Thursday, 22 June 2017

The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe

Chapter The 57th, a flurry of Christmas sparkle in the middle of Summer.

Plot: 
England, Christmas, 1938. Madge Arwell gives the Doctor a lift back to the TARDIS when he's fallen out of a spaceship with his space helmet on the wrong way round. To repay her favour, he presumably researches her family history in intricate detail, time travels forward to 1941, takes over and renovates Madge's relative's country house where she and her two children are coming to stay for Christmas, and installs all manner of amusements. This is to cheer them up, because Madge's RAF pilot husband, Reg, has recently been lost in action. How the Doctor's had time to find all this out, let alone arrange all the work, when he's usually so busy with saving the world and stuff, remains a mystery. She only gave him a lift for goodness sakes. K9 saved his life many times and beat him at chess (once), but K9 only got rudeness in return.

Anyway, part of the cheering up is a present for the kids, Lily and Cyril, which turns out to be a portal into another world where there are sinister forests, creepy wooden statue people, monstrous articulated multi-story robot walkers, and acid rain. Everyone enters this world and ends up in dire peril. Don't let the Doctor arrange your children's parties, is the moral. The souls of the trees in the forest (ok... what now?!) need to escape inside the consciousness of a middle-aged woman (I'm going to try to stick with it) who can pilot them through the time vortex by thinking of sentimental memories (I'm losing it) and release them into the stars (no, sorry, it's gone). Anyway, inadvertently while doing this, Madge saves Reg, and everyone is cheered up ever after. Madge encourages the Doctor to go and see Amy and Rory, as last time they saw him, it looked like he'd died. Don't you remember, back when everyone in the universe thought the Doctor was dead? No? And the Daleks had no records of who he was? No? Don't worry, they forgot all that pretty quickly on the show too.

Context:
Grabbing an hour of shade on a Sunday during a summer heatwave in the UK, I watched the episode with the Better Half and the two younger children (boy of 7, girl of 5). It was the first time either of the children had viewed it, but the second attempt for the middle child. We'd put it on over the Christmas period in 2011, but the eerie scenes in the forest freaked him out so much, we never tried again. He was fine with it this time round, but his sister was a little unsettled.


First-time round:
Christmas Day 2011 doesn't seem that long ago, but it's more than a lifetime in the case of my daughter, who didn't exist when TDTWATW (as no-one is calling it) first went out. The children's maternal great-grandmother, Vi, was still with us then, but it was sadly to be her last Christmas. She came for lunch on the big day, but would have left before Who's broadcast. Vi would not have watched Doctor Who even if she'd stayed a little later, not after having viewed the Christmas special with me in 2007 and found it hard going. "Who thinks up these horrible things?" was her one-liner review, as I remember. Anyway, once visiting relatives had been waved goodbye, and the two boys put to bed, I would have watched the recording late in the evening of the 25th, with the Better Half offering moral support. We fell more or less into this pattern for all Matt Smith's festive ones, with the addition, from the following year, of a forced sit-through of the Downton Abbey Christmas special on my part.

Downton's first Christmas episode was probably being shown around the time we were watching the recorded Doctor Who, as that ITV tradition started also in 2011, but the Better Half didn't disover that show and catch up with its first two series until 2012. The few Christmasses after that were pleasant exchanges of reciprocal incomprehensibility in the overfed, overbeered hours of a yuletide evening: "Why is he in old guy make-up now?" "Why is the crack in the wall back?" "Have we ever met this footman before?" "What relation is the American guy from Sideways to the Granthams again?" The lifetime of Downton Abbey has been and gone since then too, of course, but Doctor Who endures. I have to sit through Call The Midwife these days, though; fair exchange is no mockery.

Reaction:
What's most obvious when watching The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe is how slight it is. Every time I watch it, I marvel that the plot manages to reach an hour's duration without petering out completely. There's some incidentt, with great wintery visuals punctuating proceedings throughout. The atmosphere of the forest of Androzani Major trees is decidedly creepy, as evidenced by the reactions of my children over the years. So why doesn't it work? Perhaps it's that nothing much is at stake. There's a moment where the audience are supposed to feel a rush of righteous excitement because Madge is fighting to save her children from danger. But there isn't any danger. The tree people are victims seeking help, the tree harvesters are bumbling comic idiots, the acid rain only makes a few holes in Madge's coat. These are characters, lest we forget, that are being bombed every night; this frightening Doctor Who adventure is less stressful than their day-to-day life.

Maybe writer and showrunner Steven Moffat is feeling his way with how scary he can make a festive episode. His first effort the year before worked, but he was heavily insured by doing a version of A Christmas Carol, i.e. borrowing a timeless, tamper-proof structure that's been used, reused, and abused for more than a hundred years. His Christmas shows that followed this, like The Snowmen, and particularly Last Christmas, really upped the fear factor, and were much better for it. Maybe Moffat was holding back here.

None of the guest stars has more than a cameo, really; even Claire Skinner doesn't get a whole heap to do as the nominal protagonist, Madge: she's weepy but stoic, weepy but stoic, weepy but stoic with a gun, then happy. It's not the most sweeping character arc, and feels like a waste of her talents. Excellent and eagerly-awaited turns from the likes of Bill Bailey and Arabella Weir are pissed away in essentially a single scene of sub-sitcom quips and exposition. It's a great shame. The kids are good, and Matt Smith is always good value when put in scenes with kids. In fact, scratch what I said before, Matt Smith's Doctor is the protagonist of the piece, and it's the story of how he learns to cry with happiness. The story seems even more slight when put like that. It's undermined by Matt Smith's portrayal in the past, and the history of the Doctor from day one: he's no Spock, he understands and shares in human-like emotions, and he doesn't repress them. So, this is the story of how he comes to do something that we knew or suspected he could do anyway. Big whoop.

There are some good jokes and nice references in the script, both from the world of Doctor Who (Androzani, the Forest of Cheem) and elsewhere (the mention of the Doctor's model not being to scale is surely a Back to the Future reference). The opening sequence has a certain chutzpah, a long spaceship's overhead glide, just like the start of Star Wars, but it's just to set up a gag: you thought this was the Big Bad of this episode? No, the Doctor's blown them up before they can make it to the end of their first threat. The family life scenes are deftly achieved with only a few broad strokes. But any nimbleness in the script is smothered with a suffocatingly thick layer of sentimentality. Sentiment slips into sentimentality, and emotion slips into melodrama, when the reactions of a script or character aren't earned. That's another key problem with this story: Madge and her family are nice enough but not particularly of special merit, and their situation is not out of the ordinary for the time. One can push their ordinariness as the key point - like what was done with the similarly modern historical family in The Fires of Pompeii - there's nothing special about them, which makes it all the more poignant that they're in danger, and that the Doctor chooses to save them. If that was the intention here, they didn't really pull it off.

Connectivity: 
Another Doctor Who take on pre-existing material. After myths and fairy tales, this is channelling a specific text (The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, of course). Both stories contain something that looks like a statue, but which moves. Also, both see the Doctor helping out a family group, though he thankfully leaves the Arwells in better shape than Nyssa's clan: stepmother dead, father a walking corpse inhabited by a psychopath, planet just about to be obliterated...

Deeper Thoughts:
The PM, The News, and the Christmas Radio Times. Anyone in the UK who might have expected a respite from non-stop politics after the recent general election is presumably disappointed. A hung parliament and all the discussions and speculation that creates, Brexit negotiations, and terrible tragedies in London. There's no pause coming any time soon in 2017, and 2016 was not exactly uneventful. But, on Christmas Day 2016, just as happens every year, there was a let-up. It always seems there's not much news to report on the 25th, and people seem to like it that way. I'm a news junkie for 364.25 days of the year, but on Christmas Day I'm happy to take a break too, even though it's a collective self-deception; plenty of stuff is no doubt happening, but we don't want to hear it, and they don't want to report it. The Doctor Who Christmas special is of a similar stripe: nothing too much is supposed to happen, any long-running story arcs are paused for one night only, nothing too serious is to go down.

The world of real political news and Doctor Who Christmas specials don't often intersect, but they did during the most recent yuletide period - in arresting fashion - with an interview in last year's Christmas Radio Times. The middle-class listing mag's double number at Christmas is still an annual treat for me, but imagine my shock when I reached the last page to discover a final twist. Who was being interviewed, but Theresa May? And what show did she say was one of her favourites to watch at Christmas? Doctor Who. I admit, it spoilt my Christmas reading and besmirched Doctor Who's reputation for me, just a little bit. This was a politician who I've never liked particularly, and who I liked even less by December 2016, as she'd by then ascended to the highest position of governmental power by coronation, not by contest.

It's rare that a politician comes out as a Doctor Who fan. There was Tim Collins, of course, back when he was an MP, who was in the documentary on the Earthshock DVD; there were also his co-signatories on the silly letter to Michael Grade in 2004 when he took over as BBC Chairman, remember that? But this was the first time to my knowledge that a Prime Minister had ever expressed an interest. It had be this one, though - this terrible terrible PM. Since Christmas, her stock has plummeted, not just with me but with everyone (and no, I'm not feeling sorry for her at all). Why does she have to like the thing I like, and sully it by association? It occurs to me now, though, there's a strong probability it wasn't her honest choice, and she'd just been briefed by Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill on how to respond to the RT's questions to make herself sound more human. Yes. The more I dwell on what we've learnt since Christmas, the more I'm sure that's the case. I can see it now: they told her going in, pick something non-controversial that'll play well with the ABC1s: Doctor Who, Poirot, stuff like that. So, she doesn't like Doctor Who at all really. Disaster averted. Phew!

(I hope.)


In Summary:
As pleasant and pretty as a snowy winter scene; as substantial as a single snowflake in the breeze.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

The Keeper of Traken

Chapter The 56th, in which a wizened grey creature is lingering too long in power, but may be ousted soon.

Plot: 
The Doctor and (spit!) Adric are invited to Traken by the chief wizard of that planet, the Keeper, to help deal with a crisis. Traken is a magical kingdom of peace where evil cannot flourish. Kassia, wife of Tremas and evil stepmother of Nyssa, has fallen in love with an statue called Melkur that starts talking to her, fooling her into taking over the power of the Keeper, with disastrous consequences (assuming power without a proper leadership election never turns out well, does it?). Turns out that Melkur's really the Master's TARDIS, and he's inside in his decaying Deadly Assassin form. The Master wants to use the power of the Keepership to take over a new body, but the TARDIS team, with help from Nyssa and Tremas, defeat him and it looks like he's dead or scarpered. However, after the Doctor and (spit!) Adric leave Traken, the Master turns out to have been hiding in a conspicuous Grandfather clock; he grabs Tremas, who because of a cosmic coincidence has a name that's an anagram of Master, never a good sign. The Master takes over Tremas's body, and goes off at the end of episode 4 to take his revenge on the Doctor. (Warning: actual revenge taken in the next story - which just involves his hanging round near the bins in a lay-by - may not meet expectations.)

Context:
On the night of the recent UK general election, the rest of the family had gone to bed before the exit poll, but I am a politics nerd as well as a Doctor Who nerd (see the Deeper Thoughts section of my The Tomb of The Cybermen blog post for more details) and was looking to do an all-nighter watching the coverage and drinking beer. This was mainly driven by superstition: I've been to bed early when counts have happened twice in the last year, and woke up the first morning to Brexit, and the second to Trump. I wasn't going to jinx things this time. But, having done these sorts of nights many times before, I know that early on there are some longueurs, so I planned to flip over occasionally to the DVD player and watch an episode of The Keeper of Traken to fill time. I thought I'd probably get it all watched before I got too drunk to take notes, and before the declarations started to come in thick and fast around 2am. As it was, the exit poll was knife-edge exciting, and the first few results were swinging one way then another. There was too much happening to get more than two episodes viewed, and I caught up with the others over the next couple of days.

First-time round:
This story was part of the series broadcast just before I became a fan, Tom Baker's final one. But I was seeing more and more glimpses of the show by this point, having been too scared even to watch the credits just a year earlier. I saw a clip of The Keeper of Traken, for example, on Swap Shop when Sarah Sutton was on being interviewed as the new 'Who girl'. All I remembered seeing, thinking back, was a shot of her dressed as a flower fairy looking wistful by a gate. An excerpt from the appearance was on the disc, though, and it's much longer; but, there was indeed a gate - don't know why that stuck in my mind. I finally saw the whole of the story in 1993 when the VHS was released. I was towards the end of my second year at university, when I had no VCR easily accessible, but my friend Mike, whose room I had commandeered for many a video watch in first year, was living out in a student house with a few other of my friends, and I would visit with my tapes sometimes.

Reaction:
The best thing going for The Keeper of Traken is the fairy-tale atmosphere it conjures up. Everything, from sets to costumes to the twinkly Radiophonic score, achieves a refreshingly original Hans Christian Andersen tone. This automatically helps one suspend one's disbelief when, for example, the grove where the TARDIS arrives within this talked-up domain of peace and harmony looks less like paradise than a particularly uninspired entry at Kew. So, why dilute this atmosphere by grafting in an attempt at a techno fiction of binary induction systems, full backflow inducers, warp crossovers, and many more dull technobabbles. The mysterious power of Traken, The Source, is very similar to The Force, but undermined as if the first Star Wars film had started in at the beginning discussing midichlorians. And the reason the Keeper's magic is supported by humdrum server farms, energy reactors and scientific instruments? Three words: Christopher Hamilton Bidmead, the script editor, who hated silliness and magic in the Doctor Who scripts he edited, so encouraged his writers to chuck in meaningless justifications for the silliness and magic in the scripts he was editing.

But the science of the script is rarely convincing, and never interesting; this may be because the two regular cast characters are a genius scientist and his precocious child genius sidekick; they team up with two guest characters, a genius scientist and his precocious child genius daughter. It's distancing for the audience when people start looking at technical plans and spouting incomprehensible bafflegab, because there's nobody to ask them to explain what they're doing, in English. There's also no human in the piece; this should maybe have occurred to someone: protagonist and villain are Time Lords, companion is an Alzarian, everyone else is a Trakenite. Where's the human angle? Barry Letts was Bidmead's executive producer; this was the man who, when he was producer, had fired the wonderful Caroline John because her character was supposedly too smart and he thought it was alienating viewers. Did he just not notice this time?

Curiously, this means that the characters we're not particularly supposed to be rooting for, are much more interesting than the ones we are, simply because they're not banging on about dismantling a source manipulator all the time. Kassia is an interesting character, although she's given two motivations, both fighting each other somewhat: is she doing what she's doing to stop her husband being taken away from her (to become the new Keeper) or is she entranced by Melkur. It's a bit of both, but the story might have been stronger if they'd picked one and stuck with it. At least she cares for her husband, though: Tremas sees his wife die in front of him in episode 3, and he only ever expresses worry about its ramifications to the political situation of Traken. He doesn't shed a tear, he doesn't even mention her again. Sure, it looks like she's been trying to kill him up to that point, but even then he talks about it like they're playing chess. Your wife is trying to kill you, and she's in love with a creepy statue: look bothered!

Another character that fascinates me Proctor Neman. He's written as a one function cipher, the henchman; but the actor Roland Oliver plays it with such a gleeful, knowing smile, and there's a couple of lines in there about how he's fond of money and can be bribed. This, in a society that provides everything its people require: so, why's he like that? It had me pleasantly projecting my own backstory for Neman, one of class jealousy against the consuls simmering away inside him for years; now he's in a position to boss Tremas around, a man he's desperate for respect from, he'll make him give respect. Yes, it's probably less interestingly just down to a script inconsistency, but never mind. There are quite a few inconsistencies in the script, and one could keep one's self amused for a while trying to rationalise them all. The Keeper brings the Doctor and Adric to Traken, warning them that it'll be a difficult task, but actually it's only difficult because he didn't tell anyone he'd sent for them, so they look like the bad guys. He's supposed to pretty much be omniscient, so why doesn't he just tell his consuls he's sending for a clever Time Lord guy who'll arrive with a kid in yellow pyjamas. That would have made things a bit easier for our heroes. But I suppose, if the Keeper has already seen that things would be difficult, he can't do anything that would make things a bit easier, or else he'll influence the future he's already witnessed, and set things on a different path. Crikey, omniscience is confusing, isn't it?

Less confusing, at least to everyone except the Doctor, is the big surprise of the piece, that the villain is not Melkur but Master, and the statue is really his TARDIS. But, even though when it arrives anywhere the (really well designed) Melkur statue DOES THE TARDIS MATERIALISATION NOISE, the Doctor still doesn't twig who the bad guy might be. When the Doctor's scratching his head and saying "I'm sure we've met before", I was shouting at the screen "IT'S THE MASTER!" Sheesh. Aside from this, though, Tom Baker's performance is great, in full 'Soho raconteur' mode, he's being off-beam and jokey all the way through, and it works. Nyssa's debut story sees her a little bit overshadowed, without the set pieces you'd expect from a new companions 'audition' show these days, but then she was never originally expected to join the crew, it was a relatively last minute change.

Connectivity: 
Another Tom Baker four-parter, with both stories doing sci-fi updates of ancient tales - here it's fairy tale / folk tale tropes, rather than Ancient Greek myths. Plus, both contain decaying ancient figures that get rejuvenated.

Deeper Thoughts:
On disappointment, hope, and surprise. In the aforementioned Tomb of the Cybermen blog post, I wrote the following about the UK general election that was then still a month away: "There isn't any probable outcome ... that isn't miserable and difficult." Later in the same post, though, I said "If we're patient, good things can happen at unexpected times, and we should never give up believing things that are lost can be brought back." I expected to have to be patient for a long time, maybe decades. But I was surprised. When I sat down last Thursday to see the election results come in, armed only with The Keeper of Traken and beer, I was braced for disappointment but couldn't quite extinguish a glimmer of hope. Curiously, that's the same emotional state I am often in when I sit down to watch a new episode of Doctor Who go out.

I'm not equating them; I don't want to put parliamentary democracy at the same level as a TV show (the TV show's too important for that!!!). I'm just being honest about my own twisted psyche. In both instances, I want it to turn out good, but I have this dread feeling that it will be terrible, and I can't not tune in. Generally, a new and better episode of Doctor Who comes along quicker than a new and better intake of MPs, but there's some other echoes. Steven Moffat, for his own sake as well as ours, is probably relinquishing power at the right time. I'm reminded of those (hubristic, as it turned out) comments made by David Cameron before the 2015 election: a Prime Minister should never go for three terms in office. The Doctor Who equivalent is a showrunner should never stay on to appoint three Doctors. And, like David Cameron, we have memories of a bad experience in the 1980s where the producer did just that, and it didn't end well.

Just as the late John Nathan-Turner would not feel good, I'm sure, about me comparing him to Thatcher, our two most recent showrunners would likely reject my next idea, but it sort of fits. Russell T Davies was the 'New Labour' showrunner, presiding over the boom, but maybe petering out a bit at the end; Steven Moffat is the 'Coalition/Conservative' showrunner (taking over in 2010, perhaps not with quite the same pomp as the previous team, but managing to keep carrying on, longer than probably anyone predicted at the outset). Of course, rather than coming close to destroying the union and trashing his own reputation at the end, Steven Moffat instead has produced the best season of Doctor Who for ages; creative people have more stamina than politicians, I guess. But could this mean that Chris Chibnall is just possibly... Jeremy Corbyn? Someone new, in earlier years a rebel who famously was critical of his own party./ show, but now a beacon of hope? Time will tell. Like The Keeper of Traken, the election has ended on a cliffhanger. A character who we thought was surely dead unexpectedly still survives, and we don't know what damage they're going to do next. Roll credits.

In Summary:
Lots of flaws, but it remains intriguing; so, overall, this one's a Keeper.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Underworld

Chapter The 55th, it's Jason and the Argonauts in Space (but not quite as exciting as that sounds).

Plot: 
The Doctor, Leela and K9 materialise aboard a spacecraft manned by a group of Minyans, a race which once treated the Time Lords as their gods; the crew are lead by a bloke called Jackson, which sounds a bit like Jason (him with the Argonauts) but perhaps not close enough for the allusion to be clear without some kind of heavy-handed reference made to it. They are on a 100,000 year quest to collect their genetic race bank from another ship that escaped Minyos all that time ago. They find the ship at the centre of a planet made of green-screen, which has been formed by the collision of multiple Doctor Who clich├ęs - put-upon rebels, brutal overseers, bad robots, and a crazy supercomputer. The Doctor liberates the race banks and the populace, who leave with Jackson and his crew. The Doctor then helpfully makes a heavy-handed reference to Jackson sounding a bit like Jason (him with the Argonauts).


Context:
After The Time Monster took so long, I wanted to improve the turnaround for Underworld, and get it watched and blogged in a day or two. I sat down on a morning in the half term holiday to watch all four episodes from the DVD in one go. I was accompanied by my two youngest (boy of 7, girl of 5), but garnered no interest from the Better Half nor the eldest child (boy of 10). We couldn't quite manage the feast in one sitting, but took a break for an hour or two before polishing it off with the final episode. Middle child, the boy of 7, wanted it put on the record that he guessed the fake race banks released by the Oracle in the final episode were bombs. He was also very excited, jumping up and down, during the climax of that final episode, so the story does work with one key section of its intended audience.

First-time round:
Underworld was one of the very last original series stories I caught up with; it's hard to put an exact date on it, but it would have been sometime in the mid- to late Nineties; after I'd graduated from university in 1994, but while I was still living in my home town of Worthing, which I left in 1999. I watched it with Zahir (my school and university friend previously mentioned on this blog) at his house. I would in those years occasionally visit him for an evening, and we'd watch stories he'd been lent by a colleague who'd taped them from UK Gold. By that point, most of what was available we'd seen, and most of what we'd not seen was not so easily available. I can't be sure after so long exactly what our reaction was, but likely it was similar to my latest watch: slightly disappointed, but still finding it somewhat fun.

Reaction:
One of the most iconic TARDIS teams appear in this story. The Doctor, Leela and K9, just like Mickey Mouse, can all be easily identified in silhouette, which is sometimes said to be a quality to aim for when creating memorable characters in a visual medium. They were the first regular cast of Doctor Who to have action figures made of them, and I don't think that was a coincidence. Timeless. Classic. Yet, the few stories they all appeared in are hardly the big hitters, or anything close to it: The Invisible Enemy, The Sun Makers, The Invasion of Time, and the story at hand: Underworld. It's a veritable chorus line of underwhelming. This isn't necessarily a rare phenomenon in Doctor Who: the Cybermen are famous Doctor Who baddies, and  - in whatever version - they look great on a magazine cover. But, you'd be hard pressed to pick too many stories they've appeared in that were wholly successful, where you don't have any reservations. What a waste. And so it is here. Or is it? The best part of the story is its three protagonists; if the vehicle allows them to do their thing well, as I believe Underworld does, then does it matter too much if that vehicle itself is a jalopy?

There's no complex plot to get in the way of character interplay. Aside from the incorporation of homages to various ancient myths (as well as the Argonauts, there's Orpheus, Hercules, the Sword of Damocles, etc. etc.), this is a retread of 'default' Doctor Who. The Doctor overthrows a repressive regime and rescues the downtrodden, exactly as he did in the previous story of the season, and countless others before and since. But, despite being continually told by Doctor Who reference books over the years that this story is boring, I never felt that on this viewing, and it's mostly down to the regulars. Saturday nights in 1977 and 1978 were all about sharing some time with those characters; the promise was fun, and they would never disappoint, just as they don't here.

Of the regulars, Louise Jameson as Leela probably gets least to do this time, but still has some fun playing the savage warrior blissed-out after being zapped by a pacifying ray gun. Tom Baker has tinkered slightly with the mix throughout the season, reducing the acid in the Doctor's humour in favour of a certain absent-minded playfulness, but not yet reaching the zany heights that would come in the following two years. Best value of all is John Leeson, who always finds an extra special little something such as K9, such as giving a little squeak as the Doctor clips the bulldog clips to his ears. The guest cast is less interesting, though, with only Alan Lake's gusto as Herrick standing out.

The effects work is consistently good. That's not the abiding viewpoint that's been put forward over the years, but I found no real evidence on this viewing that the quality was much different to the stories around it. The model work is uniformly excellent, and the green-screen backgrounds used for the underworld caves are perfectly serviceable - there's a lot of them, but they're fine. The decision to realise the caves in this way, as a cost saving measure, is often called out as the reason why the direction of the story is static and boring, but there's two things wrong with that analysis: a) cave scenes in a shabby set would not have been much better; in fact, the stylised comic book look of the green-screen version actually gives some visual interest, albeit probably unintentionally; b) there are some shocking examples of Underworld's direction being static and boring in the non-cave scenes too, and they were shot on real sets. Clearly, this story was struggling for adequate resources - the giveaway is the length of the recaps, padding out the episodes to full length - but there's also lots of other shots held just a little too long. Again, though, I didn't see anything here that's worse than The Sun Makers, say, which is usually rated a lot higher.

Connectivity: 
Both The Time Monster and Underworld take inspiration from ancient myths (the Minotaur, Jason and the Argonauts); this led to them both being released in the same 'Myths and Legends, Yes Okay That's a Bit Tenuous, But You Have to Buy This Stuff Anyway Because You're An Obsessive Completist' DVD boxset, to give it its full title.

Deeper Thoughts:
A Long Time Ago in a studio far, far away. Underworld is part of the season where Doctor Who starts having model spaceships and zap guns pretty much every week. This has been put down to a bid to ape Star Wars; but it can't be that, can it? All of season 15 was in the can before Star Wars reached UK cinemas, so it's just a coincidence. Then, by the time Star Wars could have exerted any influence, season 16, Doctor Who has moved on from space opera for the most part, and started on a different brew - literary adventure narratives, lots of humour - a world away from Luke Skywalker's saga. It was only by the time of Peter Davison's first season in 1982, and thereafter, that there's noticeable input borrowed from Hollywood sci-fi, and then it's sampling a broader set of films, part of the boom that followed the 1977 movie. Star Wars, just in and of itself, gave birth to many imitations on screens both big and small, but it didn't so much as scratch the surface of Doctor Who.

Why should this be? Pragmatism? Perhaps. There was no way the show was going to produce anything like the spectacle of a blockbuster on its budget. But, maybe it's more because Doctor Who had been there and done it all before. Once you subtract the spectacle, what does Star Wars have to copy? Planet-hopping space opera? Doctor Who started that in the Hartnell era, and has done it comprehensively since. Hi-tech update of wizards and quest adventure? Arguably, that's what Doctor Who is and has been since day 1, and - as Underworld demonstrates - it was still trying different flavours of that same approach 15 years later. Many other shows inspired by the success of Star Wars appeared in its wake, and disappeared after one or two seasons; perhaps this was because they only really had a big budget approach to emulate, and everything else that contributed to Star Wars' success was specific to the cast and crew involved with it. Luckily, Who hadn't the option to copy the big budget approach, and had been around so long, and tried all sorts of different styles over the years, that it rarely looked like it was trying to cash in, but with less cash.

Did the influence ever work the other way? Interestingly, one aspect of Underworld that did get emulated later by George Lucas in his Jedi franchise was filming huge sections of a story with actors just against a green-screen. This is how much of the three prequels were made. Like Underworld, they too weren't 100% successful or well received.



In Summary:
Under-powered, under par, underfunded? But maybe underrated, too. (Just like the UK's public services and public sector workers: VOTE LABOUR.)