Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Classic Series Guide for New Series Fans: Advanced Studies 2

In this round of Classic Who recommendations, it's all Tom Baker - the fourth actor to take on the role and the one who has been The Doctor the longest with seven seasons under his belt. A majority of the episodes available on Netflix streaming are Tom Baker ones. Here are some more of my recommendations:

It's really a Jon Pertwee/UNIT-era story, only with Tom taking over the role. We are introduced to Naval surgeon Harry Sullivan, a bumbling but loyal character who joins the Doctor and Sarah Jane in this season of adventures. The story by Terence Dicks is a homage to "King Kong" as the title character, a robot programmed to assist a scientific fascist group in taking over the world, develops feelings for Sarah Jane and begins to question his orders that conflict with his "Prime Directive" (or more accurately, Assimov's robot laws).

Genesis of the Daleks
A classic. The Time Lords send the Doctor, Sarah and Harry back in time to Skaro to avert the creation of the Daleks. Considered by many fans (including Russel T. Davies) to be the opening salvo of the Time War. Written by Dalek mastermind Terry Nation and originally conceived by the Barry Letts/Terrance Dicks production team, it takes on a much darker tone under the production team of Philip Hinchcliffe & Robert Holmes. Michael Wisher crushes it in his performance as the charismatic but insane Davros, the mutated scientist who created the Daleks.

The Brain of Morbius
A prime example of the "Gothic" era of Doctor Who, in this case a homage to "Frankenstein", featuring a mad scientist, a humpbacked assistant, a torch-carrying mob of female cultists, and a creature made of parts of other aliens and humans. Behind it all is the sentient brain of Morbius, an evil Time Lord who raised an army to overthrow the High Council. Phillip Madoc once again give an excellent, scene-stealing performance as Solon, the mad scientist attempting to find the right head for Morbius' brain, and the Doctor becomes a prime candidate. Credited to "Robin Bland", the story was originally written by Terrence Dicks and extensively re-written by Robert Holmes. In a peak of anger, Dicks suggested that they use "some bland pseudonym" for the writing credit.

The entirety of Season 14
Seriously, this was the best season of Doctor Who ever. Six classic stories with not one weak link in the bunch. We start with "The Masque of Mandragada" set in Renaissance Italy, where the Doctor and Sarah battle a tyrannical duke and a druid cult who is under the influence of an alien energy being. Next is "The Hand of Fear", an episode most famous for the parting of the Doctor and Sarah Jane at the end. Followed by "The Deadly Assassin" where The Doctor and a decaying, dying Master do battle on Gallifrey for control of The Eye of Harmony (the Time Lords energy source which was recently featured in a Matt Smith episode). Episode three of this story takes place in "The Matrix" (and yeah, the guy who wrote "The Matrix" movies stole the idea from this episode). Next is "The Face of Evil", Leela's debut adventure, which was originally titles "The Day God Went Mad". It's about a mad computer controlling two warring factions, and it's the Doctor who's to blame. Next we have "The Robots of Death", an Agatha Christie like whodunnit set on a sand-miner on an alien planet. It's the robots who are doing all the killing, but who is controlling the robots? Finally we close with "The Talons of Weng Chiang", set in Victorian London. The Doctor is in Sherlock Holmes mode (right down to the deerstalker and cloak) as he investigates a series of grissly murders that leads him to the mysterious Weng Chiang (in reality a war criminal from the 50th century). Yes, it's a bit racist (with caucasian actors playing Chinamen) and yes there's a giant rat that looks naff, but it's considered by many to be the best story of the classic series, and I highly recommend it.

The Sun Makers
A political comedic story set on Pluto in the distant future. A story about about how a human colony can be enslaved by corporate and economic bureaucracy. Robert Holmes wrote this in a peak of anger and frustration right after he paid his taxes that year. K9, the Doctor's robot dog, has a lot to do in this story.

Season 16: The Key To Time
Available on DVD as one box set - six stories featuring the first incarnation of Romana (the late Mary Tamm), as she joins the Doctor and K9 with the task of collecting the six pieces of The Key To Time, which is needed to avert universal chaos. Most of the individual stories of this season are pretty solid, although "The Power of Krull" is really not that great, and the final adventure, "The Armageddon Factor" drags a bit. The second story, "The Pirate Planet", was written by Douglas Adams just as he was on the verge of breaking into the scene with "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy".

The Keeper of Traken
We're coming near the end of Tom Baker's tenure as we skip ahead to the John Nathan-Turner era (the producer of Doctor Who throughout its entire run in the 1980s), when the effects got a little better, the music got much more synthy, and the costumes became more, well, costumey. This story, a Shakespherian-like tragedy set on the alien planet Traken, sees the debut of Sarah Sutton as the companion Nyssa, and Anthony Ainley taking over the role of The Master.

Tom Baker's swan song. The tone of this story is somber from minute one. Tom doesn't even crack any jokes in this as his Doctor faces certain death in another battle with the Master for the fate of the universe. Along with the annoying Adric and the brainy Nyssa, we have another addition to the TARDIS crew in the form of Tegan Jovanka, a bossy Australian airline stewardess who wandered into the TARDIS thinking it was a real police box. Written by script-editor Christopher H. Bidmead, the story is full of scientific and mathematical theories that may need several viewings to wrap your head around. However, the change from Tom Baker to Peter Davison is perhaps the most poetic version of a regeneration sequence ever realized.