February 27, 2014

Doctor Who: The Aztecs

I feel like I’m already falling behind on the Whoathon. This time I watched “The Aztecs.” This story suffers from coming immediately after “The Keys of Marinus.” I like it, but it doesn’t compare to the previous one. It’s only four episodes long. I’m glad it wasn’t any longer. It already didn’t have enough plot for the four episodes. However, it has an interesting premise that elevates the story above mediocrity- if you have a time machine, can you change history? 

The four travelers arrive in a tomb. Barbara and Susan bound out of the TARDIS. Barbara identifies it as Aztec. (Remember, she is a history teacher.) She then does something that I thought was weird. She takes a bracelet and puts it on! Her grave robbing ends up being the action that drives the story, but it still seems strange that a historian would take jewelry from a tomb and wear it. She and Susan leave the tomb and are captured by Aztecs. Lo and behold, the Aztecs see the bracelet and think she is the reincarnation of the god Yetaxa. All is well. Otherwise, the Aztecs were going to kill them. That’s convenient. Ian and the Doctor eventually leave the TARDIS and discover the situation. Barbara claims they are all her servants, so the Aztecs won’t kill them, either. 

Incidentally, the tomb door closed behind them, so they are stuck there until they can find a way inside. Here lies the main problem with the episode. There is no menace. There is no sense of urgency. The villain of the piece, Tlotoxl, is ridiculous. He ineptly keeps trying to expose Barbara as a false god. The only real trouble they face is that they can’t get back to the TARDIS. Come on. The viewer knows that they are definitely going to get back to the TARDIS at the end. 

As mentioned above, the interesting issue raised by this story is the ability to change history. Barbara admires the advanced aspects of Aztec culture while abhorring the human sacrifices. She believes that she can use her influence as a reincarnated god to stop the human sacrifices and in turn, help the good facets of Aztec culture survive through Cortez’s conquest. Ian and the Doctor both try to convince her that she is wrong. The Doctor yells at her to the point of making her cry. That’s typical 1st Doctor. 

I’ve never seen the upcoming episode, “The Sensorites.” I don’t know anything about it. I’m looking forward to going into one of these serials completely blind. There aren’t many existing episodes of Doctor Who I’ve never seen. Once I get past the 1st Doctor, I think I will have seen them all at least once.


Doctor: First
Companions: Barbara, Ian, Susan
Episode: #6, "The Aztecs," four parts- 'The Temple of Evil,' 'The Warriors of Death,' 'The Bride of Sacrifice,' 'The Day of Darkness'
Adversary: Tlotoxl
Classic Lines: the Doctor, to Barbara: "You can't rewrite history! Not one line!"
Tuck This Away to Impress Your Friends: The Doctor accidentally gets engaged to one of the Aztecs when they share some hot chocolate.
Next Up: "The Sensorites"

February 16, 2014

On being a curmudgeon

I was talking with some friends about how things were going in my life, and I said something along the lines of "things are marginally better for the time being." The past few years have been rough, but stuff is starting to turn around a little. I'm not where I want to be, both literally and figuratively, but sometimes I can see myself getting there. That's an improvement on where I was even six months ago. Anyway, one friend suggested that this comment would be great on Jen branded greeting cards. Another friend suggested I blog about it. I present Jen's greeting cards for curmudgeons.

A disclaimer- my dog is incredibly loving and cheerful, but occasionally he gives me grumpy old man looks when I go to take his photo.

He was much younger in the first and third photos. Now he is an old man beagle. In the above photo, you can see how his face has turned grey.

Kenobi and I can be curmudgeons together.

February 10, 2014

Doctor Who: The Keys of Marinus

“The Keys of Marinus!” Finally! Bear with me- this post is a long one because I like this story so much. I know I shouldn’t play favorites, but this episode is outstanding. The TARDIS materializes on an island. Earth? Nope. This island has glass for sand and is surrounded by a sea of acid. How do we know it’s acid? Susan wants to go swimming and drops her shoe in the liquid. Oops! No more shoe. On the beach, the crew discovers one-person submersibles designed to traverse the acid sea. Susan wanders off because she is Susan, and they have to find her. (Do they?) They figure she must have gone to the giant pyramid-shaped building nearby. What does Susan contribute aside from hijinks? She always gets lost or ends up in distress. Then she screams and freaks out. Does she ever enhance a situation with her presence? We all know the answer to this question.

Barbara, the Doctor, Arbitan, Ian, and Susan (l to r) in front of the machine

The Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Susan end up inside the building and meet the sole occupant, Arbitan. He is the guardian of the Conscience of Marinus. This machine’s original purpose was to mete out impartial justice, but it became powerful to the point that it could eradicate evil from the minds of the populace. Eventually, a man named Yartek broke free from its control. He and his followers, the Voord, started stealing and committing nefarious deeds previously unheard of in a society without evil. (Let’s put aside the fact that it’s creepy that this culture had a giant machine controlling their minds so they’d behave, okay? And that I don’t blame him for wanting to break free?) Anyway, the Conscience of Marinus has five keys, or microprocessors, that it needs to function. Arbitan kept one key and hid the other four around Marinus so that Yartek could not capture the machine and use it to take control of the people. Now that Arbitan has fixed the machine so that it can bring Yartek and the Voord under its power again (see, creepy), he needs the keys. He has sent a bunch of people to get them, and they never come back. Guess who gets to go now? Arbitan put a force field around the TARDIS. He will release it once the Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Susan leave on their journey. They are each given a travel dial to wear on their wrists. A twist of the dial sends them to the general location of the next key. The Voord are already infiltrating the island, so they need to hurry.

Barbara turns the dial before the others and is whisked off to the first location. When the others catch up, she is living the life of luxury. Ian is suspicious. Not everything is as it seems here. Excitingly, it’s Barbara who saves them this time! Ian often gets to play the hero, but Barbara kicks butt here. To be specific, she kicks the butt of the brains in jars that are the baddies. Brains in jars. I love Doctor Who. The travelers meet a man named Altos and Arbitan’s daughter Sabetha, who continue on the quest with them. Altos and Sabetha were both previously sent by Arbitan to find the keys, and Sabetha had already found the first key when she was ensnared in the brains’ trap.

Brains in jars! This truly needs no explanation.

Here the party decides to split up. The Doctor is going to jump to the fourth key’s location, where a friend of Altos is supposed to be working on getting that key. The Doctor leaves them and isn’t seen again until episode five. That’s right- the Doctor is missing for two entire episodes of this serial. At first I was thinking that the Doctor seemed mellower in this story, but maybe it’s just that he wasn’t around to be his outrageously grumpy self. Nah, I do think he isn’t as angry anymore, but have no doubt, he is still the crotchety old man that the first Doctor will always be. Barbara quickly finds the key but gets trapped. Sabetha, Altos, and Susan go on to the next location, while Ian helps Barbara. It’s a good thing they didn’t leave right away- the key Barbara found is a fake, and Ian and Barbara need to find the real one. Needless to say, they do, and it’s off to meet the others.

They twist their dials and appear in a frozen wasteland. Sabetha, Altos, and Susan are nowhere to be found. A sinister man saves them and proceeds to be really disturbing. When Ian leaves to look for the others, this man basically tries to assault Barbara! He chases her around the cabin saying things like, “I'll wait no longer.” I don’t think I’m misinterpreting this. It’s unsettling.

Ian and Barbara seem to be getting closer. They were good friends when they started traveling with the Doctor, but they are holding hands an awful lot in this serial. Well, twice. I am on the record as thinking they have a thing for each other. Ian is definitely interested in Barbara at this point, anyway. Awww.

The group finds the key frozen in a block of ice in a cave, guarded by frozen medieval knights. Medieval knights? What are medieval knights doing on Marinus? For that matter, why was everyone dressed as ancient Romans or Greeks in the location with the brains in the jars?

Have they stumbled into a Monty Python movie?

They get away, and no one feels bad about what happens to that sinister guy. Nor should they. I don’t know why they don’t arrive at the final key location together when they all left together, but thus goes the story. Ian immediately gets knocked unconscious and framed for murder. Oh, and the real murderer steals the last key.

Why does your hat look like a crown roast? I grab my lapels at you!

The Doctor shows up and plays Perry Mason. Not only must he prove Ian is innocent, but he must also find the real killer. Of course, the Doctor figures it out right away and does his Doctor thing.

The travelers almost act like a family now- Ian is the father, the Doctor is the grandfather, Barbara is the mother, and Susan is the daughter. Barbara comments to Susan on how Ian is overprotective after he tells them in the jungle to wait there until he gets back. Barbara resists this. Susan repeatedly runs to Barbara for comfort and protection. Barbara is always hugging her and soothing her. Susan calls out for her grandfather when she is in trouble, but she runs to Barbara all the time. It’s interesting. In fact, the Doctor is often dismissive of Susan, calling her, “the child.” “Is ‘the child’ okay?” The actors all seem comfortable in their roles now, and the characterizations are stronger. I think they are all more likeable as a result. Even Susan. 

I digress. With the final key in their possession, they return to the island. Again, things aren’t as they seem. Ian really shines at the end here. I’m starting to adore Ian. 

Susan thinks that's Arbitan. Of course she does.

I was thinking about what makes this episode remarkable among those of the first Doctor era. There isn’t any filler in this serial. Sometimes Classic Who stories can drag. This one never does. They are always moving to a new location, looking for the next key, meeting new people. They face different adversaries and challenges in each locale. They split up and have separate adventures. It’s a quest narrative, and it works. The search drives the story and keeps it moving at a nice pace. 

Vartek holding a key.

What strikes me most about this episode is how much it stands as a precursor to the Key to Time. Whovians may be familiar with the Key to Time story arc during the fourth Doctor’s years. The Doctor and Romana I are sent on a quest by the White Guardian to collect the five segments of the Key to Time, which had been hidden to prevent them from falling into the hands of the Black Guardian. It even has a similar twist at the end. I have to wonder if the writers in the late ‘70s looked back to this serial for inspiration.

“The Keys of Marinus” is a great story. It’s entertaining. It’s an adventure. It’s fun to watch!


Doctor: First
Companions: Ian, Barbara, Susan
Episode: #5, "The Keys of Marinus," six parts- 'The Sea of Death,' 'The Velvet Web,' 'The Screaming Jungle,' 'The Snows of Terror,' 'Sentence of Death,' 'The Keys of Marinus'
Adversary: Vartek and the Voord
Classic Lines: the Doctor, to a detective: "You should read Pyrrho, my boy. He founded skepticism- a great asset to your business." Ian: "Thank heaven you remembered reading Pyrrho, Doctor." the Doctor: "Reading? What are you talking about? I met the man."
Tuck This Away to Impress Your Friends: "The Keys of Marinus" was written by Terry Nation, creator of the Daleks.
Next Up: "The Aztecs"

February 2, 2014

Doctor Who: Marco Polo

We come to the first serial in the Whoathon for which no video exists. Every one of the seven episodes of "Marco Polo" was wiped by the BBC. Audio recordings and snapshots remain. Whovians are a devoted lot. There are many fan reconstructions of missing episodes. Some are animated. For this episode, I watched a reconstruction in which someone had taken the existing audio recordings and matched them up with photos. I've also read a novelized version of "Marco Polo," but that was years ago. It can be hard to get into the story when sometimes there is noise such that you know something is going on, but you have no idea what.


The TARDIS materializes in the Himalayas. The Doctor, Susan, Barbara, and Ian are stuck because the TARDIS is broken again. It will take the Doctor a few days to fix it. They wander around and stumble upon a group of Mongols. The Mongols think they are demons and want to kill them, but Marco Polo intervenes.

Marco Polo

The Doctor isn't doing well. Marco Polo says they'll take the travelers' "caravan" with them down the mountain. This is one of those times when I think, a Time Lord is getting altitude sickness? But, he wasn't labelled as such as this point, so he is generally treated as a weak old man. Later on he passes out from lack of water.

Marco Polo misses Venice, but Kublai Khan won't let him go. Polo decides that he will make a gift of the TARDIS to Kublai Khan so that maybe then he will be allowed to return home. Most of this serial consists of the trip to Kublai Khan's palace. The Doctor and his companions keep trying to get the TARDIS key back from Marco Polo. It strikes me as incredibly weird that the Doctor can't get into the TARDIS without the key, but again, this is early on in the series. Ian and Polo are friendly and play chess, even though Polo is stopping them from leaving.

Traveling with them is Tegana, an emissary from a rival warlord sent to make peace with Kublai Khan. In reality, he is meant to assassinate the Khan. Tegana also repeatedly makes trouble for the Doctor and crew. Also with them is a young woman on her way to an arranged marriage. She and Susan become friends.

The Doctor and Kublai Khan immediately hit it off, bonding over their old man aches and pains. The Doctor tries to win back the TARDIS in a game of backgammon, but loses. Until they met up with Kublai Khan, it seemed like the Doctor wasn't in this serial very much.

In the end, Tegana's assassination attempt is foiled, and Marco Polo gives the TARDIS key back to the travelers. I like this serial, even though it drags in parts. Obviously it would be better if the video still existed. Marco Polo is an interesting character. He narrates the story through his journal, so we get an insight into his mind that we usually don't with characters other than the leads. He is keeping the TARDIS from the Doctor and his companions, but he never comes across as the villain of the piece. He is homesick. He doesn't realize that the TARDIS is the only way they have of leaving or that they can't just make another one. Ian tries to explain the situation to Polo at one point, but Polo doesn't believe that they are time travelers until he sees the TARDIS dematerialize at the end of the last episode. CONTINUITY FUN! Sometimes they call the TARDIS "TARDIS," leaving out the word "the" beforehand. Most of the time they use the word "the" before they say TARDIS. In later episodes, it's never "TARDIS" without the word "the." Hearing them refer to "TARDIS" instead of "the TARDIS" makes my Whovian ears hurt.

Next time is "The Keys of Marinus." I'm excited! It's one of my favorite first Doctor stories.


Doctor: First
Companions: Susan, Ian, Barbara
Episode: #4, "Marco Polo," seven parts - 'The Roof of the World,' 'The Singing Sands,' 'Five Hundred Eyes,' 'The Wall of Lies,' 'Rider from Shang-Tu,' 'Mighty Kublai Khan,' 'Assassin at Peking'
Adversary: Tegana
Classic Lines: Marco Polo, musing on the Doctor: "To make matters worse, the old Doctor continually shows his disapproval of my action by being both difficult and bad-tempered. For three days now...I have had to endure his insults."
Tuck This Away to Impress Your Friends: The Doctor can make TARDIS keys. This story takes place in the year 1289.
Next Up: "The Keys of Marinus"
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