Sunday, March 27, 2011

27 March 2011: Netflix

We've had Netflix for a year or so now and still finding new things to see. Gloria is steadily working through the recent BBC version of Robin Hood and I've been ploughing through the back-catalogue of Doctor Who for quite some time.

It began around the time Hannah was born - I saw that along with all the 'new' Doctor Who (ie post-2005) there was a pretty decent selection of the 'classic' series represented there. And at 4am, after the re-runs of the Dukes of Hazzard have finished (which, by the way, is a whole other story: I don't recall it being quite so cartoonish, but it was) and there's nothing on TV but random shopping channels (and yet the baby continues to scream and head-butt her father), there's not much else to do but put on Netflix (on the Wii, by the way, which is a fine development) and see what's out there. Messrs Hartnell, Troughton, Pertwee, Baker (T), Davison, Baker (C) and McCoy were willing to oblige.

Began by watching a few I remembered - mainly early Davison outings (I realised the series I watched most intently was the first one after Davison took over when I was about six) - and these were pretty good. Then onto some very early ones - in fact, the first story, in which Hartnell takes two nosy schoolteachers back in time ten thousand years, which was really quite enjoyable.

Troughton next, and he was a bit rubbish in my opinion compared with the press he gets about being one of the better ones. The one where they go into the Void and Jamie gets replaced by another actor for an episode was very weak. 'Tomb of the Cybermen' - said to be a firm favourite of current doc Matt Smith - was confused and showed the Doctor more as a victim than anything else. 'The Krotons' gave a little room for hope (mainly because Zoe was in it and she was portrayed as more intelligent than Troughton's Doctor) but overall they were ok at best.

Pertwee came in with a bang - 'Spearhead From Space', his first story from 1970 (and the first in colour) took a while to get used to (they really did try to make Doctor Who into James Bond for a while, didn't they?) but overall was superb. UNIT over-feature of course, but the ones Netflix had for me to 'Watch Instantly' were a clear step forward from the Troughton disappointment for me. There's one I've yet to see - The Green Death (where Jo Grant leaves) but I've now seen the three or four others they have on Netflix and overall it's pretty good. Even 'The Three Doctors' was worth watching again (saw it on YouTube once) but sad to see Hartnell so ill by that point and looking to one side to read his cue cards all the time.

Then came Tom Baker, and the person at Netflix in charge of Doctor Who clearly prefers Tom to any of the others. Plenty to view (although Genesis of the Daleks is DVD-only so I've not ordered that one yet, having seen it a couple of times before) and obvious to see the highs and lows as the time progressed. The early ones with Harry and Sarah-Jane were pretty decent but allegedly the best era (with Leela) was disappointing. 'The Talons of Weng-Chiang' is viewed as being possibly the best Doctor Who story ever by a lot of reviewers but was ok at best - knocked spots off Troughton's stories but fell short of Pertwee's best - whereas 'The Horror of Fang Rock' (an attempt by perennial script-writing disappointment Terrence Dicks - seriously, did he ever write anything good - to get in on the 'horror'-genre Doctor Who stuff) was a slow-moving boring waste of time.

Netflix had (for a few months) the entire 1978 season - 'The Key To Time' - available for instant view, so Hannah's early mornings enabled me to watch those straight through in about a week. And in there lay the best ever as far as I'm concerned - 'The Pirate Planet' by Douglas Adams, a decent-paced imaginative (yet not confusing) story, with a few twists on the way and some superb humour, including K-9 as a hunting dog who eventually returns with the pirate captain's robot parrot impaled on his telescopic nose.

Goes downhill fast after 1980 came along and John Nathan-Turner took over the production. Baker's last season was disappointing - a shadow of the former Doctor - and despite some interesting early outings for Davison, it was downhill. 'The Caves of Androzani' - Robert Holmes' only story for Davison - was pretty strong (not as great as everyone makes out), mainly because it was so bleak and hopeless for the characters involved. And then Davison regenerated into Colin Baker and that was that. Sheesh, was that ever that.

Netflix had only one Colin Baker story for instant view - 'Vengeance on Varos' - which was unutterably awful. It was a one-dimensional story involving running around corridors and being periodically caught, with no subtext, subplot or anything else beginning with sub. It stank. Nicola Bryant's clothing appears to be the only reason the ratings didn't completely collapse. If Pertwee and Baker (T) proved anything, it's that to some extent you have to be able to *like* The Doctor. Colin Baker's Doctor was generally unlikeable in any manner at all.

Then finally we came to Sylvestor McCoy, who (as I think I've said before) had two pretty dreadful series before the final one picked up a good bit in terms of storylines. Indeed, some of the darkest, most interesting Doctor Who stories are from McCoy's last season. Two problems though: (1) it was on against Coronation Street on ITV on a Monday night and (2) - and this is the new one for me having the blessing of Netflix - the production values were still stuck in the 1960s. Not even the 1970s. It was so low-budget that the fascinating stories just get lost in the cheap sets and poor-quality explosives, and as a result it's not Drama any more. It's not Children's TV. It's not Horror (which, at its best, Doctor Who is). It's not Comedy. It was just disappointing, such a far cry from The Pirate Planet of 11 years previously.

And so it was cancelled by the BBC. And despite various attempts to resurrect it, nothing new came on the screen until 1996. And *that* was supposed to be the theme of this blog, but I just realised I bored you senseless with the preceding essay so I'll stop for now. 'Doctor Who - The Movie' is available on DVD from Netflix and last night I watched it, along with a couple of documentaries on the DVD Extras. And it was interesting, and for different reasons than I remember.

But more on that later... for now just know that if you have a new-born baby who wants to cry at night and head-butt you, Netflix can be your friend in so many ways.

Postscript: Nothing new on Plymouth Argyle as they limp onwards towards something. The creditors may this week end up in court over a fake valuation on Home Park that they did a while ago, but we'll see.


Rob said...

Well , I for one wasn't bored by your essay and eagerly look forward to your views on the TV movie and beyond. I think you've

Rob said...

Doh.. posting fail!

Rob said...

continuing from my posting fail...

I think you've hit it just right with your summation. I do wish that we'd seen more of McGann. but do check out his audio adventures, they are good

I just remember the buzz in 2005 when it was returning. I'm sure we all sat around in Leaside Way awaiting the start of 'Rose' with great anticipation!

Becky S said...

Only 26 days until the new series starts :-)