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


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

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.


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

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

Very Brief Doctor Who Reviews – Season Fourteen


The Masque of Mandragora – I spent many years remembering this story as a fairly standard adventure among several more interesting stories. But then the last time I watched it, something strange happened. I found it was actually rather good. By the time the first cliff-hanger rolled around, I was really involved (and this was about my fourth time watching). It’s almost not worth stating at this point, but the BBC are really good at period pieces, and this episode looks beautiful; really convincing renaissance Italy. It also helps that they filmed at Portmeirion, which is a place I just want to run around and play make-believe in. Are Guiliano and Marco the first gay couple in Doctor Who. Because that’s what the actors intended isn’t? Or am I just reading too much into Marco’s willingness to be tied up and all sweaty for the sake of his prince… Anyway, they make a cute couple; I’m sure there’s fanart of them somewhere. Oh Sarah, how are you always coincidentally dressed in the perfect attire for whatever era you happen to land in? Speaking of, I don’t think Elisabeth Sladen ever looked more beautiful than she does in the story. And Heironymous’s beard is epic (though the greatest beard in Doctor Who history still goes to Zargo from State of Decay).  It’s not a classic by any stretch of the imagination, but can be great fun if you’re willing to get swept up in the adventure. 7/10

The Hand of Fear – Sarah is so creepy and childlike possessed; it helps that she’s decided to dres like a four-year-old today. Incidentally, SARAH WHAT ARE YOU WEARING YOU USED TO BE A SERIOUS INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST WHAT HAPPENED? Sorry, I try not to dwell on the shallow side of things, but it is the strangest outfit choice this side of Nyssa’s ‘deck-chair’ look in Snakedance. I still haven’t entirely forgiven the Doctor for coldly allowing that nice Dr Carter to fall to his death. This would never happen on David Tennant’s watch. It’s a pity all the balletic subtlety of Judith Paris’s performance is replaced at the last minute by Stephen Thorne playing… Stephen Thorne. I find this story just basically competent, but it must have some impact, as even after forty years, my Auntie, who I don’t think has watched any Doctor Who since the 70s, still remembers ‘Eldrad must live.’ 6/10

The Deadly Assassin – I’m surprised that Hinchcliffe and Holmes decided to bring back the Master, seeing as at this point he was exclusively a product of the Pertwee era, and all the other UNIT characters had been phased out. Plus, he might as well be a totally different character, seeing as Peter Pratt seething in a garbage bag and ping pong balls bears no resemblance to the affably evil Roger Delgado character. Now that we know Time Lords can change the sex and race of their bodies, I think we finally have an explanation for why everyone in this story was an old white man – being an old white man was fashionable then (don’t worry Gallifrey, we have something similar). The scariest moment comes in Part 3 when, lost in the nightmarish reality of the matrix, we see… the Doctor’s bare arms! We hardly ever see the Doctor’s arms exposed and it feels somehow wrong. Miscellaneous thoughts: The scrolling text at the beginning of Part 1 reminds me so much of Star Wars, that I’m surprised that this came first; I never fail to laugh at the chalk outline of the deceased president – complete with wacky collar; the Panopticon set receives a lot of praise, but all I can think of is a mint aero chocolate bar (if you’ve ever eaten a mint aero, you’ll know what I mean). This story is fine, but I just find it doesn’t quite live up to all the hype. 6/10

The Face of Evil – What a criminally underrated story this is. I think the jungle sets  are everybit as good as the one that get raved about in Planet of Evil; it has a similar aesthetic too, with trees and vines made out of bits of pipes. The first episode ends on a phenomenal cliff-hanger, which must comes as a shock to anyone who doesn’t know it’s coming. The plot overall is pretty intriguing and almost unique, doing the ‘Doctor returns to find his intervention has only made things worse’ decades before Bad Wolf. And of course this is the story that introduces Louise Jameson as Leela, who I think is the strongest actor to ever play a companion. I find the story does suffer slightly when it moves from the Sevateem to the Tesh, mostly because the Tesh are so robotic it’s hard to not glaze over whenever they’re on screen. Also, I never totally understood how Xoannon was the Sevateem’s god, but they recognised the Doctor as the Evil One, who was apparently Xoannon’s enemy. I guess it’s all to do with the split personality theme. And while there are episodes that fail the Bechdel test much harder than this one does (there is at least one female unspeakng extra in addition to the companion) seeing as we’re supposedly being presented with two races, the fact that they are almost exclusively male does stick out. Not without its faults, but pretty enjoyable nonetheless. 7/10

The Robots of Death – I have to admit I’m not especially enamoured with the crews’ costumes – giant hats and flowing robes they seem a trifle impractical for a mining ship – but I like the art deco look of the crews’ quarters on the ships and the design of the robots themselves. D84 is very sweet; part of me wishes that he survived the episode and became a companion, but then I suppose we wouldn’t have had the sheer sassy brilliance of K9. I love Poul as well (mostly thanks to David Collings’s charming performance) and it breaks my heart when he breaks his mind. I’ve not even mentioned Pamela Salem who plays a highly competent and likable character in Toos. I hope he recovered after the story’s close. I love the Doctor’s explanation for how the TARDIS is bigger on the inside – it’s scientifically nonsense, of course, but it has a kind of childlike logic to it. It’s often repeated by the story’s detractors that it’s a whodunit where the identity of the killer is revealed in the title – but that’s not the point. The Doctor identifies the robots as the killers from the beginning; the mystery is who is reprogramming them, and this mystery is handled well. What can I say, I find mystery solving shows strangely comforting (Jonathan Creek, the early episodes of Sherlock) and a Doctor Who murder mystery with a great cast of supporting characters ticks all the boxes for me. 9/10

The Talons of Weng-Chiang – Oh I’ve been dreading this one. The design is beautiful. The acting is phenomenal. The dialogue has the perfect balance of wit and drama. The description of ‘pale eyes’ is so unusual, I try to use it in every short story I write. The whole serial is just dripping with atmosphere. And the human villain is played by a white man in yellow face. *Bangs head on desk*. And unlike The Tomb of the Cybermen, I do think the production team at the time should have known better. I’m white, but I try to imagine if I were of Chinese heritage, would be offended by this, like how as a female I’m offended by The Prison in Space, and I think I would be. And while the story doesn’t explicitly state that all Chinese people are evil – and even manages an ironic jab at the way that white people think all Chinese look alike – it does imply it by the fact that the only Chinese people we see are criminals. I think they could have helped their case a lot had they had a sympathetic Chinese character. Maybe Professor Litefoot could have had a Chinese assistant who helped them with the investigation. And you know, cast an actual Chinese actor. Pretty much impossible to mark, so I’m giving it two – 9/10 for production values and story, 2/10 for failing to not include problematic portrayals of race.

Originally published 11 March, 2017

Very Brief Doctor Who Reviews – Season Thirteen


Terror of the Zygons – The first time I say a Zygon was on the cover of a tenth Doctor novel ‘Sting of the Zygon,’ and I remember being amazed and impressed that 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 see 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 there most generic here – I think you could probably substitute any Doctor and companion into this story and it would 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? And 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 of 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. I find the reveal the 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 blatant rip-off 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 actually quite like this? I think it’s because it’s an episode that simply demands to be watched. 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 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 (unlike, say, The Two Doctors). 8/10

Originally published 4 March, 2017

Very Brief Doctor Who Reviews – Season Twelve


Robot – I almost said that this is the most average story of average stories – but then I remembered the circumstances it was made in. A new Doctor’s debut story, made by the previous production team, and surrounded by the trappings of his predecessor – there’s no other story like this. Given this, I think it’s a relief that it didn’t fall flat on its face. Tom Baker’s Doctor arrives fully formed – interestingly not the brooding alien of the Hinchcliffe era, but the camper, quirkier, more comedic man of the Williams era, which is the version that seems to have stuck in public consciousness. It’s probably just Tom being Tom. The robot’s tiny hands are well known source of jollity, but what about his stumpy little legs? Why is the poor thing so top heavy? Here’s a question; why does the fascist scientist organisation object to women wearing trousers – and yet not, apparently, to being led by a woman? The little toy tank that trundles into shot at the end of part three – and again at the beginning of part four – has to be one of my favourite special effects fails in Doctor Who. If I never get the chance to say it again, I love the Brigadier. “The rest are all foreigners” indeed, and the poor guy seems so excited that maybe he’ll be able to save the day all on his own for once. Yes, the overall quality is average, but there are plenty of fun moments. 5/10

The Ark in Space – Sorry received wisdom, I just don’t get it. I mean there’s nothing wrong with this episode, but I don’t see what’s so special about it, either. The same with the current TARDIS crew, seeing as we’ve now entered what people deem the golden age of Doctor Who. I like the fourth Doctor, but only in the way that I like the Doctor in general; Sarah is a bit too much of a whiter than white heroine for my liking; and poor Harry is an out-of-place remnant of an alternative reality where Pertwee was replaced by an older actor. Everyone talks about how impressive the sets are, and yes they’re quite big, but they’re vast expanses of flatly lit white walls. I’m not going to criticise the bubble wrap monster, because I think I’d be in the wrong fandom if I did; I will however note that the way the adult Wirrn bounces up and down when it talks – the same way kids playing dolls do to indicate who’s talking – brings a smile to my face. 6/10

The Sontaran Experiment – There must be some special Doctor Who edition of Murphy’s Law that states that if a race is meant to all be identical, they won’t be. Although, given that the change in mask was to make it more comfortable for poor Kevin Lindsey, I’ll give them a pass – but then why did they keep in Sarah’s line about them being identical? I’ll bet there is a wealth of outtakes featuring the robot falling over. It’s amazing to think that this is the same time allotted to a single episode of Doctor Who today, and yet I get the feeling that everyone involved thought it was too short to tell an entire story. Instead they plumped for running between rocks of various shapes and sizes, waiting for the story to be over and we can get to the next one. Nasty, brutish, and short. 3/10

Genesis of the Daleks – I can’t believe this is from the same author who gave us Death to the Daleks. I don’t generally notice direction, but even I can tell that this has been beautifully shot. That low angle image of the dalek against the purple sky is just beautiful. The Davros mask is phenomenal; why is that in the eighties he looks like a half-melted wax figure, when he looks this good in 1975.Michael Wisher as Davros and Peter Miles as Nyder are my favourite villainous double-act. Davros is such a smooth talker, you believe it when he feeds you lies, and that makes him even more terrifying. Nyder was the role Peter Miles was born to play; it’s made such an impact on me, in his other two Doctor Who appearances I just see Nyder (Dr Lawrence, Professor Whitaker – Nazis). The guest characters are great, too – Ronson, Sevrin, Gharman, Bettan. And what an ending – “have pity!” This is one of those episodes where ever element comes together absolutely perfectly. A classic and rightly so. 10/10

Revenge of the Cybermen – Campest. Cyberleader. Ever. Just look at him, strutting around with his hands on his hips. I’ll start to with the positives: the back-lighting effect used to show the virus is pretty cool; and while the Doctor and Sarah are too lily white to ever be tempted by gold, I like that Harry isn’t above going all Golem on us – it makes me like him a little bit more. Less than positives: if Death to the Daleks is the dullest story ever, this is a close second. The Vogans and they’re internal squabbling is so banal that no matter how many times I’ve seen this story, I still couldn’t tell you what their problem actually is. There planet is about to be destroyed, surely we don’t need a leadership struggle on top of it. No wonder they all look like they’re falling asleep. if even actors like Kevin Stoney, Michael Wisher, and David Collings can’t bring this dialogue to life, what hope have we got. And was there no other stock footage of rockets available that didn’t clearly have “USA” printed on the side. 3/10

Originally published 25 February, 2017.

Very Brief Doctor Who Reviews – Season Eleven


The Time Warrior – Sometimes I wonder what Robert Holmes thinks of Strax in the current series, and whether he’s rolling in his grave at what his creations have become. But then I remember that Robert Holmes didn’t create the Sontarans – he created a Sontaran, Linx. Of all the many things that we thank Robert Holmes for, one of the things that all too often gets forgotten is that his stories featured villains, not monsters, and sometimes the villains were aliens, but the two weren’t synonymous. People rave about the cliffhanger where Linx takes off his helmet to reveal his head is exactly the same shape; watching as someone who already knows what Sontarans look like, my reaction to this has always been ‘well, yes, what else was his head going to look like?’ I’d have been shocked if it were shaped like a sausage. Are Irongron and Bloodeaxe the first of the great Holmesian double-acts? I think they might be (last season’s Inter-Minorians were more of a triple-act). Sarah’s so clever and rational, when she finds herself in the middle ages, she reasons she’s in a renaissance faire-esque pageant – how then does she explain that the Doctor’s police box managed to transport her from UNIT HQ of the week to the woods outside a castle; or the fact that said police box is bigger on the inside? This story is fall of great lines; “wacking great spider” is a favourite (being Australian, I often have cause to use it) and “long shank rascal with a mighty nose” is how I describe my dog. 7/10

Invasion of the Dinosaurs – Everyone makes fun of the dinosaurs, and while they do kind of look like they’re made of play-doh (other childs’ salt-based modelling compounds are available), they still look pretty good, (and the model sceneries they wander around in a beautifully detailed) apart from the t-rex and his tiny, tiny hands. Also, I don’t know how to usually reliable writers like Malcolm Hulke and Tewwance Dicks managed to so massively mishandle the reveal that Mike’s turned traitor. Not only does it come way too early, but we just kind open on a scene with him and the baddies with no fanfare. Imagine how much better this would have worked as a cliffhanger at around part four, rather than another bout of ‘a dinosaur appears/dramatic close-up on the Doctor’s face.’ Having said all that, I was still new enough to Doctor Who when I first watched this to know who Mike was, but not know the twist and I remember being pretty impressed. I get real joy out of the scene of the Doctor and Sarah having their mug shots taken (“Now, what about one of both of us?”). And who knew even hippies could be totalitarian dictators? Yes, I probably like it more than it deserves, but I don’t care. 8/10

Death to the Daleks – I think this may be the dullest story in the history of Doctor Who. Yes, there are stories that are worse, but at least they inspire some emotion in me, even if it is anger or annoyance. The humans are so poorly acted and shallowly characterised, they may as well be played by puppets, and the Daleks, once the feared conqueres of the galaxy, now self-destruct when they lose their prisoners and can be defeated by what looks suspiscuosly like a vacuum attatchement. On top of that, it has some of the worst incidental music (although nothing in this comes close to the cue from Timelash that sounds like composer’s cat is walking across the keyboard). I appreciate the effort that’s gone into making Bellal a sympathetic alien, and the make job is pretty good (even if he is naked) but I think if I had to watch much more of him, I would be driven mad by his pure-of-hearted-ness. It amuses me on rainy days to reflect how the big heroic climax of this episode is the suicide bombing of an air/space craft. Oops. 2/10

The Monster of Peladon – There wasn’t really any reason for this episode to exist, aside from the parallels to the Miner’s strike, but even that had passed over by the time the story actually aired. It’s pretty much the same story as The Curse of Peldon but not as interesting and stretched out an extra two episodes. Again, because I was so green (ha ha) to the show when I watched this season, I was genuinely shocked when the Ice Warriors appeared – although anyone who’d seen already seen Curse probably wouldn’t have been. 5/10

Planet of the Spiders – The Pertwee era reminds me in a lot of ways of the Russel T Davies era, and that’s down to the fact that both eras had a cast of recurring contemporary earth-based characters, and both seemed more dedicated to developing characters than any other era of the show. Where this is all leading to is my saying how lovely it is that the Doctor reads a letter from Jo. Usually when companions leave they are either forgotten about completely or cease to be people and become fannish continuity references (looking at you early ‘80s episodes). Is it an indictment on the quality of this story that I’ve spent such an inordinate time on a single line in the first episode? Let’s face it; this story’s a mess. The cliffhanger reprises are ridiculously long (and in the case of part five/six, have been cut so poorly there are butchered scenes twitching on the floor in agony); Sarah’s possession seems to come and go (did the queen spider really take the time to notice that Tommy’s learning impairment had vanished, even if it did lead to that lovely exchange about not wanting to be like everybody else?); why does the Doctor apparently not question that his companion can suddenly teleport? Why can spiders, even super advanced ones, teleport at all? Is Metebellis III the most boringly realised planet of all time? Planet of the Spiders? Planet of the bad actors in dodgy ‘70s moustaches more like. 4/10

Originally published on 11 February, 2017

Very Brief Doctor Who Reviews – Season Ten


The Three Doctors – Happy tenth anniversary! Oops we’re a year early. It’s been acknowledged that the Brigadier seems to get stupider as time goes on, and this really is the climax of that (luckily he seems to regain his wits later on.) Its strange to think that this is meant to be the same character who was willing to accept the Doctor had a spaceship on their first meeting, but won’t believe he’s travelled to another planet after having worked together to fight alien invasions for the past several years. Benton gets the perfect reaction to the TARDIS, which is pretty much ‘yeah, why not.’ I like Pertwee’s Doctor just fine, but Troughton is just so much more fun. He might not be playing his Doctor so much as a half remembered parody of him, but he lights up the screen and if I were Jo, I’d be thinking ‘why couldn’t I have had this one instead.’ Is this the most quotable Doctor Who story of all time. Classic Doctor Who isn’t particularly funny, but the closing line from Mr Ollis never fails to make me smile. Wonderful story, all of it. 7/10.

Carnival of Monsters – Sorry, I don’t see the charm. Is it the case of a story that can’t possibly live up to its hype? Possibly. The shot of Vorg’s hand reaching in and plucking out the miniaturised TARDIS is a great, eye-catching image; the shot of that same hand flapping away the Drashigs, not so much.  The Robert Holmes that we all know and love has arrived. Yes The Krotons was political in its way, but this is the story where Holmes has decided that bureaucrats are the ultimate evil in the universe and must be destroyed via the medium of family teatime entertainment. Poor Ian Marter; is it because of his pleasant, open face that he always plays characters who are so… wet. Trust the Doctor to immediately start chatting up the pretty young assistant the first chance he gets, the old rogue. 6/10

Frontier in Space – Even though he’s not as much a part of the establishment as Verity Lambert always though he was, the third Doctor did usually have the establishment firmly on side in the form of UNIT, so it’s nice to see him on the outs for once, being a political prisoner on the moon. I heartily approve of the Master casually turning the sound off so he doesn’t have to listen to Jo’s amateur dramatics improvisation workshop. It’s a shame that because this story was devised as the first half of a twelve-part epic with Planet of the Daleks, that this story and its charcters (who are all far more interesting than the interchangeable Thals in the next story) don’t get a resolution. Speaking of such things, does anyone know what actually happens in the end? There’s a commotion, someone gets shot, and the next think I know the Doctor is starting to frost over. It has to be some of the worst directing in the shows long and varied history. I admit it, it’s mostly an endless game of capture and escape, but it’s strangely engrossing capture/escape, as every recapture leads to a new and exciting destination and chapter in the plot. 6/10

Planet of the Daleks – I would never put Jo at the top of my favourite companions (in fact, I do keep such a list, and she’s my 19th favourite), but I think she might be one of the best developed companions of the classic era, and she certainly gets a lot of times when she’s more useful than the Doctor. I like the ingenuity of the escape by hot air balloon sequence, even if I have doubts about the science and the fact that there’s a hole in the balloon drives my need for symmetry mad. I know it’s obviously an engineered Pertwee moment of charm, but the “Courage isn’t just a matter of not being frightened… It’s being afraid and doing what you have to do anyway,” line means a lot to me, especially as someone who’s had lifelong anxiety. We all know that this is pretty much just a remake of the original Dalek story, without the benefit of unfamiliarity or the atmosphere added by being in black and white. I feel it was aiming for solidly average, and that’s what it achieved. 5/10

The Green Death – Wasn’t I just saying that Jo is one of the better developed companions? She also gets one of the best send-offs. Sure Jo and Cliff’s relationship has about the same timeline as a fairytale romance, but it feels plausible, as we see them slowly fall in love over the course of six episodes. And that’s not just the chemistry of the actors – the writing has actually bothered to invest in this relationship (compare poor Louise Jameson, one the finest actors we’ve ever been lucky enough to have as a regular, desperately trying to build something that just wasn’t there in the script.)  And Yates, who I’ve always thought was the weakest of the Pertwee recurring cast, gets his moment to shine. There’s something very satisfying about the scene where he communicates to the Brigadier everything he needs to know, all why having a henchperson lurking over his shoulder; and then the moment when he ditches said henchperson in the lift. For all that I’ve praised the characters, this isn’t a story I find easy to like; I think it’s because I’ve had enough preaching about alternative energy all through school, that I didn’t need to hear it from my favourite TV show. And Cliff is too happy. I like it, but only when I try very hard. 7/10

Originally published 4 February, 2016