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The Golden Years – The Myth Makers

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The Myth Makers is very much a product of its time. We have to put our 1965 heads on when considering this one – and consider it is all we really can do, I suppose, since it too is in a bin somewhere – and one of the shames in its demise is that we get very little in the way of short lived Vicki replacement Katarina. Now, Dusty Bin could replace Vicki for my liking and it would be a step up, but since Katarina dies during The Dalek Masterplan (yeah like you didn’t know spoilernauts!) she seems a bit of a meh character.

 

So why is The Myth Makers a product of its time? Well, for a start it’s a historical story, one of a dying breed, it would seem. What it lacks though, with new production bosses Wiles and Cotton in charge, is the passion of a Lucarotti script or the humour of a Spooner historical, it’s all very much stuck in the middle. It’s also classical in nature, in a time when classical studies was taught in school, so the children watching as live would have a fairly decent grounding, which is perhaps missing these days, on the events and characters. But that again is a problem, and leads to the Big Threatening Button dilemma over the historical adventure. The Doctor actually can’t do anything. Other than, it seems, leave a girl from the future there with centuries of foreknowledge.

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The Golden Years – The Dalek Invasion of Earth

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In many aspects, The Dalek Invasion of Earth is the first, proper, Dalek story. It’s also the first, proper, modern Who story, after the success of Season One, Season Two continues with the modern-then-Dalek formula so popular at the show’s genesis.

Make no mistake that this is a new, different type of adventure. Despite the scale of Marco Polo and The Keys of Marinus, and the lushness of The Aztecs and The Reign of Terror, The Dalek Invasion of Earth has intent, a footprint, a gravitas never seen before on the programme. It allows our heroes to be heroes, and, settled into their ways, be the crusaders we now automatically think they are. This is the episode that cemented in the psyche the reflex that when the Doctor is here we’ll be ok, and when the Daleks see him, they know they are in trouble. THIS is the story when they become his arch enemies.

And in what style. The first invasion story gives us a fully blasted and broken Earth, and Terry Nation gives us a rich bouquet of characters who are as human as the Daleks are alien. And how. These Daleks are nasty and bonkers, they are audacious and arrogant and they are everything you know of the Daleks today.

A top class cast is directed with aplomb by Richard Martin, who allowed a sprawling and ambitious script to shine. The leads do what they do well, by now, and Hartnell has really found his Doctor. The only quibble is his leaving of Susan at the end, which could probably have been handled better and, with hindsight, makes very little sense, but it’s a small qualm in one of the ultimate Dalek stories of all time (along with two others, which we’ll get to, in time).

The Dalek Invasion of Earth is one of those stories you should sit a newbie down with when they ask “so, show me why you love Doctor Who”.

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The Golden Years – Galaxy Four

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Set on an unnamed planet ticking down its last days to destruction, the concept central to Galaxy Four is a gem – subverting the idea of the monstrous looking alien as inherently evil and the beautiful humanoid as friendly.

Landing into the conflict between the stylish and heavily armed all-female Drahvins and the barely-seen-Rills and their robot Chumblies, the TARDIS crew soon find themselves “rescued” by the Warrior women and are tasked with finding a way to save their benefactors by stealing the Rill ship.

It’s a neat premise, and Verity Lambert’s idea to change the Drahvins from all-male to all-female is an extra change from the norm. Unfortunately other than a gender change most of the other elements of the Drahvins were left as was, giving a result that is part commentary on the rise of feminism but part old fashioned sexism at times!

The other downside is the story’s length – it may only be four episodes, but the Doctor has the measure of the Drahvins before the end of episode one, and without much story beyond meeting the Rills and recharging their ship from the TARDIS (a handy compatibility, especially as it doesn’t compromise the TARDIS’ power supply!) and intentionally sketchy characters it seems a bit drawn out. It’s slightly exacerbated by a lack of threat – the Doctor is so clearly mentally superior to the Drahvins (with more than a hint of paternalistic sexism in the novelisation) they’re almost more of a distraction!

That said, it’s nice to see an early hint of the pacifist intuitive Doctor, and the scientist element also gets a bit of a showing. Both William Hartnell and Peter Purves are impressive, and the stylised design is good. The use of the ammonia environment for the Rills is a nice touch and helps the impression of them, and I did like that had a different perception of time – a concept that could definitely do with a revisit sometime.

The novelisation by screenwriter William Emms is worth checking out too, being separated into four chapters to match the episodes and with the Target format being well-suited. 

The newly-discovered third episode Airlock will be a nice addition to the special edition of The Aztecs, but the story as a whole is a good concept spread a little too thinly.

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The Golden Years – The Chase

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Terry Nation returns to his most famous creations for a third time, and having introduced them on their home planet, and then had them successfully invade Earth, he’s left with how to top those stories.

 

The chase has a simple and grabbing concept. The Daleks, not best pleased at the Doctor foiling their plans, and having invented their own version of a TARDIS, take chase throughout time and space, determined to show the Doctor the wrong end of their gunsticks.

 

Brilliant, you might say. The TARDIS crew find themselves jumping from desert planets, to New York City (don’t blink), a haunted fun house, the Marie Celeste and finally end up on the jungles of Mechanus where the Daleks must face off against the latest attempt to ape their success, the Mechanoids. Throw in those crafty pepperpots creating a cunning robot double of the Doctor and the introduction of fan-favourite companion Steven Taylor and its a sure-fire winner.

 

Except, its not. Being honest, I’ve only ever watched the story once on VHS, and my overriding memory is of being bored. Now granted, I really like Peter Purves as Steven Taylor, and Ian and Barbara actually get a really touching exit (the production team perhaps having learned something from the summary dumping of Susan), with the scenes showing them genuinely happy to have finally returned home a high point of the story and a reminder of how they were kidnapped from their proper time and place.

 

However outside of that the story fails to bring the tension the concept requires. These are the Daleks. Already established as the Doctor’s most fearsome enemies, and now they’ve got their own TARDIS. But instead, by aping the structure of Keys of Marinus and focusing on smaller stories having their own silly runarounds, it robs the story of the pace and adrenaline it needs. Whereas in Marinus I enjoyed the individual stories feeling they were let down by the overarching plot, here the main plot really needed to be what was pushed, and embroiling the team in comedy adventures in New York seems against what the story needs.

 

Things pick up once the team arrive on Mechanus and the story finds its grounding again, but even this is hampered by a poorly-executed robot duplicate (my main memories being of the actor not entirely being convincing as Hartnell, and also being completely out of time with the lipsyncing of the Hartnell-provided dialogue), and the fact that the Mechanoids are a poor Dalek knock-off (although their return in Big Finish was fun).

 

The first story to show that not all Dalek adventures would be golden for me, and by no means the last. Thankfully their next appearance would see them up their game.

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The Golden Years – Mission to the Unknown

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Mission To The Unknown is an apt title for a reviewer heading into this one, as, well, it doesn’t exist bar some telesnaps and audio. This allows the story to be in one’s head rather than on the telly-box, but, as with all Doctor Who, particularly via Target novelisations, being in one’s head means the real thing in invariably a disappointment.

 

Mission is a unique story for it’s time – a Doctorlite, tale (well, a Doctor missing tale!) and whilst we’re more used to these now, and as Blink shows they can be very successful, I can only imagine the confusion in a less than savvy audience watching something that says Doctor Who at the start, has the music, etc etc but has no Doctor in it… Is this a bad thing though? Well, the confusion is, of course, but it has to be said that Mission sounds like a good episode, in its very unique sub-genre of one.

 

One thing that can be said for it though is that the Daleks get a welcome kick up the arse after their clowning around in The Chase. These Daleks are more akin to ones we’ll see later in Power of the Daleks and Victory of the Daleks (although I do hope there wasn’t any furtive “glance around in case anyone’s listening” moments like Daleks In Manhatten!) so it’s a welcome thing to see them take centre stage and continue to hold the show on their own shoulders. If they had shoulders. The supporting cast do a fine if thankless task – there IS a spin off in there someone. One wonders if an episode like this was shown today the internet would be clambering for a Marc Corey Torchwood type programme.

 

Derek Martinus knows his Who by now, though, and we know the jungles of Kemble will, and do, look pretty effective, so it’s a difficult episode to really complain too much about. Perhaps if it came directly before The Dalek Masterplan it would have made more sense, but since we don’t have this, or The Myth Makers, we’re stuck with the pacing we have.

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The Golden Years – An Unearthly Child

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So who exactly wrote An Unearthly Child? Credit of course is given to Anthony Coburn, who’s story about cavemen and a great escape do indeed make up 3/4 of this story, but, really, the bulk of this tale isn’t really very Doctor Who. The Doctor is brutal and selfish – perhaps even murderous. He’s bad tempered, he’s impatient, he’s as far away from what we know of “the Doctor” as it’s possible to get, and the story itself, the gift of fire, escape from primitives and the thoroughly good show from Chesterton is really an aside to the fact that this police box thingymawotsit Ian and Barbara have stumbled across canactually travel in Time. Let’s face it, An Unearthly Child is all about episode one, and with that, the most iconic series in the history of television became a reality.

So who wrote that? Well CE Webber must get huge credit for the formation of the characters and the TARDIS, and of course Sydney Newman too must be somewhere in that mix, for the concept in the first place. It’s difficult to ignore David Whitaker’s inpout, or Verity Lambert, or Mervyn Pinfield and there was even a brief input by Terence Dudley. And that’s before we get to mention director Waris Hussein or production assistance (and second director) Douglas Camfield… but where ever Episode One came from, it caught lightning in a bottle. Everything that has ever happened in Doctor Who spawns from that 23.5 minutes and everything right there, with the exception of regeneration, was present at the beginning. 

Whilst eps 2 – 4 are standard boys own adventure stuff, the likes of which littered late 50s and early 60s TV and fell very much in the remit of the Saturday Tea Time Serial, Ep 1 is a tour de force. The theme music was surreal and ghostly, the directing slick, tight and crisp and the performances elegant and pin point. Whilst Hill and Russell were old hands at that sort of performance by then, Ford and Hartnell are simply superb, ethereal and alien, sinister and other-wordly, and, crashing in juxtapositions with sixty’s chique, fifty’s stalwarts and Edwardian elegance, the amazing console room is a thing to behold. There is nothing bad about this episode. It was then and remains the single best episode of Doctor Who of all time.

There have been better stories, indeed one was crashing through the Vortex even as the travellers where running for their lives 100,000 BC, but there was never a more important or perfect alchemy.

Discuss the episode HERE

The Golden Years – The Dalek Masterplan

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When Doctor Who does epic it is invariably tarred by its failures rather than its successes. In the three attempts at uber-adventures  – The Dalek Masterplan, The War Games and The Trial of a Time Lord – one invariably remembers the bad bits rather than the good bits.

So War Games and Trial aside, is Masterplan, in its twelve episodes, minus its prologue, a good epic?

Well, it tries. It goes darker than many episodes have before, killing off one companion dreadfully and another potential companion with equal evilness, and the Daleks themselves are as convoluted and nasty as ever. But for every wonderful performance from the likes of Hartnell and Purves there is some terrible padding. It very much rises and falls on its length, and as such is probably to be considered a mistake. It shouldn’t be, because the good probably outweighs the bad.

You’re probably reading this thinking, “old Ed’s on the fence here”, and you’re probably right. I don’t have any massive feelings towards Masterplan any further than “it’s a bit long”. Purves is superb in it, though, but then he always is, the companions’(n?) death is/are well handled and completely brutal, but there’s probably too many things going on, too many characters – too many shifts in characterisation (Sara Kingdom for instance) and Chen’s motives make no sense. Add into that The Monk and a weird Keystone Christmas Fourth Wall breaker and, well, perhaps it’s best it doesn’t all exist. One thing is for sure, the Daleks are far better here than they are in The Chase and director Dougie Camfield is as always superb at keeping things rattling along with some lovely touches. Perhaps it would have been better with one writer (writing is shared between Spooner and Nation) or perhaps a more subtle arc might have made the whole experience less exhausting and less rigid (it’s thirteen eps, including Mission to the Unknown, remember, that’s the length of an RTD season!) so maybe a vague Bad Wolf-ish arc would have been better, but, for what we’ve got, it’s an investment, and one I doubt the modern audience would make.

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The Golden Years – Edge of Destruction

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How do you follow an exciting battle with, the instant fan favourites, the Daleks? Easy, have our new team of heroes turn on each other in paranoid bouts while their world falls apart. After being knocked out by an explosion, caused by the Doctor attempting a repair, the TARDIS crew find they awaken to find they are all suffering from amnesia. Worse still something is badly wrong with the TARDIS. Is it an attack by an outside force, or is it sabotage from within? Can anyone be trusted? As the situation gets worse the tensions mount, cumulating in an a cliff hanger where the Doctor is attacked by an unseen assailant.

Its a clever move to save on budget but the two episode tale is intense enough to get away with the limited set and proves that when you have less you can often do more with it. The scene with the doors opening and closing is very unnerving. This is a much tighter story than An Unearthly Child and even by today’s standards its a gripping story. Certainly its not without its flaws. The solution to the problem is about as simple as you can get and while most of the cast perform well given the quick shooting pace its clear that Hartnell is struggling at times. Several scenes have him partially fluffing a line but the lack of time for re-shoots forces the scene to continue.

Again the Doctor is bad tempered, impatient and a million miles from Matt Smith’s recent take on the role. He Lords his apparent knowledge over his guests and seems willing to take whatever steps are necessary to protect his ship and his grand daughter. Although you are never quite sure which of these he is really most protective of. Susan, while mostly still sweet and innocent, descends into an almost feral state at times, prepared to defend herself with scissors on several occasions. Ian Chesterton shows he’s not afraid to stand up to the doctor, although he never tries to assert himself as alpha male, but he also manages to keep the most control over himself as the team start to disintegrate. Indeed his apparent attack on the Doctor, the episode 1 cliff hanger, is later revealed to be an attempt to save the Doctor from harm by pulling him away from the electrified console. 

Barbara however has the biggest character development here as her emotional approach is directly pitted against the Doctor’s Logical stance with the dramatic conclusion allowing Barbara to take centre stage and prove that she is right about what is happening, saving everyone in the process. While the tension between her and the Doctor is resolved before the end of the episode they at least tackle it head on. And this post resolution scene between them shows more of the Doctors start on the journey towards the man we know today, admitting his logic isn’t always enough and accepting there is much more than he’d realised about the humans he had been looking down on. 

Its funny that years later people will complain about episodes like the Rose, The Unquiet Dead or the Beast Below when the Doctor fails to act or gets things terribly wrong; only to be saved by a companion. It’s clearly nothing new for the Doctor. The TARDIS also starts to show signs of being more than just a machine as it tries to alert the crew to the danger they are in. The TARDIS being in some way alive will be teased for years before being taken to an ultimate conclusion with “The Doctors Wife”.

Its one of the better early stories, possibly helped by its shorter format ( who says you can’t tell a good story in under 50 minutes?). And, more importantly, it helps to cement the shows audience after the Daleks unexpected success.

reviewed by friendsofderek

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The Golden Years – The Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Eve

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My overriding memory of missing tale The Massacre isn’t the kind of one you’d expect – it’s that the novelisation got me in trouble at school!

 

One of the later pure historical stories, The Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Eve – or The Massacre, or That One In France With The Double Of The First Doctor – is a much shorter story than its preceding Dalek epic, but is no less brutal at times. Having arrived in sixteenth century France, the Doctor promptly trots off by himself for most of the story leaving Steven without a TARDIS key in the midst of the escalating Catholic/Protestant tensions leading to the titular events.

 

Giving such focus for the companion means the story lives or dies on their strength, and this is a fantastic story for Steven who provides an engaging hero throughout. Of course, this doesn’t mean it’s a total holiday for William Hartnell (though he did manage a week off with pre-filmed footage for the second episode), as it so happens that the Abbot of Amboise is a dead ringer for him!

 

Aside from Peter Purves’ Steven, the other key to this story’s success is the way that it concentrates not solely on the major players, but the regular civilians who are embroiled in history. This really brings home the impact of the story and its inevitability, with the Doctor’s unwillingness to save Anne and her friends directly because of the impact on history echoes in The Fires of Pompeii. The followup to this with the Doctor’s remorse at Steven storming off shows how much Hartnell’s Doctor has grown since the first story, and despite the initial denial of ancestry between Dodo and Anne (which granted would take either an illegitemate child or unseen brother) there is a sense of just making sure…

 

There is a soundtrack recording with Peter Purves linking that gives a feel of the original story as it showed on screen, which makes interesting comparison as novelisation varies from the televised story highlighting the rewrite issues that had led to John Lucarotti requesting his name removed from the onscreen writing credits. The book keeps the positive elements well and is one of my favourite First Doctor Target novels – it’s this that got me into trouble as when kid me found the textbooks on the subject inpenetrably tedious, I was reading the book’s version of events underneath the desk during the history lesson and was promptly caught. Ironically I did end up getting one of the top marks in the class for the eventual test – and what better statement on the quality of a historical can you have than it giving a better result than the standard curriculum!

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The Golden Years – The Aztecs

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John Lucarotti and John Crockett combine again for a sublime piece of drama which at last tackles that Time Travelling conundrum that has reared its head in more modern stories – can the TARDIS crew change Time? Nowadays, it’s a bit vague. It seems the Doctor can, sometimes, when it suits him, but when River Song tries it it all goes wibbly wobbly. Is this the affect left over from the lack of Time Lords or is it just rewritten continuity? Whatever that debate thinks, here the Doctor is adamant – you can’t change history, not one second of it.

 

It’s a bold statement, and one everyone takes seriously, especially Hartnell, who is at last showing an authority and taking ownership of his travelling, something later Doctors would do as a matter of course.

 

The story itself is another fairly accurate historical romp, but not one that looks down on its teatime audience of children, dealing with love, death, sacrifice and consequences in an adult and sombre way without being dreary.

 

Jacqueline Hill of course steals the show in this adventure as Barbara, and, from her usual position as a slightly worried observer, realises that there is a chance to make a real difference. The debate between her and the Doctor is one that resonates to this day through the series and can be seen in the death of Adric and, even, the death of the Doctor himself.

 

As a purely historical story, after the machinations of the Daleks and the Keys of Marinus, this shows how, when done well and taken seriously, a historical serial can be just as powerful.

 

Superb stuff.

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