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Another Dalek Masterplan
on 6 October 2013
It's a touch misleading to bill this as a 12 part epic, because it's quite clearly two stories - equally good, but very different - with a narrative link.
Frontier has unarguably the cleverer script - it's Mac Hulke, and clever is really what you'd expect - and at the age of 9 3/4 I was fascinated - to the extent of remembering it as slightly more exciting than it is. Even in the gripping climax are areas of padding.
But it is well realised; the idea of the hypno-sound device being used to start a war is deftly applied so that it never feels tedious, and the ambassadorial politics makes for a refreshing change, compared to corridor-running, and the Dr can still be suitably dashing in (for example) escaping from the Draconian embassy (lovely location too).
It's episodic, but none the worse for that; the downside is that the material sometimes fails to stretch to reach the edges of the episode, and has to be padded with twaddle about space travel; this might be easier to overlook if 'twaddle about space travel' wasn't the subject of the whole of Episode Four.
There's an interesting contrast between the two empires; whilst the Draconians are very much of the Japanese Samurai tradition, Human society is a totalitarian, brutal bureaucracy, with a beleaguered president hanging onto power mostly, it seems, by good fortune. It is not an inviting future (the Hayward Gallery makes a splendidly austere prison - the South Bank could have been designed for Dr Who!). I'm glad we're spared any 'And I'll free all the political prisoners' from General Williams, when he leaves at the end - I wouldn't have believed him.
Just to query the reality of the story, why don't the various ships have names or numbers? There's a bit too much 'the battleship' or 'the cargo ship', 'the Draconian battle cruiser' - and (now I think of it) the individual Draconians don't seem to have names either.
John Friedlander's masks are excellent, for both Ogrons and Draconians, shouting 'alien' very loudly (and much more effectively than the alien make ups in Star Trek) without getting in the way of the lovely acting that Peter Birrell, John Woodnutt and (check out the wide staring eyes) Stephen Thorne are doing. Vera Fusek and Michael Hawkins are also very fine, to give the humans their due. Typically for Mac Hulke, there are lots of named characters.
The space bits are really the least effective, as the ship models aren't particularly well wrought, and some are so lacking in idiosyncrasy that the hypno-sound device doesn't seem to make any radical difference.
Oh, forgot the Ogron planet monster - it does look daft; maybe if we saw it kill an Ogron or two, then we'd be convinced? No, just have to pretend that an inflated orange mattress is scary then. Shame, because the appearance of the monster in the denouement would be a far better ending than the one we get (to be fair, I think with a bit of moody lighting, they might have got away with it).
Which is almost to forget the Daleks; when I was nine I had a strong suspicion that the Master had a rather greater power behind him, and here they are - the shot of them appearing over the cliff is highly effective, so too is the fact that they don't hang around for long.
Planet is a very different kettle of fish; underneath all the 'Invisible Daleks', 'Suicide Mission' and 'Bacteria' it's the same story Terry Nation told as The Daleks in 1963 - Mr Nation never being one to waste a good plot by only using it once (as a young film maker, I used it twice myself), and the good thing with Mr Nation is that he writes such an exciting yarn that it can sometimes take you twenty odd years to realise that you've heard it before (still, his trying to sell it to the BBC again in 74, and then again in 75 really was pushing his luck).
The fungus all over the TARDIS is a clever idea, and Jo having to tend to the stricken Dr and then strike off on her own to get help is an original start, and we're not at all sure who the blond guys are until the start of Episode 2, but before we get to that we've got the spray painting of the invisible Dalek. Now there's an effect that'd be easier in CGI.
First three Thals kinda famous: Bernard Horsfall (Dr Who...). Prentis Hancock (Dr Who...), Tim Preece (Reggie Perrin...). Second three less so: Alan Tucker (I, Claudius...), Hilary Minster (Dr Who, Allo Allo...), and Jane How (Dirty Den's bit o posh) bring us the cliff-hanger to Episode 2 'Somewhere on this planet are twelve thousand Daleks!' Well, that certainly concentrates the mind, and motivates all the often very stylish running around that makes up the rest of the story; down the ice tunnels (poor Marat), up the exhaust shaft, hide at the Plain of Stones (glowing eyed monsters), ambush two Daleks, sneak into the city, blow up ice volcano and drown all the Marx Toys Daleks in Polycel. To be fair the VFX are pretty good in a story that demands quite so many of a production team with so little money. Even if a little CGI (like some amateurs have done and put on You Tube) would have helped the VFX, the originals do look good, the massive army of Daleks in particular (even if they're all slightly the wrong shape).
It's got all the ingredients of a great Daleks R Us story, and the arrival of the Skaro Three at the end is a lovely stake raiser (shame the gold ones lights rarely match his lines) ; it's Daleks doing all the stuff they did in the comic strips, except fly.