Sunday, February 27, 2011

Thoughts on Season 11

Jon Pertwee's last season is consistently good. The only story that I felt let the side down was 'Death To The Daleks'.

The arrival of Sarah Jane Smith helps. Liz Sladen gives the series a real boost of energy at a time when it needed it. She's fiesty, funny & proactive. She adds drive to virtually every story she's in, either by prodding the Doctor along or some other characters. If any character is the model for how 'New Who' companions are supposed to behave then it is Sarah Jane.

I'll say more about Jon Pertwee himself in my blog on the Pertwee era as a whole but he seems on fine form throughout the season, except 'Death to the Daleks' when he just doesn't appear to be enjoying it at all. He's in control of the part & there's no sign that he's letting his imminent departure distract him from the day job.

UNIT are not used as much this season but when they are the Brigadier is on fine fettle. He gets some of his best scenes & lines in Season 11, particularly in 'Planet of the Spiders'.

Captain Yates (Richard Franklin) gets a chance to come to the fore though, in what we'd now call a story arc. Shaken up by events in 'The Green Death' at the tail end of Season 11 he's become a traitor, for the best of intentions one feels, by 'Invasion of the Dinosaurs'. In 'Planet of the Spiders' he's trying to put himself back together again & gets to redeem himself. It's a character that is probably worth a revisit just because you get the impression that interesting things would have happened to him.

Sargeant Benton makes the occassional, solid appearance but you get the impression that the production team are thinking that with a new Doctor, a less UNIT focused approach is coming.

Overall a good season, with some interesting stories & like Season 7 some real attempts to get ideas & politics into the series, even if sometimes it is handled without much finesse.

I'd say 'Planet of the Spiders' was my favourite of the season, with 'The Time Monster' & 'Invasion of the Dinosaurs' up there. In fact I think 'Invasion of the Dinosaurs' is a story that would be held in much higher esteem - it would fit quite happily into the excellent Season 7 - if it wasn't for the perception of hackness that the dodgy dinosaurs have given it.

A fitting farewell then for Jon Pertwee.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Planet of the Spiders

"A tear Sarah Jane..."

That was Planet of the Spiders & that was the end of the Jon Pertwee era. It seems fitting, maybe 'right', that the last words of the Pertwee era were uttered by Nicholas Courtney as the Brigadier.

This story has some great moments.

The stories plot is that some giant spiders on Metebelis III want the blue crystal that the Doctor took, without realising that it had any significance at all. Partly because when he took it, it didn't. They break through to Earth courtesy of some misguided Buddhist's lead by Lupton. Actually Lupton isn't misguided, he's bitter, broken and twisted. (Although where he got the idea that learning Buddhist meditation techniques would enable him to get great power from is beyond me).

Anyway Lupton (played by the voice of BOSS John Dearth) is a slightly rumpled, sweaty sort of a villain. He has ideas above his station but finds himself the conduit for a large spider.

Mike Yates, who has gone to the same meditation centre, in an attempt to clear his mind post-Invasion of the Dinosaurs has worked out that something is up & asks Sarah Jane to come down in order to have a sniff around & then alert the Brigadier if something is afoot. Lupton tries to stop Sarah Jane by talking around Cho-Je(Kevin Lindsey) one of the two monks that run the centre, when that fails he tries to kill them via a bizarre illusion.

Lupton grabs the crystal from the UNIT HQ - ah, Brigadier your security is once more laughable bad - & finds himself on Metebelis III, followed unintentionally by Sarah Jane & intentionally by the Doctor.

My main quibble in this story is the scenes with the two legs - sorry, humans - on Metabelis III. They're just a bit two-dimensional & pretty every actor involved puts in a 'will this do' performance with the honourable exception of Geoffrey Morris as Sabor who at least tries. One of the leading humans, Arak, is played by Gareth Hunt. They're obviously there to pad out the story a little but were they necessary? Surely the threat to the Earth was enough.

There's arguments galore: between the spiders & Lupton; between Arak & his brother Tuar; between the Queen of the Spider's & the Lupton spider. But behind everything is the 'Great One'. Feared by all, including the Eight Le..sorry, the Spider's. It turns out that the spiders got control because they arrived on board the same ship as the humans, which crashed & got warped by the crystals, which help increase intelligence.

The humans launch a rebellion & the Doctor meets the Great One who sends him back to Earth to get the great crystal after demonstrating her power by taking over the Doctor's mind.

At the meditation centre meanwhile all this is coming to a head. Tommy (John Kane) who we first meet as a good intentioned chap with learning difficulties has his intelligence raised & released by the crystal. The rest of Lupton's meditation circle get spidered. So does Sarah Jane, by the Queen Spider.

The Lupton circle try to sieze the blue crystal from the office of K'anpo. The other older Buddhist Monk who it turns out is a Time Lord & the Doctor's old 'guru'. Cho-je also...well, he's not quite what he seems. The scenes between K'anpo & the Doctor in the final episode are wonderful. It's the calm before the storm. There's a bit of philosophy thrown in & when K'anpo says that there is only one thing the Doctor can do you know that the Third Doctor's time is up.

The Doctor is to return to Metebelis III & return the great crystal to the 'Great One' even though it will mean his death. The 'Great One' turns out to be a ridiculous huge spider with delusions of granduer & a inability to accept advice. The great crystal will complete a web of crystals designed to expand 'The Great One's' mind to infinity. This, the Doctor, warns will lead to a massive feedback & will kill her. She doesn't listen.

The Doctor, dying, returns to the TARDIS. The spiders die as the Great One dies. The humans of Metebelis III are released & the Great One's mountain HQ blows up quite impressively.

The next thing we see is a rather touching little scene. Sarah Jane is in the Doctor's lab. She picks up his coat off of the coat rack, hugs it & give it a little sniff. Then the Brigadier comes in. It turns out the Doctor's been gone three weeks. Sarah doesn't expect to see him again because the Doctor knew he was going to die. The Brigadier attempts reassurance but Sarah Jane's given which point the TARDIS rematerialises. The Doctor got lost in the vortex but the TARDIS got him home.

The whole regeneration scene that follows is beautifully played by everyone, from Jon Pertwee's short dialogue; Liz Sladen's sadness, confusion & end of tetherness when Cho-Je appears, to Nicholas Courtney's stiff upper lipped wit at the chaos going on around him.

Cho-Je disappears, the Brigadier gets the last line & Jon Pertwee becomes Tom Baker. It's quite emotional in a Classic Who understated way.

This is a great send off for Jon Pertwee, whose performance throughout is excellent, especially in the final couple of episodes. Yes, there's some naff bits but there's some wonderful moments to. The spider's are voiced by Ysanne Churchman, Kismet Delgado & Maureen Morris & have a real life to them, as well as differences in personality. The final total insanity of the 'Great One' & the pain at her death is quite terrifying in truth. It's no wonder the Doctor's afraid. Liz Sladen's good again. The regulars put in an excellent stint to.

John Kane's perfomance as Tommy is rather sweet to. He starts off looking like a bit of a cliche but conveys the changes in Tommy superbly. Kevin Lindsay as Cho-Je, doing Tibetan is good & the Buddhist conversations have a ring of reality about them. I also have a liking for George Cormack as K'anpo. I love the idea of a Time Lord who runs off not to seek power, or even look for knowledge & experiences like the Doctor but to become a Buddhist Monk.

So all in all a great send off for the Third Doctor. It's due for release on DVD in 2011 & I for one will be looking forward to its release & watching it again.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Monster of Peladon

There's nothing only about being a girl

The Third Doctor returns to Peladon & for pretty much the first three episodes repeats 'The Curse of Peladon': a new, uncertain monarch Queen Thalira (Nina Thomas), a suspicious old-fashioned Chancellor & High Priest Ortron (Frank Gatliff) & political troubles.

Although this time instead of being a Whoed up version of Britain's entry into the EEC (as it was) we have the Miner's strike.

Since Peladon's entry into the Federation the Miner's have been simmering. They're working harder, being asked to use alien - possibly blasphemous - technology & getting paid a pittance. (There also seems to be about eight of them, which becomes a bit obvious in the last couple of episodes where the same actor dies about three times.)

They're on the brink of revolution with their moderate leader Gebek (Rex Robinson) trying to keep a lid on the more revolutionary & hotheaded Ettis(Ralph Watson.)

A quick note on the Peladon class system: it seems to be based on hair. If you've got red hair with white streaks you seem to be a noble, if you've got badger afros - which is the only way to describe them - you're a miner. What do the guards have? Perms? It's a bit distracting really.

Ortron accuses the Doctor of being a spy, then of being in league with Gebek. The Queen doesn't know & being a woman on Peladon is not taken seriously, despite being Queen. Thankfully Sarah Jane is there to give her a lecture on Women's Liberation, summed up pithily as: "there's nothing only about being a girl". The Doctor meets up with the Aggador, again. Does something that isn't quite the Venusian lullaby and gets Aggador onside, again.

Then the Ice Warrior's turn up, having been summoned in a panic by Alpha Centuri, who seems to have spent the last fifty years on Peladon.

I have to say that although Alpha Centuri's physically appearance is a wee bit risible Ysanne Churchman's vocal performance is brilliant. Alpha Centuri has a life of his own. Fussy, frightened, political but in this story a bit braver. It's up there with John Dearth's performance as BOSS in the Green Death as one of the voice performances in Doctor Who. Bring back Alpha Centuri I say...OK, maybe not.

Anyway things liven up a great deal when the Ice Warrior's, led once more by Alan Bennion. This time as Ice Lord Azaxyr. The arrival of Azaxyr, purporting to be from the Federation but working with mining engineering Eckersley (Donald Gee) to take over Peladon for trisilicate (MacGuffin of the week). Trisilicate is this story's essential mineral. In this case because the Federation are at war with Galaxy 5 & everyone's technology is dependent on trisilicate. He who controls Peladon, controls trisilicate. He who controls trisilicate, will win the war.

Eckersley, with Azaxyr, has been using 'the spirit of Aggador' to stir up trouble with the the miners by scaring & killing them. They are working with Galaxy 5. Eckersley because, as is revealed in the final episode, he wants to rule the Earth (an unnecessarily grandiose touch really, greed would have been enough of a motive surely) and Azaxyr because he's from a breakaway warmongering Ice Warrior faction.

The next three episodes see lots of people die, often the same actors. Often Terry Walsh.

This is one of the problems with watching a whole Doctor Who story in one sitting, rather than spread over six weeks. Would I, watching over that time, have noticed that various deaths were the same actors over & over again? Would the endless wondering around polysterene mine workings & corridors have seemed less interminable. Would Sarah Jane's sadness over the Doctor's alledged death at in episode six have seemed quite so annoying as she'd already gone through the upset at the Doctor's supposed death a couple of episodes earlier.

Liz Sladen does these well but if I were a companion of the Doctor after a couple of adventures I'd start to assume the Doctor was alive & well until I saw the corpse. In fact again Sarah Jane gives the story real energy when she appears. I have to say Liz Sladen has been a breath of fresh air to the final season of Pertwee, giving the whole programme a bit more oomph. There's a real bite to Sarah Jane, which not many previous companions have had. Although I'd say this was her weakest story so far in terms of what she's asked to do by the script.

Fundamentally this isn't as good a story as Curse of Peladon, although it is more obviously political. It's nice to see as patrician a Doctor as the Third siding with the worker's, even if he's a bit anti-revolutionary. It's a shame the most radical of them, Ettis, has to be potrayed as totally insane towards the end like some Peladonian Arthur Scargill (Rupert Murdoch version). Even if the 'Women's Lib' stuff is a bit heavy handed there's at least an attempt to address the issue.

It also suffers because like Terror of the Autons with Spearhead from Space the sequal shares too many plot points with the original story plus at six episodes it is too long.

Not bad, not great.

And with that we are almost at the end of the Third Doctor's era. Only Planet of the Spiders to go...but that is a story for another day.

Tomorrow, to be precise.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Death to the Daleks

It's another Terry Nation Dalek story...forgive me if I don't look too excited. Like Planet of the Daleks this is not the most exciting of stories whilst throwing in a few Nation cliches.

The most annoying of which is saving the Daleks until the end of the first episode so that they can play their cliffhanger role. This would be fine if the story did not give the game away IN IT'S TITLE. Sorry. I'm not sure what came over me there, Nation fatigue?

Anyway as Doctor Who stories go it is distinctly average. The TARDIS lands and is mysteriously drained of all its power whilst the Doctor and Sarah Jane are on their way to the lovely Florana. (This 'let's go somewhere nice...oops didn't make it' is one of the series reoccuring tropes. It'll keep writer's happy forever).

Setting out to investigate the Doctor is grabbed by a bunch of grunting primatives - later revealed to be called Exxilons - from whom he escapes then to stumble across a party of Marine Space Corps who have landed on Exillon in search of Parrinium (Macguffin of the Week), which is needed to save the Outer Worlds from a mysterious space plague. They've been stuck here since their ship was forced to land after a similar power drain. They are made the wounded and soon to die Commander Stuart, Railton (a totally wasted John Abineri), the plucky Jill Tarrant (Joy Harrison), the wet Hamilton (Peter Fox) and the grumpy Scotsman Galloway (Duncan Lamont).

Meanwhile Sarah has gone off exploring and stumbled across a rather impressive City. The Daleks arrive, threaten to exterminate everyone but find their weapons do not work because of the energy drain. They must work with the humans but everyone is captured and Railton dies (thus wasting Abineri totally, which should be an executable offence really).

Sarah is to be sacrificed by the grunting Exxilons for trespassing in their City, which is sacred to them. The Doctor tries to rescue Sarah but succeds only in adding himself to the sacrificial party.

The Daleks, having fitted themselves with old school machine guns, set about massacring Exxilons, bullying humans and mining the Perrinium. Commander Stuart snuffs it, after telling Galloway that he is totally unfit for command. (For some reason I kept thinking about George Galloway at this point...not sure why)

The Doctor & Sarah escape and start exploring the roots of the city when they bump into Belal (Arnold Yarrow) who a non-grunting Exxilon. The Daleks start Perrinium mining, chase the Doctor and decided to blow up the City's beacon, after they've had a look round.

The Doctor and Belal enter the City just ahead of the Daleks, whilst Sarah and Jill set about getting the Perrinium on board the Earth ship ready for when the energy drain ends. The City, which is sentient and a bit up itself, had been responsbile for primativising (a word I happily make up, you may take it with you and use it to your heart's content) the Exxilons who were previously an advanced, space travelling type civilisation. It's also a complicated series of traps and tricks: secret entrances, mazes, electrical floors etc.

The Doctor gives the City a nervous breakdown, a couple of panicked Daleks are chased out of the City by the antibodies it created...then the Daleks ignore a perfectly good opportunity to eliminate the Doctor - again - and flee the planet with what they think is the perrinium but isn't and much to their surprise Galloway and a bomb. Boom! Galloway redeems his grumpy, real politik Scottishness. Jill and Hamilton get to take the Perrimuium away. Hurrah!

Which makes it all sound quite exciting but in fact it is all a little dull. Quarries, grunting primitives and a slow trip through a city do not fun and frolics make.

Galloway seems to be a character from another much bleaker Terry Nation story whose stumbled into Death to the Daleks. He's surely a Blake's Seven man or a Survivor. Lamont actually plays him quite well. He at least seems three dimensional unlike the rest of the Space Marine lot who are either bumped off at speed or wet but plucky.

Pertwee's a bit flat in this I think, as if he's not really that impressed but Liz Sladen's doing a great job as Sarah Jane. She does a great job of conveying quite a lot in a brief glance or lip purse.

Also Arnold Yarrow's Belal is a lovely little performance for a man stuck inside glowing plastic. He's quite sweetly brave when he joins the Doctor on exploring the City.

It's better than Planet of the Daleks but that's damning with very faint praise indeed and is only four parts long so doesn't drag as much.

I'm a bit surprised actually. This is one of the stories that I'd watched (and liked) before but on revisiting is a disppointment, like Tomb of the Cybermen was.

O well. Next stop Peladon.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Farewell Brigadier

Well I woke up this morning to hear the sad news that Nicholas Courtney, who played Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewert has died. He was 81.

It's not often that I find the death of an actor genuinely upsetting but Nicholas Courtney is an important part of both my childhood and my nerdhood. As much a key part of Classic Who as any actor to have played the Doctor and I think sometimes you forget that whilst the character might be immortal the actor playing them is only human.

Born in Egypt in 1929 Courtney had only been a Private during World War Two but director Douglas Camfield thought him the right kind of man to play...well initially Captain Knight in 'The Web of Fear' (1968) but a bit of luck saw him promoted to the part that he's best loved and remembered for the then Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart. He was promoted to Brigadier for 'The Invasion' and was in charge of the newly formed UNIT and when it was decided that the Doctor was to be exiled to Earth the Brigadier and UNIT were to be a key part of the Third Doctor's era.

Courtney was to appear with all the Classic Doctor's except Colin Baker and Paul McGann - which was remedied on audio by Big Finish. Such a part of Doctor Who mythos was the Brigadier that he even got semi-regular mentions in the New Series.

His final appearance as the Brigadier was in the Sarah Jane Adventures in December 2008. It's a measure of how brilliant a character the Brigadier was and of Nicholas Courtney's great performance that he was to be playing the Brigadier forty years after his first appearance.

In truth the Brigadier is as much an icon of Classic Who as anyone or thing you care to name. To my generation of Doctor Who fans he's a legend and by all accounts an absolutely lovely man, although I only met him once - briefly - at a convention.

His acting career was obviously broader than just Doctor Who. He made appearances in dozens of other series: The Avengers, The Champions, Shelley, Yes, Prime Minister and Only Fools & Horses to name but a few.

Having been getting through the Pertwee era this month myself Nicholas Courtney's been an almost constant feature & without him, his false moustaches and dry wit the Pertwee era would have been a drabber place. People are obviously highlighting 'Chap with the wings there' as THE Brigadier line but for me I always thought the scene in Battlefield is the signature Brigadier moment. When the Destroyer asks surely the planet Earth can find a better champion the Brigadier's response is a pithy, understated summing up of the character: "Probably. I just do the best I can."

Other people who knew him better will be able to write about him in more detail but I just wanted to pay my own little tribute to Nicholas Courtney. He'll be missed. It is a sign of the affection in which he is held that he still trending worldwide on Twitter.

Goodbye Brigadier. (Salutes)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Invasion of the Dinosaurs

"There never really was a Golden Age you know Mike"

Well this was a pleasent surprise.

An enjoyable old school Pertwee-UNIT story with dinosaurs, double-crosses, villains who are more blindly idealistic than evil, the Brigadier and Benton on excellent form and Sarah Jane Smith being brilliant. They should give that woman a series of her own you know.

Let me talk briefly of the dinosaurs. In my dusty memory I remember them being embarrassingly awful. However now I'd say that whilst the movement is a little dodgy the only one of the dinosaurs that is genuinely poor is the T-Rex. The rest look OK. It was therefore unfortunate that the production team went for a T-Rex v Brontosaurus fight in Episode 5. It just looks a bit naff. I think it probably did in 1974 although I prepare to be corrected.

Basically a bunch of extreme environmentalists - for want of a better term - have cooked up a plan to push the Earth back in time to a 'Golden Age' before pollution and war. [*]

To help build a new world they have convinced several hundred incredibly gullible people that they are setting off in a fleet of spaceships to a new world where they can live a lovely, fluffy life. How well this will work based on Ruth's desire to bump of Sarah Jane after five minutes because she might be a disruptive influence is a moot point.

The Doctor and Sarah arrive late into the action. The first part of 'Operation Golden Age' has already begun. Central London - with 8m people - has been evacuated. The government has hot footed it to Harrogate leaving Sir Charles Grover (Noel Johnson) as Minister in charge. General Finch (John Bennett) is in charge of military matters, although the Brig and UNIT are doing a lot of the grunt work by the look of it. However they aren't getting anywhere and the Brig needs the Doctor.

There are some effective scenes of a deserted London in the first episode and director Paddy Russell does a fine job of ratcheting up the tension. The Doctor and Sarah are arrested for being looters, escape and start work with the Brig. The Doctor has some cunning plans but mysteriously they are all being sabotaged. There is an agent at work in UNIT...and it turns out to be poor old Mike Yates.

The Doctor and Sarah get involved in seperate stories. The Doctor gets set up by General Finch and Sarah gets captured by Sir Charles and placed on one of the spaceships. Gradually the noose tightens on our villains. Captain Yates is exposed, the enemy base is discovered, General Finch gets punched on the nose by Benton, Sarah exposes the space people to the truth and in the final episode Sir Charles Grover and chief dodgy scientist Whittaker (Peter Miles) are sent back in time after the Doctor reverses the polarity - as the Third Doctor often does. Victory for the good guys and a fine come uppance for the bad guys.

It zips by at a fair old lick for a six parter (although there is some chase type padding to fill in some time). The performances from everyone are strong and there is in amongst the adventure are several strong ideas: about environmentalism, about the myth of a pre-industrial Golden Age, about facing up to the now and to paraphrase Gandhi changing the world by changing yourself and finally on whether the end justifies the means. Phew.

Big cuddly dinosaurs and big ideas in a six part Doctor Who story.

It's worth watching. Don't let the dinosaurs put you off.

[*] My main quibble with the Operation Golden Age plan is surely by pushing themselves back in time and destroying all previous generations they will have unexisted their own ancestors and probably the technological advantages that previous generations had created thus making it impossible for them to have carried out their's a grandfather paradox writ very, very large. I mean your not just killing your grandad in this one you're killing all your ancestors.

Perhaps I should think about it so much.

Anyway enjoy.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Time Warrior

So we kick off Season 11. Jon Pertwee's fifth and final season.

The Time Warrior sees features two newbies: Sarah Jane Smith (Liz Sladen) and the Sontarans, although in this case it is a single Sontaran, Linx (Kevin Lindsay). It must be said that both have an instant impact.

I don't think Liz Sladen could have imagined that she'd still be playing Sarah Jane Smith nearly 40 years after her debut story but there's something immediately wonderful about Sarah Jane. She's got oomph, she's got style and she's proactive. One of the reasons for the character's longevity is down to how strong she is in this story. She doesn't immediately trust the Doctor or even like him. Indeed the Third Doctor seems to go out of his way to aggrevate her on a couple of occassions by making sexist remarks. She doesn't take any crap from anyone, even when she's clearly scared. This is a fantastic start for a companion and Liz Sladen puts in a star performance outshining virtually everyone, including Pertwee himself. I don't think it is any coincidence that Sarah Jane is the one companion to have achieved the singular honour of not just one but two spin-off series, although K9 & Company is rank.

The Sontaran(s) to make a significant impact. There's something in the simplicity of their design that helps but also Kevin Lindsay makes Linx a combination of arrogance and viciousness, which works well. It's also one of the great Doctor Who moments when, having kept the Sontaran's head hidden we get to see what he really looks like as Linx turns to face the camera at the end of episode one. Conveniently Robert Holmes also gives him a nice little weakness: the probic vent. It makes them beatable.

This story has two strengths. A great script by Robert Holmes and a set of fantastic performances from pretty much every guest star. It's a real culture shock to see June Brown, playing Lady Eleanor because June Brown is Dot Cotton. It's one of those moments when you realise how little you know about an actor even when they have burned themselves into a nations psyche. David Daker as Irongron - the human villain of the story - does a great job of balancing being larger than life but believable. Irongron is a bully, a braggard but not without his moments of humour.

His relationship with his sidekick Bloodaxe is sharply written by Robert Holmes and well-acted by John J Carney. There's a little scene where Irongron is outlining his plans to Bloodaxe - to which Bloodaxe gets in a pre-Baldrick 'cunning plan' - which I could watch over and over again (particularly the moment when Bloodaxe says that Irongron has a truely 'towering intellect')

The other nice part is Professor Rubeish (Donald Palmear). Rubeish is a scientist. He's blind as a bat without his glasses, which protects him from hypnotism. Again the script helps by giving Palmear plenty to play with but its another good performance from a guest star.

So this is a good 'un. Well written, well acted and with a couple of stonkingly new characters.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Thoughts on Season 10

So that was the season that was.

Doctor Who's tenth season starts of impressively - and nostalgically - enough with The Three Doctors and ends pretty well to with The Green Death but the Frontier in Space / Planet of the Daleks double bill is slow, repetative & pretty dull.

There are two departures.

The Master's is an enforced one because of Roger Delgardo's unfortunate death. Yes, he's been over-used by the production team, although not quite as much as in Season 8. Yes, his plans are ridiculously complex and rely on unstable allies. Yes, he seems genuinely unable to kill the Doctor when the opportunity presents itself just as the Doctor seems unwilling to see The Master die to. But he's been played with the lightest of touches by Delgardo. He'll be missed.

Jo Grant leaves the Doctor at the season's end. She's fallen in love & will marry Professor Clifford Jones. Their next destination, the Amazon Basin. I've been a little scathing about Katy Manning's performance as Jo Grant but in the end she's likeable enough. She doesn't quite cross the 'Langford line' & there is some change in Jo. She's still reckless, a little dizzy and foolish on occassion but by the end of The Green Death it feels right for her to go. There's an implication that it is Cliff's similarities to the Doctor that is part of his attraction.

The last moments of The Green Death are quite moving, certainly up there with the best of the companion departures (which for me are Ian & Barbara's, Sarah Jane's, Teagan's, Rose's first - which should have been her bloody last & Donna's)

The only story I haven't mentioned, Carnival of Monsters, is fun. Pretty light relief in comparison with some of the stories around it.

So three good stories: The Three Doctors, The Carnival of Monsters and The Green Death but bought crashing down into mediocrity (and below) by Frontier in Space and Planet of the Daleks.

For my money Planet of the Daleks is the worst Dalek story in Classic Who. Yep, even worse than The Chase whether I will revise that opinion as I pass on through the seasons we shall see.

I'm still not sure what to make of Jon Pertwee's performance. It's funny when I first got into being a Doctor Who fan proper I devoured loads of Pertwee stories on dodgy VHS copied from Australian TV and I loved the Third Doctor. There was something comforting about him and his frilly shirts but whilst I'm enjoying watching these sories again I'm not so enthused.

Perhaps its because a lot more Doctor Who has flowed under the bridge since then and Pertwee has suffered by comparison. I'm not sure. I enjoy watching the Third Doctor but I'm not sure I like him as much as I did Troughton (or even Hartnell). It's odd. There are moments when he's wonderful but I'm not sure he's stretching himself particularly, although he does do righteous indignation better than any other incarnation I think.

The other thing I noticed about Season 10 is it sows some seeds for Pertwee's final season: Captain Yates' story arc; Metabelis III & that giant sapphire & ultimately the Third Doctor's end. I don't remember the series doing this before & how planned it was I don't know. It does feel very New Who though: the season ends with a companion departing & the next season's finale has been foreshadowed.

So...onwards we go & into Pertwee's final season.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Green Death

After the double whammy of disappointment that is Frontier in Space & Planet of the Daleks we get something approaching a classic in The Green Death.

The Green Death is one of the handful of Classic Who story to have had an impact on the national pysche. It's 'the one with the maggots' that people of a certain age always remember.

It's six episodes so there is some padding but unlike some six parters it doesn't particularly drag. There's trouble in the valleys when a miner is found dead at the pit. He's bright green. Just the job for UNIT as the Brigadier says. Jo's already planning her own trip to Llanfairfach to see Professor Clifford Jones (Stewert Bevan), the environmentalist. The Brigadier offers her a lift. The Doctor is going to Metabelis Three.

Having hammered on about Metabelis Three so much over the last couple of stories it is amusing that when the Doctor actually gets there it turns out to be an total hell hole, if prettily blue. He does manage to nab a sapphire though before running back to the TARDIS & then to Wales.

Global Chemicals are up to no good. Dumping toxic waste in the old mine, which not only turns poor old Welsh miners bright green but is creating giant maggots. It initially looks like a plain old story of corporate greed but there's something else going on. The BOSS is planning a takeover.

The BOSS is a supercomputer linked to the brain of Stevens (Jerome Willis) head of Global Chemicals. BOSS is a one of the series all time great voice performances by John Dearth. He manages to make the computer funny, mad & clever. It's HAL with a sense of humour.

In the process of the story Mike Yates goes undercover, gets hypnotised & tries to kill the Doctor but is deprogrammed by the Metabelis Three crystal. This is the start of what can only be described as the Mike Yates story arc. Never let it be said story arcs in Doctor Who started with RTD. Mike's about to start his. UNIT will never be the same.

Jo also falls in love with Cliff Jones who she describes as a 'younger version' of the Doctor & the story ends with her staying with Cliff & the Doctor driving off into the sunset. It's quite a sad little departure played in nice style by Bevan, Manning & Pertwee. The Doctor is clearly a little in love with Jo Grant & she with him.

So Season 10 ends on a high note & it is nice to see Jo Grant - who can be a bit irritating at times but is ultimately one of the more likeable companions - get a really good farewell seen & Katy Manning is slightly less 'enthusiastic' in this story than in some of the previous stories.

It's the last we see of Jo Grant until last season's Sarah Jane Adventures.

Talking of Sarah Jane Smith...

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Planet of the Daleks

I'm afraid this isn't just bad it's the worst Dalek story since The Chase.

It picks up where Frontier in Space picks off, dumps us on Spiridon with its invisible natives, dangerous plant life & Daleks. Yes, it's Terry Nation doing his greatest hits. He even wheels out the Thals again to assist the Doctor & Jo. Jo even gets what passed for love interest in Classic Who: a inexplicably instantaneous love that overcomes a man - it is always a man - for the Doctor's female assistant. It's unrealistic, undramatic & underwhelming.

David Malony, who usually does a fine directoral job, doesn't with this. In one scene Jo - hiding in pretty much plain site in Dalek HQ - wonders past a Dalek which is looking straight at her. STRAIGHT AT HER. I know hiding in plain site is a Doctor Who staple but normally those people hiding are standing still. This time Jo is moving.

Then there's the moment in Episode Four when Jo - or should I say when Katy Manning - reacts slightly ahead of the polysterene rock that's about to drop on her head.

It's slow. It's padded. It's half-arsed. I'm sure the production team weren't deliberately making a bad story but it really looks like it has been put together by people that don't care.

In epsiode 5 some of the cast can clearly be seen standing off camera waiting whilst the action goes on in front of them.

When I watch Doctor Who I do so in two different ways. One part of me knows that the budgets are small; that it's obviously a studio; that rock is polysterene; the monster is a block blatently dressed in a rubber costume. That part of me is aware of how ridiculous some - if not all - Classic Doctor Who might look to people that only take a casual interest or no interest at all. I'm as capable of taking the piss out of the Skarasan, the Myrka, the Magma Beast or that stupid inflatable snake at the end of Kinda etc etc as the next Doctor Who fan. But...

There's another part of my brain where disbelief is suspended. Where I can ignore all the things listed if the story & the acting is good enough. I can look at something that is a risible now as The Web Planet and still enjoy it - even moved by it. Yes, it's a bunch of actors dressed as ants and moths but somehow it works for me. Because that Doctor Who bit of my brain says: right for the next twenty-five minutes I'm on an alien world or in a Nuclear Power station menaced by Cybermen or whatever. It's a gift.

However occassionally Classic Who produces a story that is so irritating that I can't suspend my belief enough to care. So I find myself watching with a cynical eye and hoping that what appears to be happening isn't as stupid as I think it is. Planet of the Daleks is one of those stories.

I blame Terry Nation more than the rest of the team. Sooner or later the Doctor Who production team is going to cotton on to the fact that he just writes virtually the same bloody story everytime he writes for the Daleks. Only the names change. It's doubly annoying because Terry Nation isn't a bad writer. He just seems not to want to try and do anything new or interesting with the Daleks. He writes for Pertwee as if he's Hartnell. It's like he's afraid that he might break the magic spell if he does anything too new with them. I shouldn't complain too much I know after all they are Nation's invention - even if the design isn't.

The actors - well, most of them - do their best. Bernard Horsfall is his reliable self. Tim Preece puts in a nice performance as Codal, who at the end appears to have fallen a little in love with the Doctor. Jane How's Rebec is fine to. Prentis Hancock as Vaber does what Prentis Hancock does best: a lot of shouty angry bad acting & we do at least get to see Roy Skelton on screen as the Spiridon Wester - even if it is at the moment of his death.

But in the end this is just tiresome.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Frontier in Space

Except another escape....

Cor blimey they don't half drag this out. The main plot: Draconians & Earthmen are on the verge of WAR. Neither side trusts each other & keep attacking the other's spaceships...or do they? The Doctor & Jo stumble into this, realise that the true villains are Ogrons & that someone, somewhere is trying to stir up war between the two Empires. Who could it be?

The rest of the story is told in a series of escapes. The Doctor & Jo are repeatedly captured, escaped, interrogated (by people who don't believe them), re-captured & escape either alone or together. They are captured by the Earth government, The Draconians, The Ogrons, The Master & finally, in a whacking great cliffhanger, by the Daleks. It's like a never ending repeat.

This is the Master's last story for some time because poor old Roger Delgardo is killed in a car crash whilst making a film in Turkey. Whilst he's up to his usual standards his departure in the final minutes of episode six is so badly directed & chaotic that he just...disappears. A sadly downbeat departure for an actor whose Master is - for me - the definitive performance. You can keep your Ainleys, Pratts & Simms. I'll take Delgardo.

There's not much else I can say.

The Draconians are well-designed & have a culture of their own, which makes a change. Their proud, honour bound & sexist allowing Doctor Who to throw in one of it's half-arsed 'women's lib' comments, which isn't really convincing.

Michael Hawkin's plays General Williams as a man with a spoon shoved up his arse. Stiff, closed-minded & warmongering. Until, in a bizarre instanteous turnaround, he is told by the Draconian Prince that he killed a load of unarmed Draconians to start the last Earth-Draconian War & decides he's wronged everyone. It doesn't feel right. This man, whose questioned everything as a Draconian scheme, accepts the Prince's account without a quibble?

Anyway I can't be arsed to say much else. It's a story. It passes the time & really it's just half way through a twelve part epic that concludes with 'Planet of the Daleks' but it is so padded as to be worth of a cell of its own.

Will 'Planet of the Daleks' be better.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Carnival of Monsters

Another four parter & by jove they rush by in comparison with some of the recent six parters. It's quite fun this, if a little weightless.

The Doctor, his ability to hop about the universe restored by grateful Timelord's (& probably a grateful production team) at the end of the 'Three Doctors' is supposed to be taking Jo to Metabelis Three but materialises on board what appears to be a ship making its way to Bombay. The Doctor's not convinced it is Earth - although Jo just thinks he's covering for his mistake. However the Doctor turns out to be right. The passengers & crew of the SS Bernice repeat the same behaviour over & over again & then the Doctor notices a rather bizarre addition to the turns out that they are trapped in a Miniscope.

Meanwhile outside the Miniscope it's owner, a travelling showman called Vorg(Leslie Dwyer) & his charming lady assistant Shirna (Cheryl Hall) are trying to convince a trio of stuffy Inter Minorians (Kalik, Orum & Pletrac - a pre-Davros, post-Farrel Michael Wisher; Terence Lodge & Peter 'Packer' Halliday) to admit them & their Miniscope for entertainment purposes.

The Doctor & Jo clamber about the insides of the machine - a quite impressive set - before stumbling across the unpleasently carnivorous & persistent Drashigs.

Will the Doctor & Jo escape the Miniscope? Will Kalik's devious plan to over-throw his brother the President succeed? Will the Drashigs eat everyone & everything?

Yes, No & No.

It's all frothy fun. The Doctor gets to do some nice moral highgrounding over Miniscopes & tell us of his (& the Timelord's) role in banning them. The scenes involvong Kalik, Orum & Pletrac are all nicely played & all three actors put in lovely, fussy performances.

In fact the strength of this story is its cast. There's good performances from the crew & passengers of the SS Bernice, which includes Pertwee's mate from the Navy Lark Tenniel Evans; a pre-Harry Sullivan Ian Marter & Jenny McCracken. Leslie Dwyer & Cheryl Hall do a fine job to, especially Dwyer's playing of the moments where Vorg changes attitude mid-sentence but I think the acting prizes go to the Three Stooges: Wisher, Lodge & Halliday.

So not a hugely deep or important story but a lot of nice stuff. I've heard it suggested that this is Robert Holmes' commentary on Doctor Who itself, with Vorg's line about it being 'just entertainment...nothing political' being a highlight in this regard. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't but it feels like we've earnt bit of light-heartedness. For the record my favourite line is Vorg's: "The generators were built by the old Eternity Perpetual company. They were designed to last forever; that's why the company went bankrupt."

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Three Doctors

There's no point beating about the bush. I love this story.

It's a shame Hartnell's health precluded a more active role but the real fun comes from the interaction between Troughton & Pertwee. Their differences, jealousy & point scoring is done with an excellent lightness of touch. I said in my Season 9 overview that I liked Troughton's Doctor better than Pertwee's & its a joy to have him slip back in the part, even if the writer's give him a series of 'greatest hits' to perform.

Omega(Stephen Thorne) is a suitably majestic figure for the Doctor's to take on in their celebration. Thorne's performance is excellent because although in some ways Omega is from the bombastic shouty school of Doctor Who villainy Thorne gives him a certain amount of pathos. This is a Time Lord driven mad by loneliness & isolation. When Omega discovers that his physical body no longer exists Thorne does a heartbreaking job of conveying Omega's pain in a single, drawn out scream.

Here Omega is a villain without being classically evil. He's no Master.

Omega wants his revenge on the Time Lords - who are in a sparkling cloak phase of their development - for abandoning him in the anti-matter universe. As far as the Time Lords are concerned Omega was obliterated, as far as Omega is concerned he should be a God.

There's some nice performances from the other guest stars: Laurie Webb (as Ollis) & Rex Robinson (as Dr Tyler). Tyler's constant scientific curiosity and enthusiasm is rather charming.

I have two quibbles with the story: one is the Gell Guards. They're too wobbly. Not in a jelly type way but in a 'inside this costume is clearly an actor with feet walking' way. The second is the way that the Brigadier is - for a chunk of the story -portrayed like a buffoon on the verge of a nervous breakdown. It's mainly in the first couple of episodes but it just feels wrong, although Nicholas Courtney does his best.

I'll almost forgive this for the nice way Courtney handles the scene where he - and the others - leave the Doctors to what looks like a fate worse than death. There's something rather moving in the way the Brigadier says goodbye to the Doctors. It's a proper stiff-upper-lip farewell. All supressed emotion, which I often think is more moving than the full on tears 'n' snot approach of the modern actor.

In the end though this does a fine job as a celebration & it is the three actors who have played the Doctor, so far, that deserve the plaudits. Splendid chaps. All of them.

Updated, 22/04/2013

I watched this again last night as a sort of palate cleanser between all the New Doctor Who I've been watching.

It's fun this, perhaps because it doesn't have huge amounts of pretentions about what it is. It's Doctor Who, it's an adventure story and that's that.

I should give a nod to John Levene as Sergeant Benton whose performance in this story is rather good and his reaction to entering the TARDIS for the first time is pretty much as genuine as you'll get.

I said in the original review that I preferred Troughton's performance to Pertwee's and I still do but there's something about Jon Pertwee's Doctor that is intensely reassuring. I know there's a lot of ticks in there: the neck rubbing etc but I find Pertwee really watchable, if that's the right word and every time I return to the Pertwee era I enjoy it, even if when I'm not watching it I don't feel that drawn to the era. It's odd.

Well-worth a re-watch.

Thoughts on Season 9

A season of two halves? Well, not quite halves. The first three stories: Day of the Daleks; The Curse of Peladon & The Sea Devils are all pretty good. Whilst the 'The Mutants' & 'The Time Monster' are both a little meh.

The production team - wisely - used The Master only twice this time but as I've pointed out in individual blogs the problem with an even semi-regular appearance of the Master is that he's got to be beaten by the Doctor & he has to live to fight another day. I'm growing increasingly fond of my theory that this is a Timelord game to keep the Doctor occupied when in exile.

I'm getting more used to Pertwee's Doctor. He's grown less grumpy, although he does still take it out on the Brig. The UNIT team is at its most comfortable now. Usually all the regulars: Jo, the Brig, Captain Yates & Sargeant Benton get a run out, along with Bessie. Even though they only feature in two of the five stories.

Having said that I'm still not as fond of Pertwee's Doctor as I was of Troughton's. I'm not sure why. I didn't grow up with either Doctor so there's no nostalgia involved. There's still two more Pertwee seasons to go so perhaps I'll be able to put my finger on what it is, maybe it is just that Troughton is the better actor? I don't think Troughton's stories were better written, directed or produced. I think it just comes down to a personal judgement.

Jo Grant (Katy Manning) is the regular assistant for Season 9 - as Season 8. Now despite the fact that I find some of Katy Manning's performance cheese curlingly hamtasatic there's something loveable about Jo as a character. Jo's relationship with the Third Doctor is one of the closest Doctor-Companion relationships in the series so far. Jo regular does idiotically heroic things to save the Doctor, which puts her life in constant peril. Even when the Doctor explicitely tells her not to. It's quite lovely in its way so perhaps I'm being harsh of Katy Manning's performance.

So I think overall more consistent than Season 8 but still in the shadow of Season 7. But I'd be surprised if anything matches the consistent brilliance of that season in the remainder of the Pertwee era.

The Time Monster

The last time I watched this story was on a dodgy VHS copy so first of all let me pay a little tribute to The Restoration Team for the work done on this - and other - DVD releases. There's a short documentary on the DVD, which covers that work on 'The Time Monster' in more detail.

What of the story itself? Well it isn't one of the best but I don't think it is quite as bad as all that. It is definitely far too long. Huge chunks of epsiodes 2, 3 & 4 are nothing more than padding whilst the story dribbles along. The story itself follows the pretty bog standard Third Doctor v The Master pattern.

The Master seems to an intergalatic Baldrick. His 'cunning plans' leave him trapped or requiring the Doctor's intervention to escape & this one, involving a mysterious creature called Chronos, ends precisely as expected. Another round of the Doctor v The Master ends with the Doctor, if not quite victorious, at least undefeated.

O & once again The Master has decided to hang about the Doctor's locality as part of his cunning plan. This time 'disguised' as Professor Thascolos. Once again his alias is a little thin...apparently Thascolos means Master in Greek. I'm sorry but the Master is an idiot really & this is the maddest that Delgardo's Master has appeared so far with maniacal laughter & shouty rants. However he's still icily polite when he needs to be.

Jon Pertwee's good in this. Yes, I like the daisiest daisy speech & Pertwee delivers it in a nicely subdued fashion. I quite like how calm the Doctor is throughout this story, it is a contrast to the Master's more frantic behaviour.

I'm still finding Jo Grant mildly annoying. People often criticise Bonnie Langford for being 'theatrical' but Katy Manning's performance as Jo has a certain amount of the same boundless energy. However there's something about Jo that is quite likeable, which I think cancels out a little of the annoyance. She's certainly not as annoying as I found either Susan or Dodo after a while.

The supporting performances are pretty variable. The banter between Stuart (Ian Collier) & Professor Ruth Ingram (Wanda Moore) is a little strained when it is - I think - supposed to be witty & amusing. Whether that's the fault of the actors is a moot point. I think the script is to blame.

The Atlantians are all either a bit wet or a bit doddery with the exception of Ingrid Pitt as Queen Galea. I can't avoid mentioning the Queen's rather impressive...decolletage. I'm not sure the performance is up to much though but The Master does a majestic job of seducing, corrupting & disappointing her in record time.

The Minotaur is OK, although he's dispatched a little too glibly for my liking & this is another story where a lot of people die but no one seems too bothered, which I don't feel helps.

The least effective thing is Chronos itself. I'm not sure what the director Paul Bernard was thinking but it is so clearly just a bloke flapping some wings about whilst dangling on kirby wires. Therefore Chronos seems as threatening as a chicken.

Credit to John Levene for some nice work in this story as Benton.

In the end this is a pretty average effort with a couple of good points dragged down by a few bad ones.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Mutants

This is a story trying to say some interesting things: about colonialisation & race but doesn't quite pull it off. It's more a fault of the direction & production than the script I think.

The story starts with an unintentional tribute to Michael Palin's 'It's' man, which doesn't bode well but we are introduced to our lead villain, The Marshall (Paul Whitsun-Jones) & Stubbs (Christopher Coll) & Cotton (Rick James), two Guards who bored with this colonisation lark. They'll end up on the Doctor's side, eventually.

The Marshall has come down from Skybase, which is orbits above Solos, to hunt down a 'Mutt'. Solos is an Earth colony on the brink of independence, something which the Marshall - a chubby colonialist of the old school - doesn't want. He's in cahoots with Jaeger(George Pravda), a scientist bent on turning the atmosphere of Solos into a more Earth friendly one.

If he succeeds the native population will be killed but we know that The Marshall has taken such a dislike to the native population. Who seem to be suffering from a mysterious disease that is changing them into Mutants - or Mutts. They disgust the Marshall.

Into this situation walks the Doctor & Jo Grant on a mission for the Timelords who want a package delivered. Why they have to go through such ridiculous lengths - not even telling the Doctor who it should be delivered to - is a wee bit of a mystery.

Our heroes become quite a gang: The Doctor, Jo, Stubbs, Cotton & Ky. Ky(Garrick Hagan) is a native of Solos given to political rants at the drop of a hat. The only other Solosians we see are Varan & his gang of Warriors. Varan hates Ky. Ky thinks Varan is a quisling. Varan gets used by the Marshall. The Marshall kills Varan's son. Varan turns against the Marshall & it all goes horribly wrong.

One interesting thing about the Letts/Dicks era is that the future Earth doesn't sound like a sf paradise.

You can believe that the future Earth Empire of 'The Mutants' is the same one as 'The Colony in Space'. Earth is exhausted, as Geoffrey Palmer's Administrator, says in the brief few minutes of screen time he gets before the Marshall bumps him off. The Earth of the 30th century is 'grey' as the Doctor explains to Jo. It's a world wrecked by industrialisation & over-population. The Letts/Dicks future might have Earth Empires & space exploration but it isn't bright. It's ugly, dirty & destructive. In between the lines Letts seems to be trying to make important points about environmentalism, which aren't particularly loudly preached but are background whispers in a lot of the stories of this era. There's politics in the Pertwee era.

What lets the story down is that it is too long & padded & has far too many bad performances in it. Whilst Rick James' performance as Cotton is legendarily bad he isn't the only one. Pravda's poor & struggles to get half his lines out; Garrick Hagan & Katy Manning also put in performances of varying dodginess. Katy Manning seems to have gone downhill since The Curse of Peladon. She's trying so hard it hurts. I'm not sure whether Paul Witsun-Jones' Marshall is good or not. He just doesn't quite look right as a man of the 30th century. It's miscasting I think rather than bad acting.

This all contributes to dragging the story down despite good ideas.

The Mutant costumes look pretty good. The scenes in the caves are all atmospheric enough. I like the fact that everyone from Earth seems to have a different accent: this is the first time I can remember Northerners in the future in a Doctor Who story.

In the end though it doesn't work despite being a story with ambitions. It's too long, too padded & there are too many bad performances let this one down more than anything else. It's not quite as terrible as I remembered it but I'm afraid a 4/10 for 'The Mutants'.

Good ideas, must do better with the realisation.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Sea Devils

Ah...the Sea Devils with its electronic score. I remember the first time I watched this, with a gang of non-Doctor Who fans, being vaguely annoyed by the music. It seemed weirdly inappropriate.

This time round though I loved Malcolm Clarke's music. It seemed to add an extra layer of atmosphere to the story, which was nice. It still sounds like nothing else around at the time (as far as I'm aware) but I think that makes it all the more wonderful.

The Sea Devils themselves look pretty good, although there's a scene in the last episode where they stand around for a bit looking like their posing for a holiday snap or an album cover. They are kept nicely in the background for the first episode as the tension builds & the director does a good job - especially in the end battle scenes to make it look like there are a lot of them. Their screams when in pain or fear also add a certain truthfulness to proceedings.

They are the aquatic cousins of the Silurians from Season 7 & much of the plot is similar to that story. The Sea Devils - not the name they give themselves btw - want to revive their race & take back planet Earth from the apes with attitude that have taken over. The humans want to destroy the threat. The Doctor tries to find a peaceful solution.

Unfortunately The Doctor is up against an added complication: The Master's back. The Master's supposed to be in prison but being a devious sort he's manageed to persuade his jailer Colonel Trenchard to let him have a freedom of a kind by blagging him into believing that Great Britain is threatened by spies. Trenchard is one of two civil service blowhards in this story, the other being Walker, the PPC from the Ministry. Trenchard though, on seeing the Master has duped him, at least gets to go out in a blaze of glory.

Walker is imho the a real negative in this story. Even by the standards of the Third Doctor's era this is a civil servant of epic cowardice, stupidity & pomposity. His desire for food & tea at every opportunity is irritating & I'm not a big fan of Martin Boddey's performance either. He's just TOO dislikable & too stupid. He also seems to have an incredible amount of power, even for a PPC & no one seems to be bothered about checking his credentials.

This time there's no UNIT but the British Navy. The story is helped by the support the Royal Navy gave to the production team so everything seems to have more heft. The Navy attack in the final episode is quite convincing because it is carried out by real military types. They look like they know how to fire a gun - unlike some of the actors playing Trenchard's security team. There's scenes at sea & Pertwee being ex-Navy looks right at home. (There's a little moment where Pertwee's about to depart in the submersible where his short line: "Yes Chief" is delivered with casul correctness.)

It's a bit padded being a six parter. I'm coming to the conclusion (as I think production teams do in the end) that the four parter is the ideal size for a Doctor Who story. You don't have to stretch credulity quite so much or fill in time.

The Master, of course, needs the Doctor's help (both with a machine & to escape after The Sea Devil's lock him up with the Doctor at the end) & he can't quite kill the Doctor (again). When The Master escapes at the end The Doctor almost looks pleased for him. It's all quite civilised, again. I'm sticking to my guns: they're playing a game. This isn't for real. (Hey, it's my pet theory & I'm sticking to it)

This was pretty good but because of Walker I'm arbitrarily giving this 6/10. Without Walker I'd have given it 7/10.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Curse of Peladon

That was marvellous.

I have to admit to having had a soft spot for The Curse of Peladon but it has been years since I last watched it & I was glad to discover that the memory doesn't always cheat. This was great.

Firstly it is nice to get the Doctor off Earth & involved in something interesting. Peladon feels like a planet with a proper civilisation & with people who have been busy doing other things before the Doctor & Jo turn up. The basic plot: Peladon's King wants to take Peladon into 'The Federation' but Hepesh, the High Priest is a stickler for the old ways & fears that the Federation will bring destruction to their traditional way of life. He gangs up with...well he sets about disrupting the process.

The delegates from The Federation are a couple of Ice Warriors, a medusa's head in a fish tank (Arcturus) & Alpha Centuri. I won't describe Alpha Centuri but suffice it to say that Lennie Mayne, director of 'Curse', made a pretty accurate statement about how she/he/it looks. It is, after all, a hermaphrodite hexapod with a highly excitable nature.

The Doctor & Jo are mistaken for the delegates from Earth & get busy trying to stop disaster befalling Peladon.

It's all rather charming. It is also Jo Grant's best story so far. She gets to hang with the King (who clearly takes a bit of a fancy to her) & the scenes between her & King Peladon (played nicely by David Troughton) are fabulous as she pushes him to be the 'modern King' he so wants to be. She gets to ruin another of the Doctor's little plans to, at least temporarily. Katy Manning is brilliant in this story.

The script also nicely plays with our expectations of the Ice Warriors. Based on previous stories it is easy to think they're the villains of the piece, something the Doctor (uncharacteristically perhaps) does himself but they're actually on the side of the angels.

I should also add that I have a soft spot for the Doctor's Venusian lullaby for reasons I can't properly articulate. I think it might be because it is so sweetly silly. I start a campaign here & now for it to feature in New Who.

The odd thing that this story feels like one I like because it was one of my childhood memories & that my judgement is dangerously nostalgic. I do, as I said, have a soft spot for this story but I can't have seen it until I was 16 or 17 so I don't quite no why I feel that way.

Perhaps it is because, despite the abscence of UNIT, it feels like the most Pertwee of Pertwee stories.

I'm going to stick my neck out here and say 9/10.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Day of the Daleks

So we kick off Season Nine with the first appearance of the Daleks since Patrick Troughton finished them off in 'Evil of Daleks'. Well we know that nothing keeps a good Dalek down & here they are again looking, it must be said, a bit small in number & slightly battered.

Their voices are also slightly odd. I'm sure there's an expert out there - Nick Briggs - who can tell me why: something to do with the ring modulator probably but I digress (again).

It's another Peace Conference but this time mysterious assailants are trying to kill the man leading the Conference, Sir Reginald Styles. It turns out that these assailants are from 200 years in the future & Sir Reg is blamed for the destroying the Conference he tried to create plunging the Earth into war & allowing the Daleks to mop up the survivors & once more rule the Earth. So guerillas from this future have travelled back in time to kill Sir Reg.

Jo gets dragged into the future by a dodgy time machine & get buttered up by the Controller. She's quite trusting Jo. To the point of suicidal niaivity. So she's a bit shocked when the Doctor turns up, having gone the long way round & starts being rude to the Controller in that inimitable way the Third Doctor has when dealing with any type of politician or civil servant.

In the final episode a cosy chat leads the Doctor to realise that it wasn't Sir Reg that blew everyone up but the guerillas themselves in their attempt to stop blowing everyone up. We are in a paradox.

For a series where the lead character trots around in a time machine it is quite rare that time travel forms a part of the plot (at least until Steven Moffat arrived)so it is always quite interesting when we get dragged into discussions about Blinovitch Limitation Effects & paradoxes. By going back in time the guerillas created their own future.

So the Doctor & Jo rush back, clear all this up & prevent the destruction of the Conference. Which means that the guerillas future never happened, which means they never had to travel back in time in the first place so the Peace Conference would have gone ahead as before & everyone would have been killed so the guerillas would have had to come back in time to prevent Sir Reg's crime except that they'd be stopped by the Doctor & wouldn't need to travel back...right, I'll stop. I'm getting dizzy.

There's a paradox within a paradox here. Perhaps the Doctor, with his Time Lord skills, can nip & tuck everything to avoid everyone being caught in a strange time loop.

That's the flaw with the story really. If you ignore that then it's a enjoyable romp. The Daleks are a wee bit disappointing but it feels like Day of the Daleks is an epic waiting to happen but BBC budgets & 70's special effects couldn't let it breathe.

Because of this I'm looking forward to 'The Day of the Daleks' special edition. I'll admit to quite like watching old Who with natty new effects, especially those stories where one particularly terrible piece of special effects or design lets down the whole thing a little. Yes, I'm looking at you inflatable snake in Kinda!

[Trailer for Special Edition is here: - enjoy]

I like Aubrey Woods' performance as The Controller. All icey politeness & emotional control, even at the end.

UNIT get to look proper military & useless at the same time. Getting whacked in numbers by the Daleks & Ogrons in the final battle sequence & leaving a back door to a building that is supposed to be heavily guarded both, er, unguarded & unlocked. Just a minor security cock-up there Brig.

Any road up. I enjoyed this. It's a four parter so it flew by & it does feel like they've made a real attempt to go for something big, even if they can't quite pull it off.


Thoughts on Season 8

After the generally magnificent Season 7 this is a little more disappointingly inconsistent except in one thing: The Master crops up in every story.

The two best stories are 'The Mind of Evil' and 'The Daemons', both of which I'd recommend if you want to remind yourself of the Pertwee era at its best. 'Terror of the Autons' is OK, if a little bit of a 'Spearhead From Space' retread but 'Claws of Axos' and 'Colony in Space' are pretty much duds. 'Colony in Space' getting my vote for worst story of the season, mainly because it is so damn tedious.

So we've had two seasons, so far, of the Third Doctor & I'm not sure whether I like this incarnation or not. He's certainly the most patronising of the Doctors. He's angry about being exiled to the Earth & tends to take out his frustrations on passing civil servants, who are inveriably pompous stick-in-the-muds or the poor old Brigadier. He's probably at his most irritating at the conclusion of 'The Colony in Space' where his platitudenous speech to The Guardian (who let us remember has just kindly designed to suicide his entire race in order to stop the Master getting hold of the ultimate weapon) almost makes you want The Master to slap him.

However he does righteous idignation & anger well. He's also quite good in the quieter, more serious moments. So jury's out. I certainly haven't warmed to Third Doctor in the way I did to the Second.

Liz Shaw has gone back to Cambridge & is replaced by Jo Grant (Katy Manning) who is a more 'traditional' Doctor Who assistant. Unfortunately she's stupidly stupid too often for my liking & has the same kind of bubbly enthusiasm as Bonnie Langford, which makes me want to squash her like a bug. This does make her a good foil though for the Third Doctor & allows us to receive huge chunks of exposition from the Doctor in a reasonably entertaining way.

UNIT has a good season. They generally - with the exception of the Brigadiers bizarre car choice in Terror of the Autons - look like a proper military outfit. Writers are still writing the Brigadier as an intelligent soldier with a bit of wit rather than a military figure of amusement as he becomes later (as if the writer's have started to take the Third Doctor's barbs at the Brig's expense seriously). Both Captain Yates & Sargeant Benton get a decent amount to do whilst all around them UNIT privates drop like flies.

The final regular of the Season is Roger Delgardo's Master. Now in the individual stories I have already talked about how bizarrely complex some of The Master's plans appear to be & how he & the Doctor are indulging in some kind of Timelord game to keep the Doctor's spirits up whilst in exile. I mean how serious is The Master about killing the Doctor & how often do they work together to save the day. By the time of the Daemons The Master is so much part of the team that Episode Three ends with The Master in danger. The villain gets a cliffhanger. How cool is that?

Roger Delgardo's performance is great. He generally underplays what is a role filled with temptations to ham it up. He's cold, smart & witty. He rarely tips himself into Ainleyesque OTT evilness or Simms total insanity. Whether using him in every story was a good idea I'm not so sure. His constant defeats undermine the threat. Whilst we know the Doctor normally wins seeing the same opponent turn up week in week out emphasises this fact even more.

There are regular appearances from various HAVOC stuntmen & after a while you start to recognise their faces & whenever one crops up you know someone is about to die (or at least get involved in a good punch up).

So all in all a bit of a mixed bag lacking the consistent quality of Season 7. It's not without its great moments though but avoid 'Colony in Space' until you have to.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Daemons

When watching an old story there's a tendency to have ones opinions attached to the weight of fan law. Hence 'The Web Planet' & 'The Gunfighters' are awful (neither of them are. I will wax lyrical on why 'The Web Planet' is a thing of joy & wonder another time). Or a story is a 'Classic'.

'The Daemons' is one of those stories that carried that label. It's well liked by those that made it - cast & crew. It's had a video made about it 'The Return to Devil's End' so it had a reputation, perhaps a little less so now, for being one of the highlights of not just the Pertwee years but of Doctor Who in general.

So I was a little cynical. I expected to find it a bit disappointing on re-watching, like I did 'Tomb of the Cybermen' but I didn't. I really enjoyed it. Perhaps it helps that the previous story ('Colony in Space') was so dull but this was a joy to watch.

All the regulars are here & on top form.

The Master looks damn good both as a vicar & a black magic occultist bent on sacrificing Jo Grant at the end in order to get from Azal his power.

You'd think by now, knowing the Doctor is exiled to Earth, the Master might avoid the place for a while. Skulk quietly in a corner of the Universe somewhere where he can get on with being evil to his heart's content but no. Instead he's trying to carry out his plan in an English country village where a live television archaeological dig (BBC3's answer to Time Team) is taking place whilst the Doctor is lurking a few miles down the road.

As I pointed out a couple of blogs ago with plans like these it's no wonder the Master zips through his regenerations.

It just confirms my theory that neither the Doctor or the Master are playing seriously. It's like the Master's agreed to help make the Doctor's exile less dull by taking him on at 'Stop Me Before I Destroy The World'.

The Doctor is quick to pick up on the danger of opening the 'Devil's Hump' but we never quite know why or how the Doctor knows so much about Azal or his plans. His explaination of the back story seems curiously well-informed.

There's a lovely guest performance from Damaris Hayman as white witch & apparent Joyce Grenfell impersonator Miss Hawthorne. She gets a lovely early scene confronting the Master (disguised as a priest Mr Magister. Don't get me started on the Master penchant for taking names whilst 'undercover' that are either foreign translations of the word 'Master' or anagrams.) & a lovely line after he tries & fails to hypnotise her: "Why should I believe you. A rational existentialist Priest indeed!"

The UNIT crew are all good in this to & the attack on the Church suitably impressive even if Bok is less so. UNIT looks like it is more than three blokes & a jeep in this. Everyone seems to have proper military haircuts at this point still to.

Jo is lovely, ditzy & silly. Her attempted self-sacrifice to save the Doctor at the end is brave & allows our heroes to win even though IT MAKES ALMOST NO SENSE. Never let it be said that it was only Russell T Davies that had a tendency to pull silly endings out of a hat in order to escape his own cunning plotting. Other production teams have done it before.

However I think it is forgiveable in this case. I should also add that I might be slightly over-positive because in the gap between episodes 4 & 5 I watched Brentford FC beat Exeter City to make it to Wembley for the JPT final. This turned me into something of a grinning idiot as I entered the last two episodes.

Even allowing for that though this was fun. With it's English country village setting that hides many secrets: the Post Office Manager is nicking money; the Grocer pads out his bills etc (not to mention there being a Black Magic Coven in the Church cavern) it's almost a classic British horror setting & would fit pretty well into Steven Moffat's era of Doctor Who.

O & the scene at the end which ends with the Brigadier's: 'I'd rather have a pint' line is a nice little moment.

So 8/10.

The end of Season 8 & possibly it's best story (maybe 'Mind of Evil' pushes it). I'll blog on Season 8 as a whole later.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Colony in Space

I said in my 'Claws of Axos' blog that the biggest sin Doctor Who could commit imho was to be dull. Unfortunatly I then sat down to watch six episodes of 'Colony in Space'. Less a Doctor Who adventure, more a Open University lecture of the perils of space colonisation in the 25th century.

The story opens with three of the least impressive Timelords in Doctor Who's history telling us that The Master has stolen some of their files* & is off to do some bad things. As usual they decide that The Doctor is the man to do their dirty work and so Pertwee gets to land on his first alien planet.

It is, of course, a quarry. With green primatives & a bunch of dull colonists. We also discover quite rapidly that there's a bunch of semi-evil corporate mining types who have landed on the colony with a view to stealing its mineral deposits. To do this they have embarked on a plan to drive the colonists from the planet. This involves a big green lizard 'hologram' & a robot with claws. Yep. It's one of those plans. Most of the IMC chaps have no problem bumping off colonists if they get their bonuses. Fortunately their mining engineer Caldwell, played by the ever effective Bernard Kay, has doubts. The Doctor helps the coloni..zzzZZZZZZzzzzzzZZZZZZZzzzzz

Then the Master turns up pretending to be an adjudicator & his plan is revealed. Slowly. Very slowly.

Apparently this planet was once the centre of a great civilisation who built a whacking great weapon of mass destruction. They tested it on what is now the Cra....ZzzzZZZZZZZzzzzzzZZZz....sorry, it's been a long week.

The Third Doctor gets to patronise an alien civilisation that politely decides to destroy itself to prevent The Master get his grubby little hands on said weapon. Jo gets to be an idiot again - walking through an alarm beam she's just spent a minute crawling on the ground to avoid.

Ashe, the leader of the colony, played by John Ringham (who is much more fun when his Richard IIIing it as Tlotoxl in The Aztecs) also sacrifices himself. Neither sacrifice actual means much because no one seems to care very much. Even Ashes' daughter Mary - played by a very young, pre-Coronation Street Helen Worth - seems perky enough five minutes afterwards. Cauldwell joins the colonists & everyone gets to live happily ever after.

The Doctor gets to be rude about the Brigadier's intelligence in the closing seconds: again. After 'Claws of Axos' & this the wonderfully high standards of Season 7 seems light years away.

I'm afraid it's a 3/10 for Colony in Space.

*It's nice to see that Timelord files are on paper & appear to fit nicely into bog standard Earth filing cabinets. The Master has two such filing cabinets in his TARDIS, which the Doctor searches as if we're watching a 1950s thriller.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Claws of Axos

I really didn't enjoy this the last time I watched it and I found it a little trying this time around too.

OK, so there are good bits. The Axons looks nicely weird in their evening wear and suitably spaghetti like when in day wear. The scenes in the final episode when The Doctor bluffs, double-bluffs and treble-crosses are all nicely done but...

It's pretty rubbish innit.

The Master's beginning to look silly rather than being a genuine threat. As I said in the blog I wrote about The Mind of Evil the battle between the Doctor and the Master looks less like a battle to the death than a bizarre game between two renegade Time Lords with too much time on their hands. You get the impression that they get together for tea in between adventures to award points. But this time it doesn't help that The Master arrives having been captured by the Axons, then gets captured by UNIT before the Doctor runs rings around him before letting him escape. Again. 

The survival of the UNIT regulars also stretches credulity to almost breaking point. As Captain Yates and Sargent Benton try to escape instead of being ruthlessly blown up (as several lowly UNIT Privates are in the course of this story) the Axons decided to jump on board the Land Rover for a polite punch-up. And it takes Yates's grenade to actually blow anything up.

Chinn from the MOD is too lightweight and seems to have wondered in an episode of one of those series of Ronnie Barker one-offs comedy programmes that didn't go to series. He's a pompous buffoon - even his boss seems to think he's a fool - but he survives the final battle at the end, presumably to collect a P45 after recovering from the shock. I suspect in the real world he'd have ended up dead. Probably at the hands of the Brigadier.

Then there's Pig Bin Josh. You might argue that what other television series would start off a new story with the ramblings of a tramp who stumbles over an alien spaceship. The X-Files? Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D? Monty Python? And then to kill him off. Unpleasantly. 

Which brings me to Bill Filer. Why is he there? His role seemed to be to do all the things an assistant is supposed to do - get captured, replicated, escape and reveal an important plot point - with an American accent. It's also a performance of some dullness from Paul Grist. It's like the production team thought 'let's make the search for The Master feel international, let's bring in an American agent. Then let's make him dull as ditchwater."

I'm not sure about Jo Grant in this story either. She enthusiastic, optimistic and has an absolute faith in the Doctor but there's a couple of scenes where she is a bit...OTT. But then she is accosted by claws, weird electronic effects, aged and youthed again and in that outfit must have been bloody cold at some points.

It does zip along quite nicely so the holes in the plot and dodgy performances don't drag on too long. [My unforgivable sin for a Doctor Who story: dullness. There's no excuse for it.]

Did I hate it? No. It's Doctor Who. I'll find things to entertain me: the incongruity of seeing Donald Hewlett, an actor I know best as the useless Colonel Reynolds in It Ain't Half Hot Mum playing a nuclear scientist; the appearance of an incredibly young Tim Pigott-Smith as Captain Harker; the HAVOC stuntmen whose familiar faces warn you of impending punch-ups or impressive deaths; John Levene's Benton; Captain Yates's obvious military incompetence and the Brigadier's dry as dust sarcasm. All of these things make this worth watching but really it's not a Third Doctor favourite.

Indeed, Jon Pertwee does a lot of neck rubbing in this one and I'm starting to think the more neck rubbing he does the worse the story. We'll see because next up is Colony In Space and the last time I watched that I was spectacularly unimpressed.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Mind of Evil

The Mind of Evil is one of my favourite Third Doctor stories even though the Doctor spends a chunk of the story being rude to the Brigadier (again) and Jo Grant.

UNIT look like a proper military outfit, the Brigadier talks and sounds like a soldier who knows what he's doing and both Sergeant Benton and Captain Yates get properly involved. There's some nice comedic stuff between the Brigadier and Benton towards the end of the story when the Sergeant finds himself appointed 'Acting Governor' of the Prison, although I'd forgotten quite how much of a 'Rupert' Major Cosworth (Patrick Godfrey) until this re-watch.

Although no one ever talks about UNIT's 'shoot to kill' policy, which might be something that came up following the shoot-out at Stangmoor Prison. Between the dead prison staff, UNIT soldiers and prisoners it would probably get noticed by someone, somewhere. But I fear I am in danger of taking this all a little too seriously.

Once more The Master has an over-complicated plan and as usual, needs the Doctor to bail him out before it all goes horribly wrong. You can see why The Master rushes through his regenerations if this is the kind of plan he regularly puts together.

However, there are - again - some nice scenes between The Master and The Doctor. The concern The Master shows for The Doctor after the latter has had his second run-in with the Keller Machine makes you wonder how serious The Master's threats to kill the Doctor actually are. It's like their playing some Timelord game with the Earth. (Or playing at being God and the Devil having their bet over Job).

I haven't said much about Jon Pertwee's performance as The Doctor yet. The one advantage to watching Doctor Who in broadcast order is I have got a feel for the rhythm of the programme making and performances in a way that I haven't when dipping in and out of stories.

The Third Doctor does have a tendency to be a little patronising and clearly, his mind is on getting the TARDIS sorted out so he can go off gallivanting around the Universe again. Pertwee plays all that well. Yes, he's got a few trademark gestures: neck rubbing etc that are short-cuts to showing us what's going on in the Doctor's head but what I have been impressed with is Pertwee's ability to play the serious stuff dead straight.

I'll probably have more to say as I carry on through the era.

A couple of other things I noticed. There's another silent black actor, playing The Master's chauffeur to follow Roy Stewert's appearance in Terror of the Autons and one of the technicians in Inferno. I think watching 'Race Against Time' the excellent documentary about non-white actors in Doctor Who (and British television in general) on The Mutants DVD release has made me pay closer attention to these parts. The fact that Chin Lee is played by Chinese actress Pik-Sen Lim made me wonder why six years or so later they couldn't find a male Chinese actor to play Li H'Sen Chang in 'The Talons of Weng-Chiang'. But I digress.

The Mind of Evil is pretty good. There's hardly a duff performance from any of the guest stars but William Marlowe's Mailer should be singled out for special praise for being a nicely underplayed thug. He's probably the most 'realistic' villain in Doctor Who's history.

Also a quick 'Hurrah' for Michael Sheard as Dr Summers. There's something reliably good about Michael Sheard in Doctor Philip Madoc, John Abineri or Norman Jones.

I think perhaps I damn this with faint praise, which is wrong as I mentioned it is one of my favourite Pertwee stories. It has issues - mainly the design of the Keller Machine itself - but there's a real solid tension throughout.

The Master is magnificent. Also, if you're looking for signs of the close friendship between the Master and the Doctor before Missy then this is the story for you, which is more fuel to my theory that this is all some kind of game.


Terror of the Autons

Terror of the Autons is the first story of Pertwee's second season. Notable for the first appearances of Jo Grant and The Master as well as being the second outing for the plastic fantastic Autons or should we call them Nestenes?

It does recycle some ideas from Spearhead from Space, for example instead of weak-willed plastics factory owner Hibbert being under the mental dominance of the Auton Channing, we've got weak-willed Rex Farrel (Michael Wisher) under the mental dominance of the Master. Both men are confronted by colleagues wondering what the hell is going on and both these colleagues are killed as a result. But Spearhead from Space works so well as an introductory story that it is worth borrowing. After all, RTD was to do it again in Rose just sans UNIT.

In fact you might argue that both stories main role is to introduce us to a new Time Lord. In the case of Spearhead from Space it's the Doctor and in Terror of the Autons, it is The Master.

Roger Delgado is my favourite incarnation of The Master.**

He's charming, dangerous and intelligent without ever going too OTT. He underplays what could have been quite a hammy role deliciously. Other actors who have played the part often over-egg the pudding and forget that it makes The Master less of a threat.

Delgado's Master is definitely most terrifying because he is so cold, calm and on the surface civilised, but he's a ruthless murderer. One scene that particularly stood out for me on this watch was where he tries to style out his failure to kill the Doctor when talking to Rex Farrel (Michael Wisher). The surface is all calm but underneath he's clearly furious.

The confrontation between The Doctor and The Master in the UNIT Laboratory is excellent. There's a real sense of two old adversaries meeting up again for the first time in some time. There's an edge despite the politeness.

[Digression Alert: Can I just say that the Brigadier should sack whoever it is that makes UNIT's passes because the bad guys seem to find it shockingly easy to knock up believable copies so they can swan about in the HQ to their heart's content]

As for the other new character Jo Grant (Katy Manning), I think we'll need to see how she beds in over time. Jo Grant is very...enthusiastic. If anything reminds me of how Bonnie Langford will later play Mel Bush: all blundering high-spirits and a little too much 'oomph', but there's also a charm to Jo Grant that balances that oomph a little and having heard Katy Manning talking about her choices when playing Jo, such as pitching her voice higher, you appreciate the skill in the performance more. It'll be interesting to see how Jo works out.

But Jo's likeable enough and certainly makes a more sensible partner for the Third Doctor than poor over-qualified Liz Shaw. A point the script itself makes when the Brigadier dismisses the Doctor's demands for a properly qualified assistant by saying: "Nonsense; what you need, as Ms Shaw herself so often remarked, is someone to pass you your test tubes and tell you how brilliant you are. Miss Grant will fulfil that function admirably."

The usual UNIT weirdness is going on. Sometimes UNIT looks like a huge multinational military organisation and sometimes it doesn't. This difference is sometimes noticeable in the same story. So whilst the fire-fight between UNIT and the Autons at the end looks quite impressive the fact is that the Brigadier's choice of official vehicle - a small blue Austen - is remarkably cheap and nonmilitary.

I'm going to write a separate blog on UNIT at some point* but poor old UNIT privates seem to die in quite large numbers in this episode and it does make you wonder how they explained the casualty rate to both their superiors and to their soldier's families.

I've probably re-watched Terror of the Autons more than any other Doctor Who story recently and each time I enjoy it a little more. The odd thing I've missed mentioning up until now is how much of a dick the Doctor is to the Brigadier at points in this story. So much so that Jo even brings it up. The Third Doctor can be an ungrateful bugger sometimes.

Also, the 'Tubby Rowlands' story is clearly the Doctor winding up civil servant arse of the week Brownrose (Dermot Tuohy) more than it is an indication that the Doctor's gone all establishment. It's an attack on behalf of the Brigadier really.

I really enjoyed watching it this time around. Pertwee's performance is fun. He definitely pings off of Jo Grant better than he did Liz Shaw, which helps I think.

I should also flag up my theory that The Master is here to prevent the Doctor from being too bored during his exile. The way The Master flips so quickly at the end and the Doctor's final reaction to The Master being trapped on Earth seems to be a hint in that direction to me even if unneccessary deaths in the course of a game seems very un-Doctorish. Anyway I throw it out there as a theory. I will come back to it later.

*10/07/2014 Update: I still haven't done this. Perhaps I should?

*21/07/2017 Update: Still haven't done this. Quelle Surprise.

 *28/01/2018 Update: Still haven't done this. Hey ho.

**21/07/2017 Update: Missy runs him damn close now btw. Michelle Gomez was tip-top.

**28/01/2018 Update: Michelle Gomez is pretty much equally enjoyable. A little more batty, but equally well acted, although kudos to John Simms calmer, older Master in the final Capaldi season. That review to come later.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Thoughts On Season 7

Well, having rattled through 'Inferno' I can only praise the team behind Season 7.

With the Third Doctor exiled to Earth the four stories that makeup Season 7 are all variations on the 'alien invasion' theme with 'Doctor Who & The Silurians' having the well-known twist that the 'aliens' are already here.

So at the end of Spearhead From Space, the Doctor finds himself stuck on Earth. His knowledge of time travel & the TARDIS 'blocked' by the Timelords. So he signs up as a half-hearted advisor to UNIT. Constantly ungrateful the Third Doctor has an agenda of his own & is only prepared to give UNIT a hand when it suits him.

His companion is multi-degree holding scientist Liz Shaw, played by Caroline John. In a classic case of 'Susan Syndrome' Liz is set up to support the Doctor as a scientist but is eventually relegated to the role of asking dumb questions & in 'Doctor Who & the Silurians' helping the Brigadier answer the telephones rather than help the Doctor find a cure for the Silurian plague. It is no surprise when she disappears at the end of the season. Caroline John does a good job in the circumstances with this rather thin material, although the highlight for me is her performance as the alt-Liz in 'Inferno'.

The other regular character, of course, is Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewert. This is the Brigadier inherited from 'The Web of Fear' and 'The Invasion': a serious soldier. Whilst the Doctor has some fun at the Brigadier's expense the production team hasn't yet turned him into the somewhat Pythonesque military buffoon he becomes later. Here Nicholas Courtney plays him pretty straight. He might be military-minded but he isn't stupid.

UNIT itself seems to be one of the most inconsistent military outfits in history. In 'Spearhead From Space' they look pretty efficient; in 'Doctor Who & The Silurians' they do a reasonable job but in 'Ambassadors of Death' they are the most inept bunch imaginable. Out-maneuvered constantly by General Carrington & his men they let various bad guys wonder in & out of top-secret bases on a regular basis. By the end, when Reegan drives into the base in a Bakery Lorry & has time to connect up gas to drug the Doctor & kidnap him we are straining the viewers' credulity a wee bit.

In 'Inferno' UNIT looks small scale & security led but their alt-Earth counterparts are surprisingly effective.

The decision to change the UNIT uniforms from a specially designed, slightly futuristic-looking one of Spearhead to 'normal' British army uniforms helps a lot. They never look more like enthusiastic amateurs than in that beige kit.

I don't intend to review the stories in depth. There are other people out there who can do that better & can talk authoritatively about direction etc. Let's just say that 'Spearhead From Space' rattles along like a New Who story. its four episodes race by. An excellent introduction to the Third Doctor & his era. The Autons make a memorable enemy & are suitably creepy.

'Doctor Who & The Silurians' is thoughtful, serious & clever. It also plods a bit. The Silurians themselves look excellent, have a believable series of internal feuds & the scenes at Marylebone Station as people succumb to the Silurian Plague have a real impact. Funnily enough, this was the one story I really struggled with in terms of keeping my interest. It's still damn good but there are moments when you find your attention drifting. I shall draw a veil over the Silurian's pet Dinosaur.

'Ambassadors of Death' is excellent - despite my previous caveat about the ineptness of UNIT in this story. It is genuinely tense. There's a real sinister creepiness about the 'Ambassadors' as they stroll around in their astronaut's costumes & General Carrington is a great villain because he's believable. He's a man whose acting from the best motives - he thinks. The subdued ending is quite touching.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Season 7 is that it is painted in shades of grey, with the exception of 'Spearhead From Space' perhaps. There's no villain who is an out & out villain. Everyone seems to have believable motivations & on occasion even the good guys act in a cold fashion: witness the Brigadier lying to the Doctor & then blowing up the Silurian base at the end of 'Doctor Who & The Silurians'. It's not nice.

'Inferno' was my favourite story of the season. Despite being 7 episodes long it fairly rattles along even though the basic plot is not particularly fresh: Doctor turns up at base/scientific project led by focused/over-stressed/mad scientist or Director & things go horribly wrong.

What makes this story really great is the scenes set on the alternative Earth where the fascist equivalents of our regulars stride around in uniform dealing out threats. The alt-Brig is a bullying thug; the alt-Liz (looking good in boots) is a party loyalist until the end & even the alt-Benton is a git. All the regulars play their alt-counterparts dead straight & are all the more terrifying for it.

Most importantly in episode 6 of 'Inferno', we see the Doctor losing. The alt-Earth is doomed. The alt-Liz, Brig, Petra, etc are going to die quite horrible deaths & the Doctor can't save them. He can only flee & try to save 'our' world. It is quite possibly the darkest, bleakest episode in Doctor Who's history & soaked through with an air of impending doom. Nobody lives.

So I'd recommend Season 7. All of it. But especially 'Inferno'.