This Week in Geek (28/03-3/04/11)


DVDs: I haven't been in the mood for Tom Baker's 4th Doctor in a while, but I seem to have gotten a little more positive about the era lately. Let's take advantage of it, because the shelf is full of them. The Seeds of Doom was one of my favorite stories growing up, and it still holds up today despite accusations of it really being an Avengers script being true. A bit more serious and violent than some, it nevertheless manages to pack some great stuff in 6 episodes with nary a wrong step. Great camp villain, awesome miniatures work, scary plant attacks, and the regulars - Doc4 and Sarah Jane - are at the top of their game. The Krynoid looks silly in one cliffhanger and that's about it. The DVD is packed to the gills, with lots of people sitting in with Tom Baker on the commentary, one of his best yet (he's getting better at this as evidenced in all the DVDs reviewed here). The making of elements are well produced, and we get the documentary on the 4th Doctor comics (though it feels like there should be a part 2).

The fan lore on Image of the Fendahl is that it's a great horror story. I tried my best to see it that way, but the shocking bits were, I thought, tonally wrong for the show (the suicide), the action was hard to follow, the Lovecraftian monster kinda rubbish, the Doctor and Leela inconsequential to the plot, and I was ultimately a little bored, even during the commentary tracks. And yet, there's something to it. It's quite atmospheric and has a very good guest cast. The story just doesn't work for me, either as a piece of 4th Doctor gothic, or as a throwback to the 3rd Doctor's science-gone-mad era. Still, good making of materials (I find Louise Jameson to be an incredibly cute lady in her interviews). There are very minor deleted, alternate and extended scenes as well.

Underworld's reputation is rather nasty, especially as regards its heavy use of blue screen, but I liked it a lot more than I did Fendahl. There are some truly grand science fiction concepts at work, some rather good miniatures work to support them, and strong links to mythology. The bluescreen (or CSO, as it was called) really isn't that bad and can at least be called ambitious (as the making of documentary amply shows). Not to say it's an instant classic. The design is rather weak, continuity gaffes between long shots and close-ups make the action hard to follow, and the story is, like its title, ultimately forgettable. The commentary features Tom Baker and Louise Jameson (as in the previous disc) and writer Bob Baker. Tom is particularly apologetic about the way he treated people when he was a star, which is nice to hear considering the 17 minutes of in-studio clips that show him being a real jerk to both cast and crew. This is a real find, well commented and framed, and entertaining where similar features have really only showed the tediousness of tv work.

Jumping a couple seasons, we get to Creature from the Pit, Lalla Ward (Romana 2)'s first recorded story, and it shows. She (and the costume person) try to Mary Tamm (Romana 1) and fail miserably. It's kind of fun to hear Ward make so much fun of herself in the commentary. But what made this story's reputation is, of course, the Creature itself. It's true that it must be one of the rudest ever divised for any media, but I dare say it isn't the worst Doctor Who monster ever (hello, Abzobaloff!). There's a fun feature in which the design team explain themselves, but really, where are similar extras on the Myrka, the Slyther and Ogron-eating monster from Frontier in Space? No, the real problem with Creature is that it tries very hard to be funny and keeps missing the mark. Therre are some good bits, like Geoffrey Bayldon's astronomer and the sets, but most of it falls flat and is horribly acted. K9's new voice is also a major irritant. In addition to the extras already mentioned, there's a very nice retrospective interview with director Christopher Barry looking back at his entire career, a short extended scene that shows how the violence was trimmed out of the program during this era, and a vintage clip from Animal Magic in which the Doctor, on the set of Creature, rattles off a list of recent monsters.

Kung Fu Friday's selection was Shaolin Mantis, a Quing vs. Ming drama that turns into a revenge tragedy. I was surprised to see Gordon Liu listed as director for this movie, first because I didn't know he HAD directed, but also because it looks, sounds and feels like a Lau Kar-Leung movie. The two were adopted brothers and worked together extensively, so it's not too surprising. The action standard is very high, but I did expect a little more "mantis" moves. It didn't disappoint when it arrived though, with perhaps the best role ever for an insect in a film (outside animation, at least), the mantis who teaches the hero the new fighting style. There are shades of Taming of the Shrew to the love story, but in the end, it's not a comedy, with the movie crashing to an abrupt and miserable end that may leave you mystified (unless you know a little something about the use of Ming and Quing in these films) and unsatisfied. No extras on this release.

Audios: Cuddlesome, a 50-minute play starring the 5th Doctor fighting the equivalent of Furbies, sounds like a Paul Magrs script, but it's actually by Nigel Fairs. The Doctor Who magazine special release is pretty funny, sometimes creepy, and takes the mickey on toy nostalgia. Not a bad listen, though you'll be wondering where the companions are. Roberta Taylor does a good job as the guest assistant though. Apparently, the story is based on the 80s audio visual of the same name (which might explain the stale Bart Simpson Cuddlesome), but I don't know anything about it. It's not the first Big Finish audio to remake one of these, and early BF Dalek story The Mutant Phase's first episode is given a director's cut in this release as a related bonus.

Robert Ross' Assassin in the Limelight has the 6th Doctor and Evelyn show up on a fateful night at Ford's Theater, but plots within plots are already at work to prevent President Lincoln's assassination. Ross brings back Knox, his time traveling villain from Medicinal Purposes, here in a rather more memorable story, and his aliens from Pier Pressure (not any more memorable, I'm afraid). The story keeps you guessing and has lots of timey-whimey goodness. Recommended. Oh and if you're a fan of Mr. Diagoras in Evolution of the Daleks (well, some MUST exist, right?), Eric Loren is in this as crooked cop John Parker.

New Unauthorized Doctor Who CCG cards: 16, all from Army of Ghosts and Doomsday. Getting back in the groove after computer trouble and hell month(s) at work.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
II.ii. Rosencrantz & Guildenstern - Olivier '48
II.ii. Rosencrantz & Guildenstern - BBC '80


Toby'c said...

I gotta say, I was not impressed with the Seeds of Doom. The first episode was great but I think it would have been better without the sudden shift back to England. YMMV, of course, and I'll probably give it another shot in a year or so.


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