April 3, 2005

Green Eggs and Slime

First, on a comics tip - I'm seriously wanting to change my comic reading habits, and want to put my money where my mouth is. If you have any good recommendations for well-written books, please go ahead and leave them in the comments section. Also, don't forget the House of the Ded Bluesman contest. But now, I'm going to change gears.

Right now, my work duties usually end up with me spending some long, lonely nights in front of the television watching DVDs, so I end up catching up on old favorites, building new ones, and basically wallowing in pop culture trivia. This week's treasure...

It was Doctor Who's tenth anniversary, and it started off with a whiff-of-nostalgia anniversary story, followed by an all-out classic, with Roger Delgado's swan song (Frontier in Space/Planet of the Daleks), and finished with The Green Death. My only question - why doesn't this final story work? Why, watching this final tale on DVD, does it seem incredibly...OK? Not too good, got great (until the last ten minutes), but just...there.

Part of it has to do with the overall tone of the story - as Terrance Dicks remarks in the commentary, they started with a moral and worked a story around that. This is a story that tries way too hard to be "relevant", and the slightly self-important posturing of several involved (including Script Editor Dicks, Producer Barry Letts, and writer Robert Sloman) keep reinforcing the fact that this story predicted the Internet, talked about ecology, and warned about globalization - all issues that were covered in other stories. It's certainly not the production values, which were state-of-the-art at the time. (Of course, one of the DVD's extras is a "mockumentary" about the story by Mark Gatiss, who reunites many of the actors in a slight send-up of X-Files-ish paranoia).

Perhaps it was because, in this story at least, Doctor Who lost its Britishness, and not because it was filmed in Wales. Most American science-fiction television - at least, until the 1990s - seemed centered on the "big lesson/monologue at the end." I won't name any forebears (*cough*Star Trek*cough*), but most science fiction that attempts to "predict" end up being little more than pedantic, beat-a-dead-horse dramas. Most British science fiction, like DW and Blake's Seven, start off as strong, relatively well-written dramas, with (at times) subtle commentary on human affairs. In short, they set out to entertain first and educate second - something which those involved seemed to forget.

However, the end of this story has a killer ending ten minutes - and no, that isn't a joke. This is the last story to feature Jo Grant, played by Katy Manning. Underplayed, well directed, and just...I defy you not to shed a tear. It's an excellent payoff to the rest of the episode, and on that basis, is well recommended.

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