June 13, 2010
One of the things that classic Who never had - but that new Who has in spades - were consistent and decent production values. Not every story has "wobbly sets", but there are two recently-released stories on DVD that didn't grab me beforehand...but watching them now, half the enjoyment is how well the production is put together. Both are similar stories in that they deal with palace intrigue...but vary in their setting, their themes, and quite frankly, their approaches.
On first glance, The Curse of Peladon may seem like a Pertwee-era take on the classic Star Trek episode Journey to Babel (which the production note subtitles continually remind us), but quite frankly...I don't see it. In fact, most of the plot is around the benefits of whether Peladon should enter the "Galactic Federation", but what helps the story is the atmosphere - a dark, moody piece that amplifies some of the more political-based plot machinations. (If Jon Pertwee as the third Doctor was essentially James Bond, consider this to be the character in his element). Add a nice, sweet neo-romance between Katy Manning as Jo Grant and David Troughton as King Peladon, and this is a pretty solid example of 70's Who.
(You can pretty much skip the sequel The Monster of Peladon - it's a slightly padded story, similar plot, and really covers all the same bases as Curse.)
But where Who really kicks in the production values - and really makes a story take off - is in the Tom Baker-era story The Masque of Mandragora. Filmed in the same Wales location as The Prisoner, this is a story that really oozes quality, from the wooden "secondary control room" to the costuming to sets, this Renaissance-era story has a very simple plot (basically, let's-get-all-the-smart-guys-together-and-get-rid-of-them-in-one-fell-swoop), what's not so simple is that this story looks fresh, and vibrant, and more importantly, is a great example of Who at its best.
At the very least, these two stories made me want to revisit Machiavelli's The Prince, a book I haven't read in high school. But more importantly, these were stories that I once viewed with glazed disinterest...but now, can easily see them for what they are - making the visuals just as critical as the story.