Anyway, I would love the Young Ones to appear in Doctor Who. Alexei made one, brief, wasted appearance stuck in a story by Saward where he met Peri and one Dalek before being shot dead, and the next year had Chris Ryan playing the most pathetic and irritating alien ever - more Marshall than Mike. But now he's here to play the leader of the Sontarans in Season Four! Only Nigel, Rik and Ade to go...
Now, everyone was bitching at one point that Smith and Jones could easily gone through a cut and paste, with the Judoon and plasmavore rewritten to become Sontarans and a Rutan - after all, the previous season openers had Autons and Cassandra, so returning foes are doubleplusgood. True, this would have stolen some of Martha's limelight in her own debut, but is there any other reason?
Oh yeah... it'd be like Shakedown...
Shakedown, the New Adventure by Terrance Dicks is, in my opion, one his better books. Effectively cut down to the length of a slightly long target novelization (due to the middle chunk of the book novelizing the movie), he has the right amount of space to tell a decent story, giving a reasonable amount of material to the Doctor, Chris, Roz and Benny. Though, he makes a few blunders - the Doctor spends 70% of the book hiding in the TARDIS, staring at the time rotor, brooding; Benny has a split personality, transforming into a serious archaeologist and historian to drunken laddish adventurer like Jekyll and Hyde; Chris at no point gets ANYONE pregnant (though he lusts after Lisa like a polecat on heat, so Blake's 7 women turn him on more than topless waitresses); Roz seems to think that Ogrons only ever work for Daleks, despite being the mercenaries of the universe and identical in many respect to the apelike Jekkartans elsewhere in the novel; and the agonizing sequence where Tezza cut and pasted several pages from the middle of the book to the end.
The point is, I read it before I saw the film. And honestly, I'm glad I did. Of course, you'd expect all the little details of the movie to be made big and important in a full-length novel, but this is vital stuff I'm talking about, and I can't believe that anyone could possibly enjoy the movie without knowledge of the wider framework. Without knowing that Steg and Kurt know each other, or of why the Sontaran/Rutan war could be ended in a minute, or even the sequences on Space Station Alpha where Kurt and Lisa meet the first time, this whole movie feels like a part three of a story with no other surviving episodes. Everything has import, but no one will tell you what the import IS. There is the palpable feel that we've tuned in five minutes after the story's started, and the ending (which is a comic 'now what could go wrong?' in the novel) is inconclusive to say the least.
Oh well, start from the beginning as my bitch of a history teacher one whined...
Shakedown does not start off well. With some incredibly cheap models superimposed over some starscapes, the green digital captions do remind me of a film called Alien, which clearly everyone invovled in this dearly hopes you've never watched. This model is a space yacht called the Tiger Moth, and is on a Shakedown cruise - that is, its crew are training how to set solar sails etc, so it can win a tri-systems race.
However, the crew are a bunch of dozy, aristo fobs, gentry who want serving after them and so wrapped up in themselves that they are ignorant of the fact they are all trapped on the Tiger Moth with no means of escape. Is this sounding familiar yet? In a scene that is far less obviously expositional in the book, we meet the crew of rich bastards who need a bit of excitement and publicity:
- Zorelle (Carole Ann Ford) a past-it, insecure vampish alcoholic, an unsubtle witch of the fashion industry that you'd expect to find in Absolutely Fabulous. The part, sadly, doesn't give Ford the slightest chance for subtlety, so she just goes over the top. She even tries it on in with a Sontaran (ooh, spoiler, did I mention that Sontarans appear in this, Shakedown: Return of the Sontarans?) and flutters her eyelids. Zorelle is, frankly, hard to take seriously.
- Since we have the actress who played the first ever Doctor Who companion, why not the one who played the last? Yes, Sophie Aldred plays Marie... and, well, there's not much to say. She's a young rich girl with braided hair. That's it, really. She has no major personality flaws, is not psychotically violent, has no obsession with explosives, gets on with her parents... In fact, this is the only time Sophie Aldred has appeared as someone who isn't Ace in anyway, shape or form. She even screams like a girl.
- Niko played by... someone I forget. Never seen him in anything before or since but as characters go, he is one note. Bar perhaps being the only one of the fops who can actually sail a yacht properly, all he can do is lust after Marie. Every single line of dialogue seems to involve how pretty and edible she is. Oh, and he's incredibly rich. In short, he can be summed up as Ben Chatham fodder - a rich, sophisticated bloke who the Smoothe One would try to seduce immediately.
- And Kurt (Brian Croucher), our Substitute Doctor. A very mellow, calm and sensible fellow with an unusual knowledge of alien life, culture and deadly with a screwdriver - he's Tom Wallis if anyone. The book, interestingly, makes him more of a Vila-esque rogue, but watching this I wouldn't be surprised to hear him explain that he needs to go to Station Beta to find his police box. Rumors abound that his fortune was made by space piracy, drug smuggling and general crime but, unlike the book, this is never expanded upon and very much a throwaway line.
And so, the fobs bitch at each other... well, to be fair, Zorelle bitches because she is the Bitch, and the rest disagree with her in such a way as to explain more of the plot to the viewer, who has hopefully not dozed off at this point. They have all chipped in cash to this race, and will do a hard day's work for once in their life so their captain can sail them victory and get them shitloads of cash and publicity. I forgot to mention the blue collar workers of the story! Silly me!
- Lisa Derraine (Jan Chappel). She's the only one with a last name, so she is obviously going to survive the story. Effectively, she's Cally without the telepathy, and sadly the lighting and make up make her look extremely odd - almost like a Farscape puppet with her square head and Joker-style colouring. Basically, though, she's Cally and about the only likable person in the story, even though Dicks is struggling to portray a strong female character that is remotely different from Benny Summerfield...
- Robar (Michael Wisher, in what would turn out to be his last Doctor Who work) and doesn't he make it clear he hates this story. Nothing more than canon fodder with an impenetrable accent, this engineer is barely noticeable, which is why he is the first to die...
The crew get together, with Zorelle's changing from her black Servalan handmedowns into an embarrassingly low cut green pyjama monogrammed Z, which causes a stir when she wears it (no doubt everyone is trying not to be copiously and violently sick as this sixty-year-old woman shows off her cleavage). But the merits of Zorelle's psychique are nothing compared to the horror that is...
THE GRATUITOUS VIRTUAL REALITY SEQUENCE!
Yeah, Young Ones ref. Did I mention this bit of the film is really, really bad?
Now, VR is often portrayed in TV sci fi in one of two ways. The way Doctor Who favors is for the characters to walk into some holodeck or somesuch, and then experience whackiness. The other way is for people to sit in electric chairs with crash helmets, and then cut to the 'dreamscape' there in. And do you know why?
Because the only other way is fucking embarrassing, that's why!
You know those really rubbish VR sets in the 90s where you put on boots and gloves and stupid looking helmets then had to be put in a cage? Looked dumb, didn't it? Which is why Red Dwarf mercilessly ripped the piss out of it in Gunmen of the Apocalypse, where we see Lister copping a feel off thin air as he tries to remove an invisible bra. Sadly, Shakedown isn't trying to be funny.
And it just makes it worse.
Our cast stand in a semicircle with blackedout John Lennon spectacles and thick chunky gloves moving their hands directly in front of their heads as Lisa shouts out orders. And it goes on... and on... and on... oh, fucking hell, PLEASE! CUT TO SOMETHING ELSE! The Umbilical Brothers this is NOT! As ice ages come and go we see Lisa mime pressing buttons in front of her, and Niko miming catching a fish... all to some space age Fisherman's Hornpipe.
Finally, the director grows tired of my screams and shows some multicoloured, solarized VR reality of the gang... on a yacht. Doing stuff. With the wind in their hair. It's not good, but it's morphine compared to the Mime Competition elsewhere. But, as my mind shuts down to block out the HORROR of this, I wonder...
WHY THE FUCK ARE THEY DOING THIS?
It isn't simply some rehearsal carried out, as their funky mime antics DO cause the ships sails to unfurl and other such bollocks as that. And if they were rehearsing... how does rehearsing being on a completely different boat in a planetary atmosphere at sea actually help? What kind of spaceship needs VR crewmen? In the future, so computers do all that?
Everything is going dark now... I barely register the tonguelashing Lisa gives the crew - Kurt is too slow, Mari is too dumb, Zorelle is too enthusiastic and Niko is too professional. She hurls an agonizingly scripted bit of abuse at them, but all I can think of is that in the book, Mari screws up because she is not used to VR, but in the movie, she is busy flirting with Niko... I wonder if that's.... interesting...
Finally, the horror is ended as our favorite silver clad warriors of total war arrive in the film. On the Sontaran War Wheel, available from all good toy shops. Dear God, what a rubbish model, shot in close in hi-definition to show all the sculpted plastic and how it isn't moving a sodding inch. And then, a triipy sequence of Commander Steg getting one last energy jolt before going into battle.
The Sontarans... whoever designed these bastards should be shot. A lot. Their flesh a lurid yellow with purple and brown freckles, and an insect like carapace, the heads are not good. It is not the terrifyingly convincing Stor of Invasion of Time (seriously, his face scares me), or the obvious masks of The Two Doctors. They seem like papier machet helmets crudley stuck to heads, with bad, obvious joins at the mouths and eyes, do they always seem to be staring blankly ahead with their tongues poking out as if blowing raspberries.
They look worse with the helmets on, for crying out loud! And they're all painfully slim, normal sized chaps wrapped in padded nylon outfits that are horribly soft and rustle all the time. Where's the black leather and silver belts? Even the helmets are bright red and have the eyeholes too close together. And I haven't even mentioned the abomination that is Vorn...
Steg, intrigued by the Tiger Moth which has apparently broken down, decides to fire a few blasts at the stationary craft, which Lisa and Robar treat with all the fear and urgency of getting the Yellow Envelope in the mail. After telling the crew not to panic, Robar wanders down to the engines to finally fix them.
The Sontarans board the ship and engage in the most ridiculously melodrammatic cliffhanger antics seen so far. Despite time being an issue and their limited resources, they decide to hurl grenades at the crew and then chase them around the Tiger Moth and shoot them down, one by one until silently surrounding Lisa and gunning her down as well. I mean, if it was actually entertaining, I might forgive such a blatand rip off of Blake's 7 most famous scenes, but it shows this top-heavy mincining Sontarans for the losers they are, forced to shuffle sideways through doorways and down steps. Niko manages to kill one of them - a puny human with a puny weapon killing a Sontaran and no payback? Well, maybe...
Anyway, the Sontarans now control the Tiger Moth and, before we can remember that this cliffhanger was done so much better in Revenge of the Cybermen, we cut to a commercial break!
Back to the action, and it's time to mention Vorn.
Vorn is the worst-acted Sontaran ever. Speaking in a ridiculous roar so loud it causes him to rock back on his heels whenever he gets any dialogue, Vorn's acting is something else. Imagine the Cowardly Lion on ectsasy, or Gozilla gatecrashing a performance of Waiting for Godot... to say he ruins the mood is not enough. He brutally sodomizes the mood while forcing it to wear a gingham dress and making piglet noises, then takes it out the bad, makes it dig its own grave, then shoots the mood through the head.
Not even Richard Briers was THIS bad - and he was TRYING to screw everything up! At least the script shows Vorn is, shall we say, two terulian diode bypass transformers short of an inthistitial beam synthesizer, so I transcribe a scene between him and his Commander Steg (whose stilted... deep-voiced... acting... does not... seem... like a Sontaran... warrior... more like... Darth... Vader... once... he's had... a... ... stroke...)
"Ah. Lieutenant Vorn."
"THE SHIP IS SECURED, COMMANDER!!!"
"Six humans are listed on the ship's crew roll."
"COMMANDER??!?" asks Vorn, leaning closer.
"There are five human bodies."
Vorn straightens up, sways, and after three long seconds, booms cheerfully, "ONE HUMAN IS MISSING, COMMANDER!!!"
"Precisely. Robar. The ship's engineer. Find him. Bring him to me alive."
"I SHALL GO AT ONCE, COMMANDER!!!"
"No, Lieutenant. You shall send a trooper. Unlikely as it may seem. I may have need of you."
Vorn salutes and turns to order another Sontaran, and then turns back to Steg.
"COMMANDER!!! WHERE SHALL I SEND THE TROOPER?!?!?"
"To find an engineer... It's a wild guess. Lieutenant. But maybe you can start. With the engine room."
And as Vorn nods happily, Steg starts to sob with despair...
No, seriously he does. Not even the book can justify how a retard like Vorn could get so far in the military (Uncle Tezza shows his usual grasp of the facts by suggesting that Vorn comes from a well-connected family... because families are very common in a clone-only race, aren't they, boys and girls?)
Once again, Steg shows superb deductive skills, because Robar is down in the engine room, checking the engines and not noticing the fact that all the explosions and screams upstairs might mean that his crew are in trouble. But Michael Wisher isn't wasting his talent on shit like this, so instead I am more interested in the music. It sounds just like that bit in Horror of Fang Rock, when Ben the Engineer goes down to the generator to look it over and is fatally bushwhacked by a strange green glow.
Robar the Engineer is fatally bushwhacked by a strange green glow.
Hmm. Is there a connection? Well, for one thing, this scene shows that twenty years doesn't necessarily mean an improvement. The incredibly cool way the green glow of Fang Rock seeped up the walls is nothing compared to Michael Wisher stepping into a green torch beam and then looking scared. This pathetic special effect will be used more than once in this story...
Meanwhile, our Substitute Doctor, Kurt, has already proved indestructible, and recovered faster than anyone else to find them all locked in the crew room. He revives Lisa and they brood over who their captors could be, and then Vorn enters, orders them outside, then Steg arrives for the traditional unveiling of the potato heads which might have been impressive if
a) we hadn't already seen their ugly mugs a hundred times already
b) it lead to Kurt going "Ahah! The Sontarans, of course!" as if dome-headed armor plated warrior are ten a penny... mind you, now we have the Judoon, I suppose it's JUST possible. Thanks RTD for going to all that trouble to explain a goof in Shakedown. Pity it doesn't explain the book's explanation that Kurt and Steg have met before, which makes such cluelessness ridiculous.
There then follows the traditional scene of Sontarans ogling the thoraxes of women, getting a quick run down of human sex, before explaining that they live for war, don't you know? The sort of bollocks you'd think that Tezza would have at least TRIED to do something different with. Unless we assume that Sontarans are unable to understand the concept of gender, they must be the biggest bunch of pervs ever. (I have a horrible feeling that if RTD writes the Sontaran episode, Donna will get felt up by one of them in a spoof of this scene...)
AAAAAAAAAAAANnnnyway. Moving on.
For those who haven't read the book, a Rutan spy has fled to Space Station Alpha and smuggled itself aboard one of the many outgoing ships, so the Sontarans are stopping and searching every single one of them. For those that are interested, Space Station Alpha will soon be freed by the Seventh Doctor, Chris, Roz and some brutal modelwork.
Steg insists that he has no real reason to kill the humans - and if the Rutan spy is not aboard, will leave in peace. Kurt however, points out that the Sontarans are more likely to blow up the Tiger Moth just to be on the safe side. Which leads to the big question... WHY NOT DO THAT IN THE FIRST PLACE? I mean, they don't want to capture the Rutan but to blow it to smithereens, so this entire exercise has been pointless, unless it's about Steg's growing respect for humanity. No, seriously, don't vomit.
Left behind, Kurt struggles to explain his unusual knowledge of Sontarans and claims he met the Doctor (AKA the Physician AKA the Denist) "in a bar on Metebelis III" and learned all the interesting trivia about Sontarans. This is so utterly ludicrous, it's reassuring that Tezza notes in the book that REALLY the Doctor saved Kurt from a Sontaran invasion and Kurt is playing dumb so Steg doesn't realize that he hasn't got his hands on an escaped prisoner... but unless you've read the book we're supposed to assume that the Doctor spends his time in pubs talking about alien monsters, like that wierd drunk who knows so much about bees. What's really hard to swallow is that Kurt would REMEMBER any of this, and once again you start to wonder... could Kurt actually be the Doctor? Bar his incredibly obvious flirting with Lisa, there's nothing to say no (and thanks to the New Series, even that seems believable). Could Kurt be hiding his identity like the Tenth Doctor calling himself Fred in The Betrothal of Sontar? Does anyone care?
The crude, floating CGI tennis ball animates Robar's corpse, and he snogs the Sontaran sent to get him. Then, assuming the form of the dead Sontaran, the Rutan zaps ANOTHER Sontaran, and starts to suck out energy through the trooper's probic vent. That's another thing - the new Sontaran helmets cover up the vents, the big wusses. I thought it was because it made them tough bastards who couldn't run away? Also, this scene with three Sontarans demonstrates why we rarely see more than two of them: they're identical, so we spend half the scene wondering who is attacking who - plus, if you waste all your case on one GOOD Sontaran mask, and leave the others masked all the time, you cut down on actors having heart attacks and build up credibility.
Vorn turns up and sees the glowing green Sontaran draining the life out of the trooper (why didn't the Rutan do that to the first Sontaran?) and after a few moments senses something is up. He shoots the Rutan, who turns into the transparent CGI tennis ball and floats away, leaving the trooper TOTALLY unharmed. Vorn rushes to Steg and after ANOTHER long and painful conversation realize the Rutan is injured and trapped on the ship.
Presumably because he wants a fight, Steg decides to hunt down the Rutan rather than leg it from the Tiger Moth and blow it to smithereens. When he finds Robar's body, Steg realizes he has a nifty bit of emotional blackmail to get Lisa on his side, and she agrees to help Steg kill the blobby bastard behind all this.
Back to the rest of the humans, who are desperately trying to get screentime. Zorelle betrays Kurt and Lisa to the Sontarans, since they were chatting about killing them. Steg, offended, goes up to Kurt and says, "You want a piece of me? Huh? Punk? You want that?" and hands over his gun to Kurt and challenges him to open fire.
Kurt refuses because
a) he's the Doctor substitute, and doesn't do mindless violence
b) Vorn is already pointing his gun at Kurt's head
c) Steg is clearly up to something
d) in the book, Kurt and Steg have met before and he knows Steg is not some suicidal poser
However, Niko (remember him?) is more rash and snatches up the gun and tries to kill Steg. Unfortunately, Steg has left the safety catch on. Niko has enough time to realize this before Steg takes back the gun and lines Niko's lungs with rheon carbines. This causes Marie to start screaming until Lisa pumps her full of happy drugs.
Well, one scene and already two main characters down, and Steg rallies the humans to act as live bait for the Rutan, to lure it into the open where the remaining Sontarans can shoot it. However, for all Steg's admiration for Lisa, he's not quite worked out that the best way to woo a woman is not to keep killing her friends and lie to her. Lisa and Kurt shove a Sontaran into the engines, ala Hansell and Gretel with the Wicked Witch, while another Sontaran gets a screwdriver down the neck.
Zorelle decides to change back into her frock and get wasted on booze - so if she DOES die, at least she'll look good. Wouldn't you know, the crew room is just where the Rutan happens to be hiding? So, as we watch it possesses the corpse of Niko, who then kisses the unconscious Marie, then vanishes in a puff of light. The incredibly pale, bloodied Marie then gets up and goes to talk to Zorelle, who is now so pissed she doesn't notice that Marie is now a zombie, who then reveals that Niko's body is now magically occupying the bed. Then Marie zaps Zorelle, killing her.
Very spooky (Sophie Aldred rarely gets a chance to play ungodly evil, which is a pity as she is a lot better at it than Ace many a time) but... why? The Rutan doesn't consider Marie (unconscious) or Zorelle (drunk) a threat so why kill them in a needlessly supernatural manner? Why does it need to keep animating corpses when it can kill in its normal form? What was the point of the wierd instant bed teleport? Why did it lure Zorelle into the room to scare her rather than just touching her? Surely this is wasting energy...
The Rutan tries a different stunt, and, assuming the form of Robar, appears before Lisa and Kurt. If it weren't for the VR sequence, this would be the worst scene in the entire film. It's appallingly staged - it happens in real time, shot over the shoulders of Kurt and Lisa, and not very well written. Robar appears in a green light, shouting for "Lisa my dear" to help him as Kurt says, "Kill him!" with all the passion and energy of someone identifying a big white kitchen appliance as a fridge.
Suddenly, Lisa shoots Robar, who turns into the CGI tennis ball and floats away, apparently unharmed. Lisa sobs and reveals Robar was not in the habit of calling Lisa "my dear". So... WHY THE HELL DID THE RUTAN CALL HER "MY DEAR"?! IT'S NOT THE MASTER FOR FUCK'S SAKE! And if it can't copy Robar's personality, why did it try the bluff at all?
Steg and Vorn are the only ones left and Steg finally decides to nuke the Tiger Moth (and, probably, Vorn as well) when Lisa and Kurt arrive armed with Sontaran blasters they liberated from dumb and dumber. Vorn is casually disposed of - so casually in fact I wonder if it WAS Vorn, or was maybe Vorn the incredibly stupid Sontaran who shouted "YOU KILLED HIM SO I KILL YOU!" before he got a screwdriver where it hurt? Steg, using his shaky grip of human morality, pretends to be disarmed and asks for mercy.
There follows a brief shoot out which leaves Kurt badly wounded and Steg apparently dying (but Sontarans can come back from the dead, you know - and this piece of info is all that keeps the plot credible) and he salutes his worthy foe Lisa for being dangerous and badass. Then he dies.
The Rutan turns up, having assumed the form of Zorelle and finally giving Ford a chance to be unearthly and subtle... but it doesn't explain WHY the Rutan isn't just animating Zorelle's corpse, or why the copy is so unconvincing even down to the sound dub, or why the Rutan decides to spare Lisa as they have common enemies with the Sontarans when the other humans were considered fair game, or why the Rutan bothers to explain all this before spinning around and around to transform into a CGI cartoon ghost.
As the Rutan enters the Sontaran ship, Steg instantly revives and tells Lisa that he left a bomb in the airlock, so Lisa jumps in there and tosses it into the ship before the door closes and... aw... Steggy is holding the airlock door open so Lisa can escape, leading to the truly cringeworthy sight of Steg deadpanning, "I win, Rutan."
We then have to believe that the Sontaran fission grenades have such a long fuse that it takes about half an hour before it blows, so the Sontaran ship can get clear enough away from the Tiger Moth so there's a happy ending. And that the Rutan didn't NOTICE the big ticking bomb for half and hour and didn't simply open the airlock and throw the thing out into the void.
Meanwhile, Kurt is still alive and as Lisa bitches that she'll never get another bunch of rich aristos together in time, Kurt reveals he somehow managed to convince Marie, Zorelle and Niko to sign a legally-binding document that means if any one of the crew died, their share of the cash was kept by the survivors. Thus, Kurt is now filthy stinking rich and can not only fund the Tiger Moth, but pay for some professionals to help Lisa fly the bloody thing. Everything is dandy - except that Lisa can't seem to get in contact with Station Beta.
Seriously, that last twist takes the biscuit. How the hell did Kurt convince the others to sign away their fortunes? It's not like any of them were EXPECTING to be killed during the Shakedown cruise, unless Kurt was planning to kill them all. Worse, at least the book has a scene where Kurt brings up the topic, but in the film he suddenly pulls this escape clause out of his arse (what is the bet the original storyline had the Doctor announce he had some bank account or other he didn't need and Lisa was welcome to it). Worse, we're supposed to believe the race will still be on after the Sontarans stage a major strike against humanity and wreck Station Alpha. The book, admittedly, faces up to this reality, but the film seems to think that all is right with the world despite things like Earth's major colony losing three of its most important people with no comeback, and humanity bumping into the Sontarans during what appears to all intents and purposes to be the major showdown with the Rutans that ends the war?
As rip offs go, Tezza rewriting Horror of Fang Rock isn't so bad. As others point out, the story could easily be set on a space ship, but this proves it was better set in a lighthouse, and the 'new idea' of swapping the keepers with the fops and the fops with a Sontaran strike team mean a lot of subtlety and suspense is lost. In Fang Rock, we don't even know the alien killer is a Rutan until the last five minutes, with the Doctor admitting he has no idea what he's facing and just trying to stay alive. Here, the Rutan is demystefied as an electric polymorph in one voice over. We simply don't get enough time to know the humans to mourn their deaths, but while all the humans in Fang Rock get a kind of karma (Rueben dies after he unwittingly ruins the Doctor's credibility, Vince dies after accepting dirty money, Skinsale dies trying to snatch up diamonds, etc) the humans are killed off in one bit of carnage at the end of the story. It's different, but not better.
Also, the acting and visual effects aren't so good. The actors do their best... mostly... but there's the fact the insides of the futuristic space craft resemble a maritime base full of chains, lights and no smoking signs. There's a real feeling the cast only had a few hours to film and were desperate to get out of there. Certainly, the Sontarans struggle to literally fit in the sets, and the less said about Steg's ludicrous '6 Million Dollar Man' jump down TWO STEPS OF A LADDER the better. The modelwork is painful too.
All in all? Stick to the book.