Tuesday, March 31, 2015


THE SECOND HALF OF THE ELITE 8 NOW COMMENCES.  And I can honestly say that, by this point in the field of 64, we have no surprises with two #2 seeds going up against two #1 seeds.  I guess my ranking system was pretty spot on from the beginning, then.  For another glimpse, lets have the bracket to show us again how we got there.

And now on with the second half of our detailed "Elite 8" thingy:


#1) SPEARHEAD FROM SPACE - The luck of the draw has brought two Pertwee stories into head-to-head conflict!
Shockingly ranked number 36 on the DOCTOR WHO magazine's "Mighty 200" readers poll! 
The debut of Jon Pertwee's Doctor as well as the debut of colour on the show. This is also the start of the Doctor's exile on Earth and U.N.I.T. as a weekly staple headed by Nicholas Courtney's Brigadier as well as the debut of Caroline John's Liz Shaw. On top of all that, this is the show which was shot ENTIRELY on film with no video whatsoever. So it naturally was the first classic DOCTOR WHO to be released on blu-ray. As the new-faced Doctor tumbles out of his TARDIS and deals with his scrambled personality, the Autons (or the Nestene or whatever else they're supposed to be called) tumble to Earth like the projectiles in QUATERMASS 2 and begin taking over prominent civil servants etc.
The infamous early scene featuring shop window mannequins springing to life, smashing through plate glass and terrorizing the local citizenry is still remembered fondly to this day as one of the creepiest, "dive-behind-the-sofa" moments on the programme. The new Doctor's penchant for flashy clothes and fast cars is established early as he steals a nappy outfit and a classic car; can it be long before the Doctor gets his souped-up Bessie? Oh yes, and of course we get to see the Doctor's tattoo in the shower scene.
Liz Shaw's opening interview with the Brig is wonderful as the character is shown to be supremely capable to join U.N.I.T. and become an equal partner with the Doctor in his adventures. We only get Liz for this one series but she sure was a breath of fresh air from some of the usual bumbling/screaming female companions of the past.
The character could be feminine as well as matching the boys on their own turf but still demonstrating a fine sense of humour; Liz did all this without being the stereotypical severe mannish female scientist and was, in fact, quite the fashion plate besides. A good match to the new dandy Doctor.
SPEARHEAD has a nice action orientation as well as horror/science fiction atmosphere and an AVENGERS vibe; DOCTOR WHO would seldom be as "secret-agenty" again. A really superb start to a new era!


#2 ) THE GREEN DEATH - Ranked also at the relatively low (for its showing in this field of 64 anyway) ranking of #39 in the "Mighty 200" poll. 
Yeah, it's perennially known as "the one with the maggots" but there's quite a lot more going on. While SPEARHEAD FROM SPACE marked many beginnings, GREEN DEATH marks an ending with the departure of the daffy but loveable Jo Grant. It's a shame because by this point, Jo had become more than a klutz and was being allowed (sporadically) to actually be a helpful companion to the Doctor.

This story also marks the final appearance in the regular series of the classic "howlaround" opening title graphics as well as the DOCTOR WHO logo which first appeared in SPEARHEAD FROM SPACE. A miner in South Wales turns up dead and, oh by the way, glowing bright green.

The Doctor and Jo interrupt their planned "idyllic" holiday on Metebelis 3 to investigate. There they meet "dishy" Nobel Prize-winning environmentalist
Clifford Jones who is convinced local Global Chemicals' new process to increase the yield of oil is causing naughty things to happen i.e. a glowing green dead miner. Once down in the mines,
the Doctor and Co. find a lot of green slime (wait that's ANOTHER movie) as well as huge maggot creatures living it up down there. Meanwhile, inside Global Chemicals the BOSS (a supercomputer called the Bimorphic Organisational Systems Supervisor) is running the company and also mind-controlling people including UNIT's own Mike Yates.

The importance of this story is manifold. Not only does it mark the departure of Katy Manning
as Jo Grant but also pretty much crystalised Jon Pertwee's decision to leave the role the following year. Manning's departure coincided with the recent tragic death of Roger Delgado (The Master) and the announcement that Barry Letts would soon be leaving the series as producer. The fun and heart seemed to go out of the show for Pertwee and all these factors made up his mind to leave. Interestingly, Jo Grant leaves the Doctor's "employ" at the end of "The Green Death" because she gets engaged to Professor Clifford Jones; in real life Manning and Stewart Bevan (who played Jones) were actually engaged to be married at the time. And on a fun note: this is also the story where the Doctor is required to say the line "thick chitinous skin" when describing the maggots' hides. Neither Pertwee nor Barry Letts new how to pronounce "chitinous" so Letts told Pertwee to say "chit-inous" rather than the correct "kite-inous" pronunciation. Several days after the episode was broadcast, Letts received a letter from a fan containing only the following verse: "The reason I'm writin' Is how to say kitin".



#1) PYRAMIDS OF MARS - Ranked at # 7 in the DOCTOR WHO magazine 2009 "Mighty 200" readers poll. 
All the trappings of an Egyptian mummy Hammer Horror but skewed through the prism of DOCTOR WHO. We get the fanatical worshipper of ancient Egyptian gods a la Universal's series of Mummy movies as well as in the Hammers usually portrayed by actors like Turhan Bey, George Zucco or George Pastell; however, this time the ancient Egyptian god Sutekh is actually there physically on screen participating in the story.
And what a villian he makes with the fantastically-designed helm (evincing echoes of the helm of Dr. Fate, in fact). When he takes the helmet off, Sutekh is somewhat less successful although still authentically designed as a jackal-headed god. We also get mummies; however typically DOCTOR WHO changes things up by making the mummies robotic servants disguised in mummy-wrapping. This also famously gave Tom Baker the opportunity to wander around inside one of the mummy costumes while a visiting group of school children were unaware who indeed was actually underneath the wrapping until he surprised them all by suddenly revealing his identity.
Once again, like several storylines in this era of Tom Baker's tenure, we have a splendid English pile providing exterior location footage allowing the Doctor and company to roam about the verdant English underbrush and decaying statuary. The interior sets are also sumptuous; reminding one of the aforementioned Hammer Horror's designer Bernard Robinson who seemed to construct gorgeous sets with no money. As always, the chemistry between Baker and Elisabeth Sladen by this point was flawless and they are a joy to watch interact with each other. The guest cast is also top notch with a splendidly sepulchral Bernard Archard as Marcus Scarman, Michael Sheard as his put-upon brother Laurence,
Peter Copley as Dr. Warlock and the rich voice of Gabriel Woolf hissing Sutekh's evil lines.  Lawrence Miles & Tat Wood, in their seminal DOCTOR WHO book series ABOUT TIME sums it up by stating:  "Everybody involved puts in a top-flight performance here, so much so that this may be the story which sums up Tom Baker's Doctor (or, at least, people's memories of him) better than any other." 
And Marcus Hearn, in the much-cited DWM # 413 says:  "The flexibility of Doctor Who's format, or more specifically its ability to subsume any genre it plunders, allows PYRAMIDS OF MARS to disguise its sometimes implausible story beneath a superficially faithful adaptation of Hammer horror.  (Robert) Holmes would revisit the same territory in THE TALONS OF WENG-CHIANG . . .PYRAMIDS and TALONS both discard their gothic trappings for a resolution that sees the Doctor employ cunning pseudo-science to rout the menace.  Unlike the Hammer Horrors, there is no place for magic in DOCTOR WHO.  Wherever the (Philip) Hinchcliffe stories too their window-dressing from, they remained ultimately faithful to DOCTOR WHO's enduring principals.  Our continued appreciation of these episodes is therefore multi-layered, with scenes evocative of the films that scared us as children, fantastical science-fiction plots and the ultimately reassuring presence of Uncle Tom Baker to wrap the whole thing up." 


#2 ) GENESIS OF THE DALEKS - Unsurprisingly ranked at the # 3 spot in the "Mighty 200" poll. 
The monumental storyline which establishes (as much as we can in the long history of DOCTOR WHO) the "origin story" of the Daleks as well as the introduction of one of the greatest, most iconic villains in the show's history: Davros. A design triumph combining the decaying humanoid top half with the traditional bottom half of a Dalek. The Doctor is "hijacked" by a Bergmanesque Time Lord and given the assignment to travel back in time to the beginning of the Daleks' development and to either eliminate or alter their initial creation. Quickly joined by Sarah Jane and Harry, the Doctor is soon plunged into the grim and gritty, war-torn Skaro (probably the most reminiscent of a war film since Troughton's swan song THE WAR GAMES). Poison gas and gas masks, rat-a-tat guns and Naziesque uniforms abound.
Skaro has been laid waste by a seemingly endless war between the Thals and the Kaleds. During a poison gas attack, the Doctor and Harry are taken inside the Kaled dome while Sarah Jane is separated from them and becomes mixed up with the Mutos (mutated victims of early chemical weapons) and this group (along with Sarah) is captured by the Thals who use them as slave labour in the construction of a missile to be fired at the Kaled dome. Whew! Inside the Kaled dome, the Doctor and Harry try to convince General Ravon and Security Commander Nyder that they are from another planet which their leader Davros has proclaimed as impossible. Enter Davros with his new "Mark III travel machine" he calls "the Daleks". Can't be good, can it?

Indeed it isn't for most of those concerned. After a lengthy absence from the series, Daleks creator Terry Nation was invited back by producers Barry Letts & Terrance Dicks to write another story but they found his first draft to similar to past stories. The suggestion was made that Nation should write an origin story which he did; however by the time the story was finished Letts and Dicks were leaving the show and transferred the project to their successors Philip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes who encouraged a "darker" tone to the proceedings.  The bloody great cast is headed by Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen and Ian Marter who as usual are absolutely perfect. 
The guest cast features the superlative Michael Wisher bringing the evil Davros to (I guess you'd call it semi-) life and Peter Niles as the slimy Nyder.  "The moral of GENESIS OF THE DALEKS is this:  Daleks -- 'can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em'.  " Alan Barnes opens his write-up of GENESIS in DWM's "Mighty 200" issue,  "For the Doctor, for the character whose adventures in time and space we've followed for 12 long years to this point, 'can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em' amounts to a revolutionary insight, a man at last understanding the purpose of his seemingly random adventures. . ."  Barnes brings us into Joseph Campbell territory as well:  "...the hero's journey is about the gaining of wisdom, a wisdom won by passing a number of trials and ordeals.  For me, GENESIS OF THE DALEKS is all about the Doctor's journey.  It begins with a Time Lord inviting the Doctor to undo or amend the creation of the Daleks.  It's never stated, but were the Doctor to succeed, he'd be undoing or amending his own personal past -- wouldn't he?  The stakes could not be any higher:  the Doctor has the chance (at last?), to play God. . .You know what?  I don't believe that Time Lord is serious. . .I think:  this is a story about the gods tormenting the hero.  The mission itself is a trial:  the possibility of success a punishment.  And the Doctor knows it. . .GENESIS OF THE DALEKS isn't about the Daleks.  It's about the Doctor -- about his mission, his trials, his choice."


So there we have it:  the final four has been established.  Probably not a surprise that there is a heavy "Philip Hinchcliffe-era" presence in the top stories chosen.  Perennially a fan favourite, these darker, more gothic-flavoured stories have long been considered the apex of DOCTOR WHO's long run and I'm inclined to agree with the majority of fans who, for instance, placed more Hinchcliffe stories in the "Mighty 200" fan poll than any other producer.  When asked about this, Hinchcliffe himself said:  "Well, I'm very pleased that a number of my stories are still all-time favourites and not yet completely supersede by the new ones!  My personal favourites are also ones that come high in the poll; TALONS, PYRAMIDS, GENESIS, ROBOTS.  I think they had good scripts and the production elements and direction came together well without any obvious failures."

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