Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Doctor Who: The Hand of Fear


Part One

“Do they have seasons in South Croydon?”

I remember RTD once saying he’d never dream of starting a story on Planet Zog with a load of aliens we’ve never met before expositing at each other. Well, it seems the Bristol Boys have no such qualms! Interesting look for an alien race- faces unseen behind the hood of an anorak…

In an already familiar seeming self-referential moment the Doctor and Sarah land in a quarry on earth, and there’s a hilarious reference to it seeming like an alien world. Oh my aching sides. There’s a siren blatantly going off, and the our heroes are caught in an explosion. You can’t help but be impressed with the Doctor’s health and safety regime for TARDIS landings…

All the same, I’m quite enjoying this. It’s consistently witty, even in little moments- I like the hospital doctor’s speech about pain, a nice little moment for a minor character. And then there’s the agreeable Dr Tyler- er, Carter, who seems a nice chap, enthusiastically investigating this strange, ancient stone hand Sarah’s been clutching. He’s a nice chap, who doesn’t at all deserve to get whacked over the head by Sarah during her latest alien possession. While interestingly dressed- “Yes, just like Andy Pandy!”

Of course, this being a script by the Bristol Boys, the action now moves to a scientific complex…

Part Two

“That’s not as ‘armless as it looks!

A rather long reprise, and what with this becoming practically a hostage situation in a nuclear reaction things get very tense very quickly. Once again Lis Sladen performs being possessed brilliantly, even taking in to account all the practice she’s had.

It’s a shame Dr Carter gets killed- he seemed a nice chap! But it’s a moment which indicates how high the stakes are, something achieved very well with the Professor’s touching “last” phone call to his family.
There’s a nice moment as Sarah responds to the Doctor’s hypnotising her with “Ah no, that’s not fair! Not aga-“. But on the other hand that’s a bit more mission creep for one of the Doctor’s recently acquired superpowers.

Part Three

“It’s just that no one is going to believe me.”

We begin with our heroes in big radioactive trouble, but fortunately Eldrad absorbs the radiation. Fine so far. But then, as in Claws of Axos, the RAF happily set about dropping a nuclear bomb on the complex while Sarah and the Prof shelter behind a car? Oh dear! Yes, Eldrad absorbs the blast, and the Doctor probably expects this, but that still leaves a hell of a lot of bad science on show.

I like the “I worry about you” chat between the Doctor and Sarah on their way to meet Eldrad- it reminds us what a great relationship they have just as it’s about to end.

Interesting that Eldrad, from 150 million years ago, and Solon, from at least a few centuries in our future, have both heard of Time Lords. They must have been around a while then. And the Doctor tells Edrad, without being contradicted, that he can’t break the “first law” of history and take her back to Kastria in her own time- it has to be the present day. Not only this but the Doctor claims she can’t harm him in the still brand spanking new TARDIS control room because it exists in a state of “temporal grace”, something which seems rather inconsistent with previous stories, The Enemy of the World for one. And these are both rather big and limiting things to set up for plot convenience in one story!

The Prof shoots at Eldrad yet he gets to live. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised in hindsight- after that phone call there was no way he was going to die…

Part Four

“I’m sick of being cold and wet and hypnotised left, right and centre. I’m sick of being shot at, savaged by bug-eyed monsters, never knowing if I’m coming, going or been.”

Well, Eldrad can’t pronounce “matrix”, and the abyss looks too obviously like a set, but otherwise this is a satisfying conclusion. Sadly Eldrad has to become a rather shouty bloke who is much more obviously a baddie from the word go. As Sarah puts it, “I quite liked her, but I couldn’t stand him.” The Kastrians’ trap for Eldrad perhaps becomes implausible if dwelt on, but it feels satisfactory as a conclusion and I for one find it a fitting ending: “Hail Eldrad, king of nothing!”

And then it happens. One of no doubt many half-hearted arguments, but then the Doctor is summoned to Gallifrey, and actresses whose contracts are about to end may not set foot on that world be ancient degree, or not until next season in any case. It’s a great scene, threatening even my own tear ducts of steel. Sarah will be missed. Doing this marathon has shown me just how great she was, and what a great actress Lis Sladen is, especially with facial expressions and so many little physical things. I think at the moment she’s by far my favourite.

All good fun, if not quite up there with the best, as so many of this run are turning out to be. 4/5.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Doctor Who: The Masque of Mandragora

Part One

“You humans have such limited minds. Sometimes I wonder why I like you so much.”

Once again we get a tale by Louis Marks, author of a bizarrely spread out run of stories. But having seen this story for the first time (now there’s only Underworld and Meglos that I’ve never seen from all of Doctor Who!), I’d probably call it his best.

We start, rarely for this era, with an extended TARDIS scene, in which we get to see places other than the control room for what I think is the first time since Hartnell’s day, more than six years, er, months, ago. The point of this, of course, is to introduce the new and rather excellent looking control room. And it has a recorder in it, so apparently the Doctor used to spend a lot of time here when he was Patrick Troughton, but only when the camera wasn’t looking. I particularly like the new scanner.

All this is admirably rounded off before it can degenerate into fanwank, and we’re off into the plot, with the Mandragora Helix, a strange void, and a fantastic looking late mediaeval / early Renaissance Italy. I have to praise the costumes here, and also the excellent location- Portmeiron, I think.

We’re introduced to our guest characters with admirable economy, and at the same time it becomes clear that this story is about reason versus both superstition and tyranny, hence it being set at such an appropriate time and place. The pace is very fast indeed, with Sarah being captured almost as quickly as good old Babs was, way back in The Crusade. There’s definitely something about mediaeval settings and fast paced plots for some reason.

The Doctor gets a great scene putting an apple on the end of Count Federico’s sword and using a football rattle (what else?) to effect his escape.

Part Two

“They say there are places where the bat droppings are as high as a man.”

We get a case of escape by scarf for the first time in ages. A completely implausible method of escape from the executioner’s block, of course, but easily cool enough to get away with it.

There’s a lot of excitement this episode, but it’s also where the pieces start to be put into place- Heironymous is, rather unsurprisingly, revealed as the cult leader, the Doctor makes friends with Giuliano and his hot-headed boyfriend, and conflict is sown between Heironymous and Count Federico. It’s all rather neatly done, and it all looks so sumptuous too. It’s also worrying me a bit though- I’m loving this, it’s bringing back good memories of John Lucarotti and the like from long ago, but that’s because it practically is a pure historical; the sci-fi elements are thin, perfunctory, and a rather obvious metaphor to boot. What is there here to attract the kiddies? Is there enough buckling of swashes to do the job?

Part Three

“You can’t count, Count!”

Giuliano shows himself to be a damn good swordsman, and then along comes the Doctor to show us that he may have regenerated since The Sea Devils but he’s pretty handy with a sword. Perhaps there is enough swashbuckling after all.

I really like Heironymous’s beard. In fact, I think I want one. There’s nothing quite like a good villainous bit of high maintenance facial hair. He’s quite barmy, of course, but then as an astrologer he would be. But there’s one point in his favour- it must be quite nice for Sarah to be hypnotised by someone other than the Doctor for a change.

We get an important first- Sarah asks how come she can understand Italian as she can’t speak it, alluding to a problem which has been successfully brushed under the carpet by the programme for the last twelve and a half years. Apparently it a “Time Lord gift” which the Doctor “allows” Sarah to share. Well, that explains everything perfectly. And it seems it’s Sarah asking this that makes the Doctor realise she’s been hypnotised. Eh?

Meanwhile Marco gets tortured, and even though this actually happens offscreen it feels a bit nasty for a family show. And things are set up for the finale, with Heironymous foretelling Federico’s death, a “prophecy” fulfilled at the end of the episode; superstition has triumphed against the Machiavellian use of power, how will it prevail against the upcoming values of the Renaissance?

Part Four

“You know, the worse the situation, the worse your jokes get.”

It’s nice to see Giuliano’s authority being affirmed on the death of his uncle; this is the episode where he has to come of age. He’ already shown he’s intelligent and rational, but here he has to find the judgement to rule. The discussion with Marco on the need for the masque to go ahead to maintain appearances is important, and shows a rather subtler kind of Machiavellian thinking than Federico.

The ending works, being satisfying and twisty-turny enough to wrongfoot us at the end, plus everyone (including Sarah) looks great in their fancy dress costumes.

Magnificent, and not at all the sort of thing I was expecting at this stage of the marathon. Easily a 5/5. I’ll certainly be watching this again- it’s obvious there’s an awful lot going on in this script that calls for multiple viewings. I suspect it might have bored the kids, mind.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Doctor Who: The Seeds of Doom

Part One

“That chap you called in from UNIT- is he quite sane?”

Another story from Robert Banks Stewart is an exciting prospect given how fantastic Terror of the Zygons was, and this starts off promisingly, with a mysterious and clearly alien spore being found in Antarctica. Our first sight of the Doctor and Sarah is a little odd though- from the beginning he’s basically acting as a government agent with the only reason given being a throwaway reference to UNIT. This doesn’t sit well with the Doctor’s recent impatience with his ties to UNIT, and seems to owe an awful lot to Banks Stewart’s history as a writer on The Avengers.

Still, it’s a great episode, however oddly it slots into the series- and it slots in particularly oddly in the context of the marathon. Tony Beckley gives an excellently camp performance as Harrison Chase from the start, although the character is yet another aspect of the story which seems to owe as much to The Avengers as Doctor Who. And John Challis is great as Scorby too. Maaaarleeene…

Oh, and just to remind us it’s the BBC in the mid 70s, we get the Governor from Porridge too!

Lots of great ratcheting up of tension here though, with a nice little base-under-siege style Quatermass Experiment situation developing. I could do without all these extra superpowers the Doctor keeps picking up, though- apparently he’s not that bothered by the Antarctic temperatures. I don’t remember hearing anything about this in The Tenth Planet.

Part Two

“I understand policemen are few and far between in the Antarctic.”

John Challis is fantastic as the cuckoo in the Antarctic nest, exuding real menace, and the presence of the weaker character Keeler really emphasises this. This episode has it all- it’s a tension-packed episode full of excitement with Scorby and the creature as this episode’s threat, while intrigue continues back in London with Dunbar’s betrayal (his reasons are petty, carefully calibrated for us to have no sympathy for him) and Harrison Chase’s general Bond villain demeanour.

But of course, this excellent two-part thriller is only the beginning.

Part Three

“A car boot?”

“A Daimler car boot.”

“The car is immaterial.”

This episode changes the scene4 to Whitehall and Chase’s mansion, but the non-stop action continues. And there’s never been so much fisticuffs from the Doctor as we see here, not even during the “Hai!” Pertwee years. On the other hand, there was a fair bit of this sort of thing from John Steed in The Avengers
Oh, and Amelia Ducat is fab. If also a bit of an Avengers character.

We’re reminded this is Doctor Who, though, as the Doctor is marched up to Harrison Chase at gunpoint, entirely under Chase’s power, and he declares “Hand over the pod.” The confrontation between the Doctor and chase is great, Chase coming across as a cross between a Bond villain and Prince Charles. He also gets what is possibly the best line of any villain ever: “I could play all day in my green cathedral.”

Towards the end, we get even more fisticuffs from the Doctor…

Part Four

“What do you do for an encore, Doctor?”

“I win!”

The overall tone may be very different (no more harping on about The Avengers till the end of the review, I promise), but this story has a lot in common with The Ambassadors of Death in that the main threat, for most of the story, is not the alien being but the human reaction to it. Only in this episode does the threat from the Krynoid itself really start to become established.

So, the Doctor crashes through the glass skylight, gets stuck in with the fisticuffs, and pulls a gun on Chase- not the sort of thing you’d traditionally associate with the character, but then one thing this marathon has taught me is that the Doctor tends to use his fists and, yes, guns, rather more often than generally thought. Although, to put things in perspective, we also have Scorby being really violent.

We get even more fun in the shape of Harrison Chase’s nasty Bond villain deathtrap, and just when you think things can’t get any better Amelia Ducat herself turns out to be spying on chase for the World Ecology Bureau! Dunbar decides to redeem himself and is, inevitably killed, but the Krynoid is starting to grow very big indeed…

Part Five

“Invent a code word- they love that.”

Scorby has a change of heart and decides to side with the Doctor and Sarah, which is believable. Scorby may not be very nice- in fact he’s pretty much your standard psychopath- but he’s a rational psychopath and can clearly see that Chase is a nutter.

Sir Colin calls in UNIT. Ok- but why wait until now? Still, the Brig’s in Geneva and we won’t be getting any actual familiar faces at all. For the first time UNIT is portrayed as just some organisation, and feels much more distanced from the Doctor and Sarah because of it.

There’s some good character stuff here, with Sarah giving Scorby the sharp end of her tongue and the Doctor’s impatience at the reluctance of both Major Beresford (who he?) and Sir Colin to attack a private house. There’s a plot reason for this scene, yes, but it shows very clearly how less tolerant of this sort of thing this Doctor is as compared to his predecessor.

Unfortunately, the Krynoid can talk. This is something of a misstep, and feels very silly in the context of the atmosphere that has been built up. Nevertheless, things are getting a bit desperate, and it’s becoming clear that the ending of the story is going to owe as much to The Quatermass Experiment as the earlier parts.
There’s another kind of déjà vu that comes in towards the end, too- just one story after we saw a brain in a jar, we get a building being attacked from the outside by plant life. It’s The Keys of Marinus all over again!

Part Six

“I’m a survivor, right?”

Scorby gets a nice little speech about his mercenary past and self-reliance, and then pretty much gives up, which rather nicely serves both to flesh out his character and to make it clear to the viewers, who know their tropes, that he’s going to get killed very soon.

There’s a lot of nasty stuff going on with the composting machine- the sergeant actually does get crushed, while Sarah and the Doctor take turns in rescuing each other from that gruesome fate. Of course, Harrison Chase ends up a victim of his own machine, as we always knew he would.

Bizarrely, the Doctor actually offers Sir Colin to join Sarah and himself in the TARDIS. It would have been rather interesting if he’d said yes.

Well, that was all great fun, a very high 4/5. Unfortunately in this extraordinary season of mostly 5/5s it’s one of the lesser lights, but it would be a highlight of many a lesser season. I didn't really mind the way Doctor Who pretty much turned into The Avengers for six weeks as it was all such fun, but all the same I wouldn't like this to happen every time!

As for Season 13 as a whole… wow. 4.5/5, an incredibly high mark which easily takes first place. It simply blew me away. I’m genuinely excited to find out whether the next one can possibly top this!

Doctor Who: The Brain of Morbius

Part One

“Can you spare a glass of water?”

Bizarrely, we start with the sight of a mutant from, er, The Mutants. Of course, I know I shouldn’t read too much into the fact that they’re just reusing an old costume, but it’s interesting that the Doctor later refers to it as a “Mutt”, although he then proceeds to give it an origin showing it’s clearly not from Solos.

Just as in Genesis of the Daleks, the Doctor is hugely annoyed at the Time Lords for clearly having sent him here (“some dirty work that they won’t touch with their lily-white hands”). This time he throws a right strop and refuses to investigate, instead just sitting around playing with his yo yo. Pertwee would never have reacted in quite this way! It’s interesting to see how much less respect the Time Lords are given in the Hinchcliffe / Holmes era, right through from the beginning. And as we’ll see, there’s a lot established about Time Lords in this story. The Doctor even says he was “born in these parts”.

Right from his first scene Philip Madoc, a fantastic villain in The War Games, makes it clear that he’s out to challenge Kevin Stoney for the title of Doctor Who’s greatest one-off villain so far. He’s clearly playing the Peter Cushing role in a pastiche of Hammer-style Frankenstein (is this the one Hinchcliffe story that lives up to it’s old “Hammer horror” reputation?) and his lab, with its many vials of bubbling liquids, is splendidly redolent of the films. He even has his own Igor in Condo.

The Sisters of Karn, though… I’m doing my best to just think of them in the context of the series rather than the New Adventures, but it’s hard, especially when Maren mentions the “silent gas dirigibles of the Hoothi”. And apparently I’ve been pronouncing “Hoothi” wrongly all these years. NAs aside, though, they’re basically a coven of witches (they transport the TARDIS by what can only be described as magic), but interestingly they seem to know the Time Lords quite well.

Interestingly, Solon seems to be a human from a spacefaring future, and is a contemporary of Morbius, and yet this can’t be long after the Doctor’s own “present” on Gallifrey. So can we assume the Doctor’s from the fairly near future, say sometime in the next few thousand years?

This is a fantastic first episode, full of Hammeresque fun and great dialogue. And Philip Madoc’s performance is a joy.

Part Two

“I can see that, you chicken-brained biological disaster!”

I love the dialogue between the Doctor and Maren, and underneath it the Doctor’s casual attitude to his forthcoming burning at the stake: “Surely you remember Popecatepetl?” Fortunately he’s rescued by Sarah- for the second story in a row. Unfortunately Sarah is blinded, something Lis Sladen plays brilliantly.

Philip Madoc continues to ooze greatness as Solon (apparently poor Condo should be “put down!”). And it’s a nice plot development that the Doctor has to rely on Solon to examine Sarah’s eyes. Solon of course tricks him into another visit to a forewarned sisterhood in a nice example of lying acting from Madoc.

There’s a great cliffhanger, with Morbius revealed as a brain in a jar.

Part Three

“Even a sponge has more life than I!”

We get a lot of exposition from the Sisterhood, who are now less suspicious of the Doctor. And in spite of the fact that they’re revealed to be luring the spaceships to their destruction, and they earlier tried to kill the Doctor in a particularly nasty way for no reason whatsoever, we’re clearly now supposed to think of them as goodies.

Still, they and the Doctor are now mates, especially after he fixes their flame for them. I like the Doctor’s speech about immortality and stagnation, though. And it’s ironic that Morbius, although completely paranoid, is in fact broadly correct when he tells a panicking Solon that the Doctor and Maren must be in league and he must be given an artificial brain case immediately. Of course, Solon gets to work, and it’s at the worst possible time that Condo discovers Solon has used his arm for Morbius’s previously headless body, and gets shot.

Part Four

“You thought I was dead, didn’t you?”


“You’re always making that mistake.”

If we’re in any mistake as to the source of this story, Solon gets to say to Morbius “Look, don’t you recognise me? I made you!” Fortunately, Condo is still alive to save Sarah before being killed, but the Doctor and Solon have to run after Solon with an elephant gun. And the Doctor, in a rare lapse into stupidity, leaves Solon alone in a room with Morbius and an operating theatre. Oops!

The Doctor and Sarah are in trouble, and in a touch which made me smile the Doctor has left the Sonic Screwdriver in the TARDIS. Ha! The Doctor’s plan, to poison Solon and Morbius with cyanide, is clever but extremely nasty.

And so we come to the famous mind-bending scene, oddly suggested by the Doctor himself. It does indeed seem from the context that all the faces are the Doctor’s, which can’t be true- er, I think the only way round this is possibly the “Let us never speak of this again” strategy.

How fitting that Morbius should meet his demise at the hands of a torch-wielding mob.

I loved that- a witty and fun spoof with great dialogue and Philip Madoc being fab. 5/5.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Doctor Who: The Android Invasion

Part One

“Is that finger loaded?”

We begin with an apparently lobotomised chap staggering towards his apparent demise, Roboman style- that’ll be a Terry Nation script, then. It means we’re in store for a solid exploratory first episode, though, and this one is nice and mysterious. Plus we’ve got Robert Holmes polishing the script plus Tom and Lis have really hit their stride- the relationship between the Doctor and Sarah is great here, with all sorts of subtle touches.

Unfortunately there’s an unintentionally funny scene with Sarah hanging from an, er, “cliff”, which even the camera angle can’t save. Still, I’m sure they’ll never allow this sort of thing to happen again so I’ll let it pass.

We have the intriguing and Avengers-esque situation of an English village, seemingly deserted, with the occasional oddity such as all the coins being new. A promising beginning, and the scene where everyone suddenly springs to life in the pub is very effective. Meanwhile there’s a new UNIT HQ, but people aren’t friendly, and terrifyingly the TARDIS takes off with the key in it. I have a problem with reviewing all this though- I’ve seen this story a fair few times and so I have no idea how obvious it is that they’re not on Earth and all the NPCs, to nick a useful term from roleplaying, are androids. Pretty damn obvious, I suspect, but I can’t really say.

Robert Holmes has been having fun with his script polishing duties- the Doctor’s reply to Crayford’s “Keep your hands where I can see them!” is a cheerful “Those are the first friendly words I’ve heard since I got here.” Unfortunately, though, we find out early on that the Brig has been called to Geneva to be temporarily replaced with some generic Avengers style colonel.

Part Two

“I will now activate the hostility circuits.”

Lots of dialogue between Sarah and the Doctor at the start of the episode, which reveals the important plot point that Crayford is supposed to have died on a space flight, is whispered and barely audible. Roll on the DVD and subtitles.

We get to see Benton and Harry but, alas, they’re androids. Instead, we’ll have to rely for our nostalgia fix on Sarah twisting her ankle like companions of old. And on the memories of Terror of the Zygons invoked by Styggron’s use of the dartboard as a scanner. Why did he do that, then? He wasn’t expecting visitors to the pub!

Part Three

“A foolish experiment, Styggron.”

For some reason the Kraals are now going to destroy the replica village, which gives us our first countdown of this most countdown-heavy of all Terry Nation’s Who scripts. There’s something so perfect for the genre in the concept of Styggron tying the Doctor to the centre of a village square which is going to explode in nine minutes while telling him that “Resistance is inadvisable!” that somehow it doesn’t seem to matter that the plot stopped making sense a long time ago. That’s the thing about this wonderful season; even the bad stories are great.

The silly conversations between Styggron and Chelaki crack me up. I can only assume that it’s a fundamental axiom of Kraal societies that maverick scientists must be given free reign to pursue even the most random and potty experiments. No doubt it’s a world full of Jeff Goldblums where the disaster movie has never been invented.

Things now start to get even more wonderfully silly. Not only does Styggron get to call Crayford a “puny-minded weakling”, but Crayford has apparently resumed contact with Earth claiming to still be in his ship having been missing for two years, his excuse being that he survived by recycling his water. Er, yes. And no doubt he saved oxygen by holding his breath a lot. This is the point where it becomes necessary to stop worrying about the plot and open another bottle of wine.

I suspect Robert Holmes came to the same conclusion while script editing it, and decided to give up on the lost cause that was the plot in favour of having fun with the dialogue. We end with some classic stuff: “I feel disorientated.” “it’s the disorientation centre.” “That makes sense.”

Part Four

“So, provided we don’t burn up in re-entry and aren’t suffocated on the way down, we’ll probably be crushed to a pulp when we land.” 

“Exactly! You’ve put your finger on the one tiny flaw in our plan.”

Finally we get to see the real Earth. But there’s no time to dwell on this as it’s all action from this point on. There’s an awful lot of fun on who’s an android and who’s not, but the result of this is that Harry and Benton don’t get to do much in their last story which is a real shame.

As usual we get great dialogue, presumably by Holmes (“If you do see me again today then I want you to report it to me immediately”), while Nation provides the countdowns (Three in one story!) and the triumphant eyepatch moment, which of course requires a certain quota of alcohol to experience properly.

There’s no denying it- this story is absolutely terrible. And yet I loved watching it! This is the Plan 9 From Outer Space of Doctor Who. It doesn’t really deserve a 3/5, but it’s going to get one.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Doctor Who: Pyramids of Mars

Part One

“I bring Sutekh’s gift of death to all humanity.”

After an appropriately horror film-esque teaser with lots of stock footage in an Egyptian bent, we get a brief shot of the TARDIS flying through space, Just as we did at the end of Planet of Evil. Sarah’s trying on Victoria’s old dress in a bit of gratuitous continuity that’s mind-bogglingly rare for the Hinchcliffe era. The Doctor, meanwhile, is such a mardyarse that the script cannot be the sole culprit- would Paddy Russell be directing this one, perchance?

Mardy or not, he gets a good line in just-this-side-of-pretentious dialogue from, ahem, “Stephen Harris”: “I’m not a human being. I walk in eternity.” Oooh! The reason for the Doctor’s foul mood (Tom Baker’s obvious foul mood is something else entirely!) Is that he’s got a massive strop on about running around after the Brigadier. Is it me, or is there some sort of running theme emerging here? Actually, I suspect there may be two, the other one being that he doesn’t want Sarah to leave.

The TARDISeers land in the Doctor’s lab at UNIT HQ, except they don’t because it’s 1911 and still “the old priory” before it mysteriously burned down. Gosh, I wonder, for no reason in particular, what the last shot of the story could possibly be?

The Doctor’s getting quite into his namedropping again, Marie Antoinette being this week’s lucky woman. The Doctor’s rather fond of 1911, “An excellent year, one of my favourites.” Sarah, meanwhile, is revealed to be from 1980. That exact year. Fact. She says it straight up. Still, it could really be any old year as UNIT chronology is arguably completely buggered up by this point anyway.

Aside from all this we get a splendidly atmospheric first episode, with a real sense of threat, and the Doctor’s brooding presence and sudden mood changes really help in establish this. The Doctor manipulates Lawrence Scarman (the excellent Michael Sheard) into helping him by being alternately rude and charming. Well, alright, he’s charming once. Oh, and the Doctor claims to never carry firearms. Liar!

Good stuff so far, and a cliffhanger that really raises the stakes.

Part Two

“Holy Moses!"

So the Egyptian gods were really “Osirans”, all-powerful aliens who were behind all of Egyptian culture and, presumably, built the pyramids. Grr! I really hate this stuff. Just for once, can’t we have some ancient monument somewhere just being a result of ancient humans being clever?

Still, that’s not all we get. In what I like to see as a nod to the era just gone we have a poacher getting killed. How nice! And there’s a great scene where Laurence Scarman gets to see the inside of the TARDIS, just to make up for the Doctor bullying him even more than he did last episode, if that’s possible. Blimey, Tom / the Doctor really is in a foul mood. Was the Coach and Horses closed for refurbishment or something? Gosh, this bloke is, clearly, in no way going to get killed. And there’s more accurate piloting from the Doctor, incidentally. 

The guff about the alternate 1980 is nice, too, and something the series had to do at least once. I’m not sure it really works though- surely Marcus Scarman would have found the tomb anyway whether the TARDIS landed in 1911 or not, so all this would always have happened anyway?

Oh, and why is all this happening in England anyway if all Sutekh’s stuff was originally in that tomb near Sakkara?

Part Three

“Perhaps he sneezes?”

This is my fave ever Tom/ Lis episode, as it consists of the Doctor going straight for an attempt of the world mardiness record while Sarah spends the whole episode mocking him. All this and a real sense of peril too. Sadly Laurence has to die (isn’t Michael Sheard magnificent?) but at least he won’t have to put up with any more nastiness from the Doctor. The worst thing is, the Doctor still manages to be likeable even when neither he nor Tom Baker are trying to be.

Sutekh is a uniquely terrifying villain; he doesn’t want to rule the universe but to destroy all life. And it’s made clear just how powerful he is; even the Doctor’s precious Time Lords wouldn’t stand a chance.

The Doctor (well, actually Lawrence) determines to blow up the rocket Marcus Scarman is building with some gelignite, so he dresses up as a mummy with some rags. I love Sarah’s comment that it must have been a nasty accident, although I can’t help wondering how come all that metal framework is clearly visible underneath.

The ending is fantastic- Sutekh stops the explosion through sheer force of will, but then the Doctor distracts him so the gelignite can explodes. But, it seems, only at the cost of his certain death…

Part Four

“Where I tread I leave nothing but darkness. I find that good.”

Gabriel Woolfe must surely have the greatest voice for a superbaddie that ever, er, walked the planet. Just imagine Stephen Thorne saying these lines and you realise just how peerless he is. I mean, he even manages to say the line “You pit your puny will against mine?” without hamming it up, a feat surely once thought impossible.

Interesting line from the Doctor about the TARDIS controls being “isomorphic”- they certainly never have been in the past. Either he’s been tinkering or he’s telling porkies. Can Sutekh actually be lied to, though?
Tom Baker is spine-chillingly good as the possessed Doctor in a scene which must have scared the kiddies out of their wits. This is a great last episode; until the last couple of minutes it looks as though our heroes stand absolutely no chance whatsoever. Still, at least the Doctor survives his possession by using yet another previously undivulged superpower, his “respiratory bypass system”.

Incidentally, I love the Doctor’s description of the Osirans as having “dome-shaped heads… and cerebellums like spiral staircases”.

The bit with the puzzles is nice (I especially like the use of the old “forked road” riddle) and doesn’t hang around long enough to outstay its welcome. Bits of it look uncannily similar to puzzles in Death to the Daleks, but that’s ok because Sarah gets to undercut this by actually pointing it out!

The time loop ending is a clever twist, although I have no idea whether it makes sense or not. But in dramatic terms it’s a triumph. Oh, and famously all the supporting characters have been killed!

Probably not quite as good as either of its two predecessors, but still earns the third 5/5 of the season. Is this going to be the best season ever?

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Doctor Who: Planet of Evil

Part One

“Can’t… breathe…”

So, this is set in the year 37,166 much further into the future than we’ve yet seen- and it’s implies this is indeed 37,166 C.E. as the Doctor tells Sarah they’ve overshot by 30,000 years and all other characters are clearly human by their names. In fact we’re on the edge of the known universe where things start to shade into anti-matter. Never mind the dodgy science- this is very creepy indeed, and there’s a real sense that the Doctor and Sarah are very far away in terms of both time and space.

On the other hand, for the first time since Planet of the Spiders we get to see the inside of the TARDIS. It’s looking very Spartan these days…

There’s a nice sense of mystery and creepiness with Professor Sorenson’s odd behaviour and the general weirdness of the planet, made very effective indeed by the jungle set and great lighting.

Prentis Hancock’s Salamar should be an irritating character, insisting the TARDISeers must be murderers on very little evidence, but while this sort of thing is usually intensely annoying, here it’s clear that Salamar is supposed to be a pillock.

Part Two

“It doesn’t live anywhere. It just is.”

The jungle is still looking great, incredibly so for an all-studio story. Even the “oculoid tracer” looks fab. Doctor Who suddenly seems incapable of not being great. The Forbidden Planet elements become particularly obvious this episode- although it’s a pity that the Doctor, having namedropped Shakespeare (“dreadful actor”) proceeds top quote from Romeo and Juliet instead of The Tempest.

The pool of nothingness is great, in both conception and realisation. This is the scariest story yet, achieving this by keeping us constantly unnerved about how the usual rules don’t work in this place. Here, there’s no need for monsters as such- it’s the planet itself that’s the threat. Perhaps this is the firs out-and-out horror story yet.
I love the Doctor’s speech to the Morestrans: “You call it nothing, a word to cover ignorance.” And of course it’s their meddling- Sorenson’s ambition and Salamar’s imbecility- which is the root of their problems.

Part Three

“If we don’t make it this time, they never will.”

Wow! I can’t believe the cliffhanger resolution wasn’t a cop-out. The Doctor really does plunge into the anti-matter pool, and stays there for some time.

This is the episode where Sorenson comes more to the foreground, and rather amusingly starts acting out all the tropes of cinematic representations of Jekyll and Hyde, even to the point of swigging from a bottle of bubbling liquid. Salamar continues to be an arse, but by now even his own crew are starting to realise what a liability he is, particularly Vishinsky. His decision to eject the Doctor and Sarah into space just makes him look paranoid, and caused Vishinsky to snap. It’s only this that makes me realise this is basically the quintessential base under siege, but done brilliantly.

Part Four

“You and I are scientists, professor. We buy our privilege to experiment only at the cost of total responsibility.”

Salamar, relieved of command, has nothing to do but go completely mad and die pointlessly, as this is the done thing in these circumstances. With Sorenson and his clones on the earth and the ship counting down to impact there’s a real sense of hopelessness- this is a gripping conclusion. All the same, considering the Doctor and Sarah are only here because the TARDIS has overshot, it seems rather implausible that the Doctor makes two short hops without trouble at the end of the episode.

It’s quite surprising that Sorenson actually survives- by all the normal rules of the programme he should be dead!

That was great, genuinely scary and atmospheric. 5/5.

Doctor Who: Terror of the Zygons

Part One

“My family have served this country for seven centuries, but that seems not to count these days, does it?”

This was my first ever BBC video and the first ever “old” story I ever saw. I’ve seen this many, many times but never before in episodic format. And it’s good to see the short clip from Disney Time as well as the BBC globe.

This is great from the beginning, with an oil rig being destroyed to the sound of some fantastic incidental music. It’s great to see the Brig (in a kilt!) and Benton again. I can’t help thinking though- was there really enough time to install a space-time telegraph at the end of Robot?

The Doctor’s attitude is interesting- in this incarnation he feels much less attached to UNIT and 20th century Earth, and has a bit of a go at the Brigadier for recalling him only to change his mind suddenly when reminded of the loss of life. This Doctor is fascinating- more individualistic and Bohemian than his predecessor, but with the same underlying principles. And there’s something very charismatic about his changes of mood. I love the oil speech.

It’s great to see Angus Lennie, of off of of The Great Escape, as the very Hammeresque pub landlord. And this is just so well directed by Douglas Camfield- the moor sets a real mood, and our first shot of the Zygons hands and eyes is great. Suddenly we have a story of tightly edited scenes and a very nice moment where the injured Harry cries “No… no…” as the Zygon advances on him, and we then cut to the Doctor on the phone calmly saying “No… no…”. This is top stuff.

Part Two

“Asleep? Impossible, I was on duty!"

The whole organic look of the Zygon ship is great- original and a triumph of both design and lighting. And there’s more great directing on show as we dissolve between the faces of Sarah and the Doctor as he hypnotises her to avoid asphyxiation. This is so well directed it almost distracts from the fact the Doctor seems to have acquired yet another superpower, one he’s never bothered to use before in similar circumstances for some reason.

We get lots of atmosphere with the fog and the great music, a bit of actual journalisting from Sarah, and generally enough excellence on show that I’ve decided to completely ignore the fact that the Skarasen looks crap.

Part Three

“Aliens! With wireless sets?”

The Doctor is saved by Harry! Yay! This man is great. And Sarah shows how great she is, too, in discovering the Duke’s secret passage to the Zygon ship, swiftly rescuing Harry and returning in time for tea. Unlike the Doctor, who attempts the same thing and promptly gets captured.

I love the Doctor’s line “Sounds like the Brigadier” as UNIT merrily lob bombs into the loch. It’s sad that this is the last ever “regular” UNIT story, but at least they’re going out on a high.

Part Four

“Was that bang big enough for you, Brigadier?”

There’s some great modelwork on show with the Zygon ship, especially the landing scene. And it’s good to get a reason for the fact that, as the Doctor points out, there are only about six Zygons. It seems their home planet was “destroyed in a recent catastrophe” and that Broton wants to terraform the Earth for the benefit of other Zygons who are to arrive in “many centuries”.

The prime minister is apparently a woman (Thatcher was already Tory leader at the time) so it seems Jeremy must have lost an election. 

The Doctor nearly loses his life by underestimating the power of organic crystallography- a common error, to be fair. I’ve almost lost count of the number of times I’ve done the same thing myself. Still, he manages eventually to escape, gleefully vandalise the Zygon ship, and release all the Zygons’ prisoners, although the bit with him operating the Zygons’, er, interestingly shaped controls certainly caused me to raise an eyebrow.

Fittingly for his last regular story, the Brig at last gets to shoot an alien baddie dead with an ordinary bullet. We finish with the Doctor claiming he’ll be able to make the short hop to London in the TARDIS an d offering a lift to both Sarah and Harry. Of course, it’s understood by everyone that the TARDIS will be doing nothing of the sort. Harry stays behind in an understated leaving scene, a little disappointing but probably in keeping with the stiff-upper-lip nature of the man, but Sarah, being fab, signs up for some further adventures in time and space.

Brilliant. Not only an easy 5/5, but the third best so far. Great story, great performances, awesomely well directed. This is Doctor Who at its very finest.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Doctor Who: Revenge of the Cybermen

Part One

“I don’t want to lose my arm, I’m rather attached to it. It’s very handy.”

Another direct continuation, as with every story since Planet of the Spiders, and we’re back on Nerva. According to Sarah, the TARDISeers have just spent “weeks” on Earth and Skaro. But this is Nerva in a much earlier period (although the TARDIS is going to travel back to meet them) and it’s full of dead plague victims. Except this plague seems to show symptoms rather similar to those we saw in The Moonbase

Nerva’s crew are using PCs which look hilariously dated to the modern viewer- although once again this could just be a retro design. Come to think of it, are these the first desktop computers seen in Doctor Who? Their operators are a rather dull bunch, if heroic, the sole survivors of the “plague” who are determined to keep Nerva running. Apparently it has a very important role as a “beacon” near Jupiter.

So, an asteroid, Voga, has drifted into Jupiter’s orbit? How completely unlike The Tenth Planet this script from Gerry Davis is. Already the story has a distinctly retro feel. There’s something very Wheel in Space about this first episode. It’s good to see more recent continuity being maintained though, with talk of “transmats”, but it’s even better, once we’re introduced to some Vogans, to hear mention of the Cybermen! It’s been so long!

Surprisingly early we discover that Kelman’s a traitor, and also that this 30th century space station is using some very retro tape spools. Pleasingly, the TARDISeers aren’t treated with suspicion for very long (that sort of thing can get very tiresome), they get to work on the “plague”, and we cut to the Vogans for some exposition - the Cybermen died out centuries ago; there was a Cyber-war; Voga was attacked.

Finally we get to see some Cybermen! In colour! A bit more hydraulic in appearance, but not that much different from last time. But last time was ages ago- it’s good to see them again!

Part Two

“The beacon is ours!”

Amusingly, the Cybermat attacking Sarah is clearly being moved by Elisabeth Sladen. But there’s not much else to amuse in this episode, much of which is taken up with a dull Vogan power struggle. After a promising first part things are getting a bit dull. 

Still, we get our traditional end of part two reveal of the Cybermen, and they still seem pretty cool at this stage, with their immunity to gunfire and guns in their helmets.

Part Three

“You’ve no home planet, no influence, nothing. You’re just a pathetic bunch of tin soldiers scuttling about the galaxy in an ancient spaceship.”

So far there’s not much that’s fundamentally wrong with this story, but the guest characters just all seem dull. Unfortunately, from this point on things start getting worse. For a start, the Cybermen open their mouths; This is a problem: their voices are awful.

We discover the Cybermen have a weakness to asphyxiation by gold dust- not necessarily a problem at this stage as gold dust is rare and only effects them in a specific way for which you have to get close. 

Unfortunately the Cyberleader seems genuinely riled by the Doctor’s taunting, completely unlike the logic-driven, emotionless creatures we’ve seen before, as shown in dialogue such as “Only stupid Earth brains like yours would have been fooled” and “Clever, clever, clever”. Er, yes.

But what is a serious problem is that these Cybermen seem indeed to be “total machine creatures”; they have “parts” to “build” a Cyber army. Cybernisation and body horror is no longer an issue and the Cybermen are just robots. Oh dear. Still, not to justify it, but perhaps there could be an explanation? We’ve never had a Cybermen story set this far into the future before, so perhaps they did indeed die out centuries before, after or even before the events of Tomb, and these few “total machine creatures” are just the remnants?

The plot thickens- Kelman is really working for these dull Vogan chaps. And the Cybermen have bombs. Unfortunately there’s an embarrassing example of as-you-know-Bobbery here as two Cybermen explain their plans to a listening Sarah.

Part Four

“We’re still heading for the biggest bang in history.”

I love the “Harry Sullivan is an imbecile” scene at the start. The Doctor’s being a bit of a git, of course, but there’s no real nastiness. Tom Baker can get away with this sort of thing in a way Pertwee couldn’t.
There’s a bit of NASA stock footage as the Skystriker rocket is launched, and the Cybermen escape from the rocket. There’s an interesting comment here from the Doctor: “Nice sense of irony. I thought for a moment he was going to smile.”

We end with a summons from the Brigadier from the “space-time-telegraph”…

Something of a missed opportunity, this. The plot was actually ok but the characters were too dull to care about, both because of the writing and because of some workmanlike performances. And although we got lots of Cyber-tropes these “total machine creatures” just didn’t feel like Cybermen. 3/5.

Season 12 overall gets 3.8/5, giving it a surprisingly lowly eighth place. Still, I have reason to believe things might be about to pick up…

Doctor Who: Genesis of the Daleks

Part One

“We Time Lords transcended such simple mechanical devices when the universe was less than half its present size.”

The story starts in what could be a First World War trench, a good location and an atmospheric beginning, as is to be expected from the director of The War Games. A Time Lord, dressed most peculiarly and not unlike a jester, asks the Doctor to perform a task, to his strong resentment- this is an arc which has been running since The War Games, when Doctor Who was less than half its present age, and the resentment has festered. Only at the mention of the Daleks does the Doctor agree to help, although his agreement has, naturally, already been assumed.

The first episode essentially serves to introduce the TARDISeers to the situation on Skaro; a thousand year war between Kaleds and Thals, regression of technology, mutos. But this is done, in a nice fusion of Nation and Holmes, by means of peril (soldiers, a landmine) and an escape and recapture. Nyder’s introduction is very effective- Peter Miles is magnificent- and his iron cross shows us what Kaled society, or at least its scientific “elite” is like, reinforced by the line “We must keep the Kaled race pure.” If that’s not enough, we even get a young Guy Siner.

And then we get a sight of the mysterious Davros. And a Dalek…

Part Two

“No tea, Harry.”

No reprise, surprisingly. But Michael Wisher is great from the off, and the plot’s kicking off in earnest. Terry Nation is writing this, so naturally the muto following Sarah (Sevrin) turns out to be a goodie. He and Sarah are captured, and forced to work on a rocket, where they risk contracting something called “distronic toxaemia” instead of radiation for some reason. Meanwhile, we’re introduced to Ronson and his fellow dissident scientists, who are uneasy about Davros’ Dalek project. 

There’s some dodgy science on show; the Kaleds’ evolution is headed towards a “final form” apparently. Time to just smile and nod, I think. We get some more Nationisms as the Doctor and Harry trek through an underground passage marked by monsters and peril, while Sarah leads the Thals’ slaves in an escape attempt so exciting it happens on film. And what a cliffhanger.

Part Three

“Excuse me. Can you help me? I’m a spy.”

Well, it’s a disappointing resolution as Sarah just lands on a ledge, but as far as I can see there’s no re-editing as legend would have it. And it’s also disappointing that, having jumped over a chasm, Sarah and Sevrin are swiftly recaptured by a couple of sadistic Thal guards.

Harry, meanwhile, is menaced by a giant clam in a scene which has rightly assumed legendary status, but he and the Doctor eventually get to Thal dome. Now, is it me, or does it stretch credulity somewhat that, firstly, the Doctor, a non-Kaled and a non-person in a time of war, would be allowed to address the Kaleds’ ruling castle, let alone manage to convince them? Surely, from their point of view, his tale of time travel and other planets would result in at least some scepticism?

Agree they do, however, and Davros is ordered to suspend his work. Michael Wisher is outstanding in Davros’ speech to Mogran, apparently agreeing to his demands. But he is in fact ready to kill all Kaleds ouside the bunker of the elite. It’s a genuine shock to see Davros in the Thal dome betraying his own people.
Incidentally, it’s often pointed out that the Kaled and Thal domes are rather close to each other, which is said to be implausible. I’m not sure, though- both civilisations seem to consist of only one city, with the rest of the planet apparently depopulated (either that or just not taken into account by Terry Nation, of course!), so surely the fact these two city-states are at war at all would indicate they’re quite close together?

Part Four

“Thank you. That’s what I wanted to know.”

This story is great, don’t get me wrong, and I’m not going to pretend it stands a chance of getting any less than a 5/5 in spite of a few of Terry Nation’s usual foibles being there, but the tone’s a bit odd. The Kaled dome is destroyed in scenes of pure horror which touch some dark themes, and as the story progresses we’re going to see the tone darken and lots of basic moral philosophy. But all this co-exists with the usual Terry Nation Flash Gordonness and functional dialogue in a rather odd way. The story deals with some very adult themes in some places and feels very much pitched at young kids in others.

Things get even darker as Daleks turn up at the Thal dome and start shooting everyone, but at least Sarah and Harry are alive. There’s a genuine feeling of hopelessness, not least because Gharman and his fellow rebels are so wet. It couldn’t be more obvious that Nyder, who couldn’t not be sinister if he tried, is tricking him. But even the menace Nyder exudes pales in comparison to the threat posed to Harry by some motionless giant clams on the way back. The welcoming committee of Davros and Nyder (bit of a coincidence, that!) pale in comparison.

The ending is chilling, with Davros demanding the Doctor gives him the reason for every future Dalek defeat (“You will tell me!”) or he’ll inflict more pain on Sarah and Harry. But why doesn’t the Doctor just lie?

Part Five

“Yes, I would do it! That power would set me up above the gods!”

The Doctor gives Davros what seems to be unnecessarily thorough account of future Dalek defeats, although he makes a continuity blunder in claiming that The Dalek Invasion of Earth takes place in 2000. this scene takes an odd view of time travel and causality, too- surely if the future is changed once, the other defeats won’t arise in the same way because of the butterfly effect? Nevertheless, Michael Wisher is magnificent in these scenes.

Gharman shows himself to be very pacifistic, probably too pacifistic to stand a chance, particularly in a story written by Terry Nation. We can see from the start that he’s a weak character who clearly stands no chance.

It may be Gharman giving the ultimatum to Davros from an apparent position of strength, but Davros speaks and behaves as the one in control at all times, giving an impressive speech. He simply decides that the meeting is to take place in one hour and Gharman lets him. In a simple but clever piece of dialogue Davros ends the scene by saying to Gharman “You may go.” It’s obvious what Davros is planning, and that he will succeed, but there’s a horrible fascination in how he sets about doing it. This is a perfect portrayal of a high-functioning psychopath.

Part Six

“Pity? I have no understanding of the word.”

The Doctor’s dilemma, over whether to commit genocide by destroying the Dalek embryos, is a powerful moment, however unpolished the lines may be. Significantly, the Doctor doesn’t get to decide, being interrupted by Gharman- but perhaps he’s too quick to wash his hands of it, and it’s partly wishful thinking that makes him believe Gharman stands a chance. We, the viewers, know perfectly well he doesn’t, and are not at all surprised to see the Daleks exterminate all those not loyal to Davros.

Appropriately, it’s a Dalek, not the Doctor, who connects the wires and destroys the Dalek embryos, but it’s too late to avert their creation. In fact, everything about the end of this story seems fitting, with the Daleks’ final betrayal of Davros being the perfect ending. The Doctor has achieved something; blowing up the Daleks’ incubator room as apparently delayed them by “a thousand years”. But the story ends with us in no doubt of the Dalek threat.

Well, that may not be as deep as its reputation among fans would suggest- it’s a Terry Nation script, not Edge of Darkness- and it may have functional and sometimes poor dialogue at times, but it has to be an easy 5/5 in spite of everything.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Doctor Who: The Sontaran Experiment

Part One
“I feel a bit like a Morse message- slightly scrambled.”

Hmmm. So there’s been no life on Earth for ten thousand years. How come we can see an awful lot of grass and moorland then, eh?

This is another nice little character piece for our three regulars, with the all location filming giving us a nicely atmospheric location. The TARDISeers are soon split up, just like old times, and the mystery is soon set up- who are all these Sith Efrican voortrekkers from space, and what’s this odd looking robot?

The reveal of the creature’s hand, via the camera on Vural’s chest, is nicely done, a very good bit of directing. There’s also some nice world-building, with the Galsec contingent clearly having a chip on their shoulder about Earth.

The Sontaran ship is the moment of the big reveal, and it’s good to see the Sontarans again. Although, bizarrely, we get exactly the same cliffhanger ending as for part one of The Time Warrior.

Part Two

“I’ll get you out of there if I have to knock his bally head of and grab his keys.”

I’m not entirely sure why Styre’s come to earth to “test” humans if it’s empty and he has to lure humans here from elsewhere. Perhaps to avoid interruption? I suppose it just about passes muster.

Styre’s not very popular; the Marshal’s getting impatient with him while the Doctor is morally outraged- the first real show of great moral indignation from this Doctor, and something Tom Baker does very well. It’s implied in both cases that Styre is enjoying his “experiments” too much- again, something much darker than anything we would have seen under Barry Letts.

The two episode format enables the story to rattle along at a furious pace, with no padding whatsoever. We only met Vural an episode ago, but now we discover that he’s a traitor.

There’s a great exchange between the Doctor and Harry where the Doctor says “Never throw anything away, Harry”, swiftly followed by “It’s a mistake to clutter one’s pockets, Harry.” The performance is very difference, but this new Doctor owes a fair bit to Troughton- he even has a 500 year diary.

There’s an awkward moment where, in a blatant outbreak of as-you-know-Bobbery, the Marshal and Styre tell each other things both already know while being overheard by the Doctor. This sort of thing can be done far more subtly.

Unusually, the Doctor saves the day by engaging in fisticuffs, and Vural, inevitably, redeems himself at the end. It’s not an entirely satisfying ending, what with Styre’s deflating head being something of an embarrassment and the Marshal giving up rather too easily.

Not a bad runaround, in spite of some niggles with the plot, and too formulaic to stand out from the crowd, so a 3/5. All the same, a nice little interlude, and another sign of the darker themes we can expect from Hinchcliffe and Holmes.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Doctor Who: The Ark in Space

Part One
“You’re improving, Harry!”

“Am I?”

“Yes, your mind is beginning to work. It’s entirely due to my influence, of course. You mustn’t take any credit.”

From the start it’s clear that, great though the sets are, the special effects for this story look particularly dated from a modern perspective- from the start the space station is clearly a small plastic model on a wire and the camera has been sprayed with green stuff. I don’t usually bother about such things in old Doctor Who but in this story they are essential to the atmosphere the story is trying to create. Not necessarily a problem at the time, but it keeps me from feeling the suspense.

Not that it’s a problem with this first episode, which may be mostly padding but it explains where we are and gives us a chance to get used to this new and rather splendid TARDIS crew. The dialogue is fantastic, all three actors are great and there are lots of nice character touches, from the Doctor using a yo yo (a first!) to check the gravity to Harry showing us just how old-fashioned he is by suggesting brandy for Sarah’s recovery from oxygen starvation. But the Doctor’s speech is of course great, and a real high point.

Sonic Screwdriver mission creep continues, although we actually see the unscrewing of screws this episode. And I wonder if the voice of the High Minister is based on Thatcher, well known at the time for the snatching of milk?

Part Two

“Gremlins can get into everything, old girl. First law of the sea.”

I was expecting this story to be great, so I was surprised that I found it quite slow and tiresome. Not a lot happens, there’s too much talking, there’s little sense of threat, and most of the drama comes from a character (Noah) becoming irrationally suspicious of the Doctor, something which really annoys me. It’s frustrating for the viewer and seldom achieves much but to hold up the plot.

Oh, and the bubble wrap is somewhat unfortunate from a modern perspective! I’ll let that lie though.

There are some interesting bits though- Noah was given his nickname as a reference to mythology even though his real name, Lazar, rather appropriately recalls Lazarus. I bet that was deliberate. And the concept of alien insects laying eggs in people’s bodies is indeed horrible, as the Doctor says- an early sign of the programme going to darker places than would have been allowed under the previous regime.

Part Three

“Well, fancy a member of the fair sex being at the top of the totem pole.”

There’s a hint that the society that built the ark was not exactly utopia- the TARDISeers are “degenerates” and “the genetically impure don’t count.” But this episode is where the threat posed by the Wirrn becomes established, in a tightly scripted thriller that would’ve been great if it wasn’t so overlit and we didn’t see so much of the rather unconvincing monster. There’s also a great line from the Doctor: “It may be irrational of me, but human beings are quite my favourite species.”

Oh, and I think this is the first time we hear the word “transmat”.

Part Four
“How do you think I’m doing? Twit!”

So the Wirrn are from Andromeda? I can accept them surviving without oxygen for years and drifting through space, but the space between galaxies? That’s a very long way!

I love the scene with the Doctor “encouraging” Sarah to get through the vent. And there’s a satisfying ending with Rogin’s heroic self-sacrifice, which strangely echoes the way the BBC worked at the time: “We don’t want trouble with the space technicians’ union, Doctor. That’s my job.” And of course Noah sacrifices himself too. The human spirit indeed triumphs in the end.

I was surprised to feel a little ambivalent about this one. There’s much that’s good, great even, about Holmes’ script, but episode two drags a bit, and it just isn’t directed or lit like the thriller it should be. 3/5.