Monday, 30 November 2009

Doctor Who: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy

Part One

“Oh no, not the spoons again!”

Another script by Stephen Wyatt, and it’s set around a circus. Already we know we’re going to get a somewhat abstract and allegorical tale which borrows from the style and aesthetics of 2000 AD. It’s quite interesting that we start with a rap, however dated it may be. Doctor Who is now in the age of hip-hop. And, as we’ll see, Goths. And ageing hippies, of course. At last, Doctor Who does youth culture.

We get to see the TARDIS interior for the only time this season, and after a brief nostalgic glimpse of Tom’s scarf we get the hilarious conceit of a junk mail robot. It’s advertising the Psychic Circus, but Ace, like all right thinking people, finds clowns creepy. The Doctor, naturally, wants to see this phenomenon. Of course, he probably has reasons other than the obvious.

There’s some great imagery, with Flowerchild’s hippy look, the psychedelic bus, and the clowns in the hearse, and it’s all very effectively shot. And by the time we get to see Nord (“Do you want me to do something unpleasant to your face?”), with his Mad Max look, it’s all looking like a Tharg’s Future Shock or something, already. Suddenly, Doctor Who looks bang up to date.

Contrasting with the whole hippy aesthetic is the robot bus conductor, who represents, like, the man, and the commercialism that, like, killed off the free festival. It’s highly symbolic that we find such a figure inside a bus that is so symbolic of hippy-ism, if that’s a word. In fact, it’s almost the story in microcosm in the way it foreshadows the wider themes, especially as it’s the Doctor who causes the ticket collector to break down. Far out, man.

I like the ringed gas giant behind the tent. This sort of thing is almost the calling card of post-hiatus Who. I also like Mags, and not only because she’s a pretty goth girl. I’m less enamoured of Adrian Mole as Whiz Kid, but heigh-ho.

That’s a bit of a peculiar place to put a cliffhanger.

Part Two

“It feels more like we’re part of a machine.”

I love the ‘50s family in the audience. And if it wasn’t clear before that we’re watching a piece of allegory and imagery where realism has no place, it certainly is now. After all, if we were to treat the story as “realistic”, why the ‘50s clothing? Along with lots of other things of contemporary Earth cultural relevance, in fact.

There are some things here I’ve not picked up on before. It’s noticeable that the Doctor and Ace are asked if they want to enter before they’re invited into the circus, just as the Doctor is asked if he wishes to perform on the stage before the trap snaps shut. It’s as though the victims need to agree of their own free will before the deceit and their true fate is revealed. But the upshot is that Mags, the Captain, Nord and the Doctor are stuck here, and T.P. McKenna is fantastic as the apathetic, smoothly self-serving Captain, manipulating Nord into performing, and dying, before him.

The Ringmaster and Morgana, meanwhile, have a bit of a chat about whether or not they’ve, like, sold out, man, just in case it wasn’t already clear what this story is about. ‘60s ideals slowly morphing into right-wing economic individualism- how very ‘80s.

I don’t like Gian Sammarco’s Whizz Kid one bit. There’s never been anything big or clever about the nerd stereotype, which has always had something of the school bully about it, and unfortunately the costuming and performance really push this. There’s no excuse, really, however much the production team may have felt under siege from certain elements of fandom. And it’s a shame, really, as the nasty elements of this stereotype don’t seem to be present in the script itself- although the “satire” of perceived fan attitudes certainly does, and this isn’t pretty either. Still, it’s admittedly a nice touch that Morgana, who up till now has subtly tried to persuade potential victims not to enter the circus, encourages Whizz Kid to his doom just to be rid of his annoying presence.

We’re introduced to the pit and the eye, though not yet to their significance. But the Captain has betrayed the Doctor…

Part Three

“Although I never got to see the early days, I know it’s not as good as it used to be. But I’m still terribly interested.”

Ace has a bit of a chinwag with Bellboy. “We had such high ideals when it started,” he tells her; “We shared everything.” I’m glad we got that line, because there’s no way we would have got the selling out subtext without it. Still, I’m enjoying this. It’s nice to have a story made entirely of aesthetics, imagery, allegory and subtext where all pretensions to realism are irrelevant. After all, one could easily point out the problem of how the circus manages to keep up the steady stream of entertainers for their mysterious and demanding audience, as there don’t seem to be many punters to be lured in. But to take things so literally would be to miss the point.

Whizz Kid meets his inevitable demise, paying the price for his inability to realise that the memory cheats. I’ll always defend JN-T, who has generally done a pretty good job however much I may object to certain of his previous script editors, but the unsubtle rant at his critics here comes across as unnecessarily bitter. Still, I’m highly amused by the scene where the Captain persuades him to go first, and especially the double-edged line “A sacrifice I am prepared to make.”

“You’re just an ageing hippy, Professor,” says Ace to the Doctor. Somehow that fits very well indeed, and not just the Sylvester McCoy model. It also shows us where he stands in relation to the allegory, of course.

Poor Bellboy gets hoist by his own mechanical petards. Ian Reddington is great here as the camera turns towards the Chief Clown’s reaction.

Part Four

“It was your show all along, wasn’t it?”

Hooray! The last episode ever I’ll watch on video, and consequently the last episode without subtitles for me and my dodgy hearing. No more muffled dialogue for me!

The Doctor tells the Captain he’s a “crushing bore,” clearly the most hurtful thing he’s ever said to him in his entire life. McKenna’s reaction is great, as is pretty much everything he does.

Appropriately, though, it’s Mags who kills him. Also appropriately, the eye heals Deadbeat / Kingpin, and the story enters its final stretch, much of which consists of the Doctor doing magic tricks for the Gods of Ragnarok. It’s a good climax, although I wish the allusions to Norse mythology had been done either meaningfully or not at all.

All the pieces come together and the Doctor, in a surprising return to traditional values in what I believe we’re supposed to call an “oddball” story, blows up the bad guys. The scene of his calmly walking way as the big top explodes is, of course, legendary. And the extreme coolness of Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor is underlined once again. “It was your show all along, wasn’t it?” asks Ace. You know, I wasn’t expecting to end up saying this, but this Marathon has really made me rethink Sylvester McCoy. As things stand, he might well end up as my favourite Doctor.

Well, the hippies vs. commercialism stuff was a bit more blatantly in-your-face than I remembered, but this is still great. Stylish, full of wonderful visuals, and playing with ideas in an agreeably fun way. 5/5.

As for the season as a whole- well, after a long time of seasons mostly ranking near the bottom, it’s with some relief, and no little surprise, that this gets a very creditable 4.25/5, placing it fourth overall.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Doctor Who: Silver Nemesis

Part One

“…And I have found his secret out.”

Ooh, captions! Stock footage of the Amazon rainforest! A parrot! Nazis! Ride of the Valkyries! A lot of things are being thrown at us thick and fast. And then we switch to 1638 and Lady Peinforte. Both groups of people in both time zones include someone carrying a bow and arrow.

Eventually things slow down a bit and we’re allowed a bit of exposition. Apparently Nemesis is a comet which, in spite of the fact that its orbit is decreasing, continues to orbit the Earth every 25 years exactly. Er, what?

Meanwhile, the Doctor and Ace are outside watching Courtney Pine. The Doctor’s alarm goes off, but he’s forgotten what it means. Er, what? They return to the TARDIS to find out, and are shot at by some half-Cybernised blokes, to the accompaniment of incidental music which is quite the worst to have been heard on the show so far.

So, the Doctor has made Ace a new tape deck using fantastically advanced technology, which seems an absurd thing to do twenty years later. What next? A digital abacus?

We flit quickly from scene to scene, making the narrative very disjointed. It’s not that this makes the story hard to follow (it’s not really that complicated) or that the plot as a whole doesn’t really make sense (it does, more or less, although lots of little things don’t). It’s the characters’ motivations that don’t make any sense- Lady Peinforte and the Nazis are just behaving as the plot requires them to because that’s their role, with no thought given to motivation or characterisation beyond that. And it’s noticeable that the writer can’t seem to manage much beyond plot mechanics; there’s no successful humour in this story, or development of themes, or meaningful character moments.

Peinforte knows the Doctor, and his “secret”, because the statue told her in 1638, and she also knows how to use a “potion” to travel forwards in time. Both Peinforte and the Nazis are converging on the statue, which has now fallen to Earth just outside Windsor.

The Doctor and Ace are caught trespassing in Windsor Castle- and I can clearly recall that when originally broadcast there was absolutely no explanation of how they escaped before next being seen by the statue. For the video release which I watched these “deleted scenes” have been slipped back in. But the fact that this story was originally edited so as to make the basic plot impossible to follow is simply appalling, and arguably render the episode as originally broadcast unsuitable for transmission.

And then the Cybermen arrive…

Part Two

“The bear will not pursue us. Such things happen only in the theatre.”

Peinforte kills a Cybermen with a gold-tipped arrow. We’ll be seeing a lot more of this sort of thing. Meanwhile people shoot at each other for what seems like an awfully long time. It’s also suddenly noticeable that De Flores seems to be driving a Ford Granada just like the one in Ashes to Ashes. If only it were brown…

The Doctor and Ace pop back to 1638 for no particular reason, something they’ll keep on doing throughout the story. The Doctor plays a bit of chess. You know, I reckon there might be some kind of very, very subtle metaphor going on here.

The scenes with the skinheads are appalling, and are the prime example of the awkwardness of the dialogue in this story. But I like the scene where Richard sees his own grave, although it would have been nice to have dwelt on the timey-wimey paradox-y side of this a bit more.

Although this story often seems to get criticised for its treatment of the Cybermen, it actually gets a lot of things right, with its stress on Cybernisation and cold logic. Unfortunately, though, their vulnerability to gold simply becomes absurd here, utterly diluting any sense of threat.

Unfortunately the Doctor’s silly speech about historical events which happen as the comet passes by every 25 years is impossible to take seriously. And De Flores constant banging on about Wagner is starting to get on my wick too.

I like that shot of the lizard in the tree just before the cliffhanger. It would be nice to think it was filmed on the day rather than being a bit of boring old stock footage.

Part Three

All things will soon be mine.”

Ace refuses to go back to the TARDIS, in spite of the fact she’s “really, really scared”, basically out of bravado. This could have been a good character moment but somehow fails to quite get there in spite of some superlative acting from both regulars. That sums up this script in a nutshell.

Sylvester and Sophie are also fantastic in the scene where they dodge several Cybermen to manoeuvre the bow into the statue’s hands, although the whole thing doesn’t quite come off as plausible.

Unfortunately we get a couple of arse-clenchingly awful things in this episode; the stereotypical American tourist character seems to be written without any hint of self-awareness. And while there’s a certain coolness to the Dirty Harry moment, Ace’s firing gold at Cybermen with her catapults pretty much causes them to leap headlong over a certain predatory fish of the genus Carcharhinus. No wonder we’ll never see the Cybermen of “our” universe ever again.

It’s a shame that the generally laudable attempt to reintroduce mystery to the Doctor should focus so heavily on this story rather than on one where it would have been better handled. As far as the general direction of the show is concerned, though, it’s an exciting move, although of course a lot depends on where this is going. But it’s exciting to hear of the “Old Time” and the “Time of Chaos”.

It’s an odd one, this. The plot actually works well enough, and the similarities to Remembrance of the Daleks are general enough to not be a problem. But plot’s all there is- there’s no real sense of characterisation, humour or mood. 2/5.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Doctor Who: The Happiness Patrol

Part One

“Can’t you afford a real gun?”

Everything in this story is very obviously studio-based, with the studio floor prominent even in the early scenes set in a “street”. But this is only a problem if you’re expecting things to be “realistic”, and this story isn’t supposed to be. This is abstract theatre with a camera pointed at it, with sets and costumes to match. And it’s great.

The style of the streets, with a very “Big Brother” visible face on the wall, seems very reminiscent of Kneale and Cartier’s 1954 TV version of 1984. The planet of Terra Alpha is exactly this kind of totalitarian state, and the state persecution of those who refuse to conform by being “happy” works well as a metaphor for all sorts of things. I remember a lot of talk in mid-‘90s fanzines of this story being about Section 28; I don’t think there’s anything to indicate that was particularly intended, but it’s one of many valid interpretations.

As soon as the Doctor and Ace arrive they immediately start plotting regime change, and this story charts how the Doctor acts as a catalyst for the overthrow of Helen A’s regime over the course of a single evening. Helen A herself, played superbly by Sheila Hancock, is of course in no way based on Thatcher.

Visually and stylistically, this feels very similar to Vengeance on Varos, not only with the corridors and the go-karts but in the general aesthetic. What’s different is that instead of violence and sadism we see a less graphic but more insidious type of tyranny, much more psychological in how its people are mistreated. Activities such as walking alone in the rain, wearing dark clothing and reading poetry (except poetry) are banned as unconducive to happiness, the result of which is that Terra Alpha is an utterly joyless place. In fact, it resembles 1984 in more ways than one, with the general drabness of this society echoing the late ‘40s Britain of rationing and gloom which partly inspired Orwell’s novel in the first place.

The sight of the Kandyman is a shock, though- how on Earth did the BBC avoid getting sued?

Part Two

“He makes sweets that kill people.”

The “drones” who work in the factories are demonstrating against the regime, while the indigenous people of the planet have been driven underground. The conditions for revolution are in place. But first the Doctor and Earl Sigma (whose white t-shirt and suit looks so 1988) must escape the Kandyman, who seems to have a lot of personality for an artificial being. It’s a great scene, with the Doctor using his wits and some lemonade to affect their escape.

As Susan Q is taken away to be executed, Priscilla P delivers the most horrifying line of the story to Ace, showing just what a conformist nightmare being in the Happiness Patrol must be: “She was never any good. She never had the right attitude. She never joined in. She wasn’t part of the team.” Stifling conformity and forced jollity; is there anything in the world as terrifying as that?

The Doctor gets another great moment, turning the tables on Trevor Sigma by sheer force of personality in a scene that manages to get away with being completely implausible by means of its extreme coolness. And mere minutes later he gets an even better one as he confronts the two snipers on the roof. This is a great story for the Doctor, and Sylvester McCoy plays these scenes brilliantly. I really like this new Doctor, with the contrasts between the cleverness and manipulative side on the one hand and the spoon playing and physical comedy on the other.

I love the bloke at the box office at the cliffhanger- such a typical example of British customer service.

Part Three

“I can hear the sound of empires toppling.”

“Everything’s beginning to fall into place,” says the Doctor. Revolution is imminent. Fifi is lured to her death, the factories are in open revolt, and Helen A is soon attempting to flee the planet. But there’s still time for a bit of comic relief as the Kandyman answers a retro looking telephone.

Helen A is unable to escape, as her shuttlecraft has been commandeered By Gilbert M and her partner Joseph P, who seem to be eloping together! Her final speech to the Doctor before she collapses into tears upon hearing about Fifi’s death is very strongly reminiscent of Thatcher.

This is a brilliant and very clever script superbly realised by a production style that quite correctly avoided realism in favour of the abstract. It would be easy to criticise this for this lack of realism, and especially for the use of a small cast in a story concerning the fate of an entire world, but that would be to miss the point. There are a couple of worries, however. The direction is a bit flat, but then again the fact that this is deliberately presented as televised theatre that would seem to be required. And I’m not sure taking such a boldly avant garde direction was an altogether wise move for a show which desperately needed to appeal more to a mainstream audience. In spite of its superficially childlike trappings, this is a very adult focused story, too; I’m not sure the story would appeal much to kids, many of whom would have probably seen it, ironically, as childish. I certainly did in 1988. But, all this aside, it still kicks arse. 5/5.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Doctor Who: Remembrance of the Daleks

Part One

“Ace, give me some of that Nitro Nine you’re not carrying.”

As if the pre-titles sequence isn’t great enough, we begin just outside Coal Hill School. Wicked! Except that the kids seem to be wearing uniforms, an apparent continuity error.

The Doctor and Ace are walking by, Ace very much acting the teenager and hinting at a hinterland never possessed by Mel, while the Doctor ‘s new persona is now firmly and fully formed, as shown quite superbly as he just leaps straight into the van with Rachel and Allison and casually takes charge.

Then we’re off to Totters’ Lane. Which looks a lot more plausible than “it” did in Attack of the Cybermen. There’s a building which could be the one where it all started- except that right now there’s a Dalek in it!

I can’t remember any previous story as fast-paced as this. We’re introduced to the clipped but impotent Gilmore, the apparently friendly Mike and the frustrated Professor Rachel Jensen very very quickly, but they all have clear personality traits to remind us who they are. That’s good writing from newcomer Ben Aaronovitch.

I love the Doctor’s muttered “Humans!” as Gilmore insists on sending his men into the meat grinder. For different reasons, I also love the brick Mike uses as a phone! The story’s full of those nice touches to remind us that we’re in 1963- the Doctor having to remind Ace to use the choke in the van, for example.

The scene in the van is extremely nice for a number of reasons- the immense coolness of the Doctor and Ace switching places in the tunnel, the nice character stuff between them, the establishment of the Doctor’s grumpier, more manipulative yet still fluffy personality (or, in other words, a bit like early Troughton, which is definitely a good thing) and of course the exposition. We get an admirably concise potted history of the Daleks and a mention of the mysterious Hand of Omega. Naturally, much is left dangling.

We’re briefly introduced to Mike’s dodgy friend Ratcliffe, only for Mike to let him have the dead Dalek a couple of scenes later. Mr Bronson from Grange Hill turns up- not only Michael Sheard, but as a proper teacher with the glasses and everything! We discover that Rachel is Gilmore’s “Chief Scientific Adviser”- nice title!- and we see the inside of the school chemistry lab, which seems to have a book on the French Revolution left lying about. Hmm.

We finish with the revelation of a Dalek-like thing in Ratcliffe’s office- Davros?- and the doctor and Ace in a spot of trouble in the cellar. The cliffhanger is one of the all time greats as the Doctor is pursued up some stairs by a Dalek…

Part Two

“Frightening, isn’t it? To find others better versed in death than human beings.”

This episode is pretty much the reason I’m doing this Marathon, because one day in October 1988, at eleven years old and having just started secondary school, I happened to come across it. I’d watched Doctor Who before when I was younger, but drifted away from it after Colin Baker took over. This time, though, I was hooked. Looking it up, it seems that 12th October 1988 was the day I became a Doctor Who fan.

And I can see why- it’s bloody exciting. We start with a bit of action, and then we get the fabulous café scene which, bizarrely, seems to feature the butler from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. There’s some philosophical musings about choices and consequences, and also the unspoken implication that while everyone else sleeps through the night the Doctor remains awake drinking coffee and ruminating.

Early in the morning he retrieves a levitating coffin from an undertaker, having been “an old geezer with white hair” when he first dropped it off. Well, well, well. With the assistance of a blind vicar he buries the Hand of Omega- best not to think of how he actually handled all the organisational necessities- and we hear the grave has been ready for “a month”. So presumably the school has been without a history teacher and a science teacher for about that time.

More exposition, during which the Doctor is seen reading a copy of Richard Gordon’s Doctor in the House in what seems to be a recurring gag after The Doctor’s Dilemma showed up in Dragonfire. Will we see any more of this? Anyway, there are two Dalek factions, the Imperial and Renegade Daleks.

Ace is left behind at Mike’s mother’s guesthouse, where among other things she encounters the phenomenon of television sets needing to warm up and almost catching the start of a new Saturday teatime sci-fi show scheduled for 5.15, called “Doc-“ something. I wonder what it was? But most impressive is Ace’s reaction to discovering the “No Coloureds” sign. It’s a nice moment.

Ace goes to the school to find her tape deck, as she misses her uber-modern technology, and discovers that loads of white and gold, Revelation-style Imperial Daleks have transmatted in. She proceeds to kick no small quantity of arseage, attacking Daleks with her baseball bat and leaping through a window. And this leads to another brilliant cliffhanger.

Part Three

“Weapons- always useless in the end.”

This is the first episode I ever recorded on its original transmission- and I’ve done the same for every episode ever since. So for me there will be no more stories in this Marathon that are particularly unfamiliar- although of course there are loads I haven’t seen for years. This one, for example.

The Doctor gets strangled by a strange looking claw from inside an Imperial Dalek; apparently the blobs inside have mutated functional appendages and are cyborgs. Lovely. And then we get more great moments- Rachel and Allison’s faces after the Doctor smashes the Dalek transmat with the baseball bat; the Doctor’s discussion with Ace about how such unimaginably advanced tech as a tape deck is a glaring anachronism in the year when sexual intercourse began; and a casual mention of “Bernard” and “British Rocket Group”. I’m sure Nigel Kneale would have loved that…

We establish that Ratcliffe has possession of the Hand, and then, in a key scene, the Doctor finally explains to Ace what’s going on. And it’s important stuff. Simply by writing the line “[Omega] left behind him the basis upon which Rassilon founded Time Lord society,” Aaronovitch resolves an apparent continuity clash between The Three Doctors and all Time Lord stories from The Deadly Assassin onwards. It’s fanwank, yes, but dammit, it’s the acceptable face of fanwank. Another interesting line is “Didn’t we have trouble with the prototype?” Gosh, I wonder where this could be going? Could script editor Andrew Cartmel have some sort of, I dunno, master plan up his sleeve?

The Doctor certainly has a plan, and apparently it’s to ensure that one particular faction gets its, er, hands on the Hand while ensuring there’s as little human collateral damage as possible. But others have plans too; the Black Dalek turns up, and the Renegade Daleks finally turn the tables on their human pawn, Ratcliffe. We discover that the mysterious Dalek thing is in fact that sinister little girl, and also that these Daleks have a “Time Controller” which is so very late ‘80s.

The Doctor and Ace dodge some tatty Daleks to discover the room where all this has just taken place, and the Doctor explains how the Dalek battle computer works- by taking a child’s natural imagination and enslaving it to the Daleks’ will, thus relieving them of their dependence on logic. How they must wish they’d thought of that during their war with the Movellans.

Mike reveals he’s been betraying secrets to his dodgy fascist mates, leading to some slightly embarrassing ersatz swearing from Ace. But never mind that- an Imperial Dalek shuttlecraft is landing…

Part Four

“Daleks are such boring conversationalists.”

It’s good to hear that old familiar throb inside the Dalek shuttlecraft. It’s also nice to see a bit of innovation and coolness with the Special Weapons Dalek, although admittedly it impresses me rather less now than it did when I was eleven.

I’m increasingly noticing how many excellent little bits of physical acting McCoy is always integrating into his performance, such as his umbrella getting stuck in the shuttlecraft door and using his umbrella handle to close a gate. I’m particularly impressed by the way these little comic moments are used to counterpoint the Doctor’s more brooding side. Suddenly this new Doctor seems to have an awful lot of depth. Davison may have been a better actor, but this is arguably the best Doctor since Tom Baker.

The Doctor communicates with the Imperial Dalek mother ship, claiming to be “President Elect” of the High Council. Er, not when we last checked he wasn’t. Just how many untelevised stories did we miss out on between Trial of a Time Lord and Time and the Rani? But then, if he’s 953 that would imply a gap of fifty years. A lot can happen in that time. For example, the Doctor seems to be carrying out some kind of long term plan against the Dalek, and reels off a long list of fancy Time Lord titles. Davros (for it is he), on the other hand, seems hell-bent against the Time Lords. It’s almost as if there’s some kind of, I dunno, “Time War” of some kind under way.

Anyway, the Doctor essentially destroys Skaro, just like that. It’s a very new departure for the Doctor, which could end up either very good or very bad; it all depends on where all this is going in the long term. For now, though, this story is fab.

Brilliant, a strong 5/5. Fast paced, exciting, and just as good twenty-one years later.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Doctor Who: Dragonfire

Part One

“Nonsense, Glitz! A quick adventure and then back for tea!”

It’s an interesting setting for a story- Svartos, a planet with one pole, apparently the only habitable part, which is permanently cold, and another which is permanently cold. And on this world lurks the sinister Kane, who kills with the cold of his touch, and is named after a famous movie. We’ll be seeing a lot of this sort of thing.

On the cold part, Iceworld, is a shopping mall, where the Doctor and Mel sit down in a café. Amusingly, the Doctor starts to read a crumpled classic Penguin paperback of Shaw’s The Doctor’s Dilemma. I think I’m going to enjoy this story.

Up pops our old mate Sabalom Glitz, and it appears he’s in a spot of bother. The authorities on this planet are going to seize his ship, the Nosferatu (oh look, another movie reference…) unless he coughs up a bit of cash. Fortunately there are rumours of a dragon, and treasure. This provides a chance of finding the money he needs for Glitz, and a bit of adventure for the Doctor and Mel. We also meet Ace for the first time, as the soon-to-be-sacked waitress, for the moment providing little but the exposition.

Incidentally, one refreshing thing about Glitz’s reappearance is that the Doctor’s regeneration is quickly glossed over. Unlike his predecessor, this Doctor isn’t going to be undermined by constant references to earlier incarnations while he’s trying to establish himself in the role.

Ace gets sacked, goes back to her room with Mel, and generally seems to be a fairly realistic and well-written teenager. Sophie Aldred is good too, although she sounds perhaps a bit too RP for dialogue like “I ain’t got no mum and dad” to come across right. I like the surreal simplicity of how she got here- a timestorm in her room in Perivale! It gradually becomes apparent that she kicks arse somewhat, what with her Nitro Nine and blowing up the art room at school. I like her. We even get our first “Gordon Bennett” very early on. Ace!

I was amazed to see the scene where Kane offers Ace the chance to become a mercenary- shades of the New Adventures there! Fortunately, though, she not only turns him down but kicks rather large expanses of arse while she’s doing it.

We get to glimpse the dragon. Now, I know I keep going on about influences from said film every so often in this Marathon, but do you reckon there might, conceivably, be perhaps the very tiniest amount of influence from Alien in the creature’s design? Never mind- I love the way Mel screams at this point and Ace pointedly doesn’t!

And then we get the literal cliffhanger. I tend to agree with a comment I remember from Gareth Roberts on one of the DVD extras on cliffhangers (I forget the story). Ian Briggs is clearly trying to make an oh-so-clever postmodern comment here on how inconvenient is to him as a writer to have to fit his script to a format which demands cliffhangers. How very self-indulgent. Still, other than this it’s been a good first episode.

Part Two

“Tell me, what do you think of the assertion that the semiotic thickness of a performed text varies according to the redundancy of auxiliary performance codes?”

The cliffhanger resolution is a total cheat, but I suppose that’s the point. And I’m not sure that assisting Glitz with the hijacking of his ship is quite the sort of thing the character should be doing. Still, good news elsewhere; we seem to be getting decent incidental music for the first time this season.

The Doctor’s distraction of the guard with intellectual conversation on such matters as theology and Doctor Who: The Unfolding Text is utter genius, and easily the best thing in this whole season. Also good, though, is Kane’s killing of the sculptor as soon as he’s finished his statue. And come to think of it, Kane sleeps in a coffin- er, refrigeration unit- to recuperate, he bites people in the neck- er, gets them to take his shilling- so that he can own them, and as for how he’s going to die next episode… he’s a vampire, isn’t he?

The dragon turns out to be friendly, and reveals that this was originally a prison planet where Kane, a notorious criminal, was banished 3,000 years earlier. Oh, and the treasure is in the dragon’s head. Crikey.

Elsewhere, Ace makes the makes the similarly Earth-shattering revelation that her name is actually Dorothy…

Part Three

“This is naff. This is mega-naff.”

That quote isn’t actually what I think of the story, by the way. I just picked it because it’s the most ‘80s sentence ever uttered by anyone ever.

Kane’s minions are on an “ANT hunt” in scenes which most definitely are influenced by Alien, while the poor lost little girl gets looked after by that nice dragon. Aaaah! It’s all good stuff, but the one moment where the tone jars a bit is where the Nosferatu blows up with loads of people on it, an echo of the bus from Delta and the Bannermen.

Ace gets to see the TARDIS, and then the story ends in true The Hand of Fear style, with Kane’s gruesome demise being most fitting, seeing as he’s a vampire and all.

As Iceworld is a spacecraft, Glitz has appointed himself captain, and for some reason Mel’s going with him. In the end she never really worked as a companion, really, being fairly one-dimensional. She was always likeable, and a breath of fresh air after Peri and the darkness of the Dark Ages of Saward. But she never acquired a personality or a hinterland- the lack of an origin story didn’t help- and her bubbly, kid-friendly personality has seemed out of step with the show since Paradise Towers. All the same, she deserved a better leaving scene than this; it’s not really about her at all, just a pointless re-use of McCoy’s original audition speech.

Ace, her replacement, on the other hand, feels a lot more in tune with the way the show’s going at the moment, and has loads of hinterland.

Good, enjoyable stuff. Not quite up there with the best, perhaps, but an impressive debut tale from Ian Briggs. 4/5.

As for Season Twenty-Four- well, it’s fifth from bottom at 3.25/5, but still ranks a lot better than I was expecting it too. And if you take Time and the Rani out of the equation it’s a fairly solid season with lots of promise for the future. At long last we’re out of the Saward doldrums of violence and cynicism, and the show has seemingly found a new style.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Doctor Who: Delta and the Bannermen

Part One

“For a primitive piece of technology, it certainly delivers the decibels.”

We begin on an alien world realised, as so often really, by an impressive looking celestial body in the sky, and we establish that Delta, last of her species, is fleeing from the Bannermen, who have gone all genocidal for some reason. Meanwhile, the TARDIS has landed in a tollbooth manned by Ken Dodd, and the Doctor and Mel have won a place in a package tour to Earth in 1959.

What a very odd beginning, and what a very odd story. I suppose there’s something of the lighter end of 2000AD to it to link it stylistically to Paradise Towers, just, but fundamentally this feels like children’s television as opposed to a family show, something which would feel right on Children’s BBC at 4.30pm. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though. If this is kids’ TV, it’s kids’ TV with a lot more charm and appeal than the kids’ TV Time and the Rani had to offer.

The two comedy Americans (I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many stereotypes in one place) are straight out of kids’ TV, as is the sight of the Navarinos changing from purple things to garishly dressed ‘50s holidaymakers. But there are some other interesting things going on, too. For a start, there’s the novelty of Doctor Who being filmed in South Wales for the first time since The Green Death. No doubt future visits to the area will be similarly few and far between.

So, a Butlins style holiday camp in South Wales- Hi de Hi, anyone? This is not quite the same, though; while the Croft / Perry sitcom looked at its subject matter with nostalgia, Malcolm Kohll and Andrew Cartmel clearly find the thought of holidaying in such places as horrifying as I would. The regimented hours, complete with everyone being woken up at the same time; the set mealtimes; the rules and regulations; and worst of all the forced jollity… even The Macra Terror didn’t present this baffling phenomenon in such a terrifying way.

We also meet Billy, a nice bloke with little discernible personality, and the exceedingly likeable Ray. The characterisation of the guest characters may not reach two dimensions at any point, but at least the fact this is Kids’ TV means we’re spared any awkward scenes of characters being suspicious of the Doctor or the supernatural elements, and such scenes as do exist are played for laughs.

Oh my God! They shot Ken Dodd!

It’s interesting following the Doctor’s characterisation here. The malapropisms are back “A stitch in time fills up space”) having taken Paradise Towers off, but they’re clearly about to go the way of “I would like a hat like that,” and disappear. It’s also fascinating seeing how Ray instinctively feels she can confide in the Doctor about her feelings for Billy, but the Doctor is at a loss to comfort her, being out of his depth in the world of relationships and feelings. It’s still early, but we’re starting to get the general shape of this new Doctor.

Part Two

“I’ve seen many things fall from the sky, but nothing that can be described as weird.”

It seems very sudden, but Delta and Billy are very much a couple already. But they’re in imminent danger as the Bannermen are alerted. But first, an even worse horror rears its head; the holidaymakers are woken up by a gong at some ungodly hour (I mean, they’re on holiday. Who in their right minds would get up before midday when on holiday?) and then subjected to an awful burst of singing. Surely this sort of thing was forbidden by the Geneva Convention?

It’s a nice touch, Murray reading The Eagle. And even the Doctor showing Burton around the TARDIS, Davison style, is not without a certain charm. But suddenly the mood changes as Gavrok turns up and kills all the Navarinos, complete with their rather stylish looking bus-cum-spaceship. At least they seem to have somehow contrived to have fun in their last night, awful though it looked to this viewer.

Burton reacts very bravely- good for him- but the Doctor finishes up with another good confrontation scene, even if it’s lacking something in comparison with those scenes with the Chief Caretaker in Paradise Towers.

Part Three

“All haste and no speed makes Jill a dull girl.”

It becomes increasingly clear with the increasing role of beekeeper Goronwy, an individual with an amazing amount of tolerance for the destruction of his property, that Delta is a queen in the sense of a queen bee, presumably implying that the Chimerons are a hive society in which most are drones. I hope Billy realises what he’s letting himself in for.

The story ends with a fun collection of scenes, although we have to accept a lot of kids’ TV logic. It’s very notable how Gavrok just walks into the Doctor’s rather obvious trap while he spots the booby-trapped TARDIS immediately and for no apparent reason. The incidental music is conspicuously more awful even than usual in these final scenes, too.

Still, the story still has its charm, and Ray continues to be great, especially when she rescues the two comedy Americans. It’s so frustrating to see the Doctor miss a perfect opportunity to invite her to come along in the TARDIS at the end.

So, a bit too lacking in substance to rank particularly highly, but a pleasant bit of undemanding viewing nonetheless. A solid 3/5.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Doctor Who: Paradise Towers

Part One

“Are these old ladies annoying you?”


“Are you annoying these old ladies?”

The very first scene makes it clear that the incidental music’s going to be awful, but very quickly it’s also clear that this is going to be far better than Time and the Rani. Instantly the dialogue is much better, and Sylvester McCoy is now playing a different and more Doctorish figure. Gone are the malapropisms and gullibility, in are some intriguingly Troughtonesque qualities- this Doctor is an unprepossessing figure but we’re left in no doubt as to the sharpness of his mind.

I’m amused by the caretakers- yes, they’re an obvious dig at the kind of bureaucracy you find when complaining about parking tickets (yes, I have bitter experience of said purgatorial incidents), what with the “little Hitler” moustaches and hilarious salutes. But I’m seeing another cultural reference here. Apologies to those in other lands who will be mystified by the reference, especially as it’s the second time I’ve mentioned it in the Marathon, but the magazine programme That’s Life, with its odd mix of brilliantly puerile humour and consumer affairs, was pretty much at the height of its popularity when this was broadcast. And it popularised the idea of the “jobsworth”- the stubborn official, usually in a peaked cap, who hides behind rules and regulations. I suspect it’s a rather heavy influence here.

There are also the Kangs, who may be played a bit to stage school-ish to really convince, but are great in that they seem to have come straight from the pages of Halo Jones or the like- in fact, the influence of 2000 AD feels very strong. We have different groups- Kangs, red and blue; caretakers; and the old ones or “rezzies”. It’s all very urban and studio-bound, and it’s the kind of allegorical sci-fi that shouldn’t really be judged as realism. This is such a refreshing change. It seems like ages since I started wishing for something new to replace the Saward nihilist agenda, and at last it seems to be here. It feels as though a new generation has taken over, one which takes its cultural cues as much from comics as cinema.

Part Two

“Scaredy cat! Scaredy cat! Scaredy cat!”

I’ll admit the sets look very cheap and aren’t always realising the script very well, and the costumes don’t feel quite in tune either, but the script is carrying the story well enough for this not to be as big a problem as it could have been. This may feel very fresh and new, but in contrast to the more “traditional” Time and the Rani, which nevertheless utterly failed to characterise the new Doctor successfully at all, here we have the magnificent scene with the Doctor deceiving the caretakers to let him go by quoting the rulebook. Not only is this brilliantly and fundamentally Doctorish, it also manages to define this Doctor as very different from his predecessor. Suddenly, Sylvester McCoy is the Doctor.

The incidental music still isn’t very good, but it now occurs to me what it reminds me of; the music to late ‘80s console games, especially Revenge of Shinobi on the Sega. That’s just me, right?

I’m not sure what to say about the performances- the Kangs, and especially Pex, while not badly acted, don’t seem to match the type of story, and sadly Bonnie Langford feels out of place in this environment, fond as I am of her and the character she plays. But I think Clive Merrison is spot on and, for all the criticisms of his “over-acting”, Richard Briers is fantastic, giving a broad performance entirely appropriate for the character. The Caretaker is a character I can easily imagine turning up in Judge Dredd or Tharg’s Future Shocks, which is a good sign.

Part Three

“But… blue Kangs have won!”

There’s another great moment for the new Doctor is his confrontation with the Chief Caretaker early in the episode; from a position of being interrogated in a chair with a light being shone into his eyes he manages to gradually reverse the roles, ending the scene by shining the lamp at the Chief Caretaker, a very Troughtonesque thing to do.

Oh, and it’s a bit shocking to see a DVD being played in an episode of Doctor Who broadcast in 1987! This is the part where it’s most clear that this is supposed to be at least partly a comment on the phenomenon of tower blocks (via J.G. Ballard, of course), something not really borne out in the rather unimaginative corridor sets.

Part Four

“We’re very sorry for what we did and we won’t do it again.”

For the first time in a while we get a well-structured and satisfying final episode which wraps everything up nicely. And I’m beginning to notice that each episode starts with a quick outside shot, a nice touch. On the other hand, I could have done without Mel screaming in the swimming pool. And where did her swimming costume come from, anyway?

Mainly, though, we finish up with good stuff. Richard Briers plays the possessed Chief Caretaker very well indeed, and Pex’s sacrifice is pleasingly redemptive. Best of all, we finish up with a feat notably not achieved by the previous story; a new Doctor we can be enthusiastic about.

I should emphasise the bad things a bit more than I have been; the general poorness of the costumes, sets, and the general studio-bound claustrophobia. But the script makes up for it all, really- fresh, new, creative, and giving the impression that a new generation has taken over. I was going to only give it a 4, but what the hell… 5/5.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Doctor Who: Time and the Rani

Part One

“Leave the girl. It’s the man I want.”

I think I recall being impressed with the opening scene of last season, with its proto-CGI opening. Well, this season starts with some proto-bad CGI. It’s all very confusing and poorly animated. And the regeneration, inevitably as Colin isn’t there, is embarrassingly awful. But it’s not just the unfortunate necessities forced upon the production team that lead to this story’s jaw-dropping awfulness- Pip n’ Jane’s dialogue is awful from the very first scene, and the whole thing’s obviously pitched at very young kids.

Admittedly the title sequence is great, but as soon as it’s over the nightmare continues. Sylvester McCoy was my Doctor, and it was when I started watching the show again with Remembrance of the Daleks back in 1988 that I stopped being an occasional viewer and started being a fan. So it’s a huge shock to see just how horrifyingly bad McCoy is in his first scene. This is extremely bad television, and I’m extremely glad I wasn’t watching the show at the time, as this episode could have put me off for ever.

The effects are great, though- the pink sky of Lakertya, and especially the bubbles- but when the Rani starts impersonating Mel things take a turn for the even worse.

Part Two

“Memory like a kangaroo…”

I’ll admit that was a great cliffhanger. This is still somewhat despair-inducing, though. Even the characterisation of the new Doctor seems to consist of little more than spoon playing, absent-mindedness and malapropisms. And he’s too easily fooled by the Rani. Still, McCoy’s performance has settled down.

We get our first proper look at the Tetrap costume, and it’s impressive. Mel, of course, proceeds to scream a lot. I still like her, mind. Sadly, though, these scenes feature particularly awful incidental music- Keff McCulloch has arrived.

Interestingly, the Doctor is 953 years old (as is the Rani, apparently) so the Sixth Doctor’s tenure seems to have lasted for a good fifty years or so in spite of how little of it we saw on screen. Not bad, considering both the Second and Fifth Doctors couldn’t possibly have lasted more than a few years. And there’s massive scope for untelevised adventures between this season and the last.

Another thing; we suddenly seem unmistakeably to be in the late ‘80s, what with the theme tune, title sequence, horribly dated incidental music and words like “biodegradable” appearing in the dialogue.

Part Three

“Haven’t I seen you hanging around somewhere?”

Mostly this episode is just captures, escapes, and other such padded dullness with no entertainment value whatsoever. Although it’s cool to see the Tetraps hanging upside down, like bats. But it’s striking how little substance there is to this; I’m finding very little to comment on.

Unfortunately the sight of the big brain is the most groan-inducing moment in the marathon so far…

Part Four

“I have the Loyhargil. Nothing can stop me now!”

More awfulness, with the Doctor’s arsing about in the brain being probably the worst moment, but by now I’m just waiting for the story to finish. This is worse even than Underworld, and that’s the ultimate put down.
And after a break from this sort of thing under Colin Baker, we again finish with a crowded TARDIS…

Well, I hated that. 1/5, rock bottom. With hindsight I know the era’s going to recover, but viewers at the time weren’t to know that. This is the least promising introduction to a season, an era ands a Doctor that we could possibly have imagined. Pip and Jane are the main problem; I’m sure the science is sound, but the whole thing is just pitched wrong. It’s not the fact it’s being pitched at children I object to- it is a children’s programme, after all. But this is a very lazy example of writing for children, with no depth to either the characters or the themes. There’s nothing here but the bare plot and some patronisingly “educational” science stuff, with even the new Doctor having barely any personality at this stage. Fortunately, from the next story onwards we’ll get an actual script editor, and some direction to the stories.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Doctor Who: Trial of a Time Lord Parts Thirteen and Fourteen: The Ultimate Foe

Part Thirteen

“I’m as truthful, honest, and about as boring as they come.”

The court is back from recess, and who should turn up but James Bree! There’s little time to wallow in nostalgia, though; the main trial plot has stopped treading water and started swimming again, and the Doctor’s in trouble. He’s run out of tricks for his defence, he’s accused of genocide and he’s a hair’s breadth away from being convicted and condemned. So now, of course, is the dramatically appropriate moment for Mel and Glitz to mysteriously turn up to testify in his favour. Glitz, necessarily, has softened from the thug of earlier.

It’s also the dramatically appropriate moment to reveal they’ve been sent by the Master, who is a most suitable means of extracting maximum dramatic potential out of the revelations that follow. Particularly as he turns up from inside the Matrix. Glitz was working for the Master back in parts one to four, and that mysterious box was full of “stuff the secrets had been nicking from the Matrix for years”. And, of course, this being a script by Robert Holmes, a dirty Time Lord cover-up then ensued, involving Earth being naughtily moved across the galaxy to become Ravolox, with enormous collateral damage caused by solar flares. The Doctor gets a great speech after this revelation, describing his own people as “decadent, degenerate and rotten to the core,” although unfortunately this is one of those moments where Colin’s performance suffers a bit of a wobble.

And then the Master casually refers to the Valeyard as “the Doctor” while explaining that he’s been adjusting evidence on behalf of the High Council to ensure the Doctor’s conviction. The Doctor is told that he’s “an amalgamation of the darker sides of your nature, somewhere between your twelfth and final regeneration.” Interesting- this wording, together with the fact he seems to be working for the High Council as some sort of expendable stooge, seems to indicate he’s not so much a future incarnation of the Doctor as a distillation of certain of the Doctor’s qualities, and to some extent an artificial creation of these shadowy Time Lord politicians. This is the Robert Holmes script about corrupt Time Lords to end all Robert Holmes scripts about corrupt Time Lords. Literally.

Oh, and it all seems to make sense, incidentally. The only bits so far that haven’t made sense at all have been in the Pip and Jane Baker episodes, where the workings of the trial seemed to be all over the place and the consequences of the evidence being from the future hadn’t been though through. But the whole business with the sleepers, Ravolox, and the Doctor’s apparent actions on Thoros Beta seem to have been resolved pretty much satisfactorily to me. I don’t think we need to have it spelled out exactly which scenes happened as shown and which didn’t.

Oh, and I haven’t any complaints about Peri’s fate, either. It makes sense, more or less, given her earlier relationship with Yrcanos.

Anyway, Holmes recalls his own script for The Deadly Assassin as the Doctor and Glitz spend the rest of the episode inside the Matrix. Among other things they encounter a number of Mr Popplewicks, all played by Onslow from Keeping Up Appearances, a wonderfully Holmesian satirical dig at bureaucracy.

Part Fourteen

“You are elevating futility to a high art. There’s nothing you can do to prevent the catharsis of spurious morality.”

…So, after a sublime swansong from Holmes, we move to the ridiculous in the shape of this script by Pip and Jane Baker. Sadly, the comparison with their lamented predecessor hardly shows them in a good light.

We get to see the familiar sight of the inside of the Master’s TARDIS. It’s only by doing this marathon that I’ve come to realise just how consistent was its appearance during the ‘80s. We also get an exploding quill pen, by far the coolest thing in this episode. Unfortunately, there’s an awful lot of utter poo here. The Doctor states that “I would trust Mel with my life,” but he’s not even met her yet! I know he’s only pretending to go along with the fake trial, but still. At least I got a cheap laugh out of “Never mind the Sydney Carton heroics,” mind.

This is so poor compared to the previous episode, though. There’s not actually much wrong with the plot, but the dialogue is awful and the characters keep explaining the plot to us in a condescending manner which rubs me up the wrong way. Plus, we get loads of no doubt accurate scientific gobbledygook which reminds me of all the things I didn’t like about the Bidmead scripts. And then the Master, hearing that the High Council has been deposed and insurrection has ensued, actually makes a speech to the Time Lords in the courtroom offering to take control which bears uncanny similarities to a certain speech in Logopolis. Unbelievable.
As a final indignity, the Doctor actually suggests the Inquisitor as a candidate for the presidency. Why? She’s spent the whole season being nothing but an incompetent buffoon.

So, it’s a tale of two episodes. The first part, a worthy swansong from Robert Holmes which fortunately doesn’t leave the plot for Pip n’ Jane to explain, gets 5/5, while the Pip n’ Jane monstrosity gets 2/5. I’m not too bothered about what Eric Saward’s version would have been like, but I’d have loved to have seen Robert Holmes’. I was going to give it a 1/5 but I suppose giving one episode 5/5 and the other 1/5 would have been a bit much.

The last episode aside, though, it’s actually been a damn fine season. I wasn’t actually expecting that I’d be rating this particularly highly until I got to it, but it’s a relief to give a season a good score for once- at 4/5 it’s a creditable joint sixth, which comes as a genuine surprise to me. Who’d have thunk it? Not only is this much-maligned season a triumphant return to form after a poor few years, but it’s the best season of the ‘80s so far by a long way. I suspect the famously diminished presence of Saward may have something to do with it…

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Doctor Who: Trial of a Time Lord Parts Nine to Twelve: Terror of the Vervoids

Part Nine

“Let’s exercise the grey cells for once, shall we?”

The Doctor, still very upset at Peri’s death, is nevertheless forced to continue with the trial, and to show some evidence of his own. And this evidence is… from the future. His mind really must be addled by grief. And how does this work anyway? Can’t the Doctor think of anything that’s already happened to him throughout his entire life that will help his case? Why is evidence from the future even admissible? After all, by definition it can only be from a possible future, particularly as it seems at the moment that the Doctor is to be executed long before he ever gets to meet Mel or visit the Hyperion III.

So, it’s 2986, and said ship is travelling between what appear to be the colonial possession of Mogar and Earth- interestingly, given the fact that we appear to be in the same time period as The Mutants. We’re not in the same genre, though; there’s a murderer on board, and the spirit of Agatha Christie hangs in the air. No doubt this’ll be just as good as The Robots of Death, then.

Honor Blackman’s in it. The Doctor’s wearing a yellow cravat. Oh, and there’s a new companion, Mel, or rather there will be once the Doctor actually meets her. I’m enjoying this sort of timey-wimey stuff, much as the trial framing sequence is no longer making any sense. And I like Mel. And I like Bonnie Langford. There, I’ve said it.

Our scheduled broadcast of carrot juice and exercise bikes is interrupted by a mayday call, and our two TARDISeers are, er, embroiled in a web of intrigue. The Doctor and Mel have a great relationship, very tactile, with no serious bickering and a great chemistry. And Mel’s a likeable character who actually seems to enjoy travelling in the TARDIS, which comes as a huge relief. Because arguably no one else really has ever since Romana.

There’s an awful lot of aerobics in this story; it may be the 2980s, but it’s still the ‘80s. It’s all such fun though. I love the novel Professor Lasky’s reading…

We finish with some more apparent evidence that the Matrix has been tempted with. But on the plus side, Mel is definitely great- she can scream in the exact same key as the closing theme…

Part Ten

“The fellow may be a fool but he’s not a criminal.”

We get our first intimations here that there’s a dangerous alien plant species on the loose. And some more stuff happens with the murder mystery plot. But the main distinguishing feature of this episode is that rather cool-looking three dimensional Space Invaders clone the Mogarians are playing. Aside from its obvious coolness, it’s another example of how impressive the effects have been this season. Seldom before have we seen such casual brilliance.

We get a mention of the Black Hole of Tartarus, but we’re assured it’s perfectly safe. It’s definitely not going to be a threat at any point, then. The Mogarians discuss Earth’s plundering of their planet- bit of politics there- and there’s another murder. There’s some rather too heavily telegraphed Poirot stuff from the Doctor in the courtroom as he shows off about the Mogarian translator, but by now the murder mystery plot is bubbling nicely.

Mel screams in exactly the right key again.

Part Eleven

“Never mind the Just So Stories! That guard looks trigger happy to me!”

In a departure from the norm, Mel screams quite early in the episode this time. And narrowly escapes being murdered in true Perils of Pauline fashion. Meanwhile, the Vervoids appear properly and turn out to look fab- once again on the production side things are superb. And they get such naturalistic dialogue, too, with lines such as “We are doing splendidly!” which sound in no way bizarre coming from a talking plant.
Meanwhile the viewer gets confirmation that the Matrix’s pants are well and truly on fire as the Doctor is shown smashing the communications equipment. Much as this may not be anywhere near as well-written as Mindwarp, and the trial sequences make a lot less sense, I must admit that this time at least we know when the Matrix is lying and when it isn’t.

But the trial sequences make no sense at all here. The Investigator implies that the Doctor is guilty until proven innocent, the Valeyard is now trying to condemn the Doctor for things which haven’t actually happened yet and possibly never will, and the Investigator describes the Doctor’s “fair trial” as “an indulgence”. Everything tells us that this is just a show trial, with barely a pretence of justice, yet the Doctor seems to have no objection whatsoever to the Inquisitor’s conduct, and the script seems to assume that the audience are supposed to accept her as a legitimate authority figure, which is absurd.

Part Twelve

“The charge must now be genocide!”

Well, there’s a surprise- the ship’s headed straight for the Black Hole of Tarsarus. Who’d have thunk it? Technically, of course, there’s no danger at all as the Doctor and Mel could simply bundle everyone else in the TARDIS. In fact, that’s definitely what he would have done back when he was Peter Davison, although come to think of it that sort of thing more or less stopped with Planet of Fire.

Anyway, Rudge and the Mogarians slightly irritate our heroes with a fairly crappy hijack attempt. This is soon dealt with, but at least it manages to highlight the rather fantastic looking graphic effect on the screen on the bridge. The Doctor rather cleverly fingers Doland as the killer and turns the tables on him, and Lasky rather suddenly sees the error of her ways. Although she gets killed by the Vervoids anyway in the obligatory “But you can’t kill me! I’m your creator!” scene.

As a final nice touch, the Vervoids’ leaves turn autumnal before they crumble and die. Unfortunately things then start going all arbitrary in the courtroom…

The actual Vervoid story was rather good, I thought- nothing particularly clever, unlike last story, but it was a straightforward adventure done well and there’s nothing wrong with that. And like everything else in this season so far it looks great. It’s just a shame that the trial sequences, rather well-integrated until now, have started to unravel. Still, 4/5.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Doctor Who: The Trial of a Time Lord Parts Five to Eight: Mindwarp

Part Five

“Then where will you be? Dead! No, worse than that. Poor!”

It’s all presented as the next episode, not a new story, but there’s no reprise, and Robert Holmes gives way to Philip Martin. It’s the planet Thoros Beta, the year 2379 and we’re about to see what was happening before the Doctor was taken out of time, or so we’re told. Certainly we see some highly impressive special effects and the most brilliantly realised alien planet yet seen. The pink sea and the ringed planet in the sky are completely unlike anything we’ve ever seen before and somehow manage to give this story a very different feel to usual from the beginning.

Of course, this being Philip Martin, we get a bit of metatextual stuff- the early trial scenes are essentially about directors’ choices of shots and decisions made in the editing! Still, seeing as I got a lot of enjoyment from this sort of thing in Vengeance on Varos I'm a bit disappointed by the relative lack of it in this story.

The Doctor and Peri are here to investigate a bit of naughty arms dealing, while Brian Blessed- in what is surprisingly his first appearance on Doctor Who- lies elsewhere on a table. This planet is ruled by the Mentors, led by a barely recognisable Christopher Ryan as Kiv, and the story is essentially based around mad scientist Crozier as he does loads of unethical experiments in a quest to cure Kiv’s headaches. Frankly, I’m not sure the people who design the headache pills I use are showing quite the same level of commitment.
Oh, and Sil’s back. Yay! I preferred the original costume, mind.

Part Six

“I have a special death reserved for him. He is a traitor known as the Doctor.”

The Doctor can’t seem to remember anything after Sil uses the machine on his brain, which makes the trial somewhat unfair from this point on. And it’s quite surprising that we only get one episode of the Doctor being unambiguously himself- I didn’t recall the stuff about unreliable narration starting so soon.

Brian Blessed, in a surprising departure from his usual type of part, plays Yrcanos as a shouty barbarian king. It’s good to see that his previous work in The Black Adder, Flash Gordon and Blake’s Seven hasn’t typecast him as quiet, nervous types. The character’s just a bit of comic relief, really, but in spite of being a bit of a prat he’s a nice chap really.

The Doctor’s initial betrayal of everyone, and his later betrayal of Peri, comes as a bit of a shock. In the wider context of the show, with the axe hanging over it and the earlier examples of The Twin Dilemma and Attack of the Cybermen, this probably isn’t a great idea. But in the context of this particular story it actually works quite well; with the framing device of the trial it’s allowed to be portrayed in a metatextual way with the reliability of the footage from the Matrix being open to question in spite of the Valeyard’s protestations that the Matrix cannot lie. And it could of course be, partially or wholly, just a clever plan by the Doctor, or a result of what Sil did to his brain earlier.

Be that as it may, the scenes with the Doctor interrogating Peri arguably cross a line. I hope this is the Matrix lying.

Towards the cliffhanger the Inquisitor appears to voice Philip Martin’s own frustrations with the trial scenes as she states that “I do grow tired of these continual interruptions…”

Part Seven

“Today, prudence shall be our watchword. Tomorrow, I shall soak the land in blood.”

Oddly, the Doctor is given a chance to pause the trial but insists on its continuing in spite of the blatant unfairness of the circumstances. By now there is a definite sense of doom surrounding the fate of Peri.

Kiv orders the death of all those who fail to save his life, causing Sil to become quite splendidly panicked. He calms down after the operation’s success, though, claiming that “I endeavour to maintain a certain continuity”, something with which the story is about to start having problems very soon. Still, there’s some good stuff. The scene in which the Doctor uses his knowledge of the future to help Sil make money is a nice touch, but it’s odd this is not immediately seized upon by the Valeyard.

Part Eight

“I thought it was somewhat gratuitous.”

There’s a great scene in which Peri explains love to Yrcanos while he explains his conception of the afterlife, where his destiny is “Why, to fight! What else!” Yrcanos is bonkers, of course, but he’s basically a decent and even innocent fellow underneath all the shouting, and Peri clearly likes him.

Things get even more confused as the Doctor seems to become one of the goodies again, rescuing Yrcanos and endeavouring to save Peri. Yrcanos soon stirs up some real trouble for the Mentors, and Kiv is eventually forced to abandon his business meeting with a pink Terileptil so that he can have his brain transferred into Peri’s body. The operation begins, while elsewhere Yrcanos’ rebellion gets under way- and it’s at this point that the Doctor is taken out of time and we rejoin the first episode of the season.

As a coda we get to see the horrifyingly effective sight of Kiv occupying the body of a bald Peri. Crozier has discovered a way to transplant any mind into any body; practically a form of immortality. To this the Time Lords have to intervene. Presumably if the Doctor hadn’t intervened, Crozier would have failed to save Kiv and been executed by the bodyguards. As it is, the Time Lords now use Yrcanos as an assassin to kill everyone.

So, Peri’s dead. And it’s the most shocking and affecting companion death yet. I certainly hope they don’t retcon it. That would be bad.

So, surprisingly given its reputation, I liked this one. There wasn’t quite as much humour in the metatextual stuff as there was in Martin’s previous effort, but he still managed to use the format of the trial to play some rather enjoyable games with the different layers of narrative, once again giving us a piece of television drama which is fundamentally about the fact that it’s television. I think the broad sweep of what was happening is more or less implied (the Matrix showed the Doctor being a little nastier during his time as a “turncoat” than he was in reality, but broadly speaking it was all his plan) and anyway, I’m sure it’ll all be explained away perfectly satisfactorily at the end of the season. 4/5.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Doctor Who: The Trial of a Time Lord Parts One to Four: The Mysterious Planet

Part One

“I intend to adumbrate two typical instances from separate epistopic interfaces of the spectrum.”

It gives me a warm fuzzy glow, all the ambiguity about the story title. Reminds me of the early Hartnells. (Although, as we’ll see, this reminds me mainly of The Krotons.) And I for one will be taking neither side in the debate as I’m rather fond of shades of grey.

Anyway, the story starts with the most fantastic special effects sequence we have yet seen- something which looks like, yet cannot be, CGI. And while we’ll see nothing as mind-blowing as this for the rest of the four episodes, the production values seem pretty impressive to me, whatever may have been going on behind the scenes. 

The Doctor (now with a red cravat) is put on trial by a bunch of Time Lords in a fairly obvious metaphor for off-screen events- actually a brilliant idea in principle, and something which mostly works very well, at least for these four episodes. This trial is also the last time we’ll ever see many of what have become the essential trappings of Time Lord society- robes, Chancellery Guards and the like.

Lynda Bellingham and Michael Jayston are great as the Inquisitor and Valeyard respectively, which is quite a relief as the story absolutely needs them to be. The Doctor has, of course, been deposed as president, and in the interests of providing a more dramatic narrative he insists on defending himself in spite of having had no chance to do any preparation whatsoever, which is hardly fair. He has no real idea what he’s supposed to be defending himself against either but as the charges against him seem to constantly change arbitrarily throughout the story this hardly seems to matter.

That’s the framing sequence dealt with; the four-parter proper is another good ‘un from Robert Holmes, crammed with great ideas and great dialogue. We have the planet Ravolox in the far future, a planet suspiciously similar to Earth. We have a relationship between the Doctor and Peri where they’re back to being friends, a relief after certain recent stories where their relationship has been decidedly awkward to watch. And we have the fantastic Glitz and Dibber, the, ahem, Holmesian double act at its finest. Their dialogue is fab; the whole riff on the prison psychiatrist is a joy.

The whole script sparkles, with Holmes seemingly in a much lighter mood than he has seemed to be in of late. The postmodern wit is back (“Ancient life on Ravolox by Doctor-“), and so are the great ideas. The Doctor and Peri discover what seem to be the ruins of Marble Arch, and it seems that this could almost be Earth except it’s two million miles out of place, instantly a great concept. And it’s a nice touch that the whole thing is laid out like something that was once a tube station, and its inhabitants call it “Marb Station”. I’m enjoying this hugely, which is more than can be said for the Doctor: “Can’t we just have the edited highlights?”

On top of this we have the village, with Joan Sims as Katryca doing an impressive female version of Brian Blessed. I love her reaction to Glitz’s story- she’s clearly no fool. We also get Balazar and his books, another top comedy moment. And just when you think it’s peaked already, here’s Tom Chadbon…

Part Two

“These bars remind me of home.”

The early courtroom scenes in this episode suddenly make it very clear; Holmes is writing for the Tom Baker Doctor, isn’t he? In fact, it’s mere minutes after this thought occurs to me that the jelly babies come out. And I can’t think of any better way of writing for Colin Baker’ Doctor. Certainly the early wobbles over the character’s instability seem to be long gone by this point, although Colin’s performance seems to wobble a bit at the “I always like to do the unexpected” line.

The Immortal has two human underlings who, much as they remind me of David and Tony from The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, I shall henceforth refer to as Gonds for obvious reasons.

It’s another damn fine episode, with a bit more plot fed out to us amongst all the fun; Drathro and his “secrets” are to do with some “Sleepers” from Andromeda. Drathro’s power comes from a Black Light converter which relies on an aerial in Katryca’s village. An aerial which Dibber blows up, meaning that Marb station is soon going to blow up. Oops.

We also get another mention of Saward’s Speelsnapes, and some great character stuff. Drathro knows perfectly well that there’s rain falling outside and that the solar flares’ effects have been much exaggerated, but continues to ration water because that’s what the plan says, inflexible as any machine. A more sinister example of the same mindset, and the most disturbing aspect of the story, is the “culling” of “work units" above the set quota in spite of the fact this is completely unnecessary.

Part Three

“They are out of control, outside the plan.”

Holmes puts into the Inquisitor’s mouth some ironic commentary on recent off-screen-developments: “Valeyard, I would appreciate it if these brutal and repetitious scenes were kept to a minimum.” I’m tempted to see in this not only the obvious reference to criticism of the previous season but also a nod to the truncated length of this season, although sadly I think that may be a temptation too far. Still, more great dialogue.

It’s confirmed; Ravolox is Earth. And there’s now a race against time to avert a big bang. We get some postmodernism and political commentary too, though; the Matrix scenes are censored, something that can hardly fail to conjure up either recent criticism of the programme’s violence or government cover-ups. Mind you, Glitz and Dibber are blatantly talking about the Matrix.

Part Four

“Oh, the Black Light, yeah. We’ve got so much of that, sometimes we can hardly see.”

The Doctor is frustrated by his failure to persuade the solipsistic Drathro that, as he’s going to die anyway, he might as well allow everyone else to survive. But Drathro insists that “The work units exist only to serve me. Without me they would have no function.” This is a disturbingly accurate prediction of modern management practices…

Fortunately, Glitz’s “low cunning” proves to be more persuasive than the Doctor’s moral arguments and so catastrophe is averted. But still unsolved are three questions; why has Earth been moved two million years through space, and by whom? What are the “secrets” of the Sleepers? And what exactly was the point of the Valeyard showing us all that?

Well, that was great, Holmes at his best. And at this stage at least the trial scenes are fine. 5/5.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Doctor Who: Revelation of the Daleks

Part One

“You forgot I’m a doctor. When they slice me open I’ll know the name and function of each organ that plops out.”

It’s quite alarming to see Eric Saward’s name in block capitals at the start. Is this the first time the writer’s name has been displayed like this or have I not been paying attention?

Aside from this piece of apparent self-aggrandisement on the part of our glorious script editor, it’s a promising start. The snowy landscape looks great and, uniquely for this season, the TARDIS lands immediately with no faffing about.

This is Necros, and for some reason the Doctor has decided that he and Peri are to attend the funeral of some bloke called Arthur Stengos, which is an odd thing for a time traveller to do; what particular connection does he have to the particular time period where Stengos has just died? Anyway, he and Peri are still keeping up their veggie lifestyle with the Doctor rustling up some nut roll, and Saward mentions his Speelsnapes for the first time.

We meet the embalmers- chiefly Jobel, a git with a toupee, and poor Tasambeker, who bewilderingly has unrequited feelings for this total arse, brilliantly portrayed by Clive Swift. There’s an agreeably realistic undercurrent of gallows humour which helps to carry along the exposition- Glen McCoy could learn a thing or two from this sort of thing.

More groups of characters appear: a couple of infiltrators skulking about; Alexei Sayle being quite brilliant as a DJ and almost making you forget the utter pointlessness of the character, who doesn’t really cut it as Greek chorus material; and Davros (well, above the net) with some white Daleks. Pleasingly we get the traditional Dalek hum which as Deadly Lampshade pointed out (and I unaccountably failed to notice having obsessed about it for every Dalek story thus far) was absent from Resurrection of the Daleks.

The whole thing looks great, and is as brilliantly shot as one would expect from Graeme Harper- the shot where the camera pans down through several floors is magnificent. Admittedly the Dalek voices are a bit crap but I’m sure this is counterbalanced on the sound front by a top drawer rock n’ roll sound track which we’re unable to hear on DVD for sodding copyright reasons.

Eleanor Bron is a delight as Kara, with the mutually insincere conversation between her and Davros being great fun. Thing is, though, with all these different groups of characters it’s noticeable that the Doctor and Peri are being sidelined somewhat, not actually having entered the building where all the stuff is happening by the end of the episode. Still, we learn that the Doctor is now 900 years old. He’s aged a bit since he last mentioned how old he was then- he was 760 when he was Tom Baker, I recall. It seems we can only fit in those extra 140 years by assuming it happened while he was travelling with Romana.

I don’t like the Doctor / Peri relationship here- not only is there too much bickering and, yet again, no indication that they’re friends, but Peri actually seems afraid of his disapproval in a way which makes this feel far too much like an abusive relationship for comfort. For all that this story is very well made and cleverly scripted, it’s entirely lacking in charm or a sense of fun.

The glass Dalek scene is a case in point. Conceptually, yes, it’s great. But Stengos begging his daughter to kill him is not the sort of thing we should be seeing in a teatime adventure serial. Oh, and it’s odd to hear the Stengos Dalek speak of “racial purity” where that’s precisely what isn’t involved in the whole idea of turning humans into Daleks.

I like William Gaunt’s Orcini, a blackly humorous character with a dodgy artificial leg whose prattling on about “honour” does nothing to dissipate the obvious fact he’s going to turn out to be an utter buffoon. The fact that he almost leaves before Kara gives him the sequence for the bomb is highly revealing and a nice touch. Still, this is rather a lot of characters for a story this length, and it’s clear Saward is not going to involve the Doctor any more than he has to.

Isn’t it nice of Davros to cheaply sell his source of protein throughout the galaxy, thereby eliminating famine? I’m sure there’ll be no downside to this at all…

We end with the Doctor and Peri still outside the bloody building, with the Doctor disturbed to discover his own tombstone “as I am now”, meaning he will “never again regenerate”. I’m getting a bit tired with all these frequent and unnecessary references to regeneration we’ve been getting ever since Colin Baker took over- they do real harm in that by reminding us of other Doctors all the bleeding time they give his Doctor a real sense of impermanency which threatens to undermine the character.

Part Two

“But did you ever tell anyone that they might be eating their own relatives?”

“Certainly not! That would have created what I believe is termed ‘consumer resistance’”.

Again we start with some nice touches; Clive Swift quite brilliantly portrays the creepiness of Jobel’s attentions towards Peri, while the computer’s sexy female voice as it speaks to Takis is a nice little detail, and the Doctor’s reaction to the DJ reminds us that this story was made back in the midst of the Dark Ages of Radio One.

But mainly this episode consists of characters double crossing each other and the complex of betrayals untangling itself. It’s all very clever and well plotted, but we get moments of character along the way, such as Eleanor Bron’s brilliant reaction to the extermination of Kara’s secretary, telling us everything we need to know about their relationship. And the conclusion of Davros’s manipulation of Tasambeker and Jobel is horrifyingly predictable, but that doesn’t make it any less gripping as we watch it happen. The way Jobel’s toupee falls off as he dies is an inspired directorial touch.

Orcini and Bostock seem to kill Davros, but it seems that what they killed was only a fake, put there to divert the bullets of potential assassins from their real target- did he and the Borad go to baddie school together? He seems to have survived more or less intact since we last saw him, and is now able to hover in the air and shoot blue lightning from his fingertips like Emperor Palpatine did at the end of Return of the Jedi. It seems he survived by means of an escape pod; the small matter of the Movellan virus is, naturally, glossed over.
It seems that Davros takes the “best” bodies from the Tranquil Repose to become Daleks and uses the rest to feed the galaxy, to let them know it’s Christmas time. Must be an awful lot of bodies then.

It’s a great twist that Takis has invited Daleks from Skaro to arrest Davros, and for the first time since Evil of the Daleks we see a sort of mini-Dalek civil war. Delightfully, this bit gives us some Dalek poetry as the lines “My vision is impaired / I cannot see / My vision is impaired / Emergency” are delivered in perfect iambic pentameter by one of the Daleks.

Echoing the ending of Genesis of the Daleks, the Dalek incubators are finally destroyed by a great big bomb, and the Doctor makes it out by the skin of his teeth. Peri then demands to be taken somewhere fun, and the Doctor resolves to take her to somewhere which may or may not be Blackpool.

This is very well made- Graeme Harper has done an excellent job. The performances are universally great, too, and the script is very cleverly constructed. But the tone is getting quite seriously worrying by this point- this is one story about cannibalism too many; the Doctor is sidelined, appearing far too infrequently and affecting the plot hardly at all; and the Doctor / Peri relationship is by now looking very, very wrong. I can’t give this any more than a 3/5.

As for Season 22- well, with a relatively poor score of 2.571/5 it’s my least favourite so far, and I seem to be making a habit of saying that!

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Doctor Who: Timelash

Part One

“Avaunt thee, foul fanged fiend!”

I’ve been particularly looking forward to this one!

The initial faffing about in the TARDIS (a perennial problem with this season) is hardly promising; bickering, pointless mentioning of the Eye of Orion, the Doctor being a git, the fact that the Doctor’s relationship with Peri seems to have regressed to the level of The Mark of the Rani, as they hardly seem to be friends here- but as soon as the focus moves to Karfel the story is a delight from start to finish. I don’t mean to suggest it’s actually good, of course. That would be silly. But few stories are more entertaining, if not necessarily for the right reasons. And yet it wouldn’t be entirely fair to dismiss this story as “so bad it’s good” either.

The sets and costumes on Karfel look good, and although the script and performances are quite wonderfully camp we still get a very effective presentation of a totalitarian society through the depictions of the pressures on the individual to either conform and suppress one’s principles or rebel and suffer the consequences; by ensuring there are close personal links between the rebels and characters close to power we get a real sense of the dilemmas faced by such people in such a society. This is actually good writing from Glen McCoy, using the personal stresses of tyranny on Vena, Myklos and Renis to quickly illustrate the nature of this society. Particularly chilling is the line “It’s a strange feeling, not being monitored.” This is a society so tyrannical that there are CCTV cameras anywhere. Of course, such a terrible thing could never happen in real life.

Unfortunately, although McCoy’s script tends to be unfairly maligned, not only can he not do dialogue, he can’t do dialogue with hilarious consequences. Pieces of exposition are blatantly crowbarred in, a particularly amusing example being the line “Not only is our planet divided, we are under imminent threat of invasion from our former allies, the Bandrils.”

Otherwise, though, the story is solid enough. And there are some effective pieces of dialogue too; when the Borad declares it’s time for an election to be held he then immediately follows this with “Tell Tekker that I have elected him,” evoking the “elections” held in real life dictatorships.

Paul Darrow is quite superb as Tekker. He’s been criticised for hamming up his performance, but there’s simply no other way he could have delivered the dialogue he was given- that’s how the character was written so that’s how he played it. It’s a magnificent performance, quite on a par with Graham Crowden in The Horns of Nimon.

The Borad throws a right mardy as Vena disappears into the Timelash with his precious amulet, but fortunately the Doctor turns up at that precise moment, and Tekker resolves for him to be persuaded to retrieve it. The Doctor’s known on Karfel, which is fortunate as it allows us to skip a whole load of potentially tiresome questions about who he is and where he came from. The Doctor was last here “a regeneration or three back” and Tekker asks whether it’s just the two of them this time.

The Bandril ambassador not only looks wonderfully silly but gets hilariously unnaturalistic dialogue such as “Then it seems we are at war.” And shortly after this we get another “All these corridors look the same to me,” from Peri. This story’s dialogue is just as entertaining as the dialogue from City of Death, if not necessarily for the right reasons.

Just when you think things can’t get any more entertaining, Herbert appears, thinking he’s just summoned Vena with a Ouija board; there’s more puppet fun as Peri is attacked with a Morlox; and more hilariously creaky dialogue ensues as rebels appear and force Peri to identify Jo Grant. Incidentally, I wonder who the other passenger was when the Doctor travelled here before? Benton? Yates? Liz? The Brig?!
The episode ends on a high, as the Doctor angrily calls Tekker a “microcephalic apostate”.

Part Two

“I didn’t realise dying heroically would be such a strain on the nerves.”

The Doctor ventures into the Timelash, which is a great thing to happen as it gives us the line “He’s dangling on the edge of oblivion.” Still, with the help of Herbert, catastrophe is averted and the Doctor is able to start making his cool timey-wimey machine.

This is another episode of top entertainment, with something great happening every couple of minutes, from the nice little temporal paradox of the burning android to Tekker’s delightful betrayal of Tendron. The only niggle I have is the sidelining of Peri for much of this episode.

We finally get to see the Borad’s face, and it’s a triumph. In fact, there’s not a lot wrong with the production of this story at all. Tekker, unexpectedly, dies almost heroically as the Borad’s hilarious plan is revealed; he intends to wipe out all Karfelons by provoking the Bandrils into nuking the planet. This will leave the only survivors, for some reason, as himself, the Morlox, and Peri, who is to be mutated like himself and will no doubt agree to be his consort. A flawless and rational plan, I’m sure you’ll agree. Oh, and of course his dialogue is hilarious; “Another expedition to the realms of duplicity?”

Having apparently killed the Borad, the Doctor, ably assisted by Herbert, must prevent Armageddon by plonking the TARDIS into the path of the approaching nuke. As he tries to impress upon Herbert, this may not be entirely safe. Interestingly, the Doctor seems to imply that the “Laws of Time” are legal, er, laws, rather than physical ones.

The Doctor somehow dodges certain death (“I’ll explain one day.”) and discovers the Borad to still be alive, conveniently having cloned himself. You’ve just got to love this story. Predictably, the Borad ends up in Loch Ness, 1179, and Herbert is revealed to be a personage famed for his Morlocks and time machines.

Oh Timelash, you are awful, but I like you. This is rubbish, of course, but it’s wonderful rubbish, and manages to be an ingenious spoof of the genre without meaning to. Still, although the plot, the concepts, and the treatment of the totalitarian theme are actually pretty good, I can’t in good conscience give this more than a 3/5, cos that would be silly.