The Cosmic Hobo

Thoughts & reviews about the science fiction series Doctor Who.

Archive for the tag “polly wright”

Book Review: Ten Little Aliens by Stephen Cole

Doctor Who Ten Little AliensMilitary science fiction is not a sub-genre generally associated with Doctor Who, so Ten Little Aliens was a surprising choice to represent the First Doctor in the 50th Anniversary line of novel reprints. Stephen Cole is a well-established writer of tie-ins, though, and was once in charge of the entire line. Naturally, all of the writers represented by the reprints have written more than a few novels for Doctor Who.

In the new introduction in the reprinted edition, Cole describes his initial pitch for Ten Littlie Aliens as “Starship Troopers meets Agatha Christie.” It is important not to let the fact that Starship Troopers is one of the most overrated novels in the sci-fi canon make you think Ten Little Aliens isn’t worth reading. It has some early struggles, as the pacing is a bit slow and the huge supporting cast makes it difficult to keep track of everyone, but it hits its stride around a third of the way in.

The novel features the First Doctor traveling with Ben and Polly, a pair of companions that is unfortunately the victim of so many episodes being missing. In the fact, “The War Machines” is the only serial they appear in that is still in existence, and it isn’t a particularly good one. This makes tie-ins like Ten Little Aliens all the more important in getting more out of these characters. Ben is as annoying here as he is on the show, and Polly is likable and spunky as always, so the characterization is spot on.

Ten Little Aliens is more appealing for the action and intensity, rather than any sense of mystery. The TARDIS team are on a strange rock and run into a platoon of ten space marines, as they are at war with aliens called the Schirr. Things get interesting when soldiers start getting picked off one by one, and naturally this is something they want to prevent. The supporting characters that make it through the bulk of the text actually turn out to be really well-developed and interesting characters. They are much better than the typical cookie-cutter supporting cast.

This novel may end up being too intense for a lot of readers. It is definitely not a children’s Doctor Who story, and the violence and gore is worse than has ever been shown on screen in the franchise. Those who aren’t bothered by a bit of blood and guts will probably enjoy the intensity, but fans who like their Doctor Who a bit more innocent will probably find it off-putting. Being that this particular reviewer likes Doctor Who novels that have a bit of edge and try something different, Ten Little Aliens is definitely a memorable and worthwhile read.

Rating: B

This review was cross-posted to Hardcover Wonderland, a website about literature of all kinds.

Serial Review: The Underwater Menace (Season 4)

“The Underwater Menace”
Written by Geoffrey Orme, dir. by Julia Smith
Featuring the Doctor, Ben, Polly, Jamie, and Atlanteans

Rating: B

Being that I’ve always had a bit of interest in stories revolving around Atlantis, whether it be reading Aquaman comics as a kid or otherwise, I figured I would enjoy “The Underwater Menace.” I was also quite pleased that at least one of the episodes survives, having just finished “The Power of the Daleks” and “The Highlanders” both of which are completely missing aside from a few clips here and there.

The Doctor, Jamie, Ben, and Polly find themselves on a beach, and upon doing a bit of exploring, in Atlantis. Of course, they are escorted away by religious zealots and just about sacrificed to their god. There are some pretty cool snaps here (which I assume reflext camera shots from the footage when it existed) of an aerial view of the four members of the TARDIS team on an altar. Crazy stuff, and I’m a sucker for a cool camera angle.

Something about Joseph Furst’s portrayal of Professor Zaroff appealed to me pretty early on; I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I think he’s a compelling villain. He acts very dramatically and perhaps overly so, but I think it actually works for the character. He has minor symptoms of being a Bond villain, but being a James Bond fan that isn’t really an insult coming from me.

Once the plot starts to really unravel and the Atlanteans start doing things like trying to surgically give Polly gills, this gets particularly twisted. It’s dark as hell, and the first cliffhanger actually gave me chills. I usually find the cliffhangers one of the biggest problems with a lot of otherwise good stories (“City of Death” comes to mind), but this isn’t an issue with “The Underwater Menace.” The first and third episode cliffhangers are particularly stirring. Just as crazy as Polly in surgery is the scene that ends the third episode (thankfully still existing), in which Professor Zaroff shoots someone at point blank with a menace in his eyes, orders his cronies to execute two more, then yells into the camera “Nothing in the world can stop me now!” Brilliant.

There’s a distinct thread of anti-religion in this story, with the zealotry of the religious people in this story being easily manipulated. A perfect example of this is when the Doctor and a friend are about to be executed, Ben simply speaks to the religious warriors from behind a wall, claiming to to be the voice of their God, allowing the Doctor to slip away easily. Almost every religious character in the story meets a sticky end, and in the end everyone decides to re-build society without religion. I like when Doctor Who gets all heathen-y.

As it is, there are definitely some issues with the story. There are times where it is slow, and the design of the fish people is terrible. There are some that don’t look bad, and actually look like fish people, and others that are just extras in wet suits and goggles… which doesn’t really work. That being said, I think the plot line of the Doctor arranging for the food supply to be cut off to the Atlanteans an interesting way to stop their plans. Perhaps it is overly convenient that their food has such a low shelf life, but I like the idea.

Despite the issues, I really enjoyed this story in spite of itself. There are some really genuinely scary moments, and I love a good twist villain. Those two cliffhangers I mentioned are both just really outstanding, and I think this is the first story where Patrick Troughton gets to play his Doctor straight– in the previous two stories, he was under assumed identities. It showed the range of his acting quality, but here he gets to be the real cosmic hobo. I’m definitely a fan of “The Underwater Menace,” another apparently strange opinion.

Serial Review: The Highlanders (Season 4)

“The Highlanders”
Written by Elwyn Jones & Gerry Davis
Directed by Hugh David
Featuring the Doctor, Ben, Polly, Jamie, and evil Brits

Rating: C

Being as big a fan as I am of Patrick Troughton as the Doctor, it is impossible to separate him from Frazer Hines as Jamie McCrimmon. As much as I loved “The Power of the Daleks,” it did feel like something was missing, and that something would be Jamie.

The Doctor, Ben, and Polly stumble upon early 18th century Scotland, where the titular highlanders are fighting against the English. Naturally, the Doctor is thrust into things rather quickly, with Ben and Polly being forced into the conflict by proxy. I like the idea of historicals, but my previous experience with them has been minimal. I really enjoyed “The Aztecs,” but aside from a couple Big Finish audios, I think that’s the only one I’ve actually experienced, unless something is escaping my mind.

My first impression of this story, unfortunately, was that the supporting cast isn’t nearly as good as in “The Power of the Daleks.” I had previously read the novelization (a year or so ago), and obviously the acting in my head is always flawless. That isn’t to say that they’re woeful, but I was really impressed by the cast of the previous story, and think this one is relatively standard in terms of acting quality. One thing I will say, though, is that I like the shots; although this is obviously a reconstruction, the few clips that exist show some good work and the set design is solid. The number of clips of existing footage is surprisingly high, which makes it easier to get a sense of the visuals of the story.

Although Jamie isn’t my favorite companion, I like him and am glad to have him around in this one. He really doesn’t have all that much to do, but it’s still good times. I also like that Polly gets separated from the rest early on, and gets a chance to go out and do her thing. As I mentioned in my review of the previous story, I dig her character, and I think she is particularly cool in this. I love her line to Kirstie (sp?): “Didn’t the women of your age do anything but cry?” She also gets cool points for taking charge when a British soldier falls into a trap– she holds him at knife point and essentially threatens to mess him up if he won’t help them in their cause. It’s a shame she only has one complete story left, but I guess it’s better to have been on Doctor Who and have no one able to see it than to never have been on Doctor Who at all.

Being that I am not German, I find it difficult to judge the quality of Patrick Troughton’s German accent, but I find him pretty amusing in this story. He shows his trademark brilliant use of guile in getting himself out of capture and behind enemy lines to do his grand tinkering. I love Troughton’s Doctor’s penchant for pretending to be less than he is to get his enemies to stop worrying about him. It’s nice to see this Doctor become who he is so early on in his run; it didn’t take him long to get a hang of it.

Unfortunately, the story itself has its issues. I really enjoyed the first half quite a bit, as much as I did “The Aztecs,” but it seriously loses steam in the second half. Part three is really boring, and doesn’t offer much at all to hold my interest. I like the Polly scenes a bit, but I think probably only because I just like the character. Part four is a slight improvement, but… eh.

So, adding up an above average first two episodes and a below average second two, it ends up being solidly average. It wouldn’t be particularly remarkable if it weren’t for the debut of Jamie, but it still has some merit. Not one I’ll re-visit any time soon, but I don’t feel like it was a wasted two hours, either.

Serial Review: The Power of the Daleks (Season 4)

“The Power of the Daleks”
Written by David Whitaker, dir. by Christopher Barry
Featuring the Doctor, Ben, Polly, and Daleks

Rating: B+

Since the first time I saw Patrick Troughton as the Doctor in “Tomb of the Cybermen” about two years ago, I have called him my favorite Doctor. The idea of recons didn’t bother me so much, but the thought of novelizations of missing episodes appealed to me more. Already a voracious reader, I figured that tracking down the novelizations would be a perfect way to experience the missing stories.

Unfortunately, most of those novelizations are out of print. Although they are rarely more than five or six dollars, the problem really boils down to actually finding them. Also, no matter how strong a novelization is, it is near impossible to re-capture the quality of Troughton’s performance. He really seems like just about the hardest Doctor to write, with only Steve Lyons seeming to have a perfect grasp of the character among the handful of Second Doctor stories I have read.

It’s a wonder that, considering my feelings towards Patrick Troughton, I didn’t get around to actually seeing “The Power of the Daleks” until now. Reading the wonderful “Wife in Space” blog via Tachyon TV, I saw their review of the serial and couldn’t help but take a look at the link to the reconstruction on YouTube. This is the first reconstruction I’ve stumbled upon that uses narration to fill in the blanks, which makes for a much more enjoyable recon experience. I tried to listen to part one of “The Moonbase” with the audio provided on the Lost in Time boxset, but just hearing the audio is a pretty terrible way to try to follow a story without the benefit of narration.

I’d been told a few times that “The Power of the Daleks” was a story worth seeking out, and had heard from a few people that it is one of the stories they most wanted to be discovered in somebody’s attic. It is every bit as good as “Genesis of the Daleks,” which, along with this serial, is second only to “Remembrance of the Daleks” among Dalek stories. I didn’t expect to like this nearly that much, but I did.

The story begins just after the Doctor’s regeneration into his second form, with Ben and Polly arguing over whether it is THE Doctor or just an imposter. Polly has it right, and Ben spends most of this story doubting the possibility that the Doctor regenerated. Ben is a terribly irritating companion throughout, and by the end of part three, I was hoping the Doctor would carve his recorder into a shiv and drive it through Ben’s stupid face. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen, but I suppose you can’t win them all.

Both of the first two parts had some really good cliffhangers, which is unsual. The first has the Doctor, Ben, and Polly stumbling upon a couple of de-activated Daleks covered in cobwebs, and the second has a third Dalek finally speaking up, shocking the people who think the Daleks are merely servants. It is easy to see how much of an influence this story was on the recent Mark Gatiss Eleventh Doctor story “Victory of the Daleks,” especially in the Daleks saying to the silly scientist “I am your serrrr-VANT” much in the same way the Dalek would say “I am your sollll-DIER” in the latter story. The best cliffhanger of all is at the end of part four, when Lesterson discovered the Daleks are multiplying and building an army; really chilling and memorable.

There aren’t any bad performances in this story, aside from Michael Craze, and that is pretty impressive. Robert James (who would later play the High Priest in “The Masque of Mandragora”) is great as Lesterson, Pamela Ann Davy is strong as Janley, and Bernard Archard (the zombie servant Scarman in “Pyramids of Mars”) is great as Bragen.

I don’t think Troughton is quite the Doctor he would become yet in this story, but he’s solid and has a few cool moments. One of the more brilliant scenes is when the Doctor and is locked in a cell with a sonic lock, and uses the glass of water given by his capturer to create a sound at the right frequency to open the lock. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if this had no bearing on real science, but it is the perfect example of how clever this story is. It also helps that Polly is quickly becoming one of my favorite companions; she isn’t written that well but she’s spunky and sharp as a tack. I like that in a woman. As I see it, this all adds up to very good. It’s stories like this that make me angry at the BBC for their deletion policy even more. Absolutely a classic Dalek story.

Book Review: Past Doctor Adventures – The Murder Game by Steve Lyons

The Murder Game by Steve Lyons
Past Doctor Adventures #2 – Second Doctor
Featuring the Doctor, Ben, Polly & the Selachians

Rating: B+

The Doctor and companions Ben and Polly find themselves answering a distress signal from a space station orbiting 22nd century Earth. When they arrive, they are thrust into a murder mystery game with nine other people, using this nearly abandoned space hotel as the base of operations for their fun whodunnit. Things get serious quickly, however, when a simulated murder becomes the real deal.

I feel like you can measure how good a Doctor Who novel is based on a few simple criteria points. The first and most important of these is: Does the writer have a good grasp of the characters he is writing? The answer, in the case of The Murder Game, is a strong yes. The Second Doctor is a hard Doctor to pin down in the written word, and Lyons does well. Most impressively, though, is that he actually manages to make companions Ben and Polly interesting. In my limited experience with them prior to reading this novel, I was nonplussed by them. Lyons’ story in The Murder Game actually makes me like them both more, and being one of the weirdos that thinks of the books as part of the canon, it will extend to when I see their television stories as well.

The second criteria is the story, on two points. Is it original (some Doctor Who novels obviously borrow heavily from already existing stories, Justin Richards’ recent Apollo 23 comes to mind), and is it engaging? Absolutely. If the plot of The Murder Game were made into a television serial, I feel like it would have made one of the better ones, easily on par with some of the Second Doctor’s better stories. Although not quite on the level of classics like “Tomb of the Cybermen” and “The Invasion,” it is worthy.

Lastly, and the criteria that sets great Doctor Who tie-in apart from the decent ones, is whether or not the book or audio play manages to contribute anything to the background of the Whoniverse. The answer to this is once again a strong yes. We learn more about Ben and Polly’s back stories, as well as their relationship with each other. And, without spoiling anything too big, the origins of one of our favorite time-traveler’s favorite gadgets is explored.

Being the first of the Past Doctor Adventures I have read, I would hazard to guess that I will continue to enjoy them. If this is any indication, I will be enjoying the stack of these I have sitting on my bookshelf quite profusely.

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