of his new friend Cameca.

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BBC

Cameca sets up a meeting him and the son of the tomb’s architect, who just so happens to be Ixta. Twist!

At this point we finally catch up with Susan at the seminary where Ortlock is quizzing her on The Code of the Good Housewife, which includes such gems as: “Do not spend recklessly” and “Keep clean your pot and soup pan”.

After forcing her to learn pages 1 through 40 of the misogynist’s handbook, Ortlock drops another little gem on her, casually revealing that she’s to be the subject of an arranged marriage.

Considering what she’s just been studying, this probably shouldn’t come as much of a shock, but Susan loses it, loudly proclaiming, “It’s my life. I’ll spend it with whom I choose, not someone picked out for me.”

Then, Ixta shows up for his meeting with the Doctor and since first impressions are very important to him, he wore his best leopard.

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BBC

Ixta says he has a map of the tomb and that he’ll exchange it if the Doctor can provide him an advantage for an upcoming fight.

Doc creates a knockout toxin for him by soaking a needle in the juices of a local plant. Only problem is, Doc doesn’t know the opponent is Ian.

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BBC

Everyone gathers together for the big showdown.

The fight begins and Ian goes on to dominate the Aztec warrior in every way. I don’t know what was going on in London High Schools circa 1963, but whatever it is left Ian remarkably suited to 14th Century combat.

As the fight draws it its end, Ixta scratches Ian with the poisoned needle. Ian starts to waver, then just as Ixta is on the verge of killing him, Tlotoxl wanders over to Barbara and insists that if she really is a goddess she’ll be able to save Ian’s life. Fade out.

The show is making some pretty big strides with this story arc. For the first time, the Doctor feels like the lead character rather than a guest star in his own show. He’s got real dimension and gets to do a lot this episode, showing off his intellect with Ixta, playing the charmer with Cameca. Hartnell  seems to be having much more fun with the role too, playing him as a kind of mischevious schemer.

Most of the other characters rate pretty well here too. Barbara’s moral struggle is interesting and Ian’s sudden transformation into a swaggering badass is pretty fun. Susan doesn’t really get to do much this time, but even she gets her brief moment of empowerment. Looking forward to seeing where we go from here.

Next episode: The Bride of Sacrifice, which doesn’t sound too good for Susan.

 

The Complete Doctor Who: Serial 2 The Daleks Episodes 5-6

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

Episode 5: The Expedition

Last time our heroes escaped from the Dalek city, only to discover they had left a vital piece of their ship behind, a plot twist which caused me to roll my eyes so hard, I lost my vision for the better part of the day.

Needless to say, I’m not exactly thrilled to sit through another trip to Dalek town, particularly one that revolves around the search for an intergalactic spark plug, but you know what? Sometimes you just got to take one for the team.

We begin with a lengthy debate on the nature of violence. The Thals won’t fight, which is pretty understandable given that their last big battle reduced the world to an irradiated wasteland. Which would make it the second most tragic thing to happen to them after their choice of wardrobe.

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BBC

The crew of the TARDIS doesn’t care about things like morals though and just really wants to get home. All except for Ian, who’s not keen on sacrificing lives over a silly ship component.

Based on Barbara’s past behavior, you would expect her to agree, but apparently this week she has forgotten she cares about people and is really only concerned with saving her own skin. She then proceeds to angrily recap the plot for Ian in case he’s forgotten things that happened literally moments ago.

And what about the Doctor, usually the prickliest pear in the bunch? He’s actually pretty gracious here and thanks Ian for not rubbing his face in the fact that this entire situation is basically his fault.

Not sure what’s up with the characterizations here. Barbara is acting like the doctor, while the Doctor comes off as remarkably laid back. Did the actors get bored and just swap scripts or what? 

Then the personality mix-and-match hits critical mass when the Doctor insists, “With me to lead them, the Thals are bound to succeed.”

Did I miss something here? This is the same guy who ran away THREE times in just the last episode alone, right? Now apparently he is a master strategist, Barbara is a shrill nag and Susan, well Susan is still basically useless.

Since Ian remains the only character capable of decisive action, it falls on him to speak to the Thals. And how does he go about converting this group of dedicated pacifists? With a rousing speech? A tragic parable illustrating the inevitability of violence? Nope, he grabs Alydon’s girlfriend and threatens to hand her over to the Daleks.

Alydon is having none of that though and promptly coldcocks him.

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BBC

This is apparently enough to unseat the Thals’ entire moral philosophy and they soon come to the conclusion that there are some situations in which fighting is okay. That was pretty easy. 

Ever wondered what it looks like when a Dalek drops acid? Fortunately this episode is kind of enough to show us and the results are not pretty.

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BBC

The Daleks have duplicated the Thals’ anti-radiation drugs, which has certain unfortunate side effects, namely, the tendency to spin around in a circle chanting, “Cannot control. Cannot control.” I’d love to see a pharmaceutical commercial for that one.

“Do not take if you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant. Side effects include, uncontrolled spinning and in, some rare cases, death. Do use if you are a mutant cyborg.”

With a vast cross section of them dying from the drugs, the Daleks conclude that maybe what they need is more radiation. Sound good to me. Anytime something starts to hurt, I always respond by doing the exact opposite and hey, I’m still here.

So, the Daleks round up the rest of their drugged friends and bathe them in vast quantities of radiation, reasoning “if they don’t die we’ll have our answer.” Which is pretty stone cold for a group that spent the preceding four episodes serving food to people on tiny little platters. I guess they did kill that one guy, but  having spent this much time with the Thals, I think I probably would have done the same. 

Back in the Thal camp, the Doctor utilizes his newfound battle skills to formulate a two-pronged attack. One group will storm the city as a distraction, while another makes its way around for a rear attack. This involves traveling through a long swath of swampland, which is “alive with mutations.”

Ian and Barbara take a small contingent of Thals into the swamps, which exude a staggering amount of background noise. The foley guy rolled earned his paycheck this week.

We also see that Barbara is now rocking the Thal’s signature leather chaps, which is a vast improvement over that awful skirt she’s been wearing since episode 1. Good for you Barbara.

Ian goes over to wash his face in a nearby pond, a pond that is almost certainly seething with radiation, but why not right? He’s totally taken anti-radiation drugs, which means he’s 100% immune. See, I paid attention in science class. Then, he looks up and sees this.

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BBC

Forget about the Daleks, I want to know more about that thing. My God is that creepy looking.

They all make camp for the night and, after a fitful night of sleep, one of the Thals goes off to fill the water sacks with, what I can only assume, is more radioactive water. Instead he finds this.

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BBC

What exactly is going on with that pond? Star shaped monsters, random whirlpools. If that’s what’s going on, do you really want to be drinking the water?

Disposable Thal #2 gets sucked in and the group stands there thinking maybe the Doctor’s plan isn’t so great after all.

Episode 6: The Ordeal

Everyone stands around absorbing the effects of last episode’s amazing whirlpool death, particularly a Thal named Antodus, who is very sad.

Meanwhile, the Daleks are busy plotting the massive radiation death™ of what remains of their world. Unfortunately, making another neutron bomb will take a full 23 days, which is far too long by Dalek standards. When they set their minds on nuclear armageddon they want it done YESTERDAY. 

By this point, Barbara and company have apparently made it through the swamps because they’re now in some sort of cave.

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BBC

Barbara flirts with a guy named Ganatus, who’s just as boring as she is, making them a perfect match.

There’s some shenanigans with a rope. Ganatus falls down a cavern and Ian steps in to save the day, reminding us that everyone else on this show is basically useless. 

And what about the Doctor? He’s outside the Dalek city jamming the Daleks’ surveillance equipment by reflecting bright lights at them.

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BBC

I honestly can’t decide if that’s the most brilliant plan ever or the most stupid.

The really important take away here is that the Doctor’s having a ball. “We’ll show them a thing or two,” he rants like a grandpa hopped up on too much cold medicine.

Then, we’re back to the cave because apparently someone spent a great deal of money on this set and damned if they aren’t going to get their money’s worth.

Remember Antodus, the sad Thal from earlier? Well, he’s not too pleased with this course of action and wants to run away, reasoning “Even if we do get through, we’ll never defeats the Daleks.” Which raises a sound point. What is the plan for doing that?

Antodus gets angry, the two of them engage in what might charitably be called grappling and unleash a rockslide, closing them in.

Outside the Dalek city, the Doctor has found the Daleks power source. That’s right, it’s just hanging out there like an electric box. The Doctor shorts it out and again, he’s having the time of his life. “Don’t you realize what I’ve just done?” he exclaims, “A few simple tools, a superior brain…” then the Daleks roll in and capture him AGAIN, because it’s been at least one whole episode since that happened.

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BBC

They’re taken back into the city and forced to sit on the floor like a pair of naughty children, leading to what is probably the best scene of this entire story arc. The Daleks lay out their plan to vent the radiation from their reactors out into the world.

Susan questions why they’re so interested in the Thals, to which the Daleks reply, “The only interest we have in the Thals is their total extermination.” Which pretty much sums up my feelings on them too.

The Doctor has a weirdly dramatic moment where he exclaims, “That’s sheer murder.” But the Daleks are quick to correct him. “No. Extermination.”

Then the Daleks line up, do a strange Hitler salute with their arms and start chanting in unison. It is without a doubt the single creepiest moment of the show thus far. In my side research I read that the Daleks were originally based on the Nazis, designed to represent the cold, faceless nature of fascism, but I didn’t really get that vibe until now. Don’t know why the writers waited this long to break this out, but it’s a pretty effective moment in capturing just how inhuman the Daleks can be.

Back in the cave, Ian and the rest of Zero Squad stumble across a crevice. Ian decides to jump it and one by one, the other members of the party follow. And I do mean one by one, as we’re treated to a lingering shot of each and every one of them jumping across what is an obvious set. Then Antodus takes his turn and immediately falls over the side, pulling Ian down under the weight. As he scrambles for a handhold we’re left pondering what would happen if Ian were to die. I assume everyone would just sit down until they died of slow starvation. 

Join me next time for the thrilling conclusion to the Dalek saga in The Rescue.

The Complete Doctor Who: Serial 2 The Daleks Episodes 3-4

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

Episode 3: The Escape

Last episode we got our first look at the Doctor’s greatest enemies the Daleks. It was heavy on plot, remarkably light on interesting developments, but fear not, because this episode is wall to wall gold.

We begin with our usual recap. Susan reaches the TARDIS where she pockets the anti-radiation drugs, then steps out for a chance meeting with this guy.

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Oh, did I frighten you? – BBC

That’s right, dude’s straight up chilling outside, doing his best impression of the creepy guy at the back of the bus. Susan is understandably terrified, so the man gives her his name, Alydon, and a backup supply of drugs. So just to review, a crazy looking stalker gives a box of “medicine” to a teenage girl. Yup, I’ve got a feeling this is going to turn out just fine.

He also lends her his cloak, which might be the most insane piece of clothing ever worn by anyone ever.

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BBC

Wow. 

Susan takes the drugs back to the city, where the rest of the crew enjoy an improbably quick recuperation given that they were dying of radiation only moments ago.

Meanwhile, in their funny little command center, the Dalek’s concoct a plan to lure the Thals into their city.

They also decide to bring food to their prisoners, which they serve to them on a little silver platter.

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BBC

This is absolutely fantastic and left me with a single burning question; how is this not a theme restaurant? Dalek waiters taking your order in a shrill robotic voice.

“Welcome. to. Daleks. Today’s. specials. are…”

I would practically live at a place like that. Seriously folks, let’s get a kickstarter campaign started to fund this thing toot sweet.

We follow this up with our first group shot of the Thal and folks, it is a thing of true beauty.

Dplanet

Any cosplayers out there looking for their next look, I challenge you to make this happen. Torn leather chaps, open chest V-neck shirt, along with that tortoise shell pattern cloak. The thought of a good half dozen of you descending on Comic Con rocking that look fills me with a special kind of glee.

You might think that’s as good as things get, but folks, we’re just getting warmed up. Next, we get what has got to be one of my top ten favorite things of all time, when the Daleks dictate a letter to Susan. A letter which she writes out in LONGHAND. The future everyone. Incredible.

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BBC

Meanwhile, back in the cell, the Doctor works out that the Daleks are powered by static electricity, which seems remarkably low tech for a race of beings in possession of a paralysis ray.

The group hatches what may be their weirdest plan yet, staging a really ham-fisted fight during which they tear out the security camera that’s been recording them, then mix water with the jungle remains from the bottom of Susan’s shoes.

A Dalek comes in later with another serving tray, allowing Ian to block the door with the remains of the camera. Barbara smears mud on the Dalek’s scanner and they straight up pull the Dalek by the arms onto Susan’s tortoise cloak, thus severing its power. That’s right, they defeat a Dalek using a combination of mud and a stupid looking cape, leading me to wonder how they ever managed to reach their arch-enemy status. I guess in the world of the good Doctor, mud and capes are hard to come by.

Then they pop the top off the thing like it’s a can of Pringles, pull out the creature inside (which thanks to a blanket we never fully see), then deposit it in the corner of the room.

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BBC

Ian climbs inside and we get the Stormtrooper disguise scene from Star Wars a full fifteen years early.

After they step out of the room, we get what is actually a pretty cool cliffhanger, in which a clawed hand reaches out from beneath the blanket, revealing there’s more to the Daleks besides their metallic shells.

Episode 4: The Ambush

We pick up right where we left off, with Ian rolling down the hall in his Dalekmobile, herding his friends before him like prisoners. He tries bluffing his way past another Dalek, who decides he really ought to clear things with his boss first. Then we get a true first for this show, when Susan actually does something useful. Not surprising, it involves screaming, which turns out to be a pretty good way of distracting mutant cyborgs. Live and learn kids.

They all pile into the elevator and start their long trip to the surface. And I do mean long, as they take what might be the slowest elevator ride of all time. 

Ian gets stuck inside the Dalek, which is kind of amazing and the Doctor pulls his “every man for himself” schtick, leaving him behind.

Meanwhile, the Daleks have figured out what’s happened and are going to work on the elevator door, blasting away with a wicked looking welding torch that’s a damn site more menacing than the fall-down ray they used earlier.

The Doctor reaches the top with Susan and Barbara in tow, while Ian struggles to escape his robot costume, which is a really weird way to build dramatic tension.

The Daleks finally force their way through and straight up annihilate the Dalek inside. The top crumbles away and they realize its empty.

The elevator goes up once again and Ian FINALLY makes it to the top. That’s right folks, we’re halfway through this thing and our heroes have successfully ascended an elevator. Go team.

By this point, the Daleks are themselves coming up the elevator, so Ian destroys it by grabbing an inexplicably placed piece of modern art and pushing it down on top of it. What in God’s name is this doing here? There is literally nothing found anywhere within the halls of a city populated entirely by mutated blobs riding around in roving shop vacs, yet for some reason the top floor has a piece of corporate art?

With that insane business out of the way, our “heroes” look out a window just in time to see a group of Thals headed toward the city and an obvious ambush (like the title, see?).

Naturally, the Doctor feels no inclination whatsoever to help them, so Ian agrees to stay and warn them. I’ve got to wonder why this isn’t called the Ian Chesterton show, since he’s the only character willing to do anything.

Ian proceeds to find the Thal leader, then watches him for a solid three minutes, finally yelling a warning when it can’t do a conceivable bit of good.

The Daleks kill the hell out of the Thal, giving him what is perhaps the most undignified death of all time.

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BBC

Here’s hoping they build a statue commemorating his sacrifice.

Then the remaining Thals escape the city by doing this.

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BBC

Again, not really selling me on the whole menace of the Daleks thing.

Ian joins up with the others at the Thal camp and we learn a little bit about their culture. In the years since their great war with the Daleks, the Thals’ culture has done a complete 180, making them opposed to violence of any kind. This poses something of a moral dilemma. Do they convince the Thals to fight, or allow them to embrace what is a very positive break from their violent past?

At least it would be a moral dilemma if it were any other show but this one. Instead, the Doctor decides it’s time to leave, making this the THIRD time he has run away in just this episode alone.

Having witnessed Barbara’s compassion towards Za back in the last serial, one would logically assume she would have some objection to this, but no, she simply grabs Susan and gets ready to leave.

Outnumbered by the others, Ian reluctantly goes along, only to reveal the episode’s final twist. Remember the fuel cell that started this whole mess in the first place? Well, it seems it’s gone missing, taked by the Daleks at some point offscreen. GROAN. Yup, that means it’s back to the city we just spent four episodes escaping from.

I can’t believe how absolutely off the wall this episode is. I get that the Doctor is meant to be unconventional, but all he seems to do is turn tail and run, which is a remarkably strange way to anchor your outer space adventure series. At this point, Ian has become the de facto lead, only by virtue of the fact that he occasionally does something to drive the narrative forward.

It’s also important to note that there are four main characters here. This is a conscious choice on the part of the creators, so why are they given so little to do? It’s a head scratcher to be sure. Oh well, perhaps we’ll get some answers next time when our “heroes” return in The Expedition.

The Complete Doctor Who: Serial 1 An Unearthly Child, episodes 2-4

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 unique 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.

Last time we tackled the first ever episode of Doctor Who, which introduced us to the first Doctor, as well as his granddaughter Susan and reluctant companions Ian and Barbara. At episode’s end they were whisked away courtesy of the TARDIS, depositing them into their first ever adventure. Quick note everybody, the following contains spoilers, fifty year old spoilers, but spoilers all the same.

The Cave of Skulls

BBC

Have you ever been dragged to a party only to discover you’ve made a terrible mistake? That’s a lot like the opening scenes here. A bunch of people in animal skins crowd around as their would-be leader Za rubs a bone between his fingers in a futile attempt to make fire.

That’s right, given the opportunity to travel anywhere in time and space, the writers have seen fit to drop us into the middle of cave man times. <sigh> Okay, to be fair, it’s a low budget show, and rocks, caves, and animal skin costumes come pretty cheap. I suppose if we’re being honest, every planet in Star Trek looked like it was shot on the edge of a California freeway so I suppose I can deal with a few rocks and dirt.

As Za plays with his collection of sticks and bones, we get some great ominous ranting from a terrifying old woman. The actress’ name is Eileen Way and she’s really quite fantastic. Her vacant stare and rasping voice are genuinely creepy and I found myself wishing she played a larger role in the story.

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BBC

We’re also treated to a nearly endless repetition of the word fire, which will continue for the duration of the next three episodes. Are you starting to feel glad I’m watching this and not you?

After this, it’s back to the TARDIS where we learn that the Doctor has no idea where they are. That’s right, as if being trapped with the Doctor wasn’t terrifying enough, it seems the TARDIS itself is on the fritz, depositing them randomly into various places and times. It’s also supposed to change shape, camouflaging itself as something from their surroundings, but for some reason, it still appears as a police box.

The doctor goes out to “get samples” which is apparently Time Lord slang for smoke up.

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BBC

His trip to flavor country gets cut short though when he gets conked on the head and carted off by a wandering caveman.

This introduces us to Kal, Za’s chief rival for leader and as the two square off, their conflict plays out like a primitive election, with fire, animal skins, and meat being the central issues of the day. We even get our first negative attack ad with Kal declaring, “Za will give you to the tiger. Za will give you to the cold.”

If Mitt Romney had crafted a gem like that, things might have turned out very different.

Soon after, Barbara, Susan, and Ian stage what is perhaps the world’s most terrible rescue attempt, which basically consists of them running into the cave screaming.

Surprising no one, they are immediately captured and tossed into a space called The Cave of Skulls, which is about as pleasant as it sounds.

Later on that night though, the weird old woman breaks into the cave and helps them escape, motivated by a profound fear of fire that is never really elaborated on. Not that it really matters though because she’s killed shortly afterward, robbing the episode of its most interesting character.

Za is awakened by his girlfriend (wife?) and told what has happened. He chases them into the jungle, only to get gored offscreen by some kind of wild animal. The Doctor tries to make a break for it, but Barbara insists they help him, saving Za’s life in the process. Za’s rewards them for this act of mercy by promptly recapturing them.

Then it’s back to The Cave of Skulls. Za gets his fire, Kal is slain, and the crew of the TARDIS escape by balancing skulls on the edge of torches.

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BBC

No, I’m not making that up.

I think it’s safe to say this is not the Doctor’s finest hour. The story seems padded and it’s at least one episode too long. It takes our heroes far too long to outwit a group whose IQ hovers somewhere in the single digits and let’s face it, if a time-traveling alien can’t outwit a bunch of fire-obsessed neanderthals then what good is he?

It’s not a fantastic story, but at least some of the pieces are slowly staring to take shape. The companions have started slipping into their roles. Ian is becoming the man of action. There is also a decent character moment for Barbara in her insistence on saving Za. It’s a good character beat that sets her up as the group’s conscience. Susan still doesn’t do much besides scream, but you know what, two out of three ain’t bad.

William Hartnell’s turn as the Doctor continues to please. Here, he is largely devoid of compassion, functioning as more of an anti-hero than anything else. The other characters are in constant conflict with him. We haven’t been told how long the Doctor has been separated from his people or why that happened in the first place and I’m beginning to suspect that may play a role in his prickly demeanor. In any case, I’m looking forward to seeing how this plays out over time. Will he soften under his companions’ influence, or will they continue on as the world’s most dysfunctional group of time travelers?

While the look of the show is pretty flat, it does have occasional flashes of visual ingenuity. The final confrontation between Za and Kal feels particularly brutal, alternating frantic close-ups with reaction shots from the Doctor and his crew that really sell the off-screen violence.

Barbara's horrified reaction to Kal's brutal murder.

Barbara’s horrified reaction to Kal’s brutal murder – BBC

Throughout the fight, the flame light flickers over the cavemen’s bodies, underscoring the source of their conflict. A really effective scene that manages to sidestep the show’s technical limitations.

That’s it for now. Hopefully next episode will bring us somewhere more compelling as the Doctor squares off against the Daleks for the first time.

Doctor Who From the Beginning: Serial 1, Episode 1: An Unearthly Child

I’m pleased to announce that a new writer is joining us at Gods & Galaxies! He’ll be tackling the behemoth that is older Doctor Who among other things. So without further ado, I’ll let Bryan introduce himself and leave you in his capable hands. 

Hiya folks, I’m really looking forward to playing around in this fantastic sandbox you’ve got here, but before I get into all that, a little background on me.

I love geek stuff. Comic books, foreign films, obscure genre writers, I’m never happier than when I’m digging into these things to unearth some new curiosity. There’s something about cult phenomena that I find fascinating, that strange power it holds over small, but dedicated groups of people.

During one of my usual geek binges, I stumbled onto what is perhaps the largest gap in my nerd knowledge, that mammoth juggernaut known as Doctor Who.

With 800 episodes reaching back to the early sixties, as well as an assortment of specials, novels, comics, and audio dramas, it’s an incredibly daunting franchise. And yet despite that vast backlog of content, I must confess I know next to nothing about the actual series.

Sure, I’m aware of the show’s basic concepts, time machine disguised as police box, alien protagonist that regenerates new identities, I can even pick a Dalek out of a lineup, but past that, my knowledge of the show dries up pretty fast. For years, it’s just sort of been there, existing on the periphery.

Needless to say, I find that quite unacceptable and thought it long past time I dig into the good Doctor’s world and find out what this thing is all about.

Another thing you should know about me, I’m kind of a completist. Be it with authors, shows, or film directors, I like to start at the beginning and work my way forward. So, even though Doctor Who’s 2005 relaunch offers a perfectly good jumping on point, I decided to wade into more distant waters and experience this strange phenomena from the very beginning.

I’m not entirely sure just how ambitious this will get (800 episodes is 800 episodes after all), but at the very least I’d like to hit each of the various eras, get a feel for how it’s changed over time. So, with that out of the way, let’s get down to it with the first ever Doctor Who serial, An Unearthly Child.

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BBC

The show opens on a mysterious note, the now-famous Doctor Who theme playing on in the background as the camera tracks in on a warehouse door, which swings open to reveal a nondescript police box.

From there we cut to a school classroom where we’re introduced to Barbara Wright and Ian Chesterton, two teachers who are puzzled by the strange behavior of a mutual student. Incredibly brilliant, but with strange gaps in her knowledge, teenager Susan Foreman is something of a mystery to them both. After comparing notes for a few moments, the two of them decide to follow her home and get to the bottom of just what’s going on.

They end up at the warehouse teased in the show’s opening where they meet a strange, surly old man dressed in Edwardian clothing. They hear Susan’s voice coming from what sounds like the police box and after a heated argument with the unusual man, they manage to to force their way inside the police box where they find themselves standing on the bridge of some mysterious ship.

Not really knowing what I was in for, this episode was something of a pleasant surprise. With its black and white videography and central mystery, it has a real Twilight Zone vibe to it. It does a good job of setting things up, framing the action through two grounded characters and parceling out the fantastic premise a little bit at a time.

We get some brief bits of backstory. The police box is called the TARDIS, which stands for Time and Relative Dimension in Space and the doctor reveals that he and Susan are aliens, cut off from their planet, but that’s about it. A lot of the background hasn’t been revealed, which is fine because the mysterious atmosphere really helped this episode along.

I was kind of surprised by some of the relationships. I know the companions are a recurring role throughout the show, but I was surprised that Susan is a direct relation to the Doctor. I also didn’t expect there to be so damn many people filling the role. I’d always thought the companion/doctor dynamic was a one to one thing, but here, we’ve got three separate characters filling the role.

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From left: Barbara, Susan & Ian – BBC

As for the Doctor himself, well, he’s…kind of a dick and, frankly, it’s fantastic. Most of these adventure stories build their heroes from the same template, a kind of Flash Gordon/John Carter man of action. Here though, we have a character who has much more in common with Sherlock Holmes, arrogant and dismissive, with a bitter, misanthropic edge.

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BBC

In these scenes, William Hartnell is awesome, delivering lines like, “I tolerate this civilization, but I don’t enjoy it,” with an acid crankiness. Obviously the teachers are pretty gobsmacked by what they’ve stumbled into and the Doctor uses the occasion to mock them roundly, laughing at their confusion, before finally refusing to let them leave. He allows Ian to electrocute himself on the ship’s instrument panel, then nearly kicks his own granddaughter out into the cold, when she finally sticks up for her teachers.

It’s one hell of a character introduction, especially for the guy whose name is up there on the title. I’m not quite sure where we go from here, but I can only hope it continues in this vein, three reluctant castaways hurtling through time with a deranged and hateful Willy Wonka at the helm.

So far I’m liking what I’m seeing. An unusual lead character with a mysterious background, galavanting around in a glorified phone booth? Sign me up for more.

The episode ends with the TARDIS trapped in some rocky wasteland with a long shadow draped across the ground. Next episode: “The Cave of Skulls.”