Thursday, 29 December 2016

Big Gay Longcat reviews Doctor Who: Journey into Terror

Don't worry, Hoover didn't catch me. My friend Scary Cat, who is the bravest and scariest of all cats, scared Hoover away. Now he is joining me to watch the scariest episode of Doctor Who evar. Part four of The Chase is called Journey into Terror, and even the name is scary!

At first Ian thinks the place the TARDIS has landed will be a good place to fight the Daleks, because there are lots of stairs there and "Daleks don't like stairs." Lol, Ian has obviously not been to the future and watched Remembrance of the Daleks, or he would know that Daleks can climb stairs quite quickly considering.

There are conflicting clues about where on Earth they have landed - the vampire flying mouses suggest South America, while the architecture says Central Europe - so the Doctor suggests they look around to solve this mystery, and obviously that means splitting up.

The Doctor and Ian find a laboratory where Frankenstein's Monster scares Ian. Barbara and Vicki are already scared when they meet Count Dracula, before they are separated by secret passages and then Barbara sees a Banshee.

The Doctor has a theory that they are in a world of nightmares created by the collective fears of mannys. If they had landed in a world of things cats are scared of then they would have met Hoover and Washing Machine and there would have been thunder and lightning and fireworks. But that would have been too scary to show on the BBC so they would not have done that.

The Dalek time machine appears and the Daleks start to look for the TARDIS crew. A Dalek shoots Frankenstein's Monster but he is not killed. Dracula distracts another Dalek so the crew can escape to the TARDIS, except for Vicki who is left behind. Dracula and the Banshee are also immune to the Dalek pewpewpew guns, and the Banshee laughs at the Daleks who are finally up against things more scary than they are.

The Daleks are not immune to Frankenstein's Monster, who picks one up and smashes it (giving us this week's loser of the Dalek Reality TV programme).

The Doctor never finds out that his theory is not right - they really landed in Frankenstein's House of Horrors in the year 1996. I was not made in 1996 so am too young to remember that, although I wouldn't have been able to go there anyway as the sign says it was "cancelled by Peking". Considering the places that the Doctor would later visit in stories such as The Celestial Toymaker or The Mind Robber, his theory was not a silly one.

Vicki escapes from Frankenstein's House of Horrors by hiding on the Dalek time machine, where she sees that the Daleks have made an evil robot copy of the Doctor, one that looks exactly like him when seen in close up. The end of the episode is them giving the robot its orders to "infiltrate and kill" the TARDIS crew.

Journey into Terror is Terry Nation back at his imaginative best, with the original idea of Daleks meeting Frankenstein's Monster and Dracula. At first the Doctor and Companions are faced with a new set of scary monsters to be Chased by, but in the end the monsters fight each other. And then the evil robot promises a new peril for our heroes to encounter next time.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Big Gay Longcat reviews Doctor Who: Flight Through Eternity

Part three of The Chase is the first part of the story with an episode title that makes sense, referring as it does to the Chase properly getting underway.

There is the usual brief recap of the end of the previous part. The Dalek that says
"Cease firing. They have escaped."
sounds like a sad Dalek, disappointed they did not get to exterminate the Doctor. Their different voices hint at personalities. One of the other Daleks is more upbeat, saying
"Final termination is inevitable!"
and this seems to cheer the first Dalek up. They chant together for a bit until another Dalek tries to get them to focus on their mission (as well as explaining the episode title) by saying
"We will embark in our time machine at once! The Dalek Supreme has ordered they are to be pursued through all eternity! Pursued and exterminated!"

We see the TARDIS and the Dalek time machine flying past the title and Terry Nation's "written by" credit. In the TARDIS the Doctor's time path detector detects another time machine, 12 minutes behind them. The Chase is on!

The TARDIS lands amidst some stock footage of New York.

Atop the Empire State Building are some mannys, one of whom appears to not know his lines, and another of whom definitely isn't Steven Taylor even though he is played by Peter Purves. He is called Morton Dill and is from Alabama, a fact which he is keen to stress at every available opportunity, perhaps so we do not mistaik him for Steven Taylor.

Vicki makes a rare continuity reference to The Dalek Invasion of Earth when she recognises "ancient New York" and says it was destroyed by the Daleks.

Ian and Barbara are back in their own time, or at least about as close as they have ever been to it, but Ian and the Doctor agree that there are too many innocent mannys nearby for them to risk staying and confronting the Daleks here, so they go back in the TARDIS and leave. This scene is played for laughs (badly) and so misses a tremendous opportunity to show the dramatic sacrifice Ian and Barbara are making in losing out on the chance for them to return to their home planet and time.

The Daleks arrive and meet Morton Dill and their scene is also played for laughs so Morton Dill is not exterminated. The next stop for the time machines is the Mary Celeste.

It's only a model.

Barbara wanders off from the TARDIS to get captured by Mr Richardson. Vicki saves Barbara but then hits Ian on the head by mistaik - again the dramatic potential of the Chase is being squandered in the name of cheap 'Ian being hit on the head' laughs.

The ship is a good set for such a small part in the story - I wonder if it was left over from another BBC programme? The gentle nodding of the camera is a simple but effective way of conveying the ship's movement.

The TARDIS leaves and Mr Richardson is confused. He and his friends are still looking in vain for Barbara when the Daleks come and scare them so they all run away and jump off the ship into the water. One Dalek also falls in the water when chasing the last manny - no prizes for guessing which Dalek gets voted off the Dalek Reality TV programme this time!

The Doctor says the Dalek time machine is cathcing up with them more and more, so they now only have 8 minutes lead on the Dalek time machine. He makes a dramatic pronouncement to serve as a cliffhanger:
"We must face the facts: the Daleks are closing in on us!"

The uncomfortable juxtaposition of serious dramatic threat with attempts at (bad) comedy make this episode not nearly as good as it should have been.

Can you hear that?

Oh noes, it's Hoover! Hoover is coming to Chase us! Mew mew mew!

Friday, 23 December 2016

Big Gay Longcat reviews Doctor Who: The Death of Time

Part two of The Chase begins with us seeing the Dalek rising out of the sand again. This works better as a reprise than it did as a cliffhanger ending, and allows the story to start again straight from this point. So Terry Nation knew what he was doing after all! Mew, I was worried for a moment there.

Ian and Barbara avoid the Daleks but meet alien mannys, the Aridians, instead. The Aridians look fishy to me, I bet they are very nomable.

Ian and Vicki are saved from the monster when the Aridians blow up the room they are in to kill the monster, without knowing Ian and Vicki were in there. Ian is also knocked out by the explosion.

The Daleks capture the Aridians and make them capture the Doctor and Barbara, so the Aridians are neither goodys or baddys, but only do what they have to to survive. They don't know that the Daleks will exterminate them anyway, because that's what Daleks do.

Vicki is captured as well, but then another monster breaks in through a wall and the Doctor, Barbara and Vicki escape in the confusion as the monster noms the Aridians like it is a big cat. Exactly what kind of big cat I don't know, maybe a tiger because tigers are great.

The Doctor, Barbara and Vicki find Ian and they all go to where the TARDIS is. It has been found by the Daleks, who cannot destroy it so they have left one Dalek to guard it while the rest go off to look for the mannys and exterminate Aridians.

Ian has a clever plan that confuses the Dalek and makes it fall down a hole, and they escape in the TARDIS before three more Daleks come. The episode ends with the Daleks vowing to continue the Chase next time.

This is a rather workmanlike episode, with nothing particularly great about it but also nothing awful either. However it has given me the idea that The Chase is a Dalek Reality TV programme, which the Doctor's space-time TV accidentally picked up a bit of in the previous episode. Each week the team of Dalek contestants have to try and Chase the Doctor through time and space, and then at the end of each programme one Dalek is voted off and exterminated. I think it is safe to assume that the losing Dalek this week is the one that Ian tricked into falling down the hole.

Monday, 19 December 2016

Big Gay Longcat reviews Doctor Who: The Executioners

Spoiler warning for the recently released film Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Also for the 51-year-old Doctor Who episode The Executioners.

The Executioners is the first part of The Chase by Terry Nation. It was made in 1965 and starred William Hartnell as the Doctor, William Russell as Ian, Jacqueline Hill as Barbara and Maureen O'Brien as Vicki.

I thought now would be a good time to review The Chase because it is the oldest Doctor Who TV story with Daleks as the baddys not to have been made into a film version starring Peter Cushing. For years I thought this would never happen because Peter Cushing stopped acting in the mid-1980s, but this year he has unexpectedly come out of retirement to appear in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. (Maybe, like Harrison Ford, he needs the money.) So if I can create enough interest in The Chase now, maybe they will make it into a film and he can be Dr Who in it. That would be great!

The first scene of The Executioners is a very short teaser where the Daleks summarise their plan for this story to each other and, by extension, us:
"Our greatest enemies have left the planet Xeros. They are once again in time and space."
"They cannot escape! Our time machine will soon follow them. They will be exterminated! Exterminated! Exterminated!"

After this we get several minutes of the TARDIS crew watching space-time television, Terry Nation's latest attempt to disguise his padding out an episode. First they watch Abraham Lincoln give a speech, then Shakespeare meeting Queen Elizabeth i.

This is actually a clever meta-commentary on Doctor Who as a whole - normally we watch the Doctor and companions meet famous historical characters on TV, here they are also watching the historical characters on TV, while we are watching them watching TV. And while the science behind the way the Doctor's time-space TV works is so preposterous that the Monkeys With Badges were threatening revolution when they heard it (I didn't understand it myself), it is no more than a subversion of the fact that we do not know how the TARDIS gets the crew to their historical adventures either, except by the power of television.

Finally they watch the Beatles sing a song, and Ian dances to it. They stop watching TV because the TARDIS has arrived and it is time for them to have a proper adventure.

Ian and Vicki go off to explore, but the Doctor and Barbara stay behind to be lazy like cats. It is lucky they do so because the TV picks up a signal from the Daleks, giving them a warning that the Daleks have a time machine of their own and it is on its way to Chase them for five more episodes!

I wish our TV would warn us cats when Hoover is coming, mew!

Ian and Vicki discover a trapdoor that Ian then, foolishly disregarding some of the most sensible advice ever given, opens...

Suffice it to say, they go inside and are almost immediately trapped in there with a monster.

The Doctor and Barbara are looking for Ian and Vicki, but have only succeeded in losing the TARDIS. A Dalek slowly rises out of the sand near them, making for a confusing and unimpressive end to the episode as it is not clear if it even knows they are there. This is a rare misstep on the part of Terry Nation, who can usually be relied upon to create fantastic cliffhangers, and I think it would have been much better to end on the monster in the darkness - it is not, after all, a surprise twist that there are Daleks in this story.

Despite the lacklustre ending, The Executioners has its good moments, but with five parts of The Chase still to go it is clear this is really only a prologue, setting up the conflict that is to come later.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Duncan reviews The Power Game, Season Three

Contains spoilers, including of the really big twist in episode 9.

Every so often, perhaps once every few years, I discover for myself another great TV show from the past. I think the last one that qualified for this was Shōjo Kakumei Utena. I'm pleased to say that The Power Game is certainly among them.

In the third season it reinvents itself - after two seasons of Sir John Wilder and Caswell Bligh fighting each other for control of Bligh's company, both men left it behind at the end of season 2. We pick up two years later, with them meeting again and both working for the same firm - only this time the "firm" is the British government. Caswell, now Lord Bligh, is the minister for Trade, and Sir John is his Special Envoy - a kind of ambassador, but not a civil servant, and don't the real civil servants hate him for it!

The conflict is therefore twofold, as Bligh still blames Wilder for causing the rift in his family (he cannot see how much of the fault is his own, an ongoing plot thread for this season too) and wants revenge, but there is also their joint attempts to gain control of their department from the civil servants - like Yes Minister but not played for laughs. Indeed there are many comparisons you could make with that superb series, and I would say The Power Game is not found wanting.

It seemed to me that Sir John Wilder was a softened, more sympathetic character in this season than before, which I would put down to two things. First, while before he was rarely, if ever, able to take the moral high ground against his business opponents, now his antagonists are Bligh, who often acts solely out of spite, and the civil servants who are shown to be an old boy's network of self-seeking and tradition bound time servers, who oppose him and the good he is trying to do for British trade only because Wilder is not one of them, or because his methods are unorthodox.

Secondly, we see much less of Wilder's hypocrisy in this season, a trait which always made me like him less whenever it manifested. In the absence of Susan Weldon, Wilder has no new mistress, and seems to be abstaining from infidelity - at least for the first half of the season - and we see him rejecting one outright offer of same. Not that that stops Pamela Wilder from suspecting him, and that drives the plot of at least one of the better (and more farce-like) episodes.

There is an exception to this, and it comes in the one bad episode of the season - arguably the one outright bad episode from all of the three seasons put together. Cat Is You, Bird Is Me sees Wilder have a sort of mid-life crisis, running off with a Foreign Office interpreter who happens to be a 19-year-old hippy chick. This being made in 1969, it is as cringe-making a portrayal of the hippy culture as you would expect for mainstream television, scarcely better than Star Trek's The Way to Eden. This sort of storyline would be done much better in Rumpole of the Bailey, 10 years later, with the character of Guthrie Featherstone QC MP in Wilder's role.

While on the subject of bad things about The Power Game, I should mention the quality of the DVDs - while Network did a great job on the first two seasons, this one seemed not quite up to their usual high standards, with the picture seemingly less cleaned up (of course I don't know what the quality may have been like before they got their hands on it), and with the ad breaks excised from all but the final episode. In some cases this was clumsily done, with the edit points very jarring and noticeable. A shame.

But back to the good stuff which far, far outweighs the bad.

To go with the new setting there are new regular characters. The one deemed important enough to make it into the new title sequence is Wilder's civil service Private Secretary, Lincoln Dowling, played by Michael Jayston.

There's nothing you can do to prevent the catharsis of spurious morality.

Dowling seems like a potential ally for Wilder to begin with, but before long his ambition turns him into a rival, a junior version of Wilder himself. He feuds with Don Henderson (Jack Watling, somewhat sidelined this season, but not so much that he could slip away to be Professor Travers in The Invasion, which must have been made about this time) and romances Pamela, and while he lacks Wilder's lifetime of business and political experience and connections, he has one card Wilder lacks - we see his recruitment to the Secret Intelligence Service.

With the benefit of hindsight, the episode in which this happens, The Goose Chase, is somewhat odd. Because Michael Jayston would, 10 years later, play Peter Guillam in the BBC's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy series. While in The Power Game, the two SIS agents we see recruiting Dowling are played by Michael Aldridge and Terence Rigby, later Tinker and Soldier respectively. Now I'm not saying Lincoln Dowling = Peter Guillam, but...

Another new regular character is Sir Jason Fowler, played by Richard Hurndall. Hurndall is an actor I'm not hugely familiar with - I mainly know him for his attempt to fill the huge shoes of William Hartnell in The Five Doctors, a matter of months before his death, and Big Gay Longcat won't let me not mention he was in Blakes 7's Assassin. But he's really good here. Fowler is the Permanent Under-Secretary of State to Bligh's minister, the role Sir Humphrey Appleby serves to Jim Hacker in Yes Minister, but Sir Jason's no Sir Humphrey: Bligh, Wilder, even Dowling - a junior civil servant to Fowler in both senses - run rings around him, and as their schemes develop over the course of the season he is shown to be increasingly out of his depth. Fowler is a pitiful character, past his prime and, it turns out, with not long to live from (probably) cancer. Hurndall captures that side of the man beautifully, and makes him one of the most tragic of the series.

For me, the best episode of the season and, probably, the series as a whole, is The Heart Market, containing the most surprising twist of all. Caswell Bligh has a heart attack, and in hospital is told by doctors that he has less than a year to live... unless he has a heart transplant! Knowing something about transplants myself I realised at once that, in the 1960s, that was practically a death sentence either way.

Absent from the new titles and the first seven parts of the season, Kenneth Bligh (Peter Barkworth) returns to the show to guest-star for two episodes and is reconciled with his father before the end, even helping Caswell ensure a potential organ donor's next of kin is willing for the heart to go to Caswell. In his final act of the series, we see that for Bligh Senior everything is about money, when he callously offers the soon-to-be widow £20,000 (so over £300k in today's terms) for her husband's heart. Kenneth is horrified by his father's behaviour, but he still cries for him after his death.

Caswell gets his new heart, but doesn't survive the operation. We cut from him going off to the operating theatre to just after his funeral, a scene that Barkworth completely nails and which cements this episode as the best of them all.

Yes, the show kills off its main antagonist with four episodes still to go. A new character is brought in, Garfield Kane MP (played by Barrie Ingham, great as Sejanus in The Caesars the year before this) to replace Lord Bligh as minister, but the role of Wilder's nemesis goes principally to Dowling after this, for all that they have to work together against Kane from time to time.

It is somewhat ironic that the first two seasons of The Power Game closed with endings that felt as though they could have been the end of the story, had the programme not been recommissioned, while this season ends with the feeling that they were very much setting up the next one. From what I can gather, they would have made more but for Patrick Wymark's early death in 1970.

But there are more stories with John Wilder available - for them I will have to go back to the earlier series The Plane Makers in which he, his wife, and loyal sidekick Don Henderson first appeared.

The Power Game season 3, and the entire series, get ***** ratings from me.

Thursday, 15 December 2016