Sunday, June 3, 2012


"Well, you do the hokey pokey/and you turn yourself
around/that's what it's all about!"
"Another universe?"
"From the beginning of time, that has existed side by side with the known universe. Each is the antithesis of the other. You call it nothing, a word to cover ignorance. For some time, scientists invented a word for it...anti-matter."

1) I think I can safely say that this is the first 'pure' Hinchcliffe serial--and boy, does it make it clear that Whoniverse is about to become a scary-ass place. This serial, like so many other Hinchcliffe serials, takes a classic horror film or figure (in this case both Jeckyll and Hyde and Forbidden Planet) and reworks it into something distinct to the Who mythology.....

2) ....and yet people don't realize that it's part of that massive linked story that started with 'Ark In Space.' This leads directly from 'Terror Of The Zygons,' as The Doctor promises he'll proceed to London before the Tardis picks up the Morestran distress call. After the crisis is averted, the Doctor and Sarah endeavor to get back to London, only to drop in at UNIT HQ before UNIT HQ was built in 'Pyramids of Mars.' I can understand why Hinchcliffe ultimately abandoned this tightly linked serial concept, but for as long as it lasts it's very compelling.

3) I find the way The Doctor and Sarah have fallen into this very easy partnership fascinating. Even when Sarah suggests something that's wrong--like when she suggests they just leave and let the Morestrans sort out what's going on--The Doctor never belittles her or treats her as less than a friend and peer. Compare how Baker and Sladen interact with each other to other Doctor/companion pairings, where the Doctor treats his companion like a child (Pertwee and Manning, for example) or in some cases with outright contempt (Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant in their first season). This is one of the closest pairs in the series history.
No joke..I just this outfit makes Lis Sladen
looks particularly yummy.....

4) This is one of the very few 'shot in studio' episodes where I sort of buy into the alien terrain outside of the Morestran ship. I suspect a lot of the reason it's so effective is the moody lighting, but these's so much detail and elements that are alien in shape without looking like something standing in for an alien shape that it seems otherworldly.

5) Here's another element I always liked in the Hinchchliffe era--the different layers the scripts usually had in the supporting cast. In the case of this serial, there's a really odd relationship between Ewen Solon's Vishinsky and Prentiss Hancock's Salamar. Even thought Salamar is in command, there's this sense that Vishinsky is only playing at being subservient because he's trying to be a mentor without overtly being a mentor to the younger, brasher Salamar. This comes to a head in the final part, but spurs on Salamar's final (admittedly nonsensical), fatal actions.

6) I remember the antimatter monster that is featured in the first two or so parts being pretty nightmarish when I first viewed this as a teen. It's still pretty strange--the fact that it's being chromakeyed into a reddish outline still gives it an otherworldly feel--but it's not as scary as it was. Still, it's a damn sight better than the silly werewolf-y 'Anti-Man' monster Frederick Jaeger's Sorenson transforms into in the latter two parts.

7) While I feel Jaeger's performance is bland (even if it sometimes threatens to tilt into hand-wringing goofball mode), I do find the interactions he has with The Doctor wonderful. That one scene where the Doctor seems to be suggesting to Sorenson that he needs to commit suicide for the greater good is one of the highlights of the serial.

8) I have always thought the cliffhanger to part three, with Sarah and an unconscious Doctor about to be jettisoned off into space in sealed coffins while alive, pretty scary. I didn't realize that this cliffhanger is so effective not just because of Elisabeth Sladen's previously referenced ability to give Good Panic, but because of that small scene where Sarah watches Vishinsky's disposal of a body. Not only dies that scene establishes how the mechanism works, it gives us this wonderful exchange ("It's neat and tidy." "It's horrid.") that shows us Sarah's abhorrence of the practice. That one bit of foreshadowing feeds into the chiffhanger, engaging us even more when it's triggered.

9) Boy, that is one truly crappy looking starship. What happened...did the special effects staff just grab the nearest vacuum at the last minute?

10) The one thing that bothered me is how this military expedition is composed of a multiracial crew with names that reflect a wide array of Earth nationalities...and yet they're supposed to be an alien race. This curiosity is made even weirder by the way Salamar and Vishinsky show some knowledge of London and Earth even though this happens some 30,000 years after 1980. I wonder if the script--by script editor Robert Holmes under the house psuedonym of Louis Marks--wanted to make a connection between the Morestran race and the colonists who we were told fled the earth in 'Ark In Space.' But if that was the intention, the connection was not made clear enough. entertaining but minor little serial that overcomes its silly central monster through some clever set design, a decent script that gives us wonderful characterization, and other touches. You can almost see this as the mission statement of the Hinchcliffe era.

And if you don't like this one...wait until you see what's next.

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