Friday, 20 December 2013

Overview: Doctor Who Classic: Season 14

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I want to marry this TARDIS set.
Doctor Who - Season 14
Written 9/6/13

The last year of Hinchcliffe and Holmes is by far their strongest, providing a series of six stories that pull out all of the stops. It is the year of the gorgeous wooden TARDIS interior (which disappears after this season due to the set warping in storage), of Sarah Jane's departure, of the companionless adventure, and then of Leela, Chris Boucher's impressive and innovative companion idea that sends the show tumbling into a different direction. It was also the season of gore and horror, even more so than its immediate predecessor.
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Sarah Jane gets two last decent adventures.
     A combination of grandiose settings and a decent budget mean that aesthetically, the series is on its strongest foot for a couple of decades. Everything from the impressive medieval mock-ups at Port Merion and the multi-layered Panopticon set to the model/greenscreen sandminer and the many streets and sewers around the Fleet River - they're all great. The season's only special-effects failure comes in the form of the Tesh, who are the first of Four's underwhelming baddies and begin a tradition that next season's Invasion of Time will continue with great vigour.
     There was a rather unfortunate pattern in the season's villains, wherin a person or persons were influenced by a great and powerful figure from beyond. Mandragora, Eldrad, The Master, Xoanon, Taren Capel, Magnus Greel - it's a clear pattern, typical perhaps of the era but a tad tiresome on close consecutive viewings, especially as it's a bit difficult to write "maniacal" six different times and have it be fresh every time. For the record, the best of the mad villains were Eldrad and Xoanon, the former being presented in a sympathetic light for the majority of its appearance in the story and the latter have a complex psychological reasoning behind its actions.
     Sarah Jane's departure in The Hand of Fear was a sad event, and it got chance to sink in during the season's unique companionless episode, The Deadly Assassin. Leela's dynamic with The Doctor, while missing the characteristic cuteness of that he had with Sarah Jane, does show a lot of promise and as a character she is certainly more impressive than her "something for the Dads" reputation would lead you to believe. By the end of the season, all memory of Sarah Jane is gone, and while the future is uncertain, there's the hope that Leela's story will see her develop quite well. (Yes and no on that front...)
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Leela's introduction to the series is
quite promising.
     Cue the standard bests-and-worsts paragraph. Although it's remarkably difficult, I would pick... The Masque of Mandragora as my favourite story of the season. Yes, some of the other stories are cool - The Deadly Assassin comes in a very close second place as the only story of the season I'd even seen before this runthrough. But Masque has this sense of fun to it all that I find lacking in huge quantities elsewhere. It's all good to hear the legends of Gallifrey or the great quips in Victorian London, but quite fundamentally it's a balance between good characterisation and humour that keeps me coming back. And so on that front, my least favourite story of the season was The Talons of Weng-Chiang, which takes itself far too seriously for its own good and manages to offend 1.6 billion people.
     The Hinchcliffe/Holmes era is a study in contrasts. Extravagent yet realistic. Violent yet morally sound. Comedy duos next to kidnapped teenage girls. While it's heralded as the show's golden era (this season for me especially,) I did feel like there was something missing from the overall picture. The humour of The Deadly Assassin and the political satire that run through it - those relevant little points that make Who meaningful are smothered when you take whole plot references from Hammer Horror classics. The future of the show at this point is strangely uncertain, but there is something that can be assured - it has the chance to just be Doctor Who again.

Thanks.

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