Season 18, Story 1 (Overall Series Story #110) | Previous - Next | Index
|Takes one to know one, eh Doctor? Image via Flight Through Eternity|
Well, here we are. The dawn of the John Nathan-Turner era. Going forward, for every good decision, there'll be a dozen absolute head-scratchers. Virtually every attempt to gussy up the show where it was perceived to have gotten long in the tooth leads disastrous design decisions; end result: the new things look and sound even more dated than the old stuff they were attempting to bring au courant. We'll see time and again how replacing humor with seriousness backfires horribly when forcing actors to be serious about utter rubbish. Instead of "undergraduate humor," we get undergraduate philosophy. An alleged to commitment to scientific realism sends writers scrounging back issues of New Scientist for gobbledegook they can spackle throughout their scripts and we end up with stuff like what we see here: tachyonics being used for zero-gravity squash and bizarre dismemberment visualizations.
The JN-T era has passionate defenders, especially in the latter seasons where Andrew Cartmel was purportedly laying the groundwork for what's been dubbed the Cartmel Masterplan. Regardless of what might have been, and what we can garner from the Virgin New Adventures novels, I'm only concerned with what actually made it to the screen for the purposes of this series of posts. And what made it to the screen was, as I recall, indefensible. Now, as I write this, I'm still working my way through a full re-watch of the series, so I will leave room to revise my judgment as I go forward, but much of the Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy era were the aesthetic equivalent of fingernails scraped down chalkboard and I will be surprised (gobsmacked) if they've aged better than I remember them.
Some very clever fans, well-spoken and evidently not trolling, make the case that things were getting better, the stories were more ambitious, and there was a genuine, viable vision underlying those last seasons that suggest the series was about to enter a new prime. "Remembrance of the Daleks" is the only story that I think this argument works for of the ones I've watched recently. Anyways, it didn't seem that way to me back when they were new. But, I was young and put off. This time around I'm determined to give them their due and hope the arguments for the defense will be convincing as I get further into those last three seasons. I've been jumping around a little and the experience of watching "Dragonfire" again did nothing to encourage me. "Battlefield" was OK, but Christopher Bahn over at the A.V. Club observes in his review of "Survival," that there was an "all-too-familiar Doctor Who pattern of starting strong and petering out into incoherence by the ending." "Battlefied" may have been one he had in mind.
As I recall, that persistent incoherence destroyed the series and undermined whatever masterplan was in the works. Mystery, dream logic, ambiguity, unreliable narrators, time being re-written -- any of those can, and should, be tolerated by a viewer as desirable elements of sophisticated narratives. Incoherence as a manifestation of incompetence simply can't.
But I'm getting ahead of myself, Season 18 has just begun, can't worry about Season 26 at this stage.
This story opens, (in)famously, with a long shot of a series of empty beach chairs and changing tents on a grey, blustery out-of-season English beachfront. After some time (several minutes? It's hard to say how long without a stopwatch. Subjective time dilates,) we find the Doctor in his new plum/burgundy get up asleep in a chair. Romana is, justifiably, griping to K9 about this sort of vacationing. So she murders him.
OK, not really, but she seems to know as soon as she's sent him to fetch a beach ball from the surf that he's going to short circuit. She then blames the Doctor for this rather ridiculous shortcoming in K9's design. A flaw in his sea water defense design may be the Doctor's fault, but it's the sort of reckless carelessness that signals passive-aggressive intent to do harm. We know the root of that thanks to JN-T's frequent admission that he disliked K9.
Look, it's like this: a bunch of other stuff happens, the one thing that always stuck in mind from this one is the image of the dying Argolins losing the marbles from their head hives. Plink, time is running out ... but you're going to be as somnolent as the Doctor on the beach before we get a good luck at a Foamasi outside of one of their undercover skinsuits. (That, actually, feels like an inspiration for the Slitheen.)
Much of the blame for how much of a slog this one becomes belongs to the incidental music. There's an awful lot it, and it's none of it particularly pleasant sounding.
The Doctor getting aged is another element of this one that we'll see again in the new series when Ten and Martha tangle with Harold "The Master" Saxon. Works better here in this one, in my opinion. The make-up is well done and Baker plays it subtly. Tennant's accelerated aging takes him right out of it though, too much CGI to make a proper comparison and Baker and Tennant's chops under these conditions.
So the JN-T has ambled out of the gate with the intent to shake things up. Change is in the air, but there's scant evidence in this story that change will be for the better.
- Barry Letts, is back as Executive Producer?! Yep. Maybe you can see it in the Foamasi having factions, similar to the Silurians back when Letts ran things? I'm perhaps fonder of the Letts/Dicks era than most, but this isn't one that reflects well on his C.V.
- No more randomizing around. I guess the Doctor figures they've given the Black Guardian the slip. He's taking back control of where they're headed going forward.
- The TARDIS isn't helping the Doctor with translation of Foamasi. Lack of translation was a plot device in "The Creature from the Pit" as well.
- The reworking of the main theme didn't bother me, but the star field effect is a step backwards from the iconic old title sequence. Typical bungling ... grumble, grumble ...
- Where do you come down on the new plum duds the Doctor is sporting? Do the question marks on his lapels feel forced to you? (More grumbling about bunglers bungling from my side of screen ...)