Prosecution: The Web Planet–Early Who’s Weakest Hour

Last week and during my vacation, my good pal Mith and I got together for gaming, good company, and something we’d been planning for some time: we sat down for a Whoathon of epic proportions. We watched a good 24 episodes of consecutive Hartnell Who plus sundry special features, including some lost episodes and recons. We’d recommitted to watching “it all.” And “all” included, problematically for my sanity, The Web Planet. Even worse, our Whoathon started with The Web Planet. But having watched it one and a half times before (once interrupted by sheer boredom), I was well prepared for what lay ahead. My opinion didn’t change. And so, I represent the Prosecution–this one’s bad. Really bad.

So what do you need to know about Who’s 13th serial, The Web Planet? Well, primarily the three reasons it’s so bad. It’s well worth a watch if you’re a completionist as I am–there are interesting concepts explored, and some pushing of technical boundaries in making a 1965 BBC sci-fi serial. But these interesting concepts ultimately, as you’ll see, fail. In any case, watch it or no, you’ll be well suited knowing these three things about Web Planet, and moving on to the far superior 14th serial, The Crusade. And in no particular order, here are the three things you need to know.

1. An enemy needs periodic anthropomorphizing to hold the audience’s interest. Peter Jackson, in his masterful Lord of the Rings trilogy, made the risky choice to not represent the Big Bad Sauron with any human form throughout his series except in the brief prologue, showing the Big Bad fighting the alliance of Men and Elves. Rather, through the three movies Sauron was represented as a flaming eye, seated atop a large, and faraway tower in Morder. This worked so well in Lord of the Rings since there were proxy enemies aplenty: the Nazgul, Saruman, the orcs in Moria, as well as Gandalf’s (channeling Tolkien’s own words) masterful prose describing the all-too-humanlike enemy and threat Sauran once had been.

In contrast, The Web Planet’s Zarbi, the heroes’ threat through much of the serial, are actors wearing clunky, if impressively bulky, ant suits, who issue streams of repetitive (guaranteed to drive you nuts) electronic chirps that convey nothing of notable complexity. Not so much as an R2-D2-style humanizing with baleful chirrups and whirrs. Nope, these Zarbi are essentially mute drones. The Menoptera, in fact, say as much, telling us the Zarbi are little more than “cows.” How’s that for a thriller–rampaging, mind-controlled cows threaten the heroes for over two hours. And that’s what The Web Planet essentially is.

The Animus, who is revealed as the “real enemy” as the serial wears on, should be built-up so that the viewer will care. But the Animus is never given the full Sauron-treatment. That amazing scene of Tom Baker and Lalla Ward, inside the rocket-ship in Episode Three of State of Decay and waxing nostalgic over childhood tales from Gallifrey of the Great Vampires, is a wonderful example of how such a disembodied enemy can be built-up simply through compelling dialog. It’s much like the scene early in Fellowship of the Ring where Gandalf finally gives Frodo the full story of Sauron the Deceiver. The original crew members in State of Decay serve as chilling stand-ins and reminders of the omnipresent threat of the Great Vampire itself, just like the numerous smart, and Machiavellian, minions of Sauron. That gradual development of the “lore” of the enemy, and the notion that the minions are either zealous believers in some greater evil, or tragic and unwilling servants, gave me frissons of excitement. But there’s no such buildup here, either properly villifying the Animus, or giving us any buy-in to care about the enslaved Zarbis’ plight.

In fact, our Zarbi lack anything more than mute worker-drone “cow status.” The Animus is given little air time until the final minutes of The Web Planet. The Animus appears briefly merely as a disembodied voice in Web Planet Episode 2; only suddenly, in the final moments of The Web Planet, do we actually see the Animus. Small wonder we don’t care about the Animus, except to be thrilled that its destruction means we can finally leave the godforsaken planet Vortis.

2. Ballet moves in a sci-fi serial, generally, look like trash. I actually liked the bee-like Menoptera. After the nonsense Zarbi, the fact that the Menoptera could talk with the TARDIS crew, and had dreams and goals, was refreshing. Sadly, and tragically, given the amount of time spent developing and rehearsing their ballet-like “unique” movements, they’re mesmerizingly preposterous-looking. Their three-beat, ascending lilting sentences, with accompanying elbow waves and closing paws, are so distracting as to both sound like giant Swedish insects with speech impediments, and drown-out any substantive content in the Menopteras’ lines. The effect is all the more distracting when it’s clear that not all the Menopotera actors care enough to complete the effect: the upstart “invasion force” Menoptera that appears later in the serial does none of the bobbing or vocalizing–he merely waves his elbows and hands. His apparent recalcitrance to engage in the “Menoptera dance” jars us out of any suspension of disbelief (or catatonic state) that the serial managed to eke out of us.

So too their underground cousins the Optera: they sound and look like gruff, gutteral guys hopping around in felt outfits with big eyes and felt tentacles attached to their heads. But they don’t always hop: sometimes the actors decide to walk. And it jars us back to how spotty The Web Planet is. And the subpar triumvirate is complete with the Larvae Guns: they’re often mounted on small carts, rolling smoothly across the landscape–except when they aren’t, and the actors decide to crawl, again breaking the Vaseline-smeared ambiance.

Credit is due, though, to The Web Planet’s semi-thrilling invasion sequences: the scenes of Menoptera gliding through space down to landings on the Vortis surface are fantastic. Suspension wires are nowhere to be seen. And the fight scenes are among the best in the six-part serial. Much time was obviously spent getting these fight and landing scenes right, and it shows.

3. From there to here, from here to there, gaffes on Vortis everywhere. If Hartnell is known for “Hartnell fluffs” or line flubs when the rest of the serials sailed relatively smoothly about him, The Web Planet is famous for how nothing quite seems to work. The actors’ performances are lackluster: one scene where Ian sits on an Vortis bluff, William Russell looks almost detached and impassive while talking with the Menoptera Vrestin about his hopes for retaking its homeworld–a scene that should be filled with trademark William Russell enthusiasm. In that same scene, and all the scenes on the surface of Vortis, Vaseline is smeared on the camera’s lens filter so the scenes look “otherworldly.” Instead, it simply makes the serial look annoyingly smudged and blurry. Multiple times, the plot device of hanging a golden yoke on characters necks–including the necks of the Zarbi–fails simply because the yoke keeps falling off the characters’ necks.

Bill Hartnell sums it up:

Best quote of The Web Planet goes to the Doctor, speaking to the Animus as a creaky plastic shell descends and the disembodied voice booms at him, inviting him to step inside the shell: he dismissively gestures towards the prop, calling it a hairdryer. It sums up the entire creaky Web Planet mess for the viewer.

I, for one, was so irritated by so many of the Web Planet’s failings that I couldn’t wait to get the hell out of the Isop Galaxy.

Convict!

Lime

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Prosecution: The Aztecs

Early Who tried to rotate between “historical” and “sci-fi” episodes, something foreign to this Who watcher for whom actual time-traveling into the past was a rarity for Doctors 3-5 (although this has thankfully been revived for the new episodes). So after visiting the Marinus, the travelers set down in ancient Mexico. This immediately made the episode interesting for me, as I am an archaeologist by trade, and the Aztecs are more unfamiliar to most western viewers than even the Cathay of Marco Polo.

John Lucarotti wrote this story, and Marco Polo as well, so it’s interesting to compare them. This is actually the third ‘travel into the past’ serial, if you count An Unearthly Child. In the first two, the travelers were separated from the TARDIS and the story was relatively simplistic, if at times convoluted: find the way out of there. The Aztecs is much more interesting, as it adds a twist. No longer are the party mere passive observers. The Aztecs poses a much more interesting conundrum: can one change the past? If one can, do you have the moral obligation to try and prevent what you perceive as morally wrong behavior. And if you can’t (or won’t), does that make you an accomplice to the crimes you witness?

The Aztecs begins with the TARDIS setting down in a historically inaccurate combined pyramid temple/tomb, belonging to the high priest Yataxa. As possessor (via theft) of the high priest’s bracelet, Barbara is understood as an avatar of the priest, and a semi-divine being. She appears in the midst of a struggle for power between the priests Autloc and Tlotoxl. The latter is the High Priest of Sacrifice, and looks unkindly upon Barbara’s attempts to stop the practice. Autloc is more flexible (and perhaps more manipulable). (Note: The sacrifice is to bring rain to quench a long drought, so the god being sacrificed to is likely Tlaloc, though I don’t think this is mentioned in the episode).

High Priest Barbara

I think you could use a few more feathers there.

The main story involves the party trying to find a way to get back inside the pyramid, to the TARDIS, and Barbara’s attempts to change Aztec culture from the top down. Through it all, Tlotoxl (played in an over-the-top Shakespearean fashion by John Ringham) works behind the scenes to expose Barbara as a fraud and to kill the travelers.

malvolio?

Maybe I’ll overact a little bit, hmmmmm??

A subplot involves Ian’s enlistment as an Aztec officer and his struggle with the rather stupid warrior Ixta, who feels the honor should be his. Another involves Susan’s arranged marriage to the wonderfully named Perfect Victim. Most of these are dull and tedious, the only amusing moment coming when The Doctor inadvertently proposes marriage to the wise woman Cameca by giving her a cup of cocoa, which she accepts. The Doctor’s first wife!!

Marriage bells

True love for The Doctor?

While the fighting scenes are comical and Ixta’s incompetence more farcical than suspenseful, Barbara’s struggle with her unexpected position — and responsibility — are far more interesting. For once, she is the center of a story, and Jacqueline Hill plays the role well. I think that Barbara intuitively knows that her efforts to stop the practice of human sacrifice are a fool’s errand, but her persistence is reasonable and helps develop her character. In fact, I find everyone’s nonchalant acceptance of their impotence at the end rather off-putting. Even admitting the impossibility of changing a culture overnight, I would have a hard time taking it all in stride. Should Barbara have let the sacrificial rites go on before her, observing them as was her role, without lifting a finger? Isn’t that rather cold-blooded? The episode leaves these questions hanging, for the viewer to ponder after the fact.

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Defense: Keys of Marinus

noswimmingplease

Not the best vacation spot.

Fresh from their visit to medieval China, the travelers come to Marinus. There they uncover a complex mystery: a strange structure with no obvious entrance; a sea of acid, and several minisubs piloted by humanoids in wetsuits — the Voord. This sets up the frame story for the plot, which reads like something I would have developed as an RPG gamemaster in high school: The building houses the Conscience of Marinus, which has the ability to control the thoughts of everyone on the planet. The machine is inactive, its control keys hidden away by its guardian, Arbitan. However, Marinus is under threat by the Voord, and the machine is both the biggest threat to the planet and the only weapon that can defeat the Voord. So the travelers are coerced by Arbitan to obtain the story’s maguffin: the keys to operate the mechanism. Most of the remainder of the plot consists of small single-episode setpieces that involved a subset of the characters, as they split up to find the keys. Unfortunately, the sets and costumes for Marco Polo ate up much of the design budget, and the wide variety of settings for each episode no doubt required further economies, so that the locations for the serial come across as particularly chintzy. Since the serial is divided up into mini-adventures, it makes the most sense to me to review each on its own. One interesting element is the wrist-transporter, which allows its owner to travel through space in an instant; a handy plot device!

mmmm...brains

Barbara having a little brain to brain talk.

The Velvet Web is a classic sci-fi plot: the apparent paradise that turns out to be far different than it appears. This is due to a hypnotic trance created by several brain-stalk creatures that appear to be distant cousins of the Gamesters of Triskelion. This episode introduces us to Altos and Sabitha, Arbitan’s servant and daughter, respectively, who are involved in later episodes. Otherwise this episode is not particularly noteworthy, apart from the fact that Barbara ends up as the hero, as she defeats the aliens’ attempt to induce hypnosis and she manages to destroy them with the help of Sabitha. At last the women get something to do!

shorts

Couldn’t find the really short ones, eh Altos?

The Screaming Jungle is even less interesting — the team end up in a jungle of mobile plants and flimsy traps, set up by the guardian of the key, a man named Darrius. Ian and Barbara have to figure out a puzzle to get the key and escape, but much of the tension is weakened by their ability to pop out whenever they need to with a twist of their transporters. At least the hypnosis of the previous episode was more insidious.

The Snows of Terror is meant I think as a character study; Ian and Barbara are rescued from the cold wasteland in which they materialize by a taciturn loner named Vasor, who turns out (surprise surprise) to be not entirely trustworthy. Cellophane caverns and stock footage of wolves are the main antagonists here, along with the Slow Moving Silent Knights Who Scream, who turn out to be the guardians of the key. Another ho-hum episode.

so.....slow.....

Our special ability is moving very slowly and awkwardly. What? You don’t put your best men on a job like this, do you?

Sentence of Death turns out to be the saving grace of the serial, however, as this is in my opinion the best episode of Dr. Who to this point in the series’ history.  Ian appears in the location of the 5th key (albeit alone, for some reason), and find himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Framed for murder, he must go on trial for his life, in a society in which the accused are presumed guilty. The alien courtroom will be a commonplace among sci-fi television, but it is played to good effect here, as the danger to Ian is palpable. This episode also sees the appearance of the Doctor familiar to fans of the series. Hitherto Hartnell has played the Doctor as a curmudgeonly, often cynical opportunist, perhaps playing off his character’s back story as a fugitive wanderer. In this episode, however, the Doctor is upbeat, even brash, confident in his ability to get Ian off. This marks an important change in the personality of the Doctor, one that will have great resonance in later stories and seasons.

The following episode, The Keys of Marinus, continues the melodrama and Ian is finally freed by a combined effort of the Doctor and all of the companions. Terry Nation does a good job maintaining suspense and providing a false resolution before coming to the denouement. It’s good to see all of the companions play an active role at the same time, and Nation plays with the now-established characters (as he did in several preceding episodes) by having Ian, usually the man of action, forced to cool his heels and wait for the others to rescue him.

By contrast, the final stage of the story is anticlimactic; the Voord take over the tower of Arbitan and a struggle for control of the Conscience of Marinus ensues. Nation plays well with a twist introduced earlier in the plot, but the sequence of events is predictable, and the outcome of all the shenanigans is merely that nothing happens, other than the characters manage to escape Marinus. In short, an uneven story with a few moments of brilliance.

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Defense: The Romans–Early Who’s Finest Hour

No time to mince words here: my main man Mithradates gets it exactly right when he says I’ve found I don’t have the time.

And so back to square one, regeneration-style. That is, this time it’s the same: but different. Per my original intent, I’m going to shoot at reviewing all the Who I watch. Also per that intent, I’m going to take a side–this one is on the Defense side. And, per my intent, I’m going to try to cobble together a vote between Mith and myself. But no time to waste–I’m going to push out the bare essentials, get it in the post, and let you peel back the onion yourself. My goal, as modified, is to get to you, dear reader, the essence of the episode. What to look for. The “bare necessities,” as it were. And so, onwards.

The Romans:

1. The First “Perfect” Hartnell Who Serial: I love Unearthly Child, Edge of Destruction, and The Aztecs, but in comparison, The Romans excels in every category. It’s the first virtually perfectly paced episode of Who, and credit goes to the writer, Dennis Spooner. Dennis Spooner, who also wrote the First Doctor’s Reign of Terror (due for re-release on DVD in 2012, with two reconstructed missing episodes), went on to a well-deserved successful career writing for The Avengers, The New Avengers, Bergerac, and many other popular British television serials in the 60′s and 70′s. His early-career involvement in Who paid dividends, raising the bar in Who. The play between these three parallel plots of the Doctor and Vicki, Ian and slave Delos, and Barbara and “Caesar Nero,” is flawlessly executed. We’re treated to three great plots: The Doctor, stumbling on a murder victim and assuming the victim’s identity (with resulting hilarious plot reverberations), then becoming Nero’s bosom buddy; Ian, getting the Gladiator treatment and picking up a friend on the way; and Barbara, sold into slavery and pursued relentlessly by the Emperor. At the 2012 GallifreyOne convention, actor W. Morgan Sheppard commented that good writing such as Steven Moffat’s makes acting effortless, while bad writing makes convincing acting terribly difficult. That’s clearly the case here: for the second time, Who is graced with Spooner’s talents, and the team congeals in a way we’ve never seen before. Watch also for some great casting choices: Derek Francis as Nero and the subtle but wonderful Michael Peake as Tavius. The tying-together of the three plots in Episode 4 results in quite a few great moments of acting. Simply put, The Romans is the first nearly perfect Who story. (Caveat: haven’t seen Reign yet, but have seen or listened to all the rest.) Watch it.

And by the way: I’m a Spooner fan now. Spooner is cool.

2. Cinematography Shines: Well, except for that awfully cut stock footage of lions, it does. Note how Christopher Barry blocks the scenes, using minimal movement of the actors in relation to each other to keep the action interesting. For example, note the blocking of the actors in the villa–the Doctor in the foreground, Ian reclining behind him, neither looking at each other, but the faces of both key for to the scene’s progression. A second example: in the market scenes, Ep. 1, at about 6:30, we have the slave trader in the left foreground, and far in the distance, on the right, extras are milling back and forth to “fill out” and populate the marketplace, with good use of “crowd noise” played. It’s utterly believable, unlike, say, the Thal tribe in Daleks or the population of the Aztecs, which seemed to never go very convincingly beyond the key players themselves. Scene after scene, cut after cut, Romans is crisper and better than most of the Who before it. And watch for the three-odd live-theater-like moments where the characters break from the proceedings and stare directly at the viewer; interesting choice, and it works, given the comedic tones of Romans.

3. Great Use of Incidental Music: the incidental music seems so much better in The Romans than past episodes. I haven’t done a careful study. But perhaps because it’s historical serial, it was easier to identify “appropriate” music to set the mood. Just by way of example, the playful music during Vicki’s skip down the stone path at the beginning of Episode 1 ends clearly (unlike earlier episodes where the scene changes blurred with other scenes’ music), and the ominous music begins on the nose as the camera shot changes and we’re shown the thug sharpening his gladius. The same precision cueing is evident when we see the thug attack “the original” Maximus Petullian, and the music and camera shot glide, in unison, to reveal both the body hidden in the bushes, and the music’s end note. Again–have done no careful study, but while watching I noticed something palpably different about how The Romans uses incidental music, versus previous episodes. I think it comes down to precision cueing and good choice in music.

Bottom line: I’m thrilled more and more with each watching of The Romans. Watching from the beginning, while I loved Unearthly Child, Edge of Destruction, and Aztecs, and see the seeds of so much later Who in those three serials, it’s The Romans that first fully, with abandon, attempts to sell me on the First Doctor and William Hartnell in his own right, in a way I was sold on Tom Baker in 1978. The Romans deserves a full acquittal.

Lime

 

 

 

 

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The Maturing of Dr. Who Fandom, or, 3 Reasons GallifreyOne is a Must-See for Who Fans

When I was wee, I threw myself headlong into Doctor Who. I collected the books, watched the shows when my local stations could afford them (largely accomplished via zealous and frequent fan-run fund drives). But I ached for something more serious than the average fan ‘zine, something that could explain to my young mind why Doctor Who had lasted so long, why it was unlike any other show I’d seen, pourquoi la difference.When I started Who, it was already about fifteen years old. Next year, in 2013, Who turns fifty. Yes, the big 5-0. The longest-running science-fiction show in the world.
I remember in around 1983 finding John Tulloch’s newly published Doctor Who, The Unfolding Text, at the time the most in-depth study of Who I could find. I don’t know if it was my youth, or the turgidity of the writing (which is my vague memory of the book), but it bored me silly. Lacking anything better, my sense of Who developed entirely by self-direction, fueled by the fund drives and local PBS stations, and informed by sparse reporting in the American press.

 After Who vanished from Nebraska TV in the early 80′s at the end of the Davison era, one caught streaky, grainy VHS copies of Baker and McCoy in the local public libraries with the small local crowd of fans. There was no Twitter, no Internet communities in the modern sense of social media. Except for the lucky fans that attended the conventions (which were quite well attended even in the 80′s), in the US through the final episode of the Seventh Doctor, Survival, in 1989, Doctor Who fandom was primarily a solo activity.

After some work-induced blogging hiatus, pointed out by my bud Mithradates, a recent turn of events compels me to overcome all obstacles, throw on the blinders and earplugs, and write with a single-minded purpose: to tell the world that Doctor Who fandom is “all grown up” and waiting for you at the annual Gallifrey One conventions in LA. On a whim and by the good luck of finding that a college friend of mine had newfound passion for Who, I decided last fall halfheartedly to attend the February 17-19 convention. When I say “halfheartedly,” I mean to say that as an adult–a gamer and Who fan, but a “grownup”–I had recurring concerns that I was too old and serious to be attending a sci-fi convention.

Boy–was I wrong. After a thrilling ride this past weekend, after volunteering for and thoroughly enjoying speaking on a panel alongside some true Who luminaries, and after enjoying watching other panels and meeting lots of fellow Who fans, I’ve culled the experience down into three reasons why you, too, have to attend Gally, as Gallifrey One is colloquially known, if you want to make any sense of your passion for Who. You must attend. (You will obey me…)

Here’s the three reasons:

(1) Who is the granddaddy, the Gilbert and Sullivan of science-fiction, and Gally is THE place to fete that history. That is, for those of you unfamiliar with the topsy-turvy and quintessentially British theater duo from the Victorian era, still much loved by millions today, Who itself has similarly matured into a behemoth of a British cultural export. (Indeed, it’s said the sun never sets on Who.)

It’s evident in so many ways. Who‘s theme music has remained virtually unchanged for nearly fifty years, and is the topic of panels of music experts at Gally. Lasting from 1963 to date, Who represents a virtual history of British television–including the development of filming techniques, equipment advances, storytelling, format, and office and gender politics–Who has generally been out front, leading the field. And all this comes out in spades in the panels at Gally, from the first Director Waris Hussein sharing how persistence and savvy maneuvering overcame racism and sexism in the industry in ’63, to discussions of how the effervescent director of Let’s Kill Hitler, Richard Senior, in 2011 rose almost overnight from a lowly position to directing the crown jewel of British television. Who’s history as a much-loved work of art, but also as a cultural institution, intersect in many ways at Gally. Just about every star, director, and guest has deeply considered his or her place in both, and shares those thoughts eagerly.

(2) This maturity is present in overwhelming, voluptuous abundance in both the guests and the fans. The actors, writers, propmasters, and directors, and the attendees are steeped in Who lore in a different way than Americans are used to thinking of “fandom.” That is, the fans aren’t fanatics–they aren’t all fringe, counterculture, “instant converts” to Who. Instead, most people I met at Gally are probably better called “conneusseurs” or “lovers” of Who.

That’s not to say there aren’t hundreds, if not thousands, of young and new fans present: there are.  But the overall vibe at Gally isn’t that of, say, young fans of videogames, Game of Thrones, or Buffy, who’ve hooked up with the latest, hippest trends, and share the trait of being both the founders, and the most passionate evangelists of their own fandom. Even the new and young Who fans at Gally don’t have that vibe: they’re true believers, they’re in it for the long run and can rattle off companions’ names and lines from Hartnell, Troughton, Pertwee, and Delgado’s Master.

Moreover, a good portion of the Who fans at Gally (and very possibly the majority of Who fans) have literally grown up watching and absorbing the Who phenomenon for up to five decades. As with lovers of any art, a good number of the actors, directors, and fans (I’ll just use “fans” for simplicity) are already well into passing a love of Who to their children or grandchildren. I chatted with numerous fellow fans demonstrating just that: from the three lovely and diminutive fez-wearing sisters who first loved Who in the ’70s when their father was working in England, to the young brother and his physician sister, who inherited their love of Who from their elderly mother. I too was introduced to Who by my brother, and watched for years thereafter with my dad. And predominantly not repeats, as with Star Trek, or my fave The Avengers: with Who, we watched hundreds of episodes, over decades, of developing story and plotline.

The maturity is there in the panelists. There were too many thoughtful, energetic thinkers to mention, including all of the stars and directors, whose love and knowledge of the show’s history was in plain sight. Waris Hussein, Richard Franklin (Captain Mike Yates in the Pertwee years), and Richard Senior (Let’s Kill Hitler) were stellar: their insights were worth price of admission alone.  So too with the other guests.  Simon Guerrier, prolific (and very, very good) writer of Who novels including the excellent Pirate Loop (among other books), and my co-panelist in a panel on “Introducing New Fans to the Classic Series,” discussed why there’s no distinction between “nuWho” and “classic Who“: he explained, and I agree completely, that the current stars and directors are such passionate fans (much as with Peter Jackson and Tolkien, I might add), and the intentional continuities, mannerisms, nods and references to the old series are so common, that old and new fans are occupying the exact same space. (And the camaraderie and conversations between generations at Gally seems to indicate this is absolutely true.) And in the “More Magic of Doctor Who Music” panel (link to the audio HERE), bright Ph.D. student Michaela Schubert and doctoral candidate in music theory Emily Kausalik, who talks with infectious passion about Who, and co-panelists, took listeners on another riveting foray into what makes Who music work. One can’t leave deep, thought-provoking panels like that but feeling good about Who, and appreciating the love that goes into making Who on the front end.

And, the maturity is there in the conversations that happen, spur of the moment, in the Lobbycon, the “mini convention” that happens in the hotel lobby after hours. There, you’ll run into some of the most eloquent and thoughtful people who’ve spent time thinking about how Who works, why it works, and why it’s worth introducing others to Who. By sheer luck, I ran into io9‘s Charlie Jane Anders, who is responsible for some of the most prolific, and well-written, writing on Who that regularly catches the public’s eye. For an example, see this brilliant piece giving the public the fundamentals of Who history, published the day after this year’s Gally. That sort of writing and Who history for the masses, when I was wee, was available only in special-order books after a jaunt to the bookstore; now, it’s there, beautifully written, and just begging the public to engage in talking about Who. I also ran into Professor Derek Kompare, Associate Professor of Film and Media Arts in the Meadows School of the Arts at Southern Methodist University, during Lobbycon, and had a great give and take about how academia views the study of topics like Who, whether Who is worth studying (it is), and what to do about it.

That sort of thinking, from smart, sensible people, is all over the place at Gally.

(3) Gallifrey One is a true labor of love. The numerous panels, the Masquerade (of Mandragora, natch), the live commentary over Who episodes (the great Richard Senior, who I’ll praise again, was excitedly leaping off the couch to explain each new scene as it rolled around), the hilariously  bawdy MST3K-style late-night showing of Creature From the Pit (Tom Baker, notoriously bawdy, would be proud!), the photographs and autographs with the stars, directors, and other guests–it all flowed from event to event with pure effortlessness, as if the dozens of volunteers were true pros.  All of that in one package, plus the omnipresent cosplay, the fantastic hotel (save for the regrettably spotty wifi), and Gally’s affable and quite evidently Who-loving Program Director, Shaun Lyon, make Gally, in my book, the Disney of conventions (rid your mind of any negative connotations that might conjure): everything is so smooth, friendly, and wonderful, you need only sit back and enjoy yourself.

And, for any Who fan when so much is on offer to enjoy: that’s the best thing in the world.

Hope to see you there next year for Who’s fiftieth!

Lime

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The Pause that Refreshes

So, as you may have noticed (assuming anyone was reading this to begin with), there have been no reviews since June 2011. That’s not because we abandoned our mission. In fact, it was a combination of factors: My co-author found that he didn’t have time to blog as he had hoped. I held back because I did not want to get too far ahead (given our original objective of parallel reviews). However, it’s clear now that the original plan is unworkable, as my colleague simply lacks the time.

I am more stubborn, however, and intend to resume my reviews. I will not follow the “Acquit or Convict” style proposed by my lawyerly friend. Instead, I will give my own insights and thoughts however they might be. At the moment we just finished The Dalek Invasion of Earth (after temporarily skipping The Sensorites, Reign of Terror, and Planet of the Giants, which are currently not available on DVD). My intention is to resume the reviews by going back to Keys of Marinus and periodically posting as we move ahead. Onward we go!

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Who Verdict on “The Daleks”: Acquittal!

Lime, J, delivers the opinion; Mithradates, J., concurs only in the result: I take issue with my colleague’s apparent willingness to overlook the massive plot holes that rip Titanic-sized logic holes in the serial for me. I also take issue with his implicit conclusion that there is a resolution to these plot holes (“We don’t know how, or whether, these things interrelate, nor their true significance. [But t]he rest of the series is dedicates to tracing the web of clues…”).

However, despite the fact the episode makes absolutely no sense to me, I’m compelled to acquit by my esteemed colleague’s powerful eighth point, that among the “amazing number of plot twists” we find “A new and powerful enemy–the Daleks.”. My colleague has convinced me with this irrefutable logic, and with him, we have both agreed to Acquit! Don’t miss this one!

[Additional comments by Mithradates: I think the plot hangs together a bit better than Lime implies. My understanding of the major plot point is as follows: The Thals believe the Dalek city to be dead and lifeless. And it is, to the casual visitor. The Daleks believe the surface to be lifeless. The Daleks would like to return to the surface, but they reason the radiation levels are too high to survive. So they seize upon the anti-radiation drug as an avenue to restoring their rule over all of Skaro. Unbeknownst to them, however, the radiation is something they need to survive. Now, the hole in this is that the Daleks should know their subterranean city is irradiated. After all, the Doctor finds the geiger counter that informs him that radiation levels are high within the Dalek city itself. I can only surmise that radiation levels are lower underground than at the surface; the Daleks may have reasoned that they could survive the lower levels of radiation underground (if barely -- if they started out looking like the Thals they have suffered greatly), but the higher levels on the surface would be too much. That's reading a lot into the dialogue, granted, but I think much of it is implied, at least on my viewing.]

Who Verdict on “The Daleks”: Full Acquittal!

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Filed under Dr. Who, Verdicts, William Hartnell