Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Doctor Who - Rise of the Machines...


You only have to look behind you
At who's undermined you
Destroy everything you touch today
Destroy me this way

Everything you touch you don't feel
Do not know what you steal
Shakes your hand
Takes your gun
Walks you out of the sun

What you touch you don't feel
Do not know what you steal
Destroy everything you touch today
Please destroy me this way

Destroy everything you touch today
Destroy me this way
Anything that may delay you
Might just save you...

For their second ever adventure, the Doctor, Susan Foreman, Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright find themselves landing on a dead planet about as far from London 1963 as it's possible to get. And with the TARDIS completely screwed, our heroes have no choice but to head for the only sign of civilization - an amazing futuristic city that seems almost alive. A platter of consumer goods leads to robotic machines coming out of the walls, as our heroes find themselves up against a race of creatures not quite mechanical, not quite alive, and with one hell of a grudge against a civilization of beautiful Aryans with an unusual moral code...

The question is, if we were spin forward over 45 years into the future, would we find RTD writing Journey's End about the Doctor, the Tylers, Torchwood and Sarah Jane teaming up to fight the Perfect One after his army of derivatrons decimate the Earth, or the machines of Luxor responsible for wiping out the Time Lords? Probably not, but you don't exactly get similar potential from The Daleks, do you? Had the pepperpots appeared in Anthony Coburn's script rather than Terry Nation, who knows what would have happened?

Having read the original script after it was published in 1993 to commemorate the 30th anniversary, I can say that The Masters of Luxor was about a rewrite away from brilliance and certainly deserved being made instead of trash like The Keys of Marinus or Planet of Giants. The six-episode story is rather talky, with a lot of it involving our heroes in various hotel-like surroundings brooding on unseen menaces, and while some scenes are easy to imagine (the flying helicopter TARDIS model shots couldn't be any worse than the ones in The Web Planet), others aren't quite so (the tour of the 'floating' city which gobsmacks our travellers and has them dub it "an architectural miracle"). The Perfect One could have been a creation to rival giant maggots as 'things everyone would remember', but just as easily it could have been Adam Rickitt painted white with a collander on his head. Yet it's hard to imagine them going wrong with a sequence of Hartnell wrestling with the TARDIS console as the time machine goes out of control and Barbara totally loses it and starts screaming "GOD PROTECT US!!" Hell, the image freaks me out just thinking about it.

Well, some American fans have decided to adapt the story into a fan film and it's not hard to see why. Mainly talky, sets, a handful of robot costumes and a few model shots - not to mention the script being in the public domain and having something of a reputation. I can't imagine many fan projects instantly grabbing people's attention: people are always going to be more interested in Shada than "Andrew Denton kung-fus his way around a monastery claiming to be Dr Who", aren't they?

Like a few other fan films I know of, the fact they're recreating something from 1963 means they can legitimately skimp on things - costumes, props, the occasional fluffed line. It's ridiculous to think that bit where the boom mike drops into view was left in accidentally. The black and white choice probably helps too.

There are a few differences, as they've understandably had to streamline the tale, losing stuff like the gang losing consciousness when the TARDIS crashes, the Doctor arguing about using the emergency power system, not to mention the lengthy scene where the Time Lords berate the humans for their infectious paranoia. The first cliffhanger is thankfully dispensed, as it was quite simply rubbish (is that food that Ian ate with no ill effects poisoned? Um, no, actually. Tune in next week), and understandably the army of robots gets dwindled to just two, only one of which talks.

The most baffling change is Susan now being the Doctor's niece and referring to him as "uncle". No idea what that's all about, but maybe it's down to the Doctor being portrayed as more like the Eighth than the First, but this works rather well since 45 year old dialogue works for either character and this guy, who resembles the TV Ford Prefect in more ways than one, isn't half bad. This puts him in stark contrast with some of his fellow actors who struggle to be half-decent. Susan's all right (when she's not being hysterical... but then, that could just be biting satire), and the shaven-haired yank claiming to be Ian Chesterton is understandably hard to cope with lines like "your electronic giggle palace". But Barbara's the worst. She's not Chip Jamison, but the fact she's given the 'spooky woman's intuition and understanding' scenes (and I swear they're not as sexist and crap as the description may sound), she needs to be better. No wonder they didn't let the actress try the "fondled by a dead body" line, since her only skills rely on being bored and annoyed. Oh, and looking good in a white space miniskirt - another thing to note is that these shockingly revealing outfits would have no doubt made this the 1963 equivalent of Baywatch to its audience, but just seem to be an excuse from the girls to change from black clothes to white clothes. Oh, and Ian just looks like a twat in his outfit. If you didn't know better, you'd assume the Doctor kept his outfit out of self respect than the script.

Anyway, the plot. The first episode, The Cannibal Flower, kicks off when the TARDIS's systems are jammed by a 'radio signal' and it crashlands on a lifeless, moon-like planet in the shadow of a huge crystal city floating in mid air [although it just turns out to be a trick of the light]. Curious about it, the gang float the TARDIS (like it does in Time-Flight) over the city when the city's dome opens up and a tractor beam sucks the police box inside. Immediately the power starts draining away and Barbara does one of those patented 'really cool idea that turns out to be better than the one they ended up using' speeches: they have travelled into the future where machinery is alive and feeds off other machinery, in this case the city comes to life as the TARDIS shuts down.

Luckily the TARDIS (a rather decent police box prop though it's painfully obvious it's missing a roof) in the corner of a dining room with food ready on the table. With no real options, the marooned travellers chow down on the food and activate a remote control on the dining table. Two robots emerge from the wall (resembling a cross between a Toxic Avenger radiation ranger and a Gundan) and it's time for the next episode, The Mockery of A Man.

The robots tidy away the dishes, unhelpfully saying things like "You have made us well, O Masters of Luxor" and not explaining what the hell is going on. The robots offer to take the travellers to their bedrooms and in the lift, Barbara has ANOTHER idea: the city doesn't just suck the life out of machines, it turns people into robots!!

In the bedroom, Susan and Barbara immediately run and lock themselves in the bathroom to, er, help clean each other up and get rid of the dirt and crud they've accumulated from their adventures with the cave men. "Doctor, would you mind if I said something so obvious, it's laughable?" asks Ian meekly. "Wouldn't be the first time," the Doctor shrugs.

Ian, Barbara and Susan put on the clothes laid out for them, intelligent white silk clothes that mould to their skins (and thus giving the visual impression that they've put on fancy pyjamas and are about to call it a night). The Doctor, significantly refusing to conform, flushes his outfit down the toilet and keeps his own clothes [sadly, they didn't keep the scene where the Doctor awkwardly tries to tell Barbara how goddam sexy she now looks]. Just then, Proto the derivatron arrives - a mark II robot far more humanoid than the grunts. I have a feeling Coburn was thinking more of Lieutenant Data rather than this, which resembles one of the Sand People from Star Wars with light bulbs for eyes. Nevertheless, maximum props for the creepily polite 'Robots of Death' style voice.

Proto has been sent to find out who the hell the TARDIS crew are, unfortunately it doesn't have much of an imagination (something only Barbara seems to twig) - it has no idea how the TARDIS could have got here, and now assumes that the travellers are from Luxor and have come here to investigate disappearances of some other guests. "They are no more. They would not give up their lives, so we destroyed them." Proto is disturbed by the fact Susan and Barbara are women (and judging by Ian's baffling comments, he seems to think the paranoid android is turned on by their kinky outfits). Unsatisfied by their attempts to explain, Proto storms off to the Perfect One, his boss. Deciding that a place with a history of mass murder isn't cool, Ian comes up with a brilliant escape plan he got from the original script involving breaking windows, tying up curtains and scaling a 300 metre drop. The Doctor points out that Proto left the door open, so, rather self-consciously, his idiotic companions decide to follow him.

They quickly twig that Proto wanted them to follow, as they see a crude lash up where some poor smuck is strapped to a bed and positive-negatived out of existence, leaving his stupid and empty clothes behind. In a bed opposite is the Perfect One, the sort of bloke you can imagine being the good-looking black sheep of some Bold and the Beautiful type soap opera. Smug, arrogant and lacking some social skills, the Perfect One decides to discuss mechanical evolution - the Masters of Luxor created the grunt robots as slaves but decided to improve their intelligence so the Masters could get more fun out of their slavery, creating the derivatrons. But this was not enough, and so they decided to create an android identical in every way to themselves, mainly for the hell of it. The Perfect One is that ultimate android, but has decided to liberate his robot brethren instead.

You know, as you do.

One snag is the Perfect One, like all the machines in the city, runs on the energy of the TARDIS - the city is a penal colony that is powered up by the ships that transport criminals there and the TARDIS has got caught up in the workings - and when that energy is exhausted (well, that's what the Perfect One EXPECTS to happen at any rate), he'll shut down as well. However, he's discovered way to drain the life energy from Luxorites and transfer it to himself, and thus keep him going for brief periods. That's what he's been doing to the others, burning them up to supercharge him and finally give him independence, and that's what he intends to do to our heroes. OK, it's basically a Spara-esque "let me tell you my wikipedia entry" scene, but at least the Perfect One is shown to be desperate for conversation and, more importantly, hasn't told everyone the full story.

Thanks to the compression of the plot, the last five minutes or so of episode two is actually episode three of the original (A Light on the Dead Planet) as our heroes try to argue with the Perfect One that his plan makes less sense than the logic behind The Boy That Time Forgot. Unfortunately, this means wasting passionate, reasoned speeches on Ian and Barbara. Shame. You're supposed to be angry and afraid, numbnuts! The Perfect One explains that Luxor is not exactly a utopia, as it has very high standards of genetic purity. He then changes the subject and starts lusting after the female cast on the grounds that their amazing childbearing skills will mean more life energy to drain out. The Doctor tries to tactfully change the subject from this "Mars Needs Women!" bollocks, but to little avail as the Perfect One reveals his one weakness - he cannot heal or repair any injuries and, rather pissed off by this mortality, has linked his brain up to an atom bomb: he dies, bang bang. Then, he picks up a handy laser gun and shoots our heroes [rather than drugging them with finest French absinthe as in the original.]

And onto Tabon of Luxor. As episode three was one part exposition, two parts escape, the plot progresses relatively quickly. Susan and Barbara are strapped to the nasty electrode machine while the similarly-unconscious Doctor and Ian are taken by a robot to the lift. Susan manages to shove a robot into the machinery and causes a temporary power failure, crippling the robots and allowing our men folk to escape with their worthless lives. They discover that there is an antennae sending out the signal that snared the TARDIS, but said antennae only activated when the power to the city is cut off - someone clearly doesn't want the Perfect One to know they're in the neighborhood. The Doctor and Ian set off towards the antennae, and find it stands over a mauseleum in a graveyard. Spooky.

Back in the city, the 'girls' have run around in their underwear before getting caught by robots and then electrocuted for the Perfect One's pleasure. It seems his ridiculous scheme to become immortal might work since niether Susan nor Barbara evaporated under the pressure, but mind you, the Perfect One is mighty pissed off that Proto doesn't share his enthusiasm for kinky bondage games. Taken to their hotel room to cool off, the thoroughly depressed and humiliated pair drown their sorrows in booze before awkwardly admitting that they kinda liked it. Oh, the shame.

Inside the graveyard, the Doctor misquotes Karl Marx and Ian decides to take up graverobbing - and due to the limited budget, ends up opening a tomb that's supposed to belong to the titular Tabon of Luxor despite the fact there's only one catacomb and it was clearly marked "Drispo III" (what a stupid name). Tabon, (pronounced "Tay-bon" and not "Tab-bon" like I assumed) resembling Del Tarrant in a fake beard dressed as Elvis, revives from suspended animation wakes up, but it's the pure mahogany performance of Ian that ruins what could have been a fairly intense scene...

IAN: Come on, come on! Wakey-wakey, Grandpa! Can you hear me? Wakey-wakey! Nelson's been up since six o'clock!
DOCTOR: You'll break his neck!
IAN: I'll break his neck all right, him and his blasted kind! When I think what they've done in the name of science...
DOCTOR: And what have YOUR people made in the name of science?! A civilization which has almost made up its mind to go in the same direction as this! You don't need ME to tell you the signs! Heaven knows, we have ENOUGH enemies here - we want this man as a friend!!

Imagine Rick James from The Mutants as Ian, and you can see how awful it turns out.

Onto The Flower Blooms, the final episode (the fifth installment, An Infinity of Surprises somehow got lost along the way). Susan and Barbara smash up their room, intending to summon Proto and trip him over. Unfortunately, the Perfect One turns up to discover what their hormonal rampage has been about, and trips and cracks his head. This starts that atom bomb mentioned earlier to start ticking over and, of course, it happens just when the Doctor, Ian and Tabon are exploring said atom bomb. Is this the end?!? No. Not really, as the Perfect One gets up and the bomb stops ticking. Lucky escape there then, huh?

As the Perfect One explains his long term ambitions to become immortal, escape the moon and presumably go on to conquer the universe and take some elocution lessons, Susan and Barbara start giggling at his megalomania. Hysterical laughter's a difficult emotion to capture... and it stays that way. Of course, the Perfect One like anything else in creation, can't cope with the scorn of sniggering girls making fun of him and storms off to big himself up to Proto.

Meanwhile, the others come up with a plan to reverse the polarity of the neutron flow and restore energy to the TARDIS. In arguable the most fundamental change between this version and the original is that it is the Doctor, not Ian, who takes the offensive against the Perfect One. This actually improves the story, as it makes sense that a Time Lord could survive being plugged into the life-sucker, but in the script Ian survived without any explanation. Plus, it means we get a guy who can actually ACT doing the big important scenes. Thank goodness.

While the Doctor prowls around the Liberator-type corridors of the city, our heroines have been stickey taped to the wall. Um. OK. You know this is the sort of crap we all complained about when Peri had to go through it in TimeLash... But Susan and Barbara's spirits are not bowed by this bondage and start singing "99 Bottles of Beer", causing more existential angst for the Perfect One [in the original they sang Jerusalem and the National Anthem - hey, RTD, you could have used used that idea for the DW Musical you promised Billie Piper back in 06!!] forcing him to daterape them into silence, while the Doctor rugby-tackles Proto and starts reversing the sexual equality flow and claiming to be far superier than puny Earth girls [okay, Susan's not human, guess we have to ride with it, as the Doctor is SUPPOSED to be lying...]

As the Perfect One is forced to admit he lied to his bitches about the derivatrons building him (cause that would SO make him cooler), the Doctor is wired up. Seriously though, this war of nerves stuff is done really quite well as the Perfect One is painted into a corner: he is convinced Tabon is dead, yet all the evidence points to him being alive. Turns out the Perfect One has idolized Tabon ever-so-slightly too much, so it won't do ANYONE any good when his creator turns up, ashamed and terrified of what he's made.

Which, of course, is exactly what happens.

"Don't kneel before me," pleads the Perfect One before his brain shatters like glass and he starts sobbing on the floor, screaming for the derivatrons to kill him. But, as has already been established, these robots don't have much in the way of imagination, and since they've been orders to effectively kill themselves (as, if the Perfect One dies, the bomb goes off) they start freaking out as well. In the confusion, our heroes head back for the TARDIS, taking with them Tabon and the Perfect One. As plot resolutions go, driving the entire supporting cast insane is pretty unusual. I can't remember that happening since The Rise of the Cybermen with that insane megalomaniac trying to achieve immortality and... oooh, spooky.

Alas, in a rather poor bit of editing, the gang are ambushed (off screen) by hoardes of unseen robots, smashing the Perfect One's head in and starting off the countdown. But when they finally reach the dining room and the TARDIS, the Doctor's companions show themselves for the cowards by running straight into the police box, leaving Tabon and the Doctor with the dying Perfect One. Assholes. Tabon, feeling pretty-self-destructive himself, decides to stay with his creation and tells the Doctor to leg it while he can. A split second after the TARDIS takes off, the entire moon politely explodes.

Aboard the TARDIS, the Doctor gives a suitably biblical quote and switches on the fast return switch, coz the next episode is The Egde of Destruction... except, that was only ever made because Luxor was cancelled! AGH! My brain! BANG!

Nah, that wasn't too bad. But I still prefer the version in my head.


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