Category: Gabriel Morton vs Doctor Who

The Keys of Marinus

The Keys of Marinus

And we’re back, after what was probably a thrilling adventure with some alien called Marco Polo who rode Ian like a horse as he belted Barbara about in a giant hamster ball.

HEADCANON SAYS THIS IS MOSTLY TRUE

This is Terry Nation’s (ancestor to Uha Nation) second episode and it starts quite well only to piss about and fall down at the end. The story differs from the prior ones in that it’s a narrative with a mission, retrieving the titular Keys of Marinus, as opposed to the explorers “accidental adventures”. The first episode fits the standard mould of landing somewhere and poking about, but then it’s 5 episodes of mission. This idea would be returned to in season 16’s Key to Time, which was a multi-story arc lasting the whole year. It’s a good way to drive narrative and one I wish the modern series would dip into again. The show has been weird about series arcs, preferring to repeat the hidden arc idea over and over again which seems about the only way the series can approach an idea.

The Sea of Death

Ian explaining why Bleach is better than Naruto

There’s been a pleasant amount of immediate story continuity in these early episodes and this one continues that tradition by having Ian in his finest weeb gear for the whole story. The TARDIS crew have landed on beach made of glass lapped by a sea made of acid. Naturally, the screaming death magnet, Susan wanted to paddle in it but manages only to see her shoe dissolved. This opening episode drags and I’m torn as to whether it’s a fault of the episode itself or the slower pacing of a medium still in the process of separating from theatre. There’s a lot of standing around and remarking on things, which is less a development of any of the characters and more a kind of hollow retread. Some dildos wash up on the beach which, when not in a miniature-based long shot, turn out to be mini-subs filled with this story’s weakest feature, the Voord.

Probably from Bad Dragon or something

I’ve read three things that have said that the Voord were a failed attempt at striking more Dalek gold which is fucking amazing considering these were probably their best stab before the Cybermen. Doctor Who is littered with failed Dalek attempts which failed because they were either lazy retreads of the Dalek concept or just fucking stupid looking. The Voord cut a reasonably threatening figure and actually stand out from the other failures, so why have you never heard of them? Their sum screen time is probably under 6 minutes across a whole 6 episodes, split only between the first and the last, and the viewer is only ever told that they are jerks. You hear about the leader, see him a bit, and are told that they are villains but in a sort of odd way.

From a Radio Times photoshoot.

See, the Keys of Marinus are for a machine called the Conscience of Marinus, a computer with perfect judgement that exudes a field capable of modifying human behaviour to be more peaceable. There’s ample room here for some classic sci-fi debates about the conflict between peace and free will, with a twist where the Voord are less villains and more crusaders for free will, but none of this eventuates. The idea that this planet has a machine that does your thinking for you is just okay and the Voord leader, Yartek, wants to fill it with dickhead juice or something so he must be stopped.

That a show doesn’t pursue the idea you have for the story, which you consider better because it’s yours and you are lovely, is a weak criticism but it gains more traction when leveraged against the internal faults of the episode. As focal villains with delusions of Dalek, the Voord are never on screen or active enough to be relevant to the plot. Point of fact, they kill the Conscience of Marinus’ keeper, Arbitan, in this episode and spend the rest just waiting for everyone to get back with the keys. While the Daleks were let down by some loose plotting, they were an active presence in their introductory story and manifested their characteristics through on screen behaviours. You also GOT TO FUCKING SEE THEM. HOW THE FUCK ARE YOU GOING TO MAKE A NEW DALEKS IF NOBODY EVER FUCKING SEES THEM, JESUS FUCKING SHIT. The next episode literally has better enemies you actually get a better sense of and they are only the threat for a single episode.

It’s a shame. The other Dalek attempts are failures on sight alone but the Voord have an appearance you can take seriously and could even be expanded into a species with a motivation and culture. Ah well, here, have a gif of a guy in a scuba outfit fondling the TARDIS.

The Voord, everybody.

Aside from this tragedy, this episode is a great example of the “why don’t they just leave” thing that Doctor Who kind of struggles with. In this episode, Arbitan puts a force field around the TARDIS and blackmails them into helping. This is an example of the utility of The Doctor as a superhero. Firstly, it’s a viable and actually canonical development of his character, manifesting most notably in Second’s speech on evil in Tomb of the Cybermen. Secondly, it removes the “why don’t they just leave” thing from a lot of situations. He won’t leave because he’s slowly morphed into a fixer of problems over the years works better than coming up with a new way of hiding the TARDIS key each episode.

So Arbitan has blackmailed them for help and given the crew some nifty teleport bracelets that will take them close to the keys which are scattered about the planet. Then Yartek and his goons kill him and hang out for a week or so.

I wonder if the next episode is called The Killing Time of the Voords. It’s not? Shit! Next episode!

Delete. Delete. Delete.

Delete. Delete. Delete.

So here’s the thing about Doctor Who, only old people can say they’ve watched all of it. These people have to be in their mid 60s now. No, you can’t have been a baby sat in front of a TV. You were a cannellini bean with a face on it who remembers nothing, shut up. Only old people can say they’ve watched it all because large chunks of the series are missing. Ten whole stories are gone, and a total of 97 missing episodes means there are 26 stories affected between seasons 1 – 6. Season 4 is the worst hit, with only ten episodes surviving across a series of 43, meaning things like the Second Doctor’s first story Power of the Daleks and companion Jamie McCrimmon’s first story The Highlanders are missing in their entirety. These are brutal losses to the canon of the show and an incredibly frustrating part of being a Doctor Who fan.

It all starts with people not understanding how technology is going to change things.

In the olden times, if one wanted to amuse oneself with Visible Fiction, one was forced to hire a variety of individuals to perform it for one. About the closest thing you had to taping back then was hiring a memory savant to watch it with you and then recite it back at a later time. Then along came things like film and videotape, which were a far more accurate means of recording than an autistic who would often recite the dialogue with little attention to pauses or emotional tones. The actors guild in the UK, Equity, actively worked against recording things because in times prior, broadcasting a repeat meant re-hiring and staging the broadcast again. They actually argued the idea that if people could just watch recorded repeats, this would reduce the amount of new productions and hurt their business. This meant that there were weird time limits on when a recorded TV serial could be rebroadcast giving any recorded material an artificial and brief shelf life.

It’s this, combined with the desire to save money by reusing the tape, that resulted in the first purge: the deletion of the masters. This is a bit of a shame but it exists within a context where it’s difficult to expect anyone around to have really known better. It would have been considered peculiar to insist the BBC buy new tape so that some loser 6o years later can see Marco Polo. The good news is that, while these deletions were absolute, there were many duplicates and backups of the originals made. Isn’t that nice. There’d have to be some kind of monstrous level of punishable stupidity to get rid of all of those.

So, between 1972 and 1978, monstrous stupidity occurred. BBC Enterprises had all the episodes as copies but got rid of them because it thought the BBC Film Library was archiving them. The BBC Film Library believed it only had to maintain copies of things that had originated on film and thought nothing of disposing of any of the copies it had. Had there been some basic archiving policy, or even just a bit of communication between the two, there wouldn’t be the hassles there are today. This destruction also followed no identifiable pattern or conceivable reason, which is why there is no order to what is missing. It’s incredibly frustrating but there are a few solutions.

One odd fact about this is that there exist audio recordings for every lost episode. Some are actual audio tracks which were recorded, copied or otherwise stored separately. Others are good, old-fashioned piracy. That’s right, where the producers of the original works were half-formed slobbermongs, incapable of preserving their own cultural legacy, the audience were making cheeky audio recordings of episodes themselves. Fuck yeah, piracy! This has resulted in one of the more common solutions to stories where only an episode or two are missing, like The Invasion, animated episodes. There’s a few of these covering missing episodes like The Tenth Planet episode 4 and even the entirety of Power of the Daleks. I’ve watched bits just to get an idea of what they are like and they do fit reasonably well. A tad Archer-y in their look and movement though which I can’t stop noticing.

I’m going to be using these as the canonical episodes for my recaps but that’s it. The other solutions, audio over stills or narration from actors in character, are simply too shoddy and distant from the original material to bother with. This is an article series that is about the television program too, and while elements of expanded canon may be interesting or brought up from time to time, this isn’t about books so I’m not filling in gaps with novelisations. You can, though, and some of the novelisations even have little extras that add more lore or tidy up a plot gap.

So that’s it, there are just missing episodes and you can give up on ever having the completionist’s dream of a full series. Giving up is lovely as it lets you set whatever reality you are in as the base line and then you can cope with whatever is going on a lot easier.

The most important tool in a torturers toolkit is hope. Hope is what prevents this rebalancing of normal. Hope is the primary vector of suffering and it is something that the world has seen fit to taunt the Doctor Who completionist with for decades now. Every time I resign myself to the situation, some lost episode is found somewhere goddamned weird and, once again, I’m taunted with the possibility of a one-day complete series.

The show was sold internationally to various broadcasters so episodes were cast to the breeze like dandelions creating a bizarre situation where missing episodes could actually be out there somewhere and there’s been just enough discovered to foster that belief. In 1991, the missing story Tomb of the Cybermen was found in its pristine entirety in a fucking cinema in Hong Kong. In 2013 the whole story of The Enemy of the World and most of The Web of Fear were found in a TV station in Nigeria. Fucking Hong Kong and Nigeria. It’s shit like this that keep that frustrating fire of hope alive. If episodes can be found nearly 50 years after they were aired locked up in a TV station in a country you wouldn’t ever associate with Doctor Who then they’re all out there somewhere goddammit.

But that’s hope for you.

Until then I’m skipping the missing episodes because they are missing.

You belong to us; you shall be like us,

Gabriel.

 

The Mutants

The Mutants

I’m going with the classic title here as I think it fits the episode better and I sorta prefer when the title retains a bit of mystery. There’s enough Occurrence of the Daleks titles that I will argue the original should always be referred to as The Mutants. It’s a better story than I remember, could probably stand to be an episode shorter but otherwise there’s a solid logical flow of events until the end and some reasonable discussion of pacifism in the face of irrational killers.

The Dead Planet

The episode starts on what is probably only the 4th bit of sloppy bullshit of this story, the radiation gauge’s decision to give it a mo before telling anyone that the outside is a lethal atomic hug. It’s literally that basic. The Doctor asks Susan to see if outside is safe (which is a thing space people tend to do, Ridley Scott) and the radiation gauge says it is, only to scooch up to danger after everyone’s walked outside. This is back in the “The Doctor really can’t fucking work this thing” days, though, and, going by later additions to the canon, it was probably actively trying to kill the person who stole it. So out they wander into the grim fallout of the final war between the Thals and (what this story calls) the Dals.

The Doctor and Susan explore the forest while Ian and Barbara mull over how to deal with him, deciding they have to stick close as he’s their only way home. This is an element lost from the newer series and it has really contributed to a degree of sameness in modern companions. There’s a natural conflict point when the companions are unwilling abductees that makes for a dynamic one can’t explore when adventures are willing jaunts with accurate return trips. Modern companions whine about being let down, Ian and Barbara openly hope something bad happens to First, with Barbara saying, “Don’t you ever think he deserves something to happen to him?” which I find fucking hilarious. Ha, find some stairs in the TARDIS and push him down them.

Speaking of the TARDIS, early episodes tended to give it a bit more of a standard ship feel with large banks of computers and other regular looking equipment about. This episode also features a food maker, that comes with a little menu book full of codes one dials into it like a vending machine. The results are retro-future-y little bricks of what looks like chicken stock but taste exactly like whatever you’ve dialed in which feels a little lo-tech for Timelords but fits with what the 60s thought the future would be like. This is another thing I feel is really missing from the modern series. They have a nice control room set and that’s it. Fuck you, build some more shit or film it wherethefuckever, the TARDIS is the size of a planet and I want to see where people sleep and eat. The internet has already shown me where they shit. I don’t need to see that again.

The exploration of the planet is fairly dry filler. Susan finds a lovely preserved flower that Ian helps pick, only to crush it when Barbara is freaked out by a weird bit of Skaro fauna. The Doctor spots a city and, as curiosity has always been his downfall, absolutely must have a look. There’s no sense of The Doctor as a superhero fixer of universal injustices in these early days. That probably didn’t really come about until Baker and the modern series has made it a foundation of the character but this wasn’t entirely a piece of lazy flanderisation. The Doctor is around 236 at this point and over 2000 by the most recent series end (not counting the billions of repeated years in Heaven Sent) so we are witnessing a very young Doctor in a very young universe as yet unfucked by his constant mucking about. There’s no Time War here or any of the other experiences that will turn him into the minor deity he currently is. As such, a lot of what you see in these early days is less poor writing and more actual character development which is what makes a Ian’s haranguing him about being a shit so interesting. A lot of The Doctor’s early moral development comes from Ian and Barbara.

The Doctor won’t be denied his greedy want to explore the city and fakes a fault in the TARDIS to come up with the nonsense excuse that they must search it for the mercury they need for repairs. Ian knows it’s bullshit, but they’ve no choice and he’ll be the only suspect if The Doctor comes down with a case of beaten to death. Meanwhile, a Thal has been politely stalking Susan (she’s a magnet for stalkers, must be her fault) who leaves a mystery canister outside the TARDIS. Ian jabs it with a stick, the universal means of testing if something will fuck you up or not, but it’s not a landmine or anything. It’s a canister of fucking rad mystery drugs! To be fair, I wouldn’t take anything unless I had at least the vaguest idea what it was. Fun’s fun but I don’t want to Mia Wallace myself. They leave the drugs in the TARDIS and go poke about the city. Ian has the absurdly Scoobian plan to split up and explore a city full of doors that close on their own which, somehow, leads to Barbara getting separated. Her screaming at the plunger that menaces her at the end of the episode is still a bit comic. Granted she’s stressed and probably wasn’t expecting anything but the Daleks don’t exactly have the immediate fright of a xenomorph or Thing.

There’s a remarkable maturity to these early series, made doubly impressive by the fact that it is still pitched at children. Ian and Barbara are acutely aware of the ridiculous danger of the situation and this is presented with quite stark realism. Modern Who evades this a little by having off-camera fun adventures where nobody is exploded but that kind of telling doesn’t effectively contrast the death we’re seeing. It juxtaposes nastily with the companion’s continued desire to adventure, a little like a friend of yours taking you on trips to do extreme sports and one of his friends dying every time. You’d not keep going and you sure as shit wouldn’t bungee jump with them if the last person who did was eaten by rabid crows during the descent.

The Survivors

I quite like the title of this one. It’s another that doesn’t give too much away which effectively plays to the episode. It’s not The Evil Machines that are EVIL, and it supports something I miss of very early Who which is the treatment of enemies as other races instead of monsters. Monsters and evil are inherently two-dimensional and this leads to a lack of narrative options when coming up with events or conflicts. The Daleks here are survivors of a war, characters with a need to survive and a continuing hate for their enemy. This is understandable as their society has persisted in isolation and their hate hasn’t had any opportunity or reason to subside. Counter to this are the Thaals, whose return to a communist agrarian society has changed them into pacifists. Their active society has given them full lives that distract them from a nursed hate. It’s the kind of characterisation that functions as background world building which the modern series’ shorter story time could well use.

The TARDIS crew, now suffering from radiation poisoning, are imprisoned by the Daleks. They surmise that the drugs they found were anti-radiation drugs and need to get back to them. The Daleks want the drugs too as they believe they’ll let them leave their city, and so send Susan (the only one who can still walk) out to retrieve them warning that she may encounter the “disgustingly mutated” Thals on the way. This story is 7 episodes and, while this one is not bad in isolation, as part of a whole it provides little that couldn’t have been accomplished in a single scene. About the only real highlight is the Dalek line “A few questions will reduce the mystery” which I’d rate as a quality bit of linguistic flair for an alien species being translated to English. You can tell a lot about a culture by its language and this line suggests the Daleks see mystery as a dominant state to be reduced as opposed to a human who’d “get some answers” to return to a state of comfortable knowing.

Nothing else happens! Fucking woo! Next fucking episode.

Gabriel Morton vs Doctor Who: An Unearthly Child

Gabriel Morton vs Doctor Who: An Unearthly Child

It’s the 22nd of November, 1963 and President John F. Kennedy is assassinated, removing the final obstruction to the BBC launching a subversive fictionalised science programme designed to bring about the pansexual, socialist utopia. Doctor Who, started when my dad was 7 and cancelled when I was 6, has delighted audiences, listeners and readers for 54 of your Earth years. Given how it is going now, this could very well continue for another 50. Doctor Who has a combined run time of February, and a big chunk of that is material a large portion of the modern viewership has not seen given that they were either not alive for the original run or old enough to watch it on VHS during its 16 year hiatus. This has created a gap in the fan community, between those who have seen all the old lore and the modern, or Nu-Who, fans. There’s a cohort of Nu-Who fans who operate under the impression that a decade long glimpse into the 54 year canonical clusterfuck that is Doctor Who gives them some level of authority upon which to speak. A full Cyber-Conversion wouldn’t give these shrieking cretins the logical capacity to fix that error. The rest are simply a bit daunted by the idea of catching up.

GOOD NEWS! I’m here to do it for you.

The last time I watched it all was out of order and before a few recent discoveries filled holes in the missing episodes list. So now that Enemy of the World and Web of Fear are largely back, and with some animated fill-ins for a few missing episodes and the entire Power of the Daleks, I’ve decided to saddle up and go at it once more. Join me on a journey into publicly funded production values, missing episodes, and an original run that didn’t know canon mattered.

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