Very Brief Doctor Who Reviews – Season Twenty-Two

Vengeance on Varos (5)

Attack of the Cybermen – Poor Colin Baker. Big Finish has proven what a wonderful Doctor he could be given a half-decent script. I just wanted to get that out of the way before I slaughter his television stories. Because they are dire. Attack of the Cybermen perfectly encapsulates all the worst impulses that this era has to offer. The Doctor being verbally abusive and scaring his companion. Writing a story that requires the audience to remember two other stories from twenty years ago, and yet the writer can’t even remember whether two characters ever met in a story just one year previous. The jarring tonality of the violent and gory with the cheap and pantomimc – I’m less offended by the Doctor shooting his enemies than I am by the way he does it, mid-pratfull, spinning on his bottom, legs akimbo. In Bates and Stratton we have two nasty pieces of work with no real characterisation, who are then killed without ever really interacting with the larger plot. Why bother casting Michael Kilgarriff to reprise a character he is, shall we say, unsuited to play for the sake of continuity… but not even have the character look remotely like it used to? Similarly, remember when the cyber tombs were a huge structure hewn into icy rock. Here they look like IKEA. The cliffhanger that has been sloppily written (‘No.’ ‘No.’ ‘No.’) and confusingly directed. The music for Lytton’s gang sounds like a particularly wet fart. The Cryons with their cellophane moustaches look bad, even by Doctor Who standards.  And maybe I missed something, but it’s always bothered me: how does a planet evolve a species that can’t survive on it? Of course the biggest question of this story is why there is a fight over who gets to take credit for it; if I were Levine or Saward I’d distance myself as far as possible. 2/10

Vengeance On Varos – Easily Colin Baker’s best televised adventure. Having said that, it’s still beset by the same problems that plague the rest of the era. The Doctor and Peri spend ages in the TARDIS sniping at each other; in the 4-part edit, part one ends with them leaving the TARDIS. Some of the world-building doesn’t entirely make sense (I know some of this is resolved in the novelisation, please don’t write in). Par for the course, the violence is gratuitous and, while I’m on the side that says the acid bath incident wasn’t the Doctor’s fault, he should have been more bothered by it, rather than simply pulling a face like someone’s stepped in dog poo.  But enough of the negatives. While the actors playing the rebels are uniformly terrible, Nabil Shaban and Martin Jarvis are on hand to lift the overall quality considerably. Colin Baker gets to run around corridors being clever and Doctor-y (though his performance errs on the theatrical at times) which a welcome step in the right direction. Sil is a great creation. He looks excellent – along with giving, as I say, a wonderfully memorable and rounded performance, Nabil Shaban’s unusual physique helps to make Sil one of the most alien-looking creatures the show has realised. It’s quite nice to have a villain whose goal isn’t world domination, he’s only interested in turning a profit – it feels very modern. Arak and Etta are such a fun device, and I love that we see at the end that after the Doctor goes swanning off there’s still a society that needs to rebuild themselves after he’s toppled the old regime (although, to be fair, I don’t think the Doctor’s landing on Varos made the slightest difference). So not without its faults, but in an era where few stories can manage competent, I’ll take what I can get. 7/10

The Mark of the Rani – I’ve not read the production notes in years, so I’ve no idea whose brilliant idea it was to bring the Master back. He’s not needed. The Rani is enough on her own. And why bring him back after he’d been pretty definitively killed just the previous season. And not even bother with an explanation. At the time of writing, I have no doubts the character will reappear after having been apparently killed in The Doctor Falls, but I still expect it to be a few seasons. All he does is steal the Rani’s magic fluid and hypno-worms, and force her into helping him with his evil plan – he’s more like an annoying little brother at this point than a legitimate threat. And yet again we have the Master convincing people to believe him with no reason given why they should. Oh, but how satisfying it is when the Rani kicks him in the testicles. She’s my hero. For a few shining moments, we see what Colin Baker might have looked like in proper costume. I’m not the greatest expert to attest to the authenticity of the ‘Northern’ accents, but even I can tell the actor playing ‘Lad’ isn’t so much speaking as beat-boxing his lines out. The Master dressed up as a scarecrow for no reason only makes as much sense as the Rani dressing up as a crone for no reason. Can we pause for a moment and talk abot bombs that turn people into trees. I don’t even care that the science is so ludicrous it makes the moon being an egg seem plausible – what insane brain would come up with such a bizarre idea and expect it to be taken seriously. The same brains who thought ‘fourtuitous would be a more apposite epithet’ was good dialogue, I guess. Give me strength. 3/10

The Two Doctors – Hallelujah, he’s taken off the coat. Yes the vest is still pretty loud, and the shirtsleeves look is dated, but if this had been old sixie’s costume from the start, I think we could at least brush it off as being ‘of it’s time’, like Peri’s endless supply of leotards and shorts. You have no idea how much the characterisation of the second Doctor and Jamie infuriates me in this story. No content with having the current Doctor and companion constantly bickering and insulting each other, Eric Saward (and I’m blaming him) goes back and poisons one of the purest relationships in the show. The sight of the second Doctor being turned into an Androgum is also very disturbing; strangely, the fact that Troughton is such a good actor only makes it worse because he really goes for it.  It’s just horrible seeing the Doctor – everyone’s childhood hero – becoming the victim of what TV Tropes calls ‘horror hunger’ is just… horrible. Shockeye tenderising Jamie and slavering over Peri: horrible. Oscar getting stabbed: horrible. Stike getting taking forever to die: horrible. The Doctor killing Shockeye and following it up with not one but to quips: galling. The only thing that saves this is it’s a Robert Holmes script so there are a few good lines in there. I believe Holmes’s goal with this story was to turn people vegetarian. I can’t fault him for his intention, but eating human is just a taboo too far, and try as I might, I can’t react to this story with anything less than horror and disgust. 3/10

Timelash – Here it is: the worst piece of incidental music in Doctor Who. I can’t know for sure, but it sounds like the composer let her cat walk across the keyboard, recorded the results, and stuck it over the scene of the Doctor warding off an android with a mirror. And this is the one story composed by a woman. I despair. Did the woman playing Vena decide that she wouldn’t be acting in this story? The lowest point is when she drifts catatonically across the set immediately before a siege. Paul Darrow isn’t just eating the scenery, he’s made it into an elaborate three-course meal for one. Thank goodness he is though, he’s the only entertaining thing in this. How can we have the phenomenal make-up job on the Borad and in the very next scene be faced with the Bandrils and the Morlox, both clearly made of foam. The Timelash is unbelievably cheap. Was there no money? Even in the worst days of the Graham Williams era, nothing looked as bad as an indoor rock-climbing wall with a few pieces of tinsel around it. I don’t mind having a throwaway line where the Doctor says ‘I’ve visited here before’, but to go to the effort of having a specific Doctor and companion (or companions; did he take Benton to Karfel?) from 15 years prior, with their images on walls and in lockets just makes it confusing and incestuous. Would it have made a bit of difference if the Doctor hadn’t been there before? All you’d need to do was write in a new reason for Paul Darrow to fawn over him. And of course, it’s padded beyond belief; even with a five minute TARDIS scene that goes nowhere, we still have to bring back a clone of the villain after killing him off halfway through part 2. Unbelievably bad. 1/10

Revelation of the Daleks – Eric Saward is trying emulate his hero and friend Robert Holmes by packing the story with double acts – Takis and Lilt, Natasha and Grigory, Kara and Vogel, Orsini and Baldrick Bostock – and yet none have the basic charm or watchability of a Holmes double act. I don’t expect them all to be jolly Jagos and Litefoots but even Irongron and Bloodaxe were fun to watch because of the way they revelled in their debauchery and the colourful insults they hurled. Everyone here is just miserable, and there are just too many characters. We don’t need Takis and Lilt, the weird Jobel/Tasambeka subplot could have been cut entirely. And I’m going to say: Davros never needed to come back. Other than in Genesis of the Daleks, he has never played a role that couldn’t just have gone to a supreme Dalek. And what is he doing here? Since when has Davros been motivated by money? Why would he be saving all these lives when as a Kaled/Dalek supremacist surely we would just want to kill everyone? Graeme Harper does the best he can, but the script is nonsense. The cliffhanger makes no sense other than to provide a moment of false jeopardy; Saward is clearly so disinterested in the show at this point that the Doctor and Peri don’t even reach the plot until the second episode, nor do they really make a difference when they do show up; like the previous story, the bad guy has a last minute unexpected clone because nobody knows how to pace these things. And I’m sure the DJ is secretly Nicholas Briggs – he looks just like him and he’s in charge of audio entertainment. This isn’t a complaint, just an observation. Basically watchable television but not good Doctor Who. 4/10

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Very Brief Doctor Who Reviews – Season Twenty-One

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Warriors of the Deep – This story makes me angry at how unbelievably stupid everyone – particularly the Doctor – acts in it The first thing our hero does is cause a nuclear reaction just to get the guards attention. What? Early in episode one the Doctor gives a lecture on hexachromite gas which is lethal to marine and reptile life. Gosh, I wonder if that’ll come in handy later. This story is trying to be a re-tread of Doctor Who and the Silurians, but without the moral complexity or subtlety. In Silurians both sides had a few hotheads who wanted all-out war, while the majority wanted peace. Here, a Silurian tries to shoot Tegan just seconds after she revived him. The Doctor runs around claiming that the Silurians and Sea Devils are honourable, but the ones we see here are anything but. The Doctor tries to suggest that one of the Silurians here is the same one as he met in 1970. Not only is this a needless piece of continuity that would confuse the casual watcher, they look nothing alike. There’s nothing more boring than scenes of aliens talking about their plans amongst themselves, and here we have endless scenes of Silurians and Sea Devils wobbling their heads at one another and talking in their electronic voices. Of course the Myrka is terrible, but so is everything else on show. Bad 80s make-up; Ingrid Pitt’s karate kick; the deflating sea devil oozing green slime; this is the kind of poorly made, sci-fi rubbish that Michael Grade always accused the show of being. There should have been another way. There was. In the 1970s. And it was a heck of lot better than this. In my opinion, this is the worst Doctor Who story ever made. 1/10

The Awakening – Much like The Sontaran Experiment, it feels as though the writer, given only two episodes to play with, opted to pad much of the runtime, rather than exploring the ideas. It’s a pity, because the ideas a classic Doctor Who fodder. A creepy isolated village, under the control of some alien influence, making the locals hostile and violent, the two time zones becoming linked. The Malus and mini-Malus look great. The first Doctor Who Magazine I got had The Awakening as its Fact of Fiction, and I was immediately captivated by the creepy face in the church wall. I was bitterly disappointed when I finally saw this story and it turns out it doesn’t do anything. I didn’t expect it to move, but I did expect it to be more of a threat. Jane says the village is in turmoil, but we see no evidence of this. All the explanation is delivered in one great chunk of dialogue, meaning if you miss anything, you’re in trouble. And yet the story ends leaving so many questions frustratingly unanwered. Why is Jane the only person not involved in the war games? Is everyone in the village in the thrall to the Malus, or are they just following Sir George’s lead? What is it about Sir George that made him an ideal focus point for the Malus. Jane says the last battle has to be for real, as if this is some common rule of re-enactment societies. At least it all looks very lovely; the exteriors have been shot on a beautiful sunny day, and the BBC excels as usual with period sets. It looks nice, but story-wise, a strong gust of wind would blow it over. 6/10

Frontios – What a hidden gem this story is. Setting Frontios at the very end of the universe is a brilliant idea; the stakes seem just a little higher, the situation even more desperate. A controversial opinion, maybe, but I really like the music, perhaps purely because there is no other story with anything like it. The Tractators’ tricking the humans into thinking the attack is coming from above, rather than below, is surprisingly good planning for a Doctor Who monster. It’s a pity their plan is to ultimately hollow out the planet and drive it around like a spaceship. How does this frankly bizarre idea keep finding its way into the show? Do other sci-fi franchises have this concept? It would have been better if the Tractators simply wanted to enslave the humans to mine for minerals, or build a planet-sized termite mound, of if you wanted to be really gruesome, perhaps they just wanted to eat them. The Tractator costumes could be better – the poor actors can’t move – but they’re a pretty good interpretation of giant woodlice. Mark Strickson gives a phenomenal performance; it could have easily gone over the top, but he’s so committed to it, you never doubt him for a moment. I don’t think we’ve ever had a villain fawn over the Doctor quite the way the Gravis does; it’s very funny. I see the Wikipedia entry has chosen “Let me show you how we smooth our walls, Doctor…” as its page quote; I assume this is the Tractator version of Netflix and chill. What stops this story from being a true classic is the fact that its painfully obvious that Eric Saward was busy writing Resurrection of the Daleks to bother with this. Tegan’s “what with all the deaths accountable and unaccountable,” line is horrendously clunky, and Brazen reacting like he didn’t know about mysterious deaths, when it’s been established that he’s been covering said death up. 8/10

Resurrection of the Daleks – Eric Saward is jolly lucky that both his Dalek stories were gifted with young, dynamic directors whose hard work goes some way to disguise the shortcomings of his scripts. Saward’s scripts are just too mean-spirited for my taste. When I watch Doctor Who, I do it so I can see worlds better than the one we live in. Yes there are villains, and yes people die along the way – it wouldn’t be dramatically satisfying if nobody ever died (*cough* Moffat *cough*) – but the Doctor wins, and he does it by showing us a better way of living. I don’t want to see extras and Daleks be dispatched with in increasingly horrific ways. Characters are introduced and serve no point other than to build up to body count. What is the point of the crew of the space station or the bomb disposal team. Faced with scenes showing the effects of biological warfare, men in police uniform shooting civilians, what can the Doctor do but pick up a gun and join in the massacre. The plot element I like is something a lot of people give this story stick for, and that is Stien. Yes, Rodney Bewes’s performance is bizarre, but I quite like the idea of a dalek duplicate who’s been created so perfectly even he doesn’t know he’s a duplicate, betray his former allies, but ultimately redeem himself. There’s something very Oswin Oswald about it. But from the London docklands location to the music, this story is just depressing. I totally understand Tegan’s decision to leave at the end; it’s just not fun anymore. 4/10

Planet of Fire – When I ask my Dad about why he stopped watching Doctor Who in the eighties, he said its because “every episode it was the bloody Master.” And he’s right. By this point, the Master isn’t a threat, he’s just annoying. At the end of Part Three, when shrunk to the size of a mouse and living in a shoebox, he has the audacity to demand that Peri obey him or die. I wish she’d just step on him and be done with it. Speaking of which, the little musical cue for when the Master appears at the end of part one is some of the worst music in the series (don’t worry, there’ll be worse next series). Poor Nicola Bryant; the shot that pans up so we get a good look at her cleavage is so obvious in his male gaze-iness it’s embarrassing – and this was directed by a woman. Edward Highmore is miscast as Malkon. Not only is he terrible in this, but he and Mark Strickson look nothing alike; an effort’s not even been made to make him look like the same species of Turlough. Lanzarote makes for a great alien environment, but really the expensive overseas shoot should have been saved for either of the next two far more important stories. Given the task of basically wrapping the Peter Davison era and preparing the way for Colin Baker, Peter Grimwade does the best he can; he’s just not quite a good enough writer to pull it off. Compare this to the basically identical in purpose, The Doctor Falls. In The Doctor Falls, each of the regulars is dispatched with in a way that feels like a natural progression of the story; here the shopping list nature of the brief is just a little too obvious. 4/10

The Caves of Androzani – Regular readers will know that stories with lots of gun battles and nasty characters are not my cup of tea, and it’s true that The Caves of Androzani is not one of my favourite stories. Other than the Doctor and Peri, there are no good characters in this; the nicest of the lot is probably Jek and he’s a drug-dealing, gun-running creeper. However, The Caves of Androzani is clearly a very well made piece of television; writing, directing, and acting of the highest order come together to make this one of the most polished productions made during the show’s classic run. Like Resurrection of the Daleks before it, this is a bloodbath, with only Peri and Krau Timmin surviving through it; and yet unlike Resurrection of the Daleks, the characters serve a point and progress the story, rather than just aimlessly wondering around waiting to die. I can take or leave the accidental fourth wall breaks, but Graeme Harper’s direction of action scenes (I’m thinking specifically of the Doctor running through the quarry with mudbursts going off all around him) is in a different league to anything else around it. The Doctor almost regenerating at the end of part three is such a small touch by Harper but it adds such weight to the Doctor’s character arc in this story; you can see why they asked him back for the new series. I appreciate this story more than I enjoy it. 9/10

The Twin Dilemma – Sometimes Doctor Who episodes are so stupid they make me angry. I’m not even angry at The Twin Dilemma. I find myself staring at the screen and just going ‘What were they thinking?’ Ok, sure, make the Doctor less friendly and more unpredictable if you want, but for God’s sake don’t make him a domestic abuser. Every decision made in this story is the wrong one. Hiring a first-time writer to introduce the new Doctor. Starting the new Doctor at the end of the season isn’t a bad idea in itself, but then giving the audience absolutely no reason to want to tune in next season is. The story looks so cheap, even by Doctor Who standards. I’d be willing to forgive them if they hadn’t wasted the big expensive overseas location shoot on a filler episode two stories earlier. The villain has the hots for Peri, because that’s apparently just what villains do these days. Adric was such a success, I know let’s have two of him. Apparently, when Peter Moffat couldn’t find any male twins suitably for Romulus and Remus, he suggested a couple of female twins instead, but was vetoed by JNT. So the job went to people who were obviously unsuited to it, rather than give it to a chick. Isn’t that always the way. Thank god when the twins want to travel in the TARDIS at the end the Doctor has the sense to say ‘yeah, no.’ The only saving grace of this story is the Colin Baker. Even when he has to be absolutely horrible to Peri, Baker’s sheer charisma is enough to still make the Doctor strangely watchable. 1/10

Very Brief Doctor Who Reviews – Season Twenty

tumblr_olrisxPzQQ1usadnro4_1280Arc of Infinity – You can see why the Doctor left Gallifrey; it really is one of the least interesting planets on the show. Ron Jones’s direction is uninspiring; the scenes filmed on location in Amsterdam are no more interesting than those set in the Gallifreyan airport lounge. I don’t like the design of Omega’s mask or the Ergon’s head – neither of them have a face, or even a design that resembles are face so you know where to look. They both seem to be a design of modern art with no focal point to draw the eye. The music is atrocious – Roger Limb’s found the trumpet function on his keyboard. The Doctor going quietly to his death seems out of character. And it’s not like he thinks he’s sacrificing himself for the greater good; if the Time Lords just bothered to investigate further he wouldn’t have to die at all. Maybe he did it because he knew he wouldn’t die and he wanted to find out who was behind it all, but that’s never suggested. Nyssa as a solo companion worked well in Big Finish, but she’s not given much of chance here; she’s stuck in the TARDIS much as she was when there were three companions. Unfortunately, the disappointing and needless return character no one would remember in a time before DVDs sets the template of the series for the next few years.  3/10

Snakedance – Received wisdom seems to be that the sequel is better, but I prefer Kinda. I’m a little disappointed that the Mara is given an origin story here; in Kinda it just seemed to be some universal force for evil, but here it turns out to be the result of a telepathy experiment gone wrong. Also, the ending isn’t nearly as satisfying; what does ‘find the still point’ mean? And I know to be better than to complain about the monsters, but I prefer the Kinda snake to the one here. At least the giant dodgy puppet was actually there, as opposed to the slightly smaller dodgy puppet being superimposed in. Having said that, there’s still a lot that’s very good about this story. The design of the cave with the snake mouth entrance is really cool, and the interior of the caves are great too, with the cave paintings, the dirt on the floor and the roots poking out from the walls. Janet Fielding gives probably her best performance as the possessed Tegan. It’s both scary and clever how in Episode 2 we know Tegan’s been taken over because she’s gone from being terrified to suddenly insisting she’s cured. It’s a much scarier portrayal of possession than the standard walking around in a trance. Christopher Bailey has also done very well in building the world of Manussa; instead of having characters spout exposition, we see the effect the Mara has had on their society by seeing it in their historical/archelological artefacts, their ceremonies, and their entertainment (Punch and Judy with a Snake). 9/10

Mawdryn Undead – I bloody love Turlough. On paper, he should be even less likable than Adric – he begins his run trying to kill the Doctor – but Mark Strickson always puts so much into the role, you can’t help but love the cowardly, selfish, sneaky character. Although it strange to think he and Susan have kind of the same origin story; an alien in an English school. As ever, it is lovely to have Nicholas Courtney back as the Brigadier, and in an era where continuity references tended to get in the way of good storytelling, the Brig’s flashback sequence is one that didn’t feel gratuitous. The classic series didn’t take advantage of the time travel aspect of the show nearly enough, so it’s nice to have a story built on and resolved by two versions of the same character meeting themself. Mawdryn’s pulsing brain at the end of Episode Two is still an impressive effect today. Mawdryn’s motivation is pleasingly unique; he just wants to die. A few minor niggles: Paddy Kingsland’s score it veers from moody and effective to downright bizarre in places (‘Turlough and Ibbotson go for a ride); I don’t understand the thinking behind the birds on the Guardians’ heads – they look terrible and fake, but I can’t see how they would have ever looked good; I’m not sure if what Mawdryn and company are wearing are meant to be robes or their skin – I certainly hope it’s the former. There’s something so sweet about David Collings that any character he plays is immediately sympathetic, which rather gives me emotional whiplash seeing as Mawdryn and his friends’ mutation was the result of selfishness, and they’re willingness to kill the Doctor so they can die is selfish act too. Then again seeing as we’re meant to be happy for him at the end, maybe that was rather the point. This story can be anything from a 6 to an 8 depending on my mood, so I’ll split the difference and give it: 7/10

Terminus – Stephen Gallagher is a fine writer, and Terminus is full of brilliant ideas; a big corporation that controls its employees with drug dependency; victims of a curable disease are stigmatised and left untreated because curing them isn’t considered profitable; an exploding engine of a time travelling ship being responsible for the Big Bang. Sadly, Eric Saward edited out all the realistic dialogue and replaced it with his theatrical, unnnatrual style. Tegan and Turlough serve no function in the story; why have them wondering around the vents (which they seem to return to after escaping) and not have them stay in the TARDIS, the way companions don’t appear in every episode these days? You could even cook up a subplot of Turlough sabotaging the TARDIS and Tegan having to save him when it goes too far for a bit of, dare I say it, character development. The design of Terminus is OK; it has that grimy, minimalist like Alien but, as is the habit in the 80s, it’s been overlit exposing it for what it is: a set. Same with the Vanir armour, which look good until they start moving and the clattering gives away that they’re made of plastic. As far as monster’s go, the sheer size of the Garm hides the fact that he’s a man in a suit, and he’s not too rubbery; but I fear he has mange, and the join between his neck is very obvious. Have you ever seen any less convincing pirates than Kar and Olvir: ‘We’re all going to diiieeee!’ And why oh why, if Nyssa needs to remove an item of clothing, didn’t they start her off in that perfectly nice jacket her new costume came with, instead of resorting to having her spend half the episode in her underwear. Good grief. OK, but it could have been so much better. 6/10

Enlightenment – Hallelujah, doesn’t the TARDIS look beautiful with the lights dimmed. The bright white looked good in B&W, but comes off less impressive in colour. I usually don’t like how jarring the switch between film and video is, but for the sequences out on the deck of the ship, it really works. The texture of film and the way the cast’s faces a lit by their helmets really sells the eerie beauty of space. The eternals are a great creation, especially the crew of the shadow. I like that they aren’t outright evil, but they’re not necessarily trustworthy either. I also like that they’re more powerful than the Doctor, without being something as dull as evil from the dawn of time like Fenric, the Toymaker, and the Great Intelligence. Marriner’s puppy love of Tegan borders on being very sweet and slightly creepy. It breaks my heart when he cries out for her to help him but she can’t/won’t. I love the final revelation about enlightenment not being the diamond, but the choice. Enlightenment isn’t about getting what you want, it’s knowing what you need. It’s slightly confusing that the crew of the Buccaneer aren’t emotionless like the crew of the Shadow, but Lynda Barron is so much fun as the pirate queen that I’ll let it slide. I think my only complaint would be the White Guardian is written as an outright force of good, rather than the more ambiguous character in The Ribos Operation. What a shame Barbara Clegg never wrote for the series again; this is the clear highlight of season twenty. 9/10

The King’s Demons – Shall I tell you the best thing about this episode. It’s the pair of Wolfhounds seen in the opening shot. It’s all downhill from there. It doesn’t help that it looks like something out of Blackadder, thus reminding me how much I’d rather be watching Blackadder. Yes, even the first series. Oh look, the obviously evil man who has been picking fights with everyone, used shimmery magic to change his appearance before our eyes, dresses all in black, calls himself ‘Master’, and tells us to obey him, says that the other guy is a demon who has bewitched the king. Well we better believe and do everything that he says even though we have absolutely no reason to. I think this might be a new low for the Master – not as a character, because he’s actually doing quite well here, but as an antagonist he’s just become a gateway for lazy storytelling. I know it’s not an original observation to make, but if the Kamelion prop didn’t work, why didn’t they just have Kamelion played by a different actor every story. That would have been cool. Although, given that at this point in the show’s history, the production team weren’t interested in developing companions they already had, it’s probably for the best they stuck him in a broom cupboard for a year. Thank goodness for Turlough; his dedication to remaining sarcastic and apathetic at all times is a light in the darkness: “Can you not call on Hell?”/”I could, but then so could you, with a better chance of success, I fancy.” Next time you’re watching, try imagining all the Master and Kamelion’s interactions to be Are You Being Served-style baudy innuendoes. It’s a fun way to entertain yourself; the story sure isn’t going to do that for you. 3/10

The Five Doctors – Lots of hardcore fans seem to really love The Five Doctors, but divorced of nostalgia goggles, it’s a mess. I can understand why – with a cast as big as this, there wasn’t much Terrance Dicks could do, but until we get to the Tomb of Rassilon, there’s not an awful lot going on. Just different groups of characters walking together and occasionally coming across a monster. I don’t know if its simply by virtue of being a different actor, but I don’t really care that Borusa is the villain behind this. If it were the Borusa of The Invasion of Time, I’d be devastated, because there we got to see the Doctor and Borusa’s relationship, so it would have mattered had the latter betrayed the former. How much more effective would it be if the whole time we kept seeing the Doctor go to Borusa for guidance, and Borusa would reassure the Doctor only to betray him at the end. But, with so many characters needing screentime, it’s no wonder that didn’t make happen. I think this may also be the death knell for the Cybermen in the classic series – from here until 2006, they seem to have caught the Master’s disease of posturing about talking about how brilliant they are, only to be defeated in the most ridiculous way. If you’re going to be smug, at least have the evidence to back it up. And because I have the same obsessive brain as all mega-fans, the parade of continuity and logical inconsistencies drive me crazy. Just so I can sleep at night, I like to imagine that there is one final scene, just before the credits come in, of the Doctor waking up in the TARDIS and it turns out the whole thing turned out to be a crazy dream. And really, that would make so much more sense – why the second Doctor knows that Jamie and Zoe had their memories wiped; why the Pi riddle makes no sense; why the first Doctor doesn’t look like the first Doctor; why Zoe is wearing bubble wrap. The one concession to nostalgia I will give this is I like how the original theme music fades into the then current one. Altogether now: “No, not the mind probe.” 4/10

Very Brief Doctor Who Reviews – Season Nineteen

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Castrovalva – Sorry, Bidmead, your explanation of a scientific principle has once again gone way over my head, although I do now have an appreciation for the works M. C. Escher. The decision to have reasonably new characters deal with something huge like a change of Doctor (who is then MIA for much of the episode) means they don’t really get a chance to establish themselves, and makes me feel like I’ve had a new main cast thrust on me without getting to know them. We at least got to know the eleventh Doctor and Amy before they established themselves as the new stars. Let’s talk about Tegan: despite who she later becomes, in her early episodes she is quite resourceful; in the previous story we saw her stand up for the oppressed, and she has the take-charge attitude you’d want from someone who may one day have to guide you through a plane crash. Although, I have to take her to task for calling Brisbane uncomplex and cut off from the rest of universe – what nonsense; we even have our own Dalek. Anthony Ainley is, again, much better playing an old man who becomes the Master, rather than the Master himself. Although, it does raise the question, if the Master’s gone to all this trouble to trap/kill the Doctor (at least, I think that’s his motivation) why is he so determined to guide the Doctor through the trauma of regeneration. In any other era, this would be a part of their complicated history of best friends who became enemies, but not so here. The interior of the TARDIS gets a good showing here, with some clever camera trickery managing to make a few wall flats look like a labyrinth. The special effects for realising the recursive occlusion in Castrovalva are not bad for their time, and even today I can’t imagine how they’d realise the idea on Doctor Who’s budget. It wastes too much time with the Doctor out the action, but it isn’t that bad at all. 6/10

Four to Doomsday – Ah, Adric. There’s the whiny, know-it-all, sexist traitor we know and hate. It’s surprising, though, after marathoning the whole series over the past few years, it’s only this one story where Adric is the insufferable prig we all remember. As if to even it out, the Doctor calls him a little idiot, and Tegan knocks him unconscious. The biggest mistake JNT and Eric Saward made was thinking that having the TARDIS crew not get along would be dramatic and interesting, but it just makes it unpleasant. Like Tegan, Ian and Barbara wanted to get back home, and they still managed to find enjoyment and wonder in their travels. Speaking of Tegan; an incredible artist, and fluent in a 35,000-year-old Aboriginal language; is this woman the most talented companion the Doctor’s ever had? Why the heck is she wasting her time being an air stewardess. I don’t know if I’m just imagining it, but I have this idea that the Doctor in space was achieved by Peter Davison sliding around on an office chair. And once that image is in your head, you’ll never get rid of it. ‘Pass the sodium chloride.’ Ugh; as Bill might say, my hair is cringing. The idea that Monarch believes himself to be God, and wants to travel back to the creation of the universe to prove himself right in an interesting motivation for a bad guy. But then nothing he does seems to drive towards this motivation. Why continually travel between Earth and Urbanka? Why take samples of humans? Why only decide to invade on your fifth visit? And why, oh why must I watch the tedious recreationals over and over again? A boring story with a toxic cast of main characters. 3/10

Kinda – Just accept that you won’t understand most of it and enjoy for the big crazy weirdness that it is. I actually like the snake here better than I do in Snakedance – it has the same uncanny valley quality to it that made me absolutely terrified of the Muppets for years. But what does the monster matter in a story that is all about ideas. Tegan trapped in a weird dreamscape where she’s psychologically tortured until she agrees to be possessed is probably one of the worst things a companion has been through. The Kinda are a fascinating culture; the implication is that they’re so far advanced they’ve gone beyond petty industry and colonisation and have reached nirvana. Hindle manages to be a terrifying antagonist (like Rimmer from Red Dwarf, but with even less ability to cope) but at the end, you’re happy that he’s better. ‘You can’t mend people,’ indeed. Laugh of the episode comes from ‘Leave him to the mercy of the trees,’/‘No. Trees have no mercy,’/ *deadpan* ‘Of course, I was forgetting.’ Seeing military man Sanders reduced to a smiling man child is off-putting and creepy. And of course, there’s the greatest companion the Doctor never had, Nerys Hughs as Todd. She is the perfect companion for Peter Davison’s Doctor – asking all the right questions, compassionate, even understanding an alien culture better than the Doctor. And surely, JNT, if you wanted ‘something for the dads,’ Todd’s hot scientist look is much more… appealing than fairy princess Nyssa or Ronald McDonald’s long lost sister Tegan. Every time I watch this story I found myself screaming ‘take her with you’ come the end of part four. Go on, Big Finish, makes some Five/Todd adventures, you know you want to. 10/10

The Visitation – The main cast is so bloated, I can understand why they decided to have just one supporting character. Unfortunately, Richard Mace isn’t really a strong enough character to carry such a burden, and seems to spend most of his time awkwardly reacting to whatever the Doctor and companions are talking about, slowing down the story (e.g. “What are these words you are using”). I don’t know if it’s the writing or the acting, but Mace’s theatrical dialogue never sounds as natural as similar dialogue coming from the mouth of Henry Gordon Jago. Here’s a strange logic circle: Eric Saward wrote The Visitation because he liked stories where the Doctor was responsible for some historical incident; but there weren’t really that many stories like this until Saward did it; BUT this still manages to feel tired and derivative. I can’t stand the confusion in my mind. The local yokels are so quick to blame the Doctor and friends for everything, they might as well have just been under Tereleptil control from the beginning. The historical sets all look very nice; the Tereleptils are terribly pretty, and their animatronic faces are impressive, even if the poor things can’t walk. The line about the sonic screwdriver’s destruction feeling like they’ve killed an old friend is weird in two ways. Not only is just an odd thing for anyone to say, but the Sonic Screwdriver has always been just a tool – it’s not like they killed K9. So, a tin ear for dialogue and obvious pandering to the fans without bothering to understand them. A portent of things to come. 5/10

Black Orchid – It’s an odd thing, this story. It feels more like the kind of adventure that gets mentioned in another story, rather than being a televised story in its own right. I adore Nyssa’s butterfly dress. Can someone make that for me? I’m convinced the TARDIS purposefully seeks out people who look like the Doctor and his friends for a laugh. I was surprised last time I watched, that the first episode is actually quite enjoyable. It’s pure fluff, of course, but when watched in context with all the episodes preceding it, it’s a welcome relief to have an episode of the regulars having fun rather than sniping at each other. It’s a pity that so many stupid things happen in part two; the Doctor telling George that Nyssa isn’t Ann just moments after insisting that he mustn’t found out he’s got the wrong girl; the policeman whose reaction to a transcendental time and space machine is ‘strike me pink’; the Doctor’s belief that having said transcendental time and space machine and being guilty of murder are mutually exclusive. Not intolerable, but below average for a show that’s capable of being so much more imaginative and intelligent. If you’re looking for a good time with your Black Orchid DVD, you’ll be better off turning the commentary on. 4/10

Earthshock – I’m sorry, I just don’t think Doctor Who can be an action film. It’s not just a matter of budget; Doctor Who is just too optimistically whimsical for the kind of gritty atmosphere of action. I’m going to save a lot of my problems with Eric Saward’s approach for a later story, because this is probably the best of ‘the Eric Saward Returning-Monster Massacre Quadrilogy’. And by the best, I mean for everything that goes wrong, there is at least something right to balance it out. For example: I don’t like new Cybermen costumes. The heads are OK, but the bodies… When I was young, my dad always described the Cybermen’s look as ‘men wrapped in tinfoil,’ and yeah, I can see where he’s coming from. The 60s Cybermen looked like they were made of some sort of malleable plastic, but here… I think someone needs to take an iron to them. On the other hand, the androids look really good. I know they’re just people in body stockings with no real design work needed, but the simplicity is really striking. Peter Grimwade does the best he can with a Playschool budget. I still have no idea how they achieved the Cyberman stuck in the door effect, and thanks be to Ti that they turned the lights right down in the caves, because those sets look fantastic. Unfortunately, the plot never quite feels like a coherent whole. Beryl Reid as Doctor Who’s answer to Sigourney Weaver doesn’t really work; I admire the irony, but the script treats her absolutely straight, so all we have a flustered elderly woman clearly struggling with the dialogue. Yet, everyone else seems cast pretty well, with lots of female characters. Tegan and Nyssa spend most of the story stuck in the TARDIS, but Matthew Waterhouse of all people gives a reasonably good performance, managing to be brave but scared when he says goodbye to the Doctor. But really, this is where Season 19 should have ended. Adric’s dead, the Doctor finally gets Tegan back to Heathrow and she leaves, and then the Doctor and Nyssa head off for new adventures. The best of a bad bunch. 6/10

Time-Flight – JNT’s right when he says the memory cheats; here is a story that, much like a Weeping Angel, is best when you’re not watching it. To watch, it’s boring, riddled with plot holes, and looks so cheap you’ll swear The Invasion of Time was Star Wars. But look away and you suddenly find yourself reflecting fondly on the Master’s pointless disguise, the ‘aeroplane wheel’ that is in no way to scale, and the inadvertent campery of the three stooges pilots we’re expected to believe are regularly responsible for people’s lives. Actually, Stapley, Scobie, and Bilton are the best thing about this story. Their immediate puppy-like loyalty to the Doctor is touching to behold. And clearly the Doctor loves them back; when Nyssa pilots the TARDIS, she’s reprimanded for doing something so dangerous, but when Stapley does it, it’s a miracle. As an attempt at beloved one-off characters á la Jago and Litefoot, they’re not bad. It would take too long to go into great detail about everything wrong with this story, so here’s a quickfire list: Adric’s death = ain’t bovvered; the Master’s disguising himself even before the Doctor’s around; the disguise is offensive, though I’m not sure to whom; the set for prehistoric earth is over lit and looks even less realistic than usual; the colour scheme for the episode is apparently ‘grey’; the plasmatons look like bubble bath with legs; Nyssa is psychic, let’s never mention this again; Angela’s acting; the Xeraphon’s back story being delivered in the least engaging monotone info dump imaginable; the Doctor’s unwarranted declaration at the end of part three; the Master being so incompetent but so irritatingly smug you don’t care whether or not the Doctor defeats him, just as long as someone smacks him across his giggling face. Right at the end, Bilton tells the Doctor he told them they’d get home safely, and the Doctor gives a look I am sure is Peter Davison thinking ‘I can’t believe I agreed to appear in this.’ I can’t believe you did either, mate. 2/10

Very Brief Doctor Who Reviews – Season Eighteen

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The Leisure Hive – Everyone makes fun of the overly long pan across Brighton Beach at the beginning of the story, and yes, it deserves making fun of, but there’s more to Lovett Bickford’s directorial crimes than this. Take the scene where Brock is unmasked as a Foamasi. First of all, a second Foamasi appears out of nowhere. Where did he come from? I refuse to believe that he appeared in a cut scene, the episodes are so short they couldn’t have possibly had room to cut anything. The editing is so choppy and confused, it took several rewindings, discussing it with my dad, and checking the TARDIS wiki before I understood what had happened. People in 1980 would have had none of that (alright, yes, there were Dads, but they were a recent invention, and only very wealthy people had one). With everything else feeling so shiny and new, the Foamasi look even worse by comparison. I know they’re meant to be like crickets, but they look like they’re made out of that sequined fabric your mum buys for the school play. Positives: The shot that pans out from the Doctor and Romana on the beach to the star field is very creative, and impressive for its time. A planet rendered inhospitable and its people sterile by a war that lasted three weeks is a beautifully bleak idea. Likewise, the Argolins opening a leisure centre on their dead planet to warn other not to repeat their mistake is a very dignified way for a species to make their departure. The good things in this story make me sad that Chronic Hysteresis Bidmead edited out all the ‘silliness’; there was clearly a good story trying to get out here, but it was stripped away and reclothed in a poor attempt to make hard science cool. 5/10

Meglos – The most lacklustre execution of the science versus religion premise you will ever see. Taking an already clichéd plot, and then making no attempt to innovate or spin a new angle on it is just so disappointing, I found myself growing irritated at the screen. And then there’s the frankly bizarre decision to shelve the winning and charismatic leads and stick them in a plot hole (it’s when a black hole and a plot device collide) for the first episode. These were the writers who nearly wrote in Peter Davison’s Doctor. Even Barbara Wright herself, Jaqueline Hill, can’t rescue me from the boredom. But, never mind; the Savants and the Deon’s squabble isn’t really the focus of the story. Speaking of… Chronic Hysteresis Bidmead, how do muppets that turn into drugs when you electrify them equal silly, but a shapeshifting, megalomaniacal, alien CACTUS doesn’t. To be clear, I don’t mind the fact that we can count a shapeshifting, megalomaniacal, alien cactus among our pantheon of villains (I’m still upset that the villain of The Lodger didn’t turn out to be Meglos); it’s the hypocrisy that annoys me. So… why does Meglos have to possess a human before he can impersonate the Doctor? I suppose I should be glad he does, as the human – he who shall not be named, because the writers never bothered to give him one – is the subject of the only moment of charm in the story: Earthling: “I told the wife I’d be in from work in twenty minutes.”
Doctor: “Well, don’t worry about that. We can get you back before you leave.”
Earthling: “Oh, good.” Smile replaced by comically confused frown. Everyone laughs. Freezeframe ending. Roll credits. I may have made some that up. But when feeling like a cheesy eighties sitcom ending is the highlight of your serial, you know you’re in trouble. 3/10

Full Circle – Friendly reminder that this story was written by an eighteen-year-old. I don’t know how much was Andrew Smith, and how much was Bidmead rewriting, but this is really good. This story has some of the best twists, and one of the best reveals of a twist (“We don’t know how to fly it.”) the show has ever pulled off. Colour me impressed. The Leisure Hive and Meglos feel like false starts – this is where JNT’s grand new vision for the series starts. The location work for this episode is fabulous. I do have one problem with the episode, and that is Adric. No, not because he’s portrayed by someone who can’t act, nor is it the fact that Tom Baker and Lalla Ward clearly can’t stand him. Nor is it even the fact that he kicks off the disturbing trend of having a companion’s family member killed off in their first episode, only for it to never be mentioned again (step forward Nyssa, Tegan, Peri… Howard’s dead, right?) No, my problem is, if you take Adric in isolation, would you ever imagine that this is the society he comes from? Even Matthew Waterhouse on the DVD commentary says there’s something quite odd about this primitive society handing out badges for mathematical excellence. Of course, all of Adric’s subsequent actions make perfect sense if you remember that he’s basically a super evolved spider. I don’t talk about music much, but I want to take this opportunity to say how much I love the scores in this era, particularly Paddy Kingsland’s in this story and the next. There’s something about the music in Seasons 18 and 19 that really evoke the time in which they were made. In fact, barring any arrangement that appeared in Russel T Davies’s era, the arrangement of theme that debuts this series is my favourite. The synthesised sound seems to be making a comeback too; when Humans began with a lake in the woods shrouded in mist, I thought I was watching Full Circle. Even K9 gets his own little tune, complete with comedy whomp whomp when he can’t cross a stream. Stylish and unique. 8/10

State of Decay – What can I say; vampires were always my favourite monsters, and this is a damned fine vampire story. The Three Who Rule are very creepy with their stylised movements and appearances (vote Zargo, for most epic beard in all of Doctor Who). The Wasting, I have decided, is the local name for entropy. This is one of the stories where Adric betrays the Doctor, but it works with his original Artful Dodger brief, plus it’s not like he’s a full time companion yet, he doesn’t owe the Doctor loyalty at this point. Yes, I just defended Adric, I’ll make up for it by pointing out that Matthew Waterhouse couldn’t even walk across the set naturally. I can forgive the obviously fake bats hurled at the Tom Baker and Lalla Ward at the end of Part One, and the unconvincing rubber glove at the climax, for just how many cool visuals there are in this story. I’ve already mentioned the look of the Three, but there’s also the design of the castle; the ground rising and falling with the Great Vampire’s breathing (Yes, Jamie, it is a big one); move aside a few tapestries and the medieval castle turns out to be a futuristic spaceship. There are some delightfully gruesome ideas in this – the exsanguished bodies lining the walls, their blood filling the rocket’s fuel tanks; the heartbeat of the Great Vampire growing louder as the Doctor and Romana descend deeper into the ship; the castle/rocket being used to stake the Great Vampire; the Three Who Rule turning to skeletons, then dust, in seconds; it all makes my inner seven-year-old very happy. 9/10

Warriors’ Gate – I really wish I liked this story more than I do. It is very stylish, and has a visual style that’s never been seen before or since in the show, but it’s just a bit too complicated for me. I know it’s trying to say something, I’m just not entirely sure what it is. It’s like that highbrow piece of film or literature that we all pretend we understand and admire, but secretly most of us are happier with pop culture. Anyway, let me talk about the things I do like. The Tharil’s masks are really impressive – more Cat Nun than Cheetah person. The medieval castle with black and white photographic gardens is really cool. The spaceship set is amazing – I don’t know if it really was as big as it looked on screen or if Paul Joyce just employed some jolly clever direction (I suspect the answer is somewhere in the middle). Is the opening shot of this story really much shorter than the opening shot of The Leisure Hive, or is it just more interesting? I’m a bit worried that the  Doctor Who companion with the best wardrobe left without packing a bag, although the Chinese inspired garb she wears in this is pretty fabulous. I do wish the departure wasn’t quite so rushed; it just sort of comes out of nowhere and is over before you even know it. But how perfect is it that Romana bows out to become a Doctor-like figure to the Tharils. Clara did a similar thing, but with her it didn’t feel earned, and Romana has definitely earned her status as the noblest of them all. 7/10

The Keeper of Traken – I’m about to say something astonishing, so brace yourself… Adric isn’t too bad in this story. I know, you’ll find my fan badge on your desk in the morning. Matthew Waterhouse’s acting is just about passable, and I can almost see how the fourth Doctor/Adric dynamic might have worked out. They have almost a teacher/student relationship, that flies out the window as soon as the TARDIS starts filling up and the 47-year-old Tom Baker is replaced with 29-year-old Peter Davison. A couple of things that bugged me, about this story: The Keeper sends the Doctor and Adric down to Traken but doesn’t tell anyone, so nobody trusts them. Then, the Fosters arrest the Doctor and Adric and present them to the Consuls as “The source of the evil.” Um, what proof do they have? I know this is a peaceful society, but surely breaking and entering into public gardens doesn’t qualify as evil? And why when they summon the Keeper doesn’t he say “Melkur’s come to life, and I sent these two to help, BTW he’s behind you,” instead of uselessly crying ‘evil’ like he’s Mermaidman. For an allegedly peaceful society built on people being terrible nice to each other, they turn to murder, false imprisonment, power grabbing, bribery (and that’s just what I can remember off the top of my head) pretty quickly. I suspect this story is actually a scathing satire on the idea of a benevolent empire, just nobody remembered to tell the writer. 5/10

Logopolis – Why oh why oh why, JNT, did you want to bring back an old companion so there was some continuity with the change of Doctors, when just two stories earlier you wrote out the longtime companion? Imagine if we’d had Romana for Peter Davison’s first series. Why does Nyssa never comment on the fact that her father suddenly looks substantially younger. How does she even recognise him, given then he looks much younger than he ever would have in her lifetime. Sarah Sutton is usually a pretty reliable actor, but her acting when under the control of the Master’s bracelet leaves a lot to be desired (I can only assume someone forgot to tell her that it was only her wrist that was possessed?) Speaking of acting, Janet Fielding is doing the kind of overly motivated children’s TV presenter acting that really gets on my nerves. Just watch her reading of the classic line “Earth? Earth!” She gets better, so I’ll just put this down to first job overenthusiasm. Poor Anthony Ainley. He was so good in The Keeper of Traken, I genuinely forget that it’s him every time I watch. I wish they could have just let him be his own Master (as he eventually does in Survival), rather than have him do… not even a poor man’s Roger Delgado, but a poor man’s memory of Roger Delgado. I have doubts that something like block transfer computation could ever really exist, but at least I came out of the episode understanding what it was, which is more than can be said for tachyonics or I Ching philosophy. How odd that after most of the story is spent on Logopolis, the final episode takes place in… a field by the side of the road. It feels much smaller, but not in a down-to-earth-the-smallest-victories-are-sometimes-the-greatest way, but in a ‘really? A field’ way. And if the Logopolitans could make anything they wanted, why did they choose to replicate a telescope from a comparatively primitive society?  I have a theory about the Watcher, and why we’ve only ever seen him this one regeneration. I think, when the Doctor fell off the tower, he broke his back and was partially paralysed, so couldn’t regenerate unless the Watcher helped him. I also have a theory that the more beloved a Doctor, the worse their regeneration story will be, and sadly, this story backs that theory up. 4/10

Survivor Game Changers: Episode 7 Recap

Last week, before a cyclone and a family emergency got in the way, I was going to open my recap by crowning Zeke the new queen of Survivor for his ousting of Sandra. But given what happened tonight, and knowing what we know now, it seems a more than a little crass. Ladies and Gentlemen, the King of Survivor, Ezekiel Smith.

I’m not going to sit here and pour vitriol over Jeff Varner, not go in to why what he did was so wrong. I’m sure he’s been eaten away by guilt and regret ever since the event happened, and I have no desire to add more negativity to the situation. Instead I’m going to talk about every single other person in Tribal Council that night, and how proud I was of them.

When the theme of Millenials vs Gen X was announced, I started cringing straight away. I imagined seeing the Millenials – either my own generation or the one immediately above me, depending on what system you use – being portrayed as a bunch of vapid, technology-obsessed slackers. And although there were a few such people (*cough* Kappa Kappa Survivor *cough*), I was heartened to see how many hardworking, intelligent people were on the tribe. Tonight, I was even more proud when Millenial Tribe alum Zeke spoke calmly and graciously, showing forgiveness and comforting the very person who had done him such injury. I always liked Zeke, for his ability to connect with people in the game, and for his habit of wearing Hawaiian shirts and dinosaur boardies. After his behaviour tonight, I like him even more, for his graciousness, his spinning this horrible thing that happened to him into something positive, and his ability as a wordsmith – taking the challenge word ‘metamorphosis’, and applying it to his own personal journey, both as a Survivor player, and as a transgender individual.

I was also gladdened to see how Zeke’s tribemates, after their brief moment of shock, unanimously leapt to his defence. The Transgender community are a group who, it seems, are only recently becoming more visible, and they are a very vulnerable group; the target of politicians’ fear mongering to gain votes, and the victims of hate crimes including murder. Even one of their most iconic spokespeople, Jazz Jennings, has to use a pseudonym to protect herself and her family. And so how wonderful it was to see five people from all walks of life, who have spent the past seventeen days competing against each other, came together to defend another human being. Debbie, unexpectedly, was the voice of reason, being the first to speak up that Zeke’s gender history was a private matter, outside of the game. The notion that transgender people are deceptive, and that they have a duty to tell people about their gender history plagues the community. The fact that all five people, without hesitation, said that, no, Zeke was not duty bound to tell them, and that they weren’t owed an explanation was beautiful to see.

Finally, Jeff Probst handled the situation beautifully, seamlessly stepping down from his role of reality TV host, and becoming the mediator for a group of people after a very ugly confrontation. So many hosts would have manipulated the situation to create drama, pitting people against each other. But Probst had the decency and insight to realise that this moment was bigger than the game, as evidenced by his decision to dispense with the ritual of voting, and allow Varner to remove himself. I’m always impressed with how quick Jeff is to pick up on people’s body language, and ask intuitive questions, but this incident really highlighted just how good he is at reading people and reading a situation, and navigating it with sensitivity and class.

Like Zeke said, it was a shame that it had to come out this way, and I think given the choice, Zeke would have chosen to keep this aspect of his story private, I sincerely hope that Zeke being outed will demystify what it means to be transgender, and whether that can give comfort to someone struggling with their own gender identity, or people like Sarah, who don’t know much about this community in the first place, and in that this chapter in Survivor history will have a positive end.

 

P.S. If it weren’t for what happened at Tribal Council, this recap would totally have been about how awesome Hali was for working out that challenge, and how thrilled I am that things are looking up for Aubrey.

Very Brief Doctor Who Reviews – Season Seventeen

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Destiny of the Daleks – Good Lord, is this story boring. In hindsight, maybe doing a story where 90% of your characters have no emotion wasn’t such a great idea after all. I think the scene of the Daleks exterminating extras might be one of the worst I’ve ever seen – they just stand in a line, wait to be zapped, and then fall into the pile of pillows next to them, all the while not a single emotion crosses their faces. Is this a Two Doctors scenario where they would have to pay the extras more if they actually acted? And have the Daleks ever looked worse than the scene in which a Dalek flails around with its vision impaired while Davros shouts “he’s behind you.” I know one of the charms of Doctor Who is that he sometimes defeats enemies simply by being more fun, but this isn’t fun, this is torture. And since when were Daleks completely logical – they’re driven by hatred and anger; no one is logical when they’re angry. Was even Terry Nation confusing them with the Cybermen? Also, the decision to replace incidental music with the sound of drilling for vast swathes of the story, really doesn’t work in its favour. I’m not the greatest Dudley Simpson fan, but the episode just so bare and feels unfinished without it. Ken Grieve’s direction also seems to be lacking something; it’s odd because there are some shots like the low angle of Davros that look quite nice and unlike anything else at the time, but the whole episode is so overlit, that, again, it feels unfinished. I will say one nice thing about this episode, and that is that Romana crossplaying as the Doctor is adorable. But even the charms of Lalla Ward can’t save this story. 1/10

City of Death – Talk about going from the sublime to the ridiculous (or the other way around). This story is perfect. It is the best Doctor Who story. .I defy you to find one thing wrong with it. This story is flawless. The music is excellent, Dudley Simpson’s finest score for the series, in my opinion. the direction is superb – the scenes in the café at night look like they could have come out of a film. The acting is pure class – Julian Glover and Katherine Schell ooze so much charm you almost forget that they’re evil, and the Doctor and Romana’s relationship shows the Doctor/companion dynamic at its warmest and wittiest; you don’t even notice that a certain robot dog is missing. Of course, the absolute highlight is the script, so bare with me while I just quote some of my favourite lines: “If you wanted an omelette, I’d expect to find a pile of broken crockery, a cooker in flames and an unconscious chef.”; “If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s being tortured by someone with cold hands.”; “My dear, I don’t think he’s as stupid as he seems.”/”My dear, nobody could be as stupid as he seems.” Perhaps, when you get right down to it, the resolution (Duggan punches Scaroth) isn’t the cleverest the show’s ever come up with, but it’s been set up so well in the previous four episodes, that I don’t mind. One of only a handful of stories where I feel genuine sadness when it’s over. Exquisite. 10/10

The Creature from the Pit – “We call it… the pit.” My goodness, there are some fabulous moments of hamtastic fun to be had. Romana running rings around the bandits; K9’s continual insistence that he’s not made of tin; Organon finishing the episode by starting his psychic con up all over agin. The jungle set is one of the better ones – it helps that it’s been shot on film (although the backcloths don’t quite manage to convince). There’s a single shot of Erato, where he appears to take up the whole cavern, and he actually looks quite good. It’s just every single other time he appears that he looks like an unconvincing and indecent blob. It’s a pity, despite the moments of fun, that the rest of the story is generally not very good. I find Adrasta and her cohorts more irritating than anything else (if I wanted to see an evil stepmother, I’d have watched Cinderella instead) and the Doctor spends the middle episodes wandering around the pit looking for the plot. Despite Erato having been in the pit for the past however many centuries, today just happens to be the day that they Tythonions avenge him. This story was the first recorded for Lalla Ward and David Brierly as Romana and K9, respectively, and it really shows, with both actors trying their hardest to do a poor man’s imitation of their predecessors. But while Lalla Ward eventually found her own Romana, I don’t think David Brierly ever could capture the charm of John Leeson. If you’re in the right mood, this story can be a lot of fun. You just have to really be in the right mood. 4/10

Nightmare of Eden – This story is criminally underrated: it’s brilliant. For ages it had a reputation as being silly, but it really isn’t. This is Doctor Who’s attempt to tackle drugs – can you think of anything more serious that the show has dealt with. OK yes, it’s done mass murder, but how many of us are going to face the prospect of committing genocide; and there’s the kidnapping arc in series six but the fallout of that was never really dealt with, so I stand by my first statement. I appreciate that Bob Baker didn’t just make Tryst evil; selfish, perhaps, but he ultimately believed what he was doing was for the greater good. On the other hand, the Doctor’s quiet anger, refusing to even look at him as he tells him to go away, is a really powerful moment. The cliffhanger to part two is one of my favourite ever. The first time I saw it, as the Doctor and Romana change all the rules and jump into what had until now seemed like a fancy viewfinder, my reaction was ‘Wow, I can’t wait until to tomorrow night to see the next episode.’ I really like this one. 7/10

The Horns of Nimon – Name one character in this story other than the three regulars who you care the least bit about. I’ve wracked my brain and I can only think of Sezom, that old guy who appears for three scenes in the final episode. And even he apparently used to be a power mad tyrant. You see what you did story – you made me sympathise with Hitler. OK, I’m being silly. But seriously. The tributes are so wet I’m getting trench foot just looking at them; Graham Crowden as Soldeed is still picking bits of scenery out of his teeth; and the Co-Pilot… keeps yelling ‘weakling scum,’ for some reason. If it weren’t for Romana, I don’t think there would be a single thing to enjoy about this. Seriously, she’s awesome: she’s built her own sonic screwdriver (and we know it’s better than the Doctor’s because he tries to steal it); she keeps the Anethans alive for four episodes, and just generally gets on with the business of being the Doctor. 3/10

Shada – OK, I don’t think this is the great unfinished masterpiece that some fans hope it would be. From what was filmed, it’s obvious that the budget was stretched pretty thin by this point. Perhaps we should be thankful for small mercies that the Kraags will never be seen by anyone who isn’t a card-carrying obsessive. Men with sheets of cardboard stuck to them was never going to work, was it. In stark contrast to Count Scarlioni’s suave coolness, we have Skagra walking the streets of Cambridge looking like the missing member of ABBA. It’s probably unfair of me to comment on it, seeing as it wouldn’t have been in the original production, but Keff McCulloch’s music is very… Keffy. Did the ‘One lump or two? Sugar?’ joke really need a dramatic sting? OK, bad fan, stop being so negative. Romana is still one of the best companions ever (second only to the fabulous Donna Noble, in my opinion) and the little moment where the Doctor pins a badge on her and they salute each other is adorable. It’s Douglas Addams, so of course the dialogue is going to be witty and delightful, and the plot completely bonkers but utterly charming. If you haven’t already, go out and read the novelisation, because Tom Baker rushing through plot points on the DVD really doesn’t do it justice. A particularly joyful development is the Doctor turning Skagra’s ship into a fan, and Skagra’s ultimate punishment is to watch Doctor Who for all eternity. I’m smiling just writing about it. 7/10

Very Brief Doctor Who Reviews – Season Sixteen

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The Ribos Operation – For a long time, I considered this to be my favourite story of all time; it was slightly out of a desire to have an unusual answer, and I’d probably go for the more conventional favourite The Empty Child nowadays, but this is still an absolute corker of an episode.  This is one of the very earliest classic series stories I saw, and I was blown away by just how much I enjoyed it. Robert Holmes’s dialogue for Garroffe spinning his con is just gorgeous and the front he puts on is so charming – I could listen to him all day. Mary Tamm was an astoundingly beautiful woman, and her Romana is super cool in how generally unimpressed she is with the Doctor. Tom Baker is at the top of his game – I like when the Doctor is funny, like when the Graff glove slaps him, so the Doctor grabs the glove and glove-slaps the Graff back; or how his reaction to being locked up is to sit back and enjoy himself while feeding Garron’s ego. It’s almost not worth saying how beautiful the “Brinro was right” scene is, but I’m going to anyway; if I were a time traveller, that is what I’d do – use my knowledge of the future to give people hope, laws of time be damned. The costumes are great, and even the sets look pretty good for being entirely studio bound; I’ll never understand why this story doesn’t get more attention – it’s just perfect. 10/10

The Pirate Planet – I have a confession to make: I don’t like Douglas Adams as much as I wish I did. I think my problem with him is this: the absurdism overshadows the characters. Take the mentiads: a hive mind of telekinetic psychics who never show any emotion. On paper, and bolstered by some Adamsian prose, that could probably be an amusing premise; but bereft of that, all we’re left with are a bunch of actors in robes failing to emote. It doesn’t help matters that this is one of the cheapest looking episodes. It’s as if they realised they could never hope to realise Adams’s mad ideas, and so gave up without even trying. The film inserts don’t match the model shots at all; the mining shaft is clearly a 20th Century earth mining shaft; and the original spanner effect is so awful that they don’t even have it as an option on the DVD. More positively, there’s something very satisfying about the way the Nurse appears as a background character in Part Two, and steadily moves to the foreground until its revealed that she is the real big bad of the piece (a pity the actress can’t act). Also, K9 gets to be a hero and kill the evil shooty parrot thing, and I will always support K9 getting a bigger slice of the action. And the final twist that the planet Calufrax is the segment and its unusual anatomical structure was making everything go wibbly is such a clever way of using the season’s unique arc. I like it enough; I just wish I liked it more. 6/10

(P.S. Did anyone else catch that the Captain’s bluster really was an act? It took me seven viewings to catch that development.)

The Stones of Blood – Romana and the Professor, the Professor and the Doctor, the Doctor and K9, K9 and the Professor; any way you slice it, the pairings of these characters produce beautiful, funny, and heart-warming scenes. The big reveal about Vivian Faye is both brilliant and botched: the Doctor’s line that she isn’t related to the Montcalm family; she is the montcalm family gives me goosebumps; but then the fact that she’s the villain is signposted from the beginning with her archly smug performance, and the fact that she appears next to Romana dressed in her Callieach costume! Don’t the interior sets of de Vries’s mansion look fantastic; it’s hard to believe they are sets, and not a real home. On the other hand, I wonder how David Fisher imagined the Ogri; did he imagine something more anthropomorphic like the Rockbiter from Neverending Story, or did he really envisage growling pillars on wheels, which is what we get. Like the arrival of the pseudo-historical, it must have come as a surprise that what looked like it would be a gothic horror in the tradition that viewers had become accustomed to, suddenly ends up on a spaceship in hyperspace. It’s quite like The Girl in the Fireplace, in that regard. I won’t say that the story totally loses it once it goes into hyperspace, but the latter two episodes are definitely the weaker half. The megara walk (or hover) the thin line between being funny or annoying, and on which side they fall probably depends on your mood. And then to cap it all off, we get two solutions to the problem – the Doctor’s and Romana’s. Although I personally prefer The Ribos Operation, it’s not hard to see why this often comes out highest of the season in polls. 8/10

The Androids of Tara – So it’s a blatant rip-off of The Prisoner of Zenda, which I would normally be annoyed about if it weren’t for the fact that I’ve never heard of The Prisoner of Zenda in any context other than the fact that this rips it off. And the fact that it’s just so much fun. The design of the costumes and sets are beautiful, and even if some fans are annoyed by the illogic of a medieval society with laser guns and androids, I still find the juxtaposition interesting. Maybe it’s a cheat that the issue of finding the segment is got out of the way in the first five minutes, but it was worth doing at least once, and it does give Romana a reason to get involved with the count, plus it shows just how much cooler she is than the Doctor. However, I think the moment where Romana is carried off on the back of Count Grendel’s horse, lamely crying ‘help me’ is the moment the character officially went from unique, resourceful, leading lady to generic damsel. You can almost hear Mary Tamm thinking ‘I won’t be renewing my contract.’ The moment when the android prince turns from a real actor into an obvious mannequin just in time for a spear to lodge in his chest is my absolute favourite special effects fail on the show. And this from the same story that gave us the Taran Wood Beast. Yes it’s mostly fluff, but it’s very nice looking fluff. 8/10

The Power of Kroll – ‘Biggest Monster Ever’. That was the brief for this episode. The show that last season couldn’t portray corridors convincingly is going to attempt to give us the biggest monster ever. To be fair though, Kroll ain’t that bad. There are occasions when the line between the film and the model is obvious, but overall it’s pretty good for its time. The worse effect is the exterior shots the Methane refinery, which never doesn’t look like a model in a tub of water. What I don’t understand is: why they didn’t give the ‘biggest monster ever’ brief to Bob Baker and Dave Martin, who probably would have had a great time with it, and the big-epic-concluding-the-story-arc-season-finale slot to Robert Holmes. Holmes just isn’t suited to this type of story. I said back in The Time Warrior review that Holmes doesn’t write monsters, he writes villains. The villains in this story aren’t bad – Thawn’s scheme is suitably despicable: giving weapons to the Swampies so they’ll attack, giving him reason to wipe them out, and blame the whole things on Sons of Earth, just so he can keep the big bucks rolling in from his methane refinery. But the whole things gets buried under the weight of Kroll turning up a few times every episode to kill off an extra. The rest of the refinery staff are severly lacking in the personality department: Philip Madoc’s palpable irritation at having agreed to the wrong role is the only thing that makes his character (whatever his name was) memorable, and the only reason I care about (the very wet) Dugeen is that he’s played by voice-of-K9, John Leeson. Added to this, the Swampies are the most thoughtless ‘mindless savages’ stereotypes possible. It’s got its strength, and its weaknesses; in the end it all adds up to a very average: 5/10

The Armageddon Factor – What a disappointing end to a pretty consistently strong season. I find it very unsatisfying that after all that, the Doctor just disperses the key. I suppose there was never really anything else they could have done with it, but it’s still such an anticlimax. Graham Williams though the Doctor ought to have a reason for his travelling, hence the quest for the Key to Time this season, and the randomiser next season; but I’ve always thought ‘because it’s fun’ is a good enough excuse – why does anyone travel? Speaking of Graham Williams, he’s made the same mistake he did last season, which is not writing a departure scene for the companion in the hope that he could persuade the actress to stay; resulting in two excellent characters getting a hastily written out-of-character exit, or no farewell at all. On the other hand, seasons 15 and 16 do get very good hooks into the next series, so go figure. I’m glad Lalla Ward got the chance to come back and play a regular, because she doesn’t get much of a chance to show off her acting chops here. The Marshall is quite a good human villain, but the shadow is a disappointing stand-in villain for the black guardian. I get a chortle out of the scene where the Doctor asks Merak why he wants to know where Astra is, to which Merak replies “I love her,” and the Doctor and Romana just go ‘Oh,’ as if the thought had never occurred to them. On the other hand, the moment where Shap pulls a stupid face, gets shot, and does a comedy pratfall, legs akimbo, into the transmat is so bad it has to be seen to be believed. Like all Baker and Martin scripts it’s fall of inventive ideas – K9 defecting, the time loop business – but doesn’t necessarily have the elegance to quite stick the landing. 5/10

Survivor Game Changers: Episode 4 Recap

What on earth just happened? I watched that scene twice, read several recaps and reviews, and listened to podcasts and exit interviews, and I’m still not sure what happened. I don’t think many of the people who were actually there understood what happened. I am, of course, talking about the most chaotic Tribal Council ever.

But before we get into all that I may as well start at the beginning. The morning after Tribal Coucil sees Debbie and Hali by the well, talking strategy. It’s all looking good for Hali, who appears to have a potential in Debbie, but this just goes to show how terrible I’d be at Survivor, because Debbie is is just telling Hali what she wants to hear. Debbie’s so kooky that I sometimes forget that she’s actually very intelligent.

We then move on to a very strange reward challenge, where each tribe must select two people to compete – one has to balance a ball on an ever increasing pole over a series of obstacles, and the other has to knock down nine targets with sandbags. The challenge itself isn’t that strange, but why are only two people from these tribes of five-six competing. It feels like this was an individual challenge that got brought forward in the season and hastily modified into a team challenge. Why?

Ozzy buys Tavua an early lead, because Ozzy can’t help but be irritatingly proficient at all physical challenges, but any goodwill is lost when Troyzan allows Nuku’s Malcolm to close the gap and overtake him. But unfortunately here comes Brad for Mana knocking down targets like nobody’s business.

And then something very strange indeed happens. A caption appears on the screen saying #coffeeisforclosers. What? Is Survivor trying to get their own hash tag going? And why such a terrible hash tag? Did someone say it in the show? I didn’t hear it, but maybe we get a different edit in Australia. I noticed earlier that an @JeffProbst caption popped up, but is the social media push a new thing this season? I hate when shows try to get their audience involved on social media. It’s like when your aunt tries to be your friend on Facebook.

Anyway, Tavua will go without coffee and biscuits, but they won’t be going hungry. Oh no. Because Super Ozzy just went and caught a huge stingray for them to eat. i wouldn’t imagine you could eat a stingray.  Incidentally, are there marine biologists out there telling the contestants what fish won’t kill you if you eat them? I’ve always wondered.

Meanwhile at Nuku, JT and Malcolm are bro-ing out and discussing a plan to oust Sandra. This is music to my ears, as Sandra’s cockiness is grating – and even worse seems to be the effect that her cockiness is deserved. She did manage to pull together a new alliance in five minutes when it became clear that Tony was a liability; she’s the two-time winner but has survived three out of four tribal councils, including this latest crazy fest; and she appears to be in control over at her tribe, seeing as her pick for the vote, Sierra, is what the rest of the tribe eventually goes for.

At the immunity challenge, Jeff reveals this episode’s big twist. The bottom two tribes will be going to Tribal Council. I’m fairly sure this has been done before, but after the challenge is over, he reveals the other part of the twist: two tribes might be going to Tribal, but only one person will be voted out. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The challenge involves four tribe members blindfolded while a fifth guides them to collect bags from water towers filled with Nickelodeon slime. They will then manoeuvre the balls from the bags through a table maze. Tavua seem to be doing the best straight out of the gate, but it ends up being Nuku who move on to the second part of the challenge first.  But it all comes down to the table maze. It’s tight between Tavua and Nuku (with Mana, true to form, flailing way behind), but in the end Tavua win, sending the other two tribes to Tribal Council.

In words that will come back to haunt him, Malcolm says that if there were any challenge to lose this was the one. Nuku are up in the numbers 6-5. It should be easy. New Nuku vote one way, New Mana vote another, and whomever Nuku voted for will be going out. But its not that simple. There’s the chance that someone will flip – Hali might vote with Nuku; Malcolm and JT might band together with Mana to get out Sandra; someone might have an idol. Ah yes, the idol. Tai goes out and finds the idol, via an ‘x’ marks the spot clue. Normally my opinion on idols is the fewer people know about it the better, but in this case, I think Tai was right to make the idol public property for whoever on his tribe will need it.

Tribal Council starts out normally enough, with the two tribes pounding their chests and putting on a show of being two unified fronts. Brad threatens Hali to vote with them or else; she isn’t particularly impressed with his approach, and reminds everyone that it could come down to rocks. Both sides start fighting for Hali’s vote, and then the whispering starts. At first people are just whispering in their seats. Brad Culpepper’s name does the round of the Nuku tribe like he’s the answer in a Chinese whisper. Then Debbie grabs Brad by the head to whisper in his ear and wonder if they’ve switched their vote to him. The whispering seems to die down, as Jeff asks Sierra a question. But the camera’s are on JT asking Malcolm if he should talk to Brad. Then JT gets out of his seat and tells Brad that it’s not him they’re voting for. Then all hell breaks loose. “If that’s how they’re going to play it,” says Hali, who walks over to Sandra and implore the Nukuians to vote Brad. Soon everyone is standing, whispering to each other, huddles are forming, weird aggressive whispers that involve grabbing people by the head with both hands, Jeff nearly falls out of his seat, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria

Jeff declares it’s time to vote, and as Hali goes up – telling Sandra she may regret it – Michaela, who’s been pretty quiet this episode, wonders why Hali didn’t tell them who had the idol. “Nobody got no idol over there,” says Sandra.

But someone did have an idol, and so all Nuku’s votes for Sierra are null and void, and the episode ends with the death of another bromance as Malcolm is voted out.  But the episode doesn’t end there. “JT set us up,” Michaela whispers to Varner as they march crestfallen out Tribal Council.

Next week looks like it will see JT’s in a whole lot of trouble. But the real kick will come in December, when JT will sit by his mailbox, waiting for a certain Christmas card that will never come…

Very Brief Doctor Who Reviews – Season Fifteen

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Horror of Fang Rock – What a strange little beast this is. Much like Philip Hinchcliffe, Graham William’s first story as producer bears all the hallmarks of being part of the old regime. This is one of those stories in the ‘And then there were none’ tradition, where all the characters get picked off one by one – but it feels like a bit cheat that the story has to import more characters in Part Two when it becomes apparent that they’re in danger of running out of cannon fodder. Speaking of the shipwreck, am I the only one who finds the reprise at the beginning of Part Two awkward – it’s overlong, and features a not very convincing model. In fact all the cliff-hangers are a bit odd. There’s the one where there’s a big scream, and then it cuts to Skinsale quite understatedly saying ‘Good Lord’. How odd. On another note, I don’t begrudge the production team wanting to get Leela out of her period frock because it was impractical or uncomfortable – but then her new clothes a) fit perfectly despite supposedly belonging to a man, and b) look like something someone might have been wearing in 1977 anyway. When I first saw images from this story, I thought Louise Jameson just hadn’t put on her costume yet. I’m being quite negative, but this story is highly enjoyable, especially the regulars: the Doctor is at his irascible best (“Gentlemen, I’ve got news for you: this lighthouse is under attack and by morning we might all be dead”); Leela gets several moments of shining awesomeness, and slaps the snobby Adelaide for being a hysterical stereotype. Quite right. 7/10

The Invisible Enemy – Oh dear, we’re only two stories into the season and the money’s clearly already run out. I’m not the greatest fan of Bob Baker and Dave Martin’s scripts, but I will love them forever for inventing K9. He’s a sarcastic, know-it-all, dog-shaped computer wearing a tartan collar – what’s not to love! The giant prawn is only as bad as other monsters from the same era; but some of the other effects really let the story down. I’m thinking in particular of the piece of wall that K9 blasts down, that already has a convenient crack in it. And this is probably more an issue of poor continuity, but lest we forget the Titan base appearing wrecked before the asteroids have hit it in the story. On the other hand, the interior of the Doctor’s mind looks quite good. Never mind the Impossible Girl, why did the Doctor never investigate the mystery of all the men he keeps running into that look like Michael Sheard? Is it because he’s not pretty enough? Umm, the Doctor and Leela’s clones just died and no one cared. That’s pretty dark. Also, they died inside the Doctor – doesn’t that mean he should get blood poisoning or something from having a pair of rotting, miniaturised corpses floating about inside him? A pretty average story, hampered by some really bad effects. 4/10

Image of the Fendahl – Easily the weakest of Chris Boucher’s scripts, this story is the definition of a hot mess. It looks beautiful, with some creative direction – the whatever it is’s POV as it approaches the Doctor at the end of part one; the shot of Fendahlman and Colby looking at the skull’s x-ray with the blue from the machine lighting them – and is full of great, spooky atmosphere; but as far as stringing together a coherent story, it’s a complete shambles – going back to the end of part one, does anyone have a clue what’s going on? The Doctor’s stuck, Leela’s sneaking around, there’s a gunshot – what? Like the similarly confusing Ghost Light, there’s actually a pretty simple story going on here – as I understand it, the Fendahl eat people’s life force and they won’t stop eating until everyone and everything is dead. There’s a bit of complication in that they’re gestalt entities, but it’s not really anything too complicated for a Doctor Who fan to grasp. But to understand that, I had to read the TARDIS wiki, because the episode doesn’t explain it very well. Nice to look at, but not much else. 4/10

The Sun Makers – The best story of the season by far. Like the two following stories, it isn’t visually very interesting, consisting as it does mostly of endless peach corridors, but fortunately it has a razor sharp script buoying it along. It’s a script that will never not be relevant, as I suspect that as long as capitalist society exists, there will be big corporations taking advantage of people. I really seem to be harping on about supporting characters a lot lately, but a story really can live or die by its supporting characters – afterall, it’s their worlds we’re dropping into week after week, and they’re the ones whose lives are at stake. Fortunately, we have two excellent proto-companions in the form of Bisham and little Cordo, with Leela playing the role of Doctor to them. The Collector is a magnificent creation, with script, make-up, and performance all coming together to create something horribly memorable. The Gatherer, is also great, hammy fun, and once again Pennant Robert’s habit of casting female actors in male roles is in evidence – its such a little thing, but so few directors bother to do it. I would say that it’s slightly hypocritical using Doctor Who to gripe about paying taxes, when the BBC is paid for by the TV license. But who cares when the result is this much fun. Robert Holmes at his angry best. 8/10

Underworld – The infamous underworld. The RC1 is actually a pretty impressive two story set, and it’s amazing what a bit of redressing and relighting can do to turn it into the P7E. If this were a story set entirely on the ship (e.g. The Robots of Death) they might have been able to make it work; just rearrange a few pieces of wall to give the illusion that it’s bigger than it is.  There must be something I’m missing, but as I understand it the caves were achieved by building models and the COSing them in; in that case, couldn’t they have made the models a bit more interesting to look at, instead of just endless brown? What are the seers exactly? Are they people, are they robots? They take off their ski masks to reveal… another mask that makes them look like three-eyed pigeons? And another bloody thing. I understand the idea that the Doctor’s adventures could form the basis of myths – but how does it happen that the Doctor has an adventure that coincidentally resembles a myth, right down to the character’s names, long after the myth has been told? Underworld might actually have a story, which is more than I can say for The Invasion of Corridors Time but it’s just a rip off of an old legend mashed up with the most basic ‘mad computer thinks it’s a god and oppresses people’ story (which was done much better last season). Add to that how painful this story is to look at, and the fact that no attempt has been made to make me care anything for the guest characters, and you have a recipe for disaster. 2/10

The Invasion of Time – I’m not even going to bother criticising the story for the way it looks, because I understand that it was something outside of the production team’s control; but good Lord is this story dull. In theory, I like the Doctor’s pretending to sell Gallifrey out to alien invaders, but did the Vardans really need such an elaborate scheme to be toppled? Ignoring the fact that they’re portrayed sheets of tinfoil, they don’t really do anything other than be a bit pushy. What were they’re plans once they’d taken over? What was at stake? Sure, they might be placeholder villains, but a) we’re not meant to know that, and b) we spend four episodes i.e. the majority of the story with them. And then the Sontarans show up in what I will concede is a pretty awesome fake out ending, but then they don’t do anything but stomp around corridors and wait for the story to be over. I can see this story being done today, but the Vardans would be dispatched about one third of the way through, then the Sontarans would announce themselves and there would be a big epic battle of brain vs brawn. And then there’s Leela. If she was going to be written out, and they weren’t going to kill her in a blaze of glory, then why didn’t she stay to say, mediate between the outsiders and the Time Lords in the capital, which would link back to her roots as a noble savage but also take advantage of the education she’s gained from the Doctor? I’d even have an easier time believing she was going to stay and marry Rodan, who had a personality like limp spaghetti but at least they spoke to each other, rather than falling for the pretty boy in tight pants who she’s barely shared a word with. And why did K9 the first get written out too? I know it was because they had a new model with a quieter motor, and they didn’t want sad obsessives writing in about how K9 had changed between seasons – but I am a sad obsessive and I can’t tell the difference and I’m actively looking for differences. 3/10