Category Archives: Series

Iris (2009 series)

My nerd cred evolves as I depart from my usual stomping grounds in Japanese media to explore South Korea’s outlet!

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Doctor Who – The Patrick Troughton Years

By 1966, Doctor Who was a well known program and drew millions of viewers on a regular basis. Its success seemed to be confirmed but behind the scenes, trouble loomed overheard. In 1965, the show went through a turbulent year with many rapid changes to the production team and a feeling of discontent permeated the team. Many in the team found it troublesome to work with the aging Hartnell and Hartnell himself found the heavy workload increasingly difficult to cope with. And so, in 1966, following the introduction of Shaun Sutton as the new Head of Serials at BBC, the cry for change was finally heard and it was decided that William Hartnell had to be let go. Unbeknown to everyone at the time, a change that stemmed from necessity would end up becoming the series’ biggest boon.

Continue reading Doctor Who – The Patrick Troughton Years

Doctor Who – The William Hartnell Years

First thought of by Sydney Newman, head of BBC’s department of drama, the series began taking shape in 1962 and the rough outline of the show was created. It was then handed over to producer Verity Lambert and writer David Whittaker and the show began taking the shape we know today. Eventually, after several actors had turned the role down, William Hartnell was attached to the role of the Doctor and he would be joined by Carole Ann Ford as his granddaughter Susan and her two teachers, Ian Chesterton played by William Russel and Barbara Wright played by Jaqueline Hill. The first episode aired November 23, 1963 and that, as they say, was where it all began.

Cast and Producer of Doctor Who 1963
From left to right: Susan (Carole Ann Ford), Barbara (Jaqueline Hill), Verity Lambert, Ian (William Russel) and the Doctor (William Hartnell)

But for those of you expecting to hear how it took off and became a national sensation overnight  you’ll sadly be sort of mistaken. Don’t get me wrong, Doctor Who ended up becoming a huge sensation but it wasn’t with the first couple  episodes. In fact, very few people tuned in to watch the first episode partly because of the breaking news that John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. Major power outages in parts of the country didn’t help either.

No, it was with the second serial that Doctor Who would truly reach the minds and imaginations of everyone, not just kids, across the UK. Titled “The Daleks”, the serial introduced the iconic enemies of the Doctor… the Daleks, obviously, and helped create a national phenomena.

DaleksSo how will this retrospect work? Will I review all of the episodes, touch upon the big themes and such or just talk like this, reciting fact and blurbs? Well, it’s gonna be a bit of everything but one thing I will not do at this time is review every single episode or even every serial. There’d be little point to it, stories arching through series really didn’t become a thing until the seventies and all serials act like solo adventures for the most part. Some callbacks would happen later, in particular with the Daleks and eventually with the Cybermen as well but the one thing that, to me, defines the First Doctor is that all his stories were pretty isolated.
The events of “The Daleks” do lead directly into “The Edge of Destruction” but the stories are unrelated except for the fact that they take place one after the other. As such the Doctor and his companions encounter the Daleks then prevent the TARDIS from being destroyed only to end up meeting Marco Polo with nothing but random chance connecting their many adventures.

Before I go any further I might have to explain what a serial actually is. I’m not referring to seasons or the series itself but it’s really something we don’t see much of today. Doctor Who itself abandoned the practice in the eighties and I can’t really bring to mind any other series that currently do it. It’s basically… well, seasons within a season. “The Daleks” for instance is seven episodes long, “The Edge of Destruction” a mere two episodes long and “The Aztecs” covered four episodes. In total the first season was 42 episodes long and at one a week, that’s just shy of a whole year.

Season two consisted of 39 episodes and the third season was made up of a whopping 45 episodes. In total, counting the first two serials of Season 4, the First Doctor was active in 134 episodes. But most people see the various serials as singular episodes and as such you don’t really talk about the various episodes of “The Daleks” but rather of the serial as a whole. In the eighties the show would adopt the far more common 45-minute standard rather than the 25-minute format they’d used since the sixties. As such, Sylvester McCoy as the Seventh Doctor may only have starred in 42 episodes but you should at least double that to get a more accurate comparison in terms of time and energy spent in the role. Or divide the other episodes by two.

Seventh Doctor - Sylvester McCoy
Sylvester McCoy as the Seventh Doctor

But anyway, I only say this to give you a rough idea that when I say serial I mean a number of episode that you could say today would make up only a single episode. And not necessarily in terms of minutes but rather in terms of story. Today the Doctor can easily handle an encounter with the Daleks or Cybermen in a single episode but TV has changed and now every single episode doesn’t need to end on a cliffhanger to make sure viewers come back week after week.

Then again, production of the episodes have also changed significantly, both in the way of how they were recorded and their budget. Rather than what you see on TV today, Doctor Who was very much a small production, relegated to a small set where they for each serial had to build a number of sets to fit into a very small space. This in some ways made them very creative but in other ways it obviously also hampered them significantly. Worse yet, each episode was practically recorded live. Editing was expensive, every cut cost money so the rule was to make everything right on the first try. This meant actors at times had to run from set to set just so they could make the shot in one try and while you may cut for a flubbed line today, back then it stayed in episode.

An Unearthly Child setThis meant planning for camera movement, actor movement, make up and not to forget the restrictions it put on the script. You had to be able to tear down sets and erect new ones in a matter of hours between shooting of episodes and all sets had to fit inside the same studio. And it meant actors rarely got to take vacation as one episode meant one week of work. This is one of the reasons why certain characters seem to disappear for an episode or two at times: the actor needed a vacation. Sets were often flimsy, “automatic doors” were operated off screen by a stagehand, stories were often confined to a few sets and the previously mentioned actors flubbing their lines is all too obvious in the early seasons.

But understanding all of this is the first step to enjoying the series’ early years. In a way, you have to enjoy it ironically because things have changed so much that their ways of doing things then will appear… well, alien to us or at least primitive. But it’s also in these failings that much of the charm of the series can be found and it also speaks to how strong the stories themselves often were.

Well, in most cases. While the First Doctor did have some legendary stories, there were also some real stinkers in there. My least favorite is possibly “The Edge of Destruction” which was made only because they needed an additional two episodes to fill the BBC order. It takes place entirely inside the TARDIS and the climax is one I dare call awful. However, I can’t even hate this one completely because rather than a grand adventure, they spent the time bonding the characters together, something that had been missing in the series up until this point.

Another aspect of the first three seasons that separate it from the future Doctor Who series was its focus on educational content. The series strove to include either science or history as a way to educate its viewers, primarily the children. One might surmise that this is why two of his first companions were teachers, suspiciously in science and history respectively. This pretty much split the stories into two categories: the historical ones and the sci-fi ones. Though not a 50% split, the serials were fairly evenly divided between the two.

But don’t mistake these for the historical events of the modern series where the Doctor travels back in time to encounter werewolves and ghosts and the like. No, these were pure history lessons were the Doctor and his companion met historical people and took part in historical events before simply leaving, not really accomplishing much of anything.

And I can honestly, with 100% conviction say… that I don’t like the historical ones very much. And this is the biggest reason why the Hartnell years will never rank very high with me. I fell in love with the series greatly because of my love for sci-fi and honestly, the crusades or Marco Polo doesn’t interest me all that much. As such, those episodes, as well produced and researched as they may be, were never going to be my favorites. There were times when the stories really gripped me, “The Aztecs”, which sees Barbara try to change the ways of the Aztecsm is probably one of my favorite serials of the first season but overall I’ve always had more of an interest in the sci-fi aspects of the show. It was the Second Doctor that really began laying the groundwork for how future Doctor Who would be and as such the three first season almost seem out of place today.

The Web PlanetNot to say all sci-fi serials were good either. “The Web Planet” is a legendarily idiotic serial where they really did try too much with the budget that they had and it ended up, even at the time, looking absolutely dreadful.

And as historically important as “The Daleks” and “Tenth Planet” may be, they left me feeling less than excited, almost bored at times. However, part of that, especially in the case of “Tenth Planet”, is that I can’t help but be colored by what I know lie ahead. The Cybermen in this story, while I’m sure they frightened the hell out of kids at the time, are nothing but men with stocking pulled over their faces and various junk bits wired to their bodies. It’s hard to take it seriously and it’s just one of those times where I honestly can’t put myself in the mindset of a child fifty years ago.

The Tenth Planet
Asshole mio!

Of course, taken on their own, many of the serials don’t stand up to scrutiny today and it’s only when you can successfully put yourself in the right mindset that the stories come together. Some require more focus and others are easy to get into even today. “Tenth Planet” would of course lay the groundwork for the much improved “Moonbase” and “Tomb of the Cybermen” which really cemented the Cybermen as something to fear but had I not known their importance when I first saw “Tenth Planet” then I doubt I’d ever guess they’d return again.

On the other hand, you have serials like “The Dalek Invasion of Earth” which saw the Daleks invade real life London, one of the first time Doctor Who did location shooting. It was important for many reason but prime among those reasons was cementing the Dalek not only as a real force to be reckoned with but a recurring evil that would continue to haunt the Doctor for a very long time. Another very important aspect of the show was that it was the first time a companion left the show. Carol Ann Ford, displeased that her character never evolved beyond the ditsy fifteen year old despite her many adventures, decided to leave the show and so the Doctor’s granddaughter was left behind to help rebuild humanity and pursue a normal life with someone she loved. Though the first companion to leave the Doctor, she would most certainly not be the last.

Other serials of note are “The Chase”, which saw the departure of Ian and Barbara, “The Rescue”, the first to introduce a new companion, “The Time Meddler”, first appearance of another of the Doctor’s race and “The Ark” for simultaneously being insanely good and absolutely awful. If you’ve seen it, you know what I mean.
I should note, much like I did in the intro post, that some of these serials are partially missing due to the BBC scrubbing their archives in the seventies. For instance, “Marco Polo” is one of the legendary missing ones where extremely little material has survived to this day, “The Dalek’s Master Plan” is missing nine of its twelve episodes and “Tenth Planet” is missing its final episode where the Doctor regenerates for the first time (though that particular scene was discovered elsewhere). And while they do work in audio form, one must also admit that it doesn’t really convey the original atmosphere.

And speaking of the Doctor, I think it’s time I actually discuss the Doctor’s first incarnation, played by William Hartnell.

William Hartnell
William Hartnell as the First Doctor

In 1963’s London, Susan Foreman attends the local school. However, her teachers become worried about the young girl and her strange ideas and follow her home, only to discover she lives in a junkyard. Though things are not what they first appear to be as its soon revealed she actually lives inside a blue police box together with her grandfather. That isn’t the strangest part, even, as the police box is bigger on the inside. When Barbara and Ian discover this, the old man kidnaps them and takes them on a journey through time as well as space. Unknown to either of the four travelers, this would be the start of a journey that would capture the imaginations of children for fifty years and counting.

William Hartnell played the Doctor as a surly, grouchy old man who believed himself quite superior to most other people he met. And in fairness, he probably was superior to most people he met but that didn’t stop people from disliking him. He was a solitary man, only relying on his granddaughter for company though nothing much was ever stated about their family or why they traveled. He journeyed through history more for his own amusement than education or adventure. However, all of this changed when he was forced to kidnap Ian and Barbara to keep his own secret. Though unwilling companions at first, eventually they grew to enjoy their travels with the Doctor just as he learned to care for his new friends.

Eventually the Doctor would open up more to his new companions and he would learn some humility when Ian and Barbara time and time came to his aid. Together they stopped the Daleks multiple times, survived the French revolution and almost become exhibits in a space museum. More than anyone else, the Doctor realized that it was in the company of his friends that he lived the most and when they left his side he mourned it with all of his heart.

When we look at the First Doctor, we must understand that he had yet not taken the shape of the Doctor we know and love today. In fact, that’s one of the greatest things about the first three seasons, seeing the Doctor slowly becoming more like we all know and love him. At first dismissive and callous, he again learns to be caring and welcoming. Sadly, he never really shakes off the persona of the surly old man and his habit of keeping secrets really do get tiring. Often the serials are stretched out only because the Doctor refuses to share his knowledge with his companions at a time when it could’ve been useful. And while he learns some humility, his air of superiority never becomes charming but rather infuriating.

And I think that that problem is one you can link to the actor who played him: William Hartnell. In more recent years, other cast members were none to shy about their description of him and somehow you get a sense of that through his portrayal of the Doctor. Hartnell really had two sides to him and which one you saw depended on how much you appeased him. If you got on his bad side, he’d be a vicious, bitter old man whereas if you were on his good side, he’d be the sweetest man alive. Things had to be a very specific way for him to feel at peace and the slightest bit out of order could send him over the edge. And he was apparently a racist or at least harbored some such thoughts. The actors who played Ben and Polly, the First Doctor’s last companions, felt quite uncomfortable at times when Hartnell expressed his dislike about a black person being cast in a prominent role.

But one also has to take care to think about the man himself and his circumstances. He was 55 when he started as Doctor Who and was already suffering from arteriosclerosis, affecting his ability to learn the script. While the cast and production team did the best they could to support him, supporting cast covering for his flubbed lines to the best of their ability, I think most people, including Hartnell himself, knew that his time on the show was coming to an end. It was discussed already in season 3 though it didn’t come to pass until season 4. Citing his deteriorating health and troubles working with the new production team, Hartnell was written out in “Tenth Planet”, a decision that cast members said upset him to the point of tears. William Hartnell would eventually return to Doctor Who in the seventies and in a somewhat comforting coincidence, it would be the last thing he ever recorded. William Hartnell passed away April 23, 1975.

William Hartnell 2
William Hartnell (1908 – 1975)

In many ways, Doctor Who was his swan song and I think he knew that. Afraid to let go, afraid he would be bullied out of the show, afraid to be compared to his younger peers. I think it’s best to remember him for the fact that he was the First Doctor and without him, who knows if there’d even be a show. He helped establish the legendary Daleks in one of his first outing and on his last show he introduced us to the Cybermen, however idiotic they may have looked. He gave us a glimpse into the world of the Doctor and set the stage for the coming Doctors to take us even further beyond the stars. He would partake in some of the most imaginative stories and some truly groundbreaking serials before the universe conspired to send him out.

Ian and Barbara
Ian and Barbara

Well… that got a bit depressing so let’s move on. What else do I want to discuss? Well, the companions are a big, fat target of course but discussing all of them would simply take too long. At least if I went into depth about all of them. In general, however, I found that the women were the worst of the bunch whereas the men pulled through reasonably successfully.

My gold star for this era definitely goes to William Russel who played Ian Chesterton, the very first male companion the Doctor would take in. He and Barbara were the first and acted as the audience surrogates and they did so splendidly. But Barbara got very few chances to shine which is a shame, her stint as a God during “The Aztecs” was an amazing performance by Jaqueline Hill that really played to her strengths but she rarely got the opportunity to really showcase them. Ian, on the other hand, often got to show that he was no stodgy history professor and would on more than one occasion battle the many monsters heroically. Hill and Russel had fantastic chemistry together and they, quite honestly, broke every single expectation I had on them. They pretty much saved the first two seasons when I was still struggling with Hartnell’s Doctor and… well, the other companions.

I’ve already mention that Carol Ann Ford left the show, taking the character of Susan with her. It earned her the title of the first companion to leave but  it also gave her the title of the first companion to be replaced. And my award for least interesting character this era goes to Vicki, Susan’s replacement. But again, this can easily be down to the fact that she didn’t get enough time to shine, none of the women ever really did. She had no real personality of her own, sort of just filling in for Susan but not having the personal connection with the Doctor that Susan had, her one saving grace. Though she stayed on for nine serials, I can’t really remember much that she ever did.

Steven Taylor
Peter Purves as Steven Taylor

On the flipside, Ian’s replacement had to fill in for all the time the girls were kidnapped and did so in a particularly manly fashion worthy of any Hollywood hero. Steven Taylor almost feels out of place in Doctor Who as he’s never far away from throwing a punch or using a gun to defend himself. Yes, the Doctor may be above killing but his companions most certainly do not share this particular virtue. In that way he very much reminds me of a sixties Captain Jack Harkness, a military man to the core but with a heart of gold… or, something. Not gay, though, pretty sure of that. If he was gay he probably wouldn’t dress like such a colossal twat. A stripy shirt, really?

Anyhow, unlike most of the girls who left for silly reasons like love or their own mental health, Steven confidently stayed behind to lead a civilization to greater things, becoming their benevolent (???) ruler. Did I mention this series was pretty sexist in its day? The girl companions were really not all that good and acted more like set dressing or the lazy plot excuse for getting the Doctor involved in danger by having them captured all the time. At times they escape from their captivity at the beginning of an episode only to be captured again at the end, pure padding in other words. Susan, Vicki and Dodo constantly managed to get themselves captured and when they weren’t, they screamed. Good lord do these girls scream.

As far as I’m concerned, BBC’s decision to keep companions for only a year was a mistake but a bigger mistake was their desire to appeal to a younger audience, casting younger and younger actors in the part. It changed the dynamic of the crew from one that traveled as equals (mostly) to one where the Doctor rather irresponsibly kept dragging young men and women into danger for the sake of adventure. After Ian, Barbara and Steven, the companions are none too eager to oppose the Doctor or even call him out on much of his bullshit. Steven defiantly left the TARDIS after calling the Doctor a callous brute who thinks nothing of human life though he returned to warn the Doctor of impending danger. Later companions would fall over themselves in an effort to do his bidding and it’s very tiresome, hearing them grovel before the Doctor.

Verity Lambert
Verity Lambert, 1935 – 2007

Had the surly, ludicrously proud and at times utterly obnoxious Doctor had some decent companions consistently to level it out, I might’ve come away from the Hartnell era with a more positive opinion. The departure of Verity Lambert in Season 3 signified a distinct shift in the show and for a while it was worse for it. Her vision of the show went with her and it took the series an additional season and the departure of William Hartnell to set the show straight again. But given how much she had to fight for the show, not to mention being a career woman in the sixties, I’m not surprised that she eventually felt she had to leave.

 

Now, I want to remind you that this is what it is: my own rambling. I might have gotten some dates wrong, misheard interviews and so forth but the idea was just to give those of you who don’t care to watch fifty year old television a quick idea of what the show was like. In closing, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the First Doctor, it’s not the Doctor I fell in love with in the revival. I do see the building blocks on which they’d build the fifty year legacy and towards the end you could definitely see fragments of what it would one day become. But the mismanagement of cast as well as characters drag this down too much and the failure to return to many of the characters who departed to check up on them is very unfortunate. Yes, I know they did revisit some of them in audio, comics or books eventually but I’d love to see what kind of civilization Steven built or the life Ian and Barbara end up leading, knowing what they knew.

Sadly, time has not been kind to these seasons and even I, at times, had a hard time adjusting my expectations. I’d only recommend this to dedicated Whovians as it’s so different in nature compared to the new series that it’s hard to reconcile. That and the fact that so many episodes are simply gone, existing in audio form only, makes it a difficult era to swallow. There’s a definite charm and you can tell a lot of love went into this show from everyone involved. It was brutal work, for sure, but that just proved that they knew what we know today: that Doctor Who is awesome.

The First Doctor by Andy LambertFirst Doctor (William Hartnell, 1963-1966)

Doctor Who – An introduction

Doctor Who.

Chances are you already know of this series but go back ten years and it was a show that languished in global anonymity, a cultural phenomena mostly limited to the British isles. Though I had heard of it it was mostly through thinly veiled mockery and silliness. I didn’t watch it and no-one I knew had ever seen it. In fact, I think my first exposure to the Doctor came by way of Rowan Atkinson. But the interest in Doctor Who had been waning in the eighties and when they pulled the plug in 89, it really was on its last legs. Though they tried to revive it with a 1996 film, ironically its regeneration wouldn’t happen and it passed into memories for most people though it has always had a hardcore following.

But then 2005 happened.

I don’t think anyone really expected it. Sure, the British people were all excited about it but I still hadn’t ever seen an episode at that point and I wouldn’t for another two years. The only reason I got interested in it was that I had heard Anthony Head was in it and when a British friend of mine came by to stay a few days, turned out that he had that particular episode on his computer. So we watched it…

anthony-stewart-head-doctor-who-tv-series-2006-screencaps-01
Anthony Head in School Reunion, 2006

… and I was hooked. Yes, quiver as Anthony Head stares at you menacingly. I’d like to say that Head’s performance was what drew me in, fan of Buffy that I am, but it was the Doctor himself, played by David Tennant, that really sealed the deal. Never before had I question my sexuality as much as when I saw David Tennant take to the screen not just handsome and dashing but dark and menacing when he needed to be.

I finished that season then I backtracked to watch the first season from 2005 and I never really left the show since. It still airs to this day with Peter Capaldi leading the show now though I have yet to see that show due to… well, watching many other things.

So why am I writing this then? Well, I decided it was time to start watching Doctor Who again but by now, if there’s one thing you need to understand about me, you should know that I have a nasty tendency to go over the top with my commitments. So rather than being pleased with another season of modern Doctor Who, I decided it was time to go back to the roots.

Yes, that’s right, I am watching the entire series, starting in 1963 and all the way up to… well, here. Today. Or the future, whenever I finish all 26 seasons preceding the modern revival. For your information I have already made some headway, I just finished up the fourth season today so I figured it was time I actually make something of it and writing a blog post in a vain attempt to gain followers, I mean, to give you something interesting to read.

But at the same time, suddenly writing a post called “Doctor Who – The William Hartnell Years” might come as a bit of a surprise. Especially to the people who don’t watch Doctor Who. In a somewhat funny twist, I think you might actually be the minority these days.

So who is the Doctor? Well, he’s an alien being who travels through time and space in his time machine/space ship called TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimensions In Space) which takes the form of a blue police box. If you’re not British, chances are you don’t have a clue what a police box is but that doesn’t matter ’cause it doesn’t really matter to the show either. Just know that it fits in everywhere.
Now it’s been running for 30 seasons or so, had its start in 1963 and we’re currently on our… thirteenth actor playing the part and you’re thinking; how the hell does that work? Well, you see, when the first actor was getting too old for the part, they needed to come up with an excuse to change actors. This ended up being one of the most important aspects of what would one be dubbed “Regeneration” and was what partly made the Doctor and his race of people, the Time Lords, so unique, allowing them to live on for a great long time. Of course, back then they hadn’t really thought all of this out yet and it was called a renewal but the concept was established and it allowed the show to survive another 23 years before being canceled.
Normally the Doctor takes on a companion or two for his travels though there has been times when he went at it alone. Together they travel where ever the TARDIS feels like putting them, going on whatever big adventure they come across. Adventures filled to the brim with excitement, terror, death and sorrow. Oh, did I forget to mention fun? Loads and loads of fun.

7f102c8c1
That’s fanservice right there

Needless to say, the show has since its revival become a huge, international success which in turn has sparked a lot of interest in the old series as well. Although the new series started out keeping the references to a minimum and in a cute sort of way, eventually the fandom got to yet again take part of the old, classic enemies of the Doctor such as the Daleks, Cybermen, Autons and many, many more. And the answers to all of the question you might have can only be found… in the series of old… and Wikipedia.

At first I absolutely refused to watch anything from before the 2005 revival. It looked and felt hokey, cheap and… terribly outdated. And don’t get me wrong, it really is. But again, it’s been fifty years since the series first aired and it was made on a shoestring budget, one step up from radio, so if you have a bad time watching it you’ve got no-one to blame but yourself. It’s not like it’s unexpected.

And then there’s the junkings to contend with.

In the seventies, the BBC decided to clean out their archives and a lot of black and white stuff was the first to go, among them a lot of Doctor Who. About one third of all the episodes from the six first season were discovered to be missing, season 3, 4 and 5 being the ones hit the hardest. In many cases, short clips cut due to censoring and photographs and various other materials have been discovered but in some cases, such as “Marco Polo”, “Mission to the Unknown” and “The Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Eve”, there’s virtually no material left.

The only saving grace is that the audio of all episodes are still intact, thanks to fans back in the day recording the audio straight off their TV. These audio recordings have been cleaned up and later released by the BBC so while it’s not the whole experience, it’s surprisingly effective to just listen to them. Like I said earlier, they’re only a step up from radio and that’s exactly what it feels like, listening to an old radio adventure show. To be noted, fans and the BBC alike have tried to reconstruct many episodes from surviving photographs and censored clips to go along with the audio so if you absolutely must have visual stuff to go along with the audio, it’s perfectly acceptable. They’ve also started animating some of the missing episodes to fill the gaps.

And of further note, if you do have an episode of Doctor Who that’s reported missing, Blue Peter, a British children’s show, offers a reward for its return: a full-scale Dalek to have in your very home.

So in future postings, I’m gonna talk a little about the various eras as I go along and explain in further detail what went on, what happened and what I thought of various aspects of the show, starting at the very beginning with William Hartnell.

the_first_doctor_by_dv8r71
Art by Andy Lambert… no, seriously, go check out his stuff, it’s great.

I hope you look forward to it as much as I look forward to writing it.

Kamen Rider Fourze – Finale (+ Addendum)

First off, sumimasen! Sorry! I screwed up. And in a pretty unforgivable way too. Last post I wrote that I didn’t quite remember everything I had planned to write before all this business with my dad went down and I don’t really apologize for that. It’s a blog, after all, which means I can do whatever I want. That being said, however, I did forget something rather remarkable… something in the bloody title: the movie “Space, Here We Come!”. It’s one thing to forget specific themes you wanted to write about, it’s one thing to forget what monsters to write about… but this was in the title, how the hell could I forget THAT!?

So before I get into my final thoughts on Kamen Rider Fourze to close that particular chapter of this blog, here’s a quick addendum to last post.

Kamen Rider Fourze the Movie: Space, Here we Come!
Kamen Rider Fourze the Movie: Space, Here we Come!

Now, right off the bat I’ll be honest. I liked this movie. But I won’t be going into great details about it, for the most part, like every other tokusatsu movie ever, it’s more or less an extended episode with a slightly bigger budget for effects. The plot is simple, there’s a satellite in orbit equipped with an array of deadly weapons that’s been taken over by terrorists and the Kamen Rider Club are called upon to save the day. But when they come face to face with the terrorists, something appears off and they soon discover that there’s much more to this story than first assumed. Fourze must join forces with unlikely allies in order to save the day but can he befriend them in time?

For the most part, this appears like your typical Kamen Rider movie but there are a few things that it does that sets it apart from the rest. For one, there’s a surprising focus on unmorphed fights, not just for Gentaro and Ryusei but the Kamen Rider Club as a whole. Kengo naturally figured into the plot a fair bit but there’s a surprising amount of focus on Shun and Miu with JK and Yuki playing support. The final act had me surprisingly engaged for a movie like this but the inside of the satellite looks like it’s made out of concrete and pipes… aka, they shot this in a few basements and a garage which is all sorts of disappointing. Better location scouting is definitely called for.

However, none of that is why I like this movie. There’s something about me that you may or may not know… I am such a retro nostalgic it’s insane. I’m not just nostalgic for my own childhood, I devour everyone’s childhood (as long as it’s pre-2000). And this movie has me particularly interested because it features a tokusatsu series from the seventies that… well, I’ll probably never see. Space Ironmen KyodainSpace Ironmen Kyodain… or these guys:

Yeah, yeah, laugh all you want, get it out of your system. My first instinct is to remind you that it’s from the seventies. But something tells me that doesn’t help. But to me, it’s appealing and VERY fascinating and since I’ll probably never see this series myself, just getting a glimpse of what it was like is enough to appease me greatly. They have taken some liberties to make it more modern, though. For one, in the original they were brothers whereas in this movie they’re brother and sister. And secondly… well, let’s just say there’s a big change but revealing it would sort of maybe spoil the plot entirely and we don’t want that because I know you’re all rushing to watch it right now.

However, for those of you expecting them to give them the same treatment as they did Gavan in the Gokaiger movie, perish the thought for this has no connection with the ’76 series other than designs and names and is more simple curiosity than a full blown revival as was the case with Gavan. But perhaps in two years we’ll see the Kyodain 40 year anniversary? Yeah, one may dream, yes?

If you’re really hungry for more Kyodain info than this movie gives you, check out the net movies that accompanied it because it goes a bit more in depth about the series. It’s the “Everyone! Let’s go to Class!” segment for those curious.

So, overall, it was okay. The Kyodain aspect is really what makes it interesting for me but it has above average “most things” for a tokusatsu movie (except for locations) so if you like Fourze, you’ll like this.

Oh, and it’s the first appearance of Wizard… so there’s that too.

So on to the main event. My final thoughts on Kamen Rider Fourze.

Kamen Rider Fourze - Let's Go

I’m guessing the immediate question on everybody’s mind is “Did you like it?” and the answer is a solid yes. I mean, there’s no doubt about that. I genuinely think Fourze is a good show. That’s not to say it’s a flawless one though and the more time spent away from it, the more I come to see what I didn’t particularly like.

For one, while the villains did grow into something interesting, it takes FAR too long for them to get there. Early on there’s a big, big focus on the characters that would eventually end up being the Kamen Rider Club and the monsters were more background noise than anything, there to help Gentaro meet these people. But once that period ends, there’s nothing there to take its place and we’re left with some serious downtime where we’re mostly treading water while waiting for the serious threats to show up. And once they do, it’s pretty much straight down the highway to the ending.

But like I said in my very first Fourze report, I really enjoy the school setting and it’s surprising how well it works since I normally don’t care much for high school drama. However, perhaps it is because I finished university not long ago or some growing sense of nostalgia for school or perhaps it’s just this series in itself, the high school drama was captivating and I could honestly see the talented writing at work here. It really is the supporting cast that carry the series and make it stand out and it doesn’t take long for them to be almost more interesting than the “main characters”, if one can use that term here.

Kamen Rider Fourze Cast
The cast of Kamen Rider Fourze in the Rabbit Hatch. (From left to right: Kengo, Yuki, Shun, Fourze (Gentaro), Miu, Meteor (Ryusei), Ohsugi, JK, Tomoko)

I suppose that’s the biggest complaint otherwise: Gentaro, Kengo and Yuki, the three first, are… quite frankly forgettable in the long run. Gentaro doesn’t develop in the slightest over the series despite there being ample opportunity for it, such as exploring the effect his parents dying had on him. Kengo is the main support for Fourze but doesn’t really do anything plot related until the end and while he ties into the major plot, it is a bit out of left field and not nearly as interesting as it could’ve been. And Yuki… well, she’s Yuki and I don’t like her much. Instead it’s really Shun, Miu, JK and Tomoko that get the most development, all eagerly embracing their stereotypical cliques at first before slowly opening up to reveal their insecurities, dreams and fears. And it’s real shame that Chuta Ohsugi, the teacher that ends up joining the Kamen Rider Club, never really gets to be part of the plot but continues to work as a comic relief.

But I shouldn’t paint the comic relief too poorly because one of the series’ strongest points is exactly that, it’s humor. It’s the one time Sota Fukushi’s, man playing Gentaro Kisaragi, acting hits all the right notes and he is perfect for the role of the naive yet lovable buffoon that he is. Sure, some comic relief works better than other, Yuki… well, I don’t like her or her antics and Chuta Ohsugi, while funny is also… INCREDIBLY creepy and he’s the kind of character you expect to be caught sniffing someone’s chair. But the humor goes hand in hand with the naivety the series clings to and while there are no deep, philosophical jokes to be found the jokes, the pranks and goofy misunderstandings all… well, they just work.

Another thing I wholly liked about this series was the music. Everything from the opening to the licensed songs to the original soundtrack works beautifully and it’s been playing hot on my playlist ever since I got my hands on it. Like much of the show itself, it oozes 80s and 90s Americana with lots of rock and ballads to match the high school theme.

With the cliques, Gentaro’s pompadour, the music and the opening singing about burgers, it’s hard not to get drawn in by their merging of American and Japanese culture. That, coupled with the wonderful supporting cast, might be what saves the show because it otherwise lacks more interesting themes. Yes, I did speak about themes such as “fear of adulthood” and “friendship” but those themes become trite fast. This is a show with 48 episodes to its name so the constant recycling of these themes start to hurt a bit towards the end. Had the big twist of the show come earlier, the second half of the series could’ve easily focused on this instead, but that would require asking the viewer to think a whole bunch about God and the origin of the universe and such fun stuff.

Honestly, the big twist near the end was what ultimately saved the series from ending on a rather dull note since I had since long grown tired of the villains at that point and it felt more like mopping up than wrapping up. It goes on for just a few episodes too long and it really could’ve benefited from being axed a few weeks earlier. This also would’ve forced them to streamline the series considerably and it could’ve avoided a lot of the “monster of the week” episodes that plagues the middle of the series. But then the big twists comes and I’m hooked right in again but it never really goes anywhere. And that amuses me. They’re willing to discuss themes we normally would’ve reserved for shows for teenagers or even adults but then they chicken out in the last minute and goes for a sugar coated ending. Especially on the coattails of OOO that had the biggest, saddest ending ever.

But then again, that might be what ultimately made them go with that ending.

Eiji and Ankh
Homoerotic doesn’t even begin to describe these two

 

Why those two darn boys just didn’t admit they loved each other I will never, ever know. Oh, right… Japan.

But despite all that, I still enjoyed it greatly. Sure, it stumbled and it’s not necessarily the deepest Kamen Rider ever nor will it really figure in my top five but it’s memorable simply because of its delicious setting and its overall comedic tone. It’s very light hearted, to a fault at times, but perhaps it was exactly what the doctor prescribed after the gut-wrencher that was OOO. I plowed through the series relatively quickly and once you picked it up it was almost impossible to put back down again. If you’re willing to let yourself be a kid with no worries again, then it’s a lot of fun.

What’s up next for this blog? Not sure, we’ll see but I’m guessing we might be seeing some Doctor Who on here in a while and maybe some other stuff as well. But first up? Space Sheriff Gavan.