TV Club: Doctor Who, The Silurians

“Doctor Who And The Silurians” (season 7, episodes 5-11; originally aired 1/31-3/14/1970)

Jumping from “The War Games” to “The Silurians” is one of the smallest leaps forward in time we’ve made in this feature so far, with the two stories separated by only a single serial, “Spearhead From Space.” But although they were made less than a year apart, and by many of the same people, the differences between them make Doctor Who feel like it’s almost a completely new series.

A big part of that, of course, is the switch to color from black-and-white, and the increased use of on-location filming in places like Marylebone Station in London that brought a new realism to Doctor Who’s visual presentation. But there was also, as I noted in my “Spearhead From Space” writeup, a very conscious mandate for season seven to tell stories that were more morally complex than earlier years, and that would keep the attention of both adult audiences as well as the kids. Season-opener “Spearhead From Space” laid the groundwork for this, but most of its energy went to establishing the fact of the Doctor’s new Earthbound exile after his “War Games” trial, and introducing the new triad of main characters (the Brigadier, Liz Shaw, and the Third Doctor), who would work together to defend Earth from alien invasion and other sci-fi threats. The Doctor himself had not been terribly active in “Spearhead From Space” either, spending half the story in a hospital bed, which was another way of giving the setting and supporting characters more screentime. “The Silurians” picked up those loose threads, putting the Doctor firmly back at center stage in a story that resisted being broken down into simple divisions of good versus evil. Although it’s three episodes longer than “Spearhead From Space,” “The Silurians” keeps a snappy pace throughout thanks to Malcolm Hulke’s well-plotted script.

Originally published Dec. 18 on Read the complete article.

Review: Minnesota Beatle Project Vol. 3

As new local traditions go, few could be better or more welcome than the Minnesota Beatle Project, now in its third year of collecting Fab Four covers to raise money for music and art education. As on previous editions, Vol. 3 is heavy on rootsy folk-rockers and indie bands, with a notable absence of hip-hop. But if the roster could’ve been more comprehensive, the album doesn’t lack for passion, joy, and listenability.

Beatles covers are tricky, since the original songs are both extremely well known and well played—it’s very hard to top John, Paul, George, and Ringo at their own game. Which is not to say that bands shouldn’t try, but it’s risky, and the most faithful covers on Vol. 3 don’t avoid the pitfalls. Pop-punkers Motion City Soundtrack deserve credit for recreating the gentle beauty of George Harrison’s “Here Comes The Sun,” but they don’t put a lot of their own stamp on it—which makes the cover pointless, because Harrison’s version isn’t exactly hard to find. The key to a great cover song is not to hit the target dead-center—that’s for tribute bands—but to make it different. One way to do that is to deliberately wrench an over-familiar song out of its original context, as Solid Gold does on a marvelously reworked version of Harrison’s “Love You To,” translating earthy, sitar-drenched psychedelia into its own icily sophisticated, synth-heavy milieu.

The rest of Vol. 3’s best songs take a simpler approach, choosing songs from the Beatles’ incredibly broad catalog that fit each band’s individual personality but allow for a little wiggle room. Cloud Cult’s version of “Help!” forefronts the pleading in John Lennon’s lyrics, highlighting Craig Minowa’s great gift of capturing emotional vulnerability in his music. Shoegaze/noise duo Red Pens find a perfect match in “Helter Skelter,” giving guitarist/vocalist Howard Hamilton a great opportunity to scream and shred. Duluth bluesman Charlie Parr’s old-school authenticity is a breath of fresh air on Paul McCartney’s “Rocky Raccoon,” and blues-punkers The 4onthefloor deliver a stomping version of “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?” that roars with caveman-like lustiness—which is really the only sane way to approach that particular song.

Minnesota Beatle Project Vol. 3 shares its official CD-release show with Minnesota’s other great Beatle-related tradition, Curtiss A’s annual Dec. 8 John Lennon tribute at First Avenue. Bands performing include White Light Riot, Dark Dark Dark And Her Choir, and Me And My Arrow.

Originally published Dec. 5 on Read the complete article.

TV Club: Doctor Who, The War Games, episodes 6-10

“The War Games,” episodes 6-10 (season 6, episodes 40-44. Originally aired May 24-June 21, 1969)

It’s tempting to skip ahead and dive right into the final episode of “The War Games,” since it casts the longest shadow over Doctor Who‘s future evolution. The War Lords may be in all 10 episodes of the story, but they never return to the series, and the Time Lords do—even now when they’re all dead or missing, the Doctor’s guilt and loneliness over their absence is a crucial element of his character. And just in the interest of keeping this relatively short, I’m not going to spend a lot of time on episodes six through nine, even though there’s a lot of interest happening in that penultimate section of the serial, as the long arc of the War Zones story enters its final phase.

In a way, “War Games” recapitulates in miniature Doctor Who‘s development over its first six seasons—beginning by dropping the Doctor and his companions into (what appears to be, but isn’t really) a horrifyingly real and deadly historical story before slowly shifting into more familiarly strange and psychedelic sci-fi territory. And since that’s actually where the Doctor is more comfortable, it ‘s maybe not surprising that his actions against the War Zones’ alien masters grow bolder and more effective as things progress. In fact, the major tension in the story during this section isn’t really about whether the Doctor will win, even though there are a few times he appears to be in deadly peril or imminent defeat. It’s about the growing dissension in the ranks of the villains, as the distrust between the Security Chief and War Chief boils over and the renegade Time Lord turns out to have different objectives than his alien allies. (This feeds into the “is he really the Master?” question, which I’ll get into a little later.)

Originally published Dec. 4 on Read the complete article.

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