Wednesday, May 21, 2008

view from the panopticon- the awakening

9-6-06 “The Awakening”

“We all learn by our mistakes.”
–The Doctor

I decided I was in more of a Davison mood than a Tom Baker one, so here you go. Another semi-historical piece set in the 17th century, and you know how I feel about historical pieces. An unusually short two-parter, and thus surprisingly brisk and lacking much of the normal padding. I liked it.

Eric Pringle is another name that doesn’t show up again Who. I find the story is pretty interesting, though there do seem to be so many characters running around that it’s difficult to get into any depth with most of them. I think it’s a very fun idea, to be honest. I think, in general, many people regard the hobby of reenactment with a little reservation, and here we see it taken to extremes (though, of course, it isn’t entirely the townspeople’s faults). Since I’m a great admirer of history and might be involved in reenacting if I had the time and money, the premise greatly interests me. I wonder, is English Civil War reenactment popular? Because over here, American Civil War reenactment is the principal genre, though I understand American Revolutionary War is also popular. So, while I like the setting, I can’t help toying with the idea in my head that American Civil War might have been a fun setting to tackle.

Though the Doctor does give us a slight heads-up at the beginning when he explains the Malus, I still think that concept could have been explored a bit more—since all the characters seem to have taken it for granted (or did I just miss something obvious?). With that out of the way, however, the way is paved for brainwashed villagers to behave badly (as they often do; see “The Visitation”) and really scary things to take place in an old church. A lot of characters come hurtling down the way in the meantime. Miss Hampden (Polly James) is introduced at the very beginning with a rather throwaway line: “You, of all people, as a school teacher, should understand the value of reenactment.” In a way, she is the standard character who asks the Doctor questions, accepts his explanations after a bout of disbelief, etc. Still, there are a few nice touches about her. When the Doctor tries to explain psychic energy to her, she doesn’t just come up with the answers; she tries, fails, and the Doctor has to explain anyway. The way she reacts against the village’s weirdness and the way Galloway threatens her with burning reminds me of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.” In addition to Hampden, there’s also Will Chandler
[1], a rather fun part played by Keith Jayne, who wishes he was Richard Mace. For the most part, Will acted like a peasant from 1643, though he did stretch credulity when the Doctor had him read some tombstone dates (I mean, by being able to read).

The principal human villain, Sir George Hutchinson (Denis Lill), seems rather interesting at first because he appears to be an okay guy, driven a bit loopy by an obsessive hobby (“the war games”) and a thirst for power, something I can readily believe of anyone. He slowly becomes more of a plot device as he pursues the Doctor et al, shouts a lot, and gets a very unnecessary demise at the hands of Will, who throws him onto the Malus. Too bad for him, I guess. Ben is a fairly standard character, though I think Glyn Houston acts him about as deeply as anyone could. Galloway I think deserves to be punched, and I think Tegan should have. I cringe whenever anyone on Doctor Who (particularly the Doctor!) describes something as “completely evil” or the like—that usually means it’s one-dimensional. The Malus is scary and also rather boring.

I’ve decided it’s the Fifth Doctor’s lot in life to be harassed. He tries to be nice and courteous, and look where it gets him. I think people underestimate how witty Davison can be, though. He gets a couple of gems here: Hutchinson: “Are you a member of a theatrical society?” The Doctor: “No more than you.” To Hampden’s convicted, “You must stop him!” “Yes, I know.” When Will describes what will happen to the May Queen: “It ain’t funny, she was screaming.” “That’s nothing to what Tegan would have done.” The Doctor also allows himself to be captured by basically walking into a field full of soldiers, which makes about as much sense as some of his actions in “The Visitation,” but oh well. In the end, there’s only two major casualties (Hutchinson and the poor hapless soldier who gets his head chopped off!) so the Doctor can feel pretty good about it all. Plus he should be pretty amazed that when he told Tegan and Turlough to go back to the TARDIS “and don’t argue,” they actually did (though they came back for a reason that eludes me now. Such is Doctor Who).

At this point in the show, we’ve got Tegan and Turlough as our companions. The more I watch of Tegan, the more I like her. I’m rather indifferent to Turlough as I sometimes question Mark Strickson’s acting abilities. But, in any case, Tegan is unfortunately wearing something quite horrendous, again . . . just an excuse, I guess, for the “dads” in the audience to ogle Janet Fielding’s legs. Tegan’s patience is greatly tested during her time in the TARDIS because she keeps trying to get to Heathrow, and she never quite makes it. Here she’s gone to visit her grandfather and not only can she not find him, she gets her purse stolen by a psychic projection of a leper (or something?), is forced to get into 17th-century garb, and generally takes her harassment in a very un-Tegan-like manner (“do as you’re told!”). At least she finally gets to meet up with her grandfather, Andrew Verney, who is, amazingly, not dead. As a mouth on legs, however, she gets some sarcastic lines (“We’re running out of places to run!” “Story of our lives!”). I think she has more authority than most to tell Hutchinson, “It [the Malus] will use you.”

Turlough never seems to be enjoying himself much, acting bored until the Doctor orders him “fetch her, would you?” He also does a lot of grunt work, assisting Verney in getting out of prison by using his shoulder (insubstantial as it is!) and knocking out some soldiers with blocks of mortar. As usual, it’s a lot of running around for him (I forgot to check to see how many times he looked over his shoulder), though he finally contributes to one of the better story endings I can remember. When Tegan, Turlough, Miss Hampden, Galloway, Ben, Verney, and Will persuade the Doctor to stay in the village for awhile, Turlough lauds the “brown” Earth beverage. “Ale?” “No, tea.” “What’s tea?” (This makes me happy, as tea was only for the very rich in 1643, and I just included a scene of the Eighth Doctor explaining to Richard Mace what tea is in my book Superstition.) The Doctor then goes on to explain tea in a very unappetizing way. “Sounds an evil brew, don’t it?” And yet the Doctor is quite fond of it. Yay.

This serial takes full advantage of great location work, and whenever filming is done outside, it looks great. It’s increasingly obvious to me as I get older the jarring difference between film and studio, but in general the church set here is pretty good. The costume department didn’t skimp, either, in getting Hutchinson, Ben, Galloway, and the others suitably dressed for the period, as well as dirtying up Will appropriately (I like the fact that Hutchinson’s wig is very period but looks just fake enough that you know it’s a wig—I hope that was on purpose). Tegan’s May Queen gown is quite nice, I like it, though I question her ability to get into it unassisted (the lacing in the back!). Special effects vary wildly. The lighting and costuming used to make the psychic projections are quite effective and are rather unsettling. So, too, is the Malus projected in the TARDIS—how gross, when it disintegrates! The giant animatronic Malus moves too slowly to be believed; I can only wonder what kind of effect Eric Pringle envisioned. Some decent model work when the church explodes (another contribution to the Doctor Who and Things That Explode category). I should also mention I like the direction at the very beginning a lot—frequent cuts between the clearly modern Miss Hampden and the more antique riders, so that when they ride by her, you don’t know if they’re visitors from another century or what’s going on.

For being so short, I sure wrote a lot about it.

[1] I thought his name was Will Turner at first. Too much POTC for me.

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