Timestamp #35: The Faceless Ones

Doctor Who: The Faceless Ones
(4 episodes, s04e31-e36, 1967)

Timestamp 035 The Faceless Ones

 

First, following on from the last review: I love the new theme music as well. It actually sounds a lot better to me than the first arrangement.

This time, we get the Doctor versus the body-snatchers at the airport, and this would be fun to revisit in the post-9/11 era.

The TARDIS materializes right on the airport runway, Polly gets turned into a pod-person after witnessing a murder, and the Doctor and Jamie get the red tape run around. Ah, red tape… Doctor Leonard McCoy was right: The bureaucratic mentality is the only constant in the universe.

I really liked this one, with all of the intrigue and the politics as the travelers tried to solve the mystery. I loved our heroes hiding in the photo booth, especially with the Doctor cheesing it up for the camera. The Doctor maniacally pretending to have a bomb as a distraction reminded me of the modern Doctors. Jamie was especially fun to watch as he was so lost in the modern era, and yet ends up really propelling this story forward.

Of course, Ben and Polly are both captured and don’t appear in much of this serial as a means to facilitate their departure from the show in Doctor Who tradition. At least they get to say goodbye. More on that in a second.

On companions, I’m glad Samantha Briggs didn’t join the group as the production team wanted. I found her kind of irritating even though she saved everyone with her mirror. Jean Rock, on the other hand, would have been fantastic as a companion, and I’m glad to see after a little research, that we get to see Wanda Ventham (mother to Benedict Cumberbatch!) a few more times in Doctor Who.

I found the sexism in the discussion as Samantha decides to investigate the hangar to be excusable: Samantha says she “needs a man” to keep her safe, and Jamie agrees. Samantha doesn’t strike me as very empowered, and Jamie’s temporal basis makes him more prone to strength belonging to men over women. I don’t agree with the sexism, but I recognize that it fits with the time and characters.

There was some really nice humor from the Doctor after he was nearly frozen to death in the same room they’re searching: “Jamie, we’re getting warmer, which is a change from the last time I was here.” I also didn’t mind the common Doctor Who trope of shrinking people for long-term storage as I was engaged in the story.

Polly and Ben leave the TARDIS on the very day they started to travel. The Doctor’s envy is obvious as he can’t go home yet. Ben and Polly have been good companions, even with Polly’s unevenness of character. They were a breath of fresh air, and will be missed. This, of course, leave Jamie as the single companion on the TARDIS with the Doctor, and I don’t mind that arrangement as Jamie as shown to be very capable.

Overall, this was an enjoyable time.

 

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

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Evil of the Daleks

 

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 #34: The Macra Terror

Doctor Who: The Macra Terror
(4 episodes, s04e27-e30, 1967)

Timestamp 034 The Macra Terror

First things first: I love the new opening with Patrick Troughton’s face in the vortex.

At first, I thought this was a Brave New World tale. It’s an R.E.M. dream of Shiny Happy People having fun, with tightly policed contentment and chemical treatments for those who don’t conform. Chew your soma, kids, because beatings will continue until morale improves.

This society is essentially a cult, with the blind faithful controlled by the Macra to mine the life-providing gas, and the Doctor is here to bring freedom to the enslaved humans. Of course, the travelers are introduced to the brainwashing so they can become part of the cult: Jamie does not succumb, Ben falls for it, Polly has to be convinced, and the Doctor continues to be his whimsical self. I simply adore his trips through the machines that first pressed his clothes, and then unintentionally messed them up again. This Doctor isn’t falling for it.

This Doctor also shows his scientific and mathematical brilliance in deriving the secret equation through examination of the evidence.

All of that said, I have negatives: The minor one is the music, which was really annoying. The major one was the resolution of  the story.

At its core, this story is really more about preserving freedom and abolishing slavery than it is about escape from possibility of death. Sure, freedom is essentially a moral positive and slavery is essentially a moral negative, but the result was the death of the captors instead of any kind of negotiation or compromise. The Doctor didn’t even try negotiation before stepping onto the path of killing the Macra for their crimes against the colony. Granted, such negotiations would have likely failed as they would with pretty much any dedicated cult leader, but I would have liked to see him try at the very least.

It just doesn’t seem like something the Doctor would do, and that knocked a decent story down to a semi-decent one at best.

 

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

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Faceless Ones

 

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 #33: The Moonbase

Doctor Who: The Moonbase
(4 episodes, s04e23-e26, 1967)

Timestamp 033 The Moonbase

 

The Cybermen are back, and a bit better designed than their last appearance not so long ago.

The story is about a weather control station on the moon that is being attacked by a mysterious virus. The virus, craftily hidden in their sugar supply, disables the staff of the moonbase so the Cybermen can essentially assimilate the most compatible of the infected and kill everyone on Earth with storms induced by the station’s control system. It’s pretty straightforward.

It turns out that the Doctor is an actual medical doctor who studied under Joseph Lister, and Jamie is safe because he didn’t use the sugar and has a head injury that disqualifies him from being transformed. Ben and Polly acted rather intelligently in fighting the Cybermen with a chemical attack to disable their control systems.

I noted some 1960s sexism: The making of coffee wasn’t an example, but “stay here, Polly, this is men’s work” certainly was. Luckily, Polly is a strong and independent woman… at least in most of her serials with the Doctor.

The Cybermen are a bit hard to understand in this serial. They have new voices, which are heavy treated with audio effects. Also, how do they know the Doctor’s new face? Between them and the Daleks, I’m beginning to think that the Doctor has an aura that every major antagonist recognizes over the face or physical features.

Meanwhile, the internal dialogue with the Doctor was distracting. It wasn’t terrible, but certainly not something I’m familiar with in the franchise.

The depressurization of the dome seemed a bit unrealistic, since the air rushes out, but no one is pulled with it and the coffee is still standing.

Finally, the jumping on the moon with bionic sound effects. Ugh.

Not a bad serial by any stretch, but not a top performer either.

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

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Macra Terror

 

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 #32: The Underwater Menace

Doctor Who: The Underwater Menace
(4 episodes, s04e19-e22, 1967)

Timestamp 032 The Underwater Menace

 

Doctor Who meets Atlantis!

It’s good to see the companions having fun together. The chemistry is nice, and it shows how the cast is really clicking. The downside is that the modern day companions are picking on Jamie’s lack of knowledge about the TARDIS. It’s kind of mean of them.

Nothing good happens in science fiction, fantasy, or horror from exploring a cave on your own, but of course Polly goes off looking around after the boys leave her behind, and of course hilarity ensues. It is a rather convenient way to separate the travelers from the TARDIS, as kidnapping them and taking them to the depths of the ocean puts a lot of distance between them.

The Doctor and his goofy hat have a clever ruse to save the companions, and luckily Zaroff has a good sense of humor about the diversion. Unfortunately, Dr. Z is also bat-dung crazy. Also, we keep seeing references (outside of each episode’s credits) to the Doctor as “Doctor Who”, this time in his note: “Vital secret will die with me. Dr. W.”

Professor Zaroff has promised to raise the city to keep working, but his plan is still incomplete… and will destroy the world. Zaroff’s insanity focuses the efforts not on the citizens and the consequences, but on his own glory as it is the ultimate achievement in science. His logic doesn’t make sense, which makes him more of a mad scientist than an evil one. He’s also quite the overactor – “Nothing in the world can stop me now!” – and left a few dental impressions in the scenery.

Ben gets a clever moment to play the god Amdo and save the Doctor and Ramo. The plan and chase was pretty exciting to kidnap Zaroff, and the plot to starve out the powers that be by cutting off the supply lines with striking slaves was intelligent. Of course, the “underwater” scenes are laughable by today’s standards, but I’m sure they were a spectacle in 1967. On the downside, Polly is uncharacteristically a whimpering “damsel in distress” in this serial.

The demise of Zaroff was a nice bit of writing, but the plan to get there was a stretch. I understand overloading the reactor to destroy it, but using it to degrade the walls? It takes a while for radiation to degrade stone/concrete walls, and the flux required to rapidly destroy walls would outright kill humans and the Doctor much faster. I waved it off as best I could as a plot conceit, but it was another indicator of how middle of the road this serial was.

 

Rating: 2/5 – “Mm? What’s that, my boy?”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Moonbase

 

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 #31: The Highlanders

Doctor Who: The Highlanders
(4 episodes, s04e15-e18, 1966-1967)

Timestamp 031 The Highlanders

In the Second Doctor’s second adventure, we get a pretty straightforward story about the Scottish Highlanders, and an introduction to a new companion.

Jamie is very resourceful, but the weakest of the companions at this point simply because he doesn’t know how all of this craziness works. I’m eager to see how he develops as he travels with the Doctor, and I hope that he doesn’t turn out like poor Katarina. He seems much less shallow than she did, so he’ll fare better.

This incarnation of the Doctor is quite devious, between the (terrible!) German accent (Doctor von Wer… Doctor (of) Who) and disguises (cross-dressing as an old woman and masquerading as a wounded solider with a hilarious mustache), this Doctor is truly a man of many faces.

Ben continues to be a strong character, and the Doctor still doesn’t like guns. The ending was a nice twist, with a fate better than death (story-wise, anyway) for Grey.

I waffled between a 3 and 4 as I watched, and I think it ends up as a high 3. So, optimistically…

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Underwater Menace

 

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 #30: The Power of the Daleks

Doctor Who: The Power of the Daleks
(6 episodes, s04e09-e14, 1966)

Timestamp 030 The Power of the Daleks

Hello, new Doctor! And welcome to the confusion. It’s really nice to see how the Doctor has to stabilize after such a traumatic event, presumably his first, in light of my experience with the series from the Ninth Doctor on. This new Doctor seems sinister at first, but beneath his sneaky and evasive face lurks a much more physical and clownish incarnation that is very observant.

The Doctor loves his recorder, which he seems to use as a crutch to ponder his next move. He also loves that goofy hat, which… I do not.

Meanwhile, what better way to introduce the new Doctor than with the Daleks? We also get our first look, however fleeting, at what lives inside the can. I’m really enjoying this slow build around the Daleks and their mythology. It was creepy to hear a Dalek proclaim, “I am your servant,” and it was good to see them expand into trickery beyond the normal “ex-TER-min-NATE” rolling wave of death. They actually act smart and dynamic in this serial instead of focused on a singular goal.

The Dalek does not obey the Doctor, but how does it know who he is? Can the Daleks sense him even though he looks different? There was also an inordinate amount of Dalek chanting in this serial.

Overall, a well-written straightforward, highly enjoyable adventure (partially spiced with a political thriller) to debut the Second Doctor, and one that doesn’t really need the obligatory +1 for a regeneration episode.

Some last notes: Nice reference to Asimov with the positronic brain, and somebody get that TARDIS a fresh coat of paint.

 

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Highlanders

 

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 #29: The Tenth Planet

Doctor Who: The Tenth Planet
(4 episodes, s04e05-e08, 1966)

Timestamp 029 The Tenth Planet

This serial had a slow lead up to an otherwise enjoyable story. It’s the introduction of the Cybermen! Wow, they have come a long way in costume and character design. The Cybermen were a bit hard to understand, and were certainly more individual than the later versions.

It was good to get the backstory on such a popular villain, and the story keeps rolling with excellent tension surrounding the stranded astronauts and assault in isolation. Cutler was the trope of the blood-thirsty military officer, which felt a little bonk-bonk on the head with the message. That in mind, I get Cutler having no problem killing the Cybermen, but what didn’t follow was Ben enabling Cutler to kill them. Ben was terribly upset about killing in self-defense mere moments earlier, but then hands Cutler the gun without hesitation.

The Doctor spontaneously collapses and remains out of commission for an episode of the serial. This leaves the companions to carry the story, both in and out of the serial. Hartnell was obviously having a hard time with this one, and luckily the companion actors and characters are both strong enough to keep the gears turning.

Remember the rules, though: It’s a regeneration episode, so it get an automatic +1 on the score. They’re always hard episodes to do.

Watching the First Doctor say goodbye was heart-breaking. The companions think he’s either worn out or going daft, but it felt a lot more like he was completely lucid in his final moments. Just in case this regeneration thing doesn’t work, “stay warm.”


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

 

UP NEXT – First Doctor Summary

 

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.