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

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