Friday, July 17, 2009

TV Review: Doctor Who, Season 13

Following on from Season 12, we cruise on through Doctor Who's Season 13, Tom Baker's second at the helm:

"Terror of the Zygons" - Not a favorite of mine. Starts off with a good mystery to investigate, the destruction of off-shore oil platforms, but then quickly deteriorates. The bad guys here, the Zygons, are planning to take over the planet (of course), and have the ability to duplicate anyone (a theme we will see later on this season as well). So what are their plans? Well, they attack the platforms (for no apparent reason), use the Loch Ness Monster (?!) to attach a few people, and then send one person to blow up an environmental conference.

Not the best planning - if you have the ability to copy anyone, there are much better ways to utilize it.

Sadly, the issues don't end with the scripting. The puppet used as Nessie here is clearly no more than a puppet, and not a particularly good one. I'm sure the idea of having the Loch Ness Monster attacking London looked good on paper, but on screen, it looks like a puppet poorly blue-screened against a London backdrop. Just terrible. Fortunately, it's mostly uphill from here. Two middling stars.

"Planet of Evil" - We go from Nessie to a werewolf-type story, crossbred with Forbidden Planet. The Doctor and Sarah Jane end up at the end of the universe, where the boundary with the next universe over has just been breached. This one's a fairly standard adventure story - capture, escape, capture, escape - with a pretty well-done jungle setting (sadly, the show really veers between good set design and cheapo trash once we get to the spaceship). We also start to get a bit of Doctor as a somehow "greater" being here, with his proclamation that he might possibly mediate between the two universes. But really, this one's just a basic adventure. So, a basic rating. Three stars.

"Pyramids of Mars" - Now, this is more like it! This is really one of my favorites. Here, the designers get an A+ from me, with the Egyptian motif everywhere. The best example: there a bit where the Doctor disables a force field generator located in an ancient urn. He opens it up and pulls out a metallic cylinder that presumably is its power source. But - along the bottom of the cylinder are small hieroglyphics! They didn't need to be there, and are barely noticeable, but it shows some attention to detail that isn't always present on this show.

The characters and scripts are well-done, also. The Doctor really sells the menace of Sutekh (although we don't actually see him do much), and his capture by Sutekh as the cliffhanger of part three is suitably exciting. The choice to have Sutekh use a calm, almost melodious voice instead of a typical villian's cackle was outstanding. It's clear almost from the start that Laurence Scarman will die at the hands of his possessed brother, but it's still chilling to watch. And the poacher's little adventure is a nice, humorous sidestory, and a good way to show the takeover of the property without lengthy exposition.

The one really is right up there with "Genesis of the Daleks" in terms of early Tom Baker episodes, and doesn't have the padding issues that plagued "Genesis". An easy five-star story.

"The Android Invasion" - Another good one. Like the earlier "Zygons", it's a case of human duplication by aliens. The main problem here is that it takes the Doctor and Sarah quite a while to see what's going on - of course, we're helped by the fact that the title has "android" in it. I did like seeing some of the UNIT cast again (but why was the Brigadier not present this time around, nor in the next UNIT appearance?), especially since we got to see them in both "good" and "evil" modes. Really, it's just the slow start and a couple of manufactured escapes that act as marks against this story. Four stars.

"The Brain of Morbius" - This one, not so much. It's now Frankenstein's turn for a re-do, as we get the story of a mad scientist trying to revive an evil Time Lord - into a mismatched body with one human arm and one giant lobster claw? Conveniently, here comes the Doctor with a Time Lord-compatible head! And so we get a lot of scenes of the Doctor captured and knocked out, passed around from group to group, with no one quite able to start the operation. Oh, and we get Sarah stumbling around with temporary blindness, and the titular brain - speaking from inside a tank, with synchronized flashing lights. Sheesh. It gets worse, though - Morbius eventually turns into something out of Robot Monster.

We also get a second set of characters, the Sisterhood, with their god-awful annoying chanting. "Sacred Fire! Sacred Flame!" Get used to that - it may be the most annoying thing in Doctor Who since the "Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon". Really, this is just a dreary, boring story. Not much to recommend at all. One star.

"The Seeds of Doom" - Back to a fairly standard adventure story. Again, we veer back and forth between good design and bad. The snowy scenes in the Antarctic are actually pretty well done, as is the giant Krynoid model seen at the end (very Lovecraftian). But the more human-sized Krynoid has a little too much of The Creeping Terror about it for my taste.

This one goes for more of a James Bond feel for its bad guys. The leader, Harrison Chase, is full-bore cliche - he has the Doctor in his control on multiple occasions, but rather than kill him, he gives him a guided tour, reveals his plans, and then puts him into several escapable death traps rather than just shooting him. As Dr. Evil might say, "Chase...you just don't get it, do ya?"

The main problem here is just padding. This is a six-episode storyline, and much of the last two are just waiting for the giant Krynoid to finish knocking down the mansion. I think as a four-part story, this really could have been something quite exciting. As it is, though, it does lose steam as it goes. In the end, I'll give it three stars, instead of the four it might have reached.

That does it for Season 13 - on the whole, a pretty solid season. Next up: Sarah Jane says goodbye, Leela says hello, and we get a few really classic stories in Season 14.