Impressions of Deep Breath

“Eleven’s hour is over now-The clock is striking twelve’s”  I couldn’t  help but think of this line from “The Time of the Doctor” when watching “Deep Breath.”  One of the first images you see in “Deep Breath” is that of Big Ben, and one of the first sounds is a clock striking the hour.  Just as “The Eleventh Hour” was the start of the eleventh Doctor’s era, “Deep Breath” is the start of the twelfth’s. The title is another of Moffat’s double meanings again, with the title having a meaning in the story, but also referring to the idea of taking a deep breath and diving into the new era.  While it is not without flaws, it is a solid first story.  It does a good job of introducing us to the new Doctor and establishing his relationship with his companion.

Honestly, Peter Capaldi's Doctor had me with this look.

Honestly, Peter Capaldi’s Doctor had me with this look.

If you’re reading this, I’m assuming that you have just watched the episode, so I’ll keep my recap down to the basics (and, of course, there will be spoilers in this post).  The Doctor, having just regenerated, somehow ends up traveling to Victorian London in the throat of a dinosaur.  Before long, the dinosaur seems to spontaneously combust, leading the Doctor to investigate a series of such combustions.

It seems to me that Steven Moffat structured this episode to help viewers adjust to the change as easily as possible.  He brought back as many familiar faces as possible.  Along with Clara, Moffat chose to bring back Vastra, Jenny, and Strax.  Strax, as usual, was there to provide a bit of comic relief.  I would like to see Strax developed a bit more, to keep him from staying a one-note character, but I still enjoy his appearances.  Vastra and Jenny, are, of course, there to help with the fighting, but Vastra also serves another purpose early in the story.  She helps Clara deal with the confusion she feels after the Doctor regenerates, and reminds Clara (and the audience) that the Doctor is still the same man.  She also makes explicit once again the idea that the Doctor’s young face served as a way to hide his true self (which he definitely didn’t want to come to terms with until the events of “The Time of the Doctor”), much the way she uses her veil to hide her true face.

A second bit of familiarity was the return of the clockwork droids from “The Girl in the Fireplace.”  While the Doctor is never able to remember where he’s seen them before (remember, he never knew the name of the ship), their connection to the droids in that story is abundantly clear to the audience.  Their reappearance was a surprise to me, but I thought they were used fairly effectively in the episode, even if I wasn’t completely clear on how they got there (but that’s opening my Pandora’s box of questions, so I won’t explore that now).

You have to admit the cyborg clockwork droid looked cool.

You have to admit the cyborg clockwork droid looked cool.

What made their appearance worthwhile was the clever twist that Moffat added this time around.  Previously, they used human body parts to patch up the ship, but now they use them to patch up themselves.  This makes them almost the opposite of the Cybermen.  Cybermen were humans who chose to upgrade themselves so much that they lost their humanity; the clockwork droids, on the other hand, have used so many human parts to patch themselves up that they are losing their mechanical nature and picking up some humanity.  I thought that was an interesting reversal that justified their out of the blue return.

As is typical for a Steven Moffat story, “Deep Breath” is satisfying on an emotional level, even when the plot doesn’t exactly make sense.  Really, the plot is almost an afterthought.  I could write another post filled with just my questions, but, oddly enough, that didn’t ruin the story for me;  I was more focused on the characters and the new relationship developing between the Doctor and Clara. There are many memorable moments that span a range of emotions.  There were touching moments like when the Doctor, asleep in bed, translates the dinosaur’s cries about not being seen, and that then mirrors the dinosaur’s cries in his own speech to Clara as he pleads with her to really see him.  There were creepy moments like the scene with the droids in the restaurant, and Clara’s attempt to escape from them down in the ship.  There were thrilling moments such as Clara outwitting the droid and realizing that the Doctor does have her back.  And, of course, there were humorous moments, like Clara and the Doctor discussing her egomanicism and just about anything involving Strax.

The one scene that I have a hard time with was when Clara gets the phone call from the eleventh Doctor.  I have no problem with the idea of that Doctor phoning  Clara to tell her how much he needs her help now, and it works emotionally to have the eleventh Doctor help Clara accept the man that he’s become.  My problem with it lay in some of the things he said to her.  Shouldn’t he have said I need you, rather than he needs you, since the point is that he is still the same person? And how can he miss her, when he’s still with her? Okay, I’m starting to open the Pandora’s box of questions again, but that scene was the only part where my questions took away from the emotion of the scene.

The main focus of this episode, however, is on Clara and the newly regenerated twelfth Doctor.  First, I have to say that this episode really developed the character of Clara.  I never felt like I got a good handle on her character last season.  Since she was a puzzle that needed solving, I never felt that the stories developed her as much as they should.  After “The Name of the Doctor” answered the question of the impossible girl, Clara has been able to just be Clara, and I like the direction the character has gone.  This episode in particular shows how clever, brave, and resourceful she is.

Clara and the Doctor are both summoned to the  droid's restaurant.  This scene was one of the highlights of the episode.

Clara and the Doctor are both summoned to the droid’s restaurant. This scene was one of the highlights of the episode.

I will admit that I was a bit confused by her reaction to the newly regenerated Doctor at first.  It seemed like if any companion should have been able to take a regeneration in stride, it would be Clara, who has met all of the Doctor’s previous incarnations (although did she still enter the Doctor’s time stream, since he didn’t die on Trenzalore, meaning that his tomb would not be there…?).  I saw her reaction as occurring because Clara was the audience surrogate.  I felt that Moffat worried that a lot of Matt Smith fans might have a hard time adjusting to the new Doctor, so he decided to make Clara have a hard time adjusting.  This way he could hopefully use Clara’s gradual acceptance of the new Doctor help the fans though the change as well.

While I still think this is true, when I reflected on it a bit more, I could see some of the reason for Clara’s reaction.  She had lost her Doctor, the Doctor that was her friend, and was grieving his loss.  To complicate matters, he had quite a drastic change and went from being her contemporary to almost the age of her father.  I could see how with Matt Smith’s Doctor it might have been easy for her to forget that he was not really a young man (or, that he wasn’t a man at all, for that matter).  She had to learn to see the Doctor for who he truly was in this episode, and Clara might be the only companion truly capable of doing that, given all that she’s seen.

I also enjoyed the relationship she had with the new Doctor.  Part of my problem with Clara had been that I just didn’t feel that she had particularly good chemistry with Matt Smith’s Doctor.  When I thought about my reaction to her character, I realized that I felt that she had a bit too much control over the Doctor.  Plus, their relationship had some strange romantic dimensions to it, that I just didn’t really see as developing naturally out of their interactions.  However, I love her relationship with Capaldi’s Doctor so far.  It feels a bit more evenly matched.  He can call her out on her need to be in control, but she will continue to do what she wants.  It feels like she is exactly the kind of strong companion that this Doctor will need.

The twelfth Doctor isn't a hugger.

The twelfth Doctor isn’t a hugger.

All this brings me to the new Doctor.  As a first impression, I have to say that I already like him.  Peter Capaldi’s Doctor is a bit darker, and, in this episode at least,  is mysterious again.  There were moments when you had to wonder about how trustworthy this Doctor is.  Did he kill the droid or did he jump?  With what we’ve seen of this Doctor, we can’t really be sure yet.

However, the Doctor also does just enough Doctor-y things to remind us that he is, in fact, still the same man that we’ve been watching all these years.  Capaldi does a good job of balancing the silliness and the darkness.  He also seems like a very active Doctor: jumping out of windows, riding horses, hanging on to lifts as they are going up… All of this is what I hoped to see and is a bit Pertwee-esque.  I worried that they would make this Doctor less physical because he is older.  This would bother me because the Doctor himself is only a few days older than he was when we saw him as the eleventh Doctor; he only looks like he has aged a great deal.

This, of course, brings me to the issue of the Doctor’s rapid aging.  We went from the youngest Doctor to the oldest (well, if you don’t count John Hurt, but that’s just too complicated). The story mentions it a great deal, with that being one of the hardest things for Clara to deal with. The Doctor didn’t seem to have a problem with having an older face before, but I can see how it would be a bit of a shock, even for the Doctor, to have aged about 25 years in appearance.  The Doctor also mentions having seen his face somewhere before, so I assume that we will eventually get an explanation for why he looks like Caecilius from “The Fires of Pompeii.”  I’m thinking they might not want to touch John Frobisher from Torchwood, since that storyline was much darker than Doctor Who likes to go.

And, apparently, much like the eleventh Doctor had his chin, the twelfth Doctor’s defining feature will be his eyebrows.  As he tells Barney (played by Brian Miller, Elisabeth Sladen’s widower),that  they’re attack eyebrows, much crosser than the rest of his face.  Somehow, I don’t think this is the last we’ll be hearing about them.

Of course, I couldn’t wrap this up without mentioning the end of the episode, which introduced us to Missy, played by Michelle Gomez. It’s way too early for me to have a solid opinion about her, but for now I’m still on the fence about her.  I had no idea what was happening in that scene, which was the point, I guess.  What was she doing with the dead droid?  Does the “promised land” have more significance than we know?  Why does she call the Doctor her boyfriend? Clearly, she will be a reoccurring figure this season, so I’m hoping it will all make sense later on.

The Doctor is called to action when the dinosaur mysteriously goes up in flames.

The Doctor watches helplessly as the dinosaur mysteriously goes up in flames.

While I still feel “The Eleventh Hour” is a better debut story, “Deep Breath” is a solid debut for a Doctor who I think I’m going to enjoy watching.  So far, it feels like he has a bit of the third Doctor’s personality mixed with the sixth Doctor, but with plenty of his own unique touches.  Overall, I felt like this story pulled off what the writers were trying to do in Colin Baker’s debut story.   This Doctor can be a bit abrasive and has an aura of mystery around him again, but he never pushes it too far.  As long as he doesn’t start trying to strangle Clara, I think we’ll be alright.


Foam, Screams, and Seaweed: Fury from the Deep

“Fury from the Deep” is one of the entirely lost stories from the Patrick Troughton era. A few clips survive (thank you, Australian censors!), but all the rest is missing. It’s a shame because the story is a very good one, full of colorful moments that I would love to see. The Doctor flies a helicopter, he plays in foam (actually, there’s foam everywhere), goes swimming again…oh, and it features the debut of a gadget called a sonic screwdriver. It functions as an actual screwdriver, too, not as the magic wand/all-purpose device it has become. Imagine that! Even more importantly, “Fury from the Deep” is the final story for Deborah Watling’s Victoria. After surviving the attack of the seaweed creatures, Victoria decides to leave the TARDIS and start a new life.

Everyone hopes that Victoria's screams will stop the creatures' advance.

Everyone hopes that Victoria’s screams will stop the creatures’ advance.

The TARDIS lands out on the water, near a gas refinery. The Doctor, Jamie, and Victoria arrive on the shore and hear a strange rhythmic noise coming from one of the pipes. Before they figure out what it is, the refinery staff, suspicious of their motives, shoots them with tranquilizers and brings them in for questioning.

They awaken with the head of the refinery staff, Robson, ready to question them. Drops in the pressure in the pipes and loss of contact with one of the rigs is troubling Harris, one of the men who works under Robson. Robson, however, has found a solution that he thinks explains the problem: the Doctor has been tampering with the pipes. Harris thinks the problem is bigger and wants Robson to shut down the pipes, so that they can correct the problem, which he suspects involves something in the pipes. Robson refuses, saying that he has never had a shut down under his supervision and he’s not about to have one now.

In the meantime, areas of the base are becoming overrun with foam, and some people have seen a mysterious creature lurking in the ventilation system. One by one the refinery is losing contact with the rigs. Harris’ wife, Maggie, is also suffering from some mysterious malady after being stung by a piece of seaweed.  And what has happened to Mr. Quill and Mr. Oak? They are growing seaweed on their hands and are able to exhale a toxic gas. The Doctor needs to put all of these pieces together to figure out how to stop the fury from the deep before it takes over the entire world.

This is yet another strong episode in a season that is full of them. While  it seems like the idea of some type of sentient seaweed would be a ridiculous one, this story pulls it off. Like the best horror stories, it taps into a fear of the time, in this case, fear about what the consequences might be of the increased drilling into our ocean’s floor. In this story, it is the search for natural gas deep in the ocean that has brought this danger to the surface, a life that feeds off of the toxic gases produced under the ocean floor.

From the stills and few surviving clips, I feel that this story was a very visual story; therefore, we are at a loss having to rely mainly on the audio recordings. However, the story is still engaging, and it offers a slight variation on the base under siege plot. In this case, there is a certain element of suspense because the viewer is not sure who is under the influence of the seaweed, or whom it will take over next. The idea that there are traitors hiding in plain sight is a nice change of pace from the monsters who have been killing people off in the previous serials.

The genuinely creepy Mr. Quill in mid attack.

The genuinely creepy Mr. Quill in mid attack.

And, speaking of the visuals, the remaining clips offer a hint of how creepy this episode was. I can see why the Australian censors felt the clip of Mr. Oak and Mr. Quill breathing the toxic gas at Maggie was too scary for children. Even as an adult, it is one of the most disturbing images I remember seeing on Doctor Who. It is one of the indelible images of the show.  Although the rest of their performance is confined to still photos, Mr. Oak (John Gill) and Mr. Quill (Bill Burridge) still convey a certain amount of menace whenever we see them.  Even the seaweed creature itself, which, thanks to a few brief clips, we finally see clearly in the final episode, is effective.  Somehow they managed to design a creature that seems like a seaweed creature, and even moves like a seaweed creature, instead of simply seeming like a man in a suit.

I also loved the Doctor’s solution to the problem. The idea of the power of sound waves was foreshadowed by introducing the sonic screwdriver in the beginning of the story. (I wonder if Victor Pemberton, the writer, realized how iconic his little screwdriver was about to become?) And , of course, what more appropriate sound could there be than Victoria’s screams? After doing a great deal of screaming in her adventures with the Doctor, Victoria’s screams finally have a purpose. Every time Victoria encounters the creatures, she screams, which enables the Doctor to notice that it actually protects her from them. That the big finale of Victoria’s last story involves broadcasting her amplified screams to save the base…perfect.

While Jamie plays a role in this story, the focus is really on Victoria, as it should be in her final appearance.  She returns to her original form a bit in this story, after being simply the damsel in distress the past few stories.  She is clever again, picking the lock with her hairpin, while the Doctor and Jamie are trying a complicated plan of escape.  She also gets to show some scientific competency again (Remember her father, the scientist, who taught her things? Very few of the writers this season did.) by helping the Doctor perform some tests on the seaweed in the TARDIS.

Victoria waves goodbye to the Doctor and Jamie, while Harris and Maggie stand by.

Victoria waves goodbye to the Doctor and Jamie, while Harris and Maggie stand by.

The episode sets up Victoria’s choice to leave the TARDIS at the end by giving her a few times where she mentions how tired she is of living in constant fear. And when you look back at her time, you can’t really blame her. In a relatively short time, she lost her father and became an orphan, battled Cybermen, was hypnotized/controlled by the Great Intelligence, and held captive by the ice warriors, Salamander, the Great Intelligence/yeti, and the seaweed creatures. That’s enough to make anyone want to leave! Victoria’s constant role as the damsel in distress also makes it clear why Deborah Watling would choose to leave.  While Victoria began as an interesting character, I don’t think she was very consistently written and it must have been frustrating to play her.

It is nice to see Victoria choose to leave the TARDIS, and not to get married.  She feels that there is no point in returning to Victorian times, since she has seen too much to return there comfortably and has no one left, so she might as well stay in the England of the late 1960’s. I’ve read that some people see Victoria as finding a new family to replace the one that she lost, and this is the ultimate resolution of her character arc. While I think this is true to a certain extent, she’s not returning to a child-like state of dependence. She doesn’t even have a particularly strong bond with Harris and his wife. She choses to stop traveling with the Doctor, not to stay with them specifically.  It’s the Doctor who enlists their aid. They are going to help Victoria land on her feet, as parents would a grown child, but I got the impression that Victoria would not be relying on them to care for her completely. She will need some help getting settled, but the Victoria who leaves the Doctor is a woman capable of making her own choices, which the Doctor respects, not a helpless girl just looking for a family.

The most touching part of this story is Victoria’s relationship with Jamie.  This story shows that he is the one that she confides in, not the Doctor. When she is being held captive, the first person she calls out to is Jamie. And it is Jamie who takes her departure harder than the Doctor. He is sadder to say goodbye to Victoria than he was to Polly and Ben in “The Faceless Ones.” I was happy to see that Victoria and Jamie shared a quiet moment together before their parting the next day. Deborah Watling and Fraser Hines had excellent chemistry together (and still do, if you’ve been lucky enough to see them at a con recently), which resulted in Jamie and Victoria being an excellent match. It’s easy to imagine that the two characters had a relationship that involved more than friendship, making Victoria’s decision to leave all the more difficult.

Victoria and Jamie sharing one of several private moments. Jamie can't understand Victoria's unhappiness.

Victoria and Jamie sharing one of several private moments. Jamie can’t understand Victoria’s unhappiness.

Overall, this story is a fitting farewell to Victoria and pays tribute to all the aspects of her personality. She decides for herself when it is time to leave, showing that she has matured during her travels with the Doctor. As far as companion departures go, it’s a pretty good one. She also gets to point out that, “every time we go anywhere, something awful happens” which is a pretty good summary of the show itself if you think about it.  The Doctor lands somewhere, something awful is happening, and he needs to help stop it.  Maybe the next story will be different. Something awful won’t happen at that space station the Doctor and Jamie arrive at, right? Maybe these are friendly Cybermen…oh, all right, something awful is about to happen.

Return of the Yeti: The Web of Fear

Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart is one of the iconic characters in Doctor Who history.  For years, however, his debut story was lost to the BBC junkings of the 1970’s.  With the recovery of “The Web of Fear,” most of his first appearance can now be seen.  That alone makes this story an important one.  However, this story has still more to offer.  It also features the return of the Doctor’s foes from “The Abominable Snowmen”: the Great Intelligence and his robotic yeti.  These yeti are less cuddly looking and more menacing than their original versions in “The Abominable Snowmen” (even the Doctor comments on their slightly different appearance), but there’s no mistaking them.  Patrick Troughton’s Doctor, Jamie, Victoria, and even Professor Travers are all back to join Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart in facing the Great Intelligence and his yeti.

The Doctor hold the recovered yeti sphere while Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart, Anne Travers, and Jamie look on.

The Doctor holds the recovered yeti sphere while Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart, Anne Travers, and Jamie look on.

“The Web of Fear” is a return to the “base under siege” format after the unusual “The Enemy of the World.”  The Doctor, Jamie, and Victoria manage to close the TARDIS doors (left open by Salamander when he tried to escape at the end of “The Enemy of the World”), but this trip in the TARDIS becomes no less eventful.  The TARDIS seems to have stopped moving, but it has not landed.  The Doctor soon realizes someone or something is holding the TARDIS and encasing it in a web-like substance.  The Doctor rigs a device so that at the first opportunity he can escape the grasp of whoever or whatever is holding them. This enables him to land the TARDIS a short distance away from where it was supposed to land.

When the trio emerges from the TARDIS, they quickly discover that they are in an Underground station.  They go up to the surface to discover that although it is broad daylight, London is eerily quiet.  Eventually, the trio meet up with some soldiers and discover that their old friend, Professor Travers and his daughter, Anne, are working with the military to find a solution to a problem that is facing London.  The yeti are back; much of the city is enveloped in a deathly fog, and the mysterious web-like substance is taking over the tunnels in the Underground.  The Doctor and his companions deduce that it must have been the Great Intelligence that brought them here, but why?

This is a good story, but it suffers in comparison to “The Enemy of the World,” which felt fresh.  This is a far more traditional story structure for this era.  Plus, after his dual performance in the previous serial, Patrick Troughton took his vacation during episode 2 of this story, resulting in a Doctor-free episode.

I really enjoyed the first episode.  There is a great scene in which we see (the now much older) Professor Travers attempting to get the yeti he sold to a museum back.  He warns the museum owner that he has reactivated a control sphere and the yeti is now dangerous, but the man doesn’t listen.  Of course, after Travers and his daughter leave, the danger that Travers foretold of comes to pass and a reanimated yeti attacks the man.  The scene has a great atmosphere and promises an eerie, horror-tinged episode to come, something that the story doesn’t quite deliver.



In my opinion, there are two main weaknesses in the storytelling of “The Web of Fear” (aside from the somewhat confusing plan of the intelligence).  The first is that, despite having a good first episode, the next few episodes consist of a bit more shooting and military action than I thought necessary, which, perhaps, is a major cause of the other weakness.  I did not feel much of a connection to any of the new characters, except Anne and the Colonel (more about them to come). Characters are killed off at so rapid a pace in the first few episodes that you aren’t invested enough to care. The ones that are left when all the dust settles feel like character types instead of characters: there is the obnoxious reporter, the cowardly Welsh soldier, the hardworking military man…When some characters reappear at the end, I realized that I had forgotten that they had even disappeared.

Even the character of Anne is not as developed as she could be.  She is a scientist, and has some great lines in the beginning. For instance, when asked what a girl like her is doing in a job like this, Anne calmly replies, “Well, when I was a little girl I thought I’d like to be a scientist, so I became a scientist.” As the episode continues, she becomes less and less important to the story.  I would have liked to see this scientist contribute a bit more  scientifically, but she  basically becomes the Doctor’s assistant in the final episodes, and is a bit of a precursor to Liz Shaw, the third Doctor’s assistant.

Of course no discussion of “The Web of Fear” would be complete without discussing the introduction of Colonel, but soon to be Brigadier, Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart. Unfortunately, he enters the story in episode three, the only episode not yet recovered, but the rest of his performance is there.  I quite enjoyed seeing the now familiar character introduced as someone you weren’t quite sure if you could trust.  Additionally, even at this early date, the Brig has his unflappable nature.  For instance, he readily accepts the fact that the Doctor has a machine that can travel through time and space, and sets out to try to recover it.  When questioned about it, he explains that although he’s not sure he believes the Doctor, but, if it exists, it’s the only way that they can escape the situation alive, so he will do his best to find it.

Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart

Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart

The return of Professor Travers allows the story to touch on a very interesting idea.  For the travelers, and indeed the viewers, it has only been a short time since Travers’ prior appearance.  However, for Travers, it has been almost 40 years (which of course leads to the UNIT dating controversy, since he met the Doctor in 1935, making this story set in the 1970’s…but that’s another story). This is the first time, or at least it’s the first time I can think of, that the Doctor has met the same person in two different stories (I’m not counting the meddling Monk since he’s a Time Lord).  The idea to age him is an interesting one, since the Doctor, Jamie, and Victoria haven’t aged at all.  In fact, Travers even points out to Anne that Victoria was born before he was, a point that I hadn’t really thought of before.  I enjoy it when the show takes time (even if it is just a moment) to consider some of the realities that present themselves due to the existence of time travel.

When it comes to the companions, Jamie finally gets more active in this story; he searches the tunnels for the Doctor early in the story and then uses the yeti that the Doctor has figured out how to control to “rescue” the Doctor in the end.  Victoria still does not have too much to do, but she also sets out on her own, to find the Doctor and Jamie. When she is (inevitably, I’m sorry to say) held captive by the Great Intelligence, she is not bordering on the hysterical like she did in “The Ice Warriors,” and she even thinks to take off her necklace and  drop it as a clue as to which tunnel the possessed Travers has taken her down.  Despite this, her role is largely that of the damsel in distress.

As for the Doctor, this story further supports the idea that Troughton’s Doctor saw violence as a last resort.   Using his scientific knowledge, he comes up with a way to control a yeti.  Then he uses his scientific expertise once again, this time to switch the wires on the helmet the Great Intelligence was going to use to steal his knowledge and memories.  Without causing any violence, he had found a way to put an end to the Great Intelligence forever, which is what makes the ending so unusual.  Jamie ruins the Doctor’s plan by using the controlled yeti to attack the others and break the pyramid that the Doctor was in for the transference.  The Great Intelligence loses its connection to earth, but is still out there, waiting for another chance.

After many shots from behind of Astrid in her skintight outfit, this episode opens with Victoria's legs. I guess the BBC was trying to get a few more dads interested?

After many shots from behind of Astrid in her skin-tight outfit, this episode opens with Victoria’s legs. I guess the BBC was trying to get a few more dads interested?

It seems as though the writers, Mervyn Haismen and Henry Lincoln, wanted to leave the door open for another return of their character, the Great Intelligence.  Unfortunately, the duo never wrote another story with the Great Intelligence and/or the yeti.  While I enjoyed “The Web of Fear,” I do think “The Abominable Snowmen” is the better story (and the use of the yeti actually make sense in that).  The Great Intelligence does, however, get to make a return, without his yeti minions, in Matt Smith’s final season.  After making two appearances on Doctor Who within months, the Great Intelligence had to wait 45 years for his return.  I can just picture the Great intelligence waiting patiently for its chance to challenge the Doctor once again.  But where is he keeping his yeti…?

A Rediscovered Gem: The Enemy of the World

I had always hoped that another random episode or two of Doctor Who might be discovered, but the return of a full story…that seemed incredibly improbable.  However, fans can now watch “The Enemy of the World” in its entirety, one of only two completely intact stories from Troughton’s first two seasons.  I was very excited by the news of its return, but I wondered if the story would live up to the hype.  However, the story more than lived up to my expectations for it.   “The Enemy of the World” stands as one of my favorite stories.  This story which features companions Jamie and Victoria, as well as Troughton in a double role, is a clever well-paced story that keeps you guessing until the end.

It's a Troughton face off!

It’s a Troughton face off!

“The Enemy of the World” is an unusual story.  It’s set on Earth in 2018 and contains no alien threat.  Nestled in the heart of what is known as “the monster season,” this story contains no monsters (unless you count Salamander, the man who is trying to become dictator of the world, as one).  It is also the only story of the season that is not a version of the “base under siege” plot.

After a light-hearted opening involving the Doctor going swimming (and who wouldn’t believe that, underneath his clothes, Troughton’s Doctor is always prepared to take a dip?), some men attack the Doctor and his companions.  Fortunately, a woman named Astrid arrives just in time to save them.  She also enlightens them as to why they were attacked; it’s because of the Doctor’s striking similarity to a man named Salamander. It seems that there has been a spate of natural disasters in the world.  Salamander is a scientist and philanthropist, and has been helping the world cope by using his scientific knowledge to bring food production back to areas that were struck by disaster. His aid has given him a great deal of power, and there are some who believe that he hopes to become the dictator of the world.

Salamander, or maybe the Doctor posing as Salamander...

Salamander, or maybe the Doctor posing as Salamander…

Astrid and her commander, Giles Kent (who was deputy security adviser before Salamander discredited him), want the Doctor to impersonate Salamander.  They believe that Salamander is an evil man who must be stopped.  The Doctor does not want to get involved, since he does not feel that Astrid and Giles have enough proof that Salamander is a truly evil man. However, before the Doctor can refuse, events are set in motion that result in him getting drawn into a world of intrigue and danger.  Can he stop Salamander from taking over the world? And should he even try?

Overall, this story was excellent.  The story has great pacing and, even though it is six episodes long, the events never feel like filler; each episode added more to the story instead of just maintaining some kind of stasis to fill time.  The first episode introduces the idea that the Doctor and Salamander look almost identical, in the second we meet Salamander and enter his world (leaving us with little doubt that he is an evil man), and the third focuses on the attempt to provide the Doctor with proof of Salamander’s evilness.  Then, just when you are getting settled with the political intrigue, episode 4 brings the introduction of the underground base that Salamander is using to creating the natural disasters.  New mysteries and conflicts are added at every point so that when one is resolved, another stems from that resolution.  This keeps the story suspenseful until its final moments.

The ending is also quite unique (major spoilers ahead).  Unlike many episodes, where you have some idea how the story is going to wrap up, this story kept me guessing.  A weakness in the ending is that it doesn’t offer much resolution for the people who have been living in the bunker for the past five years, but there’s still so much going on in the final episode there’s not much time to dwell on it.  The revelation that Giles knew all about Salamander’s plan and was, in fact, trying to have him killed so that he could take his place, caught me by surprise.  The fact that the story as a whole ended on a cliffhanger was also an interesting touch.

Fariah and Astrid

Fariah and Astrid

Along with the strong plot, the characters are engaging.  Giles Kent and Donald Bruce make for interesting characters,  as our feelings about each one shift throughout the story.  For me, the story is especially notable for its female characters.  Mary Peach does a great job as Astrid.  While Victoria, once again, has little to do, Astrid is, in many ways, the action hero of the story.  She rescues the Doctor and his companions in her helicopter, overpowers guards, and is generally the active one in this story.  Plus, she’s not the only interesting female character, which is a bit unusual for the series.  Fariah, the woman who Salamander forces to work as his food taster is another interesting character.  What makes her even more unusual is that she is the first black, female character that I remember seeing in the series to this point. We don’t know what material Salamander was using to blackmail Fariah, but her story is an interesting one.  I wish we could have seen more of her, rather than seeing her killed off halfway through.

Of course with all focus on the new characters, the companions once again have a limited role.  Jamie and Victoria play a role in the story until episode 3, but they’re not in episode 4 at all and make limited appearances in the final two episodes. However. in most of their scenes they are together which is a vast improvement on “The Ice Warriors,” since we get to see their chemistry together.  They’re even in matching outfits, as Victoria’s skirt is almost identical to Jamie’s kilt.  While on a panel at Gally, Frazer Hines and Deborah Watling said that they tried to play scenes as if Victoria and Jamie were more than just friends, and that subtext does appear to exist throughout this story.  From the way Victoria clings to Jamie in the helicopter to Jamie’s withstanding of Benik’s torture for about 5 seconds (until he pulls Victoria’s hair) they do seem very…close.

Jamie and Victoria in the helicopter.  Doesn't this look like something more than friendship?

Jamie and Victoria in the helicopter. Doesn’t this look like something more than friendship?

Of course I haven’t touched on the most important character introduced in this story, Salamander.  The relative absence of the companions isn’t felt too strongly since this episode really is a showcase for Patrick Troughton.  He does an excellent job of distinguishing the Doctor and Salamander. Physically, Salamander is just the Doctor with a slightly swarthy complexion and a different part in his hair (and with a slightly questionable Mexican accent), but Troughton makes him feel like a completely different character.  He lacks the Doctor’s mannerisms and trademark facial expressions.  There are also some clear parallels drawn between Salamander and Napoleon, especially in his wardrobe.  It’s clear that Troughton relished the chance to play the antagonist for once, and his Salamander is a cold, calculating, and evil man. It’s a nice contrast to the Doctor in this episode, since his desire for nonviolence and proof before taking action is set up in stark contrast to the ruthless Salamander’s unquenchable desire for power.

Overall, “The Enemy of the World” is quite enjoyable.  David Whitaker wrote the story, and he is one of my favorite writers for classic Who.  His scripts generally focus more on the people and their motivations than some of the other writers and his script for “The Enemy of the World” might be his best.  It is filled with memorable characters and interesting plot twists.  Add to that script some great casting and performances, and you’ve got something special.  Even without all the other factors, Troughton’s performance alone would make this story stand out.  After all, two Troughtons are better than one.

Visitors from the Red Planet: The Ice Warriors

“The Ice Warriors,” while entertaining, is the low point of the Doctor’s travels with Jamie and Victoria.  Although it introduces a memorable new alien species, it has many flaws.  Of course, the fact that it stars Patrick Troughton as the Doctor means that it’s still very watchable, and since season 5 is one of my favorite seasons, the low point of the season is still a pretty good episode.  It was written by Brian Hayles, and I usually find his stories to be a bit on the dry side.  They are generally serious and deal more with themes than characters or plot.  However, this is probably his best story.

The TARDIS arrives, but on its side.

The TARDIS arrives, but on its side.

The plot is another Troughton “base under siege.” The base, in this case, contains a crew who operate the ionizer, a device used to hold back the glaciers and prevent another ice age.  You see, in this future, mankind has stopped growing its food (and most plants), instead developing the land and building on it.  There are, therefore, very few plants, and, as a result, there is very little carbon dioxide left in the air (Maybe in this future plants create carbon dioxide? Just don’t think about it too hard.).  Without the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the heat of the sun is escaping, bringing about a new ice age.

Even before the arrival of the titular species, the base is already under a certain amount of strain.  Leader Clent is a man for whom failure is not an option, and every decision he makes is vetted by the computer, to ensure that it is the correct choice.  His rigid expectations for his staff has caused the one man who truly understood the workings of the ionizer, Penley, to leave and join with the scavengers who live outside of the base.

The Doctor and his companions arrive just in time for the Doctor to help the base avert a near catastrophe with the ionizer, but an even bigger danger lies ahead.  One of the crew has just uncovered what he thinks is a man, frozen in the ice, who seems to be wearing some kind of armor.  When this “man” is defrosted, he comes back to life, which is bad news for the base, since he is an ice warrior, an aggressive alien species from Mars.  He quickly kidnaps Victoria, takes her back to his ship (which is also frozen in the ice), and revives his other crew members.  The base is now in danger on two fronts.  There is the threat of attack from the ice warriors, but they are also in danger from the steadily encroaching ice.  Until they learn what kind of engine the ice warriors’ ship has, they can’t use the ionizer at the power necessary to hold back the glaciers, for fear of causing a dangerous explosion. The Doctor needs to save both Victoria and the world…

While the story goes on a bit too long (I definitely could have done without the bear attack), for the most part it is effective in its storytelling.  It would benefit from a bit more humor, but humor becomes scarce after the first episode.  This is another story in which the alien threat is compounded by internal strife at the base.  However, the story does deliver an interesting mix of supporting characters.  Each of the major supporting characters has a personality, unlike some episodes where the supporting cast mainly exists to get in the Doctor’s way.  While they are not fully developed characters by any means, the cast treats the material seriously and does a good job of bringing the characters to life.  Clent and his colleague Miss Garett, as well as Penley and his scavenger companion Storr, all contribute to the story and are, in fact, the ones who play out its major themes.

Penley and Clent, in conflict again.

Penley and Clent, in conflict again.

The conflict between Clent and Penley exemplifies the theme of individuality vs. conformity.  Clent expects everybody to work in a logical orderly manner and, of course, always defer to the computer’s judgement.  Penley does things in a more eccentric way, which makes him the only one who can act when they cannot use the computer to make the all-important decision of whether to risk using the ionizer at the end of the story.  Everyone else, including the computer, is bound by what is logical, and therefore, cannot think creatively.  Of course, this means that the story also touches on another favorite classic Who theme of human vs. artificial intelligence. To the surprise of no one, the Doctor comes down on the side of human intelligence and nonconformity.

Unfortunately, all this focus on the supporting characters means that the TARDIS crew themselves is not well utilized.  Patrick Troughton is given some opportunities to shine in this, including some rather humorous moments where he infuriates Clent with his unorthodox working style. However, his companions don’t fare as well. The first episode contains a few good scenes for Jamie and Victoria; these include them awkwardly climbing out of the TARDIS (when it has landed on its side) and a rather strange exchange between Jamie and Victoria about Jamie’s desire to see her in the very short dress of the female base crew.  By the beginning of the second episode, Victoria is captured and the TARDIS crew is separated for most of the remaining 5 episodes.

Jamie is marginally involved in the plot, as he is sent out to investigate the alien spaceship, along with another member of the base crew.  Unfortunately, he is shot by the ice warriors and spends most of the rest of the episode paralyzed, until he is stunned by the base crew and wakes up magically un-paralyzed.

Victoria trying to escape the ice warriors. I think she'd have a better chance is she spent less time crying and screaming.

Victoria trying to escape the ice warriors. I think she’d have a better chance is she spent less time crying and screaming.

Victoria fares even worse.  She is simply there as the damsel in distress and is rather annoyingly near hysteria for the bulk of the episode.  The ice warriors keep her alive as bait (although they kill rather than capture just about everyone else they encounter), but I think the story would have progressed in almost the exact same way even if she weren’t there.  This story is a major step back for Victoria’s character as she is basically helpless and missing the spirit she had shown in her previous adventures with the Doctor.  The Victoria who went to investigate the monastery’s inner sanctum in “The Abominable Snowmen” or hit a cyberman with a thermos in “Tomb of the Cybermen” is nowhere to be found.  She is even sent back to the TARDIS in the middle of the final episode (I believe because Deborah Watling wasn’t able to be on set at that time).

Besides the lack of development and/or involvement for the companions, the story also has a lot of confusing points, particularly around the scavengers. It feels like they were not really given much thought in the script except to exist as a group opposed to the scientists.  Their beliefs are very unclear.  If this story is set in the future, why are the scavengers so primitive? Storr, the only scavenger we meet, calls himself a loyalist.  To whom is he loyal?  Is the problem of scavengers vs. scientists a worldwide phenomenon, or is it just the area around this base?  And, what on earth is so horrifying about Africa (Victoria, I’m looking at you here)?

An ice warrior

An ice warrior

The most memorable component of this story however, is the introduction of the ice warriors.  This was their first appearance of five in the series, and it’s easy to see why they return.  They are an intelligent race that can, therefore, explain their motivations, which gets used to more advantage in later stories.  Their distinctive appearance also makes an impression.  While they still cannot escape the man in a suit look that most of the 60’s alien species have, they feel very much like a race from another planet; the combination of make-up and costume is quite effective.  And, of course, there is their unique way of speaking.  I can see why they would catch on with children watching the show.  After watching this episode, I couldn’t help but imitate their whisper hissing, as I imagine many children did on the playground the next day.  What more doesss an alien ssssspecies ready need sssssssss?