Sunday, 4 May 2014

What to Watch Next: School Reunion & The Hand of Fear

Sarah Jane Smith. Elisabeth Sladen.

The thought process that led to pairing up these two stories in particular is pretty self-evident.

School Reunion

Now (well, relatively speaking)

One of Sladen's projects between leaving Doctor Who and coming back to it; Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks had swapped producing/dramatizing roles for this BBC costume drama. This episode features the most Sladen (who's reliably good even when caked in makeup - you'll know the voice). Also Michael Wisher and Roy Skelton pop up, so it's a DW reunion of sorts. 

As an Alice in Wonderland adaptation, it's...all right. Relatively faithful. Graphics improved no end since Letts was trying these sort of tricks for Jon Pertwee stories. Not exactly anything to write home about, but good enough for what it was. 

"Nescafe Gold Blend"
Before going to America and landing a part in "Buffy", or his multiple appearances in Doctor Who-related spin-offs (Big Finish audios, "Death Comes to Time", after this narration for a series of "Confidential"), Anthony Stewart Head was famous for appearing in a series of coffee adverts.

To be fair, they are fairly memorable adverts. Continuity in advertising to this extent was rather more novel in the '80s, too.

Provided largely for the benefit of those overseas: that is a nice official video. Here is a completely unofficial sarcastic take on the subject.

Neither of these explains the Doctor's utterly out of character dismissal of all British youth as criminally-inclined hoodlums, mind. On the other hand Toby Whithouse rather notoriously wanted to set this episode in a military base, not a school; did he throw in a grumpy sideswipe that RTD didn't think to remove?

"In Search of the Trojan War"
There was going to be a lot of technobabble in a story based on deriving the makeup of the universe via maths and chips, but there's a better candidate for the its single silliest line: "I had a twelve year old girl give me the exact height of the Walls of Troy in cubits."

Which Troy, for a start? There were at least nine different cities in roughly the same location, rebuilt after various calamities. Which cubit? Different cities and empires used different standards. How did the  Krillitane even know the right answer? Maybe this should have tipped the Doctor off much sooner that he was dealing with beings who had time-travel capabilities.

Anyway, here's the start of a soothing BBC documentary about the archeological investigations of Troy. Michael Wood lays out the basic myths about the Trojan War before delving into Heinrich Schliemann, the history of the digs, and the present-day site itself (well, as it looked in the '80s anyway). Five more parts where that came from, too.

What Sarah did next. 

Quite honestly, the Sarah Jane Adventures are tremendous fun and just as much worth watching as the parent programme. 

The Hand of Fear

For comparison purposes with the Sladen's memorably silly outfit this story; as you can see, it's mostly to do with the stripes. We'll be coming back to "Listen With Mother" in future. 

"Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em"
A sample of Sladen's pre-Doctor Who work. If you have a taste for disaster-based English sitcoms (oh yes it is a genre), you may wish to enjoy the whole episode worth of Michael Crawford's slapstick hilarity.
If you don't, well, Sladen's cameo is right at the start, ending just after the bit with the oranges. You'll know it when you see it.

"Oldbury Power Station"
As noted at the bottom of the press release, Oldbury Power Station was a location for "Hand of Fear": standing in for the Nunton Power Complex. It's just been shut down; the attached video is mostly a long commentary about the difficulties in taking apart a station that wasn't built with clear understanding of its eventual decommissioning. This sort of thing happens a lot when the technology has outstripped an understanding of how to apply it rationally (see also: the London Underground, the street layout of almost any city besides northern Manhattan.)

"Slickstones quarry"
Hard to tell if it has stratum of blackstone dolomite now; these days, the quarry where the Doctor and Sarah materialise is used for diving trips as portrayed above. The always wonderful "Doctor Who Locations Guide" has some excellent before-and-after pictures.

"French Foreign Legion"
This one's a bit self indulgent, admittedly - Douglas Camfield's proposed "let's write out Sarah Jane by having her die in a tragic story involving the French Foreign Legion" script was discarded for various reasons. Bob Baker and Dave Martin getting their act together. Sladen wasn't convinced about the death scene. And Camfield took a very long time with the scripts.

On the other hand, why wouldn't you want to watch a former Legionnaire discuss one of the most romanticised armed forces ever? Simon Murray is sympathetic but interrogative, there's a reasonably comprehensive explanation of its history, and a lot of myths are firmly put down (they're not keen on actual criminals these days, for one).

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