Five "Not as Bad as Everyone Says They Are" Stories
I'll be the first to admit, most posts done under the "Book Of Lists" category are going to be opinion pieces. But I'm making them as lists to restrain myself in certain ways. By imposing a structure of some sort, I'm forced to keep myself succinct and not turn this into so many other fan blogs where the authors just rants away til they're foaming at the mouth.
5. LOVE AND MONSTERS
The first attempt at a "Doctor Lite" story took some serious chances. Less than two seasons into the New Series, RTD made the bold choice of completely subverting the established formula of the show. It's not about the Doctor or the companion. It's not even that much about any of the other supports we've met so far. It's about some previously-unseen bloke who has been sitting on the sidelines only experiencing fragments of the Doctor's influence. Suddenly, he's front-and-center for the bulk of the episode. How crazy is that?!
One might complain that the greatest sin this story commits is that it's centering on a character we've never seen before and haven't seen since. Something the show has never done before. Which means Love and Monsters is not "True Who" - but, rather, a pale imitation of the series. Those who make that complaint should go watch Mission to the Unknown and shut the hell up.
Others site the strong comedy element or the somewhat rubbish monster as being major problems with the story. I suppose I might agree if I didn't actually enjoy those factors. Love and Monsters has some really good laugh-out-loud moments that I think are fun (Oh my God! They're going a bit Scooby-Doo at the beginning! So what?! It's amusing!) And the Abzorbaloff completes the whole effect by being a bit on the silly side. But, you know what? He's also an interesting alien. I would genuinely like to see one make a return appearance. And the gag they do with the name of his home planet cracks me up every time.
So, come on guys, lighten up. Love and Monsters was the perfect thing to do before going into the big mushy break-up that the Doctor and Rose are about to have. Particularly since the break-up was far mushier than it needed to be.
"But Doctor Who should never be made into a comedy" some of you might complain. To those, I say: "Go watch The Romans and shut the hell up!"
4. THE SPACE MUSEUM
"The first episode is brilliant!" fandom will extoll, "The other three episodes are utter crap!"
Yes, those other three eps have their fair share of problems. There are some moments that truly look like something from out of Plan B From Outer Space. But you know what? Plenty of other Hartnell stories have moments like that. It's called Early 60s Sci Fi, folks. Things can get pretty ugly, in places.
But there's also that really fun interrogation scene with the Doctor and Lobos. That's not in the first ep, is it? And Vicki is actually pretty useful in this story as she figures out a way to open up the weapons' locker. Like Susan, she's supposed to come from an advanced society so it was nice to see her finally use some of that knowledge rather than just scream and need rescuing.
The whole philosophy of re-writing time gets explored quite thoroughly and, for the most part, holds our interest quite nicely. The Doctor remarking about the button on Ian's coat gives just a bit of a glimpse into the mind of a Time Lord. Probably for the first time in the series, really. There's also the wonderful suspense that is created when one of the characters does start getting converted into an exhibit. That was actually a pretty cool choice for the author to make in order to try to keep us believing that the TARDIS crew might not actually escape the fate they've caught a glimpse of.
There are an any number of other strong points I could list about those other three episodes but I'll stop here. Episode One of Space Museum is brilliant. Particularly by the standards of the age it was shot in. But, you know what? The other three eps are pretty darned good, too.
The Doctor hiding in the Dalek was also pretty fun. Another strongpoint that didn't happen in Episode One!
3. THE 96 TELEMOVIE
Poor 'ole 96 Telemovie. It never stood much chance.
First off, it just had too many expectations heaped on to it by a fandom that was still just a little too hyper-critical at the time. There was no way it was going to be good enough for anyone. Add to it the fact that it was an American co-produce and all hope gets thrown out the window. The British didn't like it because it was too American. And the Americans didn't like it because it was too British. Basically, the whole venture was doomed to fail right from the very start.
But a bunch of years have sailed by and another attempt to bring back the show has succeeded. We can now examine the whole thing with considerably less bias. And we can actually, maybe, admit that the 96 Telemovie was an okay start to what could have been a very promising series. Paul McGann, of course, makes a formidable Doctor and that helps a whole lot. But it's not just a case of a good lead actor being caught in a bad story. A lot of important groundwork is laid, here, for the next revival. There is a fair amount of whimsy and joie-de-vivre in this tale that we see carry over into the next stab we take in 2005. This is also the first time in forever that we've allowed the Doctor to have a love life. That will also have a big influence on the future series. If the story can have such a strong impact on things to come, surely it can't be that bad?
Yes, the storyline gets a bit confusing towards the end. But that's okay. The last few seasons of the Classic Series used a similiar format where expository dialogue was kept to a bare minimum and we were just allowed to come up with our own explanations (Ghostlight, anyone?). Of course, from a marketing standpoint, that was probably not the best choice as it did alienate a new potential audience a bit. In the same way, I liked that the story started with Doctor Seven and changed him into Eight. Again, not the most accessible way to introduce the character. But from a completist fannish standpoint, it was a very nice gesture.
While the plot is a bit thin - Rose wouldn't be any thicker. The real point of both of these episodes was to re-introduce the audience to the mythos of the series. The 96 Telemovie does it just as well as Rose did. Maybe even a little better. After all, RTD had a whole season to re-introduce the Doctor. Poor 'ole Phillip Seguin had just one feature-length backdoor pilot to do it in. And he did it pretty good.
Believe it or not, I even thought Eric Roberts was pretty good as the Master.
2. THE INVISIBLE ENEMY
"Doctor Who cannot do space opera." the average uneducated fan will claim. And then they will site The Invisible Enemy as an example. And, in many ways, The Invisible Enemy backs up that opinion quite nicely.
Good space opera requires budget. You've got all kinds of model work and/or CGI that is required to create exterior shots of space ships and space stations and that stuff costs bucks. Equally so, the interiors of said ships and stations can also prove costly. Oftentimes, you have to build those interior sets from scratch because there are no suitable-looking locations that you can shoot from.
But the last thing 70s Who had was budget so all this normally-expensive stuff looked like crap in The Invisible Enemy . It didn't help that the centrepiece monster looked like he should be served on a seafood platter rather than conquering the universe.
But if you can cast aside the budgetary limitations, Invisible Enemy turns into a great space opera. All the elements are there - they're just not visually represented all that well. On top of that, there's some pretty clever ideas at play. A sentient disease that thrives on intellectual stimulation is a very unique villain and the way it asserts its way into the macro-universe is done quite skillfully. There's an interesting journey into the Doctor's mind in Part Three that, like everything else in the story, works better in theory than it does in execution. But it's still pretty cool stuff.
Which means that the overall idea of Invisible Enemy is a great one. It's just restrained by a tight budget. New Who has hints of space opera in it (A Good Man Goes To War is probably the best example of one, so far) but the New Series could really reverse that anti-space opera opinion if it really pulled out the stops and went for it. So long as it still remembers to do what Invisible Enemy did: tell a good story.
1. TIME AND THE RANI
You read that right. I'm legitimately claiming that Time and the Rani might actually be an okay story. Yes, the Rani running around pretending to be Mel is, quite easilly, the most ludicrous thing we've ever seen on the show. And those mines she's set up might be a decent-looking special effect, but they're ridiculously over-convoluted. And, oh my goodness, Sylvester McCoy is acting far too silly. This is absolutely shameful!
But the theme of this list is: "Not as Bad as Everyone Says They Are" and Time and the Rani, I feel, definitely falls under that category. McCoy might be playing things for laughs but that doesn't mean he's not a lot of fun to watch. Doctor Seven stumbling about crossing his proverbs actually makes for some pretty entertaining viewing. It even distracts us quite nicely from the somewhat threadbare plot.
The aliens are well-conceived, too. The Lakyertians might be suffering a bit too much from that Great 80s Desire To Be Overly-Colourful, but their society is well laid-out. And the Tetraps not only look good - but are an interesting species. Another monster I wouldn't mind seeing in a return appearance.
Yes, I ranked Time and the Rani as the worst of all the regeneration stories but I also mentioned right in that post that it's not as bad as they say. It only ranks so low on that particular list because of all the behind-the-scenes problems it had to work around to have an actual regeneration in it. Outside of that context, most of the story holds up fairly well. We really shouldn't roll our eyes so much at this one.
Perhaps one of the best things that Time and the Rani does is set the tone for the way the Seventh Doctor will fight a lot of his enemies. We see it right at the end as he goads the Rani into destroying the Lakyertians. She activates those explosive bangles - not realizing she's actually destroying her brainiac, instead.
Manipulation and Deceit: these shall be Doctor Seven's greatest weapons. And it's right there for everyone to see. Right in his very first tale.
A tale that really isn't as bad as everyone says it is....
Agree with the list? Think I'm absolutely full of crap? You decide. You can even argue with me in the comments if you'd like.
But if you are thinking there are other stories that fit this category - then don't worry. I will have other installments of this. Because I think there are other stories out there that are not as bad as everyone says they are.
I just thought I'd do five of them, for now...