I Am the Doctor

After reading Elisabeth Sladen’s autobiography, I was curious to hear what Jon Pertwee had to say about his time with the show.  Jon Pertwee wrote two autobiographies, both of which are currently out of print.  The first was Moon Boots and Dinner Suits, published in the mid 80’s, which covered his life up to his involvement with Doctor Who.  The second, I Am the Doctor, covered his time on the show and his subsequent career; it was cowritten by David J. Howe.  Jon Pertwee died before the book was published, and, although he supposedly finished the memoir just days before his death, it felt kind of unfinished to me.

The book begins with an introduction by Doctor Who producer Barry Letts and brief outline of Jon Pertwee’s life and career that was covered in his first memoir.  This background information was written by Howe, before getting into the autobiographic writing of Pertwee.  Pertwee’s account begins with a bit of information about his time on the radio in The Navy Lark and contains brief sections about his work on the film The House That Dripped Blood and bringing Worzel Gummidge to television, but the rest of the memoir deals with his time on Doctor Who.

Jon Pertwee covers his time on Doctor Who chronologically, covering each story in order.  He does have interesting stories and his voice comes through quite clearly at times, but I felt that it was nowhere near as strong as Elisabeth Sladen’s autobiography.  When reading her autobiography, I felt that her voice came through clearly, at all times.  This book felt more scattered to me, as if it didn’t quite fit together into one cohesive story.  I guess that’s what I meant when I stated earlier that it felt as if it wasn’t quite finished.  It felt a bit like a rough draft at times, not quite polished.

However, this does not mean that I didn’t enjoy it.  It was particularly interesting to compare Jon’s version of events with Lis Sladen’s.  For instance, Lis’ version of Jon’s departure from the series is quite different from his.  She claimed that he felt that he deserved a raise and when he was told he couldn’t have one, he rather impetuously decided to leave the show (and regretted it later). Jon’s account was much different.  He claimed that he felt it was time to leave, especially since the production team was leaving.  He even lined up another job, in the play The Bedwinner before he told anyone of his decision.  He eventually told Barry Letts that he felt it was time to leave, and received a call from someone higher up the ladder, asking him to stay.  He offered to stay if they could give him a twenty percent raise, but the money wasn’t in the budget, so they agreed that he would leave.  After reading about Jon Pertwee, I have to admit I lean a bit more towards Lis Sladen’s version of events because he did seem to be rather emotional.

It was interesting to read what Jon Pertwee thought of his companions, as well.  He seemed to get along with Caroline John, who played Liz Shaw, but he did not care for her character.  He felt that she was too capable and intelligent; in his mind the Doctor’s companion should be the perpetual damsel in distress.  He definitely got what he wanted in Katy Manning’s Jo Grant, his favorite companion.  You can tell from the way he writes about her exit from the show in his memoir that she was his favorite of the actresses that played his companions as well.  Perhaps they bonded over a love of wild 70’s fashions!  He obviously did not feel the same bond with Lis Sladen, although he doesn’t actually have anything bad to say about her.  In fact, he doesn’t seem to have too much to say about Lis at all, which is probably a bit telling in itself.

He also covers his time doing “The Five Doctors,” as well as the conventions and other Doctor Who related experiences in the years after leaving the show.  An interesting story from the later years involves Patrick Troughton.  According to Jon, it was he who got Patrick Troughton involved in Doctor Who appearances and conventions.  Apparently, Patrick was rather shy and had never gotten involved in making appearances as the Doctor.  Jon took him with to one of his schedules appearances, and he found that he had a good time.  But what sold him on the experience?  Being given gifts!

Overall, I would say that the book was a worthwhile read.  In the interests of full disclosure, however, I must confess that Jon Pertwee is my favorite Doctor, so I love learning about his time on the show.  It’s more of a coffee table book, in that it is filled with pictures and insets written by Jon Pertwee’s costars.  Still, it does give some idea of what when on behind the scenes during Jon Pertwee’s run, which was interesting to read.  If you’re a fan of Jon Pertwee’s era, then you will definitely find something of interest in this book and it does provide a glimpse of Pertwee’s personality, even if it’s not as detailed as I might have hoped.

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Thoughts on “The Keys of Marinus”

It’s taken me a while to figure out what I wanted to write about this story.  It’s the fifth Doctor Who story, and takes place right after the lost “Marco Polo” story.  In fact, Ian is still wearing an Asian shirt although none of the other characters carry any trace of their previous adventure.

Barbara and Ian encounter a talking brain

Barbara and Ian encounter a talking brain

This story is another first Doctor story, featuring William Hartnell as the Doctor, and his companions are Susan, Ian, and Barbara.  The premise is fairly straightforward.  The TARDIS lands on a mysterious beach (this episode also features the first shot of the TARDIS actually materializing).  As the Doctor and his companions investigate, they discover that they are on an island surrounded not by water, but by acid.  They also discover that they are not the only visitors to the island when they find small glass submarines.  Their inhabitants, it is discovered, wear rubber suits.

Susan, who has lost a shoe to the acid, returns to the TARDIS to get another pair and sees mysterious footprints, which she follows to a tower.  She appears to be in peril of being harmed by one of the rubber suited strangers when the wall spins around, taking the creature with it.  The others notice that Susan is missing and find the tower.  Eventually, they are all brought into the tower (by the mysteriously rotating walls).  They discover a monk-like man fighting off the rubber suited intruders, and Ian runs to his aid.

The man is Arbitan and he is the Keeper of the Conscience of Marinus, a giant machine that kept everyone in Marinus peaceful and law-abiding.  It worked for centuries until a Voord (the creatures in the rubber suits) learned how to resist it.  The Voords have since been corrupting Marinus, but now Arbitan has upgraded the machine to control the Voords once again.  However, the five keys that control the machine are scattered all over Marinus, to protect the machine from being used by the Voords.  Arbitan has sent several people out after the keys, including his own daughter, but none have returned.  He needs the Doctor and his companions to retrieve the keys for him.  The Doctor refuses at first (he still has very little compassion for others), but Arbitan places a force field around the TARDIS and will only release it after the Doctor has found the keys.  Arbitan provides the travelers with travel dials that allow them to move in space when they turn the dial.  The locations of the keys are programmed in, so all they have to do is turn their dials to appear at the next location.  The first episode ends with the group arriving at the first location.

Each episode sees the group in a different location, with a different challenge to face: mind control, a savage jungle, extreme cold…  One interesting fact about this story is that the Doctor chooses to go ahead of his companions, so he is not seen for episodes 3 and 4.  It is also one of the few stories written by Terry Nation that does not feature the Daleks.  Apparently, there was some hope that the Voords would catch on as an adversary, just like the Daleks, but clearly this did not happen. I can’t say that I’m surprised, since the Voords basically look like men in scuba diving suits with strange helmets.

Susan doesn't notice the Voord menacing her.

Susan doesn’t notice the Voord menacing her.

I was also surprised that the Doctor would seem to agree with a machine that controls people’s minds, even if it is to eliminate evil from the world, however, and this is a bit of a spoiler….at the end the Doctor makes a statement to the effect that it is better for the people Arbitan’s daughter Sabetha (who they found in their quest for the keys) and the man who she’s in love with, Altos, to help the people find their own path, since man was not meant to be controlled by a machine.

This story was my favorite Hartnell story so far, except for the jump between episode 4, “The Snows of Terror,” and episode 5, “Sentence of Death.” The travelers all leave the icy region together (fleeing the thawed out ice soldiers), but instead of appearing all together, suddenly Ian is alone in a room with a dead body and the final key locked in a case.  I couldn’t figure out how he got there and where the others were during the events that follow, in which Ian is framed for murder.  Still, I found this story to be a fun one that was very creative, so I guess I can overlook the lack of logic there.  Or maybe someone can give me a plausible explanation for it?

I also liked that the series was relying less on Ian to accomplish everything.  In the second episode, it is Barbara who saves the group.  Susan was also given opportunities to help the group, which was nice after she was so hysterical and helpless in some of the early episodes.

“The Keys of Marinus” was broader in scope than the other stories (excluding “Marco Polo,” which, of course, can’t be viewed to compare), and was the first to include so many locations.  I felt that they did a good job, even with their limited budget at creating a distinct location for each episode.  “The Screaming Jungle” episode reminded me a bit of the Tom Baker story “Seeds of Doom” in the plants “attacking” Ian and Barbara.  I was talking about the early Doctor Who episodes with a friend, and we both agreed that the black and white helps to hide some of the flaws in the costumes and sets.  For instance, the brain creatures in “The Velvet Web” might have looked a bit too fake if they were in color, but I thought they worked in black and white.  Overall, I enjoyed this story.

Upcoming movies

This year has a lot of movies that I’m really looking forward to.  Aside from the superhero ones (is there anybody who isn’t at least somewhat interested in seeing The Dark Knight Returns?), there are a couple, that have just released trailers in the past few days, that look promising.

First, is Prometheus, due to be released on June 8.  Even before I had seen any trailers, I was excited about this film.  Ridley Scott creating a prequel to Alien was interesting enough, but the cast is great too.  I loved Noomi Rapace in the Swedish Millennium Trilogy, and from the previews, it looks like she’ll be playing another strong female character here.  I was also excited to see that Idris Elba is a part of the cast because he’s amazing on Luther.  Plus, Michael Fassbender (although I’m assuming that he will spend more time clothed in this than some of his previous films), Guy Pearce, Charlize Theron…

The promo campaign for Prometheus has been great.  The earlier previews didn’t reveal a lot about the plot, but the new trailers reveal a lot more.  You can see the trailer here: Prometheus Extended Trailer.  The more interesting videos, however are the viral videos, the first featuring Guy Pierce’s character giving a TED talk.  The newly released on is even more intriguing, featuring Michael Fassbender in what seems to be a commercial selling his android to the public.

Another movie that I’m looking forward to is Looper, which isn’t due out until September 28.  This film reunited the star (Joseph Gordon Levitt) and director (Rian Johnson) of one of my favorite films, Brick. The premise as far as I know is that Joseph Gordon Levitt is futuristic assassin.  He works for the mob in 2042 by killing targets that are send back in time to him from the year 2072.  However, he recognizes his latest target as himself and ends up allowing him to escape, setting in motion, I’m assuming, the plot.  His older self is played by Bruce Willis.  Maybe I’m just a sucker for time travel, thanks to my Doctor Who obsession, but I think this one could be good. The Looper trailer and teasers can be seen here.

And, just for good measure, I’m going to throw a random trailer for Woody Allen’s new film, which, being a big Woody Allen fan, I’m looking forward to seeing.  It was originally called The Bop Decameron, which was then changed to Nero Fiddled when someone decided that audiences wouldn’t know what the Decameron was.  Now the title has changed once again to the much more generic To Rome with Love.  I guess it’s been decreed that whenever possible the name of the location should be in the title of Woody Allen movies (see Midnight in Paris, Vicki Christina Barcelona, Manhattan…), to make sure the audience isn’t confused. Still it has a great cast, so I’m hoping this will be one of his better efforts.

The Lubitsch Touch

Angel (1937 film)

Angel (1937 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I know I’ve been focusing more on Doctor Who related things on this blog lately (and I’ll have a review of the fifth Doctor Who story up soon), but I was just able to watch Ernst Lubitsch’s Angel, which is, I think, a very overlooked film.  I’m a big Lubitsch fan, so I was excited to have the opportunity to see this classic film in an old-fashioned movie theatre.

The plot involves a love triangle, as much of Lubitsch’s early films do.  The film begins with Tony Halton (Melvyn Douglas) visiting the salon of the Grand Duchess Anna, looking for, well, since this story is from 1937, I’ll say companionship.  It’s implied that the Grand Duchess can arrange private meetings for two, and Halton is looking to have some fun while he’s in Paris.  It just so happens that bored housewife Maria stops by to visit the Grand Duchess at this point.  It has been years since she has last seen the Grand Duchess, and the Grand Duchess is unaware of her current marital status.  Of course, Maria ends up meeting Halton in the salon, and agrees to meet him for dinner.  There is an instant attraction between the two, but Maria does not want names exchanged, so Halton calls her Angel.  She asks him to promise to never look for her, but he refuses.  However, after their romantic tryst, Angel disappears, but Halton does not give up searching for her.

Maria returns home to London, where we find out that she is married to Sir Frederick Barker (Herbert Marshall), a workaholic diplomat, trying to keep Europe from dissolving into war.  The scenes with Maria and Frederick lack the sexiness of the scenes with Halton, but that is the point.  Frederick loves Maria and thinks that they are a model of domestic bliss.  It’s clear that at one point, this was true, but since that happy time, Maria is always forced to play second fiddle to his work.

 

The plot thickens when Frederick meets Halton, and the two men strike up a friendship.  It turns out that their taste in women has always been quite similar because during the war, they shared a “seamstress.”  Halton tells Frederick about his Angel, completely unaware that he is speaking of Maria, Frederick’s wife.  An invitation extended to Halton brings him to Frederick’s home, where he discovers the truth about his Angel.  The end of the movie brings the action back to Paris, where decisions must be made, and the messy triangle gets wrapped up rather neatly.

I would have liked to have seen what Lubitsch (and screenwriter Sam Raphaelson) would have done with this story in the pre-code era.  Really, Lubitsch manages to make a sexy film without have any sex or direct reference to sex on the screen.    The envelope is still pushed in this film by the not so subtle implied sexuality of the characters, but I don’t think the ending would have been quite so neat, if it were not required.

This film also has the traditional Lubitsch trademark of not shooting what you would expect him to in key moments.  For example, Halton leaves Angel for a moment to go buy her some violets from an old woman who is selling violets in a basket.  When he turns back to Angel, she is gone.  Instead of showing Halton looking for Angel, Lubitsch stays with the old woman.  We see her watch Halton search, and hear him call out to Angel.  Finally, we see her walk over to where Angel had been sitting, pick up the violets from the ground, dust them off, and finally put them in her basket,ready to be sold again.  Without seeing Halton again, we know exactly what happened and the image of the woman putting the violets in her basket is more memorable and heartbreaking than seeing Halton’s reaction would have been.

Overall, Angel might not be the best Lubitsch film, but it’s still a good one.  How this film has been so overlooked with Dietrich, Douglas, and Marshall in film written by Sam Raphaelson and directed by Ernst Lubitsch, I’m not sure.  It walks a delicate line between comedy and melodrama, and has a great performance from Marlene Dietrich.  Its plot still feels very fresh and it clearly demonstrates that “Lubitsch touch.”

Elisabeth Sladen: An Autobiography

I recently was able to read the autobiography that Lis Sladen finished shortly before she passed away last year.  I’m going to admit something here, that I know makes me a bit odd in the Doctor Who universe; I liked Sarah Jane Smith, but I’m not sure that I would pick her as my favorite companion.  Therefore, I wondered how interesting I was going to find her autobiography.  I can now say that I would highly recommend it to any fan of Doctor Who.

Lis Sladen’s voice comes through clearly and she is full of interesting stories, both about her life while on Doctor Who, and her life before and after.  I wasn’t sure how interested I would be in her life before Who, but, sure enough, I found the whole book very interesting.  It was interesting to read about the life of a regular actor in England in the late 60’s and early 70’s.  She kind of skips over a lot of her life after Who, except to write about the various Who related projects she got involved with after.

Of course, her recollections of working on Doctor Who dominate the book.  I found her recollections fascinating.  She tells of all the good and bad experiences she had while working on Doctor Who.  From the story of her audition for the show (she didn’t even realize that she was being offered the part of the new companion) to being pulled out of retirement for the Sarah Jane Adventures, she is full of interesting details that help paint a picture of what it is like to work on Doctor Who.  I also learned a great deal about the people who worked behind the scenes like producer Barry Letts and the various directors (many of whom also seemed to be somewhat difficult to work with).

Even more interesting to me was the relationship she had with both of her Doctors, Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker.  It’s pretty clear in the book that she didn’t much care for Jon Pertwee, but she adored Tom Baker.  She seems to feel that Pertwee expected things to be done his way, while Baker was much more collaborative.  I would say that Baker treated her as more of an equal, while Pertwee had more of a patronizing attitude towards woman, as well as a bit of the ego that his Doctor displayed on the screen.  Of course it probably didn’t help that on her first day on location for Doctor Who, Jon mistakenly called her Katy, then burst into tears because he missed his former companion, Katy Manning.

Overall, I would say that this is a great book for any Doctor Who fans interested in the history of the show.  Lis Sladen is an entertaining writer and she offers a great deal of insight into what life was like behind the scenes.

Thoughts on “The Edge of Destruction”

The Edge of Destruction” is a rather odd, two-part story that follows “The Daleks.”  It is the third story starring William Hartnell as the Doctor.  From what I can gather, it was a filler story because Doctor Who had been granted a 13 episode run and “Un Unearthly Child” and “The Daleks” only added up to 11 episodes.  The TARDIS is the only location and the four principles are the only characters.

Susan threatens Ian with a pair of scissors

Susan threatens Ian with a pair of scissors

The story begins with everyone on the TARDIS unconscious.  Gradually, they begin to wake up (Barbara first, who then wakes up the others), but they are suffering from amnesia and are confused about what has just happened.  The Doctor is the last to wake up; he is wounded with a gash on his head.  Susan, however, is able to get a bandage for the wound.  Soon all four are acting strangely, as well as the TARDIS.  Susan becomes convinced that an alien being has taken over someone on the ship.  She gets a hold of a scissors and begins to threaten Barbara and Ian with it, but they always manage to stop her before she does any harm.  Soon, Susan and the Doctor begin to suspect Barbara and Ian of sabotaging the TARDIS in an attempt to return home.  Finally, thanks to Barbara’s reasoning, they figure out that the TARDIS is trying to tell them something and work together to solve the problem.

The first part of this episode reminded me a bit of the new Who episode, “Midnight.”  Although it turned out not to be an alien possessing someone, the paranoia of the episode made me wonder if it could have influence Russell T. Davis in any way when he wrote “Midnight.”  Of course, in this episode it was the Doctor and Susan who were growing increasingly paranoid of the others, not the other way around, as it was in “Midnight.”

It was also interesting that this episode brought up the idea of the TARDIS being more than a machine.  It was actually attempting to communicate with the Doctor, even though he is dismissive of the idea that the TARDIS can think.  It’s also the first episode in which Barbara is more than simply dead weight.  She is responsible for saving the group, by realizing that the TARDIS is trying to communicate with them.  It was nice to see her take a more active role.

Barbara and the Doctor share a (up to this point) rare happy moment

Barbara and the Doctor share a (up to this point) rare happy moment

Overall, I found this episode a bit disappointing.  I enjoyed the first part, but I felt that the “solution” didn’t really answer all of the questions.  Mainly, why was Susan threatening people with scissors?  I know she was confused after being knocked unconscious, but this is not a part of her normal personality, so I was not sure why she would physically threaten people.  Still, it did serve to unite the group before their next adventure, which was necessary to keep from rehashing the same suspicions and disagreements over and over.