Around the Water Cooler: “Witches of East End,” The Season 1 Finale & Season Recap (SPOILERS)

THE SPECS:

Who:  “Witches of East End,” aired on cable TV, specifically on Lifetime, Fall Sundays at 10:00 PM.

What: “Witches of East End,” a supernatural drama about a family of immortal witches.  Julia Ormond (Legends of the Fall; Sabrina) plays the matriarch, who is cursed to bear two daughters and watch them die over several lifetimes while her younger sister is cursed to die and be reborn as a cat with nine lives to live.  In this current life cycle, the two daughters, Ingrid and Freya, are not aware (as of yet) that they are witches.

SYNOPSIS

Ingrid is a feminist, a librarian, and characterizes herself as a rationalist.  Freya is a romantic and is engaged to the wealthy son of a local family after a whirlwind romance.  Both girls are oblivious to the fact that they are immortal witches, daughters of mother Joanna (Ormond), who was cursed at the Salem Witch Trials to watch them die and to give birth to them all over again over countless centuries. Their mother decided to offer them a chance at normal lives, unaware of magic; however, past lives and odd occurrences are catching up with them, and now Ingrid and Freya are in danger – both of being exposed for who they are and for their lives in this current cycle.

When: The season finale aired on Lifetime, Sunday, December 15, 2013, at 10:00 PM.

Where: The show is set on Long Island, New York.

Why: My love of supernatural and fantasy stories made me curious, and I did love Charmed.  Normally, the fact that the show airs on Lifetime would be a deterrent, but my curiosity got the better of me.

How – as in How Was It? – THOUGHTS

Wow!  This show and its first season were impressively unexpected in so many ways.  As this viewer noted in the review of the pilot, Witches of East End is a pure guilty pleasure and is completely derivative of fare like Charmed and Practical Magic.  Still, the story, adapted from a series of novels, has veered around some exciting twists and turns.  Plus, this show combines elements of harlequin romance, fantasy, strong female characters, fairy tale magic as well as witchy magic, and the story careened straight through its addicting first season, fast-paced and thrilling without losing itself, in ten episodes (rather than the thirteen originally quoted by this blogger).

The writing improved from the pilot, but the performances remain a hodgepodge of various levels of dedication and/or believable intent.  The two younger actresses, including Jenna Dewan-Tatum (Channing Tatum’s current spouse) still react too melodramatically, too exaggeratedly, too unbelievably, at times, which tends to compromise suspension of disbelief.  On the other hand, Julia Ormond and Madchen Amick, who plays Joanna’s sister Wendy, have moments of genuine heart and drama, while the two men in Freya’s life, Dash (Eric Winter) and Killian (Daniel DiTomasso), give their all in swoon-worthy performances as the possible “destroyer” and “soul-mate” of Freya.

Let’s examine each character’s journey this season:

Joanna Beauchamp (Julia Ormond)

As the matriarch of this family, Joanna has had to deal with the fact that Ingrid and Freya are becoming aware of their magical abilities, despite her attempts to shelter them and to provide them with normal, non-magical lives, not to mention making amends with her sister Wendy after her latest bout of being relegated to cat form.  Joanna has a need to protect her daughters above all else, having watched them live lives and die young over and over again, but her mission to protect them is jeopardized by the fact that a shape-shifter has been stalking her every move, sometimes assuming her form.  This season, Joanna was framed for murder and hexed by the shape-shifter, who turned out to be Penelope Gardiner (Virginia Madsen), aka Athena, daughter of the cult leader and black magic practitioner Archibald, Dash and Killian’s grandfather.  It seems that Athena sought revenge for Joanna murdering Archibald when he wooed Ingrid to his side in a previous life, and the entire season revolved around Athena’s hidden agenda, as she donned persona Penelope, to keep the Beauchamps close, so that she could enact her murderous revenge and ultimately kill the nearly immortal Joanna.  In the end, Wendy comes to her rescue, and the two incinerate Penelope/Athena.  In addition, Joanna’s former husband and lover, as well as Ingrid and Freya’s biological father, Victor, returns at Joanna’s request.  It’s clear that Joanna still harbors deep feelings for him, but their separation over the centuries and the reasons for it remain a mystery.

Wendy Beauchamp (Madchen Amick)

Wendy enjoyed being a human again, as she is a fairly free spirited and promiscuous human, but she also worked hard to make amends with her sister, Joanna, and to help her nieces, Ingrid and Freya, control their newly (re)discovered magical gifts.  She was possessed by the key to Asgard for a time, a magical object that turns the wearer into a homing beacon to a portal into the world from whence Joanna, Victor, Wendy, Ingrid, and Freya all come as the immortal witches they are. Also, unfortunately, due to the shifter’s machinations, Wendy lost her lives one too many times this season.  Her pendant changed from green to red, and she is now living her last life as human or feline witch. She also ultimately helps to save Joanna from the grips of Penelope/Athena.

Ingrid Beauchamp (Rachel Boston)

Ingrid has had a rough time of discovering her magical abilities this season.  First, she discovered that her doctoral thesis on the paranormal and historical roots of witchcraft in East End was more real than she expected.  Second, her dalliance with Adam Noble (the delicious Jason George), a local cop, ended tragically.  Ingrid discovered her Aunt Wendy dead on the floor after the shifter broke into the Beauchamps’ house and struck Wendy down in her attempts to defend the homestead.  Because Ingrid did not yet know that Wendy resurrected automatically after each death, she cast a spell to revive Wendy, but this type of magic induces a price.  The price was ultimately the untimely death of Adam, who then visited Ingrid as a ghost after she cast a spell to draw his spirit to her.  When she finally let Adam go, she found out about her past connection to Archibald and the fact that her Aunt Wendy actually killed her in that previous lifetime to prevent their association from causing harm or spreading beyond their cult. After she finally forgave her Aunt Wendy, a man named Mike (Enver Gjokaj) found her at the library where she works and tricked her into helping him research the entrance into Asgard.  She discovers, through talking to Mike, that the snake key that previously possessed her aunt was not the only key to the Asgard portal: it seems Ingrid was also imbued with a magical spell, where her touch opens the portal as well.  Though she magically assaults Mike and threatens him to stay away from her, he kidnaps her from her sister’s wedding at gunpoint and escorts her to the portal.  At the end of the season, she and her mother and aunt look upon the searing light of the entryway to Asgard.  Oh – and she does not forgive her father, Victor, for abandoning the family, if that’s, in fact, what he did.

Freya Beauchamp (Jenna Dewan-Tatum)

Freya begins the season engaged to Dash, but from her very first encounter with younger, ne’er-do-well brother Killian, she realizes she is instantly drawn to him, and that they have had dreams about each other.  They have a few illicit kisses and end up bartending at the same local pub.  Yet, Freya is determined to marry handsome Dr. Dash, who has nothing but vitriol for Killian, relative to the fact that Killian also wooed away Dash’s first wife.  In the meantime, Dash’s mother Penelope, also known as Athena the vengeful shapeshifter, steals Freya’s powers in order to augment her black spells, leaving Freya “normal” and “mortal” for much of the second half of the season.  Freya’s eternal struggle, as evidenced by a tarot reading performed by her mother Joanna, is her love for Dash and Killian, either of whom are depicted as the “Trickster” and the “Emperor” in the reading.  In other words, one of the brothers is her soul-mate, while the other will be her destroyer.  As her wedding draws near, and after she loses her powers, Joanna asks Freya’s father Victor, also a witch, to return to help their daughter regain her magical ability, but their efforts are unsuccessful.  She reconnects with her long lost father and finds out much about her past, including the fact that Victor met Freya in another life, when she was in love with a piano player who looks exactly like Killian.  That and other clues lead her to realize that Killian might actually be her soul-mate; as of the season finale, she breaks it off with Dash, whose anger overflows, to run after Killian, who she believes sailed away before she could catch up with him. Also, the death of Penelope/Athena allowed Freya to regain her powers.

Killian Gardiner (Daniel DiTomasso)

Killian fell instantly in love with Freya the moment he saw her and spends much of the season chasing after her while fighting the bad blood between him and his brother Dash.  It’s clear that he might actually be the good brother of the two, but he’s a free spirit who shuns the wealth and structure of his family.  Several times, he declares his love for Freya, and her resolve grows weaker every time, though, in the end, he boards his sailboat believing she means to go through with her wedding to Dash after all. Unfortunately, the death of his mother, Penelope/Athena, reveals that he and Dash were both born with magical ability themselves, inherited from their grandfather Archibald, which returned to both brothers when she was incinerated after being thwarted by Joanna and Wendy.  Also unfortunately, Dash, running to confront Killian for throwing the wrench into his perfect life with Freya, discovers his powers first and telekinetically tosses Killian around like a rag doll, eventually near-killing him.  Dash leaves Killian on his sailboat for dead and unties the anchors, as he floats out to sea.

Dash Gardiner (Eric Winter)

Dash, ever the dutiful physician, courted the doubt of his ex-wife and battled his younger brother Killian for the love of his fiancee Freya, only to lose her in the end.  He also discovers his magical ability by accident and, equally accidentally, assaults his brother with the magic of the mind, leaving him for dead on his sailboat after Freya calls off the wedding.

Questions, Impressions, and Future Considerations

1) What is Asgard, really?  Why did it burn Mike up when the portal opened upon Ingrid’s touch?  Why did the Beauchamps leave to begin with?  What will happen now that the portal is open?

2) Is Killian dead?  He can’t be!  First of all, he is all kinds of deliciousness.  Seriously, Mr. DiTomasso is a gorgeous man.  Second, after all that soul-mate realization, I hope Freya is able to save him.

3) Why is Ingrid the key to the portal?  Why does she seem to be the most magically powerful after her mother?

4) Why did Joanna and Victor ultimately split up?

5) What’s going to happen as Dash (and possibly Killian) discover their magical abilities?  Is it significant that these two men, so connected to Freya, also have these abilities?

6) Was Archibald from Asgard?  How did the Gardiners come by these abilities?

7) Wendy’s on her last life: how much time does she have?

PARTING SHOTS:

Witches of East End is ultimately a highly entertaining, somewhat thrilling, lushly romantic presentation that was both highly addicting and not without its flaws. Still, this viewer finds herself sad that the season is over, as so many questions remain as of the season finale, and as the addictive quality of the show snagged me hook, line, and sinker.

LOOKING AHEAD:

Witches of East End was renewed for a second season on November 22, 2013, and will most likely premiere Fall 2014.  Until then!

Advertisements

What I Learned From Doctor Who: “The Rescue,” (One, 1965)

Doctor: One (William Hartnell)

Companions: Ian Chesterton (William Russell) and Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill)

Time: 2493, or thereabouts.

Place: The planet Dido.

Episodes: 

1. “A Powerful Enemy” (Season Two, Episode Ten)
2. “Desperate Measures” (S2, E11)

Today’s Lessons

1. The TARDIS materializes, and the Doctor sleeps right through it, which is, by itself, unnerving to Ian and Barbara.  What’s more, when the Doctor decides to have a look outside, he calls for Susan to open the doors and then catches himself, his lip quivering.  Barbara gently encourages him to teach her how to open the doors.  Poor Doctor!

2. The Doctor, Ian, and Barbara venture outside far enough to recognize that they’ve landed in a cave.  The Doctor then encourages Ian and Barbara to have a look around without going too far.  When they ask him what he’s going to do, he answers that he’s going to have a nap!  I think he’s depressed about leaving Susan behind.

3. While Ian and Barbara discuss what could be the matter with the Doctor, and Ian goes so far as to suggest that the Doctor is getting a bit long in the tooth, the Doctor pops out of the TARDIS and says, “Uh, remember, I can hear what you’re saying.”

4. The Doctor repeatedly notes that he’s been to the planet Dido before and can’t understand why its inhabitants–large, insect-like creatures–have become so hostile (what he doesn’t know is that one of them, named Koquillion, pushed Barbara off a bluff!).

5. Early episodic theory alert: I think Bennett and Koquillion are the same person.  You never see them in the same room, and they are both determined to dissuade Vicki from rescue. Update: I so called it!!!

6. Companion spoiler alert: Vicki becomes a new companion for the Doctor…I reason it is because he looks on her as a sort of surrogate granddaughter to fill the hole that leaving Susan behind left in his heart.  Precious.  Although, of course, Vicki is left alone, no thanks to shifty Bennett/Koquillion.

7. This serial didn’t have much going on in it – it was merely a transitional couple of episodes to introduce the new companion, Vicki.  Still, she seems interesting.  A teenager like Susan, though a bit less high strung.  What adventures shall they meet?

Next serial: “The Romans” (Season 2, Episodes 12-15).

What I Learned From Doctor Who: “The Dalek Invasion of Earth,” (One, 1964)

Doctor: One (William Hartnell)

Companions: Ian Chesterton (William Russell); Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill); and Susan Foreman (Carole Ann Ford)

Time: The year 2164.

Place: Earth. London.

Episodes: 

1. “World’s End” (Season Two, Episode Four)
2. “The Daleks” (S2, E5)
3. “Day of Reckoning” (S2, E6)
4. “The End of Tomorrow (S2, E7)
5. “The Waking Ally” (S2, E8)
6. “Flashpoint” (S2, E9)

Today’s Lessons

1. The TARDIS lands by the Thames in a quite broken down area.  Susan (that girl!) decides to go have a look by climbing part of a nearby bridge, but she falls, twisting her ankle and causing the bridge to collapse on top of the TARDIS.  First, Ian sees a warehouse and believes he can find a crow bar to pry off the girder that has blocked the TARDIS; the Doctor chuckles, bemused, and opines that he never ceases to be amazed by Ian’s optimism.  Later, the Doctor crosses over to Susan, who can’t walk with her swollen, twisted ankle, and grouses at her, causing Susan to ask that her grandfather not be mad at her, and the Doctor to threaten her with a good “smack-bottom.” My!  Though he’s right…she is too curious for her own good.

2. While the Doctor and Ian are entering the distant warehouse, which is crumbling from neglect and disrepair, Ian tells the Doctor to be careful.  The Doctor replies quietly, “I’m not a halfwit!”

3. New for Season Two: One wears a monocle!

4. New for Season Two: flying saucers.  On strings.  Which look like wrappers to Reese’s peanut butter cups.  Mmm….peanut butter cups.  Remember: history, special effects, yada yada…

5. Susan and Barbara are rescued by refugees in hiding, who are excited by the prospect that Barbara can cook.  When one of them asks Susan what she can do, she answers, “I eat!”  Point one for Susan.

6. The direction is getting better with this serial.  The reveal of the first Dalek: excellently creepy!

7. When the Doctor tells the Dalek he and Ian first meet that he would like to use wits to defeat the Daleks, the Dalek, after claiming that the Daleks are masters of Earth, responds, eventually, that “resistance is useless.”  Now, call me crazy, but I’ve decided that the Borg from the newer Star Trek series are direct descendants of the Daleks in a way: “resistance is futile,” after all…consider the similarities…

8. In this serial, and at this time, the Daleks have enslaved some of the human race by placing helmets on some, causing them to behave like robots (“robomen”).  When the helmet is removed from these humans, they go insane and eventually kill themselves.  This seems like a precursor to the Cybermen in many ways.  I wonder if some of these alien species are interrelated?

9. The Doctor and Ian are imprisoned in a heliport, where the Daleks have constructed their base.  They are captured with a rebel named Jack, who is certainly skeptical of the Doctor’s optimism at the possibility of escape from their cell.  Inside the cell, there is a magnetized container with what the Doctor theorizes to be the key to the cell.  First, the Doctor uses “three dimensional geometry” to puzzle how to get the key out.  When Jack expresses amazement, the Doctor hands the magnifying glass he was using to Jack and says, “Hold this, and shut up, will you?”  When Ian expresses that the Doctor “sometimes” amazes him, the Doctor replies glibly, “Only sometimes, dear boy?”  I think, as of this moment, we are starting to see glimpses of traits common to all the Doctors.  It seems that William Hartnell also became comfortable with the characterization as of season 2, considering that he is the pattern from which all other Doctors evolved.   I certainly laughed heartily for the first time since the feather plumed hat in “The Reign of Terror.”  The Doctor seems like the Doctor now.

10. When the Doctor, Ian, and Jack successfully open the cell, Jack opines, “You’re  a genius!”  The Doctor replies, “Yes, there are very few of us left.”  He’s funny!

11. Ian notes how the Daleks are differently designed than those seen on Skaro in Season 1.  The Doctor surmises that they are looking at an invasion force, so, naturally they would look different. Convenient!  Notably, they are also different colors – though in black and white, they all look either black or white.

12. Also, the Daleks are not yet saying, “Exterminate!”  They say “Destroy!” quite a bit, though.

13. After the rebels attempt an assault on the heliport where the Daleks have constructed their base (and parked their flying saucers suspended from strings), our intrepid foursome is split up.  Susan ends up with a rebel named David.  First, there is clearly a spark of romantic tension between these two.  Second, Susan tries to convince David to find the TARDIS with her, so that they can run away from the Daleks (with her grandfather’s permission, of course).  David explains that running away does not solve problems, and that he must defend his home, the planet Earth.  Susan expresses that she doesn’t feel she belongs to any time or place, and that she has never had a true identity or sense of identity.  Question: Isn’t she from Gallifrey?  Isn’t that her home?  Second Question: As a Time Lord (or Lady), has she regenerated by this point?  This is a question that may not be answered until later, given that regeneration was a concept invented upon William Hartnell’s departure, but what could prompt Susan to say these things, other than her constant gallivanting around the universe with Grandfather Doctor?  She is definitely a complicated alien teenager.  That Girl! Update: A kiss!  Susan and David, sitting in a tree…well, in a field…by a fire.

14. New for Season Two: on location shooting in and around London.  It’s very refreshing to see actual places, such as Trafalgar Square and Big Ben, rather than low budget sets on a sound stage.  Of course, there were some outside shots in “The Reign of Terror” serial, but they were in the country or fields to reflect the outlying areas of Paris.  Also, my thought during the third episode of the serial: this was 1964, the year the Beatles came to America.  Really puts a perspective on the whole affair, doesn’t it?

15. Motorized vehicles still work at this time…ones they find in museums, that is, as the Daleks have outlawed or destroyed all the other ones.  Which, of course, look like vehicles from England in the sixties.

16. As if our intrepid foursome didn’t have enough to contend with between Daleks and Robomen, Susan and David encounter mutant alligators in the sewer, and Ian encounters a being known as a “Slither,” which acts like a pet to the lead Black Dalek of the work camp and eats people!  This is a terrible future!  Turn it off, Doctor!

17. Hilariously, Susan later prepares an ad hoc meal of rabbit for her grandfather, David, and Tyler, the other refugee, and the Doctor indicates that Susan is “quite a good cook.”  Ha!  So, she doesn’t just eat, eh?

18. It seems the Daleks invaded Earth for the purpose of gutting the core and creating a power system to turn the Earth into a giant ship, to be piloted anywhere in the universe.  If they equip the planet with a giant planet-destroying laser… no, I think they just want a giant spaceship.  Question: why?  Don’t they already have spaceships?  Why Earth?  And when is this in relationship to when the Doctor and his companions landed on Skaro?

19. When history does not afford one the luxury of good special effects, work in miniatures and models as much as possible.  Of course, sometimes, it works well, like when the truck that Barbara and Jenny escape in explodes from flying saucer laser beams.  Sometimes, it’s less than successful, like when Ian is hidden in an explosive capsule, which is lowered and then raised in a vertical mining shaft.

20. They said it!  They said it!  When the Daleks discover that Ian is inside the capsule, they say it for the first time: “Exterminate him!  Exterminate him!”

21. While the Doctor, Tyler, David, and Susan are planning to strike the Daleks with the element of surprise, the Doctor tells David and Susan to go around and trigger bombs with David’s revolver. He adds this nugget: “Don’t stop to pick daisies along the way, will you?”  Hahahaha!  It seems the Doctor has caught on to their secret dalliance.

22. Tyler praises the Doctor by saying, “I’ll tell you one thing, Doc, life is never dull with you around.”  The Doctor thanks him, but indicates that he prefers to be called “Doctor,” never “Doc.” Now we know.

23. The Doctor has a pet name for Susan: “My little monkey.”  He also suggests that she has been “thoroughly disorganized” since she’s been away from the school where Ian and Barbara are teachers.  Hm…!

24. David is in love with Susan and proposes marriage (*sob*).  What’s more, she loves him but is highly conflicted, as she loves her grandfather as well.  When Susan hesitates, David tells her passionately that he is giving her a time, place, and an identity to which she belongs.  Aw!   What’s more, though Susan is prepared to go with her grandfather, the Doctor doesn’t give her a choice! He locks the doors of the TARDIS; tells her that though he has taken care of her and she of him, she now belongs to David and the time in which he lives.  He encourages her to go forward with her beliefs, reminds her that she will always be his grandchild, and promises that he’ll be back.  And then he leaves!  The TARDIS de-materializes before her eyes.  The Doctor could have at least left Susan with a good pair of shoes!  David then tells Susan that the Doctor knew she could never leave him and takes her hand, as she drops the necklace her grandfather gave her and walks away.  Question: Is this the end of Susan?

25. This is, by far, the best serial to date – filled with action, adventure, romance, Daleks, good acting, good directing, and some of the best writing of the early seasons.  In a Doctor Who sampler, I would consider this a necessary addition, for much of the mythology of the series begins here, with this serial, and with the way the characters interact with the Daleks and each other.  This is now my favorite of them, and I can’t wait until the next serial featuring the Daleks.

Next serial: “The Rescue” (Season 2, Episodes 10-11).

What I Learned From Doctor Who: “Planet of Giants,” (One, 1964)

Doctor: One (William Hartnell)

Companions: Ian Chesterton (William Russell); Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill); and Susan Foreman (Carole Ann Ford)

Time: Presumably the 1960s, based on the dress and lack of specificity.

Place: Earth.  In or around London.  It looks as though the Doctor nearly has it right…but for one small problem.  Get it?  Small?

Episodes: 

1. “Planet of Giants” (Season Two, Episode One)
2. “Dangerous Journey” (S2, E2)
3. “Crisis” (S2, E3)

Today’s Lessons

1. New feature for Season Two: Susan’s eyeliner.

2. The doors open mid-materialization of the TARDIS, and the Doctor has something like a heart attack in the near miss, after Ian, Barbara, and Susan successfully re-close the doors.  The Doctor grouses while Ian and Barbara fret over his well-being.  When the Doctor shouts that he’s talking about time travel and doesn’t expect Ian and Barbara to understand, Ian retorts, “Well, how can we?  You never explained it to us!”  Fair point.  The Doctor then apologizes to Barbara for being rude and admits that he “forgets the niceties under pressure.”

3. When history does not afford one the luxury of good special effects, to show the effect of, say, being shrunk down to size and being carried away inside a giant matchbox within a giant briefcase or satchel, and how turbulent such a journey might be, simply rock back and forth on your feet against a large box covered in black material.  See also: exaggerated falls and rocking during attacks on the Enterprise or TARDIS.

4. Susan explains to Ian, and the Doctor to Barbara, that when the doors opened mid-materialization, the whole inside containment of relative size/being bigger on the inside thing leaked out, causing the whole TARDIS and everything inside it to shrink.

5. The second episode of the serial finds Ian and Barbara carried away in a briefcase into a nearby house, and Susan and the Doctor climbing up the drain pipe of a sink in the house with the intent of rescuing them.  Inside the house with the sink is a laboratory, where apparently an insecticide is being fashioned, one so deadly that it kills insects on contact (though apparently not miniature humans…) and one so important, one of the inhabitants murders someone else for it.  How can an insecticide be worth murder?  Update: There was a mistake in the formula, and the murdering investor would have lost money.  That old chestnut.

6. The Doctor and Susan become stuck in the laboratory sink, while the scientist goes to rinse his hands of blood, and puts the stopper in the sink to fill it.  Their escape seems rather sudden – they manage to climb back into the drain and to find an overflow pipe to hide in, and even when they suspect that the rush of filled water from the sink will go into the overflow pipe, they still manage to climb out without drowning.  Seems…convenient.  Though kudos to the art directors for constructing what looks like the large basin of a sink and drain in and around which the actors could climb.  See: in the sixties, CGI wasn’t the norm.  They had to rely on ingenuity to create suspension of disbelief, and though it wasn’t always successful, it wasn’t always Unsuccessful either.

7. Why doesn’t Barbara just tell the others that she touched the wheat seeds coated with the insecticide?  That seems very out of character for her!  It seems more like something Ian would do.  Frustrating!  And an unresolved question: the Doctor figures out her plight and rightly chastises her for withholding this piece of information.

8. The Doctor is a bit of a pyromaniac!  In order to attract attention to the house and the murder, and to create a distraction, so that they could escape through the open front door, the Doctor and his companions hatch a plan to start a fire in the house by lighting an over-sized match and setting a flammable can of insecticide on fire.  While the can explodes, and the foursome get away and back to the TARDIS safely, they do not succeed in starting the larger fire, though the Doctor took much glee in starting it!

9. “Planet of Giants” was not my favorite serial, though it was probably an early influence for the film Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.  Everything that happened was solved too easily and too quickly, despite the immense dangers our intrepid foursome faced.  The cat just walked away, the water just disappeared, the exploding can’s shrapnel managed to miss them all – it was all a bit too convenient — danger devoid of any real stakes.  The next serial marks the return of the Daleks, though, and they’re always a good time.

Next serial: “The Dalek Invasion of Earth” (Season 2, Episodes 4-9).

What I Learned From Doctor Who: “The Reign of Terror,” (One, 1964)

Doctor: One (William Hartnell)

Companions: Ian Chesterton (William Russell); Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill); and Susan Foreman (Carole Ann Ford)

Time: The 18th Century

Place: Earth, France, during the time of the French Revolution.

Episodes: 

1. “A Land of Fear” (Season One, Episode Thirty-Seven)
2. “Guests of Madame Guillotine” (S1, E38)
3. “A Change of Identity” (S1, E39)
4. “The Tyrant of France” (S1, E40)
5. “A Bargain of Necessity” (S1, E41)
6. “Prisoners of Conciergerie” (S1, E42)

Today’s Lessons

1. In the first episode of this serial, the Doctor is in a bit of a tantrum.  At the end of “The Sensorites,” Ian makes an off-handed comment about their futuristic human friends by saying, “At least they know where they’re going.”  The Doctor doesn’t like the implication of this statement at all.  He thinks Ian is making insinuations and spends much of the next landing trying to turn Ian and Barbara off the ship.  Despite Susan’s woe at their departure, the Doctor keeps making remarks, such as, “Oh, you’re still here?”  Ian and Barbara, unsure that the landing site is in fact the England of their time, wheedle the Doctor into exploration by appealing to his great knowledge, yen for research, and wisdom.  It’s funny: One is like a petulant child!

2. Ian makes the comment that at least the Doctor “tried” to get him and Barbara home, even though it was out of “bad temper.”  Is the implication that the Doctor isn’t trying to get them home?  As in: he wants them along for the ride, despite his grumpiness?

3. Susan offers this bit of information: “The Reign of Terror,” i.e. the French Revolution, is the Doctor’s “favorite period in the history of Earth.”  Uh….hm.  And: why?

4. The Doctor is affected by smoke inhalation, same as humans.  Fire is bad for most creatures of the universe.

5. The Doctor, after being rescued by the boy named Jean Pierre from the fire at the farmhouse, decides to walk the 12 kilometers to Paris, where Ian, Barbara, and Susan are being imprisoned prior to their inevitable beheading.  The Doctor stops to talk to a work foreman, and they get into a heated argument.  The foreman says to the Doctor, “I suppose you think you’re very clever.”  The Doctor responds, “With all due modesty…yes.”

6. The Doctor clubs the foreman over the head with a shovel!  When the foreman threatens the Doctor with his pistol and coerces him into work detail, the Doctor tricks the foreman into thinking he’s dug up buried treasure.  When the foreman, who is greedy, suddenly volunteers to do all the digging, the Doctor hits him over the head with his shovel, causing the workers to run away, now free, and the Doctor to continue his journey.  So much for not liking weapons!

7. The third episode of the serial finds Barbara and Susan being rescued from the guillotine by rebels, Ian escaping from prison, and the Doctor bartering for a new outfit, so he can pose as a French regional officer to try to order Ian, Barbara, and Susan out of prison.  The hilarious part about this is that his hat has an impossibly large plume of feathers on top of it.  I’ve learned nothing from this other than confirmation of what I already knew – the Doctor is a madman in a box, from One to Eleven (and beyond).

8. The fourth and fifth episodes of this serial are missing episodes.  Only audio and still photographs have been recovered, except for mere seconds of moving footage.

9. When Barbara argues with the Doctor about the best next step to finding Ian, the Doctor says: “Now, don’t you argue!  You know my plans always work,” or something to that effect.  Unless I heard him wrong…I would take exception to this assertion of the Doctor’s.

10.This serial might be interesting because of how involved each of the characters get in this particular slice of history – though wildly aware that they are in the middle of the French Revolution, each character takes an approach within the idiom of who they are.  Ian fights to save his friends, including those he makes along the way. Barbara’s compassion–particularly when she finds out that Leon, a revolutionary who flirted with her, was slain by Jules after the latter discovered Leon was a traitor and tried to harm Ian–overflows, and her frustration at the circumstances becomes an urgent plea to Ian to read his history books.  Susan is always the damsel in distress, though she isn’t without pluck (and she gets sick with a fever for no explained reason).  The Doctor, of course, tries to think his way out of tight spots.  Yet, the backdrop is always the Revolution and the stark reality of war and death; science fiction doesn’t even factor into this story.  Many of One’s episodes are characterized by subtext and social commentary, and this serial is no exception.

11. In an effort to rescue Susan from the Conciergerie Prison, the Doctor tricks the Jailer into thinking Susan has escaped by having her crouch down very near the door to her cell, only so he can hit the Jailer over the head with a bottle once the Jailer opens the door.  That’s two sneaky clubbing attacks that the Doctor has perpetrated in this serial with items that may not start out as weapons but certainly become such when the Doctor wields them!

12. In the last episode, after Lemaitre has revealed his true identity, and a plan is hatched to jailbreak Susan while Ian helps Lemaitre spy on Robespierre in the wake of finding out that Napoleon Bonaparte seeks high position within the French government, Barbara has a little chuckle.  When the Doctor asks her what is so amusing, she answers that it seems funny that so much feverish effort should be spent attempting to save Robespierre when history reveals that he will be beheaded on the guillotine anyway.  The Doctor reminds Barbara that history can’t be changed, and she admits she learned her lesson with the Aztecs, but the Doctor notes, “We may not be able to stem the tide, but that doesn’t mean we can’t stop ourselves from being carried away with the flood.”  Arguably, avoiding adventures to dangerous parts of history might achieve the same effect, though.

13.  The ending quote from the Doctor for this serial and this season: “Our lives are important.  At least, to us.  But as we see, so we learn…our destiny is in the stars.  So, let’s go and search for it.”

14. This wasn’t my favorite of the serials.  I think my favorite so far is “The Keys of Marinus.”  Yet, it was a fairly thorough and amusing representation of a turbulent time in history – though everyone spoke with English accents.  Robespierre gets shot in the jaw before being escorted to prison, so it’s interesting to see that British TV in the sixties didn’t shy away from the gruesome.  The thing I enjoyed most with this group of six episodes is reflecting on how Ian and Barbara are schoolteachers, essentially living their lessons.  The early intrigue of the show is very much alive, and it’s no wonder “Doctor Who” has lasted for so long.

So ends season 1 – 42 episodes down!  600+ more to go, but the journey back in time is much like the journeys that the Doctor and his companions take in the TARDIS – it’s fun to be able to go anywhere, and it’s always bigger on the inside!

Next serial: “Planet of Giants” (Season 2, Episodes 1-3).

What I Learned From Doctor Who: “The Sensorites,” (One, 1964)

Doctor: One (William Hartnell)

Companions: Ian Chesterton (William Russell); Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill); and Susan Foreman (Carole Ann Ford)

Time: The 28th Century

Place: Earth, in the future, and the space surrounding it.

Episodes: 

1. “Strangers in Space” (Season One, Episode Thirty-One)
2. “The Unwilling Warriors” (S1, E32)
3. “Hidden Danger” (S1, E33)
4. “A Race Against Death” (S1, E34)
5. “Kidnap” (S1, E35)
6. “A Desperate Venture” (S1, E36)

Today’s Lessons

1. In the first episode of this serial, the Doctor and his companions remark on how they have all changed from “mere curiosities” in a junkyard to friends with a spirit of adventure.  The Doctor, his granddaughter Susan, and Ian and Barbara have made themselves a cohesive unit.  Thus, decades of character patterns and relationships are born, where the Doctor and his many faces always travel with companions to share his quests and adventures.

2. The southern half of England, including London, at this time is apparently called “Central City.”

3. The locking mechanism on the TARDIS is what helps to maintain the interior dimensions of the ship…and the Sensorite aliens took it!  When in doubt: do NOT break the lock on the TARDIS door, or the whole ship might melt in on itself.

4. The Doctor tells the Sensorites that he “never threatens,” but he does “keep promises,” and he promises them that he’ll make their life very difficult.  So, in other words, the Doctor knows how to toy with semantics.

5. The Doctor told Ian that he is telepathic, because he sometimes knows what Ian’s thinking, after thanking Ian for his “admiration,” when Ian indicates that he said nothing admiring.  I think the Doctor was joking…more importantly, I think he and Ian play with each much like a cat and ball of string.

6. Susan is able to make contact with the Sensorites telepathically.  The question is: why her? Barbara and Susan somehow figure out, earlier, how to think thoughts at the Sensorites to prevent their mind control from infiltrating their brains, but Barbara apparently loses this ability, while Susan becomes the sole vessel of communication with these strange aliens. Question: Why is this only Susan’s talent?   Further, Susan and the Doctor had their first fight!  Susan (That Girl!) insists on sacrificing herself to the Sensorites’ demands because she can use telepathy.  Was that always a thing?  Could Susan always use telepathy?  I ask again, why can only she use telepathy?  Then, the Doctor notes that the Sensorites caused them to argue when they’ve never argued before.  How is that possible?!  Susan is a teenager, by Earth years anyway, and One is an old, science-bent fuddy-duddy.  And why can’t the Doctor use telepathy?  What is going on?!?

7. The Doctor has become much more forceful in this serial.  He is the leader of the expedition now, and his companions treat him as such.  When he tells them to do as he says, they do it.  For the most part (there is the matter of Susan agreeing to go with the Sensorites to their planet, despite her grandfather’s protests).

8. The Sensorites themselves are smushy-faced aliens who are deathly afraid of the dark (even though they live in space…) and use silver medallions attached to their chests, which they hold up to their foreheads/minds, to speak to the “Sense-Sphere,” which is apparently a central hub of communication for their leaders.  Honestly, the Sensorites remind me of precursors of the Oods, given the Oods’ little white globes that they use to speak to non-Oods.

9. The Doctor, in telling Susan that she was all wrong about her defiance with respect to the Sensorites, mentions that one of the benefits of growing old is to impart wisdom and knowledge to those younger…maybe that’s the Doctor’s idiom in a nutshell.  Question: Exactly how old is he here?  In Time Lord years?  I know he’s portrayed by an old actor, but…

10.The Sensorites tell the Doctor that he must come to their planet because the First Elder senses “great knowledge” in him.  His answer: “I thought so!”

11. A new feature for this serial: super dramatic close ups on the face of the Doctor when he makes some discovery, has some epiphany, or expresses foreboding.  In some ways, this serial is taking on more of the qualities that have become tradition for the show over the decades.

12. When the First Elder supplies the Doctor and Ian with weapons for their journey into the aqueduct to remove the poison affecting the Sensorites’ water supply, the Doctor mentions that he has never liked weapons, “though they are handy little things.”  Question: When does he get his sonic screwdriver?  Not that it’s a weapon…

13.  Susan tells the First Elder that she and her grandfather, the Doctor, are not from Earth but are from a planet “quite like Earth,” except that at night the sky is “burnt orange” and the trees are “silver.”  I don’t remember seeing trees in any representation of Gallifrey…

14. Apparently, Susan is only able to use telepathy while within the Sense-Sphere, because of high frequencies or some such, but the Doctor promises her that they will explore her ability when they return home.  Question: Why is he having such an unfocused time with the TARDIS?  I’m not sure that was ever made clear…

15. “The Sensorites” was a fun serial, in that it combined elements of true science fiction and horror.  It was slow to start, but the greater intrigue came from the Doctor’s explorations and experimentation and from the First Elder’s need to understand the humans/human-like beings in his midst.  The plot of the City Administrator/Second Elder was a bit ham-fisted, but at least his voice of suspicion facilitated the building of trust between the two different peoples.

Next serial: “The Reign of Terror” (Season 1, Episodes 37-42).

What I Learned From Doctor Who: “The Aztecs,” (One, 1964)

Doctor: One (William Hartnell)

Companions: Ian Chesterton (William Russell); Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill); and Susan Foreman (Carole Ann Ford)

Time: The past, the year 1430 (BC?) or a bit beyond.

Place: Earth, Mexico at the time of the Aztec Empire.

Episodes: 

1. “The Temple of Evil” (Season One, Episode Twenty-Seven)
2. “The Warriors of Death” (S1, E28)
3. “The Bride of Sacrifice” (S1, E29)
4. “The Day of Darkness” (S1, E30)

Today’s Lessons

1. One of Barbara’s specialties is history, specifically ancient cultures.  From examination of an Aztec mask, she is able to identify the year and location to which they travel in record time.

2. The budget seems to have increased by this serial.  The sets for the Aztec temple are some of the most elaborate used on the show, with ancient-looking artifacts, false walls and secret passageways, and a bevy of other interesting details.

3. Ah, the sixties!  British actors given darker faces to look like native Mexican peoples…but with the English accents still in tact.  It can’t be offensive, then, I guess…right?

4. When Barbara is believed to be a reincarnation of one of the Aztec gods, having emerged from a temple tomb with a bracelet and talisman of the revered, two high priests supplicate to her good will.  The Doctor refers to this ceremony as “charming.”  He probably forgot about the ritualistic sacrifice associated with this ancient tribal nation and empire…

5. I think the Doctor has a little crush!  He is introduced to an elderly woman in the Garden of Peace…and describes her as “charming” several times. I wonder if this will go anywhere…

6. Speaking of ritualistic human sacrifice, when both Ian and Barbara find out that a human is to be sacrificed in honor of Barbara’s godly persona and in the interest of inviting rain, both Ian and Barbara face individual revulsion and loathing to participate.  Ian is made an honored warrior and is expected to escort the human to be sacrificed to the altar and to hold him down.  Barbara, however, sees her god character as a means to appeal to the people and to end the practice of human sacrifice. In the meantime, the Doctor begs Ian and Barbara not to change history or to alter the timeline one strand/string; he says it is “impossible” to do so, and exclaims, “I know!  I know!”  That exclamation might be the most interesting and revealing line of dialogue he has uttered yet!

7. The Doctor becomes downright hostile toward Barbara for using her perceived godly influence to cancel the human sacrifice, leading the sacrificial lamb to plummet in suicidal fashion to his death out of fear of being disrespected and dishonored.  The Doctor also accuses her of injecting her traditions upon another’s culture, and he’s so vehement, Barbara starts to cry.  He then apologizes for being harsh with her…two thoughts come to mind.  First: isn’t this a bit like the pot calling the kettle black?  The Doctor changes history all the time!  Of course, perhaps not in such a key way…  Second: it was his idea to have her play the part of god in order to help their situation.  What did he expect would happen?

8. Barbara subsequently calls the Doctor “an old rogue.”  I guess they made up.

9. The Doctor meets his crush again in the Garden of Peace, who seems to be spying for one of the priests.  When he introduces himself to the woman properly, he explains that he is not a doctor of healing but one of science and engineering and “a builder of things.”  Question: What did he build, though?  He also calls her “charming” again (clearly, this means he likes her).  And she flirted back by telling him that his heart is young, and that he is “smart like a schoolboy.”  Hoo boy.  The Doctor may not start kissing people until later, but he had no problems flirting with them as early as the First Doctor!

10. Again, I call attention to the fact that the universal translator must be working well, considering they are speaking to a Native American race that was not known for its English skills, and everyone is understanding each other properly.

11. Susan is a bit of a feminist.  In order not to anger the priests further, she agrees to be trained in the duties of a hand servant, but when she is informed that she will be betrothed to marry, she refuses to submit to the idea of betrothal, instead assuring her tutors that she will marry whoever she wants.  Later, she is entreated to marry someone who will be sacrificed during a solar eclipse and is earmarked for public punishment when she refuses to do so, wherein thorns will be placed through her tongue and ears.  Why doesn’t she just agree to marry the guy when her husband will only be alive for a few days, and when they might access the TARDIS earlier than that?  That girl!

12. The suspicious priest of sacrifice (or whatever he is called) begins to defy Barbara and her purported authority as the spirit of a god.  In order to maintain her charade, Barbara cheats!  She uses her foreknowledge of the future to prophesy the demise of the Aztecs as they actually died. No one believes her, but she’s telling them about their own future!  Paradox alert: is the demise of the Aztecs a self-fulfilling prophesy?  Would they have really succumbed without knowing how they were going to succumb?  In the Whoniverse, anyway?  Update: given the end of the serial, probably not.  The Doctor notes that Barbara does not successfully change the course of the Aztec history, including the penchant for human sacrifice.

13. The Doctor is being devious and somewhat irresponsible himself, by giving the rival warrior a shortcut to defeating his challenger, Ian (the Doctor doesn’t know that Ian is the opponent).  Still, it seems callous of him to have yelled at Barbara about certain things, only to turn around and try to influence the skirmish of such high-ranking warriors.  I think there’s something off about that Garden of Peace.  Or, perhaps the Doctor is a fool in love.  Either way, this is not working out well for our intrepid Doctor and his companions.

14.  The Doctor is engaged!  It seems Ten is not the only version of the Doctor to get himself into a bit of a wedlock pickle.  There’s no doubt that the Doctor enjoys the old woman in the garden and vice-versa, but it appears that he has been nursing her requited feelings for him to obtain information…until she “accidentally” spills her cocoa beans.  Seductress!  The Doctor falls hook, line, and sinker for her ruse and is offering to boil her cocoa in no time flat!  Oh, One is so young, isn’t he?

15. When history does not afford one the luxury of good special effects, to show, say, the heft of a large decorative stone being moved out of the way, to reveal an entrance to a tomb, say, one need only fashion an ornate and gilded stone out of Styrofoam and a bit of paint, even if the lack of good special effects doesn’t mask the sound Styrofoam makes when subjected to pressure, such as grasping.

16. Why is it that Barbara, as the stylized god, is so concerned with changing the people’s minds about their laws and ways?  Doesn’t she understand that changing history for them may change history for everyone else?  Doesn’t she realize that once the travelers find their way back to the TARDIS, they’ll leave, having left their indelible, history-changing mark on the Aztec peoples?  Also, why on Earth does she speak in Shakespearean diction?  Or, perhaps, stylized “royal-speak?”  I swear, every time Barbara-as-Aztec-god speaks, iambic pentameter and many “we’s” and “us’s” become part of her speeches.

17. Barbara learns that she can’t change the Aztec civilization, as, one by one, the high priests lose faith in her as a representative of the gods, but the Doctor reminds her that the high priest of knowledge who left for the wilderness adopted a new faith, a better faith, and encouraged her to take comfort in the good she did for one man.  Oh, the wise Doctor prevails.  It’s his insight into life that keeps us all coming back, I reckon.

18. Also, the Doctor was truly in love – or, at least, in admiration of the old woman in the garden. He ultimately pocketed her token.  She also accepted that they would not be married and entreated him to “think of her,” whereupon his lip quivered in regret.  Aw.

19. “The Aztecs” was a much more thorough and interesting historical serial than “Marco Polo,” as it attempted to observe actual history rather than weave pure fiction from loosely known facts.  The production values were clearly higher, with a bigger budget devoted to sets and costumes.  The delight of this serial is the growth of two characters: The Doctor himself, who we now see stepping into an advisory and educator role, where he imparts his wisdom of space and time to his companions, and Barbara, who, while playing god, learned much about being a mortal, ordinary human.  It was also enjoyable that Susan’s role was diminished in this serial – and when she did appear, she did not have one shrieking fit of hysterics, though there were some tears.  This serial did little to advance the “mythology” of the Whoniverse, but it was another interesting stab at social commentary, even as British actors portrayed an ancient and extinct people in slightly historically-offensive fashion.

Next serial: “The Sensorites” (Season 1, Episodes 31-36).