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, quite resourceful, in the previous story we saw her stand up for the oppressed, and 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. I understand Tegan wanting to get back home, but Ian and Barbara wanted to get back home, and they still managed to find enjoyment and wonder in their travels. Speaking of Tegan; and 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. ‘Pass the sodium chloride.’ Urgh; 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, bolstered 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. Having said that, this is the one story where I will turn on the new DVD special effects; I love it so much, and now I can actually feel fear at the denouement. But enough about the monster; what does it matter in a story that is all about ideas. The weird dreamscape where Tegan gets 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 still 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 is 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, effectively slowing down the story (i.e. “What are these words you are using”). And 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 it rather mars my enjoyment of it; 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 a 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 only enjoyable 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 not in any 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 immediately 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 who I should feel offended for; 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 still 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