It’s Sue’s first – and by no means last – encounter with Buddhism, Doctor Who style. Will she find it abominable? And what will she make of the Target novelisations?
Sue: The Doctor really should have a car boot sale. He’s a bit of a hoarder.
Aside from that little gem, Sue doesn’t say very much for the first ten minutes of The Abominable Snowmen. I can only assume that she was totally engrossed or bored out of her gourd. She definitely wasn’t sleeping. I know, I checked.
Sue: I’m really looking forward to seeing this as a moving episode tomorrow. The carpentry looks very nice.
We are both extremely grateful for Frazer Hines’ narration on this one; it carries us through several dialogue-free longueurs until Deborah Watling suddenly ups the ante by screaming her head clean off.
Sue: Victoria has a great pair of lungs.
When Travers accuses the Doctor of being a wretched newspaper man, there’s a sharp intake of breath from Sue.
Sue: That was a bit below the belt. He couldn’t have picked a worse insult.
Travers explains that he’s been searching for the legendary Yeti his entire life, and Sue immediately starts drawing parallels with The Tomb of the Cybermen.
Sue: There are a lot of expeditions in Doctor Who all of a sudden. Do I detect a theme? Will this guy end up paying the ultimate price for finding the Yeti? Is it another one of those morality plays where you should be careful about what you wish for?
Me: Wait and see. Stop trying to jump the gun.
Sue: I’ve noticed something a bit odd. If this is the Himalayas, where has all the snow gone?
Me: Just blame it on freak weather conditions.
And then we reach the cliffhanger, which involves one of the titular creatures harassing Jamie and Victoria in a cave. Sue screws up her face and concentrates.
Sue: I can’t tell if the Yeti look good or not. The jury’s out until I see one moving around.top
Sue: Ah, moving images. Lovely.
Me: Make the most of it.
Sue is impressed with the action-packed opening to this episode but she’s even more impressed with the quality of the restoration work that has clearly gone into the DVD release.
Sue: The quality of the location filming looks incredible for its age. Do you think this will ever be released on Blu Ray?
Sadly, the moving images aren’t doing the Yeti any favours.
Sue: It looks like a Teletubbie in a fur coat. I’m sure it just wants to play with Jamie and Victoria. It’s cute.
Back at the monastery, the monks are speaking in hushed tones about their master.
Sue: Aha! It’s the Master! I knew he’d be along eventually. It must be him this time.
Me: I will put you out of your misery before you tie yourself in knots, it’s not the Master, it’s just another a master. Sorry.
Sue: But he said Dok-TORRRR in a scary voice.
Me: Seriously, let it go.
When the Doctor is left outside the monastery as Yeti bait, Sue becomes increasingly infuriated with the logic of the scene.
Sue: Why didn’t the Doctor give the monks their sacred bell in the first place? Why does he have to rely on Rafa Nadal getting it for him now?
Brilliantly, just as she says this, the Doctor explains, at great length, why he did exactly that. This will score some serious points with Sue as she’s not used to having plot holes filled-in on command like that.
Songsten (who looks like a plump Ted Rogers, according to Sue) meets with his master, Padmasambhava (“There’s a name that trips off the tongue”), and an eerie exchange occurs between them.
Sue: He sounds like Gollum. It’s a very distinctive and disturbing voice. It probably scared the kids half to death.
It’s a shame the same thing can’t be said about the Yeti.
Sue: I’m sorry, but these Yeti are far too cuddly for me to take them seriously. The Suga Puff Honey Monster could have them for breakfast.top
Sue: There are a lot of interesting hats in this. I’ve decided to give the story extra points for its millinery. You don’t see enough hats on television these days.
As Padmasambhava moves carved Yeti pieces around on a board, Sue is quick to latch onto the merchandising opportunities.
Sue: I bet you can buy those chess pieces from Forbidden Planet. But I bet you can’t buy the hats. They should look into that.
If there’s one person who manages to elicit continual sympathy from Sue throughout this story, it’s Frazer Hines. No, not Jamie – Frazer Hines.
Sue: “Songsten headed for the sanctum”. Poor Frazer. That’s a bit of a mouthful.
As Padmasambhava hatches his nefarious plan, Sue is drawn to the weird inflection he gives his words whenever he reaches the end of a sentence. Or, to be more precise, it confuses the hell out of her.
Sue: Is there more than one person speaking to Singsong in this scene? Is the villain schizophrenic?
Me: It’s one of Doctor Who‘s very best scary voice performances.
Sue decides to change the subject.
Sue: Khrisong is very aggressive for a monk, don’t you think? I really like him – don’t ask me why – but it’s an odd career path for such an angry man to take.
Me: Speaking of odd career paths, what do you make of Harold Pinter’s performance in this story? He’s the guy playing the guard, Ralpachan.
Sue: He looks more like Freddie Mercury than Harold Pinter. Not that I know what Harold Pinter looks like.
Me: Don’t you think it’s odd that a phenomenally successful playwright – a man who was already a big name when this was made – would sneak onto Doctor Who under an assumed name, to play a bit-part role?
Sue: Well, now that you put it like that – (long pause) – was he a fan of the show?
Me (after just the right pause): So, you are entirely happy with the concept of Harold Pinter appearing in Doctor Who. In a bit-part. At the height of his fame.
Sue: All I know is that Toby Hadoke keeps banging on about Harold Pinter being in Doctor Who but I tune out he goes into the details.
Me: Toby will have us both killed if I don’t stress that Harold Pinter was not in Doctor Who. Even if some fans – and some books written about Doctor Who – might tell you otherwise. Don’t listen to them. And blame Rob Shearman while you’re at it.
Sue: Does this mean Kate Bush isn’t involved in Doctor Who as well?
Me: No, that one’s true.
With Sue sufficiently baffled, even the Yeti are beginning to look appealing to her.
Sue: The Yeti look OK when they are standing still in the dark.
As the credits roll, Sue admits that she is beginning to struggle with the whys and wherefores of the plot.
Sue: That was pretty good but I can’t keep up with who’s controlling who anymore. Isn’t this a bit complicated, for a kid’s show?
Me: That’s probably down to me banging on about Harold Pinter. Sorry. I’ll fill you in on the bits you missed later.top
Sue: When I was at school, I used to have a parka with fur lining just like that Yeti. If I did the hood all the way up, I would have a face just like that. I really loved that parka.
As a Yeti bounces off into the distance, Sue can’t help but scoff.
Sue: It looks like a fat American in a fur coat!
Sue: The Yeti just aren’t scary enough. They’re missing something…
Me: A gun?
Sue: Don’t be stupid. I guess you can get away with the bad design because they aren’t real Yeti, they’re just badly designed robots. There is a perverse logic to it, I suppose.
Inside a cave, a glowing triangle is surrounded by silver balls that have been arranged into the shape of a triangle.
Sue: There are a lot of balls and triangles in this story. Are the monks praying to the snooker gods?
When the Doctor approaches the Yeti, Sue is thankful for small mercies.
Sue: It’s a good job these Yeti are robots. If they weren’t, they would probably try to mate with the Doctor wearing that coat. And I can’t believe he still doesn’t have a sonic screwdriver yet. Sort it out, Doctor!
The control spheres emit a sound so intense, it sends Buffy (our dog) out of the room in a huff; an episode always gets points knocked off if it traumatises our pets (see The Sensorites for more). So that evens out the hats.
Sue: It’s a smoke alarm warning you that your batteries are about to run out. Would this sound effect pass broadcasting regulations today, I wonder? It’s completely mental.
When Songsten hypnotises Ralpachan (who didn’t write The Caretaker), Sue drops another bombshell.
Sue: You know, I vaguely remember this scene. I’m sure I’ve seen this before.
Me: Are you serious? You can’t remember the Yeti but you can remember this innocuous scene where someone is being hypnotised by a monk? Are you sure you weren’t hypnotised yourself?
As we debate the likelihood that she really does remember 90 seconds from this story, the Yeti begin chasing after a control sphere that is rolling down a hillock. Sue can’t suppress her giggles.
Sue: They look like they’re taking part in It’s A Knockout!
And then, after all the hype and build-up, Victoria finally comes face to face with Padmasambhava himself.
Sue: It’s Count Dracula!top
Episode 5 – Escape to Danger!
Through the ruin of a kitchen stalked the ruin of a man.
There were two people in the kitchen. One was a middle-aged man who wished he still had a shock of untidy hair. He wore a pair of baggy tracksuit bottoms and he was cooking an elaborate meal. Watching him was a beautiful young, old-ish woman with a pleasant, open face, dressed in the style of a county tennis player. Her name was Sue.
Sue sometimes wondered if her decision to watch Doctor Who from the beginning had been a wise one. But now her husband was making her listen to something called a ‘Target novelisation’. She really didn’t know what to make of it but she was finding unexpected resources of courage when it came to this kind of thing.
Neil attempted to explain the importance of these novels as he chopped some onions. He even read aloud from an introduction by a scientist Sue had never heard of. He made the books sound very interesting and she eventually agreed to listen to Patrick Troughton’s son, David, read while Neil cooked their evening meal.
Sue looked on as Neil peered into his saucepan of chilli. She wondered what to do with her hands. ‘He sounds just like his dad,’ she said hopefully.
Neil stirred the mince and smiled.
Some time later, when chapters nine and ten were complete, Neil beckoned his wife over to the bubbling pot. She made a wheezing, groaning sound. ‘Too hot?’ Neil asked gently. Sue frowned as she put down the tasting spoon.
Neil prepared the pita bread with their sprightly yellow toaster and then they sat down to eat. Neil turned to his wife and he asked her what she thought.
Sue looked up from her bowl. ‘I thought the narration was lovely,’ she said. ‘He sounded so much like his father. It really is uncanny at times. The use of music and sound effects were really good as well – it really helped to distinguish between the different voices. I find it hard to concentrate on things like this, and I’m still really confused by the plot, but I thought the prose was excellent. It was very precise but very engaging at the same time. I can see how these books would be very important before you had video recordings to fall back on, but I also get the impression that they might colour your appreciation for an episode when you finally get to see it.’
‘That paragraph is far too long,’ said Neil, gently.top
Sue: This reminds me of a dirty phone call I received once.
Me: Jesus! What?
Sue: Don’t ask me to say his name. He’s a cross between Charlie Drake and Mark King from Level 42.
Me: The guy who rang you up?!
Sue: No! This guy – Padsdanavratilova.
Songsten, acting under the influence of the Great Intelligence, slays Khrisong.
Me: I like the way they just turned a photo of Khrisong on its side to illustrate that he was dying.
Sue: It’s a shame. I liked Khrisong. He was very committed to his moustache.
When the Doctor begins his battle against the Intelligence, Sue is visibly surprised to hear our hero screaming with acute pain.
Sue: The sound of the Doctor screaming like that is very distressing. I wish I’d seen this. I bet it would have been very exciting.
As our heroes start smashing up the equipment that controls the Yeti, Sue is once again drawn towards the symbols that have been scattered throughout the story.
Sue: What are all these triangles supposed to represent? Is this Intelligence thingy behind the latest series of Torchwood?
At one point, Padmasambhava is shown in extreme close-up and the effect is, well, homespun to say the least.
Sue: Was the make-up really that bad or am I being unfair? Because it looks terrible. Then again, we are staring at it for ages, because that close-up was probably only fleeting when it was originally transmitted. At least I hope so. It really does look a bit slap-dash.
The recon suggests that the climax, which included an exploding mountain, would have been spectacular, but we quickly descend into the ‘it could have been brilliant or it could have been rubbish’ cycle of discussion, and in the end we simply hope for the best.
As Travers says farewell to the Doctor and his companions, Sue guesses the twist just before it arrives.
Sue: I bet he finds a real Yeti. Oh, look, there’s a real Yeti. But at least proper Yeti really do exist and they aren’t just silly robots with enormous arses.
Me: Yeah, just imagine if they’d turned the Loch Ness Monster into a robot, or something stupid like that.
Sue: I feel a bit sorry for the Yeti. They are nowhere near deadly enough to compete with some of the other monsters that I’ve seen. Even the Macra. I notice that you don’t have a Yeti doll on the bookshelf. I think that says a lot.top
The Final Score
Sue: I enjoyed that. It was two episodes too long, of course, but you can say that about a lot of Doctor Who. However, there was a calm and measured approach to the story, which I really liked; you didn’t get the hysteria you sometimes get with these things. Troughton was very good, which almost goes without saying now. In fact, most of the performances were very good. Yes, it wasn’t bad at all.
The experiment continues…top
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