Sunday, 12 April 2009

The Crusade

The Crusades 1:

Perhaps the episode from the series I've watched the least - I'm pretty certain I've only watched it once at the time of its release five or whatever years ago, whereas everything else is at least twice.It's still rather cool to watch this, so long after its finding. There's still a faint air of novelty. As a bit of an odd thought - I'm pretty certain the DWM Time Team only started roughly around the time of its recovery. I start my own chronological journey - and another episode turns up. Can we make certain everyone on these boards starts to watch the series this way, and reports on it, soon. Maybe we'll get the set that way!As for the episode itself - well this has to be the quickest start to an episode so far. No sooner have the TARDIS crew stepped from the ship than they're under attack and Barbara's captured. After the time it took for anything of any real import to happen in the Web Planet this is rather jolting. The rest of the episode doesn't take the story a vast distance beyond this point - but it doesn't need to. It's all about establishing the world and the relationships between the characters.The guest cast are all nicely drawn, coming over as human and real. Nice to see that the Saracen's are not portrayed as barking psychos, with Bernard Kay's Saladin being underplayed rather charmingly. Shame they're all so obviously white men blacked up (how is it that people are so willing to ignore this, but can't ignore the odd sfx of the Web Planet - surely one takes you out of the story as much as the other?)The first major major guest star turns up in the form of Julian Glover and he dominates his scenes.It does make you realise how uninspiring or average a lot of performances in the show to date have been when someone like Glover comes in and plays with heart and conviction. No wonder this really does feel like a king.The Doctor is again showing his massive mood swings. From barking old loon to elegant refinement in Web Planet, and now to cheeky thief. He's emminently likeable and loveable now, the genuine grandfather figure, fun and naughty, but intelligent and serious when he needs to be. And he still likes getting involved in fights, getting his share of the action. Shows the Doctor was quite a violent figure at the start, not averse to some fisticuffs. Vicki doesn't make much of an impression (after a good start, she seems to have quietened down - how she can have had the brilliant moment of initiative of using the altered gold controller in Web, then the stupidity to hide the Isoptope, and now doing or saying practically nothing - like in most of the rest of the Web Planet - shows that the character seems to be being left behind). Ian has a good fights, getting to show his bravery, and is cool enough to take on a King at the end of the episode. And Barbara has some good scenes of similar bravery, risking her life for no more reason than solidarity - though she does get lumbered with another awkward continuity speech. We seem to get far too many of these, for little point. Every couple of stories there's yet another list of where the crew have just been. It's utterly pointless.A good dramatic episode then, full of rich characterisation and performance. Suprisingly low-key for all that, but it does make you want to see what happens next.

The Crusade 2:
Wouldn't you be getting bored out of your mind if you were Vicki? Heck, if you were the Doctor too. This marks the third story in a row where these two have been dumped in the background whilst Ian and Barbara have the plot. Still, I'm sort of getting ahead of myself with that as the Doctor is quite the focus of this episode, scheming and manipulating the situation throughout. However, the speedy resolution of the clothing difficulties is thrown away swiftly without much fuss - indicating that DW is more interested in the Barbara/Ian plot; the Doctor scene is filling time, giving him something to do whilst he hangs around - no consequences, no direction. Still, it's beautifully written and clever though. Despite the fact that Ian is the title character of this episode, he doesn't really seem to get much done. Very much in the background until he arrives at the palace.Anyone else get the feeling that Whitaker found himself written into a corner? The start of this episode reminds me of the 2nd and 3rd series of Reggie Perrin - where the previous series' had ended with great climaxes - but David Nobbs had to backpedal furiously and undermine these endings when writing a new story as it left him with nowhere to go (the crossover of Subtle Knife/Amber Spyglass is an alternative example). Richard's captiulation seems unconvincing and speedy to me and the throwing away of Babs' storytelling subplot seems rushed too - as if DW suddenly decided the story wasn't interesting enough and changed it, bringing in a new villain from outside.One of the things I like about this story is the sense that the story itself takes place within history - rather than about it. It lives inside the history we know, adding detail and nuance to iconic historic figures, but without being entirely about the history we know - it's about the regulars. It doesn't contradict but it adds to the truth - I don't think I've explained it very well, have I. Ah, well, I know what I mean. This isn't supposed to be a review as such, more an illustration of my vague thoughts and feelings...It is still a time marking episode though, lacking any clear sense of what this story is going to be about - the Barbara/El Akir plot clearly has the most dramatic potential, but it does seem weird that this is the only one that really seems heading somewhere... Odd also that the Richard/Saladin scenes don't really go anywhere - beautifully written and played, but not exactly progressing the plot - but this is part of the thing I was saying about it being 'inside' history - we know what these people did so the story has to go around them, rather than work through them.So still good, well written and performed, if slightly lacking in drive. But I'm looking forward to the next part.

The Crusade Episode 3:
Does this story actually have a plot? Maybe I've missed it. None of the characters, bar perhaps Barbara, have actually connected into the historic events at all. The Doctor and Vicki in particular. At first glance they seem to be involved, but it's only on a superficial level. The scenes in the court connect with them in that they talk about them - but they don't influence or change the scenes to any real degree. We watch history happen with them - rather than watch them interact with history. It is telling that the central emotional and dramatic scene of the episode does, for the first time I can remember, have no direct relation to any of the TARDIS crew. Richard and Joanna's argument is breathtakingly written and acted (it so easily could have been just two people shouting at each other, but there is plenty of nuance and varying rhythms). But the Doctor and Vicki are as much spectators as we are. The court scenes, both here and in the court of Saladin, are brilliantly played and scripted, but always feel like subplots, not realy going anywhere, as if the story can't quite focus on what it wants to be about. This does begin to make me see why the four hand regular cast didn't last too much longer. There just isn't enough to give them in stories like this without diffusing the plot. There's a lack of decision about what this story is actually about - is it the evil Emir, or the court intrigue. Fewer regulars would mean that the script could focus on one rather than splitting itself between two.Ian's brief, non-speaking holiday film insert is so abrupt it doesn't entirely work. It just serves to remind us we haven't seen him for the rest of the episode, taking us out of the reality. And it also shows quite how little he's had to do this story - he's three quarters of the way through, and bar the knighthood and a couple of fights he has little to show. Where did he learn all his fighting skills, incidentally - expert at unarmed combat and swordfighting, he must have liked his extra-curricular work.Barbara gets the best deal, though her segment does feel circular. She escapes and gets captured again - however, the intervening scenes with Haroun and his daughter add depth and colour. El Akir does come across as an extremely nasty piece of work for the show, with his determination to punish Barbara for her mild insult to him showing him as a remarkably petty villain - the season two theme of utter bastards coming to the fore again. I always rather liked the banality of evil thing in fiction: people acting abominably for the tiniest of reasons is real evil (Another favourite for the same reason is Gaston in Beauty and the Beast).Barbara's decision to sacrifice herself if need be - but first to attack the strangley craply acted guard - does remind you that this is a strong, brave, resourceful woman, and probably the most interesting of the companions. Ian is a slightly unreal figure, as I've suggested above, and Vicki has gone from being an interesting character to start to hanging around in the background getting excitable. Hartnell is a good enough actor for you to forgive the fact that the characterisation veers all over the place - from barking mad to straight seriousness and conviction - and makes it all into one believable whole.Now don't get me wrong - the story is beautifully done. The acting, direction and dialogue are sublime, and I love it. I just can't love it wholehearedly as I feel that's all it is - it's great writing, but it's great writing for the sake of great writing, not because it has an equally great story to tell.

Crusade 4:
Yep, it's still a classily made/shot/acted/written/designed story that goes nowhere whatsoever. Very weird.Watch how quickly this episode's cliffhangers are resolved - Richard immediately forgives the Doctor without any obvious reason to, and Barbara escapes again instantly. The story, for what it's worth, is a series of disconnected bubbles. The Doctor gets in trouble about his clothes. He gets out. That's it. He gets in trouble about Joanna. And gets out. That's it. Ian gets captured by a bandit. He escapes. That's it. Likewise Barbara. None of the individual bubbles connect on build on each other in any real way. One of the more noticeable effects of this is that the story doesn't really end - it just stops. There's a noticeable abscence of key characters - Saladin, Saphadin and Joanna - and both El Akir and Richard have practically nothing to do here, before exiting the story rather abruptly. El Akir's death, in particular, has no real weight at all, coming out of nowhere and without impact. Richard does fare a little better, but the lack of any proper end to his story is annoying. Yes we get a potted history lesson from Hartnell, but it's a swift glossing over of the details rather than any definite closure. In addition, the exit of the Doctor from the story seems a little pointless - it's as if he knows this story's only due four episodes and he has to get off, rather tha him having any reason to go.And indeed, what have the travellers actually changed in the story? Nothing that I can see. The only real variation in the status quo over the four episodes is the death of El Akir - but he is historically irrelevant, really, and his death isn't really caused by any of the TARDIS crew anyway - it would seem Haroun could probably have killed him anyway. Richard/Saladin/etc are all in roughly the same place they were at the start. It seems that the regulars have hung around the fringes of a non-who straight play about the Crusades, never really getting actively involved or interacting to any real import. It is often said that removing the Doctor and companions from any story is impossible (think of the Romans and see how much their involvement and background influences the story), whereas in this you could take them out with ease.In many ways this story is the anti-Web Planet. It has everything to recommend it in terms of acting/writing/directing, etc. as I said, but the story itself is aimless and unfocused. Web Planet loses out on most of those points, but at least has a clearly defined objective. What is the Crusade actually about? Barbara getting caught and escaping and hiding several times. It has a different plot each week, forgotten the next. I'm tempted to say it's style over substance Who.But of course, anything acted and scripted this well has to be enjoyable on some levels, and it certainly manages this well. Just wish there was more to it, frankly.A few little points - I love the way that at the end, upon realising that they've been tricked, Leicester completely fails to realise that Ian was in on it too. Very funny, a lovely touch.And I really wish we could see the cliffhanger. It'd seem so strange and unusual and unnerving, I think. On sound alone, it's rather obviously just underwhelming.

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