The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Game of Drones: The Snows of Terror, Sentence of Death, The Keys of Marinus

Oh, as usual, dear. The Snows of Terror has the makings of a passable story, and even intermittently works. Very intermittently. It's set in a winterscape very like the North in Game of Thrones, albeit with enough of a budget to buy a cup of Bovril, and the primary antagonist, a trapper who seeks to rob and kill Ian and Altos, and rob and rape the women, presents a threat made all the more credible by its mundanity. (Of course, the sexual politics are reprehensible, but then, that happens more often than we'd like to admit on Game of Thrones, come to that). Admittedly not ideal children's fare, but, hey, nobody is slowly dying of radiation sickness, so we have that going for us.

The problems are pretty simple: First, Ian and Barbara each grab the Idiot Ball and give it a good, long, loving squeeze in this one. Then they do it again. Then again. And then we get a reprise of the most dull portion of The Daleks--a scene where Terry Nation tries to build suspense by making us watch a group of characters, one at a time, cross a chasm.

Welcome to--The Snows of Terror!

OK, the plot, such as it is, goes like this: A trapper named Vasar, who clearly did not attend the educational institution named for him, rescues Barbara and Ian from teh cold, feeds them, and then, while salaciously eyeing Barbara the whole time, gets Ian to leave her with him while Ian goes searching for Altos. Ian sells this travel dial for some furs, and leaves. Barbara, clearing the table, finds the segments of the keys that have been found (wasn't this Sabetha's chain?) and three travel dials. Does she close the door, and try to make a plan? No; she asks Vasar about the chain, and how he got it.

Vasar decides to attack Barbara there and then. It's clearly uncomfortable for both actors, and Vasar seems almost relived when Ian and Altos (he found him, and discovered that Vasar has secreted away Sabetha and Susan) overpower him, after Barbara unbolts the door. They leave--no, really--the keys, the travel dials and Sabetha's chain in the drawer of the table, compelling Vasar to lead them to the cave where he secreted Susan and Sabetha.

Who are now freezing to death, so they go deeper into the cave, Crossing a fragile rope bridge, where they find the key, albeit inaccessibly frozen a massive block of ice, with some frozen knights, and turn back to find their friends have found them. Barbara and Altos cross the rope bridge; Ian grabs the Idiot Ball, and does so too, leaving Vasar behind--oh, he cuts the end of the rope bridge and buggers off home.

I'm sure that was meant to be a shock, but I actually went, "well, ja," and then tested ny recollection of German swear words. (Mem to self: Brush up.)

OK, they go in to the chamber and find a way to melt the ice, while Ian and Altos build a bridge. It needs to freeze into place. As soon as the ice melts, they grab the key--and the knights awake and give chase. Susan crosses the bridge, and the others follow her lead (yay Susan!). The TARDIS party cross one by one, and leave the cave, after Ian cuts the ropes. They go to Vasar's home, break in (Vasar makes a play for the Idiot Ball, by not bolting the door, the schmuck). The knights start cutting their way in, Vasar gets stabbed, we're off to the next destination, and--

Ian is knocked unconscious. Frankly, on this episodes showing, it suits him.


Sentence of Death is a lot better--a taut little kafkaesque legal thriller, where Ian is charged with the murder of the man who was trying to steal the missing key--in league with the Doctor. The burden of proof is squarely reversed, with Ian required to prove his innocence beyond a reasonable doubt. He decries the laws that so reverse the burden of proof, and the missing Doctor at last turns up.

The Doctor is far better in this episode than we have seen him. He's outraged at the injustice of Ian's pre-conviction, wily wrangles an adjournment, and Cooley sends each of the characters about their task: Sabetha and Altos to do legal research, Susan and Barbara to accompany him to the scene of the crime, and Ian--Ian must trust him.

The "reconstruction of the crime" scene is really well done, the Doctor earning his imperiousness by his mind's racing with ideas. He works out the identity of the killer swiftly, and sends Barbara and Susan to try to elicit some details. Thanks to a bold challenge by Susan, it works, and the Doctor uses Sabetha to startle the killer into revealing himself at the trial. (Hartnell is absolutely on fire in these courtroom scenes--much fewer line fluffs, much more crisp delivery. With the right material, he is nailing the part.) When he is killed in turn by his confederates, the tribunal resumes--

--and the plot goes belly up. Rather than have the Doctor pursue his almost successful line of defense, Susan is kidnapped, Ian is hastily threatened with death, even though the prosecution case is a shambles.

Oh, Terry. So bloody close to a classic.


The Keys of Marinus

Another excellent actor in a guest role (he was in the previous episode as well; Donald Pickering, who was such a superb Dolly Lomgestaffe in The Pallisers, and suffered through Sylvester McCoy's first story as the Doctor, Time and the Rani, plays the prosecutor, graciously complimenting the Doctor, who is downcast. The TARDIS crew and Altos and Sabetha come close to finding Susan, but miss the clue, and leave. And then Barbara realizes that one "innocent" knew more than was possible, and Barbara leads a rescue of Susan. The Doctor sets a trap for the remaining conspirator:
TARRON: Kala's made a full statement. She's named her accomplice.
DOCTOR: Ah. Then you can stay the execution.
TARRON: No, I can't. Kala's sworn testimony states that the man she was working with was Ian Chesterton.
DOCTOR: Impossible!
BARBARA: But she's lying.
TARRON: Yes, I have doubts myself. She's a vicious, dangerous woman, but just doubts aren't enough to ask for a stay of execution. They'd need positive proof.
SUSAN: What about that man who called on the phone thing? I heard him tell her to kill me.
TARRON: Did you recognise the voice?
DOCTOR: What else did he say?
SUSAN: Oh, nothing much. Just that he'd collect the key later and then pick her up.
DOCTOR: Collect the key. Ah, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha! Yes, yes. You understand? The villain that planned all this, the one who planned this whole affair, is now planning to collect the key! What a wonderful opportunity it gives us to catch him red-handed. And to release Chesterton!
(later, the room is dark as a figure enters and unlocks the cupboard. It removes the mace and is immediately pounced on by two Guardians who were hiding behind the desk. The Doctor turns on the lights and removes his hood)
TARRON: Call the prison.
(Later, Eyesen has been taken away and Ian released. The Doctor opens the mace to reveal)
SUSAN: The key!
IAN: How did you know it was there, Doctor?
DOCTOR: It had to be. I knew it all along. Until we knew the culprit, the information was no good.
TARRON: Everyone and everything that went in and out of that vault was checked. Everything except this mace.
So they all head back to Arbitan.

Who's dead of course. (Do try to keep up, as Missy might add.). The Voord, in their bat-gimp suits, with Teletubbie head ornaments are in control. And daft enough to think that a black latex bat/gimp suit with a hood ornament can pass for George Coulouris. It doesn't, and Ian slips the Bat-Arbitan a fake key:
(The Doctor is untying Sabetha and Altos)
DOCTOR: So when Yartek gets the final key, his power will be absolute.
ALTOS: Yes, with the aid of the machine he could control us all.
DOCTOR: And our impulse to leave this planet would be destroyed.
SABETHA: That is true.
SUSAN: Altos, Sabetha.
(happy greetings all round)
DOCTOR: You heard about Arbitan?
IAN: Yes. We met the man who's usurped his place.
DOCTOR: Give me the key. We must have it destroyed.
SUSAN: Ian gave it to him.
DOCTOR: What! You gave it away?
IAN: I gave him a key. Sabetha, you remember that fake key? Barbara found it on the idol.
BARBARA: I remember.
IAN: That was the key I gave him. This is the genuine key.
DOCTOR: My dear boy!
SABETHA: We must go quickly. Leave the building.
IAN: Why?
ALTOS: Yartek may put that false key into the machine at any moment. If he does, it will set the machine in motion, but once it feels the full force of the power, it'll break under the strain.
IAN: You mean the machine'll blow up?
DOCTOR: There's not a moment to loose. Come on!

The machine, which would have preserved peace on Marinus by inhibiting violent emotion explodes, taking the Voord with it. As he leaves, the Doctor comforts and counsels Sabetha:
DOCTOR: I'm glad to have this moment alone with you, Sabetha. I want to speak of your father. You know, he was a very wise and brilliant man, and I know how you felt when you learned of his death.
SABETHA: His life's work destroyed.
DOCTOR: No, no, I wouldn't say that. His work will go on, only not quite in the same way. But I don't believe that man was made to be controlled by machines. Machines can make laws, but they cannot preserve justice. Only human beings can do that. Now I only hope that you'll carry on his good work, please. Goodbye. Bless you, my child.
(The Doctor enters the Tardis)
I've said several times that Doctor Who was a different show when it first aired than the one we watch now. That show, which has run ever since had its pilot in Marco Polo. Its leading man, who was a character actor, has found the part, and the Doctor as you know him today, and as I know him, has taken the stage.

The TARDIS and her pilot know who they are. The adventure is begun.

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