Monday, 31 August 2009

Doctor Who: The Armageddon Factor

Part One

“Don‘t say it, please! Don’t say ‘Another underground passage!’”

The beginning is fantastic- an ersatz Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard in a spoof piece of propaganda which contains the line “Men out there, young men, are dying for it”. Unfortunately, as the camera pulls back to reveal the joke it also reveals a general cheapness of the kind which was so ubiquitous last season but which has been far less on obvious show recently. And, of course, this is a script by the Bristol Boys, and I fell out badly with them last season. This is not a story I’d been looking forward to, frankly, as the last time I watched it about four years ago I absolutely hated it.

But actually, some so-so acting and a bit of visual cheapness aside, there’s not a lot wrong with this first episode. The premise seems simple at first- Atrios is at war with its neighbour, Zeos although, naturally, this being a Baker and Martin script, we shouldn’t expect the “nuclear” part to in any way reflect scientific fact. The Marshal, who seems to be in charge, is a stereotypically trigger-happy military type who owes a fair bit to Jack D. Ripper and, surprise surprise, wants to carry on with the war. Princess Astra (the lovely Lalla Ward- yay!), meanwhile, wants the war stopped, and has been trying to negotiate with the Zeons, alongside her medic boyfriend Zerak. Except that Zeos doesn’t seem to be there. And, this being a sci-fi concepts heavy Bristol Boys script, we instantly know that’s important.

And then more mysteries pop up: the Marshal is talking to a mysterious mirror, and the Doctor and Romana can’t see Zeos from the TARDIS. But it’s not all big sci-fi ideas- there’s some great dialogue between the Doctor, Romana and K9 towards the end of this episode, which makes me suspect the hand of Anthony Read, who’s had an unexpectedly fantastic season as script editor. K9’s description of optimism as “Irrational, bordering on insane” is priceless.

Part Two

“I think one of us is being extremely stupid.”


I love the Doctor’s dialogue when the Marshal unexpectedly becomes friendly towards him, claiming that his coming has been foretold. His mockery of the marshal’s cod-Shakespeare dialogue is great, and I love the way he spends much of this episode gently mocking the Marshal in ways that go over his head. In fact, the awesomeness in this episode pretty much centres on the dialogue; I love K9’s silly yet bathetic “Temperature unacceptable!” as he trundles to his fiery doom.

Oh, and the space invaders scene is brilliant, as is the very fact that Atrios has only six- er, three- ships. The mystery continues, too, with the suggestion of something between Atrios and Zeos. Once again, a surprisingly good episode.

Part Three

“I have watched you and your jackdaw meanderings!”

Suddenly things really start happening and we get some total changes of setting and situation which, rather unfortunately, strain the budget a little, but still show this to be a surprisingly great plot which tends to foreground the Big Ideas- the very things that Baker and Martin are good at.

Our heroes are transmatted to the mysterious third planet we get to meet the Shadow and his similarly hooded underlings. Things start getting rather epic as the Shadow demand the five segments of the Key to Time which are in the Doctor’s possession, and he has the TARDIS. He also has Astra. And, incidentally, if Astra is the only surviving member of Atrios’ royalty, why isn’t she queen? Presumably at some point the Marshal became military dictator and ended the monarchy.

The Doctor manages to talk his way out of trouble- and the Shadow simply walks away declaring he’s just going to wait for the Doctor to make a mistake! Bizarre though it may seem, this scene actually works through clever scripting.

The episode ends on a bombshell- there are no Zeons on Zeos as they’ve all been killed in the war, but their automated defence system, under the control of K9’s new computer friend Mentalis, have carried on prosecuting the war anyway- a brilliant concept. The next stop is “obliteration”. Of everything…

Oh, and I love Shapp’s description of Zeons as looking just like the Atreusians(?) aside from their clothing. The cheap depiction of alien races in this season extends even to verbal descriptions!

We end with the Marshal’s ship, clearly based on the Millennium Falcon- this is our first blatant influence from Star Wars. And, as another aside, it occurred to me while watching it that it’s probably the influence of the Bristol Boys who pretty much caused the word “transmat” to become a Doctor Who standard- they were using it back in The Sontaran Experiment and they’re still using it here in their swansong story as a team.

Part Four

“I’ve stopped the universe.”

So, the Marshal wants to blow up both worlds for some reason, but Mentalis won’t defend itself as it’s won the war- the clichéd military mind versus the clichéd machine mind- “the armageddon factor”. How very cold war. Why was all this not explained at the end of last episode? It certainly would have helped improve the cliffhanger.

After spending a comically long time panicking, the Doctor and Romana finally remember they can take shelter in the TARDIS. Rather cleverly, the Doctor knocks up an ersatz sixth segment so he can use the Key to Time to create a time loop, delaying Armageddon for a few hours.

Great cliffhanger here, as K9 calls the Shadow “Master”!

Part Five

“Your silliness is noted.”

The Doctor and the Shadow get a rather pleasing confrontation scene here, as the Shadow reveals, to no one’s surprise, that he’s an agent of the Black Guardian, and so the Doctor’s counterpart. Rather more of a surprise is the appearance of Drax, a technician coerced into helping the Shadow, who turns out to be not only a Time Lord but an old classmate of the Doctor’s.

We’re told that the Doctor and Drax were both in the “Class of ‘92”, and that the Doctor’s uni nickname was “Theta Sigma” or “Thete”! And all this was 450 years ago, 73 years after the Doctor first stole the TARDIS, if Romana’s comments in The Pirate Planet are to be believed! Drax spent five years in Brixton Prison, where he picked up not only a cockney accent but a complete set of cockney stereotypes, and is now trapped, with his TARDIS on Zeos. He’s a Time Lord, not just an ordinary Gallifreyan. And apparently the war’s been going on for five years, so they’re a lot more efficient at this nuclear war business than, say, the people of Skaro. 

The Shadow, dastardly fellow that he is, wants to do with the whole cosmos what he’s done with Atreus and Zeos, causing a nuclear war between the two sides of the cosmos like a proper Dr Strangelove. The fiend!

Part Six

“Any second now, beautiful mushrooms will blossom and burst!”

So, Astra is the sixth princess of the sixth dynasty of the sixth royal house of Atrios. Good job the Doctor and Romana happened to come across her sixth, then. But the idea of an actual person, with as much right to live as anyone, being a segment of the Key is pretty horrible, and I’m glad we get some dialogue in which Romana says so. It seems even the White Guardian is not necessarily very nice from the perspective of a mere mortal.

The Black Guardian is great. I care not that he’s just the White Guardian with the negative reversed, as we get to hear Valentine Dyall’s magnificent voice. I shall gloss over his silly attempts at disguise and move straight to the Doctor’s “absolute power” speech- another great piece of acting from Tom Baker. The ending doesn’t quite work, which is disappointing- after all this, the Doctor just scatters all the segments through space and time again? What happened to this great crisis we were told about in The Ribos Operation? Surely the White Guardian will be highly displeased? Still, Asdtra’s back, and after a season of the Doctor having absolute control of the TARDIS he’s now obliged to fit a “randomiser”. No doubt he won’t be landing anywhere we’ve heard of for a good while, then.

Surprisingly entertaining stuff, that. Not one of the greats but some great sci-fi concepts and lots of wit and humour make this a strong 4/5. And doing that comes as a shock to me, frankly- before the Marathon I’d have had this down as a dead cert for a 1/5.

And just as shockingly, after last season’s car crash, this season scores a solid 4.667/5, making it my favourite season so far! Now that I was not expecting.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Doctor Who: The Power of Kroll

Part One

“Will there be strawberry jam for tea?”

Our first scene introduces us to our group of miners, among whom are John Leeson taking a break from K9 to play Dugeen, the ever-splendid Philip Madoc as Fenner and the extremely impressive Neil McCarthy as Thawn. He’s superb as our villain of the piece, a cold-hearted personification of corporate evil. All of which is to say that already this is shaping up to be our finest cast of the season, and John Abineri hasn’t even appeared yet.

It’s a familiar set up- an anti-colonialist morality tale at heart, although perhaps with a more up-to-date flavour of corporate activity in the Third World rather than evocations of pith helmets and mem-sahibs. It’s all quite strikingly political though. The humans want to mine this world’s mineral resources, they refer to the natives dismissingly as “Swampies”, they work for a “company”, and there are apparently activists known as the Sons of Earth who oppose this kind of thing. All of which is quite efficiently exposited by Robert Holmes’ script in a scene which gives us a basic impression of what these characters are like.

The TARDIS lands in what is, it must be said, an excellent location, and we’re told this is the third moon of Delta Magna. The mercenary Rohm-Dutt, meanwhile, is busy gun-running with the Swampies. Both TARDISeers are soon captured, the Doctor by the human miners and Romana by the Swampies and Rohm-Dutt. How very traditional. As is the obvious model oil rig which brings back nostalgic memories of Terror of the Zygons. This is all very hard-boiled, especially for this season, but the setting is extremely well thought out. I love the Swampies’ use of the term “Dryfoot”.

We eventually learn that the humans intend to create ten mines here, which will lead to the inevitable destruction of the Swampies’ habitat. Something tells me it might not work out that way…

Part Two

“Well, he probably looked more convincing from the front.”

The perfect cliffhanger resolution- it really is just a man in an unconvincing rubber costume. Brilliant!

The Doctor and Romana disappear into an underground passage- of which there have been quite a few this season- to do some reading up on Swampie mythology and the mysterious Kroll, who apparently just pops up every couple of centuries; “A sort of Holy Writ” says the Doctor of the book they find. “I think it’s atrociously writ.” says Romana. Groan. It seems the proteins the human colonists are after are part of Kroll’s enormous bulk, and that in mining right into his tentacles they’re not being entirely wise.

The cliffhanger’s odd- the Doctor, Romana and Rohm-Dutt are to be executed by one of the Swampies’ seven deadly rituals, yet we end with one of the baddies in danger.

Part Three

“I’m not going to be stopped by lily-livered sentimentalists wailing about the fate of a few primitive savages!”

What a very long reprise. And what a very nasty means of execution- being slowly stretched until your spine snaps as the sun dries out the vines. Our heroes are extremely fortunate that the storm turns up when it does so the Doctor can save them all in a rather nifty fashion.

Kroll’s getting rather more active now, and he’s fulfilling a useful role in getting rid of characters, like Rohm-Dutt. Who have served their plot purpose.

Part Four

“”I’m reporting you for murder!”

We now have dissension in the refinery ranks, as Dugeen and Fenner object to Thrawn’s plan to fire depth charges at Kroll- Dugeen because he’s an apparent sympathiser with the Sons of Earth, Fenner because he’s cynical but realistic. This is paralleled with the Swampies as Varlik and the others come to question more and more Ranquin’s insistence that Kroll is a god and not just a mindless predator. It’s not surprising to see that Ranquin’s fate is to be Death By Kroll.

It ends nicely, with the Doctor in Kroll’s clutches but just managing to reach for the tracer to turn Kroll back into the fifth segment. The humans now have no protein to mine and the Swampies are presumably safe. Hooray! There’s a note of unpleasantness after this though- a lot of people mentioned in their reviews to The Sun Makers that the fate of Gatherer Hade was a little too nasty and undermined the moral rightness of the Doctor’s friends, something I entirely failed to spot at the time. Something similar seems to happen here- just as the Doctor and Romana leave, the remaining Swampies start to advance on Fenner. No doubt some vines will be drying out shortly.

This is probably the biggest pleasant surprise of the marathon so far- I wasn’t expecting to like this much and I wasn’t looking forward to seeing it, but actually I find myself giving it 4/5. It was well-written, admittedly hard-boiled but with enough humour to leaven things, well characterised, very well performed and on the whole well made. It just loses a point for Holmes allowing the political subtext, fine in itself, to overwhelm the story at times.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Doctor Who: The Androids of Tara

Part One

“Do you mind not standing on my chest? My hat’s on fire.”

We start with the Doctor and K9 playing chess, as in The Sun Makers, and once again the Doctor contrives to leave the game unfinished once he knows he’s losing. It’s a good scene, but in the context of the marathon it’s a little disturbing to see the seemingly oblivious repeating of something so recent. Never mind though- this first episode is a good ‘un.

Arguably it’s more than a little out of character for the Doctor to have a “day off” at a time like this, although the character has been moving more in that direction lately. Still, I can’t dispute that it’s all well scripted and performed. But if looked at as a commentary on the Doctor Who format itself (as pretty much everything about this story is) it definitely works. On a similarly format-subverting note, Romana finds the first segment within just a minute or so.

I have to admit the monster is… unfortunate. In fact, it’s suddenly quite noticeable that there’s been a distinct lack of monsters this season so far, and the only two proper ones we’ve seen- the Shrivenzale and this one- have been notoriously bad. Could this be why the budget seems to be stretching further this season than last, because of a deliberate cutting back on the monsters?

Peter Jeffrey, on top moustache-twirling form, makes a great entrance as our villain (boo! hiss!) Count Grendel as he “escorts” Romana to his castle, while the Doctor becomes acquainted with Zadek and his unnamed swordsman underling in a rather amusing scene. I particularly love the bit where he briefly grabs the sword to examine it and then immediately hands it back.

We’re given a brief précis of the plot so far; Prince Reynart must appear at the appointed time to be crowned king, but Grendel wants him killed first. But he has plans to avoid this, involving an android strangely similar to those in the Android Invasion. Is this originally Kraal technology perhaps?

This is a fascinating world, where everything looks mediaeval on the surface but technology lurks, suitably embarrassed, in all sorts of corners, as this is a society where engineering is the work of peasants. A great concept, and also a great excuse for doing The Prisoner of Zenda as science fiction. I’d better put my hand up here and confess I’ve not read the novel and frankly have no particular intention of doing so, but I love the occasional asides: “Well, it has been done before.”

Part Two

“Don’t be so tediously heroic, my dear fellow!”

Picking up from where we left off, there’s an exchange early in this episode which pretty much sums up how brazen the script is about its debt to Anthony Hope: “There is a secret passage.” “Ah! I thought there might be something like that!” Wonderful tongue-in-cheek self-referential stuff, of course, but let’s take it a bit too literally for a moment- how come the Doctor’s so aware of the rules of the fictional genre he’s in? Is this planet what it seems, or could it be a part of the Land of Fiction or some such place?

We get to meet Princess Strella, played by guest actress Mary Tamm, and get to hear about the rather tragic situation between that cad Grendel and poor Madame Lamia. Apparently she has the hots for him as he once did her “a certain courtesy”, but as he is a noblemen and she a mere peasant she hasn’t a hope. Instantly the audience sympathises with her, even though at no point in the story is she very nice.

We get to see Cyril Shaps again as the Archimandrite, which is nice, and also get a little backstory; two centuries ago a plague decimated the population (I love it when I can use the word “decimated” with complete accuracy) and that’s when androids started to be used to replace people. Not exactly the fullest explanation I’ve ever heard!

Part Three

“It’s funny. They always want you to go alone when you’re walking into a trap. Have you noticed that?”

I love these kinds of episodes; it may be one of those part threes where the plot takes a week off to wait for the conclusion and the time just gets filled up with loads of capture and escape scenes, but frankly who cares when it’s this much fun? I loved the scene where K9 slowly cuts a door in the tent so he and the Doctor can escape- the flip side of so many old Terry Nation Dalek stories!

We get some actual poignancy too here though as Lamia’s story comes to an end. She knows Grendel’s just using her- she’s not stupid- but “That is better than nothing”. And when she’s killed (I think the only character in the story to die), Grendel barely notices.

In other news, most of the episode is taken up with the elaborate springing of Romana from Grendel’s clutches, only for Grendel to restore her to said clutches at the end…

Part Four

“Next time, I shall not be so lenient!”

I love Grendel’s silly and convoluted plan- Romana, posing as Princess Stella, Marries King Reynart. Raynart meets with an unfortunate and tragic accident. Grendel marries the widowed Romana, masquerading as Princess Strella. Romana, that is, not Grendel. Grendel is now prince consort. Romana, still posing as Princess Strella, meets with an unfortunate and tragic accident. Her grieving widower is now king. Phew!

A great conclusion, with all the usual fun, a great exit for Grendel, and even a swordfight. Still, poor K9!

A wonderful story, a very high 5/5. Loads of postmodern humour with almost everything being a commentary on the programme and the genre it’s currently pasticheing. The uber-Graham Williams story. One caveat, though: much as I love this kind of thing, I can understand why some people don’t like the amount of violence that’s getting inflicted on the fourth wall this season. I love it unreservedly, but I can understand how too much of it would threaten the integrity of the programme. Still, we can probably sit back and safely enjoy some more of this sort of thing until that point gets reached. Say, the rest of this season and all of next?

Monday, 24 August 2009

Doctor Who: The Stones of Blood

Part One

“They’ve been circling all afternoon…”

We know the score for openings this season by now- the TARDIS flies through space a bit, then a bit of banter in the TARDIS between Romana and the Doctor. It’s become a formula, but it’s a good one. And then it’s straight to some brief scene to establish the kind of story this is going to be- a stone circle, druidic cultists, loads of atmosphere. Great!

Romana’s decided to wear a Burberry cap. Er, how classy. And the Doctor’s decided to finally tell her about the white guardian, in a scene that makes strangely little of the fact he’s been concealing it from her so far. One could almost suspect this whole ongoing thread was only there as an excuse to provide a bit of exposition halfway through the season for the casual viewer!

Some nice humorous bits as our heroes leave the TARDIS as K9 erases all knowledge of tennis from his memory banks and the Doctor hurls an umbrella away with great force. Litterbug! And then things really start getting good as the indescribably fantastic Beatrix Lehmann turns up as the brilliant Professor Amelia Rumford with her in-no-way-sinister “friend”, Vivien Fay.

As an aside, I’m fairly sure Tom’s Doctor has been more or less teetotal in contrast to his predecessors (a case of art not imitating life), but he accepts a sherry from De Vries in a brief but necessary scene for plot things to be set up (along with lots of pleasingly accurate history about John Aubrey and modern druidism). Only briefly, though, as the cultists end up inevitably starting to ritually sacrifice the Doctor in what must have been intended by David Fisher (new writer!) as a double cliffhanger. As it happens, it’s a rather odd one, with Romana being threatened while on OB video with a perilous sheer cliff that’s on film.

Part Two

“I hope that knife’s been properly sterilised.”

Now we’ve had an episode introducing our refreshingly small guest cast (which is about to get even smaller as our cultists friends all proceed to bugger off), we can really get on with the fun. Of course, there’s a certain exchange between Amelia, Romana and Vivien which cannot go unmentioned: “Hop on the back.” “Er, would you mind if I just walked?” ”Oh, nonsense! You may find it rather hard.” “it’ll be a new experience for you, no need to be afraid.” Do you reckon there might be some sort of subtext there?

We get our first incidence of the deadly Rocks Of Doom trying to appear menacing as they, er, advance, but that’s actually ok as this fits in rather nicely with the silliness of the story. And the plot’s actually rather clever, giving us lots of clues to piece together that Vivien is the Cailleach.

Part Three

“Are you from outer space?”



“I’m more from what you would call ‘inner time’.”


I know I was defending the advancing Stones of Doom a mere episode ago, but I must admit the stones advancing on the Doctor and Amelia in the secret cellar type thingy are a bit pants. But Amelia immediately banishes all thoughts of rubbishness from my mind by splendidly announcing that she and the Doctor should capture one of these creatures in the name of science. Bravo! But apparently these rocks are, the Doctor tells us with a straight face, from the planet Ogros in Tau Ceti. Fancy that.
There’s an intriguing attitude to hyperspace in this story, incidentally- even Romana pooh poohs it as a theoretical absurdity that clearly is never used. So how have all the many faster-than-light spaceships we’ve been seeing all the time in Doctor Who been working then?

The whole nature of this episode changes in this story- we even get some guest characters who aren’t Amelia or Vivien as a camping couple are killed by Ogri in a surprisingly scary scene. And with the change of scene to the inside of the spaceship (and its dead Wirrn), the story steps up yet another gear with the appearance of the splendid bickering Megara.

Part Four

“As your counsel, I advise you to submit to execution. So much easier in the end.”

All the stuff with the Megara is outrageous padding really, but it’s all such great stuff. David Fisher is clearly having great fun with the mockery of pompous judges and frankly so am I. I love the way the Megara keep mentioning how generous they are to allow the Doctor to appeal his sentence, after which he will of course be executed. Oh, and the doctor’s wig is great as well.

The Doctor’s catching out of Vivien, or Cessair of Diplos, is actually rather good, and it’s a nice ending for the kiddies to see her turn to stone. It’s also great to see the Doctor outwit the Megara, but then he always was a step ahead of them!

Fantastic, then, and a superb debut from David Fisher. This season hasn’t been doing at all badly so far, it must be said! 5/5.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Doctor Who: The Pirate Planet

Part One
“That is a forbidden object.”


“That is a forbidden question. You are a stranger?”


“Strangers are forbidden.”

For the second story in a row it’s clear that the sometimes embarrassing production values of last season aren’t going to be repeated- the model city is nicely designed, and the sets and costumes are all more than acceptable. But the real joy of this story is the dialogue- Douglas Adams has arrived at last, the Graham Williams era has finally found itself, and there’s a real sense that, after last season’s missteps, things are going to be all right.

Some interesting dialogue in the TARDIS at the start, incidentally- the Doctor’s been operating the TARDIS for 523 years, which would make him 236 when he nicked it, if he is indeed 759 as Romana says (interesting he gets his own age wrong, especially in the light of Steven Moffat’s recent-ish comments that a time traveller would inevitably lose track of their own age). If the Doctor was about 450 in Tomb then he can’t have been more than a few years younger at his regeneration as there have always been companions around who haven’t visibly aged. So the first Doctor was travelling for over 200 years, a long time, and all but the last few of them before An Unearthly Child. No doubt that’s exactly what this production team meant to imply, and it was in no way a throwaway comment…

Anyway, there are great sci-fi concepts all over the place from the very start- the planet Calufrax seems to have gone missing, and for some reason the Captain (great character, great over-the-top performance by Bruce Purchase and a great double act with Mr Fibuli) can occasionally declare a golden age of prosperity at the drop of a hat, following which all the mines on Zanak will fill up with stuff. The population are rich, free from hard work and satisfied with their lot, but they’re not allowed to ask questions and seem to be menaced by the mysterious Mentiads. Great set up. This is all fab so far.

Part Two

“Such hospitality. I’m underwhelmed.”

We got a flavour of Douglas Adams’ dialogue genius last episode, but here’s where it really clicks into gear. Romana’s attitude to being arrested is great for a start, not only because it’s very witty but because it’s possibly the first time we see Romana essentially acting as a female version of the Doctor. We’ll be seeing a lot more of this sort of thing, but this is surprisingly early.

Mostly, though, the lines are just great in themselves: “Standing around all day looking tough must be very wearing on the nerves, hmm? Long hours, violence, no intellectual stimulation…” So good a line, in fact, that Douglas Adams used it twice. And it’s also a bit of a giveaway that he’s more or less writing Ford Prefect and Tom’s Doctor as the same character, and it works.

Of course, we get the big reveal that Zanak has been landing around other planets to mine them dry. As a result, Kimus gets the best line of the story: “Bandraginus Five, by every last breath in my body, you’ll be avenged!” I love this kind of arch silliness where even the character knows full well he’s a cliché and acts accordingly.

Oh, and that nurse hanging around in the background seems to have a fair bit of influence on the Captain…

Part Three

“You mean, they slammed him to the wall with good vibrations?”


Of course, Pralix is now a Mentiad, and they’ve been goodies all along anyway. I love the way this story’s so jammed full of ideas we keep getting big revelations every five minutes. For all the greatness of the dialogue, the plot’s actually pretty great too. And things are happening- the nurse continues to be very mysterious, the relationship between the Captain and Mr Fibuli continues to be comedy gold (“Excellent, Mr Fibuli. Your death shall be delayed.”), and K9 gets to fight that Polyphase Aviton thingy.

The highlight of this episode is the only serious moment in pretty much the entire story though. The whole “Appreciate it?” speech reminds us that the Doctor, bohemian studenty type though he has been of late, still has the same principles and capacity for moral outrage.

All this, and the great ideas keep coming, even this late in the story- Queen Xanxia being suspended in her last few seconds of life is a fantastic concept.

Part Four

“All guards, alert! Someone is using a counter-jamming frequency projector. Find it and destroy it immediately."

"I don't suppose any of the guards know what a counter-jamming frequency projector looks like."

"Destroy everything!”

We’ve had a lot of cliffhanger resolutions over the years, and they fall into a lot of different types. But I think this is our first example of the “everything you thought you knew is wrong” cliffhanger resolution. Brilliant. Suddenly it’s clear that it was Xanxia, not the Captain, who was in charge all along. And she wants immortality. That’ll work out well then.

There’s a typically great scene where Xanxia offhandedly notices the door is open, the Doctor says “I’ll close it”, Xanxia distractedly replies “Thank you”, and the Doctor makes his escape. That’s good writing, both funny and serving the plot.

The ending may be a little weak- the CSO spanner doesn’t look very good, and it’s a bit of a stretch that the Doctor can mentally commune with the Mentiads from inside the TARDIS, especially when close to Earth. But still, a great final episode apart from these minor glitches.

Fantastic. Such a witty script, but all in the service of a great bubbling story bubbling with dozens of great sci-fi concepts. 5/5.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Doctor Who: The Ribos Operation

Part One

“What will happen to me if I refuse?”

“Nothing will happen to you. Nothing at all. Ever.”

The Doctor’s got a new K9! Hooray! And then the story starts with a bang as the TARDIS doors open in flight in a scene which is made brilliant by inspired use of lighting. The Doctor’s been summoned by… well, God, and he’s been charged with a quest to find the Holy Gra- er, Key to Time. I love the way that, instead of depicting something cosmic and expensive, they’ve just depicted the White Guardian as some colonial type bloke in a hat sitting in a deckchair, which works much better.

Instantly it’s clear that, after last season’s unevenness, much thought has been given to things behind the scenes. It’s not just the (fan cliché alert) “umbrella theme”; the new era has now firmly acquired a confident tone and style of its own- no more scares and bangs, but a cheaper, less violent (well, you can’t have everything…), wittier and more postmodern take on things. And the script which heralds the new era in its fully-fledged form for the first time is… Robert Holmes, a man heavily associated with the previous regime. It’s a funny old world.

Anyway, the Doctor has a new assistant, an imperious Time Lady called Romadvoratrelundar, and she’s fab, as is Mary Tamm. Her guilelessly arrogant ways are perfect for winding the Doctor up, and we can tell straightaway that she’s going to be fun. Oh, and rather sexy too.

Apart from introducing Romana, this scene cements something new about the series’ style- wonderfully witty dialogue which is allowed freer rein than before, being let loose more often on that fourth wall, and something different about Tom’s performance. We haven’t really seen his sombre side at all since Horror of Fang Rock, and his more whimsical nature has been staging a gradual takeover for some time, but following the events of The Invasion of Time there seems to be a final shift. The Doctor is now more consistently witty, less prone to introspection, but still with a strong moral centre. But mostly he’s much more fun. I like this new Tom. And the great thing is, what with the events of the last story you could almost at a push call it character development.

Amusingly, we’re told that the Doctor only scraped 51% at the academy on his second attempt. And Gallifrey has a new president, who must be someone we saw in The Invasion of Time as we hear the Doctor say “I should have thrown him to the Sontarans when I had the chance!” Who is it then? It’s not Borusa, for constitutional; reasons. Bet it’s Kelner!

Anyway, Ribos. It’s a well-realised, wintry planet with a mediaeval level of technology which also has the fortunate side effect of suggesting a cultural hinterland in the way that futuristic metal corridors just don’t. There’s a lot of casually excellent design work here. The necessary exposition is handled admirably by means of the highly entertaining, ahem, “Holmesian double act” of Garron (the superb Iain Cuthbertson) and Unstoffe and their intended scam on nasty old offworld nobleman the Graff Vynda K. This planet has two seasons, Suntime and the present season Icetime, both of which last 32 years. Brilliantly, it’s actually part of the interstellar Greater Cyrrhenian Empire, but given that it’s only a “level two” civilisation, the offworlders who actually rule the planet have to claim they’re from “the north” and not display any advanced technology for fear of breaking conservation laws!

I’m loving this already. Garron is a great Holmesian character, a futuristic Horatio Bottomley with great lines, and the set-up is fab. I shall not speak of the Shrivenzale.

Part Two

“You hang a bit of that around your neck and you won’t never suffer from the scringes, no matter how cold it be.”

I love the way our conmen speak in cod-Mummerset accents when they’re pretending to be locals, and the Doctor actually pointed this out at the end of last episode! I love Unstoffe’s speech, but Garron’s the real star of the two of them. It’s fantastic how Holmes, incredibly, gets him to persuade the captain of the guard to deposit a load of money with the crown jewels, and makes it seem plausible. And indeed the fact that, as the title suggests, this is the first time we get a Doctor Who story that is essentially a heist movie. After years of Hinchcliffe era horror movies, Doctor Who is now plundering different sources!

The relationship between the Doctor and Romana continues to be brilliant, too: “An academy graduate doesn’t need things explaining, surely?”

Part Three

“When you’ve faced death as often as I have, this is much more fun.”

I think the scene where the Graff slaps the Doctor, and the Doctor slaps him back, is definitely in the running for my favourite Tom moment ever. The Doctor and Romana are captured and imprisoned, but it’s an interesting example of what a great writer Holmes is that while in the hands of a little writer this perennial Who cliché could be tiresome, here it’s just a pretext for a fun little chat between the Doctor and Garron, a bit of character stuff for Romana and some exposition. And once all this is achieved K9 just comes and rescues everyone, leaving the situation no time at all to become tiresome. Masterful.

The scene with Binro the heretic is of course wonderful, and almost distracts from the fact that Unstoffe seems to have acquired an RP accent what with all the stress of being hunted by the Graff. Interestingly, the Seeker seems to have genuine powers, so precognition works, which is a bit dodgy.

Part Four

“Well, I admit I had a great struggle with me conscience. Fortunately I won.”

There are so many great things about this story. I love the way the Seeker’s frenzied and tuneless shriek is supposed to be hugely annoying!

We get a well-crafted and entertaining conclusion. Binro dies tragically, the Graff disintegrates realistically in a surprisingly well done piece of characterisation, and our heroes have the first segment of the Key to Time. Only five to go.

Flawless. 5/5 and a good one too, only just missing out on a top ten spot. Great script, great new tone, great new companion, Iain Cuthbertson and, most relievingly, no obvious problems with the production. Well, Shrivenzale aside.. It feels as though the problems of last season are behind us already. Can things stay at this level?

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Doctor Who: The Invasion of Time

Part One

“I claim the presidency of the council of Time Lords.”

So, a new writer, the mysterious David Agnew. Wonder if he’ll turn out to be any good? Rumour has it that he had something of a split personality…

Once again this season we start with the now-familiar sight of spaceships floating in, er, space. It’s finally occurred to me that Star Wars ( That’s the full title of the film, incidentally. Let’s have none of this A New Hope rubbish.) was released in the UK in December 1977, shortly before this was broadcast if probably not before it was made. An influence to keep track of in future, even if this scene probably isn’t influenced by Imperial Star Destroyers.

Anyway, it’s a fascinating episode which departs entirely from the programme’s standard format and does fascinating things with the Doctor’s character. We first see him, alone, having left Leela locked in the TARDIS with K9, apparently making a deal with some baddies and their pointy-backed chairs to give them complete control over the Time Lords! Has he turned bad? This is a brilliant concept, and superbly done. What they’re trying to do requires great care- the viewer needs to at least partly believe that the Doctor has gone bad, but the character mustn’t be undermined. As we’ll see, The Invasion of Time achieves this balance superbly.

Oh, and we see Leela having a “bath” in a big swimming pool in the TARDIS. There are no roundels, there are loads of lilos and stuff, and the set doesn’t look at all as though it could convincingly be part of the TARDIS. See Part Six for more on this theme…

After this preamble the TARDIS lands on Gallifrey, which sadly looks a lot cheaper than it once did, the UK economy having jumped off the edge of a cliff since The Deadly Assassin was made. Even the old Panopticon doesn’t look the same with such bright lighting- in fact, I admit I didn’t even recognise it until one of the DVD extras pointed it out. But, of course, the prologue means this TARDIS landing has a very different context than usual- the Doctor’s very status as a hero is on probation. What’s he up to? As soon as he leaves the TARDIS and is accosted by chancellery guards, he rudely dismisses Leela. What’s going on?

I have something of a problem with Andred simply allowing the Doctor, who is as far as he’s concerned an unauthorised visitor and very possibly extremely dangerous, to just walk into Chancellor Borusa’s office. Still, it’s a solitary lapse, and what happens next is very cool indeed as the Doctor claims the presidency, for which of course he was the sole surviving candidate at the recent election. Although this indicates not much time has passed, so how come (aside from the actor not being available!) Borusa has regenerated? He didn’t seem that old or frail last time.

We have a new Castellan, but Kelner is no Spandrell. Right from the off it’s clear he’s going top be quite the oily git, played with magnificent Uriah Heap-osity by Milton Johns. Oh, and another change here is that Leela is apparently allowed on the planet but Sarah wasn’t. How come? I suppose it could be argued that the Doctor is president after all, but some mention would have been nice.

More stuff from The Deadly Assassin appears- the Sash of Rassilon, the Rod of Rassilon, Gold Usher, the Matrix. Oddly, we get a fairly long techy conversation between two Time Lords which doesn’t seem to relate to anything!

Part Two

“This is rather more than a student prank, isn’t it?”

The Doctor seemingly betrays Leela again, trying to ban her from the Citadel, and continues to behave very oddly. And it’s fun to see the contrasting reactions of Kelner- rushing to ingratiate himself with this new potential source of patronage- and Borusa, whose concerns about the Doctor’s behaviour are balanced by a suspicion that all is not what it seems. John Arnatt is excellent here, restricting himself to subtle facial impressions and a calm tone of voice, but portraying Borusa’s concerns most effectively.

I’m enjoying this. So much, in fact, that I even enjoyed Tom’s wrecking ball to the fourth wall with his “Even the Sonic Screwdriver won’t get me out of this one!” It’s in one way reassuring and in another way disappointing that the Doctor’s conversation with K9 in the TARDIS pretty much gives away that his erratic behaviour and apparent treachery is just an act and he has his reasons.

Interestingly, Rodan (played by the rather lovely Hilary Ryan) is the first Time Lady we’ve ever met. Are there hardly any females for some bizarre sci-fi reason, or do Time Lords insist that a woman’s place is directing traffic? Either way, Rodan and Leela are getting on well, which is fortunate as they’re soon to be thrust into crisis- the Doctor has let down the transduction barriers, apparently selling out his own people to some nasty bits of tin foil, and lets out a villainous laugh too…

Part Three

“The Castellan will have me shot.”

“Well, that’s all right. I’ll have him shot.”

For once, it’s the Doctor who gets to say that “resistance is useless”! And these baddies, the Vardans, apparently want the great Key, which the Doctor pledged to seek in his presidential oath.

Meanwhile, Leela and Rodan are escaping the new regime to go out into the wilderness. Leela’s great here, decisive and intelligent. She may say that “Discussion is for the wise or the helpless and I am neither”, but the only thing she isn’t is helpless.

In a pivotal scene, the Doctor finally reveals to Borusa what he’s really up to in his lead lined room where the Vardans can’t read his thoughts. Naturally, we aren’t privy to what’s said as that would spoil all the fun.

Meanwhile, Kelner shows himself to be a right little Quisling, taking advantage of the new regime’s apparent purge to “settle old scores.” Our first exiles, albeit willing, are Leela and Rodan, and Rodan’s inability to deal with life “outside” speaks volumes about Gallifreyan society, as well as the fact that they see people living only just outside the Citadel as “barbarians”. Leela, on the other hand, quickly gains the respect of the Outlers. It’s soon clear that exiling his enemies is not the end of Kelner’s ambitions, though: an underling is dispatched to guard the new Doctor “for the time being” because “If anything does happen, I will have to take over as president , and I have no wish to expose myself to the dangers of that position.” Such a slimy little toad…

Part Four

“But you have access to the greatest source of knowledge in the universe.”

“Well, I do talk to myself sometimes, yes.”

The Vardans now turn out to suspect the Doctor- this is really quite an engagingly complex story, with all sorts of competing agendas ready to backstab each other. At last it seems the Graham Williams era has found its feet, using witty dialogue and careful plotting to carve out a way of producing good telly completely different to the previous regime.

Admittedly the production is very Spartan- in fact, not really acceptable at all, and things are going to get worse- but the scripts and performances more than compensate. Gallifey is often said to be an intrinsically dull place these days- not here it isn’t, it’s a labyrinth of plots, counter plots and intrigue. Brilliant. And even the production’s shortcomings are partly patched up by self-referential dialogue- the Vardans may look crap, but that’s ok as the dialogue points that out for us!

The episode’s ending is simply excellent- all the threads are drawn together, all the characters are brought to the Panopticon and the full details of the Doctor’s plan are reveals as he defeats the baddies and saves the planet.

And then the bloody Sontarans turn up. Excellent!

Part Five

“You are the first President since Rassilon to hold the Great Key.”

Re the quote- I thought we were told in The Deadly Assassin that Rassilon was never president? Anyway…

I love the way Kelner, rather than face the inevitable punishment for his treason, quickly sides with the Sontarans, oleaginous little sod that he is. And these Sontarans are a lot sillier than the ones we’ve seen before. And of course, there’s more than one of them for a change. Derek Deadman’s performance is- interesting.

There’s a fascinating game of cat and mouse as the Doctor gets Borusa to admit he holds the Great Key. I like Borusa- loyal to the old ways but with an open mind, and of course absolutely full of integrity. Yes, he’ll definitely never become a baddie. And as he knows where the Great Key is, presumably he can never become president. Come to think of it, I remember an article in issue #100 of Doctor Who Magazine back in the mid eighties, by Gary Russell, I think, on Time Lord history which touched on that very subject. I’ll have to dig it out. Rather tongue-in-cheek, I recall…

Oh, and there’s a great moment where the Doctor shows extraordinary trust in Leela in trusting her with the Great Key.

Part Six

“This machine is a load of obsolete rubbish.”

It’s such a shame that the setting of this episode is so execrable, as the script and performances continue to be first-rate. But using this location as the TARDIS interior simply won’t do. There are bricks everywhere, it’s all on film, and it takes you straight out of the drama. Little wonder all these rooms in the TARDIS were never spoken of again. Although I must admit I love the scene with Borusa drinking from a glass with a curly straw while reading about the sinking of the titanic from a contemporary edition of The Daily Mirror. Only on Doctor Who…

There’s lots of cool stuff here, however poorly realised it may be- the Venus fly trap thingy in the TARDIS “bathroom” and the TARDIS’ “ancillary power station” being disguised as an art gallery, which only makes sense if you include a deleted scene but never mind.

There’s a nice ending- the great Key is used to make the “Demat Gun” which is highly appropriate because one thing this marathon has taught me is that the Doctor uses guns all the time! Meanwhile, Stor is claiming that “This grenade will give me a lot of pleasure!” What a bizarre fetish…

Of course, inevitably, the Doctor forgets about the Great Key, all part of Rassilon’s plan. And a flawless plan it is too- I’m sure the fact that Borusa knows all about the Demat Gun will have no adverse consequences whatsoever.

Unfortunately the ending is marred by a completely rubbish companion departure. Leela deserved much better than that. Amusingly, Louise Jameson and the bloke who plays Andred say in a DVD extra that they tried to suggest they fancied each other by body language- not that I noticed they didn’t!

Overall, utterly magnificent- great plot, great dialogue, great performances. Unfortunately, and however understandable it may have been in those difficult budgetary times, the production was often far below acceptable, so much so that I really have to knock a point off. 4/5.

As for the season as a whole- well, it had its high points- Image of the Fendahl, The Sun Makers, The Invasion of Time- and its pretty good point- Horror of Fang Rock. But ultimately the two utter stinkers from the Bristol Boys and the production failings in some otherwise brilliant stories mean this season scores 3.17/5, putting it at the bottom of the pile. Still there are signs of a promising new direction, and the faults can be mainly laid at the door of budgetary disasters and the Bristol Boys. The future should be better- we’ll see…

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Doctor Who: Underworld

Part One

“The quest is the quest.”

After The Invisible Enemy I can’t say I’m particularly enthused to see another script by the Bristol Boys so soon. And the reputation this story has makes me worry it might be something of an ideal. Still, the Marathon goes on, and this is one of only two stories I’ve never seen. The quest is the quest. Sorry. Couldn’t resist.

We begin in the TARDIS, where the Doctor is dressed rather oddly and seems to have splashed out on a big widescreen scanner.

The TARDIS has arrived at the edge of the universe, where we see a new spiral nebula forming. And we see some guest characters in a spaceship, it’s a relief to see that, unlike with other recent space operas, the sets and costumes are at least competently designed. Unfortunately, Jackson and his underlings may be competently acted but they’re also extremely dull.

A few minutes in things threaten to become interesting, though. These people are from Minyos, a planet destroyed 100,000 years ago, and they describe the overheard TARDIS dematerialisation sound as sounding like “the time ships of the gods”. It seems the Time lords meddled in their affairs with dire results, and this is the reason for their policy of non-intervention. Oh, and the Minyans can regenerate seemingly without limit (thousands of times, at least) and get to keep their original bodies. Why can’t the Time Lords do this then?
This is all very Ulysses 31 (“The gods use us for their sport”). Oh, and there’s a ship, on a quest, led by a bloke called Jackson. I’m sure there’s a Greek myth that reminds me of- Ah! They’re really old and tired of life but have to keep on living until they fulfill their quest. That’ll be the myth of Sisyphus then.

Annoyingly, though, just as they did last time, Baker and Martin are writing Leela as stupid and a target for other characters’ mockery. I really don’t like this.

Part Two

“Whatever blows can be sucked(!).”

The Doctor, Leela and the Argonauts are about to crash into a planet- and at no point is it mentioned that stepping into the TARDIS might be a good idea, what with the whole avoiding certain death thing. Oddly enough though, the blatantly CSO’d caverns bother me mainly because of how dull they look- they may look very unconvincing in out-of-context clips but in fact I got used to them very quickly.

Unfortunately this is all very dull- some dull baddies and some dull slaves. Yawn. I love the way Jackson’s lot decide to split the party. Reminds me of some D&D sessions.

Part Three

“It’s not my plan exactly but it has worked before.”

Oh dear. After a very long reprise things continue to be very dull. There’s one fun Bristol Boys idea (no gravity at the centre of the planet), and a pleasingly bizarre means of execution worthy of Heath Robinson himself, although the fire seems to be taking an awfully long time to burn through the rope. Otherwise, there’s little to comment on.

Part Four

“You’re just another machine with megalomania.”

Sadly, things fail to get any better at the end. The drama stops dead and the story treads water for ages before we realise the cylinders have been switched, and even the script admits that the “Oracle” is just a less interesting version of Xoanon of off of of Face of Evil. And you can’t understand a thing it says.

At long last- a story that was even worse than The Underwater Menace. Rock bottom- surely everything to come is bound to be better than this? 1/5.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Doctor Who: The Sun Makers

Part One

“Probably too many economists in the government…”

Right from the start it’s very clear indeed that we can’t expect anything at all from the sets and costumes, which are quite as awful as they were in The Invisible Enemy. Fortunately, it’s also clear from the start that the scripts and performances are going to be first class. And we get bombarded with some great concepts- dull modernist tower block this may be, but it’s on a mysteriously oxygenated and moderately temperatured Pluto where wood is a distant fable.

It’s also a world where people are drones working for a mysterious company, worked and taxed until their pips squeak and finally put to death on an appointed “deathday”- perhaps the most fully evoked dystopia yet seen in Doctor Who. Cordo and Gatherer Hade are both well written and well acted characters, perfectly shaped to be interesting whilst given us a load of necessary exposition at the start.

Cordo’s recently euthanized father worked hard as a sweeper of walkways for forty years, but he and his son between them can only just afford a painless death for him (Cordo wasn’t present at the death- no doubt he couldn’t afford that), and now Hade reveals that taxes have recently risen to a level Cordo cannot afford, and it is of course the citizen’s responsibility to be familiar with the tax rates. Cordo, already working double shifts, will now have to work during his remaining three hours’ sleep time to work towards his debt, which with compound interest at 50% he will never repay. This is very dark stuff, and that’s precisely why the humour is so important to sweeten the pill.

With K9 poised to beat the Doctor at chess, the TARDISeers materialise on Pluto, once said to be the outermost body in the Solar system until “Cassius” was discovered. This has all become very dated over the last few years!

K9 stays in the TARDIS for now (“Pluto’s no place for a…”) while the Doctor and Leela immediately prevent Cordo from throwing himself off the building, receiving some exposition in return.

Richard Leech is brilliant as the collector, the style of his performance being perfect for the character. Some of his lines would be just too dark if delivered too seriously- the line about how surviving for three years in the “correction centre” is almost unheard of makes it clear just how horrifyingly totalitarian this regime is.

Interestingly for a story where tax collectors are the bad guys (“Perhaps everyone runs from the taxman”) this doesn’t necessarily come across as a right wing satire- in fact it’s rather typical of Holmes in that, although deeply political, it doesn’t tell us a lot about what his politics were, although at least we’re left in no doubt that he’s no authoritarian. Besides, tax rates in the UK in 1977 were really rather high…

More good stuff- six suns, “the Inner Retinue”, a load of rebels includingVila- an excellent start.

Part Two

“I have the honour to remain, sir, your obedient servant. Etc. Etc.”

I love the friendliness of the Doctor’s cellmate, whose crime was curiosity, casually chatting about the horrors in store for the Doctor and himself- the sort of scene that only Holmes could write. PCM is another 1984-esque idea- an ingredient in the air to spread anxiety and keep the population docile. In fact, for all the surface focus on tax and economics- and there’ll be a lot more of that kind of thing- this is really Doctor Who Does 1984, more concerned with the nature of extreme tyranny than taxation per se. Cordo is quite clearly a Winston Smith figure and the Company is very Big Brother- there are loads of cameras everywhere for a start.

There’s a great scene between the Doctor and Gatherer Hyde, a P45 corridor (!) and we get to see Henry Woolf’s splendidly slimy Collector. Another great episode.

Part Three

“His Excellency has invoiced your execution.”

Another quietly shocking moment, as the Collector notes with incredulity that the captured Leela hasn’t been “numbered” as all “work units” are at birth. But this is where things turn around- I love the scene where the Doctor quickly manoeuvres himself from imminent torture victim to leader of a revolution, and it’s wonderful to see the glee with which everyone responds once persuaded that resistance is not useless after all. For the first time the company is questioned- what’s it for? Who gets all the profit?

I love the collector’s summary of the Doctor, from the company files, as having “a long history of violence and economic subversion.” But it’s not all wit and satire- there’s a real feeling of danger this episode as Leela faces execution by steaming, and this cliffhanger is one of the very best.

Part Four

“The work units are absolutely forbidden to see the light of the sun- it’s far too good for them!”

This whole episode is a joy, aside from a moment of disquiet towards the end. The Collector’s increasingly severe threats to the populace (“Grinding oppression of the masses is the only policy that pays dividends!”), the rebels’ increasing confidence and giddy happiness as they experience life without TCM, Marn joining the revolution to save her skin- very realistic, that!- the Gatherer being thrown off the building. This is Holmes’s swansong as a perm anent fixture of the series, and he really goes out on a high. A magnificent script. And, naturally, the Doctor buggers off immediately as soon as the fun bit finishes!

There’s one disquieting bit, though- I suspect nothing was meant by it, but it probably would have been a good idea not to make the villain a “Usurian”- ie a moneylender- of a different ethnic group to everyone else, as that could be interpreted in unfortunate ways!

Aside from that last point, a brilliant script, and fantastic performances all round. I very nearly gave it a 5/5 but the sets are so appalling I’m going to have to take away a point. 4/5, but a very high one.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Doctor Who: Image of the Fendahl

Part One

“You must have been sent by Providence.”

“No, I were sent by the council to cut the verges.”

After the car crash that was The Invisible Enemy it’s a huge relief to see Chris Boucher’s name popping up, and once again he doesn’t disappoint. We start with a mysterious skull, but in spite of the obvious parallels with Quatermass and the Pit there’s a lot more going ion here than just a rehash. And fittingly for a Chris Boucher story Scott Fredericks appears, again reminding me of the excellent Kaldor City audios. K9 only gets fleeting appearances at the start and end of the story, but he’s have jarred with the story’s tone in any case.

It’s immediately noticeable how much better written the Doctor and Leela are compared to the previous story, which should come as no surprise from Leela’s creator. And the story, atmosphere and guest characters are all brilliant from the start. It’s a clever touch that Thea and Adam, the sympathetic characters amongst Fendelman’s group, are implicated by being persuaded not to tell the police about the corpse found by Adam. And I just love the Doctor’s “Good morning, ladies!” to a herd of cows. We also get a self-referential moment that’s much wittier than usual: “You’ve both escaped from somewhere, haven’t you?” “Frequently.”

Part Two

“Alas, poor skull.”

We get to see a glimpse of the Fendahleen here, and we’re given the beginnings of a backstory- it seems the fifth planet of the solar system broke up about twelve million years ago, the same age as the skull. And Thea is mysteriously claiming to have planned the whole thing. This is all excellent stuff, with a mystery developing nicely and a threat which may be a little nebulous but somehow feels defined in the way it didn’t in Horror of Fang Rock.

It’s noticeable the Doctor isn’t around much in this episode, mind.

Part Three

“Dr Fendelman, I think you have an industrial relations problem.”

Leela saves the Doctor’s life, and we get a moment that could be sexual tension between them if not for the fact that there hasn’t been any other sign of any such thing. We get another excellent episode, with even the use of sci-fi concepts to explain second sight being just about passable. Stael’s agenda becomes clear, and Scott Fredericks really is excellent here. Arguably the Quatermass and the Pit connection starts to get a bit much here, what with Mrs Tyler’s “race memory” and all, but it’s all so good I don’t really mind.

We get drip fed some more backstory; apparently the fifth planet was erased from existence, War Lord-like, by the Time Lords. And the situation is nicely summed up by Fendelman just before Stael shoots him: “I have been used! You are being used! MANKIND HAS BEEN USED!”

Part Four

“…Or, on the other hand, it could all be just a coincidence.”

A simply staggering conclusion to a simply magnificent story, with elements from folklore turning out to be essential to the plot- the use of salt here is clever, and in many ways shows how this story in some ways parallels The Dæmons, only done much better.

Oh, and the Doctor fires a gun. Again. He’s always doing that!

I love the Doctor’s explanation to Adam, which at the same time explains what’s going on but remains just ambiguous enough for the Fendahl to retain its mystery. Apparently it destroyed Mars on the way, but it’s not as though Doctor Who has ever featured any Martians!

Utterly superb. An easy 5/5, and a new entry to my top five. After a wobbly start the Graham Williams era suddenly pulls an all time great story out of the bag.

Doctor Who: The Invisible Enemy

Part One

“Contact has been made.”

We start the story in deep space, for the first time in ages. Unfortunately we then get a crap spaceship set which sets the tone for the rest of the story- I’ve always been annoyed by bland, featureless corridor sets being used to represent the future in space opera type stories and The Invisible Enemy is one of the worst offenders. Every set and every costume is bland and featureless, which casts a kind of dullness over what should be a fun and silly story. Only three stories after The Robots of Death showed us how it should be done, this shows us how it shouldn’t.

At least the TARDIS looks good. It’s a shame to lose the wooden control room, but at least the redesigned traditional control room looks good, even if the Doctor does dismiss it as though he was talking about any one of the other sets in the story! We’re in 5000 AD or thereabouts, the time of Magnus Greel and Time Agents, and also apparently the time of the “Great Break Out”. Presumably this refers to much more widespread colonisation than happened during the Earth Empire days two thousand years earlier. And as this is still said to be Leela’s past, perhaps her ancestors were involved.

It’s good to see Michael Sheard again, even if his horribly designed office oozes an awful lot of the unacceptable side of 70s-ness in spite of it being 5000 AD. And the virus is an interesting threat, giving us a good cliffhanger with the infected doctor about to kill Leela…

Part Two

“Blithering idiots, the pair of you.”

Cra;p though the design is, I like the attempt to suggest spelling has changed, with such uses as “isolayshun ward”.

The Doctor’s out of action for a bit, which means we have Leela flying the TARDIS (!) to some hospital asteroid, where the Bristol Boys get a chance to reuse their line from The Hand of Fear about Gallifrey being somewhere in Ireland. We’re also introduced to the very silly yet somehow fab Professor Marius, with his silly accent and his robot dog, K9. Yay! “That tin thing is my best friend and constant companion”, he informs us.

The Prof has to operate on the doctor whilst being assailed from all sides by the ranks of the infected. At the Doctor’s suggestion he, er, clones the Doctor and Leela, shrinks them, and injects them into the Doctor’s body. This is simultaneously awful and brilliant. Oh, an apparently cloning started in 3922. not in, say, 1997, with Dolly the Sheep or anything.

Oh, and why can’t they just cure the Doctor by transmat, as Harry did with Sarah during Revenge of the Cybermen?

Part Three

“I don’t know what to think. I’ve never been in anybody’s head before.”

This episode marks a turning point in the marathon for me personally- halfway through I finally finish my first notebook!

This entire episode is unintentionally hilarious, and the sets of the inside of the Doctor’s brain are much more fun than the sets we’ve seen elsewhere. I love the way the Clone Doctor keeps pointing bits out to Clone Leela. Apparently the Doctor was once able, Matrix-like, to tune himself into the “Time Lord intelligentsia”, but lost this ability when he was “kicked out”. I like the Doctor’s line about the mind and the brain being analogous to the land and the sea, utter rubbish though it may be.

Plenty of hilariousness abounds, from the Doctor’s beach ball-like antibodies to the ridiculous Slowness of Marius’s countdown. But pretty soon both K9(!) and the Professor are infected…

The Nucleus actually gives a pretty good justification of its actions to the Doctor- like any creature it has every right to survive. But of course, that goes both ways. In another context, this could have been a fairly serious discussion.

The ending is most odd, with the sting seeming to briefly start and then stop a minute before the end. Are the last two scenes in the right order?

Part Four

“I only hope he’s TARDIS trained!”

Hmmm, so the nucleus and all its viruses can survive at human size? Er, yes. And it seems the TARDIS is still bigger on the inside with the dimensional stabiliser gone. But this is not the story to be asking such questions- best just to let the silliness wash over you. Amusingly, for the first time here we see the camera panning upwards from the step at the TARDIS entrance as K9 rolls inside. The first of many…

We get the first appearance of another Graham Williams era trope here too, as the Doctor enters the TARDIS and dematerialises with his scarf still caught in the Door. Never mind the fact we then cut to him at the controls with his scarf clearly far from the entrance!

Oh dear. From Talons to this in two stories! For all its faults it certainly wasn’t dull, and has a certain so-bad-it’s-good capacity to amuse, but this is the worst story since The Time Monster- silly and badly designed, with the Doctor often bordering on being out of character. 2/5.