Very Brief Doctor Who Reviews – Season Thirteen

tumblr_ogicmjtz6Z1usadnro1_1280

Terror of the Zygons – The first time I saw a Zygon was on the cover of a tenth Doctor novel ‘Sting of the Zygon,’ and I remember being amazed and impressed that a monster from the show’s classic era could look so good. The design is so well-executed, they’re pretty much indistinguishable from their modern counterparts. The whole episode is drenched in a really creepy atmosphere, and I think a large part of that is down to Geoffrey Burgon’s incidental music. Nothing says creepy like the creaking of violin strings. The scariest scene has to be Zygon!Harry stalking Sarah in the barn, and those horrible close-ups on his eyes as he hides between the hay bales. The other Zygon actors imbue their characters with an icy detachment, which doesn’t seem like they’re doing much until you see them as the human originals and you realise how completely different the performances are. I know I’ve been slightly cynical about the idea that this is the show’s golden age, but even I have to admit that we’ve entered a run of very good stories, and that stories of this quality are the new normal is testament to that. 7/10

Planet of Evil – There are some stories that I have more affection for just because everything around them is so atrocious e.g. Vengeance on Varos, the first half of The Trial of a Time Lord. Then there other stories that really irritate me, because everything around them is so much better. Planet of Evil is one such story. It’s like when someone you know can do something better just phones it in, it’s more disappointing than when someone incompetent is trying their best. I think my main problem with it is that it’s just boring. The script gives me no reason to care about any of these characters, except Vishinsky, but he’s never put in any danger so there’s no point. The Doctor and Sarah are also at their most generic here – I think you could probably substitute any Doctor and companion into this story and it wouldn’t make the slightest difference. I will say what everyone else says and that is that the jungle set is pretty cool. I especially like that they went to the effort of having pools of water for the actors to slosh through. It’s just a pity that a story this dull doesn’t really feel like it deserves it. This and Kinda can do a jungle swap and all will be right with the world. 4/10 (P.S.  Does anyone know what that liquid Sonrensen is drinking is? It looks like chocolate syrup, and it looks delicious.)

Pyramids of Mars – Here’s a story whose reputation precedes it. Slap bang in the middle of the show’s  ‘golden age’, with the best loved Doctor/companion duo, one of the first things you learn as a new fan to the show, is that this is Doctor Who’s finest hour. The strange thing isn’t that fan lore is wrong – that’s to be expected – but that it’s so very nearly right. This is a very good story – but there are so many better stories from this same era. The sets here are exquisite (I always have to remind myself that these are sets, and not the genuine interior of Stargrove Manor), and Gabriel Woolf is legendary in the role of Sutekh (so calmly spoken but terrifying at the same time). HOWEVER, there are obvious problems with the story. The fourth Doctor is more brooding, moody, and humourless than he ever would be again, and it’s not a direction I like for the character. If this story weren’t so well loved, I suspect the mummies’ method of dispatching people would receive a lot more ribaldry than it does. The final episode is a shambles: there’s a bang, running, the Doctor does some jiggery-pokery, and the whole problem of an unstoppable ancient alien god from the beginning of time is resolved in the space of less than a minute. What? Sarah Jane is inexplicably a crack shot with a rifle (I assume her regular trip to the shooting range was a scene cut from the intro to K9 and Company). Very good, but far from perfect.  8/10

The Android Invasion – People seem to really hate this story and I don’t understand why. Compared to the likes of the Draconians and the Zygons, the Kraals might not be the most flexible alien costumes in the world, but they still look believably like aliens, rather than men in suits, which is more than some can claim. Barry Letts seemed like a lovely guy, but I don’t think he was that much of a director – the scenes shot on location look beautiful (though maybe that’s just the sunny weather), but the studio scenes all look particularly fake. Compare the flatly lit Kraal spaceship to the colour and atmosphere of the Zygon ship. Actually, this story is rather like the poor man’s Terror of the Zygons – alien duplicates in a rural British village, the Doctor and Sarah unable to tell friend from foe. Maybe that’s half its problem – if it hadn’t come hot on the heels of Zygons, maybe it wouldn’t accrue so much scorn. The reveal that Sarah is an android makes for a good cliffhanger (and the clue about the ginger pop is fun for people who’ve been paying attention); it’s just a pity that the transition from Elisabeth Sladen to the android prop is so unconvincing. And, yes, the Guy Crayford’s eyepatch twist is nonsense, but to be fair, I don’t think I would ever have noticed had people not pointed it out. Not bad, but not particularly good, either. In the words of Douglas Adams, “mostly harmless.” 5/10

The Brain of Morbius – Or Planet of the Karen Gillan Look-alikes. What can you expect from a script that has the grubby little protuberances of Tewwance Dicks and Robert Holmes all over it. So many fantastic pieces of dialogue; “A good forklift truck,” “Can you spare a glass of water”; “I’ll bite your nose” is such a bizarre threat that I use it as often as I can, and “even a sponge has more life than I” is an accurate description of my life. The sets are amazing, and even though the fact its shot on video gives away that its entirely studio bound, good direction and lighting helps to sell the idea that we’re on an alien planet. Hearing Barry Newberry talk about how he approached the design of Solon’s castle, with the pillars on the inside, makes me appreciate all the more all the effort that went into making this. Although I can’t help but notice that the wallpaper in Solon’s laboratory appears to have the same pattern as Patrick Star’s shorts. I’d particularly like to praise Philip Madoc as Solon – in particular his deadpan delivery of certain lines that make them all the funnier i.e. when he tells Kondo to stop stroking Sarah because she doesn’t like it. If you absolutely forced me to say one bad thing The Brain of Morbius, I’d say that the ending is slightly anti-climactic, but being chased off a cliff by fire-wielding locals  feels in keeping with the Frankenstein homage, and the rest of the story’s just so much fun that I’m not going to complain. I just love this story; it’s full of great lines, great design, great performances, and a delightfully sick sense of humour that appeals to my inner psychopath. 10/10

The Seeds of Doom – I should hate this story. I don’t like action thrillers. All the nasty characters – and they are some of the nastiest the show ever produced – survive until the final episode; the nice characters are horribly mutated into plant monsters, and then killed. It’s not even got a TARDIS line up that I’m particularly keen on. So why do I actually quite like this? While it is more violent and action packed (is this the only time we’ve ever seen the Doctor punch a man) than usual, it seems to have a purpose, rather than just being action for action’s sake. The Doctor and Sarah are in nearly constant danger, from the moment they leave Sir Colin Thackery’s office, and it keeps me invested in the story. Again, Geoffrey Burgon’s score adds so much tension to the story (sorry, Dudley Simpson scores don’t do much for me). The final phase of the Krynoid engulfing the manor house is, I think, some of the best model work the show ever had. How did they get its tendrils to move? And while people are dispensed with in some of the nastiest ways imaginable (death by vegetable processor) the Doctor and Sarah’s status as beloved children’s heroes stops it from ever becoming to much. 8/10

Originally published 4 March, 2017
Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s