Monday, March 12, 2007

The Invasion

The Doctor that *I* grew up with was mostly Tom Baker, with just a hint of Pertwee. But I have to say that, by far, my favourite Doctor/companion combination is Patrick Troughton, Zoe, and Jamie.

I can't really explain why I like Troughton so much; I think it's because he so convincingly switches between glee, silliness, fear, and viciousness. As others have said, he's like a wonderful, slightly scary, crazy uncle. Throw in Jamie and Zoe, who are the most lovable non-sibling siblings ever, then add the fact that the three of them got along so INCREDIBLY well off-screen, and you have almost as much fun watching them as they supposedly had during rehearsals. Not to mention Zoe with That Catsuit.

Along comes the release of 1968's "The Invasion" on DVD. The cyberman story that doesn't really have cybermen in it. Instead it's got the debut of UNIT (who I've always enjoyed), Tobias Vaughn (best villain ever), Sally Faulkner as the rude mod gal (empowered just long enough to get a soldier killed, then settles down to tea-making duties)...somehow it's eight episodes that DESERVES to be eight episodes, never dull, always something new, even if you DO have to see the same stock footage of missile silos over and over and over again.

What's more, the BBC has gone out on a limb and animated the two missing episodes, synced up with the surviving audio soundtrack. It's cheap but absolutely watchable. Particularly fun is seeing animated characters try to sell the trademark Hines & Troughton mumbling ad-libs.

But best of all -- yes, it gets better! -- is the 15-minute documentary about the sad people who recorded the soundtracks off their TVs. Yes, the kids who audio-taped every episode of Doctor Who, some of them from the time of Marco Polo. The kids that everybody probably made fun of. The kids who, after the infamous wiping of 109-odd episodes by the BBC, are now the only source of those long-lost soundtracks.

They're slightly-embarassed middle-aged men now, but they chatter about the lovingly obsessive care they took recording the shows, and Mark Ayres (audio guru) explains the process of lovingly and obsessively cleaning them up for DVD. My brain just about exploded when he explained his technique for restoring a complete 10-second audio drop-out during "The Abominable Snowmen": sampling Patrick Troughton's phonemes from other episodes, then pitching, equalizing, and splicing them together to make a mostly understandable replacement.

Personal sentimental anecdote: I never recorded Doctor Who off the TV, mainly because I didn't have enough audio tapes. But I DID consider "Phantom of the Paradise" to be tape-worthy, though it ended up being grumbly City-TV jingles and me yelling at my sister to keep quiet.


Anonymous said...

Just found a copy of it - takes a bit of getting used to the pace of the show, but it's fun.

I taped the audio off a bunch of shows, mostly for the music. By the time I started doing that, though, TVO had stopped showing Doctor Who. So it was mostly Spitting Image (from which I learned everything I know about UK politics) and Secret Agent (I loved the harpsichord-driven theme) with the occasional experimental film on TVO.

Adam Thornton said...

Ha! It's funny how kids pick up politics from popular culture. Everything *I* learned about politics was from SCTV, watching Tipper Gore (John Candy) and Margaret Thatcher (Catherine O'Hara) singing "Tommy's Holiday Camp" together.

My source for Doctor Who was PBS, complete with pledge drives. I could never understand why my parents couldn't spend $75 to get me a paperback copy of "The Pyramids of Mars."

You find the pace slow? Slower than Tom Baker-era Who? Considering they were constrained to only 4 or 5 recording breaks (due to technical difficulties editing videotape) they were certainly more set-bound and theatrical at the time. Though "The Invasion" is very much a template for the future direction of the show, a move toward a more "Avengers" action style.

Secret Agent?

Anonymous said...

Yeah, now you mention it, it's not the pacing so much as the more "stagey" style.

Secret Agent was called Danger Man in the UK - Patrick McGoohan's big role prior to The Prisoner.

Adam Thornton said...

Even in 1967 I think they were still constrained, both in their mindset and by the technology, not to mention the budgets. Having long verbal confrontations was much cheaper (and filled much more of the eight episodes) than a helicopter chase.

I love the cost-cutting set measures (the villain's two identical offices), the way the Brig keeps saying "chopper," and the way the extras openly stare at Zoe's butt when she's doing the missile calculations.

I've never seen Danger Man...should I?

Anonymous said...

Danger Man was pretty good, from what little I remember. Pretty much the least sensationalistic spy show ever - no gadgets, no boinking, hardly any guns.

A lot of fans like the idea that it's McGoohan's character John Drake who "resigns" and becomes Number 6 in The Prisoner.

The only episode I remember much about - because I taped the audio - is the trippy "The Ubiquitous Mr Lovegrove".