Friday, October 21, 2005

'Revenge of the Cybermen'

4 episodes

Oh dear. After the grandeur of the last adventure, this one brings us back down to Earth with a squelchy bump. Not literally to Earth, mind you - in a neat cost-saving scheme, we see 'The Ark In Space''s marvellous sets reused as the Nerva Beacon, the same (in story) place at a different stage of its history. The crew include Ronald Leigh-Hunt's Commander Stevenson, who comes across rather similar to his Radnor in 'The Seeds of Death' - which, I discovered today in the midst of watching 'Revenge of the Cybermen', I watched just twelve days after the actor's death at the age of 88 - and William Marlowe's likeable Lester; the latter's interesting fact is that he previously appeared as Mailer with the Master in 'The Mind of Evil' and subsequently married Roger Delgado's widow Kismet, who herself provided spider voices in 'Planet of the Spiders'. They also have in their midst a traitor in the form of Jeremy Wilkin's Kellmann, who thanks to the title's massive giveaway is to no-one's surprise revealed to be working for the Doctor's old enemies the Cybermen. It's a little more surprising when later on he's revealed to be a triple-agent working for the inhabitants of the nearby tiny world of Voga, but this is cancelled out by it being correspondingly harder to care by that stage. The Cybermen are coming to destroy Voga, the 'Planet of Gold', as (despite this never having been hinted at before) the metal is their one weakness and the planet is hence a rather large thorn in their collective side. The Vogans are unfortunately such a dull bunch it is hard to care whether they live or die despite the above-average quality of the actors playing the principals. The most arresting feature of their decor is the prominent Celtic-knot-esque design of the circular logo that appears everywhere on Voga, but which is (later) famously known throughout the Whoniverse as the Seal of Rassilon, father figure of the Time Lords - more fun can be had speculating exactly how the Vogans come to be using said design as well as the Gallifreyans (not to mention wondering at which point they'll demolish Earth to make way for a hyperspace bypass) than actually watching this story, truth be told...
The singular achievement of the race, who are confined below the surface on a world that seems to be no more than a large comet, is to apparently maintain air and gravity despite the odds astronomical physics would suggest against such circumstances being likely. Ah well, they're still better than the Cybermen, who are uncharacteristically emotional, use Cybermats that need to be hugged to the neck to attack effectively and have as their leader a posing fool who struts across the room with hands on hips in the heat of debate with the Doctor at one point... and, amusingly, whose 'earmuffs' and 'handle' headpiece are distinctively black rather than silver, which has the unfortunate effect of making him look like the Cyber poster boy for Grecian 2000. Actually, scratch that - despite Voga being so ridden with gold they make jewellery, home furnishings and decorations, and even guns out of it, the Cybermen nevertheless launch an attack on the planet (evocatively filmed in Wookey Hole caves, where I had the willies scared out of me on a school outing aged ten) and effortlessly mow down the Vogan soldiers - evidently the formidable natural defences against the Cybermen availed to them have dulled the Vogans' wits to the extent that they didn't think to make their actual bullets out of gold too; a minor but strategically ill-advised oversight... Still, they've got a big rocket to launch in defence - which, comically, is stunt-doubled by a Saturn V in NASA stock footage... Meanwhile, there is a plan to crash the whole beacon into Voga, with a rolling drum of landscape brilliantly standing in for the surface terrain whizzing by the windows.

Feel I can't leave this review without touching on The Discontinuity Guide's expose of a sizeable plot hole - after Sarah is infected by a Cybermat, the Doctor transmats her to expel the toxin from her system as it 'can only transport human tissue' - which leads to the interesting quibble of why it doesn't leave people as naked as the day they were born and totally mangle a travelling Cyberman. Well, sort of interesting. Ah, sod it, I've had enough - I'm outta here.


Episodes watched: 293
Episodes still to watch: 429

Thursday, October 20, 2005

'Genesis of the Daleks'

6 episodes

So here we have it - one of the towering high-water-marks in Doctor Who history, and to be truthful something of a bittersweet moment for me. Having worked my way in order from the beginning to the middle of the programme's epic run, uncovering many hidden gems along the way, this is the very last of the acknowledged top-tier true 'greats' of Who that I've never ever seen: I've already watched 'Pyramids of Mars', 'The Talons of Weng-Chiang', 'City of Death' and 'The Caves of Androzani' in years past, which are probably the only serials of comparable standing that come chronologically after this, so after today there are no more treasures of such magnitude to be unearthed.

I'm glad to say that 'Genesis of the Daleks' is every bit a good as they say it is. A startling reimagining of the monsters' making, their real-life creator Terry Nation drags his most famous spawn out of the rut that they and he had got into in their last few stories in the grandest of style. From the shockingly powerful opening shots of Thal soldiers being mowed down in slow-motion, this is Doctor Who at its bleakest and grimmest. The nightmare that the Doctor and friends walk into on Skaro is epitomised by the Nazi-like figures of Nyder and his Kaled troops (even the relatively appealing General Ravon is played by future ''Allo 'Allo' Lieutenant Gruber Guy Siner), while even the Thals, previously seen as friendly and pacifistic, enter into the horrors of war with gusto. Peter Miles' Nyder is excellent - as fanatical and ruthless as his superior, he is the public face of the growing atrocity that is his master's work, and his duplicitous efforts to root out opposition amongst the Kaleds are particularly nasty. The Kaleds in general aren't too nice either, with their ethnic cleansing policy that sees the scarred and malformed Mutos banished into the wildnerness of no-man's-land.

And then there's Davros. Ruthless, malevolent, mad and utterly evil, Davros is perhaps THE iconic villain of the Who canon. He looks fantastically twisted and deformed, with blind eyes superceded by the electronic third one in the middle of his forehead, a single withered arm, and trapped in his wheelchair whose design echoes his later creations. Michael Wisher's performance is nothing short of superb; considering the limitations imposed by mask, wheelchair and the character's infirmity, he does an excpetional job with little more than his voice alone, and when that voice has in previous stories been used for the Daleks themselves it makes sense that it is chilling, bitter and powerful, without ever slipping into caricature. Davros comes across in this story as someone almost on the far side of madness, who cannot be reasoned with by the Doctor in a way that even the Master, say, could be - this is vividly portrayed in the fantastic scene where the Doctor compares the Daleks to releasing a virus that would wipe out all life in the cosmos, and instead of realising his wrong Davros contemplates this idea and decides that he would indeed do that for the ultimate power it would grant him, his feeble fingers clutching and smashing an imaginary phial of the plague. It is an electifying moment.

The actual Daleks arrive late in the day - naturally, since this is the tale of their creation and what led to it - but new, sleek and gleaming, they are very effective when they do. Exterminating the Thals and Kaleds with equal disdain on their creator's insane orders, it is only when they wipe out Davros' remaining loyal henchmen, even Nyder, that he realises the magnitude of his achievement and folly - he has made them to accept the survival of no other race, and so in the end they even turn mercilessly on him.

It's not perfect, of course - there is a notorious diversion involving giant mutant (and unconvincing) clams attempting to snack on Harry that is pretty needless in its entirety, Sarah's cliffhanger fall from a rocket gantry is awesome until its cheap cop-out resolution, and both of the two warring factions seem to pop in and out of the other's citadels with alarming ease considering they've been waging a war of attrition and espionage for a thousand years, apparently practically on each other's doorsteps. Still, these small quibbles are trifling when laid against the general excellence on display, and perhaps the most iconic scene in Who history - the Doctor's legendary "have I the right?" quandary over whether he can justifiably destroy the Dalek race at the moment of their birth, sparing millions from suffering but unwilling to prevent the positive side-effects that would occur along the way and unwilling to commit genocide. Whatever the arguments for and against, this is Doctor Who at its best.

And, as I say, the last that I will have the priviledge of experiencing as a myth turning into actuality before my eyes. Forty-two years after the programme began, twenty-plus years of having it as part of my consciousness, sixteen years after it was taken off the air, eight years since I became a born-again Whovian, started to hear about these great adventures of the past and began to watch them with a novice's enthusiasm, and fifty days and two hundred and eighty-nine episodes into this quest, the last of the giants has fallen. There are no more of the truly exalted, fabled stories that I have yet to witness, no more epochal achievements of writing, directing and acting that have yet to lay bare their riches in front of me - none that still survive, anyway. It is a great day, but a sad day. On I go...


Episodes watched: 289
Episodes still to watch: 433

Four complete stories in one day - a new record, if not actually the most episodes watched!

'The Sontaran Experiment'

2 episodes

A real oddity, this - the first two-parter for many years (and last for many more), 'The Sontaran Experiment' is so lean and efficient it in some ways makes a mockery of the adventures that take two, three or more times as long to get their story told. Shot, uniquely, entirely on location in Dartmoor using outside-broadcast videotape, the serial's look bridges the divide between traditional studio video and location film footage; the locations are excellently used and terrifically atmospheric. In a sense, this sequence of stories is a nod to the programme's early years, presented as a linked chain of adventures that follow on directly one from another, and it is a nice throwback to find that the end of 'The Ark In Space' segues straight into this new story. The group of human settlers look convincingly ragged and hunted, with Glyn Jones' (writer some years earlier of 'The Space Museum', peculiarly enough) South African accent lending a nice multi-national touch. The patrolling robot even looks properly threatening, and the loathesome Sontaran Styre makes for a great baddie... shame the title so gives the game away, much to the writers' understandable displeasure. It's another nice touch that Sarah mistakes him for Linx, the Sontaran of 'The Time Warrior', and Kevin Lindsay indeed makes a welcome return inside the costume - although the two are not in fact identical like she says they are. Styre's horrible experiments are some of the nastiest things yet seen (or referred to) in Doctor Who, and his equally nasty comeuppance is greatly satisfying! It's a pity the Sontarans don't return to the programme after this, I have to say, as I'm rather fond of the potato-headed brutes actually...!

A swift but highly enjoyable diversion, then - but in context of this season, it's an appetiser for the huge main course to follow...


Episodes watched: 283
Episodes still to watch: 439

'The Ark In Space'

4 episodes

Wow. I'd forgotten this was so good - a claustrophobic exercise in body horror that succeeds on every level. That we find ourselves aboard a space station in the far future immediately distances this new era from the largely Earth-bound previous one, and the opening episode is spectacular in a very understated way: featuring no-one bar the regulars for the first time since 'Inside the Spaceship' eleven years earlier, it brilliantly establishes the setting, where a hive-like space station carries the hibernating survivors of humanity in an eerily clinical, silent solitude. The rapport between the Doctor and Harry is great, and Lis Sladen shows how well she plays fear when her character nearly gets suffocated. The contemporary viewing public must have realised something was up, as well - the second episode subsequently pulled in the highest viewing figures the series had ever recorded, its 13.6 million finally topping the mark set almost exactly a decade earlier by part 1 of (of all things) 'The Web Planet'... Once the other characters start to wake up things get moving nicely, and are an interestingly mixed bunch - the cool, calm Vira manages to thaw slightly by the end, the doomed Noah transforms compellingly into a green mutant alien creature, Rogin is engaging and makes a poignantly cheerful sacrifice at the end to save the Doctor and his compatriots, while the Wirrn make for impressive and threatening monsters. The sets are tremendous, cold, clean and evocative of the damaged future world they represent, and the modelwork is decent - although not as good as the replacement CGI shots of the station that are viewable on the DVD and which I checked out afterwards! The plot spools out very nicely through the four episodes; again in contrast to the end of the Pertwee era, this is a fine example of how a bloated six-parter with not enough to say is trounced by a sharp four-parter where the action needs to come thicker and faster. Tom Baker's Doctor is excellent; you'd swear he'd been in the role for years so easily does he acclimatise, effortlessly combining the best of his predecessors (wise, playful, action-man) into a unique new package. Roll on the next story...


Episodes watched: 281
Episodes still to watch: 441


4 episodes

Well, here we are. The era of the most popular and longest-reigning Doctor of them all is upon us, with seven years' worth of Tom Baker's Fourth Doctor stretching out ahead of me - fortunately full of a great number of the programme's finest moments, by all accounts!

This first adventure for the new incarnation gets the Baker years underway with what is essentially a throwback to his predecessor's style of story. Having got the regeneration (the first onscreen since 1966) out of the way, we are treated to an extremely idiosyncratic new Doctor - dressing up in an assortment of bizarre costumes before settling on the familiar scarf, hat'n'coat ensemble, spouting random gibberish, and performing a hilarious skipping routine with Harry Sullivan that was possibly the funniest thing I've seen in the series yet. That around him things are much as usual - Sarah, the bemused Brigadier, Benton, the contemporary (well, you never could be quite sure with UNIT stories...) setting - serves to nicely highlight the difference in the new incarnation's character, and Tom Baker makes for an immediately engaging presence. Storywise, this is fairly standard fare, but full marks for the costumiers at least for lifting the titular giant robot above what could have been a shocking piece of design into something quite special; yes, it looks like a kid's cartoon of a robot, but it does look like a robot and not a man in a suit, which is definitely worthy of praise. Michael Kilgarrif's performance lends real pathos to the creature, as it veers between the destructive impulses it is being given and something like genuine compassion for Sarah - it's also a timely promotion of the actor back to his 'Tomb of the Cybermen' status after being reduced to Second Ogron in 'Frontier In Space'... The supporting cast are a mixed bag, with Patricia Maynard's appropriately icy Miss Winters (nice use of neo-Nazi imagery, too...) totally outshining her nothing deputy Jellicoe, while Edward Burnham's Professor Kettlewell is such an archetypal mad professor it's bonkers - while he's very good, the character is shoehorned into an abrupt 'heel turn' where he suddenly becomes one of the bad guys almost needlessly and not entirely convincingly.

Talking of not entirely convincing - I can't not mention the silly CSO finale, where it's decided the big robot isn't threatening enough so they make him grow to King Kong proportions via some rather poor CSO work, at which point he was never going to avoid picking up a screaming Sarah like a doll in his hand... that's actually like a doll too, not just a size contrast unfortunately. Nice use of the model tank in the foreground to semi-disguise the differential there, though. And, of course, this story is notable for introducing us to Dr. Harry Sullivan, UNIT medic who slips into shot as if he's been unobtrusively wandering in the background for years and unexpectedly (in context) ends up as a new travelling companion for the Doctor and Sarah. Looking ahead, I realise now that I've clearly seen some of Harry's stories before, yet until Locus reminded me of him a week or two back I'd totally forgotten his existence and was convinced there were no male companions save Adric after Jamie. Whoops... Whereas '70s Doctor Who almost exclusively had a single female companion for the Doctor at any given time, we get a different dynamic for a while here, and it's a refreshing change - Sullivan makes for a likeable Ian Chesterton-style figure, whose presence manages to shake up the established TARDIS crew pattern, which isn't a bad thing, and Ian Marter (already a veteran of 'Carnival of Monsters' is excellent in the role.

Not a great story, but then it doesn't try too hard to be one and thus succeeds quite well on its own merits; plus. at four episodes it doesn't outstay its welcome and all in all fares rather bettet than the last couple of serials... I look forward to seeing where things go next...


Episodes watched: 277
Episodes still to watch: 445

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

'Planet of the Spiders'

6 episodes

Oh crikey... what a way to go. The Third Doctor's last story is as tedious as the previous adventure, with six more episodes of padding and largely dull action. Yes, the spiders look good, but they are also more interesting than most of the human characters, which is not so good. There is an pointless chase of epic proportions in episode 2, to allow Jon Pertwee to indulge his passion for vehicular antics one last time, where the Doctor goes all James Bond and pursues the spider-possessed Lupton in the 'Whomobile', a gyrocopter and a hovercraft, the sheer effort of which is more than slightly undermined by the villain teleporting to safety seemingly on a whim. We get the belated swansong of Mike Yates, returning after his ignominious departure in 'Invasion of the Dinosaurs', but unless I dropped off and missed something he appears to have vanished two-thirds of the way in with a complete absence of fanfare. Admittedly I was very tired, but the last four episodes followed a pattern broadly incorporating twenty minutes' viewing followed by half an hour's inadvertant snoozing, an attempt at rewinding to the last thing I remembered only to doze off again for a moment and accidentally go back forty-five minutes, watching some more as I didn't recognise it, then hitting another familiar patch and realising I'd obviously missed some earlier without even noticing, and finally fast-forwarding to my actual drop-off point and attempting to watch another episode or so - the whole blurring together in a horrifying CSO-clogged switchback ride that seemed never-ending on at least two occasions. On the plus side, there is a nice update on the progress of Jo and Cliff's Amazon adventure when the blue crystal arrives back at UNIT HQ at the beginning of the story, so setting up the Doctor's fateful return to Metebelis 3. Good use is made of K'Anpo and/or Cho-Je (the latter delicately portrayed by Kevin Lindsay in a performance astonishingly removed from his previous Sontaran role), with a rare confronting of the issues raised by the Doctor's continuous curiosity with and interference in temporal affairs. There is, significantly, the first description of Time Lord 'regeneration' - and ultimately the real thing, with an emotional goodbye from the Third Doctor to Sarah Jane and the Brigadier as Jon Pertwee's features blur and are replaced by those of Tom Baker.

Looks like the show's in safe hands, anyway...


Episodes watched: 273
Episodes still to watch: 449

Monday, October 17, 2005

'The Monster of Peladon'

6 episodes

I actually watched this 'properly', i.e. an episode at a time, over the course of a couple of days. More by accident than design, but probably for the best - this is so dull, I suspect getting through a series of episodes at once could have been difficult at best... Featuring many of the same elements as its prequel, this is essentially 'The Curse of Peladon Redux' - some posts are held by different people but doing essentially the same things as their predecessors, while the topical issue-of-the-month is the then-contemporary miners' strikes that feed into the plot as a lot of stupidly badger-haired miners standing around in tunnels arguing. While it is fun to have back Alpha Centauri and a glimpse of Aggedor, the Ice Warriors hold back to so late in the day that I'd forgotten about their presence... ironically creating a nice surprise that I wouldn't have had if the adventure had gone faster, and forcing the previously antagonistic Peladonian factions to cooperate against the new threat, but not alleviating the tedium that has reached terminal inertia by this point. It is disappointing to see the Martians' characters reverting more to stereotypical baddies, even if it is made clear that these ones are a breakaway group unrepresentative of their race. Eckersley is the only interesting support player, driven seemingly just by financial gain rather than despotic mania - except in one ill-advised speech where he temporarily wants to be master of the galaxy - and played with a kind of laid-back insouciance by Donald Gee. Queen Thalira is endearingly wide-eyed and innocent but more than a little wet, for which she gets a highly unsubtle Women's Lib lecture from Sarah. Speaking of whom, was it really necessary to have her believe the Doctor is dead twice in one adventure, especially considering what's coming up?? I guess I should mention that a good portion of the plot hinges on the unlikely factor of the Peladon mines - that's mines - apparently having not only central heating but air conditioning, but frankly I've lost heart by this stage...


Episodes watched: 267
Episodes still to watch: 455

Saturday, October 15, 2005

'Death to the Daleks'

4 episodes

Well, as Locus pointed out to me a while ago, it's pretty much the quintessential middle-of-the-road Doctor Whostory - 'Death to the Daleks' is four 25-minute episodes long, features the combination of a 1970s Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith, a couple of wobbly sets and costumes, some polystyrene modelwork, plenty of mist and fog, a quarry doubling as an alien planet, lots of corridors, lots of tunnels with an oo-nasty lurking in them... and, of course, the series' defining monsters the Daleks. You could show it to anyone and they'd be able to tick most of the boxes for what is commonly understood to constitute Doctor Who.

Alas, while a little better than the prior two, this is the third and final disappointing Daleks story out of three for the Third Doctor, with nothing much to say about it bar the above. The beginning is marvellously sppoky, with the TARDIS losing every vestige of power and the Doctor disappearing into the fog leaving Sarah alone to fight off an assailant inside what should be a safe place; unfortunately I could never look at the cloaked Exxilons without thinking of Star Wars' Tusken Raiders, rather undermining the drama even while they were having a big voodoo ceremony to sacrifice Sarah... The later involvement of the Exxilon Bellal is welcome, as he makes a likeable and interesting surrogate companion for the Doctor for the latter parts of the story, although their progress through the city's puzzles seems rather too easy considering - but in fairness this is meant to be the case, it turns out. Likewise, the 'cliffhanger' of episode 3 of the Doctor spotting a TILED FLOOR (gasp) is so insignificant I had to rewind to check I hadn't missed anything... but again in fairness this was apparently not meant to be the original cliffhanger! Otherwise, the Daleks have had a nice spruce-up but are a little irrelevant, although their menace in some ways seems greater for being a small party terrorising a backwater mining plant rather than plotting galactic domination etc. It is edifying to see how ineffectual they are once stripped of the ability to exterminate anyone, and scary to see how quickly they develop new, non-energy weapons as substitutes - and laugh-out-loud funny to witness them using a small model TARDIS as target practice! The scene where one, consumed with distress at perceived 'failure', self-destructs, is simultaneously also funny yet quite shocking too. Otherwise, the mechanical "root" that defends the city and its environs is an interesting idea that doesn't receive enough screentime; looking like a cross between a hoover and a giant Red Dwarf Scutter, it nevertheless makes for an impressive Watcher-in-the-Water-style monster in its devastating waterhole-side attack on the Daleks; of the supporting cast, all are bland with the exception of the wily veteran Galloway, who while perhaps a touch loose with his morals is nevertheless personable enough to not be truly unpleasant.


Episodes watched: 261
Episodes still to watch: 461

'Invasion of the Dinosaurs'

6 episodes

Oooh dear... this is infamously meant to be one of the all-time worst Who adventures, as evidenced by the fact that it was the very last complete story to be released on video a mere two years ago - a full twenty years after the first! Actually, I'd watched the first episode then and been rather impressed; admittedly, its black-and-white (the 157th and last episode to exist as such) status helps the atmosphere, but the empty, abandoned streets of London are genuinely eerie and bleak, the mystery suspenseful, and the sole attack from an extinct reptile (a pterodactyl) legitimately frightening when it smashes the car window.

Then I realised a little later in the viewing that I had in fact watched the full six-part story a couple of years back, but apparently blanked-out my memory of the latter five parts, which speaks volumes about the rest of the serial... Hmmm - maybe that's a bit unfair actually: it's still far better than you might expect, but drags a lot despite the interesting plot ideas. Ironically, it's the dinosaurs themselves that most contribute to the negative vibe... While the herbivores look okay, particularly the apatosaur and stegosaur (the Triceratops is a little dorky), albeit a trifle stationary, it is far easier to spectacularly stuff up the appearance of a tyrannosaur - and so they do. Despite being specifically named as a Tyrannosaurus Rex the beast blatantly has an excessive tally of three fingers on each hand, which any ten-year-old could have corrected the makers on, and its beady-eyed, squashy-nosed, slack-jawed oafish face is hopelessly unintimidating. The effect is not helped by the pudgy, upright (and slightly lopsided) body and "RRRAAAWWWWOOOORRR" voice, while the poor creature is so static it fails to even lumber threateningly.

Ah well - the rest of the plot is pretty good, really: the Doctor and Sarah's initial befuddlement as to what is going on, culminating in their arrest as 'looters', is excellent, and it isn't until the comforting form of the Brigadier turns up that they and we feel a measure of 'safety'. Of course, not even the rest of the military can be trusted - John Bennett's cold, heavy-lidded General Finch makes for a fascinating 'villain', as does Noel Johnson's Government minister Grover since he seems to honestly believe he is in the right in wanting to roll the Earth back in time to a 'Golden Age' despite the fact this would wipe out billions of people. It is a shame Martin Jarvis' Butler has little to do, although the actor's presence here means his illustrious Doctor Who career involves... (cue fanfare) 'Invasion of the Dinosaurs' and 'The Web Planet'. Eeeuchh... The device of Sarah being on a 'spaceship' seemingly headed for a distant New World is very clever and quite shocking in its denouement, and the behaviour of the some of the others 'on board' is brutal in terms of how willing they are to recondition or dispose of those who might be destabilising influences... Meanwhile, the ever-redoubtable Sgt. Benton proves himself yet again, standing up to the bad guys and allowing the Doctor to incapacitate him and escape; and, of course, the revelation is Captain Yates, whose exposure as another of the traitors is shocking for someone so much part of the 'UNIT family'. Again, he seems to really believe in the eco-message Grover and the others are touting (very different to that in 'The Green Death'), and the Brigadier's effort to enable the disgraced Yates to take a dignified 'extended leave' at the end - compared with Finch's court martial - is fitting and touching. Jon Pertwee does well throughout, even when confronted by wall-to-wall awful CSO and rubber dinosaurs, and despite some reviewers' negative impression of it I found the extended chase sequence where the Doctor dodges the military through the woods of Hampstead Heath to be extremely tense and gripping - not to mention inclusive of some neat trickery on the Doctor's part! Of course Nicholas Courtney is as reliable as ever, and gets in my opinion one of the Brigadier's best ever scenes in his High Noon showdown with Finch, the two pulling up in Land Rovers either side of the Doctor in a deserted back street and the Brigadier refusing to back down in his attempt to rescue his friend.

All in all, 'Invasion of the Dinosaurs' isn't a bad little story at all - just a shame they had to put the lousy dinosaurs in...


Episodes watched: 257
Episodes still to watch: 465

Friday, October 14, 2005

'The Time Warrior'

4 episodes

Slightly inconsequential but enormous fun, this story served as the introduction to Season 12, new companion Sarah Jane Smith, the Sontarans, the first 'time tunnel' opening credits sequence and a new Doctor Who logo, the diamond-shaped one that went on to be perhaps the series' most famous - although the one it replaced after four years was later resurrected for the 1996 Eighth Doctor movie and has since fronted the entire BBC range of Who products for the first eight Doctors!

A pseudo-historical, this adventure features a faintly slapdash medieval setting, into which numerous top British scientists are drawn from the present day by the activites of Linx, a stranded Sontaran warrior. The Doctor's decision to trace the missing scientists in the TARDIS inadvertently involves the journalist Sarah Jane Smith, whose investigative instincts first lead her to pose as her aunt, the noted virologist Lavinia Smith, and then to poke around in the blue police box that subsequently whisks her off to the Middle Ages... Elisabeth Sladen makes an immediate impression as Sarah, being as endearing as Jo but with a much more pronounced intelligent, independent streak that soon sees her leading raids single-handed and the like! Her initial refusal to accept that she has been swept hundreds of years into the past is entirely understandable and highly enjoyable, as she struggles to persuade the bemused locals to snap out of their 12th century mannerisms, and the fact that for a long time she distrusts the Doctor is an original twist not seen since the very beginnings of the programme.

The chief joy of 'The Time Warrior' lies in its magnificent and hilarious dialogue. The bulk may not be strictly accurate to the period, but it has a meatily authentic-feeling cut and thrust to it that renders such considerations irrelevant. The repartee between Linx and medieval warlord Irongron is especially fantastic, as the two jockey for position in their fractious but mutually beneficial relationship - a classic example of the famous 'Robert Holmes double-act'. It is fascinating to see the interplay between them, two warriors from very different backgrounds yet almost equal face-to-face; although Irongron's attempts to intimidate the Sontaran fall flat and on one occasion result in a humiliating buffeting at Linx's hands, he continues to poke fun at his "toad-faced" accomplice. Irongron in truth gets almost all the best lines in the serial, although his dimwitted subordinate Bloodaxe's awed tribute "Yours is truly a towering intellect" - delivered apparently without irony - runs him close... These two form a subsidiary double-act that is also well-written and almost affectionate. The other supporting characters are also fleshed out nicely, from the myopic but admirably resilient Professor Rubeish to the kitchen servant Meg, and we get another appearance from Star Wars' Boba Fett, Jeremy Bulloch, as Hal the archer and one from EastEnders' Dot Cotton, June Brown, as the resourceful Lady Eleanor.

What is perhaps the most interesting is the depiction of Linx the Sontaran. The costume and makeup are fantastic, the squat, solid alien looking tremendously threatening both in and out of his tradmark helmet. Far from being the stock megalomaniac villain, he harbours no globe-straddling desires or delusions of grandeur - he is merely a soldier, who just wants to get back to the frontlines of his interminable war as soon as possible. We get quite a lot of backstory to fill us in on the legendary, millennia-spanning Sontaran/Rutan conflict (which was never to be seen directly on screen) and a sense of Linx's contempt for the primitive world he finds himself stranded on - plus, of course, the first-ever naming of the Doctor's home planet 'Gallifrey', where slightly surprisingly the title of the Time Lords' homeworld is slipped nonchalantly into the conversation as if it had been known all along...!


Episodes watched: 251
Episodes still to watch: 471

Thursday, October 13, 2005

'The Green Death'

6 episodes

Yes, it's 'the one with the maggots'... Perhaps more than any other individual Doctor Who adventure, 'The Green Death' is branded on the British collective consciousness - thanks to its memorably grotesque transformation of the humble maggot into a giant crawling eco-menace. That the maggots themselves do not glow green as many might remember (it's just the poisonous sludge that spawned them), and are in some ways only an adjunct to the main plot, seems to be irrelevant: for good or for bad they've gone down in history. The realisation of said beasties is pretty impressive, the use of rats' skulls in the models to provide their teeth being a particularly nice touch - although why one leaps for the throat of its unfortunate victim while the others are content to merely wriggle menacingly remains a mystery. Better still is the 'green death' itself, the virulent glowing patches that spread over the skin of those unlucky enough to catch it, which provides an eye-catchingly horrible demise for several minor characters and a scare for Professor Clifford Jones. Stewart Bevan's portrayal of the idealistic young academic is excellent, with his then real-life relationship with Katy Manning perhaps contributing to the obvious onscreen chemistry between Cliff and Jo Grant that builds convincingly through the six episodes to its inevitable conclusion, the pair both so wide-eyed and heart-on-their-sleeve-wearing they were obviously meant for each other...

In many ways this is Jo's story - we've seen her grow up so much over the three years she's been with the Doctor, and from the moment she accidentally destroys the professor's experiment on their first meeting, just like she did on her first encounter with the Doctor, a new relationship is clearly beginning to take shape in her life. The Doctor's initial distress when this becomes clear to him is obvious, and his clumsy attempts at near-sabotage understandable, before he eventually reconciles himself to losing another steadfast companion once he has come to trust Cliff to take care of Jo in his place - and again the warmth of the real-life fondness between Jon Pertwee and Katy Manning shines through. This is never clearer than in the tender and moving closing scenes, some of the finest in Who history, where the Doctor presents her with an engagement gift of the blue crystal from Metebelis 3 and in effect 'gives her away'; the quiet, resigned manner in which he then downs his drink and slips away alone from the impromptu party starting up sticks long in the memory, and the closing shot of Bessie disappearing across a starlit horizon is a perfect, elegiac finale.

That I've got this far through the review without covering the actual plot as such is indicative of the unusual stremgth of this subplot, if you can call it that. The main theme, inspired by producer and co-writer Barry Letts' real ecological worries, is atypically overt for Doctor Who, and testament to the amount of political issues it was possible to slip in under the cover of being a 'children's show'. Global Chemicals, the progenitors of the toxic waste that causes the contagious green death and mutates the maggots into outsized monstrosities, are a none-too-subtle allegory for the perils of globalisation and unchecked big business coupled with environmental thoughtlessness. The ultimate villain, BOSS, is another 'mad computer', but scores many points higher than WOTAN, say, thanks to being extremely charismatic, rather funny (humming Wagner and eulogising instead of getting on with its plan) and ultimately not without pathos. Its 'slave' Stevens also gets some sympathy, as he is shown to experience something like remorse or compassion on more than one occasion, and his final sacrifice to stay with the expiring computer while the plant blows up around them is amazingly affecting. The supporting cast chop and change a little too often to empathise with properly (partly through necessity thanks to illness), with the exception of the luckless Bert, but play their parts well enough - and although this story is oft-criticised for stereotyping the Welsh, I don't think it's over the top and the Welsh actors fit their roles appropriately. UNIT get a great showing for the first time in a while thanks to the welcome return of the Brigadier - who is shown to be intelligent, authoratitive yet sympathetic to the aims of the 'Nut Hutch' group and dignified even when being batted down by the Prime Minister - plus the ever-reliable Sgt. Benton, and a cracking undercover turn from Captain Yates. Incidentally, Mike Yates' reluctant yet genuine congratulations at the end to Jo and Cliff are one of the great aspects about those closing scenes - after all, it was hinted many times that he might be the one to get together with Jo yet this never transpired.

The effects are one area where this story loses points, although not through lack of trying - while the explosions are as reliable as ever, and the detonations of the mines and the factory are absolutely first-rate and very realistic, in contrast the heavy use of CSO lets down the scenes where the Doctor and Jo 'punt' through a maggot-infested tunnel and infamously where the Doctor drives Bessie through the maggot-covered slagheaps to rescue Cliff and Jo and later with Benton throwing fungus from the back to kill off the maggots. Despite this, they are still enjoyably cheesy, and the majority of the 'underground' scenes are very well done and convincingly atmospheric, while the large amount of location footage shot in Wales gives a sheen of realism to much of the goings-on... even if they had to stage some 'outdoor' shots of the Brigadier and UNIT men in the studio afterwards to fill in a gap or three! Jon Pertwee excels, again, with his legendary comic turns as first a milkman (to get into the chemical works) and then a cleaning lady (to help get out again) showing what a talented character actor he was; his 'Venusian aikido' - as opposed to the frequently-demonstrated 'Venusian karate' - scene is also terrific and forms a centrepiece to an excellent action sequence with Stevens' goons. His scenes with Stevens and BOSS are also very effective, and then of course there's that ending sequence. Plus, we also get to see the Doctor reach Metebelis 3, the famed 'blue planet' he was trying to land on in 'Carnival of Monsters'; apart from being a significant moment in his relationship with Jo, as she insists on following her heart to Wales rather than seeking adventure with him, and from being rather different to what he expected - the Doctor receives a hilariously hostile reception, with weapons and detritus bouncing off the TARDIS as it dematerialises - this is also a foreshadowing of the events that will wrap up the Third Doctor's tenure in one series' time...

Excellent use of the whole six episodes, relatively unusual for this format, with great location work, a deeper than average subtext and one of the most emotional finishes of any serial lift this into the realms of top-drawer Who.


Episodes watched: 247
Episodes still to watch: 475

'Planet of the Daleks'

6 episodes

Err, nothing much to say really. It wasn't nearly as bad as I'd been led to expect, but it didn't actually tie up the threads left dangling from the last story and so there wasn't much to distinguish it from any other generic Dalek story; indeed it has been much noted that this adventure is in many respects a straight rewrite of the original Daleks serial from ten years earlier - the Doctor helps the Thals (finally making their return) infiltrate the Daleks' base, where they are plotting to release a deadly substance to wipe out the other life on the planet, there are strange and deadly forests, lakes and cave tunnels, the Doctor's companion falls ill and is healed by a member of the indigenous population, someone hides in a Dalek casing, etc... Rarely actually boring but never gripping, the highlight is the nicely-done realisation of the invisible Spiridon Wester - a shame this effect wasn't used more instead of having the Spiridons walking around covered in big purple fur coats all the time. Lowlights include the horrendously studio-bound jungle scenes, which like the 'plain of stones' contrast badly with brief location footage shot for the scene at the ice pools, and the Doctor and Jo's apparent memory lapses which enable them to totally forget why they came to this planet for long enough to be surprised by the presence of Daleks! In between the two extremes, I'm merely indifferent towards the Doctor's cheap white bedroom storage unit that has arrived in the console room, seemingly from a stopoff at IKEA...

The Daleks are better than in 'Day of the Daleks', I'll say that, and their voices are much improved through the talents of Michael Wisher (him again) and Roy Skelton - and the Dalek Supreme (a refurbished prop from the 1960s Dalek Invasion Earth - 2150AD films) looks quite cool with his 'torch' eyestalk and big 'ear' lights, even if these lights are woefully out of synch with his voice! Otherwise, short-lived Thal Marat, from the black-and-white episode 3, is played by Hilary Minster who went on to be General von Klinkerhoffen in 'Allo 'Allo and Bernard Horsfall (Taron) was a Time Lord at the Doctor's trial and was Gulliver in 'The Mind Robber' before that, but there's little else of note here except that Jo gets asked to stay behind at the end after a terse and shoehorned-in 'romantic' subplot - a taste, if you will, of what is to come...


Episodes watched: 241
Episodes still to watch: 481

After all that, I am now pretty much exactly one third of my way through the surviving Doctor Who television canon!!

'Frontier In Space'

6 episodes

Gosh - didn't see this one coming: a full-scale space opera, in which the Doctor and Jo blunder into the midst of smouldering conflict between the neighbouring 26th century galactic empires of Earth and Draconia, where war two decades earlier has been followed by a peace that has now been threatened by the simmering tension created by each empire's cargo ships being attacked by the other's battle cruisers. Or have they been? We quickly discover that all is not as it seems - Earthmen see Draconians attacking them and vice versa, but the Doctor and Jo see Ogrons, the brutish, simian mercenary race seen before in 'Day of the Daleks'; clearly a third party is seeking to play the two great empires off against each other in a mutually destructive war, and so, since the simple-minded apes are incapable of formulating such a plan, who is responsible? The TARDIS is stolen by the Ogrons and its crew seized and locked up - a state of affairs that is played out almost constantly throughout the six episodes - and soon find themselves confronted by the President of Earth and her military leader General Williams. The parallels that play out are clever and intriguing - both Earth and Draconia have moderate leaders struggling to control their hotheaded war leaders, and ultimately the two form a strong alliance to take on the villain of the piece. That this is revealed in episode 3 to be the Master was for once a twist I didn't see coming, and Roger Delgado shines in his last performance in the role before his tragic and untimely death in Turkey the following June. His sympathising with Jo about listening to the Doctor's reminiscences is wonderful, as is his straight-faced assertion that "no-one is more committed to peace than I", among many fabulous moments. Jo herself really comes of age here in a way, standing up to the Master on more than one occasion - the scene where she bravely resists and frustrates his attempt to hypnotise her is a standout, and shows how far she's come since she easily fell victim to him in 'Terror of the Autons'.

The Draconians, meanwhile, have a fantastic look and are given a depth to their personalities and society; their evolution from 'villains' to noble allies is convincing, and part of a wider attention to detail that creates a convincing future (except maybe for Earth command being at the South Bank Centre) and fleshes out the supporting characters very well. The visit to the Emperor on Draconia helps paint this story onto a grand canvas that is also enlivened by the many treks back anf forth across the spacelanes, the Doctor's imprisonment on the moon, his excellently-rendered (despite the wires) spacewalks, and the final trip to the planet of the Ogrons. Here we get the biggest twist of all, as the Master is revealed to be in league with no less an evil than the Daleks themselves - an unprecedented alliance of the Doctor's two greatest foes that we sadly only get to glimpse briefly. That this seems temporarily to demote the Master to subsidiary villain is disappointing, but ameliorated by one final great scene for Delgado as he follows a radio conversation with the Daleks with the dark threat that "we'll see who rules the galaxy" and mocks their voices and calls them 'stupid tin boxes'!! The end sequence is unfortunately marred by its severe editing and Delgado doesn't get a satisfactory final scene - thanks to the spectacularly unconvincing modelwork that created a big orange blob as the Ogrons' 'god' figure monster, necessitating it being almost completely excised from the final cut and leaving that side-story almost unexplored and the closing moments of the story confused.

What is audacious, though, is the way the end doesn't really resolve anything and instead dovetails into the next story to create in effect one big twelve-part adventure. I thought this was a very refreshing change - shame that the coming story isn't meant to be too hot... Shame too that the excellent Draconians never appeared in Doctor Who again, and of course that the Ogron planet appeared to be yet another quarry! One more thing of note is the vastly overqualified players in some hidden roles - Stephen Thorne suffers a demotion from main adversary as Azal in 'The Daemons' and Omega in 'The Three Doctors' to 'First Ogron' here, whilst 'Second Ogron' is likewise performed by former (and future) Cyberman Controller Michael Kilgarrif from 'The Tomb of the Cybermen'; meanwhile the Daleks are voiced by Michael Wisher, who has by this point already turned up in 'The Ambassadors of Death', 'Terror of the Autons' and 'Carnival of Monsters' as well as being a future Davros!!


Episodes watched: 235
Episodes still to watch: 487

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

'Carnival of Monsters'

4 episodes

Two episodes last thing last night, one at lunchtime and one this evening - almost felt like I was watching 'properly' one part at a time! I've always had a sneaky fondness for 'Carnival of Monster' without knowing which story it was, as way back in the day (probably around 1990 when I was ten or eleven) it became the only one of the many Target novelisations I ever read, despite my library having a fair number of mostly Terrance Dicks books from the series. All I could remember was that it featured a ship on an ocean, aboard which the Doctor witnessed the crew and passengers stuck in an endlessly repeating time loop - which, Locus has assured me intermittently over the years as I tend to forget again after he tells me, was the very story that I have now finally seen! I realised this part way through the first episode, after the Doctor and Jo finds themselves on board said ship with a plesiosaur periodically appearing outside and terrorising the occupants; what is clever is that the surrounding scenes on the planet of Inter Minor, with its delightfully grey and bureaucratic inhabitants and the colourful showman Vorg and his cynical assistant Shirna, are presented as completely separate from the other half of the story - it is only later that we realise that the Doctor and Jo are miniturised inside Vorgs 'miniscope' machine, with all the attendant dangers.

This is one of those occasional Who adventures that is quick, fun and really of no consequence whatsoever, but in its knowing allegorising of the relationship between television and its viewers, excellent characterisation (typical of Robert Holmes stories) and novel setting, it is immensely enjoyable. The support cast all get their own distinctive personalities, the shenanigans our heroes get up to with the timelooped unfortunates aboard ship are clever and funny, with Jo getting increasingly exasperated of the cyclical series of events she is forced to work around time after time. The Drashigs are monsters from the 'cheesy but good' school, tearing through the miniscope's systems and ultimately out into the external world - it always bugs me, though, that their strange name sounds like it should be something else backwards but obviously isn't so... but it is a clear anagram of 'dishrag' for whatever that's worth...! The one peculiarity is the plight of the Inter Minor subordinate race, the Functionaries: early on, there seems to be a subplot regarding their oppression and bid for equality or whatever it is they want to achieve, yet this somehow peters out along the way and is never addressed. Considering the Doctor's perpetual desire to right wrongs and stand up for the underdog, it is in its own way a surprising twist in the tale that he apparently doesn't ever become aware of the situation.

All in all, though: silly, disposable, but terrific!


Episodes watched: 229
Episodes still to watch: 493

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

'The Three Doctors'

4 episodes

It was Doctor Who's tenth season, and for the first (but not the last) time in the series' history the production team decided that an anniversary special was in order, a celebration of the programme's past that would uniquely include all three personifications of the lead role. Alas, First Doctor William Hartnell was too unwell and infirm to appear in a major part, but in his final work as an actor managed to record several scenes to camera that could be shown on the TARDIS scanner or the Time Lords' screen as if he were talking to the other protagonists. I for one am glad he was able to appear, if only briefly, as the lasting popularity of Doctor Who was and is in no small way thanks to his iconic portrayal of the Doctor that dominated the series' earliest years - and if Hartnell's illness is all too apparent in his brief moments on screen, in the midst of a largely subdued performance it is still a delight to see flashes of the old fire breaking through one last time.

It is strange to see both the First and Second Doctors in colour for the first time, but otherwise both the previous occupiers of the TARDIS seem to fit naturally into their characters once more - and since Patrick Troughton is the one who interacts directly with the incumbent Doctor Jon Pertwee, we get to see the pair strike sparks off each other in a highly entertaining fashion. The "dandy and the clown", in their predecessor's words, form a conflicting yet very effective double-act - which is tested to the limit by the power of the adversary who arises for the occasion. Omega, one of the oldest and greatest of their race, whose daring stellar manipulation at the dawn of history turned a star into a black hole that gave the fledgling Time Lords the power to explore time and space, was lost in the moment of his triumph... into, it turns out, a universe of antimatter beyond the black hole in which he maintains a domain and indeed existence only through the strength of his own will. Now, he plans to return to the real universe and extract his revenge on his people, who to his mind betrayed and abandoned him.

Such a potentially excellent plot is to an extent wasted, as to be honest the slightly lax standards seemingly afforded by this being an anniversary romp mean that nothing much actually happens. The inclusion of the Brigadier and Sergeant Benton makes for some fun scenes when they are bafflingly presented with their 'old' Doctor and the interior of the TARDIS, but they don't have a lot to do that couldn't be done equally well by any one-off character. The other supporting cast are just to make up the numbers, with the Gell Guards unconvincing monsters (although they look much more effective in the matching tunnels in Omega's domain), and the latter two Doctors suffer fractionally from having their differing characters stereotyped - there was after all much more to Troughton's Doctor than just the 'clown', but not so much on display here. The Tme Lords don't come off very well either, in their first proper appearance since 'The War Games', with their particularly dire opening scene sticking in the memory through being both lumpenly expositionary and horribly wooden. Omega though is a marvellous villain, teetering on the edge of insanity after aeons virtually alone, and the difference between his actuality and the Third Doctor's description of him as one of his people's "greatest heroes" is understandable but still shocking. His appearance is great, with the massive metallic mask obscuring his head - for good reason, it turns out, as in one of the best scenes the Doctors discover that beneath the costume no trace of the physical Omega remains. Shame that for all his power he was brought down by the Second Doctor's recorder being the one object of matter in his antimatter universe, and that he couldn't conjure a world that looked like something other than a quarry...


Episodes watched: 225
Episodes still to watch: 497

Monday, October 10, 2005

'The Time Monster' episodes II - VI


Erm, yes. Not quite sure what to make of that. Wasn't quite the total car crash I was expecting, just a bit loopy really. The overlong sequences in Cambridgeshire feature some entirely irrelevant chunks like the whole thing with UNIT and the medieval knight/Roundheads/V1 rocket, given that they play no further part in the story and the Doctor manages to leave in the TARDIS from the place where the convoy is struck - although the apocalyptic scenes following the V1's impact are actually superb. There is almost relentless technobabble, and a load of nonsense 'science' such as Ruth altering some properties of the time machine experiment by "turning the circuit upside down" and the Doctor's wholly barmy contraption made out of a wine bottle, forks, corks and a mug; again, though, the latter is partially redeemed by his delightful explanation that they used to build them in school to jam each other's time experiments! The Kronos creature is abject - passable when blazingly overexposed in its first appearance but still clearly a man in a white jumpsuit flapping his arms about, and later laughable when hanging from wires and whizzing around Atlantis like a demented seagull. Then there are several random elements, like Bessie's dodgy 'superdrive' and the worryingly phallic timefield detector device; Stuart being aged by some unspecified side-effect of the experiments, which still more inexplicably undoes itself shortly afterwards for no particular reason; the luckless Sgt. Benton, dragged along by the Brigadier just before he could go off-duty, successfully sees through the Master's impersonation of Lethbridge-Stewart (a great fun scene) but falls for "the oldest trick of the book" and gets regressed to a toddler - enabling him to finish the story with no clothes on, to the great amusement of his colleagues...

I should probably mention the headspinning scenes where the Doctor manages to materialise his TARDIS both inside and around the Master's one, but the whole sequence is also rendered ultimately irrelevant by the fact that the supposedly tense period when the Doctor is ejected irrevocably into the time-space vortex goes completely flat after Jo retrieves him with no effort whatsoever. The Atlantean scenes, when the story finally arrives there, are actually an improvement on the preceding action and hold together comparatively coherently compared to most of the earlier sequences that had seemed to chase their own tails in search of a point. The plot resolves itself into an average runaround that is augmented nicely by the Master's seduction of Galleia and failure to win over Dalios like the Doctor then does, and the labyrinth scenes are nicely shot although adversely affected by the useless Minotaur, which is so bemused by the Doctor's matador antics it crashes through a wall that just happens to reveal the crystal being sought, destroying all suspense that might have built up. Nice to see future Darth Vader Dave Prowse as the beast, though, neatly presaging his future role by having his head entirely covered up and not giving him a word to say... The Doctor's little story to Jo in the dungeon is lovely, although perhaps not lovely enough to grind the plot to a halt for five minutes to tell it, and Dalios' death moments later seems remarkably apropos of nothing very much. By the way, is there any point at all to the characters of Krasis or Hippias? Admittedly the latter glories in perhaps the worst hairdo I've ever seen, but still... I did like the scene in the two TARDISes, where the Master (Roger Delgado as reliable as ever) successfully calls the Doctor's bluff on destroying them both with a 'time ram' to save the universe - only to be confounded by Jo grabbing the controls herself; the subsequent scene with the female Kronos gives a better sense of the creature's power than any that had gone before, and reinforces the Doctor's humanitarian side when he rescues the Master from eternal torment at the hands of the Chronovore.

All in all, not a total washout then - but perilously close to it at stages. There is a magic moment to cherish at about the 1hr 11mins mark where the Doctor, seated in Bessie, ought to say "Do buck up, Brigadier" - but it comes out very similar yet infinitely ruder...! Oh, and this adventure features the third and final explanation for the destruction (maybe) of Atlantis, only a year after the last and all three within five years. It's possible to resolve all three into a single continuity, but it's tricky...


Episodes watched: 221
Episodes still to watch: 501

'The Time Monster' episode 1

6 episodes

Gulp. Consensus of opinion says that this story is frighteningly bad, so I'm not looking forward to the rest of it with undisguised glee I have to say... Still, I didn't think there was much wrong with the first episode, although the Master is revealed far too instantaneously and his Greek accent drifts in and out and then disappears altogether after a minute or two. There is a fun relationship between Ruth Ingram and Stuart Hyde featuring a kind of fractious affection, and the time experiments these three are carrying out seem quite compelling. Presumably all the wild and wacky crapness happens in the remaining five episodes...?!

Episodes watched: 216
Episodes still to watch: 506

Sunday, October 09, 2005

'The Mutants'

6 episodes

Well, it wasn't nearly as bad as I'd been led to expect. The plot, a thinly-veiled dig at the perils of colonialism and apartheid coupled with some interesting bioevolutionary speculation, is strong enough, and although I gather some of the acting is widely held up as the worst on offer in Doctor Who history I didn't find it particularly objectionable. Indeed, I thought Rick James' role as a steadfast and ultimately rewarded guard character was a rare sympathetic central part for a black man in the Who canon - although all things considered I'd say naming him 'Cotton' was a little thoughtless. The rest of the cast are serviceable enough, although it is a shame the always reliable Geoffrey Palmer's Administrator gets killed off within the first episode - the actor's second nasty exit in as many appearances, following 'The Silurians'. Most memorable is definitely Paul Whitsun-Jones' OTT portrayal of the fat, loathsome Marshal, whose desire to retain his priviledged position and terraform Solos as 'New Earth' is the engine of the plot. John Hollis' Sondergaard is excellent and distinctive, and it is a shame we don't meet him until relatively late in proceedings; furthermore, he contributes to the amazing melting pot of accents also featuring Cotton's Caribbean and the Germanic scientist Jaeger. Also worthy of mention is the slightly bonkers Solonian, Varan, who tends to talk about himself in the third person (presumably to demonstrate his primitive status, although this doesn't afflict Ky, say) and whose hairdo, sartorial elegance and overall sublety are startlingly reminiscent of Freddie Mercury circa 'Bohemian Rhapsody'...

What really makes this story something of a trial are its length - four episodes might have served it better than six - plus a slightly less than committed turn from Jon Pertwee, who manages to set the tone with an outstanding fluff in his first scene: "I'm not allowed to open it; I couldn't even if I wanted to... No, I'm not meant to; I couldn't open it even if I wanted to," that caused me to rewind to check I hadn't imagined it, and some peculiar stylistic choices - e.g. the Doctor and Sondergaard wandering around the 'dark' caves worrying their blazing torches might burn out is ludicrous in view of the fact that the entire system is lit like a particularly gaudy discotheque, with odd green and red spotlights overlaying pink floodlighting, and the CSO-heavy scene there where Jo stumbles into the radiation chamber is so trippy it gave me a headache. Similarly, while the arthropod-like Mutant stages of the Solosian's life cycle are quite well-realised, Ky's final transformation into a floating, rainbow-hued spare member of Abba is a little too much frankly. The cliffhanger sequence where Varan is sucked into space through the Skybase's hull is weird, too, as despite the beautiful background nebula the attention is soon diverted by the others just waiting out the initial pressure drop and then walking off with barely a struggle. Such oversights are a shame given that the Overlords' costumes are good, the transporter effects are quite decent, the model work with Skybase orbiting Solos like the Death Star isn't bad either, and scenes like the opening one and indeed all the others on the surface of Solos are a treat - the swirling mist, skeletal vegetation and low camera angles create an excellent alien environment.

Tell you what's weirdest, though - I fell asleep twice during episode 1 and consequently took twice as long as I should have to get to the end of it, and so had been watching for about seventy-five minutes when about halfway through part 2 the plot elements of planet, orbiting base, power-mad Marshal, mutants, changing the atmosphere etc. fell into place and I realised that I've actually watched this story before!! Discovered afterwards the video came out in 40th anniversary year, 2003, so presumably Locus bought it then - considering it's only a year or two since that viewing, the fact that I had totally forgotten I'd seen it and took an hour and a quarter to remember is possibly some sort of inarguable verdict on the whole adventure...


Episodes watched: 215
Episodes still to watch: 507

Saturday, October 08, 2005

'The Sea Devils'

6 episodes

I liked 'The Sea Devils' a lot; it's big, flashy and expensive and there's very little to denigrate, but oddly the many good points never seem to add up to something truly great - it's simply so rock solid it almost defies reviewing in either positive or negative terms. The Doctor/Master characters and relationship are fabulouly portrayed: Jon Pertwee gets to show off his action-man persona more than ever, hopping in and out of a diving bell and piloting a speedboat and jetski-type mini speeder with great aplomb - I was nearly overcome with anticipatory glee when I saw the Master take off on one of the latter with a second waiting conveniently on the shoreline! The Master, after his recent dalliances with interplanetary machinations and black magic, is back to his customary position of forging an uneasy alliance with an 'alien menace' and teaming up with the Doctor when his plans go a little awry. Despite all their antagonism, the strange mutual respect between the two is shown up well in their entertaining swordfight, where the Doctor hands his adversary his blade back, and in their absorbed collaboration on the Master's machine - even if the Doctor has his own motives - and in their joint escape from the doomed underwater base at the end. That they can make such a good team when necessary is partially explained by the Doctor finally admitting that they were once good friends in their youth. There are a series of great Master moments: when we see him glued to The Clangers and imitating their whistling 'speech', followed by his tongue-in-cheek comment that they are a "rather interesting extraterrestrial lifeform", it is so unexpected that I was rolling; the moment where his frustration boils over and he abandons hypnotising a guard for a vicious blow to the neck; and of course his cheery, sardonic wave from the hovercraft as he makes good his escape at the very end.

The Sea Devils, as they are so nicknamed early on, never get an official monicker within the story, just like their cousins the 'Silurians' - who, in a neat addressing of his own error, get a mention in Malcolm Hulke's script when the Doctor suggests they should be more accurately known as Eocenes. Sadly neither period of Earth's history is actually appropriate for having fostered large reptilians parallel with early apes, but hey... The aquatic versions have a different look, partly lizard, a touch of bat, a smidgeon of pig and a whole lot of springer spaniel if I'm being honest. The long neck and high head are effective, although the lower bodies look a little too human and their netting clothes a bit silly and unnecessary. That, like their relatives, they have a senior claim to Earth and face the choice of conflict or coexistence with humanity again features strongly in the plot, and it is a shame that all sides descend into a state of ultimate antagonism and distrust and the Sea Devils all have to be destroyed. The reptiles do deserve special mentiom for their often spectacular demises, with some impressive flips, twirls and various crash-and-burn landings on being shot by the Navy - who totally replace the absent UNIT in this story, the real Navy having lent hardware and manpower to make the serial look as realistic as possible. The sheer weight of ships and explosives is impressive, although the large number of minor characters who drop in and out is hard to follow when you're as tired as I was while watching this. There are three supporting roles of note, though: Colonel Trenchard, the Master's jailor, conspirator and an enthusiastic golfer, who dies protecting his prisoner to the last; Captain Hart, who fills the Brigadier's role well, overcoming his inital scepticism to ally himself strongly with the Doctor; and the latecoming, pompous, overbearing, dimwitted, cowardly civil servant Walker, who alienates everyone he comes across, treats the female 3rd Officer Blythe as a tealady and fortifies himself mid-crisis with the likes of toast and marmalade in order to come up with the none-more-crass idea of nuking the South Coast in order to destroy the perceived threat of the reptile race. Nice to know the real world could never be so crazy, eh?


Episodes watched: 209
Episodes still to watch: 513

'The Curse of Peladon'

4 episodes

200 episodes down, only 500+ to go...! I have to say, I've long had a strange half-forgotten affection for 'The Curse of Peladon' ever since I listened to the cassette of Jon Pertwee's reading of the tale about seven years back - despite remembering very little of it! Essentially a political allegory (about Britain's entry to the Common Market) crossed with a haunted house mystery, this is a thoughtful rather than overtly exciting story, and none the worse for it. Straight away it is refreshing to see the Doctor and Jo end up on an alien planet, and the theme of the quasi-medieval Peladon society teetering on the cusp of being dragged into civilisation via inclusion in the Galactic Federation (very Star Trek) is interestingly played out. The relationship between the tentatively forward-looking King Peladon (David Troughton, son of former Doctor Patrick, then-flatmate of future Doctor Colin Baker, and veteran of 'The War Games') and his violently traditionalist High Priest Hepesh is nicely written, and its variations form the thread through the serial. That the lonely, indecisive, misled yet moral King is finally confronted with Hepesh's death, where the priest shows his actions were born out of his misguided desire to protect his world, allows at the last the former to shake off some of his shackles and the latter to regain his dignity.

The assorted collection of aliens is a rare delight, from the tentacled blob Arcturus in its mobile life-support system to the endearingly girly, six footed hermaphrodite Alpha Centauri - whose marvellous pillar-shaped costume has one huge eye that actually blinks... Actually, those two are the entirety of the new creatures on display, notwithstanding the okay Aggedor beast - isn't a collection of just four planets' delegates (including Earth's Delegate Leader) a bit on the small side for a galactic summit meeting?!? This fact notwithstanding, the appearance of the Martian delegation is fascinating: a unique instance of an old enemy of the Doctor's being totally rehabilitated within the series. That the Ice Warriors have left their savage, warlike past behind them and adopted a peaceful civilisation based on a code of honour and nobility, is a very pleasant surprise and a real turnup for the books in Doctor Who, where 'bad' races tend to stay that way. The way the story plays on the Doctor's understandable distrust of them after his earlier experiences to obfuscate the real villains of the piece is very clever, and his subsequent alliance with them quite heartwarming.

Further to this, the scenery is suitably gloomy and claustrophobic, there is a nice romantic subplot between the King and Jo - who does a good job pleading for the Doctor's life, navigating high ledges in high winds in high heels, keeping the delegates on the same page and not upsetting the Doctor's activities too often - that threatens to end in her staying behind, and crucially the aliens' distinct personalities are all well defined: particularly amusing are the scenes where Izlyr turns aside from the hysterically babbling Alpha Centauri to confess to Jo that despite its faults he finds himself longing for the company of the treacherous Arcturus, and where Centauri, now the only delegate remaining not from Mars, acquiesces to a unanimous vote when flanked by the intimidating brace of Ice Warriors! The Doctor gets lots of good stuff to do throughout, effortlessly impersonating an important official (again), combating Hepesh's machinations, exposing the murky 'myth' of Aggedor through his pacification of the actual animal, and has an excellent pit fight with the King's champion, the speechless Grun, that is conducted in a compelling near-silence and further emphasises Pertwee's willingness to do virtually any stuntwork possible... My only quibble is why someone doesn't just show Peladon the 'secret' tunnels beneath the city at some point to prove the Doctor's case - after all, half the cast have traipsed up and down them with such regularity there's no reason why the King couldn't be led around a corner or two to have them pointed out, which makes the Doctor's meek acceptance of punishment mystifying in the circumstances. Ah well, can't have everything...


Episodes watched: 203
Episodes still to watch: 519

Friday, October 07, 2005

'Day of the Daleks'

4 episodes

Reasonably solid little story that has several good elements, by far the least effective of which is the Daleks themselves. You can tell that they were added to the original scripts, which did not originally feature them, as their part is largely confined to the background and they do not have a proactive role until the final few minutes of the serial. Considering these most iconic of monsters were 'killed off' in their last appearance a long four and a half years earlier (after all their previous stories had been crammed into the series' first three and a half years), what should have been an epochal reintroduction - in colour too, no less - is marred by the title, as ever, flagging this up, any remaining suspense being destroyed by their cropping up randomly fifteen minutes in for about two seconds, and the fact that their voices are terrible - far too human without any of the metallic alien menace that characterising their most terrifying moments.

Otherwise, this is a solid serial. The main theme concerning the problems of time travel and the paradoxes that can result from it is handled very well, with the lovely revelation that the guerrilas' sterling efforts to prevent their awful future world coming into being actually cause it! The location work and sets are good too, and UNIT get to be a bit more serious and military after the cosy 'family' feel of the last season. The Doctor is marvellous, disapproving yet sympathetic to the various human elements, and enjoying his fine wine and cheese so much he at one point casually sends an assailant flying with one hand before taking another sip and putting his glass down to complete the job...! Nice too to get a glimpse of his two predecessors on the Daleks' mind analyser screen. Full marks for effort, too, for his valiant attempt at escaping his captors on a motorised tricycle, although minus quite a few for the execution of this plan!

The subsidiary monsters the Ogrons look impressive (uncannily reminiscent of the Uruk-hai from the Lord of the Rings films) and the fact that the Daleks are actually the masters of earth two hundred years in the future is unsettling in as much as it presents them as that world's ruling 'establishment' rather than just would-be conquerors following another harebrained masterplan. The Controller is a seemingly uninteresting creation whose icy personality thaws late on as his trials and motivations are revealed, and his 'redemption' at the end is a fine sequence. Anat is well served storywise for a supporting female lead; shame that so many of the other minor characters (e.g. the sympathetic/undercover prison chief) crop up only for a scene or two before disappearing back into the ether. What, for example, is the deal with the Controller's glacial female assistant(s), whose odd, stilted behaviour is never followed up on or explained...? Also, the big worry plotwise is that after all the talk about time paradoxes and the like, the Doctor happily goes along with the plan to dispense with the Daleks without ever appearing to consider the further huge paradox that would be created by destroying the 'bad' future - so the guerrilas wouldn't have needed to come back to their past, therefore they wouldn't have prevented this future, therefore they would still have come back from that future to 'prevent' the world war by killing off Sir Reginald Styles, therefore they would still be the unwitting instigators of that war, therefore creating the preexisting paradox, so we have paradoxes squared by this point! Lastly, regardless of all that, whatever happened to the Doctor and Jo meeting up with their past selves as dictated by them meeting their future selves at the start of the story? Looks like that element got completely forgotten along the way...


Episodes watched: 199
Episodes still to watch: 523

'The Daemons'

5 episodes

Wow. Now this I loved... The first part was probably my favourite single episode to date in this odyssey - a cracking, expensive-looking thunderstorm to begin with, with added intrigue to get the plot rolling, the Doctor being a know-it-all and setting up the remote-control plot element that won't come into play until much later, the wonderfully atmospheric setting of Devil's End, the barrow, the TV presenter, the marvellous Professor Horner who is equally dismissive of the 'white witch' Miss Hawthorne and of the television crew, science and sorcery starting to clash and mingle, and the Master being far more darkly, satanically evil than he has ever been...

What's great is that after this top-notch start, the quality rarely slips. While it is a shame the Professor is so short-lived, Miss Hawthorne's character is given room to grow through the rest of the five parts (a strangely effective length for this story), and her interactions with Benton are amusing - even the normally amiable Sergeant gets irritated with her at one point. It's nice to see Benton and Yates in civvies, too, and neat that they get so involved in the rugby game they forget to switch over for the broadcast from the barrow and belatedly do so in time to witness Jo with the frozen Doctor, and switch the plot up a gear as a result. It's also nice to see the Brigadier getting a social life briefly, as well, which delays his arrival to the effect that he spends most of the serial on the outside looking in as it were, which gives a different arena for some of the story to unfold at. The 'heat barrier' that keeps Lethbridge Stewart and his team outside the village is very well realised, and there is some great action - notably the exciting helicopter chase where one of the Master's henchmen pursues Bessie from the air, and the production team borrow, with stupendous audacity, a piece of actual James Bond footage to show the chopper blowing up!!

The Doctor, recently offered a glimpse of freedom but now confined to Earth again, is understandably even more intolerant than usual of inferior intellects, which perhaps allows us a glimpse of a different Doctor from the usual of late - enigmatic and knowing. The Master has his best outing yet, with some tremendous, powerful cavern scenes conducting his black mass 'dressed for the occasion' (I was reminded of his outfit in the Eighth Doctor movie) and circled by black-robed acolytes; having given up on persuading the Doctor to collaborate in his schemes, he seems just to want to destroy him here and even attempts to sacrifice Jo to the Daemon (singular) of the title. I thought this was supposed to be the year that returned Who to a family-friendly style after the grittier Season 7...? Blimey... The Bok gargoyle creature is effective enough, and the production team do a great job of keeping Azal off the screen for as long as possible to prevent the mystique being ruined by too much bluescreening - and in the event those CSO (Colour Separation Overlay) shots are pretty well done, too. We also get the hapless Sergeant Osgood, who in a fine slapstick moment gets a faceful of soot when his complex device goes bang in a welter of technobabble, Jon Pertwee's Doctor whizzing around on a motorcycle and warring with Miss Hawthorne over the relative merits of science and magic, the world's most sinister Morris dancers, some crack sharpshooting from Benton, the stupid notion of Jo and Yates successfully 'hiding' behind what is essentially a small ornamental railing, the former having a charming sacrificial robe procured for her, a throwaway second explanation for the sinking of Atlantis that I nearly missed, and a vein of richly comic moments and in-jokes like the Doctor's "wig" incident and the scene where Jo dismisses the Brigadier's plans to blast his way through the heat barrier, only to be chastised by the Doctor so hypocritically it's hilarious. The denouement, while superficially ludicrously emotive and short on substance, is better viewed in the sense that while Jo's offer to die in the Doctor's stead did not directly destroy Azal, the 'irrational' nature of her sudden interjection confused and distracted the Daemon long enough for him to lose control of the power he was channeling and so be torn apart by it. And the exploding church is such a contentious idea it's fantastic...

I gather post-viewing that this is a serial that was lionised prior to its 1993 video release and then widely vilified in the subsequent reevaluation. Personally, I found it's one of those stories that just pushes my buttons, and I loved it! Oh yes - and it also contains the Brigadier's most preposterous yet famous order: the immortal "Chap with wings... five rounds rapid!"


Episodes watched: 195
Episodes still to watch: 527

Thursday, October 06, 2005

'Colony In Space'

6 episodes

I enjoyed this much more than I'd expected, considering I'd heard it was something of a turkey beforehand... I think one reason is that I'm a sucker for any plot that throws a whole load of factions into the mix, as this serial does - the Doctor and Jo; the colonists; the fictional 'second colony' represented by Norton (a rare on-screen outing for voice artiste supreme Roy Skelton), who is actually an IMC mole; the main bulk of IMC personnel; Caldwell, the IMC man who is sympathetic to the 'good' factions; the Primitives, all three varieties of them; the Adjudicator, who turns out to be the Master. I love stories that force a great number of different factions into one situation to coexist or war as they see fit... Nice that the Master was held back until episode 4, giving the rest of the characters time to develop, although this was admittedly foreshadowed by the very first scene - in which we get to see Time Lords being manipulative gits for the first time! Good to see the Third Doctor finally get to stretch his legs briefly, as the TARDIS is temporarily allowed (in fact, compelled) to leave Earth to foil the Master's plot to get his hands on a doomsday weapon that is apparently some kind of stellar manipulator. There are some interesting leadership issues amongst the colonists, between the idealistic Ashe and more pragmatic Winton, a few questions about the morality of the differing factions as regards possessing the planet, and lots of gun battles that have altered little even though this is meant to be 500 years in the future... Funny, almost self-referential plotting where we discover the giant lizards are actually meant to be naff projections in the story and not just in appearance! And, of course, the first alien world this Doctor gets to explore looks remarkably like a clay pit... Still, the aliens were convincingly 'different', and I rather liked their Bayeux Tapestry-style transparent frieze depicting their history. Perhaps the most arresting thing was the sudden, shocking despatch of all the colonists en masse as their ship blows up in the final part - I honestly didn't see the scene coming where they had somehow all survived to have another gunfight with the IMC men, and although this momentarily seemed to cheapen the prior effect this was unexpectedly wrenched back the other way when it was revealed that Ashe had sacrificed himself in order that his colony might survive.

Surprisingly strong for a story that had such bad advance notices!


Episodes watched: 190
Episodes still to watch: 532

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

'The Claws of Axos'

4 episodes

Struggled to get through this one as well - started last night, watched a bit more before going out to work, another bit on my lunch break and finally finished it this evening! Not the most riveting of adventures, which although it clearly had a clever plot was undermined by some of the visuals. I know that pointing out Doctor Who sometmes had its scripting overreach its budgetary constraints is pretty much redundant criticism, but I still found the well-realised, freakily bug-eyed, golden alien Axons contrasted rather too much with their nondescript 'tentacled lump' monster forms - even if the physical variance is undouubtedly part of the point of the story, i.e. don't always go on friendly first appearances. Talking of which, it's nice to see the ever-watchable Master again, and while it rehashes the same plot of him collaborating with this month's alien menace to overthrow the human race, it comes with the nice twist that they've already turned on him before we even get into the story!

There are numererous good points to flag up, I must say; it's just that once more the whole thing didn't hang together enough to command my attention (and wakefulness) for more than an episode or so at a time. The Axons are clearly powerful, with their ability to shape-shift, clone Filer and drain the Earth of its resources, and with the firepower they possess in the running battle with UNIT troops. These action scenes are well-done, particularly where (despite the risible blue backgrounds that look nothing like the sky in alternate shots) Yates and Benton manage to outfox their adveraries by detonating a Land Rover!! The external views of Axos are good, with the pod half buried and surrounded by its own localised snowstorm, although the interior is a little too hallucinogenic for my liking. The support is variable - forgettable except for the self-important Chinn, whose head is so far up his own backside he could watch his stomach working but whose desire to contain the axonite turns out to be right for the wrong reasons, and the likeably loose-cannon Filer, uber-'70s hair and all, who gets to run around like a regular and have a superbly-shot fight with his own double, the existence of whom seems to be entirely pointless except to allow said punch-up to occur...

And then there's the Master. Compulsive viewing whenever he's on screen, the black-tunic-wearing, ruthless yet charming Time Lord is a joy. Seeing the Master and the Doctor again working together, to trick the Axons (or Axos, given that 'they' are a gestalt entity) and escape Earth, is marvellous for the second story in a row, and coupled with the fact that the latter has been more and more irritable, rude and arrogant these last few stories, reinforces the view of them as alike, contemporaries and equals. It is here that this adventure suddenly becomes great as the Doctor turns his back on his friends - the gap between Doctor and Master visibly shrinks while that between the pair and the humans seems to grow, as the Doctor points out that after all "we are both Time Lords". I genuinely couldn't see how he was going to resolve things at that point. Even though it was only a front, I love that the Doctor admits at the end that if he had had the chance to follow the escape route he would have taken it!


Episodes watched: 184
Episodes still to watch: 538

A monstrous 26 episodes behind schedule now, what with one thing and another. Days off coming up, though, so will have to see I can start to bridge the gap...

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

'The Mind of Evil' episodes IV - VI

THE MIND OF EVIL continued

Clever premise - machine that removes 'evil impulses' from criminals brains to leave them paragons of virtue but with an apparent mental age of about eight. Machine turns out to be alien 'mind parasite' that feeds off negative thoughts and kills by confronting victims with their greatest fear. How it actually drowns a man through the power of suggestion alone baffles me, though. Still, it's been brought to Earth by the Master, who hasn't learnt from his experience with the Nestenes and thinks he can control it - but can't, and has to resort to asking the Doctor for help despite wanting to destroy him. That the Doctor's scorn and ridicule are presented, most surreally, as the Master's own worst fear is compelling explanation for some of the latter's behaviour over the series' history! Good direction - things like the inmates rattling their bars whenever the machine is active, and making the inanimate object seem actively malevolent. Great pitched gun battle at Dover Castle 'prison' locations, with UNIT soldiers cutting down their adversaries at wince-inducingly point-blank range. Nice Trojan Horse disguise for the Brigadier. Slight overcomplication with the peace conference/missile plot, but needed something to make it stretch the duration I guess. Interesting to see prominent Chinese characters, when hitherto non-Caucasians have been a rarity. Lovely to see Doctor and Master working together, so effectively and committedly that for a minute or two they seem more like old friends that bitter enemies, and you see how their two personalities are really flip sides of the same coin.

Good stuf, but never truly attention-grabbing enough to stop me falling asleep for more than an episode or two at a time! Got invited round to friends' for dinner and stuff this evening too, so really struggled to finish this one...


Episodes watched: 180
Episodes still to watch: 542

Monday, October 03, 2005

'The Mind of Evil' episodes I - III

6 episodes

Good so far, without being terrifically exciting. Had to break off for Monday night Doctor Who roleplay, and only managed one more afterwards before getting too tired. I get the feeling that my reviews may degenerate slightly hereabouts as I'm invariably knackered when watching, which creates the twofold problem that I'm falling further and further behind schedule due to being unable to sit through six episodes a day, plus I can't be bothered doing a proper write-up afterwards!

Episodes watched: 177
Episodes still to watch: 545

Sunday, October 02, 2005

'Terror of the Autons' episodes II - IV


Or 'Lack of the Autons' to be honest - whatever this story might have meant for the future of Doctor Who, by no stretch of the imagination is it really an Auton story. Undoubtedly, it is an effective vehicle to introduce the Doctor's eternal nemesis the Master, charming new companion Jo Grant, and solidify the UNIT 'family' with Captain Mike Yates filling the rather large ranking gap between Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart and Sergeant Benton. The Doctor's early description of Jo as a "ham-fisted bun vendor" is so inexplicably worded and hilarious it never fails to make me laugh when I think of it, but from this inauspicious start Miss Grant quickly establishes herself as a useful sidekick for the Doctor. The introduction of another Time Lord character means the enemy is for once on something of an equal footing with the Doctor, and in a way it is a shame this is diluted by his opening story being shared with the returning threat of the Nestene Consciousness. I can see why 'living' armchairs, telephone cables and Auton policemen would have been more than averagely unnerving for the young fans of the time, but the psychological horror of the expressionless mannequins roaming the countryside in their debut appearance is lost due to their infrequent sightings this time round - although those giant costume heads are quite freaky. There is one great moment where an Auton takes an enormous plunge down a quarry side, only to rise to its feet and doggedly begin to ascend again, but all in all this seemed to fall between stools too much for my liking - and the Master gives in far too easily at the end!


Episodes watched: 174
Episodes still to watch: 548

'Terror of the Autons' episode I

4 episodes

Finally - after all this time I've finally seen an episode of Doctor Who featuring Roger Delgado's original incarnation of the Master. What was surprising was the distinctly underwhelming nature of his entrance - the Master merely materialises his TARDIS and walks into a scene near the beginning of the episode, introduces himself, and that's it - no build-up, no intrigue, no suspense, no nothing. Maybe they didn't realise what a big deal they were going to have on their hands... Delgado's performance is marvellous - restrained, civil, polite, persuasive, without ever turning into maniacal caricature as one might expect of a 'super-villain'. Of the titular Autons, there is no sign, which was also slightly surprisinng, so I look forward to seeing where they turn up!

Episodes watched: 171
Episodes still to watch: 551

Oh dear - only one episode tonight, as I was again distracted by an old friend visiting town and went out for the evening instead!

Saturday, October 01, 2005


7 episodes

Wow - how have I never heard about this story before now? Things start auspiciously, with special title/writer/episode number inserts mirroring those of 'The Ice Warriors', but with the earlier serial's background icefields replaced by erupting volcanoes and oozing lava flows. The basic plot is compelling enough, with the Doctor, Liz and UNIT facing doom in a facility where the obsessed Professor Stahlman is boring his way through the Earth's crust to tap the vast energies beneath as an unlimited power source for the country - but a primordial slime is oozing from the machinery and turning those is touches into unthinking savages who can infect others with the same taint with only a touch; and the plant's computer indicates the process is dangerously flawed, but Stahlman is insistent upon faster and faster drilling. The performances are all top-notch, from Olaf Pooley's increasingly unhinged monomaniac Stahlman to Christopher Benjamin's well-meaning but helpless Sir Keith Gold, and especially Derek Newark (caveman Za all the way back in 'An Unearthly Child') as engineer Greg Sutton, who from the first finds himself fiercely antagonistic to Stahlman but engaged in a touching romantic subplot with his assistant Petra. The industrial locations, like the last story's, are excellent, and the Doctor gets to spend the spare moments when he isn't occupied in slanging matches with Stahlman tinkering with the TARDIS console using a borrowed nuclear power supply.

Then, the whole adventure gets tipped on its head. This last, apparently shallow side-story seems to be serving only to remind us that the Doctor is on Earth under sufferance and is still trying to get away again - but then he actually does and it totally surprised me. Slipping 'sideways' onto a parallel-universe Earth, he finds that everything is superficially the same except that he is in a totalitarian Britain where a republic came into being thirty years before and his associates, while physically recognisable, have become very different to their 'real-world' counterparts. Plus, the drilling operation is much closer to finally cracking the crust and unleashing the uncontainable power of the mantle layer beneath, and one thing unchanged is that this universe's Stahlman (or Stahlmann) still won't listen to reason since he too has been infected by the green goo and has only a little while before he reverts to bestial primitivism.

As well a completely refreshing the tale and giving it new impetus into the middle section of the seven episodes, this flipside world is an ingenious way of providing the Doctor with something to struggle against without throwing another 'invasion of the week' storyline at him: not only are the Primord creatures largely peripheral to the plot, but the green gunge is never followed-up or explained, and there are no alien enemies in sight - so what better way to subvert expectations and provide a unique slant on the Doctor's relationships with his friends than to make them the enemies? The decision to use the regular support cast in parallel roles where they become the Doctor's adversaries is inspired, as he suddenly finds he can no lomger trust those who were closest to him and really has to think on his feet to outwit them, escape this version of Earth and prevent the 'real' one being ravaged by the volcanic forces that will erupt from the mantle if the crust is breached by Stahlman's machine. We get a terrific chase in cars (Bessie also having been transported across), where Jon Pertwee really gets to show off his daredevil stunt driving skills, and across the oil refinery location's rooftops where the Doctor also has to deal with a loose Primord. His flight is ended when he makes the mistake of trying to communicate with this world's Liz Shaw, only to find that here she is a hard-bitten military type who wastes no time hustling him into captivity. Caroline John shines in the alternative role, with a noble streak appearing later through the tough exterior, and she is matched by John Levene's thuggish version of Benton in a performance far removed from the amiable Sergeant in the normal UNIT. Both, however, are outdone by Nicholas Courtney's jawdropping transformation into the moustache-less, eyepatch-wearing, sadistic Brigade Leader Lethbridge Stewat. The character's brutality and coldheartedness are brilliantly shown in the likes of the interrogation scenes with Shaw where the Doctor is really put through the mill (surely uncomfortable viewing for the younger Who fans), and when the action intermittently reverts to the 'real world' the familiar performances of Courtney and the rest seem shockingly different in comparison. The Brigade Leader's undesirable traits as mentioned are finally revealed as fronts for an inherent cowardice that is harshly shown up as the apocalypse overwhelms the parallel Earth, whereas most of the others find a kind of redemption in the face of approaching doom. Admittedly Stahlman, though equally looking different, retains most of his single-minded obsessiveness, but Section Leader Shaw's humanity breaks out in the end, and it is in the still-sympathetic version of Greg Sutton that the Doctor finds his ally and ice-maiden Petra finds her hero before catastrophe seemingly overwhelms them all. The Doctor, though, manages to escape in the nick of time and avert a similar fate for his real-world companions, and at the end of everything tries to get away again using the TARDIS console - but fails, is deposited on a nearby rubbish tip and sheepishly reconciles with the Brigadier to the laughter of Liz Shaw, in a nice final appearance for her in the series.

I was told beforehand it was going to be good, but I didn't expect it to be that good! Didn't start watching until 11:30 at night, but sat through seven episodes straight without a hint of falling asleep. Engrossing and marvellous.


Episodes watched: 170
Episodes still to watch: 552