A bit of background: I have been collecting Doctor Who on DVD, well, since they started releasing the show on DVD, back in 2001, I think. I’ve been meticulously collecting all of Classic Who (and new, for that matter), working to get all the episodes. Not just my favorite episodes (I had bought a few favorites on VHS from BBC Video) but all of the releases for every Doctor except Tom Baker (who with seven years, seemed just too big to collect). Over the years, Doctor Who, has always been a high priority “must buy” for me and placed on my Christmas and birthday lists too. Over the years, there have been a few episodes, here and there I skipped – due to lack of money and lack of interest in certain episodes. Recently, though, I purchased four of the episodes I had previously given a miss.
Here are my mini-reviews of those episodes, chronologically: The Gunfighters, The Invasion of the Dinosaurs, The Twin Dilemma, and Delta and the Bannermen.
Watched “The Gunfighters” this morning, the last of the four DW episodes I recently picked up, having skipped them when they came out. Oh, god, it was worse than I remembered — and I’ve always disliked it. And now I have that darn song stuck in my head. The accents are TERRIBLE, and of all the places in the ***universe*** for the Doctor to go for a toothache (presuming he has no medical facilities at all on the TARDIS) he picks the “Wild” West? The planet of the Cat Nurse/Nuns would have been better. It doesn’t even work as a pastiche of Westerns.
“Invasion of the Dinosaurs” – oh man. Well… First, the dinosaurs, are just about the worst-realized monster on Classic Who. Now, maybe it’s because we “know” what dinosaurs should look like. Or maybe it’s ‘cause we’ve been conditioned by higher-budget dino flicks (yeah, Jurassic Park & Primeval – I’m looking at you). But I just can’t take seriously “monsters” that look like they were made out of clay by a kindergarten class. However, that aside (because lets face it – you don’t watch Classic Who for the effects anyway), the plot, well… First, originally I disliked the episode for two reasons: at the time that I first saw the story, episode 1 was missing, so PBS ran the story without it. (So, it’s like “huh?”). The nice thing about the DVD, is that it is included, in both black and white and in the special features as a “colorized” version. It’s nice to actually see the first episode. The second thing I disliked about the story (when I originally saw it in the 1980s) was Capt. Mike Yates’ betrayal of the Brigadier, the Doctor and UNIT, which I thought was out of character for the straight-laced military captain. Watching the episode again – the story is a bit long, and a little weird, but it’s a scary look at what can happen when an “un-holy trinity” of a government agent (it’s Britain, so an MP), the military (an Army General), and a scientist – get together and decide to Do Evil Things, all for the “benefit” of humankind of course. ‘Course, they will wipe out billions of people to create the world they want (un-doing the present by re-creating the past). It’s a classic “ends don’t justify the means” story and weirdly enough the Doctor, the Brigadier and Sgt. Benton, end-up fighting the MP, scientist, and army general. In a show where usually the “good of the many outweighs the good of the few or the one” and it works — “Inv. Dinosaurs” is, especially in Sarah Jane’s tirades, fiercely individualist. So in that sense it comes off as a strongly political but “good” episode. But I couldn’t help but think, though, that the creators of the British series, “Primeval” saw this story, and thought, “What a great idea for a series!”. (“Primeval” also have dinosaurs being brought to the present. Well, accidentally walking into the present, though “anomalies” that look like an updated and better CGI version of the time tunnel-like device used in “Invasion of the Dinosaurs”. But “Primeval” also got really interesting when they started messing about with time, including characters simply disappearing – because they no longer existed, and an insane woman who wanted to kill-off all humans – by preventing their existence in the first place.)
Also, watched “The Twin Dilemma”, which, actually worked better than it’s given credit for (even by me, previously). When Colin gives his “I’m the Doctor, whether you like it or not,” speech it actually comes off as a statement of identity (and pride in that identity, but not, as is often stated, of arrogance – not in context). Yes, the plot makes no sense, and goes off wildly in multiple directions (it feels like every part of this four-part story was written by a different person. It’s the “round robin” of Who writing). But the cast is solid, the monsters suitably interesting, and — once you know what’s going on, the Doctor’s wild mood swings are an interesting twist on the post-regeneration confusion that’s been a staple of “Doctor Who” since Pertwee took over from Troughton (at least).
“Delta and the Bannermen” – First, I hate the title, it sounds like a 70s British Punk rock band, and I still dislike it. However, McCoy is one of my favorite Doctors (along with Davison and Tennant), and this was the last of his stories I needed (I have the other 11). “Delta” is only three episodes long — yet they crammed in so many different characters, each with their own agendas and hint of a back story that the plot rapidly becomes confused. When an entire busload of alien tourists is killed, the average viewer doesn’t even care about them, they become inconvenient extras. Normally, Doctor Who doesn’t indulge in that type of wholesale slaughter… at least, not without good reason. (For example, in “Warriors of the Deep” every character we meet on the seabase dies, and dies horribly — yet we care about them because we’ve spent time with the characters. The Doctor’s last line, “There should have been another way,” echoes with meaning, regret, and pain.) But “triumphs” are oddly un-involving too. We, the audience, really don’t care much about Delta and her daughter surviving. This was one story where an expansion into four parts probably wouldn’t have helped. The story needed some ruthless editing.
First, there’s no need for the space tourists at all. We know the TARDIS is completely unreliable — the Doctor and Mel could have just landed in Wales instead of Disneyland. No need for the aliens, the bus, and all that.
Second, I know the beekeeper and his stories where meant to parallel Delta and her daughter – but initially, he’s not that interesting either. His part needed to be pumped-up or dropped. One or the other.
The two American “spies” were TERRIBLE characters. Just awful. Again, we have horrible accents (one thing new Who can do — better American accents.) But, the characters were such stereotypes they were almost offensive. And they had no need to be in the story — at all. (Yes, I know, supposedly they were chasing the downed satellite, but that was another totally un-needed plot complication). And there was no reason for the one guy to be wearing a NY Yankees baseball coach’s jacket. He should have been in a three-piece suit.
The central story was Delta, her daughter, and the people chasing them. It should have focused on that. Who were these people chasing Delta? Why? Some seemed to be mercenaries, others, some sort of regular space army, why the two armies? If the story had focused on that storyline only, and excluded the rest of the junk, it might have worked much better. Probably never would have been a classic, but it would have, possibly, have been better.
However, having watched these, I’m thinking the six Tom Baker stories that I skipped – I should really get, and get now before the end of the year. Those are: ”Image of the Fendahl”, “The Sunmakers”, “Underworld”, “Nightmare of Eden”, “Creature from the Pit”, and “Horns of Nimon”. Remember, those are stories I do not own as of yet. (When this post was originally written.)
Yet, I’m genuinely looking forward to this coming Fall’s release of: Terror of the Zygons (the last Classic Who release), The Ice Warriors (new reconstruction), The Moonbase (first DVD or video release of a new reconstruction), The Tenth Planet (first DVD or video release of a new reconstruction), and Scream of the Shalka (the Internet Animated episode – which I haven’t seen).
Update (8/18/2014): I have all of Doctor Who now – I did go back and buy the Tom Baker stories I’d skipped. I also purchased the newly discovered, previously missing, stories – “Web of Fear” and “Enemy of the World” as well as the DVDs for the stories completed with re-constructed animations (The Ice Warriors, The Tenth Planet, The Reign of Terror, and The Moonbase). – JM