10 January 2014

AFT: The Seige of Skaro

The Dandy: Phil writes Pertwee really well throughout this story. The speech patterns and character traits were all there, completed with a 'jumping jehosophats!' of course. At the beginning of The Seige of Skaro, it seems the Doctor has just returned from somewhere; he's stepping out of his TARDIS. Given that he was joined on all of his jaunts between Terror of the Autons and The Three Doctors by Jo Grant (who isn't in these two episodes), we can only assume this was yet another mission given to him by the Time Lords. This is a typical reference from Phil - subtle, underplayed, slightly cheeky, and perfectly played. The Doctor's solution turns out to work - and least partly - and I thought it was a nice touch to call it the Delta Pulse, foreshadowing the (potentially) much more powerful device from The Parting of the Ways. The Doctor escapes Skaro again in the Master's TARDIS, having taken the Zeptron Drive from the console as insurance. Phil unquestionably nails Pertwee to a T in this story, and it's really pleasing given he's one of my favourite Doctors (and Phil's too, I know) and can often be difficult to recreate authentically. If there was to be one extremely minor niggle, it would be the slight repetition of phrases (for example "Like you Daleks, the Cybermen..." being repeated two frames apart). This didn't spoil my enjoyment in any way, though, don't worry. Overall, great stuff.

You Will Obey Me: Roger Delgado has always been my favourite Master, and it's typical of his incarnation to have got himself (not literally, this time) tied up at the mercy of the Daleks. The fact that he was sent by the Time Lords is interesting. What influence do they think he could have that could bring an end to the fighting that one of them, or even the Doctor couldn't? Whatever they did see him was mistaken because he soon has to summon the Doctor. I love how the typical stages the Master goes through are all here, and none feel rushed or prolonged. He needs help from the Doctor, but as soon as he arrives, he's as cool as a cucumber around him new pals; the Doctor solves the problem; something completely outside of the Master's control happens which apparently kills his brother Time Lord, leading to mock concern; due to a technical hitch, he ends up saving the Doctor's bacon at the last second. The structure of this tale is oddly reminiscent of The Claws of Axos = possibly the most typical Pertwee story - which is no bad thing at all. The Master is given some good dialogue too which evoke the era nicely. Due once more to the running length, he isn't given that much to do for second part other than blow up a Dalek ship and escape - which I know sounds dismissive, but what I really mean is that it's a shame he's absent for so much of the story given how good he is when he does appear.

Great Lines:"Me? Why I'm the Master!" [destroys entire spaceship]

"What's this?" / "Oh, just some comet the Daleks are interested in." = I have a feeling this inconspicuous line will carry more weight as the series progresses.

Although it doesn't strictly belong in this section, I'll include it anyway. Hey, it's my blog - I'll do what I want! This frame (right) is one of my favourite. The angle, composition, effects, set, everything just look fantastic. The Master being shot at by the Daleks is a great image!

The Plot: The Doctor enters the Master's TARDIS, sent by the renegade to collect him, with a cryptic hologram informing the Doctor that his assistance is required. He promptly arrives on Skaro, only to find the Master in league with the Daleks. Out of necessity, the Doctor gives them the help they need to repel the invading Cybermen. It transpires, however, that the Master was in fact sent by the Time Lords to bring an end to the fighting. The Cybermen attack, and the Doctor, the Supreme and Strategist Daleks fall fifteen levels into the heart of the old Dalek city. Here, they're attacked by Cybermats, which seem to deactivate when the Dalek craft containing a member of the Dalek Council (the Supreme from Planet) arrives - possibly due to the 'sonic boom' as it enters the atmosphere (similar to The Christmas Invasion)? The story ends with the Dalek craft being blown up by the Master, and the Cybermen being wiped out by the Delta Pulse.

Plastic Fantastic: One thing I must mention as we move through Daleks v Cybermen is the Dalek hierarchy, first established for the 2010 Eighth Doctor series. They're shown left, with their appropriate ranks. While I appreciate the idea of introducing this system spanning 'new Who' and the 'classic' era, I'm not the greatest fan of the designs Phil picked for each rank. I would've picked different Daleks to use, but this is purely a personal matter. They still look great! Maintaining the core structure while swapping in and out various 'Drones' is a good, evolutionary idea to be applauded though, and helps to add a sense of continuity to the series, particularly as we seem to be viewing it from the perspective of the battle, and not following the Doctor's own timeline. I was really glad the Time Warrior version of Pertwee was used here. It's possibly my favourite, and sadly one I don't own. The script could potentially have required for three customs in this story - the Power Cyberman (the Invasion-style head on the Tenth Planet body); the 'Psiberman', as it's titled in the Behind the Scenes section (the one with the Ood fronds); and Experiment Two (a combination of a Genesis drone, the 'mutant reveal' RTD Dalek, Invasion Cyberman head and a Toclafane). All of these effects were achieved in post-production, and I think they were brilliantly done. A real flair for creativity coming to the fore. Phil's to be commended for these, and it's not surprising they appear for just one frame each! Aside from the Doctor, the Master, the Daleks and Cybermen no other characters appear in this story (which actually seems to help it).

Verdict:  This is both a typical and an atypical Pertwee story. It certainly looks very '70s - in a good way! - and plays out like a tale from that time. The Doctor acts in a particularly 1971 kind of way, and his dialogue is faithful but original - the best kind. The inclusion of Delgado's Master helps to cement The Seige of Skaro in the early 1970s, and it's again a pity this is so short as Phil writes the Doctor and the Master's interactions as well here as any Sloman, Dicks or Barry did back in the day. 

The sets must get a mention, particularly the Master's TARDIS interior (right). It just looks simply gorgeous, cluttered with all manner of equipment and junk he's picked up on his travels - perhaps most notably a Cyber-Planner unit and the computer bank his TARDIS resembles in The TIme Monster. The console, though, is surely the centrepiece of this beautiful exhibition. The panels are so intricate and accurate, and the time rotor so faithful that it's almost like an undiscovered promo shot! Who can blame Phil for shooting this set wide when so much time and effort has gone into recreating such a thing so well? Don't take this the wrong way, but things have certainly moved on a lot since the AFT's 3.75" days. Elsewhere, looking equally resplendent are the Dalek city, craft, and the Cyberbase. The city, especially, is brilliant in design and construction, and the collapsed undercity is effectively built and shot. You can really believe they're in a different place. I must say, though, the Dalek saucer design is one of my favourites, and it feels like a crime it's only in one frame, particularly given the length of time it takes to construct each set. I'm afraid on this occasion, it wins second place in my 'best sets' category.
"The plan with this second installment was to show the Cybermen as worthy opponents to the Daleks. I wanted to give the Daleks a real hammering; for every strategy they adopt, the Cybermen have already anticipated and have a counterplan,"
 says Phil in the Behind The Scenes section.

This intention does come across, what with the multitude of Cyber-innovations portrayed here, already mentioned. However, at the time of the story, I wouldn't say there was a clear victor. Although the Cybermen have penetrated Skaro (with help from the Master), the number of extra Cybermen they have almost suggests inferiority in that whilst the Daleks can remain exactly the same, and gun down a platoon of Cybermen, they must innovate just to stand a chance of winning the battle. While this may well be the case, and while it was really enjoyable seeing extra models being added to the ranks, it's always tricky to know where to draw the line. I personally think Phil just walks the right side of it, and you can believe that this 'endless' war (that's only just begun) is being won by the Cybermen, but as I said, there's no definite leader presented.

The far-reaching nature of this arc is beginning to hit home now, an achievement in only the second story of six. By taking us to the Dalek home-world (only seen twice on screen in the time before this is set), he lets us know that actually this is a war, and not just a feud being fought out in the depths of space, which could be the impression we got had we not visited Skaro until late in the season. Another key point to note is that this is an ongoing narrative, and not just a two-monthly rotation of various Doctors being thrown into a Dalek v Cyberman fight. You can tell already by the construction of the story that the Doctor is going to be affected by all this in some way, but how is not clear yet. Another factor adding to the 'epic' scale is the "Previously" section at the top of part one. This reinforces what I've just asserted, helps readers in this continuity-heavy series and tells you instantly that this is a big one. A clever trick well used.

Overall, then, this feels much more cohesive and slick than Apocalypse Dawns. I think the backbone of the story from the Doctor's point of view (with the involvement of the Time Lords, and the Master) really helps to set it up rather than being a random battle that he just strayed into, which is how the first story from 2013's Daleks v Cybermen arc could be interpreted. This feels much more like a segment in an ongoing feud than a standalone story, and perhaps the Doctor's carefree nature at the resolution of The Seige of Skaro does feel a bit out of place, especially for peace-loving Pertwee. However, we didn't see what happened after the Master rescued him, so perhaps he did go back to try and stop it, a plot point to be picked up later on? (Phil..?) With stronger dialogue, tighter editing, generally a faster pace and with consistently excellent graphics editing, this is a very strong story. The early '70s are faithfully recreated (the set-bound feeling of the jungle - once more in a good way) and the over-arching elements slip nicely into, and play neatly off, the brotherly rivalry of the Doctor and the Master, both contorted into positions they're not keen on. The battle is well and truly underway, but shows no signs of letting up yet. The tale continues in System Restore with Peter Davison.

In a Nutshell: With minimal grumbles, this grabs hold and doesn't let go!

You can read The Seige of Skaro on the Action Figure Theatre site here

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