Monday, December 6, 2010

200 Moments: The Sixth Doctor!


The Twin Dilemma
THE GOLDEN MOMENT: The unstable Doctor ponders the fate of the universe.
WHY: How do you make a character sympathetic when they are a smug, self-important windbag who treats everyone else like trash? Comedies do it all the time - Blackadder for example is popular because he follows the Cinderella pattern of suffering endless humiliations on his road to power and position, and those he faces are either far more unpleasant than he is or so hideously insane they deserve whatever Blackie has planned. Yet for most of this story, the new Doctor is stuck in a room with Peri who is either properly scared of him or treated like dirt. SHE is the one we sympathize with, the one we care about. Quite frankly, the Fifth Doctor could have died properly for all we care about the new version. Now he's actually trying to get involved in the main story. "My full powers are returning!" he announces. "I can sense some dreadful evil threatening the universe. The life-force itself is in danger of extinction - and it's up to you and I, Peri, to STOP IT!!" Peri sighs. "How?" she groans. "Yes... well..." He blows out his cheeks, his pompousness deflated. For a moment we see it's still the Doctor, a fearless crusader for the underdog who makes up all his plans entirely on the hoof and is never 100% sure what he's doing. For a moment he seems to twig that his assholeish behaviour has been doing nothing but making him stupid. For a moment he can laugh at himself. And for a moment, we remember why Colin Baker was the right choice, even if the character he was playing was the most ill-thought one prior to the Torchwood franchise...

Attack of the Cybermen
THE GOLDEN MOMENT: The Doctor destroys the Cyber-Controller.
WHY: Terrance Dicks once noted that Eric Saward had a fetish for the Cybermen (in fairness, they were popular and well-understood monsters that were cheap to use), but this story seems to show Saward curing himself of that - and ridding himself of Lytton and co at the same time. The Cybermen can be killed by bullets! Compared to that, the revelation that the Cybermen are rendered extinct at the end by a bunch of silly aliens no one's heard of before or since is positively respectful. But this sequence shows the Cybermen as a threat to be feared; either as an unstoppable silver army or as a spreading plague. As Lytton is slowly turned into just another drone, the Controller and his guards close in on the Doctor. "Emotion is a weakness," the Controller declares, heralding a nasty and brutal gunfight as the Doctor is literally left crawling for cover and firing a gun heavier than he is. No logic or reason can triumph here, just brute strength and murder. It's a chilling demonstration of how harsh and ruthless Saward saw the universe - and why the self-pitying bastard should never have been allowed to write for the series again. He just doesn't get it.

Vengeance on Varos
THE GOLDEN MOMENT: Sil is defeated.
WHY: Sil is of course one of the nastiest people in this story. Varos is completely desensitized to violence, but even Arak and Etta don't get kinky thrills from watching torture - there's literally nothing else on bar party-political broadcasts, until not even Arak can tell the two apart. But Sil is something else, literally getting turned on by the sheer mention of inflicting pain and suffering. He prizes torturing the Governor as much as cheating him out of a few bucks. And while the sick Quillam perishes at his own death traps, Sil is... left alone. Humiliated. His "business accumen" has merely got his company in trouble and lost any faith Kiv had in him. All his allies are dead. And a whole planet will know his treachery. The evil slug doesn't even have anyone to complain to - the Doctor and pals simply walk out of the room, leaving him completely alone to suffer a non-physical torment. This sick bastard is shown for the useless and impotent loser he is. His screams of despair are more satisfying than Maldak simply blowing his head off. Sil doesn't even merit that vengeance. Sucks to be him.

The Mark of the Rani
THE GOLDEN MOMENT: The Doctor tricks the Master and the Rani into giving him a chance to escape.
WHY: The Doctor's tied to an operating table at the heart of the Rani's stronghold. The Master has a gun aimed at Peri's head. The evil Time Lord activates a monitor to show some luddites about to tip the TARDIS into a mineshaft. The bearded bastard is triumphant! Except... the Doctor announces that he doesn't believe what he's seeing, and assume it's just an illusion on the scanner. "The Rani's cleverer than all of us!" he gasps in mock-awe at this CGI. Despite the Rani's protests, the Doctor continually assures Peri it's not happening and the Master's trying pathetically to impress them. And, he's kind of right. Humiliated not only by his oldest foe but in front of the Time Lady he is lusting after, the Master shakes with rage and has the Doctor wheeled outside to see his defeat for himself. Even though it's asking for trouble. Because the Master can't just win, he has to be seen to win. Of course, even if the Doctor had given up and admitted defeat, it still wouldn't have impressed the Rani in the slightest...

The Two Doctors
THE GOLDEN MOMENT: Chessene dies in her attempt to escape in her faulty time machine.
WHY: Chessene isn't Servalan. She's got long hair, wears unfashionable frocks, and goes on about genetic purity. But she IS played by Jacqueline Pearce, literally stab her allies in the back, and flirts whenever talking about cold-blooded murder. She even hangs around with a scientist who works out the theories of Parallel Matter and his comedy sidekick. Chessene isn't Servalan, but it wouldn't be much effort to go the whole hog. It would be satisfying to see Comissioner Sleer lose her "ain't I a stinker?" self-deprecating homicidal urges and just out and out admits what a megalomaniac she is? "I put myself up above the gods!" she rants, sharing Davros' delusions of godhood. And then, in one last Servalan moment, she shoots her companion dead and makes a run for it while Jamie hurls knives at her in the spirit of Dayna Mellanby. You can almost imagine Avon's smirk as she escapes yet again... but wait! Chessene lets out a hoarse shriek of pain, twists and crumples dead. It's not on the floor of the Gauda Prime tracking gallery, but we can thank Robert Holmes for giving us some karma for the Bitch in White.

THE GOLDEN MOMENT: The Doctor realizes that Tekker has betrayed him.
WHY: It's not exactly much on paper - bad guy threatens to kill companion, Doctor helps bad guy, bad guy decides to reneg on the deal. But it's given a surprising depth by both Colin Baker and Paul Darrow. Karfel is one of the Doctor's big success stories, he's a folk hero, and he'd never expect anyone to go up against his almost-mythic status. But Tekker (and the Borad) do. "All the stories I've heard about you," Guy-Who-Isn't-Avon sneers, "All-knowing! All-powerful! You're about as powerful as a burnt-out android, and our leader has finished with you!" The Sixth Doctor is bluntly told he doesn't live up to his own hype, and the less-than-rigorous attitude he's had in this particular adventure will cost him dearly. From now on, no Mr. Nice Guy...

Revelation of the Daleks
THE GOLDEN MOMENT: The Daleks exterminate Vogel.
WHY: This story is unusual as it told from Davros' point of view, and by extension the view of the Daleks. Karra Wardas never meets the Doctor, hears from him, has anything to do with the coloufrul crusader. She has her own little plot to conquer the galaxy in as amazingly camp manner as she can, with silver eyeliner, a purple turnban and smutty innuendo. She is the quintissential human as far as Daleks are concerned, deluded, overconfident and pointless. She and Vogel are so up themselves they don't find anything to worry about when all the security guards are replaced by Daleks. No, they have champagne and toast their evil plans. "How dare you enter unannounced!" Vogel scolds the white death machines. But Daleks don't care about Vogel's sensibilities, Kara's idiotic powerplay. They don't care about the DJ's love of music, Tasembaker's obsession or Natasha's revenge. They are as uninterested in such things as a zombie hoarde, and these Daleks are built from the remains of the dead. It is only after one of them has shot him that Vogel seems to realize the severity of the situation, and can only cape apologetically at his mistress before his corpse topples to floor. It doesn't matter who you are, what you do, or if you're part of a relatively witty double act. The Daleks consider you nothing but a moving target.

The Mysterious Planet
THE GOLDEN MOMENT: Merdeen saves the Doctor by killing Grell.
WHY: Season 22 is full of death and people being slaughtered, to the point it becomes meaningless. Had Griffiths, Stratton and Bates survived the story, it would have made no difference, since no one reacts to their deaths, they fail to have any effect on the plot, they might as well not have existed. And they were major characters in the narrative. Here, a character that meritted barely a scene an episode and next to no dialogue, is casually killed off-camera and it becomes moving. Why? Because Merdeen, a man who is sick of killing even though his whole society runs on such slaughter, has had to kill his friend for the greater good. Struggling to keep his voice in a dignified monotone, Merdeen can't quite stop his eyes glistening with tears. "We were not meant to live like this!" he insists. "We should be free." The Doctor confirms Grell is dead. "I've known him all his life," Merdeen sobs bitterly. "I asked him to join the guards. I helped him. I hoped that one day he would see that there is no reason for the cullings!" And suddenly a glorified extra becomes a representative for a whole culture, of Merdeen's idealism, the reason he finally turns to openly defy Drathro - a death mourned. A death that mattered.

THE GOLDEN MOMENT: Crozier broods over his destiny as he kills Peri.
WHY: With the ironic final words of "So, I'm fit and healthy, eh?" the American teenage botanist is bound, gagged, shaved and mind-wiped. The man that callously and calmly humiliated and killed her now sits beside her empty corpse, as though troubled. Matrona Kani, the one person to show even the vaguest concern for Peri, approaches frostily. Is she going to scold Crozier for his cruel inhumanity? Nope. "This time," she says confidently, "you will be successful." And as we're asked to wonder how many innocent people have been gutted on the operating table for no reason, Crozier gives a grim smile. "This," he retorts, "could be my last time for anything." No shame, no emotions, nothing but cruel selfishness in a world that isn't worth the Doctor - or the Time Lords saving it. On Thoros Beta where money is everything life is cheap, and ultimately self-interest triumphs everywhere. Peri, the only one to show continued concern for others, was always going to be the first to fall.

Terror of the Vervoids
THE GOLDEN MOMENT: The Vervoids surround Doland and kill him.
WHY: The Vervoids are surprisingly sympathetic monsters. They seemingly take no real pleasure in killing, they need morale-boosting speeches, and at one point apologize to their victims. The Doctor outright defends the killers when they get called "psychopaths". They always kill by injecting people in the throat, which kills them more or less instantly. Except for Doland, the serial-killing slave-trading nutbag. The Vervoids take great pleasure in winding him up, pretending to rescue him, mock-listening to his speech of friendship, shaking his hand... and then, when Doland's convinced he's won, they sting him in the hand. He takes a while to die, realizing how easily a bunch of silent plants have fooled him...

The Trial of a Time Lord
THE GOLDEN MOMENT: The Doctor loses his temper with the court for the first time.
WHY: The Doctor has been clearly fighting between his ingrained reactions to the Time Lords. He majestically throws open the doors to the room with both hands... but his first thought was to knock politely. He sulkily remains seating when the court rises, but his first instinct was to follow the crowd. He's patiently following due course and proceedure, while attempting his own Trafikanti defense (winding up the prosecutor to make mistakes). But the passionate Doctor is rightly disgusted when the evidence against him shows him telling off Peri when she suggests leaving humanity to suffer. "I can't let people die if there's a chance of saving them," the Doctor vows. This moment of honest compassion is dubbed "immature".
"Immature? Immature! I was on Ravalox trying to avert a catastrophe! The deaths of several hundred innocent people! Surely not even in the eyes of Time Lords can that be deemed immature or a crime!" "The crime," the Valeyard roars back with equal fury, "was being there!" And at that moment, it's clear that the Doctor is not on trial by his peers. They are not interested in good or evil, just the status quo. The Doctor no longer needs to prove himself innocent, since the judge and jury do not understand the concept. It's the apathy and arrogance that drove the Doctor away from Gallifrey in the first place, the same mindset that will lead to the Time War. The crowning irony is, of course, that the person to remind the Doctor of this was, in fact, himself...

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