Saturday, November 26, 2016

The War Games

So, that is the end of the Patrick Troughton era of Doctor Who and it's a magnificent way to end it. The War Games is ten episodes long but hardly drags for a moment. Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke, who shared the writing on this, find a way to inject a new boost just when you think things might be slacking.

The Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe arrive in what seems to be World War One but as things begin to roll along it becomes clear that something is not quite right. It turns out that they've landed on an alien world where an alien race - that never gets named - has swept up soldiers from various Earth conflicts and is having them fight on so that they can produce a galaxy-conquering army from the survivors. The whole thing is headed up by the nattily bearded War Chief (Edward Brayshaw) who has built a series almost TARDISes to help out. It turns out that the War Chief is another Time Lord (It is in this story that the Doctor's people get their name.) and that he knows the Doctor.

This is revealed in the lovely end to Part Four when the Doctor and the War Chief recognize each other. It's played superbly by both Troughton and Brayshaw. As are their later conversations. You can see why people think The War Chief is The Master before he gets better branding as their chats aren't dissimilar in tone. You can almost trace a line from The Monk to the War Chief to The Master as the Doctor's fellow Time Lords get increasingly menacing and mad. You can't see The Monk becoming The Master but you can see The War Chief going down that route. Indeed, the War Chief's plan is pretty much a classic Master plan:*link up with the alien race to take over the galaxy with the long-term objective of seizing power yourself but ending up relying on the Doctor to bail you out. Although in this case, it looks like The War Chief actually dies but just because we don't see the regeneration doesn't mean it doesn't happen.

The War Chief reports to The War Lord (Philip Madoc) and is supposed to work alongside the Security Chief (James Bree) but they appear neither to like or trust each other. The War Chief is utterly contemptuous of the Security Chief's abilities. The Security Chief is, basically, a racist who doesn't trust The War Chief. James Bree's performance is...odd. He seems to be channeling a Dalek vocally but does have a level of creepy about him that suits the part. But for genuinely terrifying take a bow Philip Madoc. The War Lord is fantastic. He almost never raises his voice but has a dark presence that makes him feel like Darth Vader but without the need of all the costume to back him up. This is one of the great Doctor Who villain performances.

The aliens have 'processed' the human soldiers but that process isn't perfect and some have thrown off that conditioning and formed a resistance. The aliens tend to control their doubting troops using some glasses - or in the case of the World War One German Officer - a monocle. It's rather odd but it works. I'm a particular fan of Noel Coleman's General Smythe who is a genuinely horrid creation. He's not far off being a character from Oh! What A Lovely War in that his ruthlessness and coldness doesn't fit the cliched version of the World War One British Officer.

I should pause here and say that also worthy of applause are Jane Sherwin as Lady Jennifer Buckingham (who is a sort of Vera Brittain figure) and David Savile as Lt Carstairs. These are two characters from 1917 that the team up with the TARDIS crew from pretty much the first episode and in my headcanon post-War Games they track each other down and live happily ever after, although in reality Lt Carstairs odds of surviving through to the end of the war weren't long. 17% of British Officers died during World War One v 12% of ordinary soldiers. But I'm going to ignore the voice that reminds me that Wilfred Owen was to die on 4th November 1918 and paint a picture of Lady Buckingham and Lt. Carstairs living a long and happy life together. Carstairs perhaps going into politics in the 1920s and becoming one of those Tory MPs that did so much to fight against Chamberlain's appeasement policy like Ronald Carter**

The final two episodes are simply majestic. The Doctor realizes that he's going to have to call on his people, the Time Lords, to sort this situation out. The way he, the War Chief and the War Lord talk about the Time Lords makes them out to be genuinely terrifying. I love the little mental box that the Doctor creates to send a message to the Time Lords. I love the strange sound that heralds their arrival. I love the Doctor's futile attempt to escape. Twice. The second of which I think he only goes through to please Jamie and Zoe. He knows that he's not going to escape. He always knew.

Is there are sadder companion departure in all of Doctor Who than the farewell of the Second Doctor with Jamie and Zoe? It's not just that he's forced to say goodbye it is that the Time Lords are going to wipe their memories of all but their first adventure with him. All those stories lost. Like tears in the rain. All that love and friendship gone.

And when we see Zoe, standing back on the Wheel looking a little confused, and she says - to Tanya Lernov (Clare Jenkins re-hired for that purpose) - "Oh, yes. I thought I'd forgotten something important, but it's nothing" your heart actually breaks. Is there a sadder companion departure than Zoe's in all of Doctor Who? Jamie's is sad too. After all the Second Doctor and Jamie have been together for virtually the whole of the Second Doctor's era. But his final moment seems more positive somehow, although more dangerous.

The Doctor has been tried by the Time Lords. He defends himself by showing the kind of monsters he's been fighting - although why he thinks the Quarks will impress anyone I don't know - and the Time Lords agree. Or they do to a degree. He is to be sentenced to exile on Earth. And his appearance is to be changed.

Troughton who is magnificent to the end refuses to go quietly but go he must.

And then darkness.

[Theme Tune]

The Troughton era is over but it has been such a delight. It's not that a lot of the stories are that strong. There's a lot of repetition of the base under siege plot line but at no point is Patrick Troughton ever less than magnificent. He lifts the weakest material. He can drop his voice and hit you with something terrifying. He rarely shouts. I love Tom Baker. I think Peter Capaldi is amazing. But I think Troughton is the best actor to play the part. I'll miss the mop-haired little Hobbit.

But if you haven't watched The War Games go and watch it.

Actually, watch anything with the Second Doctor in it because you will find the world a better place for it.

*Apologies for the pun. Not really.
**I recommend Lynne Olsen's book Troublesome Young Men if you're interested in that topic.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Space Pirates

Well, that was The Space Pirates that was.

It's far too long. It might be bearable at four episodes. At six it requires repetition and padding beyond the call of duty.

Then there are some of the performances. General Hermack (Jack May) and Major Warne (Donald Gee) appear to have decided that they're in Thunderbirds. They talk to each other in strangely not very human ways. My favorite moment being Hermack's mwahaha response to Milo Clancy (Gordon Gostelow). Jack May affects what Clive James calls the 'period laugh, which actors use when they're playing in period dramas. It's weird. Also, Hermack and Warne talk to each other in huge chunks of exposition. That happens a lot. In Part 2 The Doctor and Zoe do something similar. It is rather surprising for a writer like Robert Holmes. But everyone is allowed a bad day.

O. Then we have Milo Clancy (Gordon Gostelow). Milo is played like an old-time US prospector or at least the cliched version of one. He's a little like Walter Huston's Howard in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. He's a recognizable character but his performance is so at odds with everyone else in The Space Pirates that it seems like a joke. I actually quite like it. It takes a bit of getting used to but he is at least entertaining and by the final episode he's one of the best things in it.

Let me pause here a moment and make another admission. I'm not sure I have a lot to say about this story. I can't make a proper judgment with so much of it missing. How does one really judge Gostelow's performance without SEEING it? Hermack and Warne are irritating because you can only hear them, although when you see them in Part 2 they appear to be a little wooden. But that's one episode.

Normally, you'd be rescued at this point by a brilliant performance from Troughton but for once - with a couple of exceptional moments - this story makes it hard to judge. (I'm a particular fan of his 'O Zoe, don't be such a pessimist' and 'Jamie, I don't think you appreciate all the things I do for you.' lines.) So, I'm at a bit of a loss.

The really good thing here is Cavan (Dudley Foster). He's the villain of the piece. He's mad, bad and dangerous to know. He's possibly the most ruthless villain we've seen in the series so far. His treatment of Dom Issigri (Esmond Knight) has obviously been terrible. Then there's Caven's ugly, gloating cruelty when we're watching Clancy and Dom Issigri dying on the LIZ-79 whilst Issigri's daughter, Madeline (Lisa Daniely) looks on. It's a surprisingly dark moment in the series. It's unusual for a villain to be the best thing in a Doctor Who story but such is my lack of feelings about this one that I'm finding it hard to be positive.

People often comment on the fabulous space ships and they do look good but they also seems static, with a couple of exceptions and it is hard to visualise their scale but again this is another reason why it is a hard story to judge.

There's a lot of running about in caves. There's capture and escape. I'd love to see the escape from Dom Issigri's study, which is either going to be terrible or brilliant.

Truth is, I'm done. I can't recommend it but I can't slate it too much either because I can't see it. This is the first missing story where I'm having a complete failure of imagination, which implies that I don't care too much about it.

It's not the worst Troughton story. I'm giving  that accolade to The Dominators, which I dislike quite a lot. Indeed The Dominators is vying with The Celestial Toymaker as the worst Doctor Who story of the 1960s. In comparison, The Space Pirates seems to commit one main crime: dullness.

But as I've already said this might be worth re-considering if - IF - it is ever rediscovered.

And that's all I have to say.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Seeds of Death

The Seeds of Death is the Ice Warrior's tribute to The Cybermen as they attempt to invade the Earth via a Moonbase. This time though rather than a Gravitron we have T-Mat. T-Mat is the teleportation system that the world has come to rely on for all transport of all people and goods over long distances. This is, of course, barking mad. But let's just assume humanity loses its mind, which wouldn't surprise me on recent evidence.

The Ice Warrior's have spotted the weakness and opportunity in T-Mat and thus begins their cunning plan. It does begin with murder. Murder and resistance. And then more murder, escape, and collaboration, which brings me to Fewsham (Terry Scully). Fewsham is unusual in Doctor Who - actually so is Phipps (Christopher Coll) - in that they react to the murder and horror around them in normal human ways: fear, shock, and nervous exhaustion. Fewsham doesn't want to die so he collaborates with the Ice Warriors until the point he can collaborate no more. Phipps escapes but the constant terror almost brings him to the point of a nervous breakdown, which Zoe isn't only mildly sympathetic about. Both Scully and Coll put in fine performances but whilst Fewsham's death is a kind of justification poor old Phipps dies almost unmourned. It's a classic example of what I've mentioned before the utter inability for Doctor Who to allow proper grief.

Also whilst I'm talking about dying a lot of people in this story die out of sheer stupidity. They stand still whilst an Ice Warrior lines up a shot and die. Even Zoe gets into this act when she's in the firing line of an Ice Warrior. She stands stock still whilst watching Fewsham trying to prevent the Ice Warrior killing her rather than doing a runner. If she was a minor character she'd be dead. This links - slightly - to the Ice Warrior's apparent inability to see people hiding in plain site. There's one occasion when Phipps is basically standing in front of an Ice Warrior and the Ice Warrior just looks straight through him. It's a mercy that humans often stand still right in front of the Ice Warriors so that they can make up for their bad vision by not having to try and hit a moving target.

There's also an architect out there somewhere who designed the T-Mat base on the Moon and then - I hope for sanity's sake - never worked again. The heating controller is the wheel from a small ship marked with big science-fiction television series labeling just in case you get a bit confused. The base has corridors within corridors. It has a room with mirrors. I mean who project managed this stuff? Who got bribed?

Then there's the Ice Warriors plan being dependent on a plant that is destroyed by water when invading the Earth. Now, to their credit they're aware of this and try to stop weather control from turning on the rain by knocking out weather control but if you knock out weather control by shooting its control system wouldn't it just revert to natural weather? Perhaps the fungus, which breeds like rabbits, will do its job so quickly that humanity won't be able to save itself.

The fungus is, of course, a combination of foam and balloon seed pods. And, by Jove, there's a lot of foam in this story, which leads to one of my favorite moments as The Second Doctor falls through the door into Zoe's arms at the beginning of Part Six and Wendy Padbury starts giggling at the site of the stumbling foam covered Patrick Troughton. It's still there and it is rather lovely.

The Ice Warriors are still slow, hissing stumble-bums but Brian Hayles has got around this slightly by introducing Slaar (Alan Bennion) who is an Ice Lord. He's less tortoise, more lizard. He's in charge. He gets most of the dialogue and is easier to understand. The Ice Warriors are visually impressive, which the director, Michael Ferguson, takes the most advantage of when filming one of them out on Hampstead Heath.

I have left out my normal paragraph of praise for Troughton because it really I can't think of a time when he's not superb. There's some joyful stuff in this story probably capped off by his reaction to the foam and the famous: "Your leader will be angry if you kill me. I'm a genius."*

Hines and Padbury too are up to their usual standards, although I do think on occasion Zoe acts far more stupidly than her characters intelligence and training would make you assume she'd act.

There's some fine support work from Louise Pajo as Miss Kelly**, who the key T-Mat technician without whom no one would seem to be able to put the system back together, which is surely a case of putting a basket of eggs in one basket already full of eggs;  Ronald Leigh-Hunt as Commander Radnor and Philip Ray as Professor Eldred.

I'm particularly enamored of the fact that these futuristic men turn up in the PVC onesies carrying bog standard 60s briefcases as if, instead of getting off T-Mat, they've just stepped off the Bakerloo Line.

Anyway, I've kind of picked at the flaws of this story much more than it deserves. It is too long, it is pretty much a bog standard Troughton story. You could swap in the Cybermen with a couple of tweaks and you probably wouldn't notice but it is elevated I think by Fewsham, Phipps, Miss Kelly and Professor Eldrad: the ordinary people being extraordinary.

*Actually, I think this line gets additional oomph from the brilliantly timed reaction of the actors playing the Ice Warriors.
**Who, for me, is up there with Wendy Gifford as Miss Garrett in the Ice Warriors in terms of beautiful, technocratic women. It's almost as if Brian Hayles has a type.

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Krotons

I have developed something of a soft spot for The Krotons. The first time I watched it, which was a long time ago in a home county far, far away, I found it rather poor but each time since I've found more to enjoy in it. This time around I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Yes, it does have problems.

The main one is the appearance of The Krotons. I'll applaud their spinning crystalline heads but their boxy bodies and stubby arms aren't the most impressive. Unfortunately, it is their lower half - often the curse of the Doctor Who monster, that gives away their man in a costume nature. That and the waddle. All these years of watching Doctor Who has led me to identify that waddle. It is the desperate attempt of an actor or stunt person in an unwieldy costume with minimal vision trying to walk without falling over. Alas, The Krotons are cursed with such a walk, which is a shame as it undoes their rather ingenious nature.

Then there is the 'intensity' of some of the acting, which is particularly noticeable because there are two brilliant actors doing their thing in this story so the clunkier performances stand out intensely. One of them is Troughton - of course - who is at his most mischievous and Pan-ish in this story. He's so good so often that this blog is turning into a series of reviews that might as well just say, 'fine story but made brilliant by Patrick Troughton.' The other is Philip Madoc as Eelek. Eelek is the politician among the Gonds. A man interested in power for himself and prepared for everyone else to pay a price for that power. He first overthrows Selris (James Copeland) and attempts to stir up a full-scale rebellion and then when he thinks he can get rid of the Krotons by selling out the Doctor and Zoe he does that. All with a delightful sneer. Philip Madoc's performance is good. It's mostly underplayed, which makes it so much more effective. Something Troughton himself realized. The Madoc is one of my favorite actors but he's (almost) the best thing in this, apart from Troughton himself.

Actually, I'm being a little unfair because I think this is the story where the chemistry* between Troughton, Hines and Padbury finally comes together. It's been hinted at in previous stories but this time it bursts into its full glory. The scenes with Zoe, the Doctor, and Selris in the Teaching Hall after Zoe completes the Gond/Kroton test are delightful. The balance of seriousness and comedy balanced perfectly.

This story is notable for being the debut of Robert Holmes, a Doctor Who writer who will go on to be something of a legend. And despite its somewhat lacklustre reputation parts of The Krotons sparkle. It's not all perfect. There's a lot of info dumping in the final episode as The Doctor plays for time with The Krotons. The Krotons slow speech doesn't help here. And is it me or are they speaking with a South African accent? Is this story partly a parable about apartheid? Possibly but I think the moral is more about learning for ourselves and seeking the truth through ourselves rather than relying on others to feed it to us. Whether that be our 'Masters' like The Krotons or even our friends, like the Doctor. It's Thara (Gilbert Wynne) who says after Beta has lamented the Doctor's departure, that the Gonds will have to find their own answers. It's that which is the key to this story.

And in the current post-truth who needs experts kind of a world that's a damn good moral. The truth is out there but you won't get it without looking for it and you won't get it just from your friends nor from your enemies. You need to do your own digging and ask your own awkward questions even if that means having to tear up everything you thought to be true. Education is key. And not just education in the sense of the facts you're fed in the subjects you're taught but learning to question, to build an argument based not on anecdotes or wishful thinking but on facts. That means learning to argue - politely - and learning to accept that sometimes, just sometimes you might be wrong. Even if that wrongness feels comfortable. It's easy to accept what you're told. It's easy to deny everything you're told. It's hard to actually find out the truth.**

I think that's partly why I enjoyed this story so much. It is underneath all the science-fiction shiny silver stuff trying to actually say something, to present a point of view. And for that it should be applauded.

Is it brilliant? No. Is it awful? Definitely not. It's a fair story with a good idea at its centre and a handful of fine performances. Watch it.

Decide for yourself.

Be seeing you.

*Ironic considering the story
**And there's isn't enough space here to talk about truth and subjectivity. Just let it be said that I believe that it is possible through discussion and debate to find something that can pass for an objective truth. For a fact. Or at least one that will get us through this life, in this Universe.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Invasion

The Invasion is a damn fine piece of Doctor Who. It's eight episodes long, which is the longest story we've had since The Dalek's Master Plan but it feels less padded than a lot of the six-part stories that have preceded it. It's pretty action packed too.

The Invasion though is best known as our introduction to U.N.I.T. who are here still The United Nations Intelligence Taskforce. Led by Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart who we last saw as a mere Colonel in The Web of Fear. It turns out that since the Yeti U.N.I.T has been set-up to investigate and deal with the 'odd and unexplained', which is what they are investigating here when the Doctor stumbles into things following a TARDIS malfunction, a missile attack around the dark side of the moon and an encounter with a soon to be dead lorry driver. Oh and an encounter with Isobel Watkins (Sally Faulkner) who is the daughter of Professor Watkins (Edward Burnham) who is a friend of Professor and Anne Travers, which is another little continuity throwback to The Web of Fear. It's interesting to note that there's a little Travers thread running through all three of these stories.

Phew. That was a bit of an expodump.

Here U.N.I.T. actually look like an international military organization - even when undercover. It's one of only two times they really do. The other being The Mind of Evil. They have the numbers to put up a fight with the Cybermen towards the end and throughout they look like they have the resources to do what they're being asked to do rather than being two men and a dog, which is what they sometimes look like. They're also competent, which I like.

It particularly helps that the Cybermen can be destroyed by conventional weapons even if it takes a lot of conventional weapons to bring them down so the Brigadier can do proper military things. And I like this. It makes their defeat seem less unrealistic. Yes, chances are that faced with a large army of Cybermen a conventional army would struggle but I like the idea that you could at make a good fist of it.

Having said all that U.N.I.T do carry out a raid that happens entirely off screen, which is amusing. But I suppose budgets can't stretch forever.

Nicholas Courtney does a fine job as the Brigadier. At this point, he isn't an idiot and is open-minded to The Doctor's approach and ideas. He's a military man in a difficult position doing the best he can with the resources he's got. That's how U.N.I.T. should always be in my opinion. It's not just there for cannon fodder, although U.N.I.T soldiers can be killed off with minimal emotional effect when required to make things look dangerous without risking the key cast.

There's a particularly egregious example of that in this story when Isobel and Zoe set off to London determined to get some pictures of the Cybermen after the Brigadier has been particularly patronizing towards Isobel. This trip leads to the deaths of two people: a harmless passing Policeman and a single. slightly cowardly, soldier. Initially, no one, apart from our 'Rupert'* of the week, Captain Turner (Robert Sidaway) seems bothered about these deaths. Indeed, Isobel throws a petty strop when her photographs aren't up to scratch. TWO PEOPLE DIED ISOBEL. But, to Isobel's credit shortly afterward she says sorry to Captain Turner for the soldier's death, which gets shrugged off in crisp military style. No one seems to give a toss about the Police Officer.

It's the odd thing about death in Doctor Who. It is everywhere but nowhere. Lots of people die and most of their deaths hardly impact on us at all. Grief is hard to handle in Doctor Who as is PTSD**. So, you get Rory and Amy losing their child but being unable to grieve about it properly because it's Doctor Who. No one grieves much in Doctor Who, which is understandable really because it wouldn't be on television if they did but occasionally the glibness irritates me like it did here. But not as much as it does in Tooth & Claw, which I think is the nadir of 'other people's deaths don't matter glibness' in Doctor Who.

Anyway, enough about this digression what of The Invasion, I hear you ask.

The fact it is directed by Douglas Camfield might explain it coherence and pace. Camfield is becoming my favorite Classic era Doctor Who director. He seems to know how to get the most out of the series.

Once again there's some fabulous acting. Troughton (again) is magnificent and he gets to play off against a fantastic villain in Tobias Vaughan (Kevin Stoney). Tobias Vaughan is one of the great Doctor Who villains: charming, sinister and ruthless but doomed. He thinks he has all the bases covered but then the Doctor walks in and turns all his best-laid plans to dust even as Vaughan realizes that the Doctor might be the insurance he needs against the Cybermen. The final episode features fine scenes between the Doctor and Vaughan to which both Troughton and Stoney rise majestically. If you want to know how to play a good Doctor Who villain look at Kevin Stoney.

I also want to take a moment to applaud Peter Halliday as the poor, put-upon Packer. Packer is Vaughan's Head of Security but once the Doctor appears his reputation for competence starts to take a bit of a beating. Frankly, the Doctor runs rings around the poor man but it is Packer that points out that Vaughan's screwed up. There's also, in Halliday's performance, a creepiness to Packer that implies that he enjoys his work - which includes killing and torture - a little too much. If Stoney is an object lesson in Doctor Who villainy then Halliday is the go to performance for the wannabe henchman.

So, there you have it. There's more to be said about this story but the point of these blogs is just to highlight the stuff I get hung up on. I'm just going to say that this should be on the list for anyone who is interested in New Doctor Who and wants to dip their toes into the Classic era. It's got Troughton being brilliant, it's got Stoney and Halliday demonstrating the perfect villain-henchman partnership, it's got U.N.I.T. being cool and competent, it's got Cybermen and it's got an actual iconic moment in it as the Cybermen emerge from London's sewers.

What more do you want?

*Rupert - See the 2nd definition on this Collins Dictionary definition
**Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which I'm sure you all knew anyway.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Mind Robber

After the disappointment of The Dominators comes this delightful story. I have lost track of how many times I have watched The Mind Robber and it is never less than a joy. It's such an unusual story, particularly in view of the Troughton eras reliance on monsters besieging bases of various types.

Basically, the Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe find themselves outside time and space following an emergency maneuver. The Doctor is nervous. He insists that Jamie and Zoe don't leave the TARDIS but someone - or something - manipulates Zoe into leaving, followed by Jamie and finally the Doctor. They find themselves hypnotized but the Doctor rescues them, they pile back into the TARDIS. They set off. But then the TARDIS explodes, which has to be one of the great Doctor Who cliffhangers.

The rest of the story revolves around a world of fiction into which The Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe have been dropped. There are riddles, traps, and monsters. There is Gulliver (Bernard Horsfall) and the Karkus (Christopher Robbie). There is the Princess Rapunzel (Christine Pirie) and her patience with other people's use of her hair. There are White Robots. And Toy Soldiers. And there's The Master (Emrys Jones).

Except not that Master, not THE Master. This Master is an unnamed writer of stories for a Boys Magazine. He churns out 5,000 words a week. He's been kidnapped and used to run the Land of Fiction by a Master Brain. What or who the Master Brain is we never know. We just learn that their plan is to fictionalize all of humanity and leave the Earth empty for conquest. One of the nicest parts of the story is that The Master of the Land of Fiction gets returned home. He isn't destroyed or killed, which might have been the easiest thing because he isn't really a villain. He's being used by the Master Brain. It's the Master Brain that gets fried.

I love this story because it is brimful of ideas and odd images from Zoe being trapped inside a jar, to Jamie's changing face. From Gulliver's inability to say nothing but the words Jonathan Swift supplied him with to the creepiness of Jamie and Zoe being pressed within the pages of a giant book and turned into fiction. From the TARDIS console floating in space whilst Jamie and Zoe cling onto it desperately to the Medusa's snake hair rising slowly into the air.

It rattles along at a heck of a pace too. The episodes are generally pretty darn short, which was a consequence (possibly) of Troughton complaining about the amount of work the main cast were forced to do in this story where there aren't many other actors with speaking parts. That still doesn't eliminate all the padding but it makes for a sharper tale, which director David Maloney makes the most of. I don't often talk about director's on this blog but there's a coherence to The Mind Robber that is part of its strength. The ideas in it might be weird but the story itself never gets out of control.

Troughton's excellent. Again. His confrontation with the Master at the end of the story is fine work. Helped by Emrys Jones giving an equally fine performance. Frazer Hines to is great once again, although he went down with chicken pox and looked likely to miss a couple of episodes. The production team came up with a clever idea, which the 'oddness' of this story could allow, that allowed Jamie to be played by another actor, Hamish Wilson. Wendy Padbury seems to have found her feet, although there's an almighty fluff by her at the end of her fight with the Karkus that is worthy of mention. Padbury seems to be tiny, especially when facing the might of the Karkus.

My one quibble with this story is that Zoe is very stupid a couple of times, which doesn't seem to fit her character at all. I'm hoping they aren't going to convert Zoe from astrophysicist to peril monkey just because she's the woman. And there's nothing for me to say here about the sparkly catsuit she wears that hasn't already been said elsewhere.

Bernard Horsfall does a lovely job as Gulliver and I've already said how good Emrys Jones is (and there's no harm in me saying it again.)

What more do I need to say? The Mind Robber is a fantastic story. There aren't many stories like it in Classic Doctor Who. It's definitely worth a watch if you've not seen it before.


The Dominators

The Dominators is the worst Patrick Troughton story I have watched. So far. It was written by Haisman and Lincoln but after a series of rows between the writers and the producer Derrick Sherwin led to it being credited to Norman Ashby.*

The Dominators themselves are basically angry men dressed in woodlouse carapaces and carpet samples. Rago (Ronald Allen) spends most of his time shouting at Toba, his subordinate (Kenneth Ives) whilst Toba spends most of his time shouting at Dulcians, killing them and blowing stuff up. I bet The Dominators have a fantastically ugly social networking culture as it sounds like a society of Twitter eggs.

Also, why are they called The Dominators? Was there a marketing meeting where they decided that they couldn't possibly call themselves after their home planet but needed something with a little more oomph. Unless, in Terry Nation style, they come from a planet call Dominatus.

They back up their shouting with the Quarks. The Quarks are supposed to be terrifying killing machines but are basically boxes upon boxes upon child actors with little squeaky voices. It's especially amusing when you first see one as Morris Barry, the director, has kept them hidden away until CLUNK they're there. They waddle across the island in unconvincing fashion carrying all the threat of a tissue box. The fact that the villains of the story are basically either shouty men having a work based argument or waddling boxes doesn't help.

Then -and this perhaps annoys me more- is the portrayal of the Dulcians. This story is a child of the late-60s so it's a commentary on the 'peace and love' movement and it seems to conclude that a belief in pacifism would lead to a society that does nothing but talks. The Dulcians seem incapable of action (or sensible clothing choices). So, they're the wettest society in Doctor Who so far. The Dulcians make the Thals from The Daleks look like West Ham's Inter City Firm.**

The only Dulcian with any gumption appears to be Cully (Arthur Cox) who is the son of the Director Senex (Walter Fitzgerald). Unfortunately, everyone treats Cully like a clown so when he tries to explain that they've been invaded no one believes him. Even the government.

Their government is a group of old, white men who seem to like discussion for the sake of discussion and whose top man for dealing with emergencies, Tensa (Brian Cant. BRIAN CANT!!!)*** arrives and basically, says 'We might as well wait.' They get shouted at by Rago, Tensa gets murdered and still, nothing happens.

The thing is you could have made the Dulcians damn brave. You could have had Senex respond to Rago's murder of Tensa by explaining that they don't believe in war or violence but that doesn't mean they aren't prepared to do everything short of violence to stop being made slaves. That the Dominators would have to kill them all one by one. Yes, it might have been futile but it would have made the Dulcians look less like a whinge about hippies and more a reflection of the real courage of those who believe in non-violence: people like Gandhi and Martin Luther-King. But no, they're pacifist so they must be useless.

I'm trying to write more about this story but I'm finding it almost as much of a chore as actually watching it.

It's only saving grace is that Troughton is as majestic as usual. If it wasn't for him, Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury (who I feel is still finding her feet) then this story would be my least favourite Doctor Who story of all time. In fact, it still might be that. This makes The Underwater Menace look like Macbeth.

It's awful.

And I'm done.

*A story told well on The Dominators DVD extra.
**Insert 80s Football 'firm' of your choice.
***Brian Cant is a big deal in Patient Centurion Towers. He's a key part of my childhood.