Wednesday, May 21, 2008

view from the panopticon (1)

I’ve been writing reviews of Doctor Who for about six years, mostly for my own amusement and benefit. (And in at least three cases I’ve benefited indirectly by writing them.) I decided to take my twenty best reviews (as I’ve reviewed about 115 titles) and post them here. Not that anyone reads this blog anyway. There is at least one story for every Doctor (except for poor Troughton) and I’ve tried to balance it between really good stories and mediocre-to-bad stories. View from the Panopticon is what I call my collection of reviews, now over 300 pages. I’m putting them in chronological order of me watching them, rather than chronological broadcast order, because it makes a lot more sense as you will see from reading them.

5-21-03 “Inferno”
I came into "Inferno" knowing that it was one of the most popular stories and also one of the most critically acclaimed. And how did it hold up for me? I was mildly surprised and rather impressed to find that it lived up to its legend—mostly. I definitely felt the script was waaaay too wordy and that two episodes could have been shaved off to make this a sleek five-parter instead of a rather meandering seven-parter. Nevertheless, despite dialogue blunders, "Inferno" remained remarkably watchable!

The story—especially the parallel universe—was interesting and treated well. The dialogue sometimes bordered on the laughable and there was indeed, too much talk, but lines such as "I keep telling you, Brigade Leader, I don't exist here!" "Then you won't feel the bullets when we shoot you," were classic. I was most impressed by Nicholas Courtney's dual role as the "good" Brigadier and the "bad" Brigade Leader. I felt he really handled the Brig's alternative self with subtle and yet effective nuances. Yes, the eye patch was a bit much . . . but I found it really interesting that our charmingly uptight Brig could be, in another universe, a self-serving SS commandant. What little exposure I've had to Liz Shaw had me convinced there was something evil-looking about her—and I was right, when she appeared as a high-booted (badly wigged) hard-nosed Section Leader in the alternate dimension. Professor Stahlman's acidity (and stupidity) was often very annoying—I couldn't believe the Doctor's restraint in not getting rid of him outright with Venusian karate—but I can't deny the story would have been rather dull without him. I liked the subtle presence of Sir Keith Gold, but Petra and Sutton's ill-disguised romance seemed to come right out of a soap opera. By the time Sutton was trying to romance Petra in the alternate universe, I was pretty sick of their double entendres. It occurs to me the Doctor didn't have the opportunity for acting more than extremely exasperated and dumbfounded most of the time (aside from the lovely "So free will is not an illusion after all?") but flashy Mr. Pertwee was of course up to the challenge. I was a little surprised about the violence the Doctor did exhibit in "Inferno," especially his blind eye toward the death of the Primords—a few lines of dialogue about how their lives were meaningless and should be put out of their misery would have sufficed.

I was impressed with the location and most of the effects here. I don't recall seeing locations look so, well, real in the show for a long time—the drilling site in both realities had a real air of authenticity that helped in making the story at least somewhat believable. Also, there seemed to be a rather large group of extras in this adventure—certainly helped to flesh out the story, too. What didn't help the authenticity of the story were the Primords. I know they were thrown into the script at the last moment, and it shows. For one thing, never do we get an explanation as to why green goop from the center of the Earth changes people into blue sub-humans. As monsters, the Primords were actually not half bad for the first two episodes. But I would have preferred to have had them explained. I wasn't keen on the end of the episode—it seemed both anticlimactic and extremely abrupt.

I watched "Inferno" the same week I saw the second season finale for Star Trek's Enterprise, and both episodes seemed to me to be high in future-fable content—or rather, connections and warnings to us here in the present as opposed to the future. The Fascist Republic of England in "Inferno" seemed like a semi-legitimate fear in the midst of the Cold War and less than thirty years since the end of WWII. With current events, I found it to be valid even in today's world. I admired the writer and producer of the episode for actually allowing the world to come to an end (at least in the alternate reality) and appreciated the duality between Section Leader Shaw—who was willing to help the Doctor save the other world—and the self-interested Brigade Leader—who was ready to take the Doctor out if he didn't get him, the Brigade Leader, safely to the other world.

I liked "Inferno." I felt it could have been helped by brevity, and its exhausting three-hour run makes it certain I won't watch it again for awhile. Nevertheless, now I know what all the fuss is about!

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