Episode 079 – “The Meddling Monk”

As we catch up with what’s going on, we see the Monk preparing breakfast and bringing it to the Doctor, who he appears to be holding prisoner. But, hey, he’s feeding the man what looks like a decent breakfast, so that’s a thing.

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Though I suspect he’s just trying to improve his Airbnb rating.

He shows wariness and due caution when bringing this food, though exactly why he snickers throughout is beyond me. Then he wakes up the Doctor who retaliates by throwing coffee at the man. Seems a bit rude, but there you are.

Meantime, Vicki and Steven are stuck foraging for food in the great outdoors, while at the same time trying to avoid everyone. Steven is continuing to insist they haven’t traveled through time which, given the evidence he’s seen so far, is not an unreasonable conclusion. Anyhow, they get captured quickly, so that ends that discussion.

As this goes on, the Monk is peering out at the sea, trying to see what he can see at sea. And that’s enough of that style of writing.

I will say that even though this is shot on a sound stage, the parts at the cliff side, where the Monk is looking out to sea, actually look fairly good. There’s a series of clouds moving behind him (clearly a rotating disk with a cloud pattern), and some nicely staged plants. It looks very convincing. Things do become somewhat less convincing later when we see stock footage of a viking ship, but there you are.

The local Saxons appear to be working an Angle. Ok, they aren’t, but that joke needed to happen, dammit!

There’s an interesting/awkward moment where the Saxons send off Vicki and Steven with “God be with you!” The two don’t appear to know how to respond, so Steven just repeats the line back. Given that they’re both from the future, this makes me wonder if the writer was envisioning an atheistic future?

The vikings have arrived, sans Kirk Douglas. They come ashore and make ready to cause trouble.

Steven and Vicki go up to the abbey, where the Monk lies his face off to them. Steven gets wise to this and prepares a trap for the Monk, who traipses into it. Vicki isn’t convinced the two of them were quite as clever as all that, so…well, we’ll see what happens.

And we get a dramatic Saxon v Viking fight scene! Another one that begs for the Star Trek fight music to be scored over it!

We then have Vicki and Steven finding the Doctor and finding the phonograph the Monk has been using to spoof everyone into thinking the monastery is staffed by more than one person. It’s actually a rather clever idea on the part of the writer, and just adds to the greatness of this story, as does the revelation of exactly what’s inside the Doctor’s cell…

Next time: “A Battle of Wits”

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Episode 078 – “The Watcher”

And now we start this, the first of the so-called “pseudo-historicals”. These were stories that took place in a historical setting, often with historical characters, but feature elements of science fiction. In this case…well…you’ll see.

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William Hartnell, pondering his role in the revival of “What’s Opera Doc?”

We open with the Doctor and Vicki discussing the departure of Ian and Barbara, which I rather like. As they talk, there’s a strange noise, and we see that Steven has stowed-away, becoming the first, but by no means last, companion to do so.

We then cut to a cliff side where the titular watcher is, well, watching. Given what we later find out of the character’s origins, one can imagine the level of internal panic he felt upon seeing the TARDIS arrive.

I do like how relaxed the Doctor is at this point. He’s quite comfortable kidding around with Vicki, and even seems very welcoming toward Steven. This is a nice bit of character evolution, given where we started with him.

The “space helmet for a cow” line is hilarious, as always. Of course the vikings didn’t actually wear such things, but perhaps it was a ceremonial helmet that washed ashore.

We spend a few moments watching the watcher (the Monk), creeping about and trying to interact with the TARDIS, then attempting to check the watch he suddenly remembers he isn’t wearing. I like the way the show is fairly subtle about what’s going on here.

The little scene of the Doctor and the Saxon woman is quite lovely. He’s very good at turning on the charm when he really needs to.

So the Doctor then heads off to the local monastery after hearing the chanting of the monks skip a beat or two. Those of us who have seen this story know what to expect, but I can only imagine what a surprise it must have been to the audiences back in the day!

I do rather love the scene toward the end where Steven and Vicki are trying to follow the Doctor and she takes charge. It was nice to see, as was the lovely anachronism that Steven finds, though that isn’t nearly as interesting as what the Doctor finds…

Next time: “The Meddling Monk”

Character Profile – Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright

Ian and Barbara, Barbara and Ian. The first humans that traveled with the Doctor. They brought wit, grace, and charm to the TARDIS and made it a better place by their mere presence.

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Luckily, Barbara left Hogwarts before it was her turn to be the Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor.

What to say about these two that I haven’t said over six dozen blog posts? They’re a great pair. William Russell and Jacqueline Hill really brought something great to these roles, and had an amazing chemistry from the moment they first appeared on our screen. They did a wonderful job of grounding us, the viewers, in something real and normal, even while facing Daleks, revolutionaries, Sensorites, cavemen, or walking mushrooms.

Ian was always brave, and always kind to basically everyone. He never ran from a fight, but also never sought one out, and took a life only when there was no other option, and allowed us to see that it affected him to do so.

As for Barbara, she was everything Susan couldn’t be; she was brave without trying (usually), and not afraid to stand up to the Doctor when he was wrong. Her knowledge of history came in handy more than once, and one memorable time, among the Aztecs, it almost cost everyone their lives.

It’s as a team that we remember them. No one talks about Ian being their favorite companion, or about Babs being their favorite. No, it’s always Ian and Barbara, together. Much how later it was, more of than not, Amy and Rory. One without the other could work, and work well, but they were so much, much better together.

Jacqueline Hill returned to Doctor Who once, during the Tom Baker years. She never came back after that, and sadly, died of cancer in the 1980s.

William Russell never came back to the series, at least not on TV (plans for him to return as Ian back in the 1980s were scuttled). But for many years he’s been a solid presence at Big Finish, playing Ian, and giving us more and more insight to the character. He’s quite a bit older, now, and can’t always bring to mind the young man he was, but he gets close enough.

Vicki, Steven, Sara Kingdom, Dodo, Polly, and Ben, all had their places as companions to the First Doctor. They all their moments to shine. But for my money, the best, most consistently wonderful companions, were Ian and Barbara, always there, until they weren’t anymore. I miss them already.

My Thoughts on Story 016 – “The Chase”

So the third appearance by the Daleks is done, and Team TARDIS at the end looks almost entirely different from how it looked at the start.

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Together one last time.

This is a pretty solid story overall. Definitely one of the highlights of the early years. Yes, it gets a bit chaotic and strange, and the Mechonoids just…well, I don’t know what the heck they were, but they didn’t work. Even Big Finish wasn’t really able to rehabilitate them very much.

But the story itself is decent. There’s some wonderful moments of comedy (the special-needs Dalek, the Scooby-Doo moments), the Daleks are less boring than they usually are, and the departure of Ian and Barbara is really just great on every level.

Let’s talk about that for a moment. We see the Doctor utterly heartbroken as he realizes that he might be alone, then perking up as he finds out that Vicki will stay with him. This, the idea of him fearing loneliness, is something the series revisits often, especially in modern times.

The departure itself was handled well, with elegance and grace, and a wonderful photo montage as a “goodbye” to two beloved characters. Really, it would have been hard to ask for anything better.

To top it all off, we get a new companion, in the form of Steven, though most people at the time didn’t realize it. He’s very good here, with Purves putting in some excellent acting. He’s a valuable addition to the series, and I look forward to the next several episodes. Or I would, if it weren’t for the fact that I’m about to hit a huge swath of nothing but reconstructions. *sigh* Still, brave heart. Must soldier on.

Cast
Others
Production
Writer Terry Nation
Director Richard Martin
Douglas Camfield (episode 6, uncredited)
Script editor Dennis Spooner
Producer Verity Lambert
Executive producer(s) None
Incidental music composer Dudley Simpson
Production code R
Series Season 2
Length 6 episodes, 25 minutes each
Date started 22 May 1965
Date ended 26 June 1965

Next episode: “The Watcher”

Next story: “The Time Meddler”

Episode 077 – “Planet of Decision”

This is the final story with Ian and Barbara, and this is their final episode. It’s quite sad in that way.

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Such a great team.

But before we get to that, we need to take a look at the rest of the episode, including the rather bizarre Mechonoids.

These robots are…just odd. They look odd, they talk strangely, and they’re just weird. However, it’s reassuring to see that even on planets in the far reaches of space, there are still awkward moments in elevators.

The Mechonoids seem to talk in some bizarre programming language that’s not entirely dissimilar to BASIC. I don’t know what it’s actually based upon, but it is kind of neat.

And then…Steven arrives!

Ah, Steven Taylor, space pilot. Here he is, stranded in this strange alien place. Peter Purves really does an incredibly good job playing someone who’s been alone for way too long, and has given up hope of rescue, and now sees salvation. It’s very good. It’s also worth noting that he’s very handsome in this episode.

Turns out the Mechonoids were on this planet to basically terraform it. The expected settlers never arrived, and so now they’re just kind of doing their thing.

So the inevitable fight between the Daleks and the Mechonoids happens. It’s…a thing. Rather oddly shot, but I suppose it works well enough. And with that, our heroes make their escape!

Team TARDIS examines the Dalek time machine and as they do, Babs and Ian realize they can use it to go home. The Doctor is less than happy with this idea. He’s somewhat relieved to hear that Vicki intends to remain with him, and that seems to give him the strength he needs to do what must be done, though it makes his heart(s) break to do it.

The time machine works, and Ian and Barbara find themselves back in London, two years after they left. Ian detonates the time machine, and the two go off to live their lives, together, as we all know they must, and the sheer joy on the faces of the actors is indeed something wonderful to behold.

Goodbye Babs and Ian! We’ll miss you.

Next time: “The Watcher”

Episode 076 – “The Death of Doctor Who”

In today’s episode, our heroes arrive on what it is, to give the show credit, a very alien looking landscape. One where Vicki ends up being menaced by a fungus that wouldn’t have been out of place on any Sid and Marty Kroft production

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HR Puffinstuff…he’s your friend when things get rough!

I find it kind of amusing that it’s very clearly not Hartnell in the distance shots with the android duplicate of the Doctor, and then they use him for the close-ups. It’s an odd directorial choice.

I’m also baffled as to why the robot duplicate exists in the first place. I figured that, behind the scenes, Hartnell wasn’t going to be in this episode, so they decided to do something a bit different. But he is in it, and rather than simply using FX to show him on screen twice, or something like that, they instead cast an actor who really doesn’t look like him very much at all. Most odd. I mean, if they didn’t want to blow through the FX budget, surely they could have just had Hartnell film both roles and never showed them on screen together.

Vicki makes her way out of the Dalek ship and is molested by a mushroom. Every word in that sentence is basically accurate, but really strange. Mushrooms really are an ongoing theme here. If I were unkind I could speculate about Terry Nation’s recreational drug activity, but no.

So when the robot duplicate has actual scenes with Babs, they do have Hartnell playing the character. I’m very confused at this point. The concept of the robot duplicate is fine, but why have a very obviously different actor playing him in scenes where that’s completely unnecessary?

Ah, here we are. The Mechanoids have shown up. And now…it’s on.

Next time: “The Planet of Decision”

Episode 075 – “Journey Into Terror”

So this episode is where things start to get just a little weird.

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I’m too tired to be clever here. Just make your own joke.

So here our heroes are in what is possibly the fakiest looking castle ever, complete with a fake bat on a wire. Fortunately, this appears to all be intentionally faked, as we see Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster show up. Yes, this Scooby-Doo moment actually happens in Doctor Who.

I’m not joking about how much this feels like something out of Scooby-Doo. There’s the music, the unconvincing monsters, the weird moving walls, fake-out scares, everything. It’s so silly, but it works surprisingly well.

Turns out that this is some sort of odd dream world. Okee-dokee, then. Our heroes figure they’re safe, since the Daleks shouldn’t be able to enter such a place. But of course the Daleks do. Watching them attempt to fry Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster is rather hilarious.

Hmmm. I notice that the monster took time to put on a jacket for his Dalek destruction. I guess he wanted to keep it formal. He then trashes the shit out of one of the Daleks, so that’s something. We then find out that it wasn’t some strange Land of Fiction (because, really, like Doctor Who would ever have something as silly as that). No, instead it was some amusement park thing.

Team TARDIS finally realizes that Vicki isn’t with them; that they left her behind in the haunted mansion. Fortunately, she was clever enough to stow away on the Dalek ship, so that’s something.

Ah, the stupid Dalek has resurfaced. This creature amuses the hell out of me.

So the Daleks have made a robot duplicate of the Doctor. It seems like such a waste of time when all they had to do was hire Richard Hurndall.

Next time: “The Death of Doctor Who”