Sunday, May 13, 2012

Ten Statements About....DOCTOR WHO STORY SEVENTY-FIVE: ROBOT (1974/75)

Oh, dear...I'm sorry...that's just...unfortunante...
"Doctor, you--you're being childish!
"Well, of course I am! There's no point in being grown-up if you can't be childish sometimes."

1) And here we begin what I consider the true Gold Standard of The Classic Who Series--the reign of Philip Hinchcliffe as Producer of the show...which is kind of funny given that, at its core, this is a pretty ordinary story. Still, even at this early date the concept of the series as a Gothic Horror Show Set In A Science Fiction continuum is in place, as what we've got is the Whoniverse take on King Kong.

2) Whether you love him or hate him, the thing you can't deny about Tom Baker is that he owns the role of The Doctor from the very moment he appears. This is maybe my favorite of all the regenerations when it comes to seeing the new actor grow into the part (although admittedly Colin Baker's first minute or so as The Doctor in Caves of The Androzani matches it, only to be let down by the erratic, psychotic behavior of The Twin Dilemma, and Matt Smith approaches it in The Eleventh Hour), as we know exactly the kind of Doctor we're going to get for the next few years by the end of the first episode....

"So, we really have to bring that Harry
character along?  I mean, Ian Marter is a nice enough
chap, but still...."
3) ...and what we're getting is a Doctor who, breaking away from previous Doctor Jon Pertwee's vigorous and physical performance, prefers the cerebral and intellectual. In his way, Baker manages to fuse elements of all the previous incarnations (Hartnell's crankiness, Troughton's clownishness as a mask for brilliance, Pertwee's low tolerance for stupidity and deep loyalty to friends) into a more-or-less, unpredictable-bordering-on-unstable whole.

4) Okay...the actual Robot is, ummm, a bit silly looking. The way the chest and legs don't seem to join together, in particular, is especially goofy. However, Michael Kilgarriff does a heroic job in giving this very flimsy looking creature a great deal of depth and nuance solely with his voice and acting. He manages to keep the creature sympathetic while never letting us forget what a powerful monster he is.

5) You know why I hold Sarah Jane Smith in such amazingly high regard? Here we have the only companion in the classic era (in my mind, the only companion in the series history) that spans two Doctors and still has the same strong chemistry with both. And in this particular stretch that lasts this season and part of next, she's just as feisty and take change as she was with Pertwee. Hell, it's having her on the ship that makes Harry feel so inconsequential down the line of this season. And speaking of which...

6) I understand that Harry was created when Barry Letts and Philip Hinchcliffe had assumed that the Fourth Doctor was going to be an older man--but let's give Ian Marter credit; he manages to make the character into something interesting when coupled with Baker. In this story, there's a real 'Holmes and Watson' feel to the interplay between them...although after this, it seems like Harry becomes the 'bumbling screw up' that frequently gets the other two characters in trouble.
"Get used to this whole 'getting killed by a chroma-key effect,
Harry.  It happens a lot..."

7) It kind of saddens me that we're at the point where UNIT are shadows of their former selves. The whole bad-assedness of both The Brig and Sargent Benton has now been watered down to a point where they serve solely as The Doctor's chauffeurs. We'll only see UNIT a few more times between here and the classic series' end, and The Brig only a few more times...and his ability to kick ass without mussing that perfectly coiffed hair and mustache is sorely missed from here on out.

8) I admit it--I adore Patricia Maynard's Winters and Alec Linstead's Jellicoe as the bad guys. Not only are they deliciously over-the-top in their evilness, not only are their stand-in Nazi cred get a real sense of these two having a life before the story starts, and of a strange and twisted relationship going on between the two of them.

Yes...I'm thinking whips, chains, the whole nine yards.

9) I know that Edward Burnham always intended Kettlewell to be evil and unbalanced, and goes to great lengths to portray him as such...but even with this recent viewing, I never felt this character was all-out insane. I think his brusqueness and apparent contempt for unintelligent people screwing up the environment makes him strangely sympathetic...which makes his 'face turn' in episode three all the more effective.

10) Ahhhh....that final part. You know, when the Robot becomes....


There are some things the classic series should not have done with its limited--very limited--budget. What they attempt to make the King Kong simile work in the last episode is one of them. And sadly, we see them attempt something similar a lot better several stories down the pike with The Terror of The Zygons.

Overall...a rather average story that's elevated heads-and-shoulders above its deserved position by Tom Baker's braveau debut as The Fourth Doctor. Ignore the stupid elements and bask in one of the greatest 'statements of intent' an actor ever made to announce his presence as The Doctor.

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