Doctor Who – The Creature from the Pit. Episode Four

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Now that the creature’s got his communicator back, the truth is finally revealed.  His name is Erato and he responds sharply to the Doctor’s questions.  “To skulk about in pits, as you so crudely put it, is not my normal habit. I most emphatically do not eat people. I live by ingesting chlorophyll and mineral salts. I would have you know that I am the Tythonian High Ambassador.”

Although Adrasta can see her authority draining away, she attempts to rally and tells the Doctor that she’ll kill Organon if K9 doesn’t destroy the creature. The Doctor’s response (and also Organon’s) is priceless – the Doctor looks a little downcast at the thought of Organon’s death, whilst the astrologer is more than a little shocked!

Is this just another gag moment or would the Doctor really have sacrificed Organon? It’s something we’ll never know as events take a different turn, but maybe it’s a brief glimpse of the earlier, more alien, Doctor seen during seasons twelve to fourteen.  There he could blank out the deaths of people he’d been friendly with, such as Lawrence Scarman, by concentrating on the bigger picture. And he does mention that if the creature (Erato) dies then two planets could also perish …

It’s something I’ve touched on before, but even during the most comedic of stories during this era there’s still occasions when the Doctor drops the clowning and shows his true mettle. This exchange with Adrasta is one such moment and it’s all the more effective because his anger comes out of the blue.

ADRASTA: Huntsman, set the wolfweeds on the Doctor.
DOCTOR: No, wait. That’s all you’ve got on this planet, isn’t it? Weeds, weeds, forest and weeds. You scratch about for food wherever you can, but you can’t plough the land, can you? You can’t do anything until you’ve mastered the forests and the weeds. And you can’t do that without metal.
ADRASTA: Don’t listen to him. It’s just the ravings of a demented space tramp. Set the wolfweeds on him!
DOCTOR: Do that, and you will hurl this planet back into the dark ages. And for what? To satisfy the petty power cravings of that pathetic woman.
ADRASTA: Have a care, Doctor.
DOCTOR: Have a care yourself. Care for your people for a change.

Erato takes his revenge and kills Adrasta, but there’s still some way to go before the episode ends. This is where things slightly fall apart – namely the fact that there’s a neutron star on the way, requested by Erato, which will destroy all life on the planet. Firstly, how convenient that it’s due to arrive at this precise moment, just after Erato’s been released and can tell them all about and secondly, why did Erato decide to effectively commit suicide?

This means that the story finishes with something of a whimper as the sight of the Doctor in the TARDIS flicking switches doesn’t generate any tension. We’re told that the fate of the entire planet is at stake, but we never feel it.

However, before that happens there’s a few scenes of interest as Adrasta’s right hand woman, Karela (Eileen Way), forms an unlikely alliance with the bandits, once she’s killed the unfortunate Torvin.  Torvin’s death is played for laughs – after Karela knifes him, his dying words are “tempered steel. Is that really tempered steel?” – proving to the end that he’s obsessed with metal (the scarcity of metal on the planet being a major plot point).  It might be a humorous moment, but it’s somewhat black humour.  It’s always a pleasure to see Way (Old Mother from An Unearthly Child) or as Gary Gillatt so memory dubbed her, Truth, Justice and the Eileen Way.

Erato’s a problem and the plot rather meanders, but Creature is still a story that entertains.  And once you’ve watched the DVD, then the brief clip from Animal Magic with a manic Tom telling the audience tall tales about some of the monsters he’s met during the years is a must watch.

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Doctor Who – The Creature from the Pit. Episode Three

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Although I’ve a lot of time for Creature, it has to be said that the plot’s fairly linear.  The first three episodes revolve around identifying exactly who or what the creature is, before episode four goes off on a different tangent completely.  I guess that David Fisher didn’t believe he could eke out the mystery of the creature for all four episodes, which is fair enough.

This episode has the unforgettable sight of the Doctor attempting to communicate with the creature via various ways, some of which look rather rude.  Why Christopher Barry let this through is anybody’s guess, although I sometimes picture him up in the gallery, rather punch-drunk from the way things have gone so far ….

Torvin and the others lead a raiding party on Adrasta’s palace.  Whilst they continue to be positioned as comedy characters, especially Torvin, this sits rather uneasily with the way they casually kill Adrasta’s guards.  There’s something of an edit in the final programme – which makes their knifing less explicit – but it’s still a surprise to see a recognisable weapon used to kill (remember that whilst Leela carried a knife, over time she wasn’t allowed to use it on humanoids).

Geoffrey Bayldon continues to mine (sorry) his role for maximum comic effect.  Organon’s meeting with Adrasta isn’t terribly pleasant (she’s more than disappointed to find out that the creature hasn’t eaten him) whilst he’s less than impressed after she orders him to find out what’s happening with the creature.  Adrasta has a convincing manner about her though.  “If you don’t go, my friend, that guard standing behind you will cut your throat from ear to ear.”

It becomes clear that the raiding party existed for one reason only – to enable the bandits to pinch what turns out to be the creature’s communication device and then, via a mysterious compulsion, be forced to deliver it up to him.  This leads into an unusual cliffhanger, which sees Adrasta react in terror to the creature.

ADRASTA: Don’t let it get me. You mustn’t let that thing get me! It’ll kill me!
DOCTOR: What? An evil thing, killing. Why should it want to kill you? It didn’t want to kill me, did you, old fellow? Do you know something? I believe he wants to kill you.
ADRASTA: Keep it away from me. It’s, it’s going to eat me.
DOCTOR: Oh, come on. You know it really doesn’t eat people, don’t you? But you know what it does eat and you haven’t been letting it get any, have you. No, you just stuck it in a pit and threw people at it.

If the episode had concluded seconds earlier, then it would have ended with Adrasta holding a knife to the Doctor’s throat. That would have been a more obvious cliffhanger, as showing the villain under threat is much more uncommon although not totally unheard of (for example, episode for of The Daemons finds the Master menaced by Azal).

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Doctor Who – The Creature from the Pit. Episode Two

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At the end of episode one the Doctor decided to join Doran in the pit.  This was rather unexpected, although it appears that he merely planned to hang about until everyone had left and then climb out.  Quite why no-one could spot him from the pit entrance is a slight mystery, but no matter.

There then follows the (in)famous scene where the Doctor attempts to climb his way out of the pit with the aid of a book, Everest in Easy Stages.  Unfortunately it’s in Tibetan so he then pulls out another handy book – Teach Yourself Tibetan.  If you’re not a fan of the humour present in the series at this time then I don’t think this gag is going to impress.

With the Doctor apparently dead, Adrasta is keen to utilise Romana’s knowledge to destroy the creature.   There’s a nice hard edge to Adrasta, which is demonstrated after she gives the wise-cracking Romana a swift slap.  Ouch!

The Doctor, having fallen into the pit, then makes the acquaintance of Organon (Geoffrey Bayldon).   Bayldon is simply delightful as the cowardly astrologer and is obviously one of the serial’s trump cards.   He gets plenty of good lines (“Seer to princes and emperors. The future foretold, the past explained, the present apologised for”) and works excellently with Tom Baker.  Tom always seemed to thrive when he had strong actors to bounce off against and Bayldon is a fine example of this.

And then the creature turns up.  It’s not good (although the model shots don’t look too bad).  What’s fairly astonishing is that none of the production team appear to have seen it before it was unveiled on the first studio day.  You’d have assumed someone would have kept an eye on how things were going, but no.  In the post-mortem that followed, Graham Williams put the blame firmly on the shoulders of the visual effects department, but this seems more than a little unfair.  With a very limited budget, just how do you create a monster of almost unimaginable size?

That neither Williams or Douglas Adams ever stopped to ask whether such a creature could be effectively realised on Doctor Who’s budget is very perplexing.  But whilst the monster doesn’t impress, the byplay between the Doctor and Organon does.

ORGANON: Ahem. What do we do when we find the monster? Have you thought of that?
DOCTOR: Shush. I don’t know.
ORGANON: You don’t know? What do you mean, you don’t know?
DOCTOR: I haven’t made up my mind yet.
ORGANON: Well, haven’t you got a plan?
DOCTOR: A plan? Oh yes, I’ve got a plan.
ORGANON: Well then?
DOCTOR: I just don’t know how to apply it, that’s all.

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An Age Of Kings – Episode Five – The New Conspiracy (Henry IV Part Two)

Frank Pettingell as Sir John Falstaff
Frank Pettingell as Sir John Falstaff

The New Conspiracy picks up from where The Road To Shrewsbury left off.  The rebellion, lead by Hotspur, has been crushed but the danger to the King is far from over.  The Earl of Northumberland (George A. Cooper) and others still plot to overthrow him – but these machinations are very much placed in the background as this part of the play focuses on Falstaff and his friends.

Any scenes with Falstaff tend to be played very broadly, but Frank Pettingell does have some good actors to play off against.  Angela Baddeley (best known for playing Mrs Bridges in Upstairs Downstairs) has several lovely scenes opposite him, as does Hermione Baddeley as Doll Tearsheet.  George A. Cooper also manages to change performances totally (he’s the Earl of Northumberland at the start of the episode and the rampant Anicent Pistol at the end).  Geoffrey Bayldon, as the Lord Chief Justice, also gets to cross swords with Falstaff.  And Bayldon, like the majority of the actors, continues to impress me.

Robert Hardy, as Prince Hal, doesn’t appear until mid-way through the episode, but he still dominates proceedings.  There’s a certain steel in Hardy’s performance when he believes that Poins has been ill-using him (Falstaff writes that Poins has made it known that Hal will marry his sister, Nell – much to Hal’s surprise).  He also confides to Poins the reason why he isn’t outwardly grieving about his father’s ill-health.

PRINCE HENRY

By this hand thou thinkest me as far in the devil’s
book as thou and Falstaff for obduracy and
persistency: let the end try the man. But I tell
thee, my heart bleeds inwardly that my father is so
sick: and keeping such vile company as thou art
hath in reason taken from me all ostentation of sorrow.

POINS

The reason?

PRINCE HENRY

What wouldst thou think of me, if I should weep?

POINS

I would think thee a most princely hypocrite.

PRINCE HENRY

It would be every man’s thought; and thou art a
blessed fellow to think as every man thinks: never
a man’s thought in the world keeps the road-way
better than thine: every man would think me an
hypocrite indeed.

Although The New Conspiracy feels something like an interlude before the main action, it still moves along quite nicely – and is another step in the journey of Hal from Prince to King.

Next up – Episode Six – Uneasy Lies The Head

An Age Of Kings – Episode One – The Hollow Crown (Richard II)

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David William as Richard II

Episode One of An Age Of Kings adapts the first half of Richard II.  David William is Richard and he gives a decent performance in this first episode, as we see him move from regal majesty to arrogant petulance.  His performance isn’t quite perfect though – and he’s certainly better in the second episode – although his final scene here, as he laments his misfortunes, is a definite highlight.

For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings;
How some have been deposed; some slain in war,
Some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed;
Some poison’d by their wives: some sleeping kill’d;
All murder’d: for within the hollow crown
That rounds the mortal temples of a king
Keeps Death his court and there the antic sits,
Scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp

The play opens with Bolingbroke (Tom Fleming) and Mowbray (Noel Johnson) who request an audience with the King to seek his advice in settling their dispute (Bolingbroke alleges that Mowbray has squandered monies which should have been spent on the Kings’ soldiers).  The two men find it impossible to resolve their differences, so a trial of arms seems to be the only course of action.  But just before the duel commences, Richard announces a different plan – banishment from the realms of England.  Mowbray is to be banished for life, whilst Bolingbroke is to leave the shores of England for ten years (later reduced by the King to six).

Both Fleming and Johnson are impressive in these early scenes, although the limitations of live television and the somewhat cumbersome nature of the cameras does become apparent since it’s several minutes before a camera is able to manoeuvre sufficiently to allow us a decent shot of Johnson (prior to this he’s only seen from the side).

Bolingbroke’s father, the Duke of Gaunt (Edgar Wreford) takes this news particularly badly and quickly sickens.  And it’s Richard’s decision, upon Gaunt’s death, to sieze his lands and money which sets in motion the chain of events which seal Richard’s fate.

Before that though, Gaunt delivers one of Shakespeare’s most memorable speeches (and it’s very well performed by Wreford).  Part of it is quite famous –

This royal throne of kings, this scepter’d isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England

What isn’t so well known is that the speech isn’t actually painting an idealised and romantic view of England, since Gaunt carries on to express his dismay at how the country is suffering under the reign of Richard.

This land of such dear souls, this dear dear land,
Dear for her reputation through the world,
Is now leased out, I die pronouncing it,
Like to a tenement or pelting farm:
England, bound in with the triumphant sea
Whose rocky shore beats back the envious siege
Of watery Neptune, is now bound in with shame,
With inky blots and rotten parchment bonds:
That England, that was wont to conquer others,
Hath made a shameful conquest of itself.
Ah, would the scandal vanish with my life,
How happy then were my ensuing death!

Also impressive in this episode is Geoffrey Bayldon as the Duke of York (who skillfully manages to smooth over a line fluff – as this is live television there will be more to come over the following weeks).  There’s also a certain pleasure in watching the likes of George A. Cooper (an actor who went on to have a long and varied career on television and is probably best known for playing the grumpy caretaker in Grange Hill) rubbing sholdiers with Sean Connery.  Connery (like Julian Glover) only has a few lines here, but we’ll hear a lot more from both of them in forthcoming installments.  Also impressive in a small role is Frank Windsor as the Bishop of Carlisle.

Act 1 Scene 2 (the Duke of Gaunt and the Duchess of Gloucester at the Duke of Lancaster’s palace) is excised from the adaptation.  This helps to speed up the play in the early stages as well as keeping the focus on Bolingbroke and Mowbray.

Next up – Episode Two – The Deposing of a King.