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. Then, 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. Things like these make me sad Chronic Hysteresis Bid mead edited out all the ‘silliness’, as 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 classic 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, then there’s 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. It’s like 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 visually interesting? I’m a bit worried that the most idiosyncratically dressed of all Doctor Who companions 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 whereas with her it didn’t feel earned, 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 soon 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, 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 episode 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, 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 relatively 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 paralyse, so couldn’t regenerate unless the Watcher helped him. I never said it was a nice theory. I also have a theory that the more beloved a Doctor, the worse their regeneration story will be, and sadly, this story backs that theory up. 4/10

Survivor Game Changers: Episode 7 Recap

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Very Brief Doctor Who Reviews – Season Seventeen

Destiny of the Daleks – Good Lord, is this story boring. In hindsight, maybe doing a story where 90% of your characters have no emotion wasn’t such a great idea after all. I think the scene of the Daleks exterminating extras might be one of the worst I’ve ever seen – they just stand in a line, wait to be zapped, and then fall into the pile of pillows next to them, all the while a single emotion never crosses their faces. Is this a Two Doctors scenario where they would have to pay the extras more if they actually acted? And have the Daleks ever looked worse than the scene in which a Dalek flails around with its vision impaired while Davros shouts “he’s behind you.” I know one of the charms of Doctor Who is that he sometimes defeats enemies simply by being more fun, but this isn’t fun, this is torture. And since when were Daleks completely logical – they’re driven by hatred and anger; no one is logical when they’re angry. Was even Terry Nation confusing them with the Cybermen? Also, the decision to replace incidental music with the sound of drilling for vast swathes of the story, really doesn’t work in its favour. I’m not the greatest Dudley Simpson fan, but the episode just so bare and feels unfinished without it. Ken Grieve’s direction also seems to be lacking something; it’s odd because there are some shots like the low angle of Davros that look quite impressive and unlike anything else at the time, but the whole episode is so overlit, that, again, it feels unfinished. I will say one nice thing about this episode, and that is that Romana crossplaying as the Doctor is adorable. But even the charms of Lalla Ward can’t save this story. 1/10

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

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

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

7/10

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

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

Very Brief Doctor Who Reviews – Season Sixteen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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