Red Scharlach (redscharlach) wrote,
Red Scharlach

Kicking it old school

Given my eager interest in TARDIS-related happenings since 2005, it may surprise you to learn that my knowledge of all things Classic Who is pretty patchy. While I was an on-off fan for much of my childhood (dependant on incumbent Doctor and scariness of monsters), I generally prefer to leave those ancient adventures in the rosy-tinted glow of the past, where the exciting bits still look exciting but many of the rubber-suited longueurs have faded away.

Nonetheless, over the bank holiday, I took advantage of the Doctor Who weekend on the Sci-Fi Channel (UK) and daringly exposed myself (shock horror!) to several chunks of classic Who that I hadn't seen for decades. So, in the absence of any New Who to review, I thought I'd share a compact cornucopia of Classic comments, compliments, cavils and caps for your consideration and consternation.

The Face of Evil (1977)
"Flapdoodle!" - The Doctor

Although the mad ranting computer bits at the climax dragged on a tad, on the whole I found plenty to enjoy in this one: the very Life of Brian debate about proving whether the Doctor is a mortal or a god; Four's cheerfulness in the face of a pit full of bad-tempered rubber slippers; the "huge" statue of the Doctor's head, and Four being distinctly peeved when Leela suggests they should climb up its nostril. There was also a copious dose of that Classic Who staple: Mad Eye-Acting (TM) - simply wait for the camera to do an extreme close-up and then roll your eyeballs around like there's a mad guinea pig on the loose inside your skull. Bingo, you've won a BAFTA! (Or maybe not.)

Gratuitous screencap: The Fourth Doctor and Tomas of the Sevateem discuss whether they could make this weapon look any more suggestive if they tried. Answer: no, I don't think they could.

I hadn't seen any of Leela since I was little, but I was delighted to discover that she's just as cool as I remember her: a charming combination of no-nonsense warrior woman and sensible middle-class lass. In fact, I love how the Sevateem are the most well-spoken warrior race in the history of anything: it's just a shame that they fall down rather badly in other important fields, such as looking good in loincloths. (Sorry guys, but it's no wonder Leela's ready to jump on the next TARDIS out of there.)

Best of all, of course, there was Four himself. Perhaps what makes him such a legend is that he gives the impression that there's a whole other plot occurring somewhere inside his own head, and that only he can possibly understand it, and if you even tried, you'd go mad. But you still know it's in there, somewhere. Wibble.

Logopolis (1981)
"There's something not quite right about all of this." - The Doctor

All I could recall about this episode from the first time around was Tegan and her Auntie Vanessa changing their car tyre at the beginning, and the regeneration at the end. I now realize why I couldn't remember anything else: it's because the story is a flimsy bit of silliness that seems to have been found scribbled on the back of a fag packet in a lay-by off the M2.

It basically seems to be an excuse to string together the tiny smattering of ideas that they did have: the recursive TARDISes (a groovy image, I grant you), the spanking new Master showing off his cackling skills and extensive dolly collection, and of course, the Four-to-Five switchover. These crumbs are joined together with Handwavy Megascience (TM), enthusiastic exclamations of pointlessness, and the Watcher, watching, watchfully.

Gratuitous screencap: Adric tries very hard to ignore Nyssa's prominent muff.

As a ten-year-old, I actually liked Adric (I did, it's true!) and in a startling twist, I think he has withstood the test of time better than Tegan, whom I thought was okay back in the day, but I now find rather a trial on my patience. (Sorry, Teganites.) The script does her no favours, I admit: not only does about 90 percent of her dialogue consist of the word "Doctor!", but there's a bit in the late stages of this episode where she says "Doctor!" about ten times, and when she finally attracts his attention, she doesn't actually have anything to say to him. It's also no wonder she goes on to spend so much time demanding to go home, given that her first experience of space is a really dull planet of old men who do sums in caves and completely ignore her, with a big telescope that's exactly the same as one on modern-day Earth. Whoop-di-doo, the wonders of the galaxy, eh?

I did get a few giggles out of the Master's TARDIS turning into a shrubbery, and Four categorically denying ownership of a sportscar (I wonder whether he would have admitted to a space-hopper?). It also amused me mightily that Four's first instinct in the case of trouble is... eject Romana's bedroom! Errrr, why? I fail to see how an unstable box full of infinity minus some pink cushion covers and a floral light fitting equals a stable box full of infinity, but I'm sensing some unspoken issues here. Forcible removal of the girlie bits, Doctor? Freud would have a field day...

The Master was pretty much wasted, though, which was a shame. I don't know why the universe should tremble under his rule when his idea of a practical demonstration of power is controlling the right hand of Nyssa, a girl in a fairy dress who probably couldn't open a jam jar, let alone strangle anyone. Other than that, he has nothing to do but practise his maniacal laugh and try to chat up the Doctor, who is too despondent at his oncoming dismissal from regular employment to pay much attention to him.

All in all, a less than classic slice of Classic. Sometimes a moment can have a little too much preparation...

Earthshock (1982)
"It's all getting rather silly." - Nyssa

After the tedium of Logopolis, this one turned out to contain a surprising number of jolly pleasures from the off. A quarry! Adric saying "I'm tired of being considered a joke"! And the following exchange:
Five: "No, Adric, I will not do it!"
Adric: "But you've done it before!"

They are talking about going to E-Space, you see. Yeah, tell that to Sigmund Freud, when he's finished working out the Romana's bedroom business.

In fashion news, Tegan still hasn't ditched the air hostess get-up (although she does swap it for some overalls later in this episode) but at least Nyssa has tossed aside the fairy skirt in favour of the velvet trousers that I always envied as an eleven-year-old. (Then again, I liked Adric, so what did I know?) Add to this a gathering of jumpsuited geologists cluttering up the TARDIS, Beryl Reid stropping about in a power mackintosh, and most hilariously of all, the fruitily-voiced Cyber Leader, who seems to have wandered in from some galactic gentleman's club and plans to destroy the earth before the port and cigars arrive. Excellent.

Gratuitous screencap: The Cyber Leader was amazed to discover that when his minion said "Yes, Leader", what he really meant was "I love you".

Gratuitous screencap 2 : On dull evenings, Cybermen like to play Pictionary. Can you tell what it is yet?

The rest is a haze of Cybermen with surprisingly taut silvery Cyberbuttocks, fighting their way out of cellophane wrapping paper. Oh, and of course, the death of Adric, who acquits himself pretty well in what at the time was a huge shock to all viewers, not least the younger me (it's great when you don't know what's going to happen, see?).

Of course, what I didn't get to see at the time was Earthshock: Part 5, the startling Claymation sequel. Perfect closure for a not-perfect but pretty entertaining couple of hours.

* * * * *

So, in conclusion, am I going to be watching more Classic Who in future? Well, maybe, but probably not unless it's piped directly into my home on a rainy afternoon. Nonetheless, if I get any sudden urges, I also taped the TV Movie and it's standing by in case of televisual emergency. Eeek. We can only hope that such an emergency never arises... or that if it does, that there's plenty of gin in the house.
Tags: doctor who
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