Doctor Who: Primeval (2001)

Primeval_(Doctor_Who)

‘Nyssa will die at dawn, and the Doctor doesn’t even know why.

To save her life, he must make a desperate journey to the only place in the universe where a cure might exist.

When even that fails, the Doctor has a choice – let Nyssa die, or make a deal with the devil.

After all, the road to hell is paved with good intentions…”

 

DWM_Primeval

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these reviews!! I think one of the biggest shames in all of 80’s Doctor Who was cramming so many characters into Peter Davison’s TARDIS so that there wasn’t really a way for any character to really stand out. For me, usually these characters stood out for the absolute wrong reasons – Tegan and Adric always arguing with The Doctor for no reason then getting hurt because they ignored something he told them to do absolutely irks me. I always wanted more Nyssa and Turlough!

With Big Finish Audios my prayers have been answered as some of these pairings were given new adventures to play around with, and it’s really making me LOVE parts of Doctor Who that I wasn’t a fan of with the TV show. Case and point, me flipping my opinion on both Peter Davison and Colin Baker’s runs on the show.

When Doctor Who tackles larger than life God-tier villains, it’s always a bit hit or miss for me. Most of these episodes have some sort of ham-fisted agenda either vilifying religion or somehow propping it up. Then in some really weird cases, it somehow does both. sometimes I end up absolutely loving such episodes much like what happened with The Rings of Akhaten, or it could go south in episodes like just about any that have “The Devil” in them. I think my leanings towards Gnosticism tend to make me predestined to get excited about stories where mortals stand up to self-described deities, so there is that.

Usually, episodes like this have a Stargate vibe where ancient aliens have been worshiped as gods when they are not. Luckily, this story flips this trope on it’s head a bit by coming to a planet where the is basically no religion whatsoever, only to discover that the planet was basically founded by a creature named Kwundaar that in many ways was their god until they decided to lock him out. Inadvertently, The Doctor tries to help Nyssa but accidentally helps Kwundaar once again become the God-king of Traken. There’s a bit of a jab at organized religion where suddenly people convert to worshiping the creature simply to save their own lives.

One thing I enjoy a lot about this episode is that it fills a few gaps into the Doctor Who continuity. This story portrays the planet Traken three thousand years before TV: The Keeper of Traken. It also tells how the Keeper’s position came to be. Having some backstory to this and showing how the society was set up was a nice touch. Another nice touch was finally explaining why Nyssa collapsed in an old TV episode, Four to Doomsday, and how she magically obtained telepathic powers in Time-Flight. It appears that both are direct results of Kwundaar’s manipulations.

I also enjoyed that The Doctor was able to defeat Kwundaar  in a way that was not a cheat or a contrivance. With a lot of episodes like this resulting in something silly like “love saves day!” I’m glad that didn’t happen.

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Doctor Who: The Mutant Phase


After weeks, even months, of listening to the void of soundless boredom, I started taking my iPod to work this week in order to keep occupied for my long ten hour shifts. Since I do not want to listen to the same songs every day, I decided to load up on podcasts of varying topics, and a few Doctor Who audio dramas. As you may have noticed by a few earlier posts, I am attempting to listen to all of these Doctor Who Audio plays by Big Finish in order, and one would assume that I would review them as such.

I realized that I had gone far too long without keeping notes, writing things down, and generally getting ready to write any reviews. So guess what? I’m going to re-listen to a lot of these in order to keep these up rather than going off of memories of these plays that could date back to over one year ago. You never know, I may end up liking dramas I previously hated (there are actually two I never finished of the forty or so I have heard, I need to fix that). Luckily this drama did not make my “poop list” the first time I listened to it according to my iTunes star rating, and stayed just as enjoyable the second time around.

 

Synopsis

In the 22nd century, the Daleks have occupied planet Earth. By the 43rd century, only a handful of humans survive. Still further into the distant future, a Thal scientist must choose whether to betray his heritage, or see the universe destroyed.

When the Doctor and Nyssa find themselves trapped in this deadly chain of events, they must decide who their real enemies are. What is certain, however, is that no matter where the Doctor turns… his arch enemies, the Daleks, will be waiting for him.

What could possibly be worse than that? The Mutant Phase…
The Mutant Phase has an immediate bonus for me in that it is a re-visitation of my favorite Doctor Who serial The Dalek Invasion of Earth. For those unfamiliar with that title, said episode was an important episode for many reasons: it was Susan’s last appearance as a regular companion, it was the first serial shot on location, it was the second Dalek appearance, and it was so popular that it was one of two stories to be remade into a feature film starring peter Cushing. Going back to such a classic episode is a cool idea, and thankfully we get the setting as more of a “bookend” to the meat of the story rather than a “fanwanky” total revisit.

In that episode, the Tardis crew including Susan, Ian, Barbara, and the first incarnation of the Doctor, arrive in a bleak post-apocalyptic and Dalek infested England in 2167. What really made The Dalek Invasion of Earth stand out for me was the chilling use of vacated landmarks during location shooting, and the utter bleakness of the overall story. For a “kid’s show”, this episode had a lot of dark things like signs saying not to dump dead bodies in the river and humans turned into a slave work force.  What we have here with The Mutant Phase can be seen as a “prequel” of sorts to this classic episode as we see The Doctor As played by Peter Davison and his companion Nyssa arrive a few years earlier, to a time where Daleks have never met the Doctor and don’t meddle in time travel.

My only real quibble with the episode rears its ugly head in this introductory portion of the episode. The Doctor realizes pretty quickly that they are somewhere in the state of Kansas, which for foreign readers, is located in the United States. While looking through a field of genetically altered crops infested with wasps, The Doctor and Nyssa stumble upon a “Roboman” guardsman, a zombie-like policeman for the Daleks. By zombies I don’t mean the Romero-esque eating brains and rotting away living dead variety, but the classical use of the term as in brainwashed servant. Not to be confused with Cybermen, Robomen are just regular people with some sort of mind control device implanted onto their heads.

So anyway, this roboman gets America back for the dreadful British accent Dick Van Dyke used in Mary Poppins, by delivering his dialog in the worst, most overdone, American accent out there. This can partly be chalked up to the dronish manner in which the robomen characters talk, but behind all the reverb and monotone was a glimmer of a vocal style not heard since The Apple Dumpling Gang. I seriously hope that many in the U.K. do not think all Americans talk like 1890’s old prospectors, but I get the inclination that it may be the case. I think Mark Gatiss was responsible for the voice, as he is credited as such! All joking aside, this small slip-up was very minor, can be overlooked easily, and does no harm to the play itself.

This play has quite a few interesting characters, and chiefly among those are two Thal scientists, Ptolem and Ganatus, both forced to work for the Daleks to stop the mutant phase. We hear a lot of mentions of these guys before we see them interact with the Doctor, so their motives stay hidden for the majority of the play. Another nice addition is Karl Hendrick, a man that lives in the dark and studies old relics from our current history. He gets quite a few great one-liners and funny moments making him one of the better side characters.

Aside from a couple of minor things like over-done foreshadowing that Nyssa’s wasp sting may be important in some way, the plot of the Mutant Phase was well done, and revolved around some good ol’ fashioned “timey-wimey” stuff involving a temporal paradox. With any paradox based episode the resolution didn’t exactly wrap the whole thing up in a bow – a fact that is actually made fun of in the dialog. When the Doctor explains what has happened to Nyssa at the end, she tells him that it simply made no sense, to which he replied “paradoxes don’t make sense” or something vaguely similar. Admitting this, the play somehow jumped over any plotholes it may have obtained whilst jumping between a multitude of timelines. For me this was nice, humorous touch.

While not the classic of its older brother, The Mutant Phase is a competent audio drama that keeps one entertained throughout. Keeping in mind that the Daleks are the only race that the doctor has ever really considered committing mass genocide on, listening to him being forced to work alongside the horrible creatures is compelling and makes this a must listen. I’ve been lukewarm on the Dalek Empire Releases so far, but this one has really redeemed the series, can’t wait to hear what’s next.

Reaction: Doctor Who – Four to Doomsday

With the latest season of the current Doctor Who over with, I figured it was just about time to dive into some classic episodes that I haven’t had a chance to watch yet. Up this week I decided to bust out Four to Doomsday, a serial starring Peter Davison as the Doctor, and his standard crew of Nyssa, Tegan, and Adric. The episode opens with one of the many attempts that the Doctor tries to take Tegan home, only to find them on board an alien vessel traveling to Earth. On board, things seem to be a bit “funny” as they find Chinese, Mayan, Greek and Aboriginal crew members being led around by a race of aliens called the Urbankans. The Urbankan leader, Monarch, invites the Doctor, Tegan, Nyssa and Adric to continue the trip to Earth as his guests.

To be honest I’m not really a fan of this popular companion group as a whole. Of all the controversial views on Doctor Who out there, this is probably the main one that I subscribe to. I have always felt the later crew that had Turlough, and even Peri, were better suited to the fifth Doctor than these guys together. While I enjoy Nyssa, I find Tegan’s constant gripes at the Doctor tiresome, and equally find Adric’s “I know everything, check out my math metal!” attitude to be quite annoying. I guess I’m just not a fan of episodes where everyone bickers with the Doctor, as it generally makes him look foolish in many ways, when he should be the smartest guy there. This episode open woefully with something like five minutes of pure bickering, so much that ou wonder if they all got into some off-camera fight before this story or something. Every time I watch an episode with Adric, I always trick myself into giving him the benefit of the doubt: “yeah he’s a stubborn kid, and he’s not that bad.” Then he does something like launching into a random misogynistic rant like he does in this episode, and I want him to disappear.

Many compare this crew to the original “first Doctor” set of companions staring Ian, Barbara, and Susan; this is something I find confusing. Yes, the three were intelligent, but they didn’t continuously try to pull rank on the Doctor, nor did they stop having that sense of Jules Verne inspired wonder that I love in British sci-fi. Had Hartnell’s Doctor been with this crew, I think he would have “accidentally” left two of them behind. For this episode to fall so early on in this particular Doctor’s lifecycle, it’s almost as if some of the companions see Davison’s Doctor as too “nice”, and try to walk all over him.

The special effects in this serial are a mixed bag. While I like most of the model shots, some of the costumes are a bit wonky. Right from the beginning we see this with the Doctor’s space helmet, a device that looks to be in league with an old episode of Buck Rogers in the cheese factor. Now that I think of it, all the headpieces in the episode are pretty bad, especially Nyssa’s helmet that has “googley eyes”! The rest of the sets were actually pretty well done, if not a bit minimalist in nature. The walls are basically just a ton of random switches and dials placed everywhere. This definitely does the job at making it look like they are standing on a spaceship, or the house of a computer hoarder. To be honest, the special effects, makeup, and set design are the only shining beacon in a somewhat bland episode.

The overall plot has to be the most insane thing I have ever seen outside of the earlier Douglas Adams episodes. Not insane in an incoherent way, but insane in that the plot makes such little sense it’s almost funny. The main villain, Monarch, basically wants to invade earth so that he can strip-mine the planet for silicon. he plans to turn this into computer chips he needs to travel back in time to meet himself as God….yikes! Rather than settling on one trope (alien invasion, androids, dancing?, religion vs. science) it’s as if the production crew took a page from the creators of Family Guy and grabbed a bunch of concepts from a big hat and compiled them into a nearly competent episode.

I think the main problem lies in the utterly bad manner in which science is used in this episode. For an episode that relies on said science such as this one, it’s just inexcusable. There are many examples of this including Monarch’s bizarre time travel plan that makes no sense, except for the fact that he yells “E=MC squared”. I would have settled for some technobabble here, but using an actual scientific theory incorrectly is bad. Another quibble is when Adric claims to not know what photosynthesis is, keep in mind that he lived on a jungle planet, and is supposed to be insanely smart.

While not the worst episode of Doctor Who, Four to Doomsday is most definitely not a favorite of mine. Luckily the episodes of this season are not all of this quality, thus keeping me away from the “Davison Hater” category that many toss out there.

Review – Doctor Who: The Land of the Dead

Big Finish Audio “Quick Review”

For me, the first three of these Big Finish Audio dramas were sort of like a warm-up for what the range could really bring; and The Land of the Dead is the first of these that really stands up along-side the TV series.  As I’ve stated before, not being a big fan of the Peter Davison era worried me about these plays, but I have been pleasantly surprised to find out that his audio plays are usually my favorites.  Sarah Sutton returns to reprise her role as Nyssa, a companion I actually really liked during this time.

The story follows The Doctor and Nyssa as they pop up in frigid Alaska in the dead of winter.  They stumble upon an encampment where a crazed billionaire named Shaun Brett is trying to build a shrine for his dead father from parts of the surrounding landscape.  This themed museum of sorts includes a rather ghoulish room consisting of old bones that freak out the hired Inuit laborers.  They believe that such a room will bring the vengeance of nature upon them; and this superstition isn’t helped when monsters begin to attack.

The acting in this play is very strong in almost every way from the principle cast to the background characters.  I was really worries that the voices for the various Inuit people would be off, as many UK based actors would not have a lot of knowledge on their language and culture.  Aside from a few minor UK-isms, I think they did a fairly good job, and kept the whole thing believable.

The play does a great job of helping the listener imagine exactly what the villains look like, which is a step up from the last few were it was sort of hard to imagine what the Big finish crew were really going for.  All in all a very enjoyable tale!

My Rating 4 out of 5