Very Brief Doctor Who Reviews – Season Nine

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Day of the Daleks – It’s hard to believe that this is Doctor Who’s first foray into really exploiting the whole ‘beware paradoxes’ angle to time travel, and its executed with a satisfying neatness. It doesn’t always happen, so its worth noting how real the freedom fighters from the future feel; especially since the central twist all hinges on the motivations of a guest character, it’s a testament to how well they’ve been written. And it feels like an age since we had a female character with significant responsibility. The Ogrons are erring slightly on the side of looking like a racist stereotype, but no one else has said anything, so maybe it’s just me. The Daleks don’t come out of this very well – never mind that there are only three of them, I can suspend my disbelief – but it’s obvious that they were inserted into this story, rather than the story being built around them. Also, they hadn’t been seen in five years, and yet they are just introduced with no concession to the fact that people might not know who they are or what they represent. Brief gripe over, this is a really fun and well executed story, even if its title monsters add nothing to it. 8/10

The Curse of Peladon – What I tend to judge Doctor Who stories most on is their atmosphere, and I love the sci-fi, medieval ghost story vibe in this story. I really appreciate when the show makes an effort to show that alien doesn’t automatically equal evil so a big thumbs up for the Ice Warriors redemption (a pity it doesn’t last). It’s bizarre and just wrong for the Doctor to be insisting that the Ice Warriors are baddies – kinda makes you look like a racist jerk, Doc. Never mind the one-woman show that is Episode 1 of Planet of the Daleks – I think this might be Jo’s best outing. She gets to be resourceful and show her leadership skills rallying the delegates to get their act together; shows no fear talking to giant green aliens who tower over her; and plays the part of the fairytale princess beautifully. 7/10

The Sea Devils – I love Doctor Who and the Silurians, but every subsequent Silurian/Sea Devil story had basically been a rehash of the original: homo reptilia want their planet back; the humans ain’t sharing; everyone tries to blow each other up; the Doctor insists that the homo reptilia are honourable even though they are just as genocidal-y as the humans; biggest explosion yet; status quo is reset in time for next week. I realised something while taking screencaps for this episode – there are no interesting images in it; even the famous ‘Sea Devils rising from the ocean’ isn’t that impressive because there’s only six of them, they aren’t in sync, and the stuntmen have clearly been on their hands and knees just beneath the surface waiting for their cue. Even the Master, despite his antics trolling the Governor can’t really elevate this story to equal the original. 6/10

The MutantsIt’s… Monty Pertwee’s Flying Anti-Colonialism Parable… in Space! On the one hand, I’m pleased they tried to have a bit more ethnic diversity in casting; on the other hand, was Rick James really the best actor they could find. Every time I watch, I find myself hoping that this time, maybe, just maybe, Cotton dies and we get Stubbs for the rest of the story, instead. Speaking of actors, I have a hard time believing Castellan Spandrell, I mean George Pravda, could be working against the Doctor, especially as the character’s motivations are never entirely clear. It’s not the first and it won’t be the last time Doctor Who employs noted and respected thespian Geoffrey Palmer only to kill him off in unceremonious fashion before the final credits. It just goes to show where my priorities lie that I only know about Salman Rushdie because he referenced this episode in The Satanic Verses. Just as grey as The Claws of Axos, but without the disadvantage of high expectations. 6/10

The Time Monster – I will never understand the disdain this story attracts. Sure Chronos the interdimensional pigeon on Kirby wires is terrible, but when have bad special effects ever gotten in the way. Benton gets to show he’s not as big a buffoon as he appears (and I will always love Benton, no matter how bizarre John Levene’s behaviour is). The Master, instead of being a pantomimic bad guy with a ridiculous over the top scheme (OK maybe a little) successfully seduces Galleia (in a magnificent scene, where everything is in the actors’ performances, with none of the vomit-inducing innuendos we had to suffer through in the Doctor/River relationship) and over throws the old king of Atlantis. You heard that right – the Master actually competently executed a plan to seize power; if only he could have stopped there, instead of trying to command Time Itself, or whatever it was he was up to. He could have been a happy little tyrant king. The switch to Atlantis for the last two episodes ensures that the story doesn’t get too stale; testament to this is the fact that my Dad and I watched all six episodes in one sitting – a record for us. 8/10

Originally published 28 January, 2017
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Very Brief Doctor Who Reviews – Season Eight

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Terror of the Autons – I feel strange saying this because he’s such a well-loved figure in Who mythology, but Barry Lett’s direction is appalling in this episode. Not just the CSO kitchens, but the strange rapid cuts, and the cardinal sin of having a character appear in two different locations in consecutive scenes. I’m convinced there’s some sort of Time Lord sorcery going on with UNIT HQ, it changes locations and appearances between stories. I don’t understand why the autons had to come back; if anything they are lessened by their return appearance, they were much better as blankly smiling creatures who silently kept coming even as they were being shot at, rather than chilling on the bus with their heads off like Disney World actors, and spouting exposition in a modulated voice. The Master getting talked out of world domination at the last minute hardly makes for the best of first impressions. And clearly the Doctor some sort of sociopath that he’s rather looking forward to having a homicidal maniac loose on earth. 4/10

The Mind of Evil – Like I said last week, I don’t like it when the Doctor is purposefully rude to people, and his constant smartarse interruptions during the presentation are an example of that. It doesn’t take much to be respectful to people. Jo’s usually busy being under the Doctor’s wing, it’s unusual to see her take on the maternal role, but it’s lovely to see her being so kind and gentle with Barnham; it almost makes you forget that he’s probably a serial killer. Speaking of, I will never forgive the Master for killing Barnham. Oh, of course I will, I love the Master. I have a theory that for the Master, this and the previous adventure happen in the opposite order, that’s how he’s managed to have been setting up the Keller machine for a year. The Keller Machine is one of the alien invasions that could have been mutually beneficial for the human race a la the Adipose, if the Doctor hadn’t come along and interfered. 6/10

The Claws of Axos – I think most of the reason I don’t rate this episode very highly is because of how unappealing it is to look at, with the depressing weather, some of the worst fringing in the series history (I’m thinking specifically of the amazing vanishing frog), and the grainy quality of the tapes, despite the best efforts of the restoration team. I think it’s a pity that they blanked out the disintegrating head effect – one of the few times Doctor Who achieves an impressive effect and they don’t even show it. Is it bad that I prefer the Master working with UNIT than the Doctor; he’s much more fun. They really are total opposites aren’t they – one is charming but evil, the other a pompous git but good. I’m being quite negative towards this episode, but I will be forever grateful that it gifted us with the man, the legend, that is Pigbin Josh. 5/10

Colony in Space – What was I just saying about being turned off by dreary weather? I think I’m a little fonder of this story than the previous one because no one else seems to rate it that highly. Also, I dare say Malcolm Hulke is a better writer than the Bristol boys. When the Master turns up in Episode 4, it still manages to surprise, despite being flagged in episode 1 and the fact that he’s been in every other story so far. The twist of the fake monster is always a good one, but there’s something highly amusing about the robot flailing its stick arms with the rubber monster gloves on the end; it isn’t helped by the dramatic crash zoom and the cut to Jon Pertwee’s eyes bugging out. I really like the design work in this story – it feels much more realistic than what we usually get in futuristic stories, with the flatpack domes and the colonists in something other than jumpsuits. 6/10

The Dæmons – Probably loved more because the cast had so much fun shooting it, rather than its actual worth. Contains one of the most blatant examples of Jon Pertwee pinching other people’s lines, as the Doctor magically guesses what Benton is going to hit next. Wouldn’t it have made more sense if Jo had tried to save the Master’s life and that had caused Azal to self destruct? There’s plenty of both the Master and Sergeant Benton in this, so I’m happy; plus Matthew Corbett, a man my Dad has hated with a passion ever since I was given a hand-me-down VHS of Lean With Sooty: Be Safe… in the late ‘90s (“You work with puppets, get over yourself”), gets sacrificed, so he was happy. I seem to be complaining about the Doctor a lot recently, but I wish he wouldn’t be so dismissive of things like magic and the supernatural – you’re an alien with a time travelling police box, you’re not exactly the most scientific thing yourself. 7/10

Originally published 14 January, 2017

Very Brief Doctor Who Reviews – Season Seven

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Spearhead from Space – Doesn’t everything look beautiful on film. The earthbound format feels so strange compared to what’s come before – just look at Zoe and Liz. One’s a girl genius from the future, the other’s a university qualified modern woman. It feels like an entirely different programme. Does it need saying that Nicholas Courtney is a brilliant actor – just look at him and Caroline John twinkling away at each other in the job interview scene – it’s so delicious I could eat the TV. Good old Robert Holmes for giving a satisfactory explanation for why alien invasions are going to be happening every week for the next five years. While no one could ever replace Troughton, Pertwee immediately beguiles, charming Liz and the audience in seconds with his eyebrows, and he’s not nearly as patrician as he would later become. 9/10

Doctor Who and the Silurians – Here’s something that’ll make you never trust my judgement, again – I like the music. The Silurians may not be the most convincing costumes ever produced, but all that matters is that we’re better than Star Trek. Has anyone else ever noticed the ghost of the title card burnt into the film at the start of Episode Six? I hate it when the Doctor’s being rude to people who don’t particularly deserve it, though I appreciate how it turns out the two most pleasant people on the base turn out to be the baddies. As Philip Sandifer of the TARDIS Eruditorum pointed out, it’s a big issue that the Brig’s commiting genocide is never commented on again, and the Doctor continues working for him. What if he’d just used the explosions to seal them in – so I can sleep at night, I headcannon that that’s what he did and explained all this to the Doctor later. My nostalgia goggles are heavily tinted on this story. 8/10

The Ambassadors of Death – Or to give its proper title The Ambassadors… OF DEATH! Proof if it were needed that Liz wasn’t too clever to be a companion – she gets kidnapped precisely because she’s clever. I love it when Doctor Who feels like it takes place in another universe to our own, with missions to Mars in the 1970s (or 80s), it makes the show feel so much bigger. I like that the aliens aren’t the bad guys, rather a xenophobic human being is; but I do think portraying him on the verge of a mental breakdown diminishes the effect somewhat – you don’t have to be mentally ill to be a xenophobe. On the other hand, the Doctor quietly agreeing with Carrington that he did his duty is one of those Pertwee moments of charm that wins me over every time. And then he swans off at the end of the episode for everyone else to clean up the mess. How very Doctorish. 7/10

Inferno – For my money, this is the story that struggles most under the burden of seven episodes. The story felt like it ended in episode six, with episode 7 being an overly long tacked-on dénouement as events from the previous episode are repeated in the home universe. Why does touching the green goo turn people into werewolves(Jesus Christ, Benton!)? Why is the Doctor so mean to the Brigadier? Why does the passage between realities look suspiciously like a disco ball? It’s a fun story, if too long and heavily padded, but not an all time classic and certainly not Pertwee’s finest. 6/10

Originally published 7 January, 2017

Very Brief Doctor Who Reviews – Season Six

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The Dominators – The episode that basically says that pacifism is wrong. The villains are more like a bickering old couple than intergalactic conquerors, and there’s nothing fun about that; Arthur Cox is totally miscast as young revolutionary Cully; the costumes are either ridiculously short or long; and the pacifist Dulcians are portrayed as idiots for their peaceful ways. On top of all that it’s just plain dull. The story so bad it made Patrick Troughton quit. 3/10

The Mind Robber – Oh The Mind Robber, how I wish I could love you as much as everyone else does. I’ve tried, I really have. I think my main problem is that not a great deal happens – most of the time is spent hiding from the robots and getting out of various traps. I think I would like it better if our heroes came across more recognisable fictional characters a la Big Finish’s Legend of the Cybermen. 6/10

The Invasion – One of only two good Cyber stories (the other being Tomb) and they don’t even appear until episode 4. But that’s OK, because the war between Tobias Vaughn and those handy chaps from UNIT means that my interest never wavers for a second. How strange that the template for the Pertwee era is better than anything in the era itself. The best contemporary thriller the show has ever produced. 9/10

The Krotons – Our three regulars each get a moment to shine – The Doctor and Zoe being terribly clever; Jamie being loyal and brave – but, unusually for Robert Holmes, the guest characters are less tthan memorable. With the exception of Selris, they’re either the wettest rebels this side of Varos, or are a part of Philip Madoc’s Underwritten Bully Posse. Holmes is much better at writing villains than he is monsters, so its no surprise that the Krotons are terribly generic. If you’re looking to be entertained for an hour and half, this’ll do the job, just not much else. 6/10

The Seeds of Death – A last hoorah for the Troughton base under siege. Let’s face it – we’d all be Fewsham if this ever actually happened to us. The guest characters are likeable and memorable (we’ve got another Strong Independent Woman in Miss Kelly). It’s not terribly different to any of the bases under siege of last season, apart from the fact that its not missing, thought points off for the Doctor massacring the Ice Warriors with his sci-fi gun and sending their spaceship into the sun. There should have been another way. Entertaining in a pulp ‘60s sci-fi way. 7/10

The Space Pirates – Do we think even if this episode existed it would make the slightest lick of sense sense? The Doctor and friends don’t turn up until halfway through episode 1, the space police have decided that Milo Clancy is a criminal based on zero evidence, there are long sequences of space modules docking, and I can’t understand a word anyone is saying. 1/10

The War Games – I don’t know how they did it, but Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke made nine episodes of capture/escape interesting. There are some obvious moments of padding, like when the Doctor convinces the German soldier that he’s not a spy twice in five minutes using the same excruciatingly long shot of the sonic screwdriver… erm, taking out some screws, but for some reason it didn’t bother me. The final episode is heartbreaking; the moment that gets me every time is when Zoe says that she thought she’d forgotten something important, but its nothing. Brilliant performances, brilliant writing; as Terrance Dicks said, “it could have been a cwacking good four-parter.” 8/10

Originally published 31 December, 2016

Very Brief Doctor Who Reviews – Season Five

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The Tomb of the Cybermen – Picture naïve, little 14-year-old me. I’d seen An Unearthly Child, and I just assumed the two black and white Doctors would be more or less the same. Boy was I wrong. I fell in love with the second Doctor straight away, and the first cliff-hanger actually gave me a fright – something even modern Who can rarely achieve. It’s the one time where Victoria has a bit of gumption about her (it won’t last) and the Cybermats are just adorable. 8/10*

The Abominable Snowmen – Sitting down to write this, I have no idea what to say. With some of the solidly average stories, I can at least talk about the good points and the bad points, but this is just solidly good, but not great Doctor Who. 7/10

The Ice Warriors – Clent’s dedication to the computer with the least comprehensible voice ever gets very old very quick – Brian Hayles is trying to teach us a lesson, but this is not a subtle or persuasive way of going about it. More than any other, I think this the story that most reduces Victoria to screaming girl – at least in Fury it was a plot point. Miss Garret is the first of many a strong, independent woman the Doctor meets this season. A fairly functional adventure that manages to entertain for 2½ hours but doesn’t offer anything mind-blowing. 6/10

The Enemy of the World – Season five tries something different. Doctor Who as a political thriller that had me rapt throughout. Whenever Salamander was on screen, I completely forgot that it wasn’t a different actor – Troughton is that good. I know I said that Tomb was Victoria’s one chance to shine, but she’s quite good in this, too, going undercover as Jamie’s girlfriend. It warmed my heart to see two strong female characters – one of them a person of colour – in the form of Astrid and Farriah. And I was very impressed with how complicated it must have been to stage the final confrontation between Salamander and the Doctor. There is one sizeable flaw with the story, and that’s the fact that neither Salamander or Kent’s plans make a lick of sense. 8/10

The Web of Fear – I don’t care if it’s an unoriginal opinion, I love this episode. It’s so atmospheric and creepy, with the dark, claustrophobic tunnels and the music that reminds me of a squeaky see-saw. It feels more like a horror film than an episode of Doctor Who, and there’s something delightfully 1960s about it. For my money, it’s the best execution of the ‘base under siege’ format the show ever did. No, it doesn’t make a lot of sense why the great intelligence would be using robot yeti in the London Underground – but who cares when everything else around it is so good. 10/10

Fury from the Deep – This is one of those stories that’s long been hailed as a lost classic; I’m sceptical it would be the holy grail of Who if it did get found, but I still think it would be an entertaining story with a few good scares. I know that image of Oak (or is it Quill) gassing Maggie Harris, his eyes bugging out would have terrified me as a kid. The fact that the story takes the time to set up Victoria’s departure, and do so in a way that is consistent with her character is pretty much unique in Doctor Who (companions are lucky if they get either). 7/10

The Wheel in Space – Gemma and Zoë are great, but the rest of the Space Wheel’s crew are pretty unlikable – Bennet has the worst breakdown of the season (and for no discernible reason other than that’s what base commanders seem to do these days); Leo and Tanya are like the cool kids who think they’re so much better than anyone else; and then there’s that guy who does the weird backwards dance when he sees the Cybermat. The first episode crawls by, with Jamie in a sulk over Victoria, plus this must be the Cyberman’s most bizarre and convoluted plan ever. I’ll give it this – it assembles my favourite classic era TARDIS teams. If I were put in charge of Doctor Who right now, this is what I’d do – a girl genius from the future, and a loyal boy from the past. 4/10

*Addendum. Now for the awkward moment where we talk about race. When I first watched The Tomb of the Cybermen, I could see that Toberman’s portrayal was problematic. He’s mute, unquestioning muscle, and I get the impression he’s Kaftan’s slave. Maybe he’s just her body guard, but the fact that he doesn’t talk or seem to have any real thoughts of his own doesn’t bode well. Apparently, he was meant to be deaf, which was why he didn’t talk, but the detail was lost between drafts. I sincerely hope that Toberman’s portrayal was the result laziness/lack of time to write him as, you know, capable of language and individual thought, as well as differing levels of what was acceptable in 1967, rather than a genuine belief in the inferiority of black people on the part of the creative team. I think as long as we acknowledge that something is ‘of its era’, and that it portrays ideas/beliefs that wouldn’t be acceptable today, and that we wouldn’t accept them from something made today, we can still enjoy a creative work in spite of any unfortunate racist/sexist/homophobic connotations. Same goes for Kaftan and Klieg (whatever ethnicity they’re meant to be.)

Originally published 17 December, 2016

Very Brief Doctor Who Reviews – Season Four

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The Smugglers – The only other time I’ve fallen asleep during Doctor Who. There’s nothing wrong with it; but there’s not really anything right with it either. Sitting down to write this I’m having hard time remembering what even happened in it. Ben and Polly are pretty resourceful in their first adventure into TIME AND SPAAACE! Unfortunately, it has a strong thread of the Doctor and his friends being accused of a crime they didn’t commit, which I find frustrating rather than tension building. 3/10.

The Tenth Planet – I like the Cybermen as they are here: walking corpses, a much scarier idea than the generic stomping robots they would become. Plus those cloth faces like they’ve been in an accident. The bad: General Cutler is extremely unlikable, so much so that I felt the need to give my mother express permission to sacrifice my life if it meant saving the world. It’s a pity Hartnell could hardly be in his penultimate episode. If you squint, you can just about see a story arc of the Doctor’s body being put under physical strain (The Daleks’ Master Plan, The Celestial Toymaker, The Savages), but just imagine what a modern showrunner could have done with it. 5/10.

The Power of the Daleks – One of the best Doctor Who stories ever. Lesterson’s descent into madness makes the initial ‘bad guy’ very sympathetic. All the humans are planning to use the Daleks for their own advantage – I’m not sorry when they get exterminated. “Why do humans kill other humans,” What a great line. David Tennant will always be my favourite Doctor, but Patrick Troughton is the best Doctor. We see the Daleks at their sneakiest and creepiest – David Whitaker knew how to use them better than Terry Nation ever did. The scene in episode four with the Doctor in jail is the only scene that is tad tedious – the rest is engrossing from start to finish.  If I could have one missing story back, this would be it. 10/10

The Highlanders – Another pirate story just three stories after the previous one. Jamie makes his debut, though he was only intended to be a one-off, supporting character and it shows. The most enjoyable thing about it is watching Polly be awesome as she outwits, outflirts, outplays poor General Algernon ffinch. And the Doctor dresses up as a washer woman. Better than The Smugglers, which is rather damning with faint praise. 6/10

The Underwater Menace – Apparently people’s opinions went up after they saw the second episode. If that’s the case, how bad could this have been before they found episode two? I tried, really I did, to buck the trend and enjoy the Underwater Menace. I wasn’t offended by it; I mostly just sat there frowning in confusion. 3/10.

The Moonbase – So long any potential the Cybermen ever had, as the creatures make a repeat appearance almost completely different to their original conception. Here they are as we all know and love them – the most illogical logical race in the universe, coming up with nonsensical over complicated plans. I do enjoy the scene of the Doctor getting under people’s feet collecting samples, Polly looks particularly gorgeous and saves the day, and Benoit is such a stereotype it makes me laugh. 5/10.

The Macra Terror – Why does no one ever talk about how good this is? Is it because it’s missing. The Doctor lands in an Orwellian nightmare, Ben finally gets something to do after getting his role halved to accommodate Jamie for the past several adventures, and I love that constant heartbeat music – so creepy. The actress playing Chicki changes between episode one and four, but I choose to believe something horrible happened to the real Chicki and the colony just replaced her and no one mentions it because brainwashing. Why does this have to be missing? I want to see the Doctor and friends make hasty retreat via dancing. 9/10

The Faceless Ones – Everyone talks about Dodo disappearing halfway through her final story – Ben and Polly disappear a third of the way through theirs, only to turn up in a pre-filmed insert in episode six.  The Chameleons are a race who have lost their identity, which sounds cool until you realise it doesn’t actually make any sense, at least not how it’s presented here. At six episodes, it starts to drag a bit, especially after Ben and Polly have been taken. On the plus side, like the previous story it taps into the atmosphere of paranoia, where things are not what they seem and that is my favourtire genre (if you can call it that) of Doctor Who. 7/10

The Evil of the Daleks – I can’t tell if it’s just that the Loose Cannon reconstruction is too painful, or if this story really is as overrated as it seems. For a planned companion, Victoria doesn’t get an awful lot to do. Jamie, in particular, acts very strangely, getting a bee in his bonnet about rescuing Victoria, because he saw a portrait of her mother and now he’s in love with her(?). The conflict between the Doctor and Jamie always gets praised, but to me it come across as Jamie being in a petulant strop for no particular reason. Give me The Power of the Daleks any day. 6/10.

Originally published 10 December, 2016

Very Brief Doctor Who Reviews – Season Three

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Galaxy 4 – Could it be an indictment on the quality of the episode that when I came to write this review all I could think of was the pun ‘absolutely rilling’. The moment where Vicki applies the Doctor’s scientific method to justify throwing a rock at a chumblie is cute, but poor Steven is sidelined for much of the adventure. Maybe the idea that beauty doesn’t equal goodness would have been better if the Drahvins weren’t so obviously evil from the very beginning. 3/10

Mission to the Unknown – the one in which the Doctor and his companions don’t appear at all. Despite this, Mission to the Unknown is an exciting little foray into the Dalek spin-off that never happened. Even I, someone not particularly into pulp boy’s own science fiction adventure, was kept entertained for the run time. Though how bizarre is it that this is the only one-part episode of the classic series and we still can’t agree on the title.  6/10

The Myth Makers – No, I will not accept that Vicki leaves in such a stupid way! Classic companions are as bad as Disney princesses for marrying men they’ve just met! Apart from that gaping flaw, this is an entertaining story that for the most part is a lighthearted historical adventure before suddenly taking a turn for the tragic at the end (a formula repeated over this season.) 7/10

The Daleks’ Master Plan – A big, long, unwieldy mess, that must have proved to the Dalek-obsessed children of 1965-6, that yes, you can have too much of a good thing. There’s something to be said for the method of skipping episodes 7-10, as the story grinds to halt for some holiday silliness. Not my cup of tea. 5/10

The Massacre – Um, the Doctor’s hardly in it, and there’s not much of it left. The Doctor is missing for days, and then scolds Steven for worrying. Dodo turns up at the end, and is possibly the only person never to question why the TARDIS is bigger on the inside. William Hartnell is very good, both as the vile Abbot, and then as the Doctor as he gives  his final speech. Yeah, it’s a bit of a slog. A grainy, couldn’t-be-bother-to-hire-John-Cura slog. 3/10

The Ark – For all that people say the following story is racist, I find this one more offensive. It’s alright for the humans to enslave a dark-skinned alien race, but when it gets reversed, suddenly everyone loses their mind (someone make a joker meme out of that). On top of all that, it’s not a particularly interesting story, though I’ll concede the fake out ending is probably effective if you don’t know it’s coming. 3/10

The Celestial Toymaker – OK, so I’m not the greatest expert on what Chinese stereotypes are, and in my naiveté I wouldn’t have picked up that this is offensive. The scenes of Dodo and Steven playing games for their lives get tedious very quickly. The toymaker’s world is a cool concept, though it’s better executed in The Mind Robber. A better idea on paper than in reality. 5/10

The Gunfighters – Not the worst story ever, as legend would have it, but by no means the best either. The Doctor is clearly having a ball; I love the moment when Steven turns and finds a gun in his face mid-song; and Dodo (while still head-scratchingly stupid) is very cute in her interactions with Doc Holliday. A story that is ‘prey to every cliché ridden convention in the West.’ 6/10

The Savages – This story was such a hidden gem for me. Those scenes of Dodo – who is almost a real person in this story – wandering around empty corridors with creepy music playing are so atmospheric. How great is it to see just how far the Doctor has come in three years – he is undoubtedly the hero in this story. The only thing I’d change would be to raise the stakes for the savages. They get drained and after a few hours they’re fine; I’d make it more obvious that everytime they’re drained they regress more and more. Near perfect. 9/10

The War Machines – Yay Ben and Polly! Poor Dodo! Fan spasm at his being called ‘Doctor Who’! The only one of Ian Stuart Black’s three stories to survive, and by far his least interesting, as far as I’m concerned. It has Kit Pedlar’s grubby little protuberances all over it, with the anxiety of people losing their humanity to technology. Doctor Who’s first foray into the contemporary thriller, it will be done better in the future, but it’s a pretty decent first stab. 6/10

Originally published 3 December, 2016

Very Brief Doctor Who Reviews – Season Two

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Planet of Giants – The sets are amazing, and the animatronic fly is pretty good even by today’s standards. Also, it’s another Barbara-centric episode, as she bravely fights on even as she’s dying. Unfortunately, it’s not a particularly interesting story, and its telling that even in 1964 it was deemed slow enough to have an extra episode knocked off. And a cat was killed. 4/10

The Dalek Invasion of Earth – I’m sorry fan wisdom, I just don’t get the love for this one. Every time I watch it I find I have to concentrate really hard to keep track of what all the characters are trying to achieve; I don’t know if that’s unclear storytelling or just a failure to engage me. And what a terrible departure for Susan, being left on a postwar planet with the first man she’s ever shown an interest in. I can imagine on initial broadcast it would have been exciting to see the Daleks in familiar surrounds but it’s been done so often now the magic is lost. 6/10

The Rescue – Short, sweet, and despite the jokes about the twist being obvious, I’ve yet to find someone saw it coming (internet, prove me wrong). Plus it introduces Vicki, who is a vast improvement over Susan; she actually feels like a real person, with her habit of giving alien animals names and adopting them as pets. 7/10

The Romans – The regulars have never felt more like a family; the Doctor and Vicki are the naughty grandparent and child, getting up to mischief together, while Ian and Barbara are the long-suffering parents having a miserable old time on what was supposed to be a holiday. The Romans walks the line between comedy and peril really well – neither detract from the affect of the other. Well, apart from the whole threat of Barbara being sexually assaulted being treated as a joke. 7/10

The Web Planet – It’s not the worst story ever, but that doesn’t mean it’s particularly easy to enjoy. I have to admire how much effort went into making the menoptera feel like a genuine culture, with their unique lexicon and the way they all move in a uniformly balletic fashion. The big bad turns out to be sentient, planet-engulfing cancer, which is such a bizarrely intriguing idea. On the other hand it’s maybe all little too weird for audiences to identify with, and is it just me, or does the show look ropier than usual. 4/10

The Crusade – With the current climate Islamophobia, the idea of a 1960s TV show attempting to do a story set in Palestine during the Crusades fills one with dread. But, as far as my white girl POV can tell, it seems a reasonably sensitive portrayal. Compare the two pairs of royal siblings; Saladin and Saphadin are wise and practical, while Richard and Joanna are like a pair of squabbling children. I really enjoy this story; I didn’t even notice at first that it has no resolution. 7/10

The Space Museum – I think this story might have worked better as a weird two parter, a la The Edge of Destruction. Stretched out to four parts we have to endure two of the most unbelievably stupid alien races the show has ever produced. On the plus side, tiny Vicki leads a revolution, the Doctor confounds a mind probe by feeding it nonsense (including a photo of him in Edwardian swimming gear. I don’t know whether to be delighted or scarred for life) and Ian plays with a toy gun. Better than you think, but not as good as Rob Shearman tries to tell you. 6/10

The Chase – Given fifty plus years of the Daleks being built up as the worst of the worst genocidal Nazi allegory monsters, it’s so strange to see them here as comedy baddies. There’s something very strange going on in the music department, and the scenes of the TARDIS and Dalek time machine flying through space couldn’t have convinced anyone at the time, and certainly don’t now. Barbara and Ian’s departure is very sudden, but that final montage is lovely. A story that’s only enjoyable if you’re watching it to mock it. 4/10

The Time Meddler – Vicki and Steven are so delightful together. They’ve only just met, but they’ve got such an easy rapport and banter, as they try to prove the other wrong. The Doctor is good in this too. I haven’t mentioned it yet but isn’t he so sweet in this season – a far cry from the cranky, deceitful kidnapper of season one. Just look at the way he handles Joanna in The Crusade and now Edith in this. With the introduction of the first pseudo-historical, Doctor Who is shaping up to be the show we know and love today. 8/10

Originally published 26 November, 2016

Very Brief Doctor Who Reviews – Season One

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An Unearthly Child – The first episode is brilliant. Seriously, if Doctor Who was only just being invented now, it would still be a perfect opening episode. Unfortunately, it’s followed by three rather tedious episodes of grunting and capture/escape. I fully back the movement to have the episode 1 and episode 2-4 classified as two different serials. 5/10

The Daleks – Yes it’s the first Dalek serial, but in the grand scheme of things it’s not the greatest story Doctor Who ever produced. It’s about three episodes too long (episode 6, appropriately titled The Ordeal, is particularly painful), and the final battle is a bit anti-climactic. 6/10

The Edge of Destruction – Creepy and weird and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. I love that the TARDIS’s solution to telling people a button is stuck is to leave them a bunch of cryptic clues and make them all want to kill each other. It marks an important turning point in the relationship between the humans and aliens on the ship. I like the spookiness, but the resolution is so disproportionate that it undercuts everything that’s gone before. 5/10

Marco Polo – Like too many early Doctor Who serials it has a bit of non-ending, where the Doctor and friends just leave without really resolving anything. The story as a whole meanders – appropriate, as it’s a 13th century road trip – but there’s enough going on in each individual episode to keep you interested for 25 minutes at a time. 7/10

The Keys of Marinus – For a story where ever episode has something different going on, I have very little to say about this one. The Doctor has his first opportunity to act as the hero he’ll later become when he defends Ian in his trial. Proof, perhaps, that Terry Nation was damn lucky with Raymond Cusick’s design work on the Daleks. 5/10

The Aztecs – Barbara Wright is hands down the best thing about the first season of Doctor Who, and this is her showcase episode. The Doctor and Ian also get quite substantial plotlines; even Susan, who is stuck on film for most of the story, has her own thread. Really well plotted, as the weight of cultural misunderstandings pile up until the TARDIS crew has no choice but to leave. Bonus points for the relationship between the Doctor and Cameca; the moment at the end when the Doctor decides at the last minute to keep the brooch shegave him is so sweet. 8/10

The Sensorites – Some of the dialogue is pretty clunky (“Are their hearts in the middle of their chests, like ours?”). The Sensorites are one of the few species where not all members of the same species think the same… too bad the writer didn’t make them really individual by, you know, giving them names. I don’t hate it as much as fan wisdom says I should, but equally I can’t say there’s anything particularly good about it. 5/10

The Reign of Terror – Maybe if you are interested in this period of history it would be more engaging, but I found this to be a pretty dull historical. The Doctor appears to be having fun playing dress-ups (that’s good), while his friends are in imminent threat of death (that’s bad). Nothing special. 4/10

Originally published 1 November, 2016