Tuesday, 25 August 2015

FTA: Doctor Who Classic: Spearhead From Space, The Androids of Tara, Full Circle and Logopolis

This second volume of articles from Celebrate, Regenerate! covers the Third and Fourth Doctors. (See here for more on this project.)

Spearhead From Space (120 Words)

Spearhead From Space is the definition of an archetypal Doctor Who story, and it defines the Tom Pertwee era almost as much as Inferno and Planet of the Spiders simply through a combination of luck, skill and what really feels like hard work. The story’s greatest blessing comes directly from the initial strike which prevented them from using video, and while it does start the Colour Era off very grainily, it also makes sure that the beginning of Pertwee’s time on the program looks and feels epic. Adding to that is the absolute wunderkind that is Robert Holmes, whose script mixes humour, scares and interesting concepts to provide not only a great opener, but also a monster that would be remembered by children around the country for the rest of their lives. 

The Androids of Tara

So often these days, The Doctor is off saving the Universe time and time again. I remember the good old days. When The Doctor wasn’t saving a galaxy, or even a planet, but a small feudal kingdom on a planet of humanlike aliens far away from everything we know. The Androids of Tara, a barefaced if loving adaptation of The Prisoner of Zenda, takes Doctor Who the furthest it has ever been into the realm of fantasy, facing us with Princes, Princesses, Counts and Peasants, as well as the odd robot dog. What I love most about Androids is simply that the story not only adapts the fantasy setting to a more Doctor Who world, but that the transition is completely seamless. Only Doctor Who could take entire scenes from another work word for word and mess around with it enough for it to feel like a bona-fide Who classic.
     The story’s most memorable feature is by far the erstwhile Count Grendel, a villain whose villainy extends to such epic proportion that by the end he’s given up all pretence and is simply telling the officials around him to abide by his evil plans for the sake of common decency. His goatee, his incredibly potent voice – Grendel is, after maybe Count Scarlioni, one of the Classic Series’ most fun standalone villains simply for how much he gets away with. My favourites of his scenes are the scene in which he casually tells the Archimandrite that he needs a Wedding, a Funeral and another Wedding in quick succession, and his final words – “Next time, I will not be so lenient!”
     The story also allows us some fun with doppelgangers, allowing Mary Tamm a whopping four credits as Romana, Princess Strella and the android duplicates of both. Luckily, the story avoids playing this device for comedy, and thus it’s an actual shock when The Doctor appears to strike Romana down at the end of part Two. On that. This story’s cliffhangers are great too. First our heroes randomly start to fall unconscious, then The Doctor bludgeons Romana in the back of the head, and then Grendel manages to steal Romana from under The Doctor’s nose. It all ties together to produce a story that, while derivative in the extreme, is fun from start to finish in all of the good ways. 

Full Circle

My first encounter with this story came due to the wondrous popularity of my name, which informed me as a child that this was the story that apparently I had written. That had always made me excited to see it, even when I learnt about (and experienced) Adric’s bad turns. For me, this was a sign that surely this JNT guy was great – hey, he allowed fans to write for the series. I think I secretly hoped that one day I’d be able to write for the revived series, and while that hasn’t quite come true I do spend a lot of my free time writing articles, like this, about my favourite TV show.
     What, then, of the story? What Full Circle does exceedingly well is to take a sci-fi idea and make it work in lots of different directions. The story’s main boasting point (and its biggest spoiler, don’t say I didn’t warn you) is the reveal near the end, where it’s discovered that the suspiciously-human-looking Alzarians are not the descendants of settlers from Terradon, but instead the hyper-evolved descendants of the planets’ native Marshmen, who had rushed to fill in the void when the crew of the Terradonian ship had died. There are subtle hints as to this throughout the story, presenting the idea of hyper-evolution and, unlike a lot of its bedfellows in Season 18, executing it properly.
     The story’s biggest contribution to the series is probably Adric, named after influential particle-physicist Paul Dirac (who predicted the existence of Antimatter) and possibly one of the least-liked companions in the show’s history. Of course most people will tell you that he’s not as bad as the stereotype says, and I’m one of those people. Despite how whiney and annoying he can be sometimes, at heart Adric is just a perfect representation of a troubled teenage boy trying to fit in. He’s flawed, sure, but those flaws fluctuated with his writers and in his initial story he’s actually one of the highlights.
     Narratively, Full Circle presents a strange turn for Classic Who, at least in this stage of its life. Two seasons prior had seen a big arc in the form of The Key To Time, but this was the first time that a narrative arc (or, more commonly for the JNT Era, a trilogy) had been dropped in the middle of a season. I’m strange, really, in that I think that Full Circle is perhaps the most entertaining story of the three in the E-Space Trilogy. It has cool monsters, an interesting and well-executed sci-fi idea, and proof of sorts that fans can actually write good Doctor Who. Which is always a nice thing to hear.

(Main article.)

It was the end of an era that had lasted seven years. The Tom Baker years are often heralded as the show’s Golden Age, featuring classics like Genesis of the Daleks, The Pyramids of Mars, The Hand of Fear and The City of Death. It’s strange then, that Baker’s final story in the role doesn’t hearken back to those halcyon days but instead chooses to look forward to the style that would be prevalent in the rest of the JNT era.
     The first outing of the Ainley Master shows off both sides of his character – the cackling, scheming madman and the clueless panto villain. One gets the feeling that this Master has bitten off more than he can chew, but he always manages to adapt his schemes to cause the most pain and suffering as is possible. In fact, going by death count, this accidental scheme is the Master’s most profitable, managing to destroy one quarter of the entire Universe. It’s amazing how his first serial manages to be so representative of his tenure – bumbling and incompetent most of the time, but dangerous when he manages to succeed.
     Logopolis is rather unique, in a way. There’s no setup, no normal, “The Doctor lands on planet X, meets villain Y, defeats villain Y and pops on his way.” No, the story (for the most part) feels a lot more fluid and refreshing. And while in some parts this manifests as Tegan trying to blow up a spare tyre, elsewhere it provides insights into The Doctor and Adric’s characterisations. This structure provides the story with that unique feeling that Tom’s swan-song needs, as well as facilitating the wonderful sense of forboding that the character of The Watcher creates.
     Important to note is that Logopolis not only ends the Tom Baker era, but also the wonderful Season 18. I like the storyline running through the season, but I tend to get bogged down when it comes to the individual story. Bidmead’s vast supply of technobabble doesn’t make this story any different, but what it does do is tie together the season’s themes of entropy and loss together into a single thesis.
     And so the era of Tom Baker is over. But don’t worry. For the moment has been prepared for, especially by JNT. At the end of this story, the TARDIS is stuffed with three companions, two of which have arrived somewhat traditionally and one which doesn’t really need to be here. Together, they advance into Doctor Who’s uncertain future – the true beginning of Eighties Who. It may be the end of one era. But there’s another still to come.


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