TV Club: Doctor Who, “Robot”

“Robot” (season 12, episodes 1-4; originally aired 12/28/1974-1/18/1975)

Before landing the role that would make him an icon of science-fiction TV, Tom Baker spent six years studying to be a monk, did a stint in the army, worked a construction job, and played an evil wizard in a Ray Harryhausen movie. As resumes go, that’s all over the place, and it reminds me of a Dave Foley line from NewsRadio: “Sounds like a drifter.” But it’s somehow perfect for the guy who gave us the most unpredictable incarnation of the Doctor in the history of the show, and helped it achieve both some of its greatest moments and some of its worst.

“Robot,” his 1974 debut, is a mixed bag—certainly not a disaster, but hampered by a story full of holes and logical inconsistencies, it’s still fun to watch thanks to the charisma of the actors, a wealth of clever moments, and some inconsistent but mostly engaging sci-fi adventure.

Regeneration stories always have twice as much to carry as as other Doctor Who stories, since they not only introduce the new lead, but usually do so by wrapping that reveal around a plotline that’s otherwise unrelated to the regeneration. (Next week’s “Castrovalva” is one of the rare exceptions.) “Robot” succeeds splendidly as Tom Baker’s debut, but the main plotline never really gels.

Originally published June 26, 2011 on Read the complete article.

TV Club: Doctor Who, “Spearhead From Space”

“Spearhead From Space” (season 7, episodes 1-4; originally aired 1/3/1970-1/24/1970)

It’s a Whovian truism that whenever the Doctor regenerates, Doctor Who reinvents itself as well. But the debut of Third Doctor Jon Pertwee in 1970′s “Spearhead From Space” was a far more radical refocusing of the series than any other regeneration—not merely adapting the tone of the show for the quirks and strengths of a new lead actor, but massively overhauling everything, from the mood and the look to the kinds of stories the show would tell. If it hadn’t succeeded, I’m not sure we’d still remember Doctor Who today, let alone be publishing articles about it 41 years later.

A bit of background: As the 1960s were winding down, so were Doctor Who‘s ratings. Patrick Troughton had also decided that after three years, it would be wise to leave the show to avoid typecasting. Although there were some creative triumphs in Troughton’s last season, particularly “The Mind Robber,” my impression is that the show was increasing seen as stale and formulaic in comparison to Star Trek as well as other British sci-fi shows of the time, like The Prisoner and The Avengers, all of which had also proven that grownups, not just kids, would tune in to this stuff if the stories appealed to them. And so when Troughton left in 1969′s “The War Games,” the producers took the opportunity to wipe the slate clean. The Second Doctor was captured by the Time Lords, the people from whom he’d been a fugitive all this time. His human companions were sent back to their own times with their memories erased, and the Doctor himself was sentenced to a combination of death (enforced regeneration) and exile to Earth. The last we see of Troughton is him spinning away into a black void, screaming.

When Doctor Who came back, it was grounded, in more ways than one.

Originally published June 19, 2011 on Read the complete article.

Interview: Roe Family Singers

Quillan Roe has always loved country and folk music, first making his name in the Twin Cities music scene as leader of ’90s alt-country combo Accident Clearinghouse, which blended alt-country with a healthy strain of traditional bluegrass. In the Roe Family Singers, Roe and his wife Kim have embraced old-school folk with genuine joy. For proof, just stop by the 331 Club on any Monday night, where the Roes have held court for more than six years. “We’ve only missed twice,” notes Quillan with pride. “One year it was Christmas, and the next it was Christmas Eve.”

The weekly gig began as an open stage, says Roe: “We didn’t know enough material to fill even the hour and a half we were booked for, so we put out a call to pretty much any musician that we knew.” But it’s since solidified into a loose-knit nine-member combo of considerable verve, shaking the roof of the cozy Northeast bar with Depression-era blues and gospel tunes. The band takes over the 331 this weekend to release its sprightly second album, The Owl And The Bat And The Bumblebee, headlining Friday night with Lisa Fuglie & Mark Anderson and The Cactus Blossoms, and Saturday night with the Como Avenue Jug Band, as well as performing an all-ages in-store at the Electric Fetus on Saturday at 3 p.m. The Roes sat down with The A.V. Club to talk about balancing murder ballads with kids’ lullabies, and winning the Stanley Cup of waffle irons.

Originally posted on June 17, 2011. Read the complete article.

TV Club: Doctor Who, “Tomb of the Cybermen”

“Tomb of the Cybermen” (series 5, episodes 1-4; originally aired 9/2/1967-9/23/1967)

We’re jumping forward in time for the second installment of this look back at the early days of Doctor Who, and much like a certain drifting Time Lord, I’m not able to land exactly where I’d really like to. My plan for the first eight of these writeups is to visit the debut episode of each actor to play the Doctor, but history has conspired against me. Many of the episodes from the black-and-white of the show are gone, erased by the BBC so they could re-use the videotape—this was considered disposable entertainment, and nothing that would be of any lasting interest or marketability. Copies of some of those shows were rediscovered later, including the one we’re about to dive into, but a large portion of the shows starring William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton as the Doctor exist today only as still pictures, scripts, and audio. Troughton’s entire first season is affected by this, so I’ve opted to spring ahead to the start of his second season (the show’s fifth overall), for his earliest complete serial, “Tomb of the Cybermen.”

For a long time, “Tomb” enjoyed a reputation as one of the triumphs of this era of Doctor Who, but this was while the show was still missing, and fans were basing their opinions mainly on memory. Its flaws are awfully apparent today, with huge gaps in story logic and some really unfortunate racial stereotyping, but it has plenty of good moments as well.

Chief among the good bits is the solid performance by Troughton, whose new take on the Doctor was by this point firmly established. And it’s still the dominant one, particularly now that Matt Smith has based a lot of his Eleventh Doctor specifically on Troughton’s Second. That’s partly due to Troughton’s undeniable talent—he’s always watchable and often fascinatingly subtle, even when the stories themselves don’t hold up.

Originally published June 12, 2011 on Read the complete article.

TV Club: Doctor Who, “An Unearthly Child”

It’s November 23, 1963. The future, for the next few years, is going to be more chaotic and world-expanding than most people can imagine, although some sense of that is surely dawning, as people watch news coverage of John F. Kennedy’s assassination in stunned disbelief; it just happened yesterday. (And over on Mad Men, Roger Sterling’s daughter’s wedding has just been ruined by this news.) Amid this flurry, Doctor Who began its marathon run through time and space, eventually becoming the longest-running science-fiction series in TV history.

Over the course of these columns, we’ll explore a wide range of the show’s history covering the first eight incarnations of the mysterious Time Lord. It’s a lot to take in, and if you need an overview of all this before we start, read the Primer I wrote last year and then meet us back here.

OK, everyone ready? We’re going to start, naturally enough, at the beginning. What we’re about to watch is a four-part serial, originally broadcast in 25-minute segments over the course of a month—the format that the show would follow for almost the entirety of its original run. It’s really two completely separate stories, with the first episode establishing the overall premise and introducing the four main characters and their timeship, the TARDIS, and the next three (often referred to separately under the title “100,000 B.C.”) constituting the travelers’ first proper adventure. Along with the next story, “The Daleks,” (which I’ll cover later on), pretty much everything that will define the series is established here. The first episode is, I think, brilliantly done; the next three together could be about a half-hour shorter but get the job done.

Originally published June 5, 2011 on Read the complete article.

WordPress Themes

Spam prevention powered by Akismet