Friday, January 30, 2009

Master Marathon

Two Masters in two nights: that's the arch-enemy Time Lord on Doctor Who, for the few people who might not know (recently revived as John Simm in series 3 of the new Who).

First up, the suave Roger Delgado in 1972's "The Sea Devils" (Jon Pertwee as the Doctor). I really like Delgado; he's the epitome of moustache-twirling, sinister-chuckling villainy. A caricature, yes, but a delightful one.

This adventure has a truly crazy score, completely made up of weird electronic blips and bleeps and tones. Some people find it off-putting, but it's quite similar to the Manhattan Research, Inc. music of which I'm so fond. Then, in the same story, the Master builds an oscillating frequency-generating doohickey in his prison cell, to transmit messages to reptilian Sea Devils under the ocean, and it emits noises almost indistinguishable from the score.

"It's like he's composing the music for his own episode!" I told my honey, as the Master flipped little switched on his machine to make it squeal.

The best part of the episode was when the Doctor and Jo visit the Master in his so-called high-security cell. They almost shake hands, and then they draw back and raise their palms in a sort of embarrassed salute. Just for a second, I thought they were going to high-five, which would have been the best thing ever!

Later, when the Doctor and the Sea Devil leader finally start to understand each other, the Sea Devil holds out his palm at about chest level, and the Doctor does touch palms with him in handshake-like gesture. A low five! Later, the Sea Devil and the Master do it too. I don't know why that's so memorable, except that a militant reptilian sea species that high-fives is clearly more interesting than one that doesn't.

Last night's entry in the Master-a-thon was 1981's "The Keeper of Traken." First, let's talk about the Master. He'd shown up in the '76 storyline "The Deadly Assassin" in a horribly burned form, his elegant black suits replaced by a crinkly, burned-looking robe. All these years later, he's healed slightly (though not much), but he's still wearing the robe! It looks like he's wearing the same clothes he had on during whatever space accident caused his disfigurement.

I kept thinking of Morrissey's "I wear black on the outside, because black is how I feel, on the inside." He's been horribly burned, he's (potentially) on his last regeneration, his ship is trapped on the Planet of the Goody-Goodies ... frankly, I think he'd just gotten a little depressed. Which can't be a good addition to his usual insane megalomania.

Sadly, the episode as a whole suffers from its slow pace and an absolutely ridiculous level of technobabble. There are two randomly put-together teenagers, who turn out to both be such mechanical geniuses, they can jury-rig a sophisticated device to sabotage one of the most powerful energy sources in the universe. In about fifteen minutes, while the Doctor's being menaced elsewhere. Even worse, they have to TALK about what they're doing while they're doing it.

When I was watching the whole Tom Baker run of Doctor Who after school every day, in thirty-minute increments, some of the changes on the show started to bleed in slowly, so I didn't really notice them at the time. During the Douglas Adams reign (rest his soul), the slapstick slowly got a little bit sillier over time, and by the time it was too silly (I'm one of the people who agree that it did), I'd gotten used to it. Same with the technobabble element. It started creeping in more and more, until suddenly, the Doctor wasn't making witty brush-offs about his technological prowess, but discoursing like a particularly pompous physics professor.

Yes, "The Sea Devils" was the episode that introduced the famous phrase "reverse the polarity of the neutron flow," so it's not like technobabble wasn't there. But whole conversations didn't go on in incomprehensible jargon.

"The Keeper of Traken" does look, however, like they spent a million dollars on the costumes, and even more on the sets, which were truly things of beauty. I also astounded my honey by saying that I remember this episode as the one is which Adric was the least annoying, and after watching it, I stand by that assessment. But if this is as good as he gets, it's not going to inspire anyone to want to see what he's like when he's MORE annoying.

Knowing that the even more technobabbly "Logopolis" and "Castrovalva" are ahead of me is a daunting task, but for some perverse reason, I feel compelled to revisit them. Just goes to prove, some of the biggest fans aren't happy unless they can talk about the ways their beloved shows suck.

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