Sunday, July 29, 2012


What a difference a leather tankini makes....
"They use them in the construction centers. If ever we used the stop circuits and turned off all our robots, they'd have to go back to a construction center for reactivation. On arrival each would be marked with a disc like that to show it is a deactivated robot. The technicians call them corpse markers."

1) We're now in the Leela era, the very brief period (I was surprised to realize this period lasted only three stories over a single season) that serves as a transition between the Baker Doctor's two major companions. I am not as big a fan of Leela as most men--the leather tanktop and shorts thing didn't do anything for me, and Louise Jameson does little for me--but under Hinchcliffe she is an intriguing character. As we'll see in this story, she's a highly intelligent woman who was raised in a society where she didn't the tools or the inclination to stimulate her braininess. This leads to the Doctor taking her on as a companion to mold and shape her into the person he sees she can be. Of course, after the fourteenth season, Leela falls into the hands of Graham Williams and becomes something a lot less intriguing, but we won't talk about that now.

2) This story and the one that follows it is unique in the Hinchcliffe canon in that they take their inspiration not from horror but mystery tropes. Even though there are references to the robots being 'the walking dead' (said reference leading to a great little piece of exposition about the fear of robots by Baker), this is at its core a sci-fi trade dress version of the Agatha Christie classic Ten Little Indians interwoven with generous helping of Isaac Asimov's Robot stories. And the way Hinchcliffe and writer Chris Boucher fits that novel's plot to service the series is nothing short of stunning.

3) And to emphasize this connection to Christie's Edwardian-era mysteries, the world of this story is really well designed. There is a definite whiff of Art Deco in much of the fixtures around the ship and the costumes of the characters. It hints at a greater culture and aesthetic, and probably didn't cost all that much given the amount of atmosphere it delivers.

4) One of the nicer touches is how Boucher flips Ten Little Indians' main plot conceit in having the character most people overlook as one of the heroes....and what a character he is. Gregory de Polnay's D83 is a magnificent temporary companion to the Doctor...and I love the impression I get that D83 strives to be a better 'robot,' leading to The Doctor insist that he's becoming more human. Plus we get inherent comic relief in some of his natural reactions.
"I love you man."  "No, I love YOU, man!"

5) I really appreciate how our supporting cast all have very distinct personalities that feed into the Christie conceit. And it's funny how the character who ultimately turns out to be the villain is the one who a) has the most reasonable excuse for knowing the thing that would otherwise give him away and b) seems the most level-headed and reasonable, leading us to mark him off the suspect list immediately.

6) Granted, a case can be made for Russell Hunter being written off as a scenery chewing goof, especially in the middle part of the story. But there's some sort of depth to Uvanov that makes him a much more compelling character than the callous slave driver we meet in part one. And once we learn some of what makes him tick, it makes him a joy to watch in the story's final act.

7) Even though it was obviously a model, I am fascinated with the workings of the sand miner. Besides being something of a novel setting, the shots of the miner trundling along, turbines working give it a sense of atmosphere and otherworldliness. It's the sort of small thing Hinchcliffe does that provide depth to each story.

(Plus...for someone who hates enclosed spaces, the cliffhanger for Part One freaked me out)

"Hello, I'm here to judge the Silliest Sci-Fi Costume Contest..."
8) The main reason this story freaks me out is how so many of the cast are robots--and since robots are not living things, they can be seen on a family television show mangled, torn up and otherwise mutilated. There's one shot where Poole comes across a robot whose head is smashed in, but the attacker apparently tried to fix up with electrical tape, that still gives me nightmares.

9) I love all the little tips of the hat Boucher's script gives to Isaac Asimov's Robot stories, from the references to the Laws Of Robotics to the introduction of 'Grimwade's Syndrome.' It gives the threat a fuller feel beyond the ol' 'Yaaah! Killer Robots!'...which in turn gives the story more gravity.

10) While I really appreciate that The Doctor entrusts Leela to enact the very Pulp-like solution to the story (like Doc Savage, The Doctor doesn't kill his enemy, but lets him bring about his own demise), the gentle mockery of Leela seems out of place, especially if we assume the Doctor's motivations for taking her on as a companion lie in his recognizing her intelligence. Sadly, this is a harbinger of things to come, when the Graham Williams era comes in and treats Leela more and more like a comic foil for Baker's Doctor.

Overall... wonderfully frightening little whodunit with loads of atmosphere, and one of the best stories of the post-Sarah Jane Hinchcliffe era.

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