Doctor Who: Marco Polo

The 1964 story about the Doctor meeting Marco Polo is one that’s completely lost. The BBC, more concerned in those days with economy than with archiving the shows they broadcast, taped something else over it. All that survives are a soundtrack recorded and a few still photos taken by a dedicated fan; these are used to re-create a half-hour long synopsis of the 7 missing episodes as an extra feature on the The Edge of Destruction DVD.

Marco Polo

The footprints Susan and Barbara found at the end of the previous episode have nothing to do with this story, except that they’re in a snowy mountain pass in the Himalayas.

The Doctor’s group is briefly menaced by some Mongols who think that the strangers are evil spirits, but they are almost immediately rescued by that well-traveled and famous Venetian gentleman whose name has become a popular children’s swimming game. He invites them to the safety of his caravan. Since the Tardis is still experiencing some malfunctions from the last story, they agree.

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Dr. Who: Inside the Tardis

I was puzzled the first time I watched this two-episode story. It comes in the same DVD set as the Doctor Who pilot, the Stone Age story, and the introduction of the Daleks, and yet I’d never heard a thing about it.

It’s a curious little story to come so early in the show’s development, featuring no actors except for the show’s four stars and no scenes set off the Tardis. A bottle show, primarily of interest for some character development and for our first look around Tardis beyond the control room. If you’re wondering how they eat and sleep and other science facts, this is the opportunity to find out.

Tardis lounge
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Dr. Who: The Daleks, Part 7

The final episode of this story that introduced us to the Doctor’s longest standing (or rolling) baddies.

Dalek - Thal battle

The Rescue

Eventually, Ian, Barbara, and the surviving Thals who accompanied them through the mountain do make their way into the Dalek city via the city’s water supply. Around the same time, Thal leader Alydon realizes that the Doctor and Susan have been captured by the Daleks (again) and gets another group of Thals to go into the city from the other side to try and rescue them.

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Dr. Who: The Daleks, Part 6

The Ordeal

Crawling through caves

Ordeal? Well, this is the point where the story does become something of a slog.

It’s been lively up until now, but the end of the last episode saw Barbara, Ian, and their new Thal friends off camping out in the swamp by the radioactive, glowing lake as they made their way toward the mountains to sneak in the back way to the Dalek city. The swamp and the mountain caves take up this entire episode, and go on into the next. Did they really need to spend so much time on all that hiking and spelunking?

The high points of this section occur when this group lose one or two unimportant Thals along the way.

The first extra Thal disappears when he’s sent to fetch water from the lake.

Swamp thing

I can’t believe that they intend to drink that nasty, glowing stuff that mutant monsters swim around in, but perhaps they trust their anti-radiation medication to protect them from the bad effects.

A whirlpool forms in the water. The others off in the swamplands hear him scream. When they get to the lake’s edge, he’s gone, leaving scattered water bags all over the place. Presumably, he was dragged down to his death by the giant, flattish, tentacled swamp mutant that Ian saw rising out of the water earlier.

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Dr. Who: The Daleks, Part 5

The Expedition

Back in their underground city, the Daleks have duplicated the sample of Thal anti-radiation medicine they took from Susan a couple of episodes ago, and are testing it on a small number of their own. Monitoring the escaped prisoners in the radioactive forest, they have also observed that the Doctor and his companions have met up with the Thals. After their ambush on the Thals who came to the city for peace negotiations, they expect a retaliatory attack.

Not that the Daleks are wrong about the anticipated attack, but it’s not the Thals who are making battle plans.

Thals

The Doctor’s group need the help of the Thals to retrieve the fluid link, a little piece of machinery that makes the Tardis run, and which Ian had taken away from him when the Daleks captured him. They must go back into the Dalek city for it, but they need reinforcements. The Doctor is certain that the Thals “will triumph, with me to lead us,” and doesn’t see why he shouldn’t use them for his own ends. Barbara agrees that they need the Thals to fight to aid them in leaving this planet. Ian, on the other hand, is against asking these people to sacrifice their lives for a little gizmo that means nothing to them. There’s much debate on the subject.

The Thals have become firm pacifists since they wiped out nearly all life on Skaro with their neutron-bomb war 500 years ago, so they’re going to be tough to convince to go back to their old warrior ways.

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Dr. Who: The Daleks, Part 4

The Ambush

Ian in Dalek disguiseAt the end of Part 3, Ian became the first Doctor’s companion to hide inside a Dalek’s armor so that he, the Doctor, Susan, and Barbara can escape from their cell far underground in the Dalek city and make their way back to the surface without being stopped by the Daleks rolling around all over the place.

The foursome have a few close calls along the way, including an encounter with one Dalek who offers to help Dalek Ian escort the prisoners. It’s due to this conscientious Dalek making a report that the others catch on, and the Daleks attempt to keep the escapees from getting to the lift and going up to the surface–over 100 levels.  Now, finally, they’re all “Exterminate! Exterminate!” like proper Daleks. No more pretending to be nice and bringing people lunch on a tray.

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Dr. Who: The Daleks, Part 3

The Escape

That’s a reassuring episode title.

At the end of the previous episode, the Doctor’s granddaughter Susan had just reached the Tardis to retrieve the box containing vials of medicine that will save him and her schoolteachers Ian and Barbara from a horrible death by radiation sickness. Just as she steps out of the Tardis to return to the Dalek city, she runs into one of those “disgustingly mutated” Thals the Daleks spoke of.

By “disgustingly mutated,” of course they meant strapping blond Aryan types.

Susan and the Thal

Or, as Susan says once she realizes who this guy must be, “But you’re perfect!” (After he says “Don’t be afraid,” and she cowers and says “Don’t hurt me!” several times.)

He introduces himself as Alydon, apologizes for having frightened her when he touched her yesterday–although they never explained why she didn’t notice the big blond man in a cloak standing near her at the time. He wasn’t invisible; you can glimpse his hand when he touches her shoulder. He also reveals that he left the drugs outside the Tardis last night for her and her friends to use. Yes, left, not dropped. He’s horrified that they haven’t taken them yet.

When he hears Susan’s story about the Daleks, he asks she trusts them, and thinks that the Daleks probably want the medicine for themselves. “If they call us mutants, what must they be like?” Just in case, he gives her another box of medication for her companions, and also his cloak, before he sees Susan off to the city.

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Dr. Who: The Daleks, Part 2

The Survivors

Barbara meets a DalekWhile Barbara is meeting her first Dalek (although we don’t get to see it) at the end of Part 1, the Doctor, Susan, and Ian eventually return to the point where they entered the city. When Barbara doesn’t turn up, they go in search of her. Along the way, the trio comes upon a room containing monitoring instruments that appear to be in use; among these is a Geiger Counter, clicking rapidly.

So now they know all about the dangerously high radiation levels they’ve been wandering around in for the last two days and understand the significance of the ashen soil, the dead and crumbling forest, and this apparently empty city. They also realize why all of them have been feeling so strangely tired.

The Doctor posits that a neutron bomb would cause such devastation, but leave the buildings intact. I remember there being talk of neutron bombs back in the 1980s, but didn’t realize that the idea of such a nuclear weapon was around in the early ’60s. Whatever type of bomb caused this, it’s urgent that they hurry back to the Tardis and go to another place and time where they can be treated as soon as possible for radiation sickness.

Ian mentions that they must find some mercury, and the Doctor makes a confession: there’s nothing wrong with the little fluid link gizmo; he nobbled the Tardis just so they would have to come and explore the city. But now that he’s in danger, he wants to go and leave Barbara behind.

Back in the Stone Age story, I said that this version of the character is more like Dr. Smith than any Doctor I’m later familiar with–and here’s another example. But he isn’t as camp.

Susan and Ian refuse to go without Barbara, and Ian has the fluid link, so it’s useless for the Doctor to go back to the Tardis alone.

The argument turns out to be moot in any case. Before they can go anywhere, they are surrounded by oversized, xenophobic,  metal pepper-pots that hysterically shriek “Exterminate!

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Dr. Who: The Daleks, Part 1

Meet the Daleks

I’m not going to blog-review all of Doctor Who the way I did Dark Shadows. I haven’t even seen all of Doctor Who and I don’t intend to. But after reviewing An Adventure in Space and Time and the very first episodes featuring William Hartnell that came along with it, I thought I’d look at more of these earliest episodes of a series that’s been running for slightly longer than I’ve been alive, as well as some of the other more important or interesting ones along the way.

Starting with this story that made Doctor Who a hit back in 1963 and introduced a pop-cultural icon to the world.

It’s a long story, covering seven episodes, each with its own title. I’m going to take them one at a time.

The Dead Planet

This first episode begins where the rather lackluster Stone-Age storyline left off: the Doctor, his granddaughter Susan, and their two reluctant Radiation companions, Susan’s schoolteachers Barbara Wright and Ian Chesterton, have just landed on a new and unfamiliar planet. They go to freshen up before heading outside to explore. Unseen by them, the radiation monitor–which was reading a normal level when Susan checked it a minute earlier–now rises up into the Danger zone. The group leaves the Tardis, oblivious to the radioactivity all around them.

But they do observe its effects on the environment. As they walk through  the strangely white forest, they discover that the soil is all sand and ashes and, while there is a breeze, the trees don’t move; Ian easily crumbles a branch with his fingers. They find a dead creature that looks something like a spiny armored lizard, with scales of metal. 

At the edge of the forest, they see a vast city that appears to be empty.

Metal lizard

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Dr. Who: The first episodes

The first four episodes of Doctor Who are included on an extra DVD that comes with the BBC film about the creation and early days of the series, An Adventure in Space and Time. I’ve already reviewed the pilot, “An Unearthly Child,” which aired in late November 1963 and introduced two UK schoolteachers and the general public to a mysterious and somewhat cranky old man from another planet who traveled around time and space with his teenaged granddaughter in a police box. Now it’s time to see what happens after that.

In its very earliest days, each individual episode of Doctor Who was given its own title; it wasn’t until later that all the episodes covering one storyline had an overall name. I’ve decided to go through all three of these at once.

Last

Cave of Skulls

This episode picks up where An Unearthly Child left off, with the Tardis sitting in a desolate, sandy landscape and the shadow of a human figure nearby. We now see that it’s a caveman; the flashback that follows reveals that his name is Kal and gives us the situation that sets the plot up. In short: Kal is a scheming outsider who has recently come to the local tribe, and sees a situation he can take advantage of.

Among this tribe, the one who can make fire is their leader, but the last Firemaker has died and didn’t pass on the secret. His son, Za, has no clue how to go about it and sits pathetically rolling what looks like a humerus (upper arm) bone between his hands over a pile of twigs and invoking Orb, the sun god to give him flame. Uh, no.

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