Confession #104: I Love Seeing Double

Sep
14

No matter what else brings fans to Who, the Doctor (in his many incarnations) and his Companions are the backbone—the major components that keep us coming back. While not every character or actor is every fan's cup of tea, some seem to be ones we (or at least the production team) can't get enough of. They appear multiple times, either within the same story (doppelgängers) or at some later date (suspiciously familiar), more often than not without explanation.

Doppelgängers are a familiar concept in the modern era, even discounting Clara's split-across-time personae. The Zygons alone are responsible for an unseemly number of them. Perhaps most famously, the Osgoods—one human, one Zygon (and eventually another Zygon)—appeared side by side, working to maintain a tenuous peace. Of course, any time the Zygons crop up, they keep the audience guessing about which individual is the original and which the doppelgänger. It's good mental exercise.

Similarly, we've seen the Flesh. Not specifically sentient by itself, the Flesh was a more technological take on Zygon bio-duplication. (And now I'm wondering if it didn't start as a script work-around before usage rights for the Zygons could be secured...) Before we saw the larger-arc implications of the Flesh, though, we got full-on doppelgänger action with the Eleventh Doctor and his Ganger (the term for a Flesh duplicate directly referencing the German root word).

In both of these cases—Zygons and Gangers—the doppelgänger is patterned off an original, and needs that reference material in order to maintain its shape and the knowledge base (sometimes including personality) of said original. However, sometimes we've had full-on doppelgängers that exist completely separately from each other.

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The Beauty Beneath the Masque

Aug
24

Review of The Masque of Mandragora (#85)
DVD Release Date: 04 May 10
Original Air Date: 04 - 25 Sep 1976
Doctor/Companion: Four, Sarah Jane Smith
Stars: Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen
Preceding Story: The Seeds of Doom (Four, Sarah Jane)
Succeeding Story: The Hand of Fear (Four, Sarah Jane)

Last month I started my new series of reviews of Tom Baker's season openers with his inaugural adventure Robot. His second season started with Terror of the Zygons, but as mentioned last month, I've already reviewed it. Therefore, I'm moving on to the Fourth Doctor's third season, which begins with The Masque of Mandragora.

By this point, Lis Sladen had been in the role of Sarah Jane Smith (SJS) for three years, and Baker had been portraying the Doctor for two. They are so wonderfully comfortable with both their own characters and each other, they make for fabulous, cozy watching.

It was also the third and final season of the Hinchcliffe-Holmes era, so often touted as the "golden age" of Doctor Who. Sladen would leave at the end of the following story and the second half of the season would see Baker unwillingly paired with another Companion (it's well known that he was rather horrible to Louise Jameson during her time as Leela, though by all accounts they are fast friends now). As Season 14 opens, though, Baker is clearly at the height of his powers and happy as a clam.

The story opens with SJS and the Doctor wandering the halls of the TARDIS, apparently just for kicks. They happen across a secondary control room, wood-paneled and covered with dust after long disuse. (It was used as the primary for most stories in the following year-and-a-bit.) From here they discover they are being drawn to a strange place by the Mandragora Helix before escaping and ending up in 15th-century Italy.

Helix energy (alternatively "Mandragora energy"—they don't seem to have been overly concerned with consistency there) has hitched a ride in the TARDIS, and now adds to the political havoc in process in the principality of San Martino, in which the Doctor and SJS find themselves (surprise!) embroiled.

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Confession #103: I Like Doctor Who Tropes

Aug
10

Despite the common claim that Doctor Who can "do anything" because of its premise—the setting could be anywhere in the universe, at any time in its past or future—the show is also well known to do much the same thing over and over again, for various reasons. These plot, set, and character ideas have appeared so often that they've become tropes. And I love me a well-executed trope.

For example, a tried and true way to save money on a show that often suffers from its imagination being larger than its budget is either to set a story in a single location or to set several stories in a filming block in the same location. If the production team can simply re-dress the set and shoot from a different angle to make it look just different enough, the audience (aside from a certain subset of nerds who look for that stuff) won't even notice.

In the pre-Hiatus/Classic era, this trick was so frequently used as to become almost a joke. Viewers all knew that an alien planet would be set in a quarry (very often the same one), and that interior scenes of the Doctor and his Companion(s) getting chased through a ship's interior or alien citadel would go past the exact same, re-dressed chunk of corridor a dozen times. (In fact, this trope is so well known it became part of the title of a 2010 commentary book.)

More recently, we've seen a number of Welsh locations re-used: the National Museum of Wales and the Temple of Peace in Cardiff, Dyffryn Gardens in the Vale of Glamorgan, Llansannor Court in Cowbridge, etc. The production teams are clever enough that a casual viewer won't necessarily figure out how often these spots have appeared, but for behind-the-scenes aficionados, some of these favorite locations could slip into trope territory.

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Changing of the Guard

Jul
27

Review of Robot (#75)
DVD Release Date: 14 Aug 07 (Out of Print)
Original Air Date: 28 Dec 1974 - 18 Jan 1975
Doctor/Companion: Four, Sarah Jane Smith, Harry Sullivan
Stars: Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen, Ian Marter
Preceding Story: Planet of the Spiders (Three, Sarah Jane)
Succeeding Story: The Ark in Space (Four, Sarah Jane, Harry)

Having completed an overview of Cybermen stories in the last few months, I felt it was time to switch to another theme. The question, of course, was what theme to pursue? By percentage of (extant) stories, the Fourth Doctor is still my least-reviewed incarnation. Therefore I thought something focusing on his tenure would be appropriate.

I had two ideas of how to cover Four's time in the TARDIS: deep or broad. I could delve into one particular season (The Key to Time, which was the first season-long story arc) or I could find a way to choose stories distributed across the entire seven-year run.

Eventually I settled on the latter, with the idea that the first story of each season would provide a simple selection criterion. Four of those seven season openers have never been reviewed either directly or with Nu-/Retro-Views. Two (Robot and The Ribos Operation) were the subject of a Retro-View several years ago (Nov 2012 and Apr 2013, respectively), so are due another look-in. The final story in question (Terror of the Zygons) has already been reviewed in full when the DVD came out in Oct 2013. Further, the story that immediately preceded it, Revenge of the Cybermen, was reviewed just three months ago as part of my Cyber-series. Therefore, I've decided to skip that period (end of Season 12/beginning of Season 13) in my retrospective.

So we're kicking it off with T. Baker's first ever on-screen adventure Robot. Because Baker is able to jump in with both metaphorical feet and make the role his own right from the get-go (his famous quote that "I was the Doctor and the Doctor was me" seems to have been true nearly immediately), it's easy to forget that this story was written before Baker had been cast. Occasionally there is a line that sounds ever so slightly "off" for the person we know this Doctor would become, but for the most part it's as if he has sprung from the head of Zeus Terrance Dicks fully formed.

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Confession #102: I Take the Broader View

Jul
13

Last week was rough. The big thunderstorm that rolled through town on Tuesday was excitement enough, what with trees and branches downed everywhere and power out for as much as a couple days for some folks. But then Wednesday night the epidemic of police violence against Black citizens hit close to home.

Less than five miles from my home, on a stretch of road I've driven countless times myself, a Black couple and child were pulled over nominally due to a broken taillight. The man, whose name was Philando Castile, did not leave the scene alive.

Aside from this particular tragedy happening in my neck of the woods, Philando's death affected one of my micro-communities directly. You see Philando—or "Mr. Phil," as he was known to the kids—worked at my daughters' school.

So why am I bringing it up here, of all places? There are several reasons. First and foremost, it's what's been on my mind. And though I don't get a lot of traffic on the blog, especially since I changed my weekly posting schedule, this is where I have the largest platform. As a white person—a white American, specifically—I feel like I have to stop hiding behind my desire not to invite conflict (good God, I hate facing personal conflict) and speak up when and where I can.

But it's not entirely unrelated to Doctor Who, either. Because when it is at its best, the Doctor (and the show in general) makes us challenge our usual perceptions.

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