Thursday, 31 May 2012

DW50 Countdown: The Fourth Doctor (Part Two)

This month I'm amending my original statement to watch and review usually fan-forgotten episodes of Doctor Who to watching and reviewing a fan-favourite Doctor Who. The reason behind this is that not everyone who reads my blog will not be familiar (or interested enough - fraid I'm not with you there) to read about random Who stories but will hopefully want to read about some of the all-time greats! So, without further ado please proceed to my review of the tantalising 'Terror of the Zygons'...

Doctor Who in Scotland. It doesn't happen enough. Fans of the revived series will be familiar with the werewolf/ Queen Victoria episode Tooth and Claw which made great use of a spooky Scottish house. But the only other time is this story. And given how successful the setting is in this episode it's surprising there are not several more. The Scottish Highlands, thoroughly atmospheric in every creepy way, in Terror are among the best settings for a Doctor Who story ever. Factor in the only appearance of classic Who monsters, the Zygons, and the return of UNIT and you have one of the greats.
From the start the pace of this story is well done. We get some good model shots of an unseen Loch Ness Monster destroying an oil rig, Benton and the Brigadier calling the Doctor from Scotland and the TARDIS dropping off its inhabitants - including Doctor in fetching Scottish beret, Eleven would be proud of himself - just in time to meet a creepy local resident all in 10-15 minutes. And, as this is Doctor Who, we still get room for laughs and touching moments. You'll chuckle along with Sarah Jane upon spotting the Brig in a kilt and then enjoy one of the stand-out moments of the serial; The Doctor is complaining about being brought back to Earth and refuses to listen to any of the Brig's reasons, instead sulkily draping himself over a couch, hat covering his face. Then the Brig asks him; 'Do want others to die?' The Doctor lifts his beret up to reveal a sheepish grin and he promises he will help. It's a small scene in scale but one that perfectly demonstrates the Doctor and the Brig's complex friendship. Soon after the Doctor, Sarah Jane and Harry - our intrepid adventurers - are off investigating. And in no time at all, come across a Zygon...
Yes, I really couldn't hold off talking about the Zygons any further. They're quite simply one of the best executed creatures ever in the show. They are directed extremely skillfully throughout. In the first two episodes there's a lot of shadowed close-ups on Broton, the Zygon Warlord's piercing eyes and strange hands operating controls, accompanied by an impressive score. Like everything else in the story, it builds the sense of unease and anticipation in the viewer up and up until the big reveal. Thankfully, when that reveal comes it does not disappoint.  But top marks go to the designer who created their sucker-filled, barnacled, embryonic look. For a child, the Zygons must have a similar effect as the Daleks as they both have chillingly inhuman shapes. What's more, their ship is as equally well-designed with its coral-like control panel which must surely have been a huge influence on the look for the Ninth/Tenth Doctor's TARDIS. They also have an Invasion of the Bodysnatchers-type trick in that they can copy the form of humans to impersonate them... meaning you can never be sure who's really a Zygon and who isn't. Great stuff. What's more they're not only evil but pompous and arrogant as shown in this quote:
Zygon (to Harry): This is a Body Print - a Zygon device no doubt far beyond your understanding.'
It is a surprise they have never reappeared. As David Tennant's favourite monsters it was most likely they would return during his time but who knows in the future...
Apart from the great aliens and lashings of atmosphere, what lifts this story is also reliably good performances all round. Nicholas Courtney (the Brigadier) is, of course, brilliant with that constant twinkle in his eye while John Levene is his fun sturdy self as Benton. However our real stars are the three-part TARDIS team. Split up for a sufficient portion of the tale they all get a slice of the action. Elisabeth Sladen, as Sarah Jane, enjoys herself immensely doing some independent investigating and shines with the talent that made her own recent show - in which she does just that - work so well. Tom Baker is also the captivating, charismatic leading man. He's the Fourth Doctor all over here. A stand-out scene being the inevitable moment when the Doctor meets the bad alien who proceeds to tell him his plan. This one though is cheekily acted and well-scripted. For instance, after Broton tells him a plan for world domination, the Doctor quips: 'I must say you think big. Isn't the Earth a bit large for just six of you?' It's a great moment that just gently makes fun of the usually-ignored fact that the show didn't have the funds to make loads of costumes. However, special plaudits go to Ian Marter in his last regular appearance as Harry Sullivan. Always endearingly bluff and brave, Marter is often overlooked in the great pantheon of Doctor Who companions but he's one of my favourites. Here he gets to act his socks off as Zygon Harry who, in another excellently atmospheric scene, chases Sarah through a barn. There's a great bit of acting from Sladen here as Sarah's reaction to finding out Harry has been turned evil is something akin to heartbreak - showing how much she cared for him. Its a shame there isn't further exploration of this.
Overall, it's really good writing all round. Even if Part Four literally loses the plot as it leaves the Highlands for the rubbery-looking Loch Ness Monster's assault on London, the first few episodes are scripted with great care and skill. Scattered throughout are great gags that many Who writers at the time would have left out. One such favourite is the Brig being on the phone to a 'madam' prime minister - before Maggie Thatcher was around. So consistently good is the writing that when I came across one jarring, techno-babbly line that are two-a-penny in many classic Who I was sure there was a joke hidden in there somewhere but failed to find one. Why don't you have a go:
Zygon: 'I underestimated his intelligence, but he underestimated the power of organic crystallography!'
Hmm, it's just a bad line , isn't it?
On the whole though, nearly everything works in this story. Snappy direction, strong performances, great atmosphere All of it comes together to form a well-told creepy story that still greatly entertains today.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

DW50 Countdown: The Fourth Doctor (Part One)

Hello there! Grab yer jelly babies and decorative scarf as my countdown to Doctor Who's fiftieth anniversary this month means the Fourth Doctor. The definitive article, you might say.

          There's no point being grown-up if you can't be childish sometimes.
                                                                              The Doctor (Tom Baker)

For so many, Tom Baker is Doctor Who.

Throughout his seven year tenure as everyone's favourite Time Lord (the longest of any actor) a generation fell in love with his loopy, man-child, really alien version of the Doctor.  His trademarks; hat, longcoat, scarf, wide grin and seemingly-bottomless bag of jelly babies have firmly seeped into popular culture - his image appearing in such shows as the Simpsons. Every Doctor since has Tom Baker's shadow over them, the public wondering if they will ever reach the Fourth Doctor's popularity. Arguably, no one quite has.

In great contrast to his Earth-bound predecessor, the Fourth Doctor hated being tied to one place and working with authority. As soon as he got the chance he leaves his job at UNIT to roam freely round the universe. Extremely charismatic and able to laugh in the face of danger, the Fourth Doctor often took control of situations without anyone realising or minding and fought evil with a smile on his face. Not that this was all a joke. When given the opportunity to stop the Dalek's from ever existing, the weight and responsibility of such a challenge hits home and the Doctor has to solve a moral dilemma. However, perhaps the Fourth Doctor's defining characteristic is his completely alien nature. Utterly unpredictable, companions and viewers alike had no idea what this Doctor would do when, for instance, he became swayed by the universe-conquering power of the Key to Time he held in his hands or his callousness once at seeing a dead body. In episodes set in his home world, you'll see he's even more alien than his fellow Gallifreyans. He's one of a kind. The Madman with a box.

The Fourth Doctor travelled with a several dear friends - perhaps forming the closest relationships with a companion the Doctor had up to that point. Inherited from the Third Doctor, Sarah Jane Smith was, in his own words, the Doctor's 'best friend.' Along with UNIT Doctor Harry Sullivan, they enjoyed some of Doctor Who's greatest adventures together before Harry returned to his job and the Doctor was summoned to Gallifrey - where humans could not go - and forced to leave Sarah behind. She would go on to be one of the show's most beloved characters. Warrior girl Leela of the Sevateem accompanied the Doctor next, as did robot dog K-9 - of whom four versions exist, gifts to different companions. Icy Time Lady Romana was the first companion to be the Doctor's equal - someone who didn't need things explained to her all the time. Shortly before his death at the hands of the Master, he met maths-whizz Adric, alien noblewoman Nyssa and mouthy air hostess Tegan.

 On the whole, the Fourth Doctor's tenure is often cited as the finest era of the show. Featuring many classic stories and some of fans most favourite companions and monsters, it was always going to be good. However, the casting of Tom Baker in the lead pushed the show the extra length. Quite simply, the Fourth Doctor changed Doctor Who forever.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Avengers Assemble - British style!

Well, the picture above really doesn't need any introduction unless, perhaps you've been living in a cave these past few weeks. And, frankly, I'm sure even hermits residing in the Himalayas have heard of this movie. The Abominable Snowman keeps them posted. His favourite is the Hulk, obviously.

Anyway, getting sidetracked. Yes. this is Marvel's The Avengers which is everywhere at the moment. Literally. I wouldn't be surprised to wake up tomorrow and find its logo tattooed across my forehead. So, in a simultaneous act of joining in with the fad and going against it (I'm complex like that, you see) I thought I'd blog about something that would get me as excited as comic book fans across the world at Joss Whedon's multi-hero epic.

What if there was an 'Avengers' team of British TV characters?

I first thought of this idea earlier on today whilst looking for anything to distract me from essay-writing and, like the TV geek I am, thought of who would be the TV equivalent of each Avenger. So, without further ado, here are the British Avengers!


Well, the Doctor was always going to make it in, wasn't he? But, what's more, he's the obvious candidate for filling the role of Thor.
One is a God-like being from another planet who often protects Earth from evil extraterrestrials and the other's... well, I think you see where I'm coming from. The Doctor's is a hundred times cooler than Thor, of course. And I'm sure he could short circuit Thor's thunderin' hammer thing with a buzz from the sonic.


Cumberbatch's Sherlock is also definitely the Iron Man in this team. Both are arrogant geniuses not known for their people skills. Downey's Tony Stark also can't keep away from the limelight and is a favourite of the media. Remind you of anyone? *Cough* The Reichenbach Fall *Cough*

Also, it's rather fitting that Cumberbatch is Iron Man here as actor Robert Downey Jr also plays the same character as Cumbers in Sherlock Holmes blockbuster series.


A joint team of UK TV heroes needed a female amongst them so I've chosen Torchwood's Gwen Cooper to step up to the post. An equally feisty, action-y, top secret agent of a shady organisation as Scarlet Johanssen's Black Widow. Gwen's just more Welsh.

This one was a bit tougher than the others as there are less female lead characters on TV. I considered River Song and Amy Pond (it's the red hair) but River's too strong to be the Black Widow of this group and Amy is not quite a hero in her own right yet (I'd say her husband is more) so I gave the role to Gwen. Oh, the things I do in the name of procrastination.


Vampire Hal (from BBC Three's Being Human) is definitely the Hulk of this team. Just like Bruce Banner, he has a nasty, animistic side that he can't keep under wraps no matter how hard he tries. Hal's a bloodthirsty villain when  the vampire mood takes but otherwise he's a hero, helping to save the world in the last BH series. Plus, his name even sounds like Hulk when you say it quickly. Eh?


And, yeah, you probably guessed it. He is, of course, Captain America. This one was obvious but there's actually more similarity between them. Jack is a man out of his time (Cap'n A is from the past, Cap'n J is from the future) and they were both soldiers in World War Two. Jack's even been frozen once or twice.

Yup, that would be the British TV Avengers. I imagine they would get on even less than the film lot. They would be fighting THE MASTER , by the way. He's the obvious choice for the counterpart of Loki here. They're both enemies of the alien of the gang, both sort-of brothers (I'm not going to get into that Who fan argument now) and both share a love of failed attempts to conquer Earth. There's probably loads of fan boys and girls who'd love Tom Hiddleston to play the Master at some point anyway

And there you are. If universes collided, these would be the five TV characters I'd like to see team up to save the world. And I'm pretty sure if I wrote fan-fiction I would be writing about the meeting of these fantastic five. There's loads of other variants you can apply the Avengers idea too. Go on, make your dream Avengers-type teams up! Your inner geek has probably already come out to play while watching the real Avengers movie so why not indulge it a little more.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Vids of the Month - Pixar Special

Hey blog-dwellers! As it's nearing summertime, with the birds singing, drawn-out days and lots of torrential rain (British folk will understand me here), I thought I'd take you all back to your childhoods with themed selection of vids this month - all from Pixar!

5. Lifted

My comments on these videos are usually more in-depth but I'm not sure Pixar really need any introduction. I always find their work clever, funny and charming. The idea behind this one - aliens abducting people as if it's a driving test I think shows off all three.

4. Geri's Game

I love this one. An old man playing chess doesn't seem a very captivating idea from the those who brought us talking toys, lost fish and...all the others, but they pull it off brilliantly. I think we all hope we have Geri's imagination when we're his age. Whatever his age is. Seeing as he's not real.

3.  Tin Toy

One of Pixar's first film shorts obviously demonstrates straight away, their most famous idea; that of toys coming to life. It's very familiar to Toy Story, the first in particular (a jealous toy) and also Toy Story 3 (toys dreading being drooled on by children). Why did that toy never come back?

2.  Luxo Jr

Yeah, everyone knows the Luxo lanp. I don't really need to say much about this one.It's a great example of their work though. Like they make you care for a clownfish or a big ball of blue fur, here you laugh alongside a desk lamp.

1. Partly Cloudy

Aand finally, here's one I only saw for the first time the other day but which is definitely my favourite. I'm not quite sure why other than that I love that cloud. It's also a great, really cleverly visual and witty idea behind it. Just gold. Cloudy gold. 

Thanks for stopping by. Come again soon for another exciting installment of 'Random Youtube Links I Collect in A Post!'
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