Hartnell gets his first chance to impress for a few weeks as he confronts the disembodied voice of his captor. Accused of being the vanguard of an invasion fleet, he defiantly grips his lapels and goes on the offensive, high-handedly lecturing the voice. What’s really impressive is his ability to dominate the TV screen, narrowing his eyes or darting them back and forth, taking it all in. He may fluff his way through a couple of scenes, but his physicality and presence are amazing.
With the Doctor finally taking the situation seriously, the serial seems to be moving from ‘exploring a weird environment’ to actually telling a story where the planet’s features (acid pools, thin atmosphere, strange creatures) that were mildly threatening last week start to be actively menacing.
The episode opens with a recap of Hartnell’s very fluffed lines at the end of Inferno. ‘Dragged down to what,’ asks Ian. We then cut to a sci-fi planetscape with moons and constellations in the sky, which looks like it’s come straight from the cover of a Doctor Who Annual. The TARDIS materialises, and the roaming camera rather neatly switches to a view on the scanner screen. The interior of the Ship is much bigger this week as well (with a new science station bit in one corner, and a little medical bay), and everyone has changed costumes and hairstyles.
Dir. George Melford, USA, 1931
Often praised as being a superior version of the English-language Dracula, Melford’s movie certainly plays less stagebound than Browning’s. While largely following the same beats (by virtue of having to use the same sets) as the English version, there’s enough here to make the film worthwhile in its own right.
Dir. Tod Browning, USA, 1931
The horror film genre didn’t exist before Universal’s Dracula and Frankenstein. There were occasional horror movies – particularly Nosferatu, which casts a long shadow over this first official adaptation of Dracula – but it was Universal in 1931 that kick-started the first cycle of horror films; the re-release of Dracula and Frankenstein in 1938 that initiated the second, and re-makes by Hammer that launched the third. And the two characters have been popularly linked ever since. Andy Warhol and Dan Curtis tackled them both in the 1970s, and there were big-screen adaptations in the 1990s.
The episode starts with a rather dramatic assassination attempt on the Emperor, who brilliantly uses Barbara as a human shield while seeming to quite enjoy the resulting carnage. As Nero, Derek Francis has been amazing value for money through these episodes: capricious, with a murderous insanity that’s demonstrated in the opening scene when he stabs a soldier to death for not fighting hard enough. His playful but brutal personality feels like it captures this story in microcosm.
Ian continues to be menaced by stock footage – this week, of very docile-looking lions. Meanwhile, the Doctor bluffs his way through Tavius’s conspiracy. This leads to a hilarious moment where the Doctor declares he must get to the bottom of it and Vicki says, ‘see you later’ and wanders off to do her own thing – which finally involves an encounter with the poisoner Locusta. It emphasises how different from Susan she is – it’s hard to imagine Susan showing such independence from her grandfather.