Timestamp Special #10: Scream of the Shalka

Doctor Who: Scream of the Shalka
(6 episodes, 2003)

 

I wouldn’t trade Christopher Eccleston for the world, but this is an interesting case of what could have been for the Ninth Doctor.

After a rather upbeat opening sequence, the adventure begins a meteor strike near a volcano. Two nearby observers follow the meteor, their curiosity paid out with death. Elsewhere, the TARDIS materializes and a rather cross (and gothic) Ninth Doctor takes a look around. He’s there against his will and locked out of the TARDIS, so he has no choice but to explore.

He pops into local pub and meets Alison Cheney, a woman who is less scared than her peers to speak about whatever is going on in the area. The Doctor leaves, and Alison reassures someone in the shadows that they’re all being good. As the Doctor encounters a homeless woman and a lava statue, the Earth opens near Alison’s feet and swallows the TARDIS. Before the woman can shed any light on the mystery, a mysterious force kills her.

The Doctor is furious, and he tracks Alison to the home that she shares with her boyfriend Joe. The Time Lord questions her and discovers that the ground is the key. Alison shares what she knows while Joe denies everything: The aliens want the humans above ground to remain as quiet as possible. Within minutes, the floor bursts open and creatures scream into the room. The Doctor reflects the screams back at the creature, using the sound as a diversionary weapon to stage an escape. In a storage closet nearby, they improvise an explosion that destroys two of the creatures and stops the rumbling underground.

The Doctor attempts to leave, but his TARDIS is still missing, so he calls in UNIT. The Doctor explains that the creatures seem to be interested in the special volcanic rock and provides the UNIT commander with a map in exchange for their help in retrieving the TARDIS. They all descend into the caves, and the Doctor separates himself from the UNIT detachment to find the aliens without military interference.

Underground, the aliens attempt to take the TARDIS by force, but they find the Master standing at the console and are soon ejected from the capsule. So, they take another approach: They kidnap Alison. The Doctor arrives shortly thereafter and encounters Prime, war chief of the Shalka confederacy and leader of the aliens. Prime considers the humans to be primitive and subject to domination, and she calls the Doctor on his ploy to act dumb by taking advantage of his attachment to humanity, tipping his hand and forcing him to comply.

He leads Prime into the TARDIS and deactivates the Master, who turns out to be nothing more than an android security system almost like Antimony. Prime sees the Doctor as a primitive and kicks him out of the TARDIS, leading to a touching one-on-one between the Time Lord and Alison. Later, Prime forces the Doctor into a space-time wormhole (converted to a black hole for waste removal) that they have created. As he plummets into it, he uses his mobile phone to summon the TARDIS and eject the Shalka, who have since reactivated the Master-bot. Meanwhile, the Shalka have (mysteriously) returned Alison to the surface, but with a wound on her forehead and severe headache.

The Doctor overrides the Master-bot, whom he has programmed to always leave the Doctor’s young, human female friends behind, and materializes the TARDIS in the UNIT commander’s office. There he learns that Alison has survived and that UNIT has captured a Shalka after it was immobilized by pure oxygen. The Doctor takes the opportunity to analyze the Shalka, linking the rampant cases of laryngitis to the Shalka’s mental control. He also learns that the refugees from the town never made it to their shelters.

In the woods, all of the refugees are reunited and Alison discovers that her head wound is really a small Shalka under her skin. That Shalka forces the refugees (and similarly, around the world) to march. The Doctor and UNIT troops arrive in the TARDIS and confront Alison’s group, and the Doctor extracts the Shalka and stops the local conflict. When he recovers, he develops a plan with UNIT and explains the sore throats, which are the Shalka using the humans to emit subsonic screams in Earth’s atmosphere while they change the planet to suit their needs.

The Doctor and Alison (to Joe’s annoyance) leave to stop the threat. The Master, who cannot leave the TARDIS, stays behind as the Doctor and Alison confront Prime in the Shalka lair. They are confined, break free, and confront the Shalka as the Doctor swallows the mini-Shalka that was in Alison’s head. He bonds with it long enough understand their screams and engage in a sonic duel with the Shalka. He tricks Prime into standing near the wormhole, which he shifts to black hole-mode long enough to send Prime on a one-way trip to her doom.

With consent, he regurgitates the Shalka and reconnects it with Alison so she can shut down the slaves and Shalka worldwide. She succeeds, but he stops her just before the Shalka can be used to completely heal the planet because she cannot be allowed to wield that much power. After a brief exploration of the Doctor’s faults against his philosophies, the Time Lord invites her for tea on the TARDIS.

Alison and the Master-bot chat about how the Doctor would love to invite her to be his first living companion in a long time, but the Time Lord will not ask. His last companion was killed on the adventure that led to the Master’s consciousness being embedded in an android and the Doctor entering a self-imposed exile.

The Doctor escorts Alison back to Joe and UNIT, intent on saying goodbye. Alison decides to travel with the Doctor, and Joe reluctantly gives her his blessing.

And off they go.

 

This Doctor is very quippy and aggressive, bridging the Ninth and Tenth Doctors that we know from the revival era. He’s also reluctant to act and ready to die if need be, making me wonder what happened near the end of the Eighth Doctor’s life to drive him to this point. That does drive one question, though: Who or what locked the Doctor out of the TARDIS? Was it the Master-bot, was it the TARDIS in an

I would love to see more of this alternate Doctor.

Richard E. Grant (The Doctor) last appeared in The Curse of Fatal Death, and will appear again in the future. Similarly, we’ll see Sophie Okonedo (Alison), Derek Jacobi (The Master-bot), and David Tennant (uncredited as the Caretaker) again.

 

Before we get back on the regular timeline, we have one last stop to make with the Eighth Doctor.

 

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Shada (Eighth Doctor)

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

 

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Timestamp Special #9: The Curse of Fatal Death

Doctor Who: The Curse of Fatal Death
(4 episodes, 1999)

 

Five Doctors in twenty minutes: That must be a record.

Starting off with a little backstory, this was shown as part of the 1999 Comic Relief Red Nose Day telethon. This comedic special starred Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean, Blackadder) as the ninth incarnation of the Doctor, Richard E. Grant (Scream of the Shalka, Logan) as the “quite handsome” tenth incarnation, Jim Broadbent (Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Paddington) as the slapstick shy eleventh incarnation, Hugh Grant (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill) as the (not “quite”) handsome twelfth incarnation, and Joanna Lumley (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Sapphire & Steel) as the thirteenth incarnation.

Alongside all those Doctors, we also had Jonathan Pryce (Tomorrow Never Dies, Brazil) as an over-the-top version of the Master and Julia Sawalha (Absolutely Fabulous, Chicken Run) as companion (in more ways than one) Emma, and the adventure was penned by Steven Moffat, who would go on to Coupling before coming back to Doctor Who.

Got all that? There may be a quiz later.

On to the story…

After a revival of the Fourth Doctor’s title sequence, we watch as The Master chases the Doctor through the temporal vortex, maniacally blustering about his evil plan to kill the Doctor and spoiling the important parts through his inability to operate a speakerphone. The Doctor and his companion Emma meet the Master on Tersurus – the planet was previously inhabited by a race that was peace-loving, shunned because they communicated by passing gas through precision modulation, and were self-exterminated after they discovered fire – and of course the Master traps them by arriving early. The Doctor and Emma trade traps with the Master, each party having arrived earlier than the other. Emma interrupts the roundabout party with a revelation: The Doctor has found love with Emma and plans to retire, get married, and settle into domestic bliss.

The Master is disgusted, and he travels back in time to convince the castle’s architect to install a trap door to the sewers. The Doctor turns the tables again by going back even further to place the trap door under the Master. Before they can leave, an aged Master arrives (after three centuries trying to escape the sewer) with Daleks to exact his vengeance. The Doctor traps the Master in the sewers twice more, and a chase commences with the Daleks and an even more aged Master.

The Daleks capture the travelers for the Master (now rejuvenated by superior and firm Dalek technology), who has promised them the means to conquer the universe. Of course, the Daleks plan to exterminate the Master, and the Doctor informs the Master of this double-cross in Tersuran. The Daleks figure it out anyway and shoot the Doctor, who then regenerates from his ninth body into his tenth.

After a brief memory refresher, the Daleks ask the Doctor to stop the overload that they started, but a few crossed wires results in another regeneration, exchanging the tenth incarnation for the eleventh. Another short circuit causes another regeneration, and a residual discharge forces another (which needs a little prompting from Emma, the Master, and the Daleks).

In a moment of foreshadowing, the Doctor’s new body is female.

Unfortunately, Emma is not keen on marrying the Doctor in her new form, but the Master and the Doctor spark something special and walk off into the end credits together.

 

This was certainly funny (in the British comedy tradition of sex and bodily function humor) but not particularly deep. Honestly, there’s no particular need for depth since it’s played for laughs to spur donations. That’s the whole drive of Comic Relief after all.

The element of the Doctor finding romance is still a key element, but it’s hard to tell if Steven Moffat and company are spoofing the idea or trying to further it in the franchise. The continual ramping up of the Doctor’s sexuality in this twenty-minute segment points to the joke, but we certainly know what he’ll think of the concept in years to come.

And even though this was a BBC-authorized television production bridging the gap between the TV movie and the 2005 revival, I certainly disagree with his notion that this could have been a legitimate continuation of the franchise.

 

Rating: 3/5 – “Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Scream of the Shalka

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

 

Timestamp Special #2: Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D.

Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D.
(1966)

Timestamp S02 Daleks Invasion Earth 2150 AD

 

It’s seems to be a standard with the Peter Cushing Doctor’s stories to speed up the pacing while simultaneously upping the production budget. This story hits the key notes, but the faster pace removes a large amount of the tension. This is readily apparent in the sequence when the Dalek emerges from the river. That big reveal just isn’t as dramatic when it moves at a breakneck pace.

Production-wise, the Dalek ship had a good new look, and wasn’t too shabby for the era. The Robomen, however, look like rejects from an unholy union of CHiPs and THX 1138. Good lord, those get-ups were silly, but at least they get their three square meals of nutritious… jellybeans?

In character notes, the police officer Tom, who replaced Ian in the plot, was a major step up from his Cushing-era predecessor. It was nice to see Bernard Cribbins again, particularly in his first voyage in the police box before he joined David Tennant as Wilfred Mott. An equally fresh breath of air was Louise, the replacement for Barbara, who was much more engaging and intelligent than her predecessor.

On the downside: Dortmun, the wheelchair-bound scientist, died a very meaningless death in comparison to his television counterpart. There was no need for him to attack them or die since the van could have very easily outrun the Daleks, just as easily as it ran the blockade moments later.

Anyway, this rating won’t count toward anything since this isn’t an official Doctor.

 

Rating for The Dalek Invasion of Earth: 5/5
Rating for Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D.: 3/5

 

While we’re on the subject, let’s talk about the Peter Cushing Doctor. I like Peter Cushing, but his Doctor would have been better served with original stories. When Hollywood tries reboots in the modern day, I try to divorce my brain from what came before and offer up the benefit of the doubt. However, these two projects were designed as a near reproduction of the two Hartnell stories, so it’s almost as if the producers are asking audiences to compare in hopes that they will find the bigger, flashier, and colorful exploits to be more engaging. Similar to Gus Van Sant’s shot-for-shot remake of the classic Psycho, these projects pretty much demanded to be compared to their source material.

Cushing’s Doctor isn’t Hartnell’s Doctor. He’s far less proactive, and far less analytical, but he’s superficially warmer and easier to relate to. He would have been a worthy successor on the actual show, but in near exact remakes, he was merely average.

 

Dr. Who and the Daleks – 3
Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. – 3

Cushing Doctor’s Weighted Average Rating: 3.00

 

Onward to Series Four.

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Smugglers

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

Timestamp Special #1: Dr. Who and the Daleks

Dr. Who and the Daleks
(1965)

Timestamp S01 Dr Who and the Daleks

It’s a very basic re-telling of The Daleks, but with a faster pace and a larger budget. In this version, Barbara and Susan are both granddaughters to the Doctor, who is a human inventor called Dr. Who in this interpretation. We never find out his first name, but his surname is Who. Ian Chesterton picks up the role of  comic (often slapstick) relief, giving this an air slightly less silly (and a bit more watchable) than 1967’s Casino Royale in comparison to the James Bond movie franchise.

The Thals are essentially goths with heavy eye shadow and blonde wigs to make them look alien, and the Daleks are… well… the Daleks. In color. With bigger head lamps that don’t actually sync very well with their voices. The Daleks also picked up some home decor tips from the 1960s and 70s, including lava lamps and some very James Bond-inspired control room sets.

It was really good to Peter Cushing in a role other than Grand Moff Tarkin from Star Wars, and this presentation has me on the lookout for other films of his.

Overall, with high production values but low story content, I grade this as an enjoyable interpretation, but with nowhere near the staying power of the source serial.

This rating won’t count toward anything since this isn’t an official Doctor. Onward to Series Three.

 

Rating for The Daleks: 4/5
Rating for Dr. Who and the Daleks: 3/5

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Galaxy 4

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.