Timestamp Supplemental #1: The Sontaran Experiment

Doctor Who: The Sontaran Experiment
Earth Station Who: Episode 135

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This week I took the Timestamps TARDIS to Earth Station Who. While I was there, I joined the crew of Mike Faber, Jennifer Hartshorn, Michael Gordon, and Mary Ogle in a discussion of The Sontaran Experiment, previously covered here in Timestamp #77.

I recommend taking the transmat to their site and listening to the podcast, and I mean more than just my visit to the station. They cover everything from the Doctor Who franchise, from the classic and new televised episodes to the Big Finish audio and everything in the middle. During the regular seasons, they review the new episodes on a weekly basis, and during the off-season, they take a look back at some of their favorite (and not so favorite) adventures in time and space.

If you enjoy what you hear, leave a review in the all the regular places, and also consider joining their fan community on Facebook. The ESW crew has built a fantastic community of fans, and it’s far more respectful than a lot of places on the internet. They are fans who love the series and want to share that love with fellow fans worldwide.

Earth Station Who is a podcast in the ESO Network, which includes the flagship show Earth Station One, as well as a plethora of other shows.

Please to enjoy, and I’ll see you again next Wednesday as the Timestamps Project continues.

 

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

 

 

 

 

Timestamp: Twelfth Series Summary

Doctor Who: Twelfth Series Summary

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The Twelfth Series marked the debut of the Fourth Doctor, and it is a strong performer.

The series kicked off with the regeneration and introduction of Tom Baker as the Doctor, and I fell in love immediately. The rude (almost cynical) nature of the Third Doctor is gone as the Fourth Doctor follows his own advice in being grown up while acting childish. In fact, he uses it much like the Second Doctor did as a method to drill into a situation while looking innocent or incompetent. He’s less of a threat to evil plans, and he can observe without being observed.

As much as I came down on the topic of convenience with the Third Doctor, there is one aspect of it that I’m glad was maintained: The Doctor’s pockets. It adds to the air of whimsy to have a wild assortment of random objects trapped in those nearly extra-dimensional pockets, and feeding both the Doctor’s character and the humor that keeps the show light while it tackles serious topics.

The other character I have really grown to love is Sarah Jane Smith. She proved herself with the Third Doctor, but she has an undeniable chemistry with the Fourth Doctor that exceeds the previous stories. These two characters just click, almost on the level of the Third Doctor and Jo in her later stories, and the show is better for it.

The main sticking point for me is Harry. He’s competent as a doctor, but he’s an extraneous imbecile otherwise. His continued sexism is annoying, especially since Sarah Jane tells him to knock it off at least once (if not more) per story. I get that he’s a product of the era, but four decades later he’s irritating.

The loose Nerva Beacon arc was fun, if not uneven, and did a fine job of driving the characters without the TARDIS around. I did miss the Doctor’s silent partner, but at least there was some motivation for the characters to stick around and solve the problems instead of ducking out. There are some obvious production growing pains, from the shark-jumping Robot and somewhat scientifically baffling Sontaran Experiment – if humans haven’t inhabited the planet in centuries/millennia, why exactly is the Sontaran running experiments on their capabilities? – to the lackluster Revenge of the Cybermen. However, in between those rough moments were beauties like The Ark in Space and Genesis of the Daleks.

This series ranks fourth overall, only being surpassed by the Fifth, Eleventh, and Ninth, in ascending order. It was fun and a little uneven, but gives me more than enough hope for a good run with Tom Baker’s Doctor.

 

Robot – 5
The Ark in Space – 4
The Sontaran Experiment – 4
Genesis of the Daleks – 4
Revenge of the Cybermen – 3

 

Series Twelve Average Rating: 4.0/5

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Terror of the Zygons

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

Timestamp #79: Revenge of the Cybermen

Doctor Who: Revenge of the Cybermen
(4 episodes, s12e17-e20, 1975)

Timestamp 079 Revenge of the Cybermen

 

It has been a long time since we encountered the Cybermen. That break ends as the Time Ring delivers our heroes back to the Nerva Beacon, just not exactly as they left it a few weeks ago.

As they investigate the station, they discover several dead bodies, some of which are obviously mannequins. Harry estimates that they have been dead for a couple of weeks. In that time, the station has been ravaged by a plague and is under quarantine, and is being protected by the few remaining survivors. Those survivors are also trying to fulfill the station’s mission as a warning buoy for a nearby hazard to navigation: The Voga asteroid.

The Doctor determines that this is the Nerva Beacon before it became the Ark in Space as a cybermat creeps by undetected. The team unlock a door using a screwdriver (but not the sonic one) and reach the control room just after the cybermat kills operator Warner and Professor Kellman, a planetary surveyor, alters the communication logs. Those logs hold evidence that the asteroid is inhabited, which Kellman claims isn’t true. The Doctor and his companions are captured by the station’s crew, and they examine Warner while being under suspicion of bringing the plague to Nerva. As the Doctor investigates the virus and Voga, Kellman spies on them with a makeshift receiver and then transmits a message to a waiting Cyberman spacecraft.

The Vogans, who share a common seal with the future Rassilon, are debating their situation. The one called Vorus is in control of the mines, and they assume that the reason they haven’t been contacted by their agent is that the Cybermen are monitoring their communications. The Cybermen were last heard from centuries before. They vanished right after attacking Voga near the end of the Cyber War.

Following his suspicions, the Doctor investigates Kellman’s quarters and finds gold, which Voga has in abundance. Kellman returns and the Doctor hides under the bed, but Kellman sets a trap that electrifies the deck plating and locks the Doctor in the room. Sarah Jane reviews the station’s logs and is attacked by the cybermat. The Doctor escapes Kellman’s quarters and rushes to Sarah Jane’s aid after killing the cybermat, but she’s already been bitten. The Doctor rushes her to the transmat, which will filter the poison from her blood, but the device has been sabotaged. Kellman overhears the conversation and the plans to arrest him, so he arms himself.

The Doctor jury-rigs the transmat, and it beams Sarah Jane and Harry to the asteroid, saving Sarah Jane’s life. As Harry finds the abundance of gold, the Vogans capture the travelers. Meanwhile, the station crew captures Kellman. The crew and the Doctor interrogate Kellman as the Cyberman ship approaches. The Cyberman Leader is identified by a black headpiece. Gold can kill the Cybermen by suffocation, explaining why they want to destroy Voga. The crew threaten Kellman with a cybermat using a control box they found in his quarters, coercing him to give up the transmat control drive.

The Vogans prep a device called the Sky Striker for use against the Cybermen. Councillor Tyrum, a leader of the Vogans, has dispatched troops to take over the mines and stop Vorus’s plans to re-emerge on the galactic market. Tyrum fears that they will be attacked again. Vorus plans to kill the humans and hide the Sky Striker from Tyrum. Harry and Sarah Jane escape just as the execution team arrives, and Tyrum’s militia arrives to force the Guardians to stand down.

You know, the Vogan politics are a bit of a drag on the story at this point.

The Doctor repairs the transmat but cannot locate his companions. The Cyberman ship docks with Nerva and board the station. The crew tries to repel them, but are struck down by cannons in the heads of the intruders. They also take down the Doctor. They are all merely stunned, and Kellman tries to find information on the Doctor but only comes up with an apple core and jelly babies. Meanwhile on Voga, Sarah Jane and Harry are taken before Tyrum and explain themselves. The mention of the cybermat sparks Tyrum’s interest in confronting Vorus.

As Kellman outlines his plan for the Leader, it is explained that his reward for destroying Voga is rule over the solar system. Kellman is sent to Voga to verify that the transmat is functional, and he is taken captive by the Vogans. The Doctor and humans, with a Cyberman escort, are to take bombs to the mines and set them, after which they will have fourteen minutes to escape. They cannot be defused, and they will kill the carriers if the harness is removed. The Vogans ambush the bomb team, but the Cybermen make short work of them.

Kellman is taken to Tyrum and explains that he was working with Vorus to destroy the Cybermen with the Sky Striker. This will result in the destruction of the Nerva Beacon as well, and the companions plan to warn/rescue the Doctor. Sarah Jane beams up to Nerva and overhears that the Cybermen have lied about the fourteen minute delay.

Kellman and Harry try to intercept the bombs as the Doctor and his team make their way to the center of the asteroid. They meet up as Kellman causes a cave-in the kills him and knocks out the Doctor’s team. They stop Harry from unbuckling the harness, and the Doctor humorously declares that Harry is an imbecile. The team makes a plan to attack the Cybermen while one of them continues on to confuse the trackers on their harnesses. Their plan is foiled by the sheer strength of the Cybermen, but one of the crew unbuckles his harness and destroys the enemies with the suicide switch. As the tracker signal is lost, the Leader orders a manual detonation, and Sarah Jane rushes them. They brush her off and attempt the detonation, but the Doctor has overridden the communications link and disabled the bombs.

Sarah Jane explains to the Cybermen how Kellman betrayed them. The Doctor convinces the Vogans to wait just long enough for him to rescue Sarah Jane. The Cybermen develop an alternative plan to crash Nerva into Voga with bombs and Sarah Jane onboard, and the Doctor frees Sarah Jane and then uses the remote control cybermat to ambush the Cybermen with gold dust.

As the Nerva Beacon races toward Voga, Vorus launches the Sky Striker as he shot by the militiamen. The Doctor and Sarah Jane are captured and are tied up as the remaining Cybermen leave in their ship. The Doctor frees himself and Sarah Jane, reasons with the Vogans on how to change the rocket’s course, and then overrides the gyros to park Nerva on the other side of the Voga asteroid. Just as the station stabilizes, the TARDIS finally arrives to meet the Doctor, and Harry returns to Nerva via transmat. They leave at the summons of the Brigadier who communicated an emergency through the space-time telegraph.

Overall, it was a decent story, but not particularly strong. I liked the Cyberman side of it, but the internal Voga politics dragged on the story. The last two episodes nearly made up for it with the action, but the setup took far too long and was way to choppy and erratic as the writers tried to make the Voga stuff fit.

All in all, I consider it a so-so return that should have been better.

 

Rating: 3/5 – “Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.”

 

UP NEXT – Twelfth Series Summary

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

 

 

Ghostbusters: Ain’t Afraid of No Ghosts

Ghostbusters: Ain’t Afraid of No Ghosts

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I can’t remember the first time I saw Ghostbusters.

The first film in the franchise hit theaters in June of 1984, which means that I was three years old and far too young to understand the magnitude of what I was seeing. My first real viewing was probably an edited-for-content-and-time version on non-premium cable, I have vague recollections of the big tickets from the classic: The cards flying out of the catalog drawers in the library, the eggs frying on the counter, Venkman and Slimer in the hotel, “we came, we saw, we kicked it’s ass!”, shutting down the containment unit and Mick Smiley’s “Magic”, Gozer’s dogs, the fight against Gozer, and, of course, the march of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. I didn’t really get the full context of some of the jokes (including the late night ghost dream “encounter” for Ray) until I bought the DVD and immersed myself in it.

Most of my memories from the franchise are from Saturday mornings spent with The Real Ghostbusters cartoon series, and that’s really where my Ghostbusters fandom percolated and grew. It’s heretical to say after thirty-ish years, but the Ghostbusters film wasn’t an instant hit with me.

Three decades on, the jokes and quotable lines are the stuff of legends, but looking at the film itself, it’s definitely a slow build production with a ton of the dry and often risqué humor that Aykroyd, Ramis, and Murray specialized in. It’s the story of three down on their luck parapsychologists and a blue-collar dude who investigate the rise of the paranormal against the grain of the normal world around them, and the story really takes a long time to get moving as the guys build their support base. In fact, the gears on the main plot don’t really start turning until after about an hour of origin story. It’s full of technobabble, but also filled with the rich culture of immense world-building, from Tobin’s Spirit Guide to a massive pantheon of powerful spirits in the planes beyond.

One thing I respect about the film was how it let the characters be themselves. Egon was an unabashed nerd, Ray was a goofball idiot, Peter was a manipulative sexist pig, and Winston was a hard-working religious man. Even if I don’t love the elements of particular characters – Egon is a bit too much of the stereotypical nerd for me, and Peter’s sexism grates on me from time to time – I still love how sincere and fleshed out they are. This extends to the supporting cast as well, especially Janine, Louis, and Dana.

My enjoyment of the original film comes from watching it multiple times and reveling in how it embraced the 1980s metropolitan culture and comedic style. It’s an experience locked in time, and is just off-the-wall fun.

 

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It’s the fun aspect of the franchise that helps me enjoy Ghostbusters II. Again, that’s heresy in the fandom, but I don’t share the venom and hatred that most people do for the 1989 sequel.

My big problem with Ghostbusters II is how the cynics won the battle even after the team saved the world five years earlier. The first movie was full of cynics and skeptics, but at the end they were all celebrating. It doesn’t ring true when real-world events like 9/11 are considered since, nearly fifteen years later, we still celebrate the people who put everything on the line to save innocent lives that day. Was the giant marshmallow man just a group delusion invoked by sewer gas?

Ghostbusters II also loses the more risqué humor elements, mostly because of the audiences they were trying to attract. The franchise’s popularity skyrocketed with The Real Ghostbusters, and the studio wanted to capitalize on that. I don’t necessarily miss the dirty jokes, but I do miss the reality that it adds to the characters. But, it also helped to make Ghostbusters II the film that hooked me in one viewing as a kid.

One of the elements that I loved was Louis Tully’s character. He stood up for his friends at the trial, and he did exactly what I wanted to and became a Ghostbuster. I wasn’t too keen on the Janine/Louis relationship, but I loved his initiative. Another element I loved was the expression of hope in humanity. Sure, the Statue of Liberty sequence was pretty hokey, but the message that we can still put aside our differences and come together under a common cause spoke to me.

I also adored how Sigourney Weaver’s Dana was essentially elevated to a main character. She’s a strong actress and I have enjoyed her performances throughout her career. I would have liked a bit more resolution on the baby storyline – Who’s your daddy, Oscar? –  but giving her more power in the film was a nice addition.

I also occasionally break into an impression of Janosz Poha: “Why am I dripping with goo?” Peter MacNicol’s acting was silly but fun.

 

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As I said before, I was a big fan of The Real Ghostbusters, enjoyed the 1988 Ghostbusters game for the Nintendo, and even tried Ghostbusters: The Video Game on both Wii and Xbox 360. The last one was especially fun since it reunited the core actors, but I still can’t get past the library level. The one series that I haven’t watched yet is Extreme Ghostbusters, but based on recommendations, it’s on my list of things.

For years I had heard rumors that something new was on the horizon for the franchise, but when Dan Aykroyd started talking about delays and then when Harold Ramis died in 2014, I figured that those dreams were done. I was pleased and excited when the Ghostbusters reboot was announced, and doubly so when they decided to shift gears and headline an all-female team.

Even with the whining in fandom about a female Ghostbusters team ruining everyone’s childhoods, or even the vocal sexist minority that is hell-bent on derailing the movie, my excitement has not diminished. In fact, it has only grown after watching the new film.

The 2016 Ghostbusters shares quite a few things with the 1984 Ghostbusters, but it is definitely not a remake. To me, a remake takes the same characters, settings, and plots and tells a similar story to the source material. A reboot takes a basic premise – even with the same characters like Star Trek from 2009 – and heads in a different direction. This Ghostbusters is the story of a successful scientist who, due to spoilery circumstances, joins two down on their luck scientists and a New York metro worker to investigate the rise of the paranormal against the grain of the normal world around them. Just like the 1984 version, this film is pretty slow in the beginning, but the plot has plenty of the spirit world mythology helping it ramp up to a somewhat cheesy and heart-warming conclusion, and it also uses contemporary humor to soften the scares. The special effects are just as awesome, even if they are less practical and more computer generated.

It also has cameos from most of the original cast, including all of the big four. One of them is definitely a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, but it was very touching.

But this version also has plenty of originality to bring to the table. The main four have elements of the original cast scattered throughout their characters, but they all bring a unique take to the ensemble. Kristen Wiig is more of the comedic straight woman, Melissa McCarthy shares Egon’s nerdiness without going deep into stereotype, Leslie Jones embodies the blue collar to a tee, and Kate McKinnon has mad scientist down to an art. McKinnon is worth the price of admission alone, especially with her character’s barely restrained enthusiasm over the ghost busting tech.

The end credits have a ton of extras built into them, including a fun sequence that involves the scrolling credits in the hijinks, and cap the film with a final hook that might lead into a sequel.

There were a few of things I wasn’t entirely happy with. The main villain is the stock rejected oddball character, and the receptionist (played by Chris “Thor” Hemsworth) is fun for a little while but rapidly becomes superfluous. In fact, I honestly wonder if they should have merged these two characters. The humor was rough at first, including a couple of toilet humor gags, but it evened out later on and certainly never reached the risqué levels of the original film. The other negative was in the setting: The 1984 film went to great lengths to showcase New York City, effectively making it a silent character in the film, but the 2016 film takes the setting for granted.

I went into this one with an open mind and zero expectations, spent the first twenty minutes wondering where they were going, and finally kicked back as I realized that this was the ideal update to a classic. It matches up well with the 1984 film, and will probably take a few watches to really grow on me.

All told, the ladies and their director, Paul Feig, captured the original spirit quite nicely.

 

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The strong spirit of today’s Ghostbusters gives me hope for the future.

We’ll all see a lot of buzz in coming days about how the film is a failure because it didn’t make back the $144 million budget on opening weekend, but that honestly doesn’t matter. Ghostbusters is the highest-grossing premiere for the Paul Feig/Melissa McCarthy team, and that’s success enough for Sony to consider future installments. In fact, the 1984 film opened to almost $14 million, which is about $35 million when adjusted for inflation. The 2016 film has already beat that, even though it came in second place to The Secret Life of Pets.

(By the way, if we want to play the box office game in an attempt to take down the 2016 film, even Ghostbusters II debuted higher than the first film. So maybe, just maybe, box office performance is more nuanced and relative rather than being a stark win/loss dichotomy.)

We’ve already seen the fallout from original generation fans that can’t get over change, ranging from unfounded pre-release ratings on IMDb – the lowest I saw the star rating on opening weekend was 4.1 – to so many angry rants on YouTube. I honestly get the aversion to change with as much as those fans love the classic film, but I’ve also seen the Ghostbusters fan-base at Dragon Con who have accepted all fans into their ranks with variations on the uniforms, vehicles, and gear. They truly understand that Ghostbusters is for everyone, and I’m looking forward to seeing the new fans because of the movie.

The 2016 Ghostbusters is important because it’s a passing of the torch between generations. Violet Ramis Stiel, daughter of Harold Ramis, recently wrote about that and acceptance of change. The new film keeps the franchise alive, and it keeps the memory alive as well. I’m excited about seeing these women in another adventure, as well as the potential multiverse that Sony is possibly building. We may yet see the passing of the torch by the 1984 team to a new one. We may yet see Ghostbusters movies (live action and/or animated) or television shows set in Chicago, San Francisco, Atlanta, or Salt Lake City. We may yet see any degree of imagination because the sky is the limit. The potential alone is amazing.

The 2016 Ghostbusters is important because it’s a paradigm shift in Hollywood. It’s a high-budget action film showcasing four women over 30 in an industry where they’re normally considered over the hill. These four women are in starring comedic roles in an industry that doesn’t consider women to be funny. Every shot in the film highlights the action and their roles, not their bodies and their sexuality like Megan Fox from Transformers. These women go into business for themselves and grow beyond the need for validation and approval by the institutional systems of academia and government.

The 2016 Ghostbusters is important because it is a signal that the tide may be changing. In an era with Rey (Star Wars: The Force Awakens), Jyn (Star Wars: Rogue One), and Anna and Elsa (Frozen), the Hollywood dynamic is evolving, and it’s about time.

The 2016 Ghostbusters is important because it is the future.

Ignore the negative buzz and go see it. Even better, take someone along who is young and excited by science, technology, engineering, and math. Answer the call.

 

Ratings
Ghostbusters (1984): 7.5
Ghostbusters II (1989): 7.0
Ghostbusters (2016): 7.0

Timestamp #78: Genesis of the Daleks

Doctor Who: Genesis of the Daleks
(6 episodes, s12e11-e16, 1975)

Timestamp 078 Genesis of the Daleks

 

The last story was an experiment in splitting six-part serials into smaller pieces to remove story padding. That two-parter is followed by this six-parter, which would be ironic if not for that fact that it’s one of the most beloved stories in classic Who. When I ask classic fans what the Doctor means to them, this is usually the story they point to.

Because of that, I was really excited to watch this one.

The Doctor and his companions have departed future Earth after defeating the Sontarans, but they don’t arrive as expected on Nerva. Instead, they are on misty planet drowning in a battle that echoes World War II. In short order, the Time Lords arrive and reveal that they redirected the Doctor to Skaro in the distant past. The Doctor is upset about the manipulation, but acquiesces when the Time Lords tell him about his mission: To interfere in the development of the Daleks. They provide him a Time Ring to return to the TARDIS after his mission is complete.

The travelers soon find a warrior, who is soon killed in an artillery barrage, and note the distinct anachronisms in everything around them. They continue on, stumble into a minefield, and eventually discover a large domed city surrounded by trenches. The Doctor theorizes that the anachronisms are due to the battle raging on so long that technology has regressed as resources were depleted. The trench is attacked by chemical gas rockets, and the Doctor and Harry are spirited into a bunker and transported into the city.

The attackers are the Thals, and the Doctor’s captors are the Kaleds, a very Nazi-like organization. The Doctor surprises the Kaled commander, who keeps referring to the Doctor as a “muto”, and takes him captive. The Doctor and Harry return to the wasteland, but Sarah Jane has already recovered and moved on, and the duo are surprised by Security Commander Nyder, who raises the alert in the base. The pair of travelers are soon captured and interrogated by Nyder, who refers to Davros, the greatest scientist of the Kaled people. He also explains that the mutos are Kaleds who have been genetically scarred by the war, and that they are exiled to keep the Kaled race pure.

They are laying this Nazi allegory on thick.

Meanwhile, Sarah Jane is on the surface being pursued by the mutos as night falls. She comes across a weapons test led by Davos, a scarred man with a third eye in a robotic chair. The test is of a Dalek, which isn’t quite autonomous yet. After the test, Davros departs, and Sarah Jane is nearly spotted by the Kaleds before being abducted by the Mutos. The Mutos fight over whether or not to kill Sarah Jane since she is a “norm.” They are interrupted by a Thal patrol who take Sarah Jane and the Muto Sevrin for physical labor.

Back in the bunker, the Doctor and Harry are delivered to the holding area where they are scanned. The scanner detects the time ring, which is physically removed under the Doctor’s protest. As scientific examiner Ronson examines the Doctor and Harry, he discovers that they are aliens to Skaro. That discussion is interrupted by Davros, who demonstrates the Dalek – known at this point as a Mark III Travel Machine – for the assembled scientists. When shifted to automatic mode, it detects the Doctor and Harry and almost exterminates them until Ronson interrupts the experiment. A furious Davros gives Ronson the night to investigate the travelers, but it must be done from their holding cells.

The Doctor discovers from his interrogation that the Kaled scientists were formed as an elite group for research, but over the years they became more powerful and influential. Ronson notes that the Doctor used the term “Dalek” well before Davros called the machine by the same name, and the Doctor reveals that he is from the future. Ronson discloses his fear that the Kaleds are becoming more evil and immoral, including experiments by Davros to create the final form the Kaled mutation. The travel machine, the Dalek, is the vehicle to house and propel that being. Ronson believes that if the government knew about any of this, they would shut down the entire program, and engineers an escape into the cave system surrounding the bunker.

The Thals are using the slave labor to pack a rocket with distronic explosives, but they are not provided any shielding or protection, so the workers will die from exposure to the material. After the first shift of rocket loading, Sarah Jane attempts to spark a rebellion and plots escape through the top of the dome. She distracts the guard and the prisoners flee. The guard sounds the alarm as the prisoners climb, and the Thals open fire, killing several of the prisoners. Sarah Jane loses her grip and falls, landing on a lower platform unharmed. Sevrin helps her recover and pushes her onward, and they nearly escape before the Thals catch up to them.

The Doctor and Harry reach the city tell the Kaled Council about the Daleks and the future. The Council won’t shut down the bunker entirely, but decide to inspect and audit the programs. As the Council adjourns, the Doctor and Harry learn about Sarah Jane’s whereabouts and set out after her. Davros discovers that the Councilors are meeting in secret and that the travelers were in attendance. He agrees to the investigation, but in secret begins his plan for complete extermination of the Kaled people by arming the Daleks with the mutations.

The Doctor and Harry infiltrate the Thal dome to discover Davros petitioning the Thal Council for peace, claiming that the Kaled Council is not interested in ending the conflict. Davros provides the Thals the means to weaken the Kaled dome and exterminate the Kaled people with their rocket. The Doctor and Harry jump two guards and steal their suits – “Excuse me, can you help me? I’m a spy.” – before rescuing Sarah Jane and the captives. Harry leads them out of the city as the Doctor works to sabotage the rocket. One of the guards triggers an anti-intrusion system and captures the Doctor.

The Doctor wakes up in the Thal dome’s control room with the bombardment of the Kaled dome underway. They launch the rocket as the Kaled scientists watch in dismay, and the Kaled dome is destroyed. Davros calls in the Daleks and orders them to exterminate Ronson before declaring their rise as the ultimate supreme race. The Doctor is freed in the Thal celebration, and the Thals see Davros as a hero of the people. After Davros orders changes to the Daleks that will remove their consciences completely, the Daleks attack the Thal dome and exterminate with prejudice. The Doctor and a Thal woman, Bettan, escape the dome and she decides to raise a rebellion.

A temporal inconsistency: These Daleks don’t require the static tracks like they did in the Hartnell era, which falls after this war’s conclusion. Did something change in the timeline to remove this detail?

The Doctor makes his way to the Kaled bunker to retrieve the time ring, and is attacked by Mutos and saved by Sarah Jane and Harry. Scientists begin to foment a rebellion against the Dalek program, but are interrupted by Nyder and Davros just as the travelers break into the city and are subsequently captured. Davros discusses time travel with the Doctor and demands that he disclose exactly how he defeats the Daleks in the future. When the Doctor refuses, Davros uses the threat of harm to the companions as leverage. I see where the Daleks get their stunning personalities and penchant for temper tantrums. The Doctor yields to Davros and provides a litany of Dalek defeats which are recorded for the future. As they take a break, Davros trusts the tape to Nyder as he sits down to confer with the Doctor. The Doctor tries to persuade Davros to abandon the Dalek project, but Davros is not swayed. Convinced that Davros is insane, the Doctor seizes control of the leader’s chair and threatens to disable it and kill him if he doesn’t shut down the program. He nearly succeeds before Nyder stops him.

Kavell, one of the leading scientists, breaks Sarah Jane and Harry out of the confinement cells. Nyder escapes, and the Doctor warns that Davros knows what Kavell is planning. The travelers set out to retrieve both the time ring and the recording of the future. Meanwhile, the Daleks have destroyed all resistance in the Thal city, and all that remains is Bettan’s rebellion. Inside the bunker, rebellion also breaks out, but Davros surprisingly orders Nyder’s forces to surrender. Davros tells Nyder that this is a ruse, as is the conference to listen to the rebellion’s demands. At that conference, the rebellion demands that the Dalek project be terminated. Davros asks for time to consider the demands, and agrees to the demands on the condition that the military and scientific elite present the demands to a vote before him.

The Doctor discovers plastic explosives and detonators, and plots commit genocide by destroying the Dalek embryos in the incubation room. He enters the chamber to place the charges, and emerges with Dalek tentacles wrapped around his throat. After being freed, he holds the conductors in his hands but cannot detonate the explosives. Does he have the right? Killing them would secure freedom and peace for the future, but the action would make him no better than the Daleks themselves. He pulls the plug on the plan when he hears that Davros is willing to discuss the demands.

That epic moment in the franchise was worth the price of admission alone. Tom Baker sells it with passion.

The travelers attend the discussion, secretly returning the Doctor’s possessions to him. Davros shows his opponents a button that will destroy the entire bunker — seriously, a big red button to destroy everything? — but no one will press it, which Davros sees as an argument in his favor because it shows weakness. Meanwhile, he has been maneuvering the Daleks to assault the rebels, and Bettan’s forces set charges to seal the bunker permanently.

Nyder sneaks out during the vote, and the travelers follow him. In the ensuing altercation, the Doctor drops the time ring, but convinces Nyder to take them to the tape recording. As the travelers destroy the tape, Nyder escapes and locks them in the office. They bring up the camera feed of the vote as the Daleks roll in and kill everyone. The travelers are soon rescued by Sevrin and start running from the Daleks, and the Doctor sends the companions with Sevrin and the rebels while he returns to destroy the incubator chamber. At this point, he’s at his last straw, and it seems that he’s willing to become the villain to save countless lives. His efforts are thwarted by a Dalek who fires on him, but the Dalek rolls over the conductors, completes the circuit, and destroys the chamber and itself.

The Daleks start the assembly line without Davros’s approval, and kill Nyder as he attempts to shut it down. They rebel against Davros, apparently exterminating him as he attempts to destroy the bunker with that big red button. The travelers escape as Bettan’s forces seal the bunker and use the time ring to return to the TARDIS.

This was a really good story, and it earns the admiration that fans bestow on it. On the downside, it is a bit padded and long, but that easily washed out by the quality and performances.

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Revenge of the Cybermen

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

 

 

Timestamp #77: The Sontaran Experiment

Doctor Who: The Sontaran Experiment
(2 episodes, s12e09-e10, 1975)

Timestamp 077 The Sontaran Experiment

 

Before watching this serial, I read up a little on this short story. The TARDIS wiki entry tells the tale: “Script editor Robert Holmes was not a fan of six-part stories, believing that they were padded, so for season twelve, he decided to have one four-part story and one two-part story.”

After some of the reviews on The Timestamps Project, I can attest to that. I respect him for going out on a limb like that.

This one picks up right after The Ark in Space. The Doctor and his companions teleport down to Earth with only a few hiccups, and the Doctor sets to work on fixing the refractor units. The companions venture off to explore as Harry corrects his demeaning banter with Sarah Jane. For now, anyway. Within no time at all, the Doctor is in the crosshairs of a hunter’s rifle, Harry takes a tumble into a disguised trap, and Sarah Jane goes for help.

One of the hunters is chased by a robot, and falls off a cliff. The Doctor goes to help, and the other hunters mistake the Doctor for the perpetrator and stun him into submission as another human in a spacesuit, Roth, watches from the brush. Sarah Jane returns to the refractors and finds only the sonic screwdriver, so she returns to Harry, but he’s no longer there. In the interim, Harry has fled after being attacked. Roth sneaks up behind Sarah Jane and saves her from the robot, and he explains that the trap was set for the robot, who is an agent for an alien in the rocks that is trapping the human explorers and torturing them.

In a twist on that theme, the Doctor is being interrogated by the explorers. It seems that the Nerva Station has become legendary as a lost colony. These explorers are from another colony, GalSec, and being monitored by the alien. There were nine of them on a military expedition, and they were stranded when the alien destroyed their ship. The explorers are serious about the interrogation, but the Doctor is not, and his overall attitude about it is amusing. He’s freed in short order as Roth stages a diversion and Sarah Jane rushes to the Doctor’s rescue. They head back to the hole trap and investigate, and the Doctor jumps into the hole as the robot arrives. The Robot takes Sarah Jane and Roth to the alien, which Harry has just located, and the reveals himself as a Sontaran.

That explains the title.

Sarah Jane is surprised to see the Sontaran since he look just like the one who died in 13th century England. Sure, Sarah Jane, they both look like a potato in armor, but Linx looked more like an undead zombie potato in armor. This Sontaran, Field Major Styre, reveals that he looks the same – no he doesn’t! – but he is not the same because they are a species of clones bred to fight wars. As Sarah Jane ponders this, Roth tries to escape and Styre kills him.

Back at the hole trap, the Doctor climbs out and into the arms of his previous captors, who are subsequently captured by the robot. The Doctor dives back into the hole and finds the tunnel that Harry used. Speaking of, Harry explores the area around the ship, finds a captive, and tends to him. Keeping the story’s title honest, the Sontaran is experimenting on humanity to determine their limits and weaknesses in preparation for an invasion of Earth. After Styre interrogates Sarah Jane, revealing that she should not exist since she was not among the humans on the planet at the time of the catastrophe, he reports his results to his commanders and begins a fear-based experiment on Sarah Jane. Harry locates Sarah Jane, calls her “old girl” again because the old boy never learns, and tries to free her but cannot. After Harry departs, the Doctor arrives, disables the force field, frees Sarah Jane, and confronts the Sontaran. He tries to escape, but the Sontaran shoots him before returning to his ship to deal with the rest of the human explorers.

Harry returns to the unconscious Sarah Jane and Doctor, and in a fit of anger and determination, he nearly strikes the Sontaran before the Doctor stops him. The Doctor was saved by his own contradictory nature – “Never throw anything away,” but remember that “It’s a mistake to clutter your pockets” – and he devises a plan after disabling the robot and listening in on the invasion plans. The Doctor decides to confront Styre in hand-to-hand combat, which will tire the Sontaran and force him to recharge at the ship, which Harry and Sarah Jane will sabotage. The battle is so-so, but the Doctor’s use of the Sontaran’s pride against him is just awesome. As planned, Styre wears himself out, returns to the ship, and melts away as the ship reverses the recharge sequence. The Doctor solves the Sontaran threat with a bluff, and beams himself and the companions away.

To Robert Holmes’s credit, this was a much tighter story than most. On the downside, it was a little too fast-paced for this era and writing staff, and the storytelling shortcuts were obvious. Despite that, I think it was still a good adventure.

 

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Genesis of the Daleks

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.