CLASSIC TV reviews: DOCTOR WHO! STORY 13 – THE WEB PLANET !!!

This installment of IT WILL NOT BE TELEVISED we take the way back machine to the swinging and bloody early days of 1965, and look at a serial from season 2 of a little known (at the time) Brit show called Doctor Who! And the serial, the 13th Who Serial, is called THE WEB PLANET.

Onto the review:

SERIAL 13 THE WEB PLANET
Original Airdate Weekly from 13 Feb 1965- 20 Mar 1965
Doctor Who: The Web Planet (Story 13) (See all Sci-Fi & Fantasy Cult Movies)


First let’s start with a bit of back-story. What was happening in the world over the six weeks, six Fridays, this serial went out on? Well The News during this Time is… all too human:

-The first US combat troops arrive in Vietnam. By the end of the year, 190,000 American soldiers are in Vietnam.

-In the Audubon Ballroom in New york City on 21 Feb 1965 El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (perhaps better known as Malcolm X) was assassinated before a crowd of hundreds including his pregnant wife, and 3 of his 4 children.

-18th March, 1965: A Soviet cosmonaut known as Lt. Col. Alexei Leonov exited the spacecraft Voskshod II for a short “spin”. He completed a somersault, and then proceeded to take pictures of space. This took place just days before the U.S. planned to launch its first two-man spaceship and becomes the first man to walk in space.

-18th February, 1965 : An avalanche and Glacial Slide caused the deaths of 26 miners who were removing copper ore from underneath a glacier in British Columbia.

-15th February, 1965 : It was proclaimed by Queen Elizabeth II of England that the Maple leaf would become Canada’s new national flag symbol.

-20th February, 1965 : The Ranger 8 spacecraft crashed on the moon after sending back thousands of pictures of the lunar surface

-2nd March : The Sound of Music Premier 1965

-7th March, 1965 : Troopers with night sticks, shotguns and tear-gas grenades violently confronted 600 civil rights marchers during an attempted 50-mile march from Selma to the Alabama state capitol Montgomery.

-Optical Disk —– 1965 USA by James Russell – now Compact Disk CD / DVD

-The Supremes, “Stop! In The Name Of Love” rises to the top of the charts

So that’s a look at the world 46 years ago. And for a bigger kick to put that world in perspective, here are what things cost then (US prices):

Cost of a new home: $21,500.00
Cost of a first-class stamp: $0.05
Cost of a gallon of regular gas: $0.31
Cost of a dozen eggs: $0.53
Cost of a gallon of Milk: $0.95
Federal debt: $322.3 billion

Average Income per year $6,450.00 (Needless to say this average income bought you a lot more more back then, than today’s average income of $39,423.00 is going to buy you. For one thing far more of today’s money is eaten up in taxes upon taxes, and most things have multiplied faster than income… ie stamps and petrol and the price of a house are nearly 10 times 1965 levels, while income is barely 6 times 1965 levels. So income is trailing inflation by nearly 50% overtime, and that’s not even accounting for various new forms of taxation. And just think, you thought this was just a Doctor Who review! :) )

While the Brits may have been watching Doctor Who (and let’s be honest, very few of them were doing that), In the States the airwaves were packed with shows eating up the ratings from THE FUGITIVE to BEWITCHED to MAN FROM UNCLE to VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA to BONANZA to ED SULLIVAN to JONNY QUEST to popular music shows such as SHINGDIG. And 1965 would only provide more programs to keep Americans occupied.

It wouldn’t be till the late 70s, and Public Broadcasting’s increased efforts going across the pond for programming… that would introduce the States to this thing called Doctor Who. And indeed give the show the added funding to keep it running, when other BBC shows of the period had given up the ghost.

And being one of the few shows of the fantastic, Doctor Who offered a cross cultural appeal that continues to… stand the test of time. So to speak. :)

So without further ado the review of the 13th Doctor Who story, starring William Hartnell and written by Bill Strutton, produced by Verity Lambert, and directed by Richard Martin:

    EPISODE 1 OF 6

THE WEB PLANET- by Bill Strutton. More shockingly bad alien costumes. Dennis Spooner graduates to script editor. This is a mysterious but not particularly satisfying series opener. Unimpressively directed by Richard Martin. C.

    EPISODE 2 OF 6

THE ZARBI- Strange premise with more shockingly inept alien costumes. Here’s the thing, if you don’t have the budget to do something convincingly… then don’t do it. Not without interest, but those sets and costumes… uggh. C-.

    EPISODE 3 OF 6

ESCAPE TO DANGER- I do like how the Menoptra move. Very elegant. It was Richard Martin’s idea to have dancers play the Menoptra, and a great idea it was. Lacking their… grace, and performances, and strangeness I would not be writing this review. Roslyn de Winter, an Australian mime, was hired to choreograph the Menoptra’s movements and speech, and also plays the central Menoptra… Vrestin. For the actress to act through all that makeup is impressive… for all the actors actually. With this episode I became interested in the serial, in spite of its constraints. B-.

    EPISODE 4 OF 6

CRATER OF NEEDLES- You have to give this serial points for sheer imagination. So much creativity. If I was a kid, the target audience, I would have loved this serial. It is very well written, and passionately performed. And the flying scenes, and battles are quite lovingly staged. While as an adult I could ask for better costumes, effects, sets, what they pull off is still quite impressive. The strength of Doctor Who, being the same strength of The Simpsons or any good Pixar movie, it is layered, smart writing to appeal to both adults and kids. B+.

    EPISODE 5 OF 6

INVASION- From a serial I almost did not finish, when I saw the first one, this has really grown on me. Beyond the questionable budget it is quite a lovely fable, and also at times quite touching, and quite dire.

    EPISODE 6 OF 6


THE CENTRE- All routes lead to the center, as the Doctor and his Crew and the butterfly like Menoptra battle the Animus, an eater of worlds, at the center of all things. A strong denouement, for a surprisingly good serial. B/B+.

So in summation this six part series is not, when recalled, fondly remembered by most. That said its first episode, THE WEB PLANET, originally brought in 13.5 million viewers, the most of any Doctor Who broadcast of the 60s.

Doctor Who never brought in great numbers, but it managed to be consistent, and have a passionate fan-base. Which accounts for the longevity of both the original series, and the success of the new series. If you can get past the questionable first couple episodes, and go along with the conceits, I think you’ll find a serial that is surprisingly… fun. Overall grade: B/B+.

You can pick up the DVD using the link below AND support this blog at the same time! Say it ain’t so, Joe! :) ! But seriously I only recommend things I myself own, and I appreciate any purchasing you do via this blog. Thanks!

Doctor Who: The Web Planet (Story 13) (See all Sci-Fi & Fantasy Cult Movies)

Sources:

http://www.shannonsullivan.com/- Offers background info on this episode
http://www.listzblog.com- Nice overview of popular shows by period
http://www.tvparty.com/- More great overview of what’s hot in tv by year
http://oldies.about.com/od/60srockers/tp/topten1965.htm- A great overview of popular music by year
http://www.1960sflashback.com/- Helped with research on prices in 1965
http://www.ssa.gov/oact/cola/AWI.html- more prices over time data
http://www.thepeoplehistory.com/- another great tool for prices over time
http://doctorwhoreviews.co.uk/N.htm- for a helpful scan, plus see it for another take on this serial. Good stuff.

Doctor Who Season 5 Review: Steven Moffat’s Reign?

Steven Moffat, on the strength of some stellar self-contained DR. WHO stories in the first four seasons of the revamped WHO series (see my Best of Doctor Who posting), was rewarded in the fifth season by being promoted to lead writer/show runner, replacing Russell T. Davies.

Russell T. Davies the heart of this new WHO, was clearly running out of things to say with the character by the 4th season, so Moffat would seem to be the perfect choice to replace him (the episode BLINK written by Moffat and directed by Hettie MacDonald being arguably the finest hour of Dr. Who done to date).

Particularly when you consider between season 4 and season 5, (specials not counted) was an almost 2 year delay, you would have thought Season 5 would have had all the kinks worked out and been a solid season… ready to… wow.

Unfortunately that is not the case.

Season 5 sporting a new Doctor, a new companion, a new look and a new lead writer, is a season I was rooting for to be great, but it just isn’t. It’s not even good.

I mean the first two episodes show promise, THE ELEVENTH HOUR is a good into to the new Doctor, though almost immediately the character of Amy begins to annoy me. Still overall an okay B- episode.

Next is THE BEAST BELOW which was a good episode, and was one of the only times all season I thought the character of Amy was remotely helpful/interesting. It’s solid writing by Moffat that elevates this episode to a B/B+.

However, after this episode from the VICTORY OF THE DALEKS on, Amy and her boyfriend, and their whole angsty issues just like the Mickey/Rose subplot, annoyed. And the shows felt like chores to get through rather than entertainment, all the way up to the mess of a two part season finale.

And while a lot of this is the writing, a lot is the casting (There are exceptions such as the character of River Song, played by the brilliant Alex Kingston [of ER fame] , who was fantastic last season, and is even better this season. And I also quite like the character of the Bloody Queen played wonderfully by Sophie Okenedo).

The new Doctor is okay, Matt Smith is likeable enough, but his companion and her boyfriend are “turn the channel people”. When I see them on the screen, I want to change the channel. That’s harsh I know, unfortunately… it’s not untrue.

We’ll get back to that in a bit, but all this adds up to not good omens for the 5th season, because Matt Smith is filling big, and overwhelmingly liked and respected shoes in David Tennant’s Doctor, and Matt won’t fill those shoes on his personality/performance alone. He’ll need everything working with him in this season, including the cast, the scripts the direction, all working at full steam… and unfortunately for the most part it doesn’t.

And as stated one of the big hangups this season is the casting. One of the weaknesses of RTD ‘s reign was the horrendous writing of the character Mickey, however this was made up for by the great character of Rose and a stellar, endearing, effervescent performance by Billie Piper, and the great dynamic between her and the great actors that played the Doctor, Eccleston and Tennant. Martha, played by the wonderful Freema Agyeman was likewise a fantastically written and performed character (In fact my personal favorite of the companions).

Unfortunately the character of Amy is no Rose or Martha, she is as annoying as those characters were charming. She and her boyfriend/fiance are this season’s Mickey, largely annoying characters.

Evidently BBC is skewing younger for this season of Doctor Who, a British Dawson’s Creek feel, and I think that is to this season’s detriment.

And on top of the irritating characters, this season suffers largely un-compelling scripts and tired plot-lines.

Example: Daleks AGAIN!??

Really???

Are you going to use them every other episode?? Come on, really?!

The Daleks have built up fleets and been destroyed seemingly half a dozen times in the last couple of seasons. It cheapens and weakens the “ultimate’ enemy, for it be pulled out and dispatched like a parlor trick every other episode.

And the season seemed replete with such retreading of RTD plotlines, and “ultimate enemy” storylines. Moffet seemingly trying to outdo RTD in the universe shaking event, and for my money fails. Universe destroying event after event, becomes meaningless and boring when not used sparingly. Moffat forgetting that the intimate smaller stories is what got him the job as lead writer, that’s his strength, and in this season he completely fails to play to those strengths. Epic is what RTD does, trying to follow him up with more epic, to out epic him,… was not a wise decision.

Watching the season, it was hard to believe the innovative writer behind BLINK could helm a season so lacking in innovation or interest. It felt like a redo of other/better seasons.

Season 5 did the one thing a Dr. Who season should never do… it bored me.