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