TV Club: Doctor Who, The Romans

“The Romans” (season 2, episodes 12-15. Originally aired Jan. 16-Feb. 6, 1965)

Doctor Who was never more willing to experiment with different kinds of stories than during its first couple of seasons, which jumped from the post-apocalyptic monsters of “The Daleks” to the 13th-century historical epic “Marco Polo” to the futuristic sci-fi of “The Sensorites” and back to history again, but with a more farcical touch, in “The Romans.” Partly this was because it was a good idea to try a varied approach, since nobody was sure yet what fit the show best, but it was also a conscious choice by producer Verity Lambert and the show’s first two script editors, David Whitaker and Dennis Spooner. “The Romans” is a historical story like “Marco Polo” and “The Aztecs,” but differs in one crucial respect: It’s less interested in the history for its own sake than using it as a backdrop for thrills and comedy.

It’s pretty clear that by this point in the series, four stories into the second season, the original idea that Doctor Who should provide both entertainment and lessons in history and science was going by the wayside, if not almost entirely gone. Spooner, who not only wrote this story but made his unofficial debut as script editor here, is not particularly careful with his facts about ancient Roman life, changing Nero’s age (he was in his mid-20s, not middle-aged) and embracing the legend that he was personally responsible for the Great Fire of Rome, in both cases because it lets him tell the story he wanted to tell instead of, y’know, what actually happened. Not that I have any big problem with that; Doctor Who isn’t exactly a documentary, and it’s not something the series was ever very committed to even at the start.

Originally published Sept. 30, 2012 on Read the complete article.

TV Club: Doctor Who, The Seeds Of Doom

“The Seeds Of Doom” (season 13, episodes 21-26; originally aired Jan. 31-March 6, 1976)

Horror and good old-fashioned scariness have always been a big part of Doctor Who’s appeal. The standard joke in the early ’60s was that kids watched the show from behind the sofa, not on it, for fear of the Daleks. The Silence and the Weeping Angels serve the same function today. But in seasons 12 to 14, the early years of Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor, the series made horror a driving force. The show started to push at the boundaries of what you could get away with in family-friendly TV, with a focus on the intensity of the violence and the creep factor that echoed Hammer Studios movies. It had the desired effect of getting attention, good and bad—ratings went up, but so did complaints from censorious conservatives. That was a primary factor in why the BBC broke up the creative team after season 14, packing off producer Philip Hinchcliffe to take over crime series Target, with script editor Robert Holmes leaving soon after. But it was a great ride while it lasted—out of the 17 serials made in these three years, I’d call 10 absolute classics, and none of the remainder are less than watchable and entertaining.

And “The Seeds Of Doom” is one of the greats. A tightly written and directed horror/thriller about an alien weed called a Krynoid, it’s anchored by a great performance by Baker that capitalizes on the rapid mood swings and charismatic intensity of his Doctor to underscore the atmosphere of unearthly danger with grim hints of what he knows but isn’t telling us about Krynoids, and then to work as his own comic relief with a zinger and a toothy smile that lightens the mood without letting you forget there’s an apocalypse blooming in the garden.

Originally published Sept. 16, 2012 on Read the complete article.

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