Friday, March 2, 2012


"Ahhhh, there's an actor who isn't my pal Frazier...."
"When somebody writes about an incident after it happens, that is history. But when the writing comes first, that's fiction. If we had fallen into the Master's trap, we would have become fiction."

1) I know this was a scripted serial--hell, they talk at length with writer Peter Ling in the documentary accompanying the story on the DVD--but one of the things I like about this tale is how the whole thing feels on some level improvised. Granted, part of that is because the producers had to add an extra episode (the first) onto it with literally no budget, but even when we're deep in the scripted portion, that feeling of organicness remains.

2) Another thing I liked? For the bulk of the first three episodes, the Troughton Doctor is off-balance. He literally doesn't know how to manipulate this situation to his own advantage, and seems extremely lost and panicky at times. And I like seeing Troughton dithering and knowing it's not The Doctor putting on an act.

3) It's so strange hearing this version of The Doctor talking about a villain called The Master. I know Emrys Jones' character isn't that Master (calm down, Michael!), but still.....

4) Even though there is some tiny lip service made to an alien race using this Land of Fiction outside of the space/time continuum, this is arguably the closest the classic series ever gets to pure fantasy...and once again, we get some really clever ways of working around a budget. The way the production staff conveys the idea of Jamie standing on top of a forest made of adages, for example, is quite clever.
"You don't think it doesn't take hours of effort and work to
make my hair look like a Stooge's?"

5) ...and speaking of Jamie, this is the serial where Frazier Hines' illness prompts him to be replaced for an episode by Hamish Wilson. And while Mr. Wilson's work is good, his presence really emphasizes how great Hines was as a companion. The chemistry Hines has with both The Doctor and Zoe is just outstading.

6) Zoe...Wendy Padbury is a definite improvement over Deborah Watling. Unlike the screaming machine that Victoria became, Zoe seems to have a real place in the crew. I particularly like the way The Doctor will treat her like a peer when it came to piloting the Tardis.

And that cliffhanger to episode one....ummmmmm, yeah. Good way to point out that Padbury is not a young girl while making us fans uncomfortable. If you've ever seen this, you know what I mean.

7) Given that this serial apparently had almost no budget whatsoever to work with, I was rather impressed with how some of the crazier mythological beasts came off. The unicorn that serves as the cliffhanger for Episode Two is really cool and convincing, and the way the crew works out the minotaur utilizing shadows, sound effects, and a very, very, very brief shot of a minotaur head works...but then you get that really bizarre, almost impressionistic version of the Medusa with the stop-motion snakes that's just shoddy. No amount of Zoe screaming that this gorgon is real convinced me at all.
"'ll be a woman....soon."
(And all over England, adolescent boys suddenly realize
they....are MEN!)

8) I rather like some of the featured fictional characters, particularly Christine Pirie's Rapunzel. The way she seems so casually resigned to having people climb up her hair is hilarious.

9) I have to give Emrys Jones credit--he makes the constant switching from a befuddled lil' writer to the spokesvoice for the strange alien race that's intending to drag humanity into the World of Fiction so they can inhabit Earth work. The way director David Maloney leads us to believe the Master is a very sinister figure only to have him be this gentle, sad man is pretty well done.

10) As creative as this serial is, and given how much is thrown onto the screen, the shorter episode lengths (they last from eighteen to twenty-one minutes in length, as opposed to the standard twenty-four) is noticable. Instead of making the serial seem more faster paced, it makes the narrative flow come off as fractured and disjointed. The final episode in particular edges toward the nonsensical.

Overall...another one of the classic series' forays into surrealism, this one is head and shoulders above the previous attempt at something unique, the Hartnell serial The Web Planet, and is probably the best example until we hit the McCoy serial Ghost Light at the end of the classic run. A curiosity, but one worth watching if you're interested in seeing just how out there some production staffs were willing to go.

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