The Doctor’s New Clothes

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 Reign of Terror, Episode 3: A Change of Identity

Last time, the majority of our cast got themselves shipped off to prison while the Doctor took a scenic walking tour of France. Then, in the episode’s final minutes, Barbara and Susan were led out to the guillotine, while Ian looked on helplessly from his cell.

We open this week on a shot of a city street as the Doctor finally makes his arrival in Paris.

Then it’s off to another part of the city, where a pair of young men hover in the shadows, waiting to ambush the prison caravan on its way to the guillotine.

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Meanwhile, back in the dungeons, everyone’s favorite Jailer shows up for his regular food delivery only to be by summoned by his Uniformed Superior. In his hurry, the jailer somehow manages to leave his entire ring of keys dangling from the keyhole of a nearby cell.

The Uniformed Man, who has been waiting all of twenty-three seconds, immediately snaps at the Jailer for taking so long.

When the Jailer points out that he was delivering food, Capt. Uniform screams and knocks the pair of bowls he’s holding to the floor, shouting, “The prisoner’s food is unimportant!”

So, what is important? Long lists of execution figures, which Uniform informs us will soon be examined by Robespierre himself. He’s also quick to add that if the records aren’t correct, the Jailer himself might find his way onto the list.

Now I’ve been fortunate enough to have never lived through a genocidal purge, so my knowledge in this area is somewhat lacking, but how exactly does one screw up a list of executions? Do you accidentally check the alive box by mistake? It seems pretty cut and dried.

While this is going on, we cut to inside of Ian’s cell, where everyone’s favorite man of action searches his surroundings for a way out. He notices the keys dangling from his cell door, steals the key to his individual cell, then sticks them back exactly as he found them.

Then, with that accomplished, he sits down to reward himself with a nice bowl of Parisian slop.

Back in the main area, Uniform is apparently pleased with the Jailer’s figures and promises to put a good word for him in higher circles.

Jailer’s feeling pretty good about himself. The right word in the right ear might mean bigger prisons and bigger prisons means bigger keychains. Oh, the possibilities.

Unfortunately that’s about the time he notices that his own keys are missing and races back to the cells. He finds them hanging from the door where he left them, never suspecting that they’re a single key short.

Well played Ian, well played.

Down in the streets, Susan and Barbara enjoy what may be the worst carriage ride of all time on their trip to the guillotine.

Fortunately, their journey is interrupted when one of the horses throws a shoe.  Barbara plans to make a break for it but Susan’s not feeling well enough to move, so they just stand there hugging instead.

But then the two rebels from earlier show up, kill all the guards, and whisk the two of them off to safety.

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With that settled, it’s back to the Doctor who continues wandering the streets. He stops in at a clothing shop and inquires where the newly arrested prisoners are taken.

Then, he starts rummaging through racks of clothes, discovering a Regional Officer’s uniform. Despite possessing no money whatsoever, he talks the shopkeep into giving it to him in exchange for the clothes on his back. The Shopkeep agrees on the condition that Doc throw in his ring. Doc agrees on the further condition that he be given parchment and writing materials.

Meanwhile, the rebels have succeeded in bringing Barbara and Susan to their safehouse. The lead rebel introduces himself as Jules and gives his partner’s name as Jean.

Jules says they’ll make arrangements to have the two of them smuggled out of France, but Barbara refuses until they’ve found the missing members of their group.

In the dungeon, Ian calls for the Jailer. When he doesn’t answer, Ian uses the key to unlock his cell and make a break for it.

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On his way out, he stumbles on the Jailer, who is passed out drunk along the floor. Strike two Jailer.

As he escapes, the Uniformed guy secretly watches, in the hope that Ian will lead him to the British spy mentioned last time.

Back at the safehouse, Barbara and Susan use a map to show Jules where they were captured.

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After hearing about the farmhouse, Jules asks them if they encountered two men and Barbara tells them of the two men that were shot during their capture.

Jean is worried about the soldiers discovered their escape route and believes there may be an informer in their group.

Then another rebel named Leon shows up with a message for Jule.

“There is a man. A stranger. He’s been asking for you.”

Which is apparently pretty important because Jules and Jean immediately head off to investigate, leaving Barbara alone with Leon.

Back at the prison, it’s dress-up time as the Doc strides into the dungeons wearing a full French uniform. And yes, it’s as fantastic as it sounds.

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Show of hands who thinks this should become his regular look? Doc storms in and immediately begins dressing down the jailer, berating him for not providing him with an escort through the city.

Then he asks about Ian, Susan and Barb and is told that the two women were rescued and that Ian escaped.

As he stands there conversing with the Jailer, the Uniformed Man shows up and demands to see his papers.

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BBC

After looking them over, Uniform says he’s going off to discuss execution figures and since the province Doc claimed to be from is going to be discussed, he should join him.

Then, a short time later, the shopkeeper shows up at the prison and gives the Doctor’s ring to the Jailer in order to rat him out.

Well, quite a contrast from last week’s snoozefest. There’s actually quite a bit going on here and the director does a solid job cutting between the various groups, while keeping the story moving. Plus, Hartnell with a cape! There might be hope for this storyline yet.

Tune in next time for episode 4, The Tyrant of France.

 

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Doctor Who: Diggin’ and A-Walkin’

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 Reign of Terror, Episode 2: Guests of Madame Guillotine

So, I’m just going to come right out and say it; this is not the Doc’s finest hour. Despite possessing a title that sounds like an Iron Maiden song, this week’s episode is kind of a snooze. It’s remarkably light on action, but what it does have in spades is walking, oh, and digging. Lots and lots of digging. You’ve been warned.

We begin where we left off, with the spy house engulfed in flames.

From there, we cut to a map of Paris, then a shot of a guillotine slamming down. We get a few paintings from the period with audio of crowds jeering laid over the background.

It’s actually quite effective, using creative, low budget techniques to build atmosphere.

Eventually we end up at Conciergerie Prison where Barbara, Ian, and Susan have been paraded before a magistrate who charges them as traitors and immediately sentences them to death.

From there, they’re led into a dungeon where Ian is locked up. Then, with him out of the picture, the jailer immediately begins hitting on Barbara.

“A lady like you shouldn’t be kept in this pigsty. Or course I have the keys. It wouldn’t be very difficult to keep a few doors open now would it?”

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Then, in case she somehow missed the subtext, he adds, “It gets very lonely in here sometimes. Very lonely indeed.”

Having exhausted his charms he opts for some light groping, which earns him a nice slap across the face.

Needless to say, this doesn’t sit well with Mr. Jailer, who immediately locks both Barbara and Susan in a cell he keeps for his “special guests.”

Meanwhile, back at the burning house, we find the Doc laid out along the ground with the boy from last week leaning over him.

As the Doctor wakes up, we get some fantastic method acting from Hartnell who goes into a full-on hacking fit. He really sells it. It sounds so bad, I swear he was actually choking and they just began rolling cameras.

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With his lungs clear of all that pesky smoke, the boy tells the Doctor that his friends have been taken to Paris to await execution and this is where we begin one of the episode’s recurring highlights, shots of cross-country walking accompanied by wildly inappropriate music.

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Not exactly racing against the clock is he?

Back in the dungeon, Barbara finds some crowbars and starts trying to dig her way out, while Susan stands by as lookout.

Meanwhile, in an adjacent cell, Ian shares a conversation with his new roommate, who’s not doing well. It seems the dude went and got himself shot and now he’s slowly bleeding to death. Ugh, aren’t roommates just the worst?

The cellmate, who’s name is Webster, reveals that he is a British agent, dispatched to bring a fellow spy back with him to England and seeing as how he’s gutshot and all would Ian mind terribly taking over him?

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He manages to give Ian the spy’s name, James Sterling, then promptly dies.

But don’t worry, there’s no need to get depressed because it’s time for another nature walk.

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As he slooowly makes his way across a field, the Doctor comes upon a stout, bearded man overseeing a group of men breaking rocks. The overseer reveals that the workers are tax dodgers that have been put to work, then starts bitching about having to finish their digging project by tomorrow.

Despite the fact that he’s racing against time, Doc breaks out his legendary people skills, telling him, “If you were to expend your energy helping with the road instead of bawling and shouting at them every few seconds you might be able to get somewhere. Good day to you sir!”

Then the overseer, who is now thoroughly pissed, turns the situation back on the Doctor, demanding to see his papers. When he can’t produce any identification, the Overseer accuses him of tax dodging and puts him to work digging up rocks.

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And hey, can’t get enough digging? Don’t worry, because as luck would have it, Barbara’s doing the exact same thing, trying to tunnel her way out of her cell, barely escaping notice when the jailer steps in to bring them food.

He notices the blankets she’s draped over the tools and walks over to investigate only to be called off at the last second.

Back in Ian’s cell, a uniformed man walks in, pulls the blanket off of Webster and asks how long he’s been dead.

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When Ian doesn’t answer, Capt. Uniform gets rough, asking him if the man said anything before he died. Ian tells him no, but Uniform is skeptical and heads out to ask the jailer if he overhead them speaking. The Jailer says he heard voices, but couldn’t make out what they said.

Cut to, the Doctor digging through rocks with the other tax dodgers. But have no fear, ‘cause Doc’s got a plan and it goes like this.

Step One: Stare up into the sky and start freaking out over “an eclipse”.

Step Two: Steal a handful of coin’s from the overseer’s pockets when he comes over to investigate.

Step Three: Scatter coins in the area where you’re digging.

Step Four: Make an unconvincing claim that you’ve found treasure.

“I just found this coin down there. It must come from some hidden treasure.”

“More likely dropped by a passing traveler.”

“No, no definitely a hidden treasure.”

Step Five: “Discover” a second coin, causing the Overseer to start digging himself.

Step Five: And this is the important one. Grab a pick while the man’s back is turned, then use it to hit him over the head.

Standing over the now unconscious overseer, Doc retrieves his coat like a boss then engages in still more walking.

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Back in the dungeon, Barbara and Susan are led out of their cell with the other prisoners. Ian is strangely absent from the group and when they ask about him, the jailer tells them that he has been crossed off the executioner’s list.

Then, as they’re all led out to the guillotine, we cut to Ian in his cell peering through the bars as his friends are paraded by.

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I didn’t lie, did I? Lots of walking, digging, and very little else. I know you’re all as hooked as I am, so join me back here next time for episode 3, A Change of Identity.

Doctor Who: A Master of His Craft

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 Reign of Terror, Episode 1: A Land of Fear

So, you remember how at the end of last episode, Ian made an offhand remark about going home and the Doctor lost his mind? Well, it turns out that gonzo moment is the motivation behind this week’s story.

As we open, The Doctor’s still fuming from that perceived slight and has brought the TARDIS back to earth with the intention of kicking Ian and Barbara off his ship for good.

Ian is skeptical that they’re actually back home, having witnessed the Doctor’s none too impressive navigational skills in the past.

Doc is adamant, however, and fires up the ship’s external camera as proof.

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Yup, that’s definitely twentieth century London, all right. No way that could be happening anyplace else.

Unconvinced a few shots of trees, Ian insists on some actual hard proof before departing the ship. This succeeds in making The Doctor even angrier, shouting, “I’m rather tired of your insinuations that I’m not master of this craft.”

This pretty much sets the tone for the entire episode, with Ian and the Doctor sniping at one another like an old married couple.

Finally at around the five minute mark, Ian succeeds in convincing the Doctor to join them, meaning we’ve dedicated a full fifth of this thing’s run time to just getting them all off the ship.

With Susan in tow the group heads out into the forest, where Susan notices a distinct lack of external lighting for what is supposed to be 20th century London.

Then, after hearing what is obviously gunfire, the Doctor suggests, “Perhaps it was a rabbit. You know Chesterton’s getting quite jumpy these days.”

Ian heads into the bushes to investigate and comes out with…a filthy child.

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The kid is completely freaked out, which is pretty understandable reaction to being questioned by an angry William Hartnell. 

Ian tries pumping him for information. He asks if they’re in England and the kid tells them they’re in France.

Doc is quick to defend his calculations, saying, “A few hundred miles or so either way is to be expected, after all it’s only a fraction of the distance we’ve covered. It’s quite accurate in fact.” 

Ian takes another jab at the Doctor’s time travel skills, while the kid manages to run away. 

He makes it to a decrepit farmhouse, where he knocks on a thick door before disappearing inside.

After some wandering, the Doctor and crew arrive at the same battered home and engage in some light snooping.

After lighting a few candles, the Doctor decides to head upstairs.

Then Susan stumbles onto a chest containing 18th Century period clothing. There’s also a bunch of weird documents inside, including one with Robespierre’s signature. Which definitely cracks the list of worst things to discover while lost in the woods.

As Ian and friends grapple with that, we cut away to the Doctor just long enough to watch him get hit upside the head.

Then it’s back to Ian and friends, who are now squeezing into old-time clothing.

As they stand there changing, Susan says the Doctor might not want to return to the ship once he finds out where they are because the reign of terror is, “his favorite period in the history of earth.”

So, to review, given the opportunity to go anywhere in history, the Doctor’s favorite period is the Reign of Terror. Not the Renaissance, not ancient Greece, no sir, Doc’s excited by a place renowned for its frequent beheadings. Maybe not the guy you want blasting you around through time and space.

While the group lets that sink in, they’re interrupted suddenly by a pair of men with old school pistols.

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The men, named D’Argenson and Rouvray, begin questioning them about their loyalties, which quickly becomes moot when a group of soldiers show up and surround the place. This immediately sends D’Argenson into a full-scale breakdown in which he recounts the details of his family’s murder.

The TARDIS crew decides that you know what, maybe now might be a good time to head upstairs and check on our friend, which is a pretty smart move since seconds later D’Argenson throws open the door, revealing their position.

The leader of the soldiers orders them to open fire, but Rouvray steps up and orders them all to stop, which they surprisingly do. 

As they stand there embroiled in a standoff, Rouvray engages in a bit of 18th Century trash talk.  

“You can give them uniforms lieutenant, but they remain peasants underneath.”

It’s pretty great moment, with the rebel using his charisma to hold the soldiers at bay.

Sadly, it’s not long before one of those same “peasants” shoots him down.

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Then, having wetted their taste for murder, the entire detachment bulrushes D’Argenson, killing him too.

And what has become of Ian and company?

Well, having successfully made it to the second floor, they are immediately discovered by the Lieutenant and his eyepatch-wearing sidekick.

As they’re paraded outside, a fierce debate breaks out between those in favor of killing them now and those that want to kill them later. The laters win, when the lieutenant finally insists on bringing them to Paris, so they’ll receive credit for their prisoners.

So, with murder momentarily off the menu, old one-eye decides to burn down the house as an alternative.

Inside, the Doctor struggles valiantly to his feet, only to pass out again from smoke inhalation.

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Some days it really doesn’t pay to get out of bed.

As Ian and the others are led away, they notice the house engulfed in flame and come to the rather troubling realization that the Doctor is still inside.

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As the crew is led away, we pan over to find the frightened boy from earlier hiding behind a bush.

Well, after a brief adventure with the Sensorites, we’re back with another history episode. It’s a strange one to be sure, with the Doctor inexplicably reverting to his earlier, angrier persona while trying to rid of himself of his companions.

There’s also the unfortunate matter of that drawn out beginning. Once the writer’s finally get everyone off the ship though, it actually turns into a pretty decent first episode. There’s something genuinely disturbing about the threat this time around. I guess it’s a lot easier to take a battalion of soldiers seriously than an alien wearing a bodysock and the director manages to tap into the frightening qualities of mob mentality.

The ending with Hartnell trapped in the house is pretty effective too, with the building becoming completely engulfed in flames. Definitely one of the stronger cliffhangers the show has managed thus far.

 Well, that’s it for this week. Tune in again next time for the fantastically titled: Guests of Madame Guillotine.