Very Brief Doctor Who Reviews – The Movie

The Movie (15)

Well, it could have been a lot worse. When The Last Airbender came out, I remember wondering ‘who is this for?’ the only people who will see it are fans of the show, and yet fans of the show will hate it because it’s not the show. That’s the problem here. They’ve tried to pack in so much lore – Daleks, the Master, regeneration, the regeneration limit – all in the first monologue, it’s bound to turn off and confuse new viewers. On the other hand, they’ve gotten what made Doctor Who so magical by turning it into a generic sci-fi action flick (the Master dressed like the Terminator, the Doctor being half human à la Spock). Ironically, making it all about the lore and history of the show, misses the point of the show; it’s entirely down to personal preference, but I’d argue that Doctor Who is best when it’s creating new stories – in the 60s, 70s, and 00s – than when it’s over-relying references to old ones – 80s, 10s. Philip Sandifer of the TARDIS Eruditorum made the very excellent point that you can’t have a Doctor Who movie, because it implies there’s such a thing as a definitive Doctor Who story, which there isn’t. Besides being a fundamentally flawed from a story point of view, Paul McGann and Daphne Ashbrook are both very good and make an instantly likable team. You might say they’re the movie’s saving grace. I’m sorry. 3/10


Very Brief Doctor Who Reviews – Season Twenty-Six

Battlefield (3)

Battlefield – How wonderful it is to have Nicholas Courtney back; I love that the Brig recognises the Doctor straight away because who else would it be. He’s a beacon of straight-man sanity and class in a production that veers on cheap too often for comfort. I’ve complained about Keff McCulloch enough lately, but needless to say he’s back; the direction, while passable during quieter moments is appallingly bad during the action sequences, with knights flying across the screen, while poor Angela Bruce stands by with no idea what to do; then there’s the underground spaceship/tomb/fairground attraction, and the repeated shots of the Doctor falling over backwards. How can the same writer who gave us the speech about the evil of nuclear weapons also give us such gems like ‘who you calling freaky’, ‘I bet even your parents hated your guts’, and of course, ‘shame’. On the plus side, the budding romance between Ancelyn and Bambera is enough to move my crusty old heart, the destroyer has been impressively realised, and Morgaine is both written and acted superbly. She’s such an interesting character; her actions seem strange to us, but everything she does is motivated by her honour-based morality – kill Lavel to gain information and an upper hand in the battle, sure, but don’t let a bar tab go unpaid. I used to feel that the Doctor persuading Morgaine not to set off the missiles was too easy, but thinking back on it though, it works; she may be war Queen, but we have seen how she values honour in war – berating Mordred when he did not honour the World War dead, and calling a ceasefire so they could hold a remembrance ceremony. Of course, the Doctor’s description of death without reason would be enough to stop her. I think it’s probably the story’s crowning achievement. Who would have thought a few seasons back that even the worst story of a season could be as enjoyable as this? 6/10

Ghost Light – The first time I saw this I was disappointed; the dialogue is inaudible, the print is super grainy even on DVD, and the plot didn’t seem to make sense. It’s now one of my all-time favourite stories. Set and scenery come together beautifully to realise the Gabriel Chase. There are so many sets and they are all so detailed, you’d be forgiven for thinking it were filmed in a real house. The dead animals and insects bursting from every corner of the house are a wonderfully macabre touch. There’s nothing I love more than an elective group of weirdos, so how could I not love a story that casually throws in a Neanderthal butler, an insane explorer, and a policeman in a drawer. The concept of the Survey (i.e. Josiah) and Control creatures is so fascinating. There’s something insidious about a creature that evolves to look just like you and eventually replace you. Marc Platt was very clever in taking Victorian society, so often associated with believing itself to be more civilised while being (by modern standards) backwards in its attitudes towards social justice, and having the aliens look at it in terms of animal evolution; Josiah believes he can evolve himself to the top of the food chain i.e. head of the British empire. My favourite character, though, is Redvers; I love is funny non-sequiturs, and his relationship with Control is strangely sweet (“That, sir, is no way to speak in front of a ladylike”). I love how Ace wakes up to find that while she’s slept, the Doctor’s got everything under control – freeing Redvers, bargaining with Control. I was pleased to find on a recent rewatch that the story is all there, the script is just so multilayered and unwilling to cut the viewer any slack, you need to pay extra close attention to the dialogue. I’ll never understand why Battlefield got a fourth episode instead of this. 10/10

The Curse of Fenric – I mentioned back in my Season 19 review how I love vampires; maybe that’s why I’ve always felt slightly let down by The Curse of Fenric, which is not a straight forward vampire story like State of Decay. Personal preferences aside, I still feel like this comes very close to being perfect, but doesn’t quite make it. I can’t remember the reasons now, but the switch from film to OB video for locations was a terrible decision; Sylvester McCoy’s stories look more like 1990s fan films than BBC productions. Fenric is trying so hard to be atmospheric and tense, with the mist and rain, but the flat look of video ruins it. The story sports some surprisingly lovely human moments – Kathleen getting the letter about her husband, Rev. Wainwright losing his faith not because of German bombs, but British ones – and yet as plotted, the story’s a bit of a disaster. And I’m not sure it’s entirely because the story being hacked to pieces for timing, although it certainly doesn’t help. Characters jump about hither and thither with little apparent motivation – why does the Doctor know to find Judson examining the runes and how did they become such close allies so quickly, how does Ace work out the runes are a logic diagram, why does Commander Millington suddenly decide to have the Doctor and Ace shot? The haemovore design is fine, but I think it would have been much more effective if they looked mostly human with barnacles and corpse make-up, rather than oversized rubber heads and hands. Mark Ayres’s been taken music lessons from Keff with those electronic keyboard stings. I wish Fenric had stayed in Dr Judson; while there’s nothing wrong with Tomek Bork’s performance, he doesn’t have the quietly chilling quality of Dinsdale Landen’s. Although both actors are visible struggling with the contact lenses. As in Battlefield, I’m glad Doctor Who is engaging with the contemporary world by taking a stance against chemical warfare. Like I said, this is very good, but not perfect. 8/10

Survival – What a way to end the series. It’s amazing how easily this can lead into Rose – with the alien threat invading a London suburbia, and supporting characters just being everyday people, rather than scientists and soldiers. I like how the alien’s aren’t blowing up land marks, but abducting young people; the fact that no one pays attention more than anything demonstrates why Ace wanted to leave so badly. Anthony Ainley’s Master has never been better – I feel like he’s finally been allowed to play his own character, rather than a pantomime imitation of Roger Delgado. What’s also great about the Master here, is that he isn’t excecuting some daft scheme, he just wants to survive – which makes him a lot scarier; he’s a dangerous animal who will do anything to survive. I love Dominic Glynn’s score for the story – nothing else in the series sounds like it, with it’s screeching guitar and wild west riffs. I don’t have a problem with the Kitlings – they’re aliens, so what if they don’t always look or move in the most natural manner, and the director cuts between the animatronics and the animal actors effectively. Nor am I particularly bothered by the realisation of the Cheetah people – I don’t see how you could get a halfway point between cheetah and human without losing the alieness of them. Although filming poor Lisa Bowerman running in slow-mo with her big wobbly head was probably not the best idea. The Cheetah planet is one of the show’s best realised BBC quarry planets, with its pink sky and volcanic atmosphere. The story wobbles with the false climax of the motorbike joust and the Master taking over a youth group, but it story picks up again for the final confrontation between the Doctor and the Master (I’m not sure how their fighting destroys the planet, but the idea is intruging enough for me to let it slide). And of course, that final speech, with the slow flute version of the theme tune playing as the Doctor and Ace walk off to adventures new gets me every time. 9/10

Very Brief Doctor Who Reviews – Season Twenty-Five

Silver Nemesis (8)

Remembrance of the Daleks – This was one of the very first classic Who stories I saw and it simply blew me away. Right from the start, the pre-titles sequence of earth being approached by a spaceship while contemporaneous sound clips play makes the story feel big and important. If I were trying to get a modern fan into the classic series this is what I would show them. As much as I love the corny sci-fi trappings (how my heart sings whenever the original TARDIS set in all it’s 60’s futurism glory appears in the new series) I think much of what is good about this story is how grounded in reality it is. It’s not Daleks vs Thals on Skaro – it’s Daleks vs a group of intelligent, sympathetic characters in cardigans, in a junkyard, a café, and a school. And even though there are Daleks in this (obvs) we also have Mike and his merry band of white supremacists providing a very real-world counterpoint to Daleks zapping people. The story moves quickly; within minutes the Doctor and Ace have ingratiated themselves with the local military presence and a Dalek has been blown up – no mucking about with tedious TARDIS scenes being locked up to pad time here. I’ve gone on record as not liking when Doctor Who does action, the heart-thumping direction and the massive explosions make for pretty exhilarating viewing. It’s true that nothing in in An Unearthly Child hints at this story, but at least having never seen An Unearthly Child doesn’t preclude your enjoyment of this story (unlike some stories cough*Attack of the Cybermen*cough). Who knows, the undertaker only said white hair – maybe it was Jon Pertwee who set this all up. The only person letting the side down is Keff McCulloch, whose ‘incidental’ music coats the story in a heavy layer of 80s naffness. If anyone tries to diss the seventh Doctor’s era, show them this. 9/10

The Happiness Patrol – The main problem I have with The Happiness Patrol is how it manages to botch it’s main idea – this is world where everyone is forced to happy, and yet no one is. And while I get that the idea was to show the hypocrisy of the people in charge not obeying their own rules, a) even the doorman is miserable, and surely he’s not in a position of power, so why doesn’t he get disappeared, and b) surely everyone should be saying their miserable dialogue with big fake smiles. I’m also not entirely sure how the Doctor saves the day. The point at the end is that happiness can’t exist without sadness, and this is proven when Helen A finally cries over the death of Fifi; however throughout the whole story we’ve been invited to read the enforced happiness as a metaphor for Thatcher’s conservative policies, particularly with regards to gay rights and the belief that leftist campaigners should stop complaining and get a job. So where does Fifi’s death fit into this metaphor? Is it how Thatcherites believe these things until they themselves need help e.g. nothing was done about the AIDs crisis until straight people started dying? Is it meant to be about a closeted person finally coming to terms with themselves after years of denial and self-loathing? Or am I just trying to read to far into this. Maybe I just don’t know enough about Thatcher’s Britain to truly appreciate the metaphor. On the plus side, Sheila Hancock’s performance is a thousand times better than the show derserved at this point, and I like the idea of the Doctor setting out to bring down the government in one night. And the Kandyman, while not a terrifying villain, lights up the screen whenever he’s on. I would like to like this one more, it just doesn’t quite articulate its ideas clearly enough. 6/10

Silver Nemesis – How can two stories have basically identical plots, and yet have such a gap in quality. Remembrance of the Daleks had sophisticated storytelling and exciting action; Silver Nemesis has plot threads that don’t hang together of different factions wandering around searching for the plot Nemesis. One made a single Dalek a genuine thread, the other has a gaggle of Cyberman bewildered  by jazz. One has the BNP, the other has an Elizabethan sorceress who can time travel but doesn’t know how doors work. One has Terry Molloy’s Davros, the other has Anton Differing giving a disinterested performance as the most B movie Neo-Nazi imaginable. One has Keff McCulloch, the other… nevermind. And then they go ahead and point out that the identical plots at the end of the story – are they mad?! Kevin Clarke apparently went into pitch to JNT with no ideas and came up with ‘the Doctor is God’ on the spot. Not only is this a terrible idea, the lack of thought behind the story shows on screen, and it’s not helped by the sloppy editing throughout. Luckily the seventh Doctor and Ace are likeable enough pair to carry the story along (the scenes of them just chilling, casually foiling the villains plans are very cute), and I will say that the scene up on the gantry is nicely shot, with the blue lighting and the shadow of the grill on Ace’s face; and even though defeating the Cybermen with gold coins and a slingshot makes them pretty much laughable as a threat, I’m sure if there were any kids watching they would have loved it. 4/10

The Greatest Show in the Galaxy – A great example of what can be achieved in the face of adversity; the billowing white tent corridors don’t just look good, they really feel like there’s a sandy planet just outside, in a way that wouldn’t have been possible had they been erected in the studio. Music seems to come up a lot in this era, and I think here we have, not only the best score of the McCoy era but one of the best of all time, blending eerie with excitement, the perfect score for a fight or flight adrenaline rush. You can’t discuss this story without mentioning Ian Reddington’s performance as the chief clown; his creepy high-pitched laughter, his whispered menace, and that gesture with his mouth. I especially love the scene where he’s disturbed by Bellboy’s suicide, but only for a moment and the mask slips back into place with a big fake smile. Although it’s never entirely clear whether he was under the influence, or just naturally nasty. Personally, I really love Mags – how could I not love a punk werewolf chic, and I like how her transformation is subtle with contacts, fangs, and claws being the extent of it (compare this to next season’s cuddly cheetah people). The story is full of great imagery from the clowns in the hearse to the planet in the sky, to the array of oddball characters – Nord, Whizzkid, Captain Cook, and of course, the family. I wonder if any one watching this for the first time suspected the post-modern 1950s family were the alien nasties behind it all, or if they just appeared to be another piece in the tableau of weirdery. Unfortunately, once the Gods of Ragnarok are revealed in all their booming, impassive stone glory, they’re immediately less interesting. But how cool does the Doctor look walking away from the exploding big top. 9/10

Very Brief Doctor Who Reviews – Season Twenty-Four

Delta and the Bannermen (1)

Time and the Rani – In isolation this is bad enough, but to have this be an introductory story for a new Doctor. The dialogue is terrible (“a hologram. As insubstantial as the Rani’s scruples”), the music is terrible, the plot is just bizarre – from the Rani’s plan to the subjugated alien species having a leisure centre, and then said leisure centre is presented as a bad thing? I know strange matter is a real thing but… um, what’s with the giant brain. And surely there a whole species whose dumbest member is smarter than the smartest human. The quarry never once convinces as anything other than a quarry – where is all the Lakertyan culture? Where do they live? If the Rani’s base is meant to be in the middle of nowhere, why are there so many of them around, then? Poor Sylvester McCoy isn’t given much characterisation other than ‘pratfalls’ and each one is more embarrassing than the last. For years I thought the meteors in the tile sequence were scrunched up pieces of paper – the script, perhaps? Despite all this, I just can’t bring myself to hate it as much as I should. There are a couple of genuinely good things – I think it’s cool to actually see an alien skeleton, and I like the way the Tetrap’s four-way vision focuses in on their target as they get closer – but more than anything else, it’s so bad it’s good fun, with Kate O’Mara camping/vamping it up being a particular highlight. 4/10

Paradise Towers – I can’t even pretend that I’m not biased here: I love Paradise Towers. Yes, it has its issues: the Kangs should be played by children and teens, not actress pushing 30; the cleaners are comically ineffective as a threat; and Richard Brier’s bizarre performance as Kroagnon. A lot of the stories in this era feel like they could do with another draft to really tighten them up, and Paradise Towers is no exception; it falls apart somewhat in the last episode, and I wish some of the backstory had been fleshed out more (what was Kroagnon doing in the basement, and why had he apparently turned into a neon Macra). But I don’t care. There are so many ideas in this that are right up my street. The gangs of almost feral children. Sweet old ladies turning cannibal. The robotic appliances killing people. A sinister something in the basement. I’ve always loved the imagery of when society breaks down, mundane objects having to be repurposed; a housing complex becomes a tribal warzone; the Red Kang’s base of operations is literally a mattress fort. I don’t mind the casting of Pex; I know he was meant to be a Schwarzenegger type, but I don’t think the fact that he’s played by a smaller man takes anything away from the joke of his bravado far outweighing his ability. I don’t even mind the Kang’s idiosyncratic way of speaking – the RP delivery ruins it at times, but the dialogue itself is solid. And in the middle of it all we have the Doctor finally behaving like the Doctor for the longest time, a mischievous imp, running around bureaucrats and turning their own rules against them. I bet the novelisation is brilliant. 8/10

Delta and the Bannermen – I can’t believe there are people who hate this story. After the mean-spirited season 22, and the disasterous season 23, it’s nice to spend three episodes wallowing in 1950s nostalgia fluff. I love the idea of a bunch of time travelling aliens disguising themselves as 1950s tourists to Disneyworld – it’s that thing RTD did so well, showing how what we think is mundane and boring is exciting and amazing from another perspective. Gavrok is a fantastically nasty piece of work (that meat-eating scene in part two – eugh), with Don Henderson playing the character with all the menacing seriousness that Richard Briers lacked in the previous story. I know their based on bees, but I love just how alien the Chimerons are to humans, with their green laval offspring growing into silvery humanoids. I think Ray would have been a brilliant companion, although the bad Welsh accent would soon grate. Sylvester McCoy gives a lovely ‘Doctor-y’ performance, showing bother the alien (listening to an apple before eating it) and human (offering to dance with the heartbroken Ray) side to the character. On the down side, the story suffers from the pitfalls of this era; the lack of film for location work gives the story an unfortunately cheap and ameteaurish look, while, as ever, Keff McCulloch goes overboard with the music, (though I actually don’t mind his 1950s inspired cues, he just needs to turn them down a notch). The CIA agents are superfluous to the plot, and Billy is terrible wooden. But these are small niggles. By no means brilliant, but still oddly charming. 7/10

Dragonfire – I have a controversial opinion and I don’t know where to put it, so I’m putting it here: I think the seventh Doctor’s characterisation was better in season 24. I don’t mean he was characterised well, but I think the character they did give him was a better fit for Sylvester McCoy. I admire both McCoy and Andrew Cartmel greatly, but neither of them quite have the chops to pull off the ‘darker’ Doctor. I think McCoy would have suited a Troughton-like characterisation, light and clownish but with flashes of the seriousness underneath. And on that bombshell, onto Dragonfire. A truly average story for me – it never does anything seriously offensive (apart from you-know-what) and it’s clearly trying, but nor does it ever particularly dazzle me. I think the main problem is I’ve never been able to get a handle on Kane. Is he a terrorist? A supervillain? Dracula? Why was imprisoned on Svartos instead of just killed? Why imprison him with an escape route (the dragonfire)? Why didn’t he know his planet was destroyed 2000 years ago when he’s clearly had outside contact? Why wait 3000 to do what apparently only takes a few minutes? And why, oh why, master criminal, has he opened his own freezer centre. He’s played with magnetic intensity by Edward Peel, but from a story point of view, he makes no sense. A powerful, charismatic man who manipulates vulnerable young women is a scary enough concept without all the Mr Freeze ice zombie nonsense thrown in. 5/10

Very Brief Doctor Who Reviews – Season Twenty-Three ‘The Trial of a Time Lord’

The Ultimate Foe (4)

Episodes 1-4 ‘The Mysterious Planet’ – Wow, that opening model shot is incredible. I seriously thought it must have been some CGI wizardry for the DVD the first time I saw it. How lovely it is to have the Doctor and Peri actually getting on, it really does make all the difference. Glitz and Dibber are great fun, and Peri interacts with them really well. Less successful are Humker and Tandrell – I think they were probably written in the absurdist style a la Waiting for Godot, but something got lost in the acting or directing and they seem more like imbeciles than the cleverest of Marb station. The subway set looks great; the post-apocalyptic-earth-landmarks gimmick is not original, but it is welcome, and the fact that we’re not told from the beginning that this is earth comes as a nice, gruesome twist. Maybe it’s the silly yellow boiler suits, but I find the Marb station dwellers hard to connect with; unusual for a Robert Holmes story. The thing that lets these four episodes down, as with the other instalments, is the larger arc. The question that hangs over all three mini stories (except maybe Mindwarp) is why should these adventures be presented as evidence? The Doctor meddles in this adventure no more than any other, and, if anything, the Valeyard is just exposing the Time Lord’s cover-up. It seems the production team just let the writer write any old story and then slot it in arbitrarily. Also, I don’t feel that the mystery of why earth was moved or what Glitz and Dibber were after is set up particularly well. Though given it doesn’t really get satisfactorily resolved come the end, I don’t know whether to be more or less annoyed. This is by no means the highlight of Robert Holmes’s career, but it’s fine with a couple of nice touches (‘Habitats of the Canadian Goose’ by HM Stationary Office), and it’s already better than almost anything from the previous season. 6/10

Episodes 5-8 ‘Mindwarp’ – This is where the cracks start showing. It’s not the constant Trial scenes, nor the Doctor’s many ‘yard’ names for the Valeyard (childish, perhaps, but it amused me, and that’s not something the show does much in this era). No, it’s the fact that the gaps in communication between script editor and writer are starting to show. To this day, no one knows how of the Doctor’s behaviour is real, a matrix lie, or the Doctor acting. Plus, the Valeyard says Peri died because the Doctor abandoned her – but it is plainly obvious from the action on screen that the Doctor was going to save her but was dragged off to the trial instead. OK, enough about the arc, let’s talk about the ‘Mindwarp’ adventure, because its pretty good. Thoros Beta hurts to look at, but I love the effort that’s gone into making a really alien looking world. Sil is the best thing to come out of the Colin Baker era, and Nabil Shaban is even more hilariously slimy than before. Like The Caves of Androzani and The Angels Take Manhattan, there’s a feeling of impotently fighting against the inevitable, helped by the dark cave sets and the ominous, funereal music Peri starts the story as marked for death, and there’s nothing we can do to stop it. And what a sickly fitting end for the character the show seemed most determined to treat as nothing more than a piece of meat, to have her reduced to just that. If I had any complaints unrelated to the larger trial format it would be that Colin Baker has a bit of a habit of trying to out-ham other actors, and here he foolishly tries to take on biggest ham on the planet Brian Blessed (“Weapons!”) and just ends up ruining the dramatic weight of what we’re meant to be seeing. Also, while it is a terrifying performance from Nicola Bryant, Christopher Ryan!Kiv and Peri!Kiv seem like two completely different characters. Unencumbered by the millstone of the season arc, this could have been an absolute classic. 7/10

Episodes 9-12 ‘Terror of the Vervoids’ – Yes, she’s written and acted as a barely two-dimensional children’s pantomime character, but after Tegan and Peri, who never really seemed like they wanted to be there, Mel’s a breath of fresh air, wanting to get stuck into the adventure. Though the Vervoids are one of the worst cases of men-in-suit monsters, I don’t mind their rude-looking headpieces – flowers are a plant’s ‘organs of generation’, afterall. And Ruth’s half vervoid face looks fantastic. Next time you’re watching, look for the moment when part of the Doctor’s vest accidentally gets chromakeyed out. Now the bad. The past/present/future gimmick should have been dropped; not only is it pointless, seeing as we’re with the sixth Doctor the whole time, showing an adventure from the future raises a whole host of problems (implying the Doctor will survive the trial, implying there is no such thing as free will, throws into question everything we know about the matrix). And why would the Doctor show this adventure, with a massive body count, and a relatively small win (yes, he saved the earth, but there have been adventures where multiple planets or the whole universe has been at stake.) The story itself is trying to be an Agatha Christie, but the thing about Christie’s stories that you didn’t know who the culprit was, or how they committed the crime. We know the whole time the Vervoids are killing people; we see them do it. At least The Robots of Death needed to have a human reprogramming the robots. Astoundingly, this is still the Baker’s best contribution to the series. 4/10

Episodes 13-14 ‘The Ultimate Foe’ – What a disaster. I don’t understand how the production team at this point could be so completely clueless. By all rights this should have been their last chance and they completely blew it in the worst possible way. How can you try to write an epic fourteen-episode story-arc and not know how it ends? When I write, I tend to make up the middle bits as I go along but I always know the big story beats and I always know how it ends. And don’t tell me it’s because Robert Holmes died and Eric Saward took the secrets of the Matrix with him – there should have been a clear answer as to how the season would resolve before they even started work on it. You’ll notice I’ve not talked about the actual story; what story. We run around the some admittedly cool imagery in the matrix and then a computer explodes and the Doctor is let off the hook for… some reason. Lest we forget it was his evil potential future self who caused all this – wouldn’t the Time Lords want to lock him up more than ever? After twelve episodes of build up we discover that the great secret at the heart of The Trial of a Time Lord is that there is no secret and the production team clearly have no idea what they are doing. Despite the best efforts of the cast, the toxicity is behind the scenes pulling the story apart at the seams. Instead of attempting a grand, mythic arc that with their level of talent they should have known they had no hope of achieving, and inserting some middling-quality generic adventures in there, the production team should have gone back to basics and just focus on making good, fun Doctor Who. 2/10

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

Very Brief Doctor Who Reviews – Season Twenty-One


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


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


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