Thursday, August 31, 2017

Riffing on the TARDIS: A Review of Rifftrax Live The Five Doctors

For many it was a weekly ritual. You grab a bag of cheese popcorn, some generic version of Dr. Pepper, dim all the lights in your house, and watch Mystery Science Theatre 3000. If you were a super-fan of the show you called it MST3K. Then you allowed hosts Joel or Mike with their robot sidekicks to take you on a cinematic journey. Mocking some of the worst films ever made, the gang would point out plot holes, continuity errors, and bad acting all the while making you laugh.

Currently MST3K has returned for a new season on Netflix. While this series has garnered some very high praise in its revival, the reboot doesn’t have any of the original cast. For many, that can be a major bummer. Not having Netflix is another a huge downer, but that’s a discussion for another article. Thankfully, for those fans devoted to the original series there’s Rifftrax.

What's a Rifftrax?

Rifftrax takes what MST3K did best- finding cheesy movies, the worse you can find (La lala), and tearing them to bits. Second MST3K host, Mike Nelson started Rifftrax in 2006. But it wasn’t until 2012 when Bill Corbett ("Crow" MST3K seasons 8-10) and Kevin Murphy ("Tom Servo" MST3K seasons 2-10) became partners in the company that Rifftrax really took off.
On its website, Rifftrax has an impressive selection of films that they mock. There’s classic B-movies such as Samurai Cop and the Brian Bosworth bomb, Stone Cold. Thanks to Kickstarter, Rifftrax has even been able to obtain rights to films like 1998’s version of Godzilla. Along with the a large portion of the original MST3K shows, Rifftrax’s also provides commentaries you can listen to in conjunction with watching blockbusters such as Rogue One and even the original Mothra. But let’s get back to their Kickstarter projects.

Kickstart those Laughs

Earlier this year, Rifftrax held a mystery Kickstarter project. Due to terms of the licensing agreement, Nelson and company were forbidden to reveal what the film they were going to be skewering unless they obtained complete funding for their project. Well, the Rifftrax guys destroyed their goal and the project was revealed- the guys would be putting their comedic spin on a classic episode of Doctor Who! The BBC apparently did not want to get any hopes up until they knew that the Rifftrax folks could obtain funding for the licensing rights. As a result, Rifftrax put on a special show live last week from Nashville TN where the episode was aired in theaters around the country. Last night was an encore performance of that classic Doctor Who event.

The episode in question was "The Five Doctors"- the 20th anniversary episode of the long-running BBC series. That episode has a slew of classic Doctors and companions joining forces against a rogue Timelord who is stealing all of the Doctor’s past regenerations from the time stream. The 1983 episode stars Peter Davison, Jon Pertwee, and Patrick Thornton as the Fifth, Third, and Second Doctors. 

Blake’s 7 actor Richard Hurndall assumed the role on the First Doctor for the late William Hartnell. Meanwhile, Tom Baker decided to forgo his chance to reprise the role of the Fourth Doctor. So never before used footage from the abandoned episode "Shada" was used instead.

The Rifftrax guys did a fantastic job allowing the fans to laugh at the episode and follow along more of what was happening at the same time. Occasionally, the screen would cut in half allowing viewers to see the episode while watching the shenanigans of Mike Nelson and company. Thankfully, these cuts all happen during lulls in the action. Every once in a while, you hear the commentators giggling at their own jokes but for the most part, it ran rather smoothly.

Technical Difficulties

That wasn’t the case with the opening act. On some episodes of MST3K, they would start off the show by viewing a classic educational film and mock it. Being that Doctor Who is British, the Rifftrax folks went across the pond to bring us Play Safe. According to Kevin Murphy, in the early 70s there was a big problem with kids playing near power lines and inside of substations. So the British government created this film as a way of warning kids of the dangers of high voltage. While there were plenty of laughs made at dumb kids playing with electricity for the first 2-3 minutes, the Rifftrax guys had trouble seeing the monitors and kept asking the tech crew for help. But once it was cleared, it was smooth sailing the rest of the night. Needless to say, the electrocution of little Timmy was a running joke for the duration of the event.

It was great getting to laugh without being reminded of all the crap going on in the world. Only a few jokes were topical.  There was one joke about the next Doctor being cast as a woman. Several jokes about the quality of 2017 summer blockbusters came at the expense of features like The Dark Tower. But the Trump/ Clinton jokes were kept to just one! The Five Doctors was a great event to just escape everything for a little bit. Even my wife said that for 2 solid hours she forgot about work.

Coming Attractions

The next big Rifftrax event is in the fall. On October 25th, theatres nationwide will be airing the Rifftrax Halloween Special showing of the original Night of the Living Dead. Until then, if you need some laughs, you can view a number of features and shorts in the Rifftrax library at prices ranging from $1.99 to $9.99 per episode. Just don’t forget your cheese popcorn and Dr. Pepper knock-off sodas.

Worth Consuming!

Rating: 8 out of 10 stars.

Article originally published August 26, 2017 on,

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