Wednesday, May 23, 2012


"Maybe if we pointedly don't look at it, Sarah, it'll transform
into a much better looking special effect."
"Homo Sapien. What an inventive, invincible species. It's only a few million years since they crawled up out of the mud and learned to walk. Puny, defenseless bipeds. They've survived flood, famine and plague. They've survived cosmic wars and holocausts...and now here they are amongst the stars, waiting to begin a new life, ready to outsit eternity. Indominable. Indominable."

1) While Tom Baker had command of the role of The Doctor in Robot, here is the serial where he put down the flag and claims the series as his own. That wonderful speech I quote above, the humor, the philosophy that the universe is a big enough place for everyone, his strategic mind, his support of's all in there. This is The Doctor who will define the series throughout the Hinchcliffe era (the Graham Williams era sees him become extremely silly before John Nathan-Turner reclaims him in the last season) and be the most recognizable version of the character for a long time, maybe even up until today.

2) And one of the coolest things about this serial is how it is definitely in the Hinchcliffe mode--the Wirrn are at their core The Body Snatchers--and yet there is no black and white here. There's a strong argument for the Wirrn being something of an aggrieved party here so that, while we don't condone their actions, we understand them. However...

"I am afeared of my bubble-wrap insect grub hand!"
3) Good Lord, are the Wirrn stupid looking. It's a brave attempt to try and doing something inhuman with these characters, but there's a big ol' whiff of paper-mache' to them, and the way their legs just wiggle comically with even the slighest movement evokes guffaws of laughter. A little better effect are the grubs, which are done through clever use of bubble wrap and green tint.

4) I wish all those people who claim Sarah Jane is just another useless screaming companion would watch this serial (and so many other serials during her tenure). While she doesn't take the focus of the story away from the Doctor like some companions of the 2005 series (I'm looking at you, Rose), she is the person who offers up a way for the Doctor's plan to be enacted, and she out and out volunteers to run the cable from the shuttle to the cryogenics chamber. She is a proactive member of The Doctor's crew.

5) And oddly enough, Elisabeth Sladen gives great panic. There's this thing she does with her face where it looks like every single muscle clenches as one that just unnerves me, plus she finds fifteen different ways to scream and yelp when she is startled. This talent may be the reason why she is written off as a useless wailing frail, but it's an unfair critique. On the contrary, her panic emphasizes how dire the threat is in each serial (something we'll discuss when we look at the next serial).

Harry Sullivan...AC-tion Hero!
6) While the script by Robert Holmes does give Harry a number of things to do, it's obvious that the production team has changed its mind about this companion and are repositioning him as The Team Oaf. The entire first episode, which is mainly The Doctor and Harry trying to get the power running on the titular arc, is filled with Harry messing things up, and The Doctor gently scolding and mocking him...and Harry becomes more Goofus than Gallant in the next few serials.

7) One thing Holmes' script gets right is by getting past what is at its core a 'Base Siege' serial in the season after a slew of Base Siege serials during Barry Letts' time as producer to emphasize the humanity of many of these characters. Even though there is a 'hey, you're a stranger! You must be in on it!' moment, it's quickly discarded because all of the ark denizens are focused on their mission of repopulating Earth. Thus a number of ark crew members act selflessly, even sacrificing themselves to make sure the mission succeeds.

8) Even when I first saw this serial, in that horrifically cut up form (complete with 'since you Ammuricans Are Too Dull To Grasp Serialized Drama' intros by Howard DaSilva) on WWOR here in New York, I was really struck by the uniforms the Nerva-ites wore. They're very functional with an easily understood color coded system to figure out what each person's purpose is for, and they don't look out of place on either the male or female member.

Plus Sarah looks especially good in them. Just saying.

9) Watching it this time around on DVD, the one thing that sticks out to me as inconsistent is the presence of Wendy Williams' Vira. It's not that Williams isn't a good actress, or that she doesn't give a good performance; it's that she's noticably older than the other Nervans we see. She looks to be in her late 40's--hell, she has grey hair! If this is a mission to renew and repopulate the Earth after its demise via solar flares, I would think the chosen participants in the program would be of child-bearing age. Given Vira's obvious age discrepency, it makes very little sense to bring her along, let alone 'pair bond' her with Kenton Moore's Noah.

10) One of the things everyone seems to forget about the serials of this season from here on in is that they're interlinked. At the end of this story, The Doctor and his crew go down to the recovered Earth to fix the transmat...which leads into The Sontaran Experiment. There's similar 'linkages' to Genesis of The Daleks and Revenge of The Cybermen. It's something I always liked, a sort of call back to those early Hartnell seasons, and something that wasn't done again until The Key To Time Season and, after that, some of the John Nathan Turner 'trilogies.'

Overall...if you forgive the really, really goofy monsters, this is a solid serial which manages to take the standard 'Seige' storyline that was a staple of the Letts era and tacks on elements that will dominate the Hinchcliffe era.

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