The Cosmic Hobo

Thoughts & reviews about the science fiction series Doctor Who.

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Thoughts on the Jon Pertwee era

Thoughts on the Jon Pertwee era (now that I’ve seen it all.)

I feel like, in the history of Doctor Who, Jon Pertwee is really an anomaly. He was a comedic actor brought on to play a role that is now purely associated with being slightly off the wall in various ways, and ended up playing the part very straight laced. If Jon Pertwee’s Doctor wasn’t called “The Doctor,” you would never know it was meant to be the same character that was played previously by William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton, or would next be played by Tom Baker, et al. It’s hard to say whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, but I did really enjoy his era.

Though I didn’t necessarily love Pertwee’s interpretation of the Doctor, I can’t help but be impressed by the overall quality of his performance. As someone who loves an actor who can act and who dreads one who can’t, I appreciated Pertwee as the Doctor. He is not one of my favorites, but he is not on the bottom of the pile, either. He is a respectable middle of the pack, one of many Doctors I would say I really like, but not one I love.

Pertwee himself aside, I think the writing on his era of the show was usually pretty good. Taking a quick glance at the serials that he was in, I think every season had more good in it than bad, with the unfortunate exception of season eleven, his final season. The first four serials of his run make up what is often cited as one of the best seasons in Doctor Who history, and I have a hard time arguing with that. Anyone who has been reading this blog knows that I’m stingy with ratings, and yet readily give two of the stories an A, and another a B. I wasn’t particularly enthused by “The Ambassadors of Death,” but I think it is worth a re-watch, as I love every other Malcolm Hulke story.

I was very optimistic in the early days of Pertwee’s run as the Doctor, because I was not only very enthusiastic about the quality of his first season, but also his first companion, Liz Shaw. I found having a very intelligent and headstrong female companion in 1970 to be entirely refreshing and brilliant. I was absolutely heart broken when Katy Manning’s Jo Grant came along the season after, and stayed around for longer than I could stand. She has her moments where she can be kind of adorable, but the I spent the vast majority of the time she was on screen shaking my head and sighing, longing for the days of Liz Shaw, and waiting in anticipation for the era of Sarah Jane. This isn’t meant as an insult to Katy Manning as an actress; I think she is solid, and I never really felt like she was having a bad performance, but I will never be a fan of Jo Grant as a character.

Despite my feelings about the second of Pertwee’s trio of companions, those middle three seasons of Pertwee’s run had some great stories, too. I deeply enjoyed “The Daemons,” “The Curse of Peladon,” “The Three Doctors,” “Frontier in Space,” and “Planet of the Daleks.” I also see a lot of merit in others like “Terror of the Autons,” “The Claws of Axos,” and “Carnival of Monsters,” but by far my favorite of that three season block is “The Sea Devils,” which I hope to own on DVD very soon so that I may watch it again and again. I love just about everything about that story, just as i feel about “Doctor Who and the Silurians” in season seven.

I was excited to come to Pertwee’s final season because of the companion change, but ended up being disappointed by it. I reviewed the serials of this story in detail, as I watched these stories after starting this blog, and thought “The Time Warrior” was crap, despite the introduction of the Sontarans and Sarah Jane. I actually DID enjoy the stories most often hated (“Invasion of the Dinosaurs” and “Planet of the Spiders”), but was let down by “The Monster of Peladon” and found “Death to the Daleks” charming but average.

Jon Pertwee is the classic Doctor that I have now seen every story by, and I have to say it was a heck of a ride. Being that I enjoyed 16 out of 24 of his stories, I think it’s a pretty solid ratio. Where would I rank Pertwee, though, based on what I already know? Well, I think about fifth. Higher than Hartnell, Eccleston, Davison, Tennant, Tom Baker, and McGann, but lower than Troughton, McCoy, Smith, and Colin Baker, though on pure acting ability it’s hard to say anything bad about Jon Pertwee.

Three Favorite Stories:

3a. “Spearhead From Space”
3b. “The Three Doctors”
2. “The Sea Devils”
1. “Doctor Who and the Silurians”


Serial Review: Death to the Daleks (Season 11)

“Death to the Daleks”
Written by Terry Nation, dir. by Michael Briant
Featuring the Doctor, Sarah Jane, and Daleks

Rating: C

I am apparently some kind of strange statistical anomaly in Doctor Who fandom, as after seeing this serial, I can say that my least favorite Jon Pertwee Dalek serial is in fact “Day of the Daleks.” I didn’t think it was awful, but I really enjoyed “Planet of the Daleks,” and as it turns out, I think “Death to the Daleks” is pretty solid.

Strangely, it starts slow and gets better as it goes on. Generally speaking, I find myself enjoying the first couple episodes of an average serial but end up being disappointed later on. In the case of this serial, it turned out to be the opposite reaction. It doesn’t hurt that I’m a fan of Michael Briant’s direction, especially in the outstanding “The Sea Devils.” There was something charming about the serial for me, which made up for its various short comings.

I can definitely see why people don’t like this one, but I liked a few things about it. Elisabeth Sladen is as good as always as Sarah Jane, and Pertwee is as solid as always. I’m sure someone will tell me I’m an idiot for this, but one of my favorite parts about this story is actually the Exxilon. I think they are a cool alien race and I have a soft spot for stories where the ugly aliens aren’t all bad guys.

I eagerly await your fury, as I work on a Jon Pertwee wrap up post before I get into Tom Baker’s territory.

Serial Review: The Monster of Peladon (Season 11)

“The Monster of Peladon”
Written by Brian Hayles, directed by Lennie Mayne
Featuring the Doctor, Sarah Jane, and Ice Warriors

Rating: F

Having really enjoyed Brian Hayles’ previous story “The Curse of Peladon” so much, I was pretty excited to come up to this story. I was gleeful in knowing there would be more of the ridiculous Alpha Centauri, as well as having Sarah Jane in the mix rather than the frequently irritating Jo Grant. Unfortunately, this is an example of a story that does live up to its hype: it is terrible, and pretty much agonizing to watch.

The Doctor finds himself on Peladon again, on purpose, this time with Sarah Jane in tow. The Doctor apparently had been meaning to return, despite the fact that he was forced to flee at the end of his last visit when his cover was blown. They appear to have forgotten this, though, and Alpha Centauri is there to vouch for the Doctor being a-okay. Apparently, the King that the Doctor had become friends with has passed away, leaving his daughter as the new ruler of Peladon. She’s a pretty useless monarch, basically doing whatever she is told by advisers and the like until the predictable end when she finally decides things need to change just a smidge.

Things kind of immediately spiral into ridiculousness. This story essentially does everything to show all the worst parts of classic Doctor Who; constant capturing and re-capturing, running through corridors, terrible acting from the featured extras and most of the supporting cast, a plot that is paper thin, and some rough costume design. The best part about this serial was actually turning on the Radio Free Skaro commentary starting at Part 3, as their making fun of it was the only thing that actually got me through. This is the first story to feature the Ice Warriors to get bad marks from me.

There are some bad stories that are still kinda fun because they have a little charm (“The War Machines” comes to mind), but “The Monster of Peladon” is terrible without really any redeeming qualities whatsoever. I’ve never actually given a Doctor Who story an F before, but this one wins that prestige. This really turns out to be, unfortunately, the worst serial of Pertwee’s run as the Doctor, and the worst serial of classic Who that I have seen so far. Not to mention that season eleven is also Pertwee’s worst season. Sad to see him go out like that, but I still at least found enjoyment in “Invasion of the Dinosaurs” and “Planet of the Spiders.”

Serial Review: The Time Warrior (Season 11)

“The Time Warrior”
Written by Robert Holmes, dir. by Alan Bromly
Featuring the Doctor, Sarah Jane, and a Sontaran

Rating: D

In episode #008 of the Raggedy Podcast, we pretty much all agreed that his story was pretty much garbage. Thinking about it more in the weeks since seeing and reviewing hasn’t really done much for it in my memory, but it’s been long enough that I feel like I can do a formal written review.

The problems of the serial basically boil down to two major problems as I see them: absolutely awful direction, and a supporting cast that perpetually makes me cringe. There are few performances in Doctor Who I was more irritated by than those of pretty much every single medieval character in the story. Jon Pertwee is wonderful as always, and Elisabeth Sladen is very strong in her debut as Sarah Jane Smith, but the only one-time character that was well acted at all was the Sontaran.

As far as the direction, I feel like this story is a perfect example of things that you should never do as a director. Awkward zooms here, terrible long shots for action sequences, this serial has it all in terms of bad camera decisions. He probably didn’t help much in terms of the hammy performances from his supporting cast, either.

I know there are a lot of people who love Robert Holmes, and this story is certainly notable for being the first appearance of the Sontarans as well as Sarah Jane, but beyond that I think it is really devoid of value. The plot has no gravity, the actors have no acting ability, and the director can’t direct. That makes this one a failure, in my book.

Serial Review: Invasion of the Dinosaurs (Season 11)

“Invasion of the Dinosaurs”
Written by Malcolm Hulke, directed by Paddy Russell
Featuring the Doctor, Sarah Jane, the Brig, and dinosaurs

Rating: B+

“Invasion of the Dinosaurs” is much maligned for the quality (or lack thereof) of it’s special effects, and rightly so. The dinosaurs were probably a bit overly ambitious for its time, but as far as I’m concerned this is still a really strong serial. After being deeply disappointed by “The Time Warrior” (see The Raggedy Podcast Episode #008) I wasn’t expecting much from this. I ended up being pleasantly surprised, though. This is the great Malcolm Hulke’s last script for the show, and although it is no “The Silurians,” I really enjoyed it.

The Doctor and Sarah Jane return to modern England to find all of London deserted except for some looters. They are mistaken to be among those stealing from the abandoned homes, and arrested, just as they begin to see that dinosaurs are the cause of the problems in London. The first part is perfectly directed and written to build the mood and sense of impending doom despite the sparcity of the score. It’s abnormally well-paced for the era.

Malcolm Hulke wrote characters like no one else while he was on Doctor Who; there is never a clear good or evil here, it is all gray areas. He also manages to develop existing characters well, giving Captain Yates an interesting arc that most characters, even long term ones, don’t really get the chance to have. I had liked Yates prior to this story, but it is nice to see him with some more depth.

In the end I think this is one of the better serials of the latter few seasons of Pertwee’s era. Nothing I have seen indicates that they were ever able to recreate the outstanding consistency of season seven, but there are still some gems in the other four seasons of the Pertwee reign. I’m sure I will be vehemently disagreed with but I really liked this one.

Serial Review: The Green Death (Season 10)

“The Green Death”
Written by Robert Sloman, directed by Michael Briant
Featuring the Doctor, Jo Grant, and giant evil maggots

Rating: D

Slow pacing is a common problem throughout much of classic Doctor Who, but never has the pacing bored me so severely as it did in watching “The Green Death.” It is essentially a six part story that wouldn’t have even been good as a three or four parter; there are just far too many things that are wrong with this story.

Jo Grant and the Brigadier go to investigate some suspicious dealings at a factory in South Wales when a man turns up dead with glowing green skin. The Doctor has better things to do, and begins to realize that he is losing his companion as he is forced to go off and travel by himself for a spell. He catches up with the rest of the team just in time for everything to start going wrong.

The green stuff that causes the line of deaths reminds me too much of “Inferno,” and this is obviously not as good. The scientists and environmentalists protesting the factory’s bad practices are portrayed as being a bit idiotic aside from the leader, and it gets a bit grating rather quickly. To make things worse, there are a handful of absolutely horrendous scenes using green screen (or was it blue screen at this time?) that just look so terrible I can’t believe they didn’t find a way to get around it.

Another theme that seems to pop up far too often is that shit is getting difficult underground, so UNIT threatens to seal off the entrance with some big ol’ bombs. Rings of “The Silurians,” a far superior story. I suppose if you find maggots the size of small dogs interesting, this story might be good. But for me, this story fails on just about every level. There are essentially two good things about it: the Doctor has some funny scenes in which he dresses up in costumes to infiltrate the factory (including dressing in drag), and the best part of all–Jo Grant is gone by the end. I can’t believe Liz Shaw was gone in one season but Jo got three. Yuck.

Serial Review: Planet of the Daleks (Season 10)

“Planet of the Daleks”
Written by Terry Nation, directed by David Maloney
Featuring the Doctor, Jo Grant, and the Daleks

Rating: B-

Among the three Jon Pertwee era Dalek stories, it seems like his first, “Day of the Daleks,” is the only one that gets any consistent praise from the fan base. I usually think most of the serials considered to be classics in Doctor Who are correctly labeled such, but this happens to be a case where I disagree with everybody else. I actually thought “Day of the Daleks” was quite the snooze fest, and I ended up really enjoying “Planet of the Daleks,” despite some flaws.

Like just about all Dalek stories up to this point, “Planet of the Daleks” was written by Terry Nation. He’s essentially managed to really hit it out of the park only once, in the Fourth Doctor serial “Genesis of the Daleks,” but he occasionally comes up with a couple others that are at least very solid, and I would count this among them.

I was a bit surprised watching “Frontier in Space,” another great Malcolm Hulke story, that the plot doesn’t really wrap up in the end, but continues directly on to this adventure. It was uncommon of what I have seen so far of Classic Who to have these sort of cliffhangers, but it turns out to be quite an entertaining set of arcs.

Despite the standard pacing issues of classic stories that are any longer than four parts, “Planet of the Daleks” makes up for these issues with a handful of really cool scenes (pushing the Daleks into the cold spring, slowly floating up that weird hole with the air balloon), and an absolutely outstanding performance from Bernard Horsfall, who played Taron. He had previously been very solid in “The Mind Robber” opposite Patrick Troughton as the Doctor in the role of Gulliver, and one of the Time Lords in “The War Games,” but I really feel like his portrayal carried this serial. I like the Thals in general, but I feel like performances of this quality from supporting cast are really what makes stories like this believable.

The set design is another feather in this story’s cap. I don’t think it is quite as outstanding looking as the jungle set that would later be used for “Planet of Evil,” but it is certainly very strong. There weren’t any moments in this serial in which I was laughing to myself about how ridiculous anything looked. I could see someone thinking the big purple fuzzy blankets that the Spiridons wear are a bit ridiculous, but I actually think it looked kinda cool against the jungle backdrop, despite its simplicity.

I don’t think this is an all time classic serial, but very solid. I’m generally pretty nonplussed by Dalek stories (“Remembrance” and “Genesis” are the classics, “Destiny” and “The Daleks” are also solid), but I think “Planet of the Daleks” is firmly in the category of very solid.

Serial Review: The Sea Devils (Season 9)

“The Sea Devils”
Written by Malcolm Hulke, directed by Michael Briant
Featuring the Doctor, Jo Grant, and the Sea Devils

Rating: A-

Being that I’m a huge fan of “The Silurians,” the serial for which this is a sequel, I had high expectations coming in to “The Sea Devils.” Luckily, my expectations were essentially met; aside from a little bit of padding around the middle, I think this is one of the best serials in the classic series, and the perfect example of what a Pertwee story done right could be.

The Master is in jail, but is clearly up to something. The Doctor and Jo stop by to pay him a visit and discover that a bunch of Royal Navy ships have mysteriously disappeared not far from the location of a previous abandoned base. Naturally, being the Doctor, he has to go see whats what. As it turns out, it is an offshoot of the Silurians, a race of humanoid reptiles who occupied the Earth many years before apes evolved to become men. To make things worse, they are in league with the Master.

The tone of this serial is perfect, especially early on. By the end of the first episode, I knew I was going to enjoy it profusely. Pertwee is on his A game as always, and remarkably Katy Manning is the least annoying she has ever been as Jo Grant. There is the usual ridiculousness of the costume design of the titular villains, but they make up for it with some pretty cool technology and just general interest that goes behind the funny suits.

If you like your Doctor Who stories to have some action, there’s a lot of that. Even better, there’s a sword fight between the Doctor and the Master that is one of the coolest things ever. Sure, it is unnecessarily shoehorned into the story for the sake of it, but it’s awesome enough to be forgiven. Excellent story, probably in my top five.

Book Review: Target Novelizations – Doctor Who and the Cave-Monsters by Malcolm Hulke

Doctor Who and the Cave Monsters by Malcolm Hulke
Target Novelizations #9 – Third Doctor
Featuring the Doctor, Liz, and the Silurians

Rating: B

After having seen the short documentary about Malcolm Hulke’s novelizations on the special features of the “The War Games” DVD, I thought I’d take a look at one of his novelizations. I think the praise heaped on him by the people who speak of Mr. Hulke in the documentary is merited; this novelization of his television serial “The Silurians” is the perfect example of what a novelization ought to be. It basically fixes all of the minor issues of the television story (like pacing) and adds a bit of depth to the characters that would have been hard to get across on the show.

“The Silurians” might be my favorite Doctor Who serial of all time, so it was lovely to re-visit the story in this form. Hulke writes very well, and I love the way he humanizes (for lack of better word) the reptilian people. Being a leftist myself, I think I have a general affinity for Hulke’s work in Doctor Who (having been a fervent atheist and leftist himself). This is a really excellent read, and I will definitely be taking a look at his other novelizations soon. I have greatly enjoyed every story that Malcolm Hulke has been involved in, with the exception of “The Ambassadors of Death.” I have to say that when that one hits DVD, I’m going to have to take a second look. He’s one of my favorite Doctor Who writers.

Book Review: Virgin Missing Adventures – The Scales of Injustice by Gary Russell

The Scales of Injustice by Gary Russell
Virgin Missing Adventures #24 – Third Doctor
Featuring the Doctor, Liz, the Brig, & the Silurians

Rating: B+

Although not a Doctor Who novel I would have picked randomly, I ended up reading it because of it being chosen as the next discussion book for The Doctor Who Book Club Podcast, which I have recently become infatuated with. As it turns out, I ended up enjoying The Scales of Injustice greatly, and I really can’t figure out why I didn’t think I would.

“The Silurians” and “The Sea Devils” are two of my absolute favorite Doctor Who serials. I love the idea of an alien whose role as a villain or a friend is ambiguous. The Earth Reptiles (as they refer to themselves in this novel) are neither good nor bad; there are some among them who think that an alliance with humans is the right thing to do, and others who, much like the humans, believe the only answer is to eradicate their opposition. This conflict in the television serials and in this novel throw away the standard “good vs. evil” mentality of a lot of Doctor Who stories. The ambiguity is really what makes it interesting.

Not long after the events of “Inferno,” the Silurians appear to be causing trouble around England again. A handful of people suddenly go missing, and naturally, the Doctor and UNIT spring into action to find the source of the disappearances. It quickly becomes apparent what is behind the incidences, and the Doctor once again tries to negotiate a peace between the humans and the reptilian humanoids who previously ruled the planet.

The Scales of Injustice goes a long way to fix some perceived continuity errors that would pop up in the later Fifth Doctor serial “Warriors of the Deep.” Although I haven’t seen the Fifth Doctor story in question, there are apparently some issues in that the Doctor in “Warriors of the Deep” appears to already have a previous relationship with characters that hadn’t previous appeared on the show. In this novel, the first meeting of the Doctor and some of the characters later in that serial is shown, thus fixing the problem. It is a good example of a tie-in working to benefit continuity, rather than mess it up.

Gary Russell’s greatest strength is his quality of characters. He has a perfect grasp of who everyone is, including both the characters that had already existed in the show, and his own characters are as interesting and three-dimensional as the ones we are already familiar with. Among his created characters are the villains, who I won’t go into detail about for spoilery reasons, and the Brigadier’s secretary Maisie Hawke, a headstrong and intelligent woman who is written in such a way that she feels like a character we’ve known all along. Although apparently she is based on an unnamed character who has a minor appearance in “Day of the Daleks,” this is for all intents and purposes her creation. She, and the aforementioned villains, are well-written and interesting characters that I found myself wanting to know more about.

The best part of the novel is the character development of Liz Shaw and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. In Liz’s storyline, we get to know a lot more about what is going on inside of her head, especially in the events leading to her departure from UNIT. Russell is loyal to who she is in the television show, with adding just enough to make her an even more likable character than she already was. It makes me wish even more that we had a chance to see more of her on the show.

In the Brigadier’s storyline, Russell writes a bit of his private life. We see him interact with his wife and daughter, as his marriage slowly begins to fall apart as the result of the strange hours he is required to keep in his role as UNIT. It is a common story of a working man whose focus is perhaps in the wrong place, but it is made all the more poignant to see it happening to a character who most Doctor Who fans have some affection for, and who is seen mostly as just the military man with occasional moments of affability.

Perhaps most important of any part of the novel, is that we get a departure scene for Liz Shaw. Her farewell in the final chapter of the book is perfectly done and memorable, as good as any of the departures we have seen on the screen. Although there are occasional issues in this novel with the plot getting a bit jumbled, and perhaps too many characters to keep track of, it is still a worthwhile and quite great novel because it adds so much to the story without getting in the way. We get to know the characters better because of the book, and that’s really what these sort of books should be about.

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