Very Brief Doctor Who Reviews – Season Fifteen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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