Very Brief Doctor Who Reviews – Season Thirteen

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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

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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

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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

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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

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 reptilian 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 George Pravda 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.This maybe the greyest story ever told. I know only last week I complained about The Claws of Axos being dreary, but everyone harps on about how wonderful it is it loses points for failing to captivate me in the same way. No one loves The Mutants, though, so it actually ends up with the better score. 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 makes sure 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

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 good 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 vanish 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 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 parents have hated with a passion ever since I was given a hand-me-down VHS of Lean With Sooty: Be Safe… in the late ‘90s (My Dad: “You work with puppets, get over yourself”), gets sacrificed, so they were 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. 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 forty-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. 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 really the bad guys, rather a xenophobic human being; 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. A 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 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 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. There should have been another way. The guest characters are likeable and memorable (we’ve got another Strong Independent Woman in Miss Kelly). It’s not terrible 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, 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 not-white – 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 I 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 new how to use them better than Terry Nation 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 the Loose Cannon reconstruction is just 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 and now he’s in love with her(?). The conflict between the Doctor and Jamie always gets praised, but to me it always 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