Friday, April 18, 2014

The King's Demons - "He wants to rob the world of Magna Carta. Small time villainy by his standards, but nevertheless something I intend to stop if at all possible."

The King's Demons (TV story) - Tardis Data Core, the Doctor Who Wiki

Season 20, Story 6 (Overall Series Story #129) | Previous - Next | Index

Five shines Kamelion via Doctor Who GIFs
The standard dismissal of this story is that it's so unambitious, Kamelion so hopeless, the Master so ineffectual, and his scheme so small-fry that this two-parter is barely worth acknowledging. At first glance, the we might think a plot to keep King John from putting his seal on Magna Carta really is the Master's least grandiose plan. But, let's treat Magna Carta as everything it symbolizes -- the beginning of the end of the divine right of kings and the rebirth of democracy -- and view it as a crucial to the ascent of the Rule of Law, then the Master's attempt to scuttle it does fit his M.O. and the consequences would be as terrible as the entire population of the planet being turned into the Mister Saxon version of the Master. (Well, sort of.)

It's a stretch, there's no getting over this story being as unremarkable as critical consensus labels it. Kamelion looks like a practical joke that was played on JN-T, an embarrassment that had to be hidden away until it could be destroyed. Yet, while I can by no means give this story a ringing endorsement, I'm loathe to condemn it. Even if it's less than entertaining, it has the shadow of a good idea. The Rule of Law may be humankind's greatest accomplishment. We've seen how horribly screwed up Gallifreyan jurisprudence is so the Doctor recognizing it's not some minor thing, but worth protecting, is the right call on his part. It's the right call on the right call on the part of the series to present this as a crisis. It ends up coming across as parochial and self-important in the execution, a case of Brits representing a threat to their history as something catastrophic for the rest of the world, but this is a case where, if we're still imagining that without Magna Carta there's no Constitutional Democracy in the future, it really would be that catastrophic.

I've not had much in the way of praise for JN-T to this point, so I'll give him credit for green-lighting a story where the great threat posed by the villain is to the concept of the Rule of Law. That it ended up being this story is just another example of his, and his production team's, inability to produce a quality TV series with any degree of consistency. Even when they've got a good idea, it ends up looking like rubbish. Kamelion is another example of incompetence. Let's consider what happened here. Someone advertised they had a built a human-shaped robot that could walk and talk. They sold it to the producers of DW, and what we see on screen is a a glorified mannequin that needed to be carefully balanced in a chair so it wouldn't fall over.

It's my understanding one of Kamelion's inventors, the software guy, passed away and wasn't available to help support the prop. That's not exactly JN-T's fault, but it's worth noting that this was a show with a small budget that had to put a science-fiction show on TV in the wake of Star Wars and the Star Trek movies, so there was a certain standard to live up to. So, looking at the pittance he had to spend, JN-T went out and bought a bit of risky technology that shouldn't have passed even the most cursory sniff test for being a reliable prop. It's easy to say with hindsight, "He should have know the thing would never work," but if you were producing a low budget web series today, how much would you spend on prototype android someone claimed they could make walk and talk on demand. It's 2014 I'm not aware of anything even close to be plausible. Who in their right mind thought such a thing would be ready in 1983? (Nobody.)

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