RogerBW's Blog

Doctor Who Re-Watch, series 15 27 May 2014

As always, spoilers abound. See Wikipedia for production details)

Doctor Who - Tom Baker
Leela - Louise Jameson
K-9 (voice) - John Leeson

Horror of Fang Rock

Graham Williams took over as producer (in fact with The Invisible Enemy, the first story made for this series), with a brief to tone down the horror and make the show more kiddie-friendly; Robert Holmes stayed on as script editor for the moment, but left later in this series.

This was an unexpected return by Terrance Dicks, former script editor and more recently active in writing the famous Target novelisations. The original story, The Witch Lords or The Vampire Mutation, was canned because the BBC didn't want interference with its adaptation of Dracula (parts of it eventually made it on screen as State of Decay); Horror was thus written at very short notice, explicitly inspired by the poem The Ballad of Flannan Isle, an extract from which closes the story, and of course Agatha Christie's Ten Little… well, let's say Indians. It ends up being a pretty light-weight piece, but one which does its job effectively.

Paddy Russell, returning as director for the first time since Pyramids of Mars, was unimpressed with the location: the lighthouse tower meant lots of curved sets, difficult to work with, and the exterior walls of the lamp room would have to be glass backed by CSO exterior shots. Production difficulties at Pebble Mill (not used to such complex productions, but Television Centre was full) and friction between Russell, Baker and Jameson meant that Russell vowed never to work on the show again.

While the script conforms to the general template (people are doing something, a monster starts to kill them one by one, the Doctor shows up to help) it's still an interesting change on the base-under-siege pattern; for a start, I think this is the first where all the locals get killed before the Doctor can deal with the alien nasty. Just this once, everybody dies.

The shipwreck that closes episode one is only slightly limited in its effect by the total absence of water in the model shot. Its survivors introduce rather too much pointless conflict for my taste (all that fuss about getting a message to London), but without them the story would be rather shorter. They clearly think that they're in an emotional drama about honour and money, where in fact they've crashed into a horror story, and in the end this is probably what does for them: wrong genre savvy. It's all a bit Good Working Class versus Bad Aristocrats, but hey, it was the BBC in the 1970s. Just wait till you see what they do once they have Margaret Thatcher to parody.

Like Talons, it's all a bit dingy and dim at least at first, which is a shame; again, the sets are excellent, and this time they link up well together too (leaving through exit 1 on set A leads one reliably to entrance 2 on set B). The Doctor is utterly implausible in a battered bowler hat, and Leela gets another new costume (though she's no Zoe). The glowing green ball-with-tentacles mode of the creature is far more effective than it has any right to be.

As far as the acting goes, Baker seems finally to have settled down and accepted Jameson (it seems that, having signed on for a full series, she finally felt during filming of this story that she had the pull to tell him not to tread on her lines, after which he started to have some respect for her). On the other hand, while he has some good moments, Baker does seem to be spending a lot of the time putting himself in the middle of the frame and coasting by on his charm. Jameson gets a splendid eye-roll when Adelaide faints at her, the fine line "has she never seen death before?", and her gloat over the dying Rutan is excellent.

The Invisible Enemy

This was Graham Williams' first story as producer, and he had a diktat from the Head of Serials: tone down the violence and horror, and rein in the budgets a bit. He tried to bring back a bit of structure linking one story to the next, and even mooted a return to the UNIT format, but this was vetoed for series 15; we'll come back to the structure next series. For now, there wasn't time to get the script-writers to coordinate.

The budgetary pressures always facing the show meant that actual "spaceships" stories, ones requiring model work, were always a bit rare. The Android Invason mostly didn't show them at all; Planet of Evil was pretty minimal; The Ark in Space/Revenge of the Cybermen had to split the cost over eight episodes. The last story that really indulged in spacecraft was Frontier in Space, and that was done with someone else's models.

Still, we make up for the delay, with lots of shots of the Titan shuttle flying around, being attacked (excellent smoke effects, not such great painting on the negative or equivalent video effect), and then being shifted around inside the base. The sets are a bit sparse, though, with the occasional good storage shelf but otherwise pretty minimal. (The pseudo-phonetic spelling on signs is a bit odd, but probably wouldn't have been obvious to the original viewers, particularly given the strange font that was used.)

It's a new console room set (which would be used until series 21) to go with the "new" console which had last been used in Pyramids of Mars. That can't have helped with the budget either.

The story itself, by Bob Baker and Dave Martin, rolls along nicely (and their use of a catchphrase, here "contact has been made" rather than "Eldrad must live", is something that's been redone a few times on the revived show). This time they chose to mash up ideas from other shows rather than to try to be original, and alas it shows. We've seen similar concepts before, but it's nice to see the Doctor the one who's hypnotised this time; it cuts down just a little on the feeling of invulnerability that Tom Baker's starting to project. Meanwhile Louise Jameson does wonders with a horrible script that does its best to make her into a comic-relief savage.

I think this may be the first time that we've heard of a companion flying the TARDIS, and I'm not sure that I approve; it's a big change to make in the background (particularly since Leela's barely literate!) for a very small gain. Why not have Lowe fly a shuttlecraft to the Bi-Al base instead? Why for that matter should Lowe not simply kill Leela and deal with the Doctor later, infecting the medical station if it turned out to be necessary?

One does wonder why people dealing with a shuttle that's crashed into an asteroid base don't wear space suits. Well, even prop space suits are expensive.

The first episode is an effective space-horror introduction, and the second is an obviously Space: 1999-inspired emergency medical drama. But both of these are dropped rather than resolved.

The side trip into the Doctor's brain is obviously inspired by Fantastic Voyage, but (as with similar segments in The Deadly Assassin and even to some extent Inferno) it's an effective means of padding that doesn't slow the pace of the story even though it has little direct influence on the main story (the antidote, after all, is never used).

Pity about the science, mind. The "mind-brain interface" as a physical thing; the "clones" that have all the memories and equipment of their donor organisms, and even a telepathic connection with them… and for that matter the terribly convenient "relative dimensional stabiliser" that clips straight on to the cloning hardware, and the way nobody ever thinks of making multiple clones.

It's once we see the Nucleus, first the tree-stump swathed in black fabric with a sort of claw-thing sticking out of the front and waving around and then its later incarnation as a giant space prawn, that things really fall apart. That final episode feels as though the Bristol Boys are flailing around, desperately turning the pacing knob up and down as they come up with new ideas, until it's finally time to bring the thing to a close. (Having fewer ideas, but developing each of them more, would probably have led to a better story. The virus that lives on thoughts and exists as an idea; sending short-lived duplicates into their own original bodies; either of these could have carried a story on its own!)

K-9 was introduced by Graham Williams to lighten the show up a bit after the glory days of Hinchcliffe. At that, it wasn't at first intended to be a permanent companion, but late in production Williams realised that if he did keep it on as a regular the huge cost of the prop could borrow small slices of budget from the rest of this series. Was K-9 a good idea? Purists who were sensitive to the show being thought of as a "children's programme" hated it; I quite liked it at the time, and reckon it's not bad now.

It's clear that the reach of this story very much exceeded its budget. There's the Nucleus, as mentioned; the phagocytes are pretty lacking (this fuzzy balloon is much less effective than the one in Fang Rock); the spaceships wobble about all over the place. When Who does big-budget well, as in The Talons of Weng-Chiang, it's great; when it does small-budget well, as in The Sontaran Experiment, it's not at all bad; but when it tries to do big budget and runs off the end of the track, it can be terribly disappointing. The script relies on special effects to carry it over the rough spots, and the special effects aren't up to the job. One particularly egregious moment is the scene where K-9 shoots a chunk ot of a wall, which has obviously been cut to fall apart in a particular manner; it was disguised originally, but with reshoots they didn't have time to re-apply the camouflage, and so it was just left being obvious. There's a feeling of lack of professionalism which is always unfortunate.

The problems of K-9 show up immediately: not only does it make a great deal of noise when moving, it's blatantly unable to cross the lip of the TARDIS door, so that its entries and exits always have to be kept out of shot. Less obvious is that the radio control system tended to cause hash on the videotape cameras, or to be overridden by electrical noise from elsewhere, leading to a lot of aborted shots. (And Tom Baker objected because he kept having to get down on his knees to talk to K-9; fortunately he made friends with John Leeson, who turned up at rehearsals to fill in for the prop in order to save the cost of an operator.) More seriously, having a permanent blaster in the team closes down several story-telling options and leads if anything to a more violent version of the programme than before.

Critical reaction hasn't been kind to this story, and I can understand why it was hated at the time: it's certainly a huge step down from recent Who, and probably my least favourite story since The Android Invasion. But it still has its moments.

A robot dog is for life, not just for the year 5000.

Image of the Fendahl

This is a story that is almost excellent.

One does rather wonder how this, and indeed Fang Rock, are consistent with the new "less horror" brief. Less horror actually shown on the screen, I suppose, but every competent writer knows the stuff that's not detailed is much more scary than the stuff that is, and BBC budgets always made it easier not to show stuff.

It's odd to see Boucher joining in on the "comedy savage" treatment of Leela, given that he did a rather better job in his other two stories. (Boucher left the show after this to work on Blake's 7; there was a feeling at the BBC that the writing staffs shouldn't overlap.) And Leela's new bright yellow leather dress is rather more deliberately revealing than the old "skins" outfit. Interesting hairstyle, though it doesn't suit her; the BBC stylist had cut her hair too short, and this was done to disguise the fact.

Those lovely old computers probably seemed dated even by the standards of the 1970s, but what the hell, they look good now. There do seem to be just slightly too many people here: the four scientists, the security guy, Ted Moss, Mother Tyler and her grandson Jack... Ted and the guard are dispensable, and Jack probably would be too, without too much trouble. The acting is generally pretty forgettable; Wanda Ventham (returning after her small part in The Faceless Ones) is decent, and Daphne Heard as Martha Tyler gets a bit beyond the stereotype, but they're really the only stand-outs. There wasn't time for K-9 to be incorporated into the script, explaining its absence except in framing scenes.

There's good material here, but at the same time there are too many ideas and not enough material to fill the story; fewer of them, developed further, would have given a better balance. The script and direction are a little too clever: "He has great knowledge and gentleness", immediately followed by the Doctor kicking boxes around (and then mysteriously getting out of the locked cupboard as soon as he's needed somewhere else). The mention of the hundred-hour limit on the time scanner, immediately followed by the dedicated CRT monitor showing its log at nearly 99 hours. And then there's that diversion into the TARDIS to soak up a few minutes of part 3 (and oh, dear, another mention of the Time Lords, just to perk up the story); indeed, this might have worked rather better with one episode fewer, and that's something I haven't said for a while. Unities are barely respected; we never get any feeling of how long it might take to move between Mother Tyler's house and the priory. On the other hand, small things work well; the big power cables trailed around the inside of the house towards the end are just the sort of thing that would be needed in this situation, and it's good to see that they're present.

This is a story that keeps its monsters very close to its chest; the full-size Fendahleen is only shown in the closing shot of part 3, and the transformed Thea's only in part 4. It's slightly surprising; I find the creatures actually pretty effective, though not everyone agrees.

In the end, Image manages to impress with its high points, but its lows keep it from ever really succeeding. There's only the one genuinely powerful moment, Stael's suicide.

This was Robert Holmes's last story as script editor (The Sun Makers was made before it), and I think people who blame the new producer for a sharp decline in quality around this point should take a look at this and Fang Rock and consider whether they should instead be blaming the new script editor Anthony Read (who edited in a lot of info-dumps to this script too, when both Boucher and Holmes were unavailable).

The Sun Makers

Robert Holmes parodies the British tax system. For very loose values of "parody"; any contemporary political content was toned down by Williams, still running scared of the BBC bosses, so all that's really left is side references like "corridor P45", descending finally to the bathetic depths of the "Usurians from the planet Usurius". (The Aztec influences in some costumes stem from the designers' plan to base the look on Mexican propagandist art; this was similarly squashed.) The generic politics (Doctor Who's take on debt slavery) are somewhat stronger, but well hidden under a mess of action.

Tom Baker is going into serious clowning mode as he wanders around on the roof of the Wills Tobacco Factory in Bristol on a cold windy day (and then through some very distinctive London Underground corridors). As he descends sometimes into conscious self-parody (though with a fine double-take from a technician who sees the bulletin offering a reward for his capture while standing next to him), Louise Jameson gets better and better; her rabble-rousing in the rebel base is some of the best actual acting I've seen in the show (and distinctly better than Baker's own attempt later, even if the script makes the latter more diegetically successful). Sadly, Jameson still wasn't happy, with both Tom Baker's behaviour and the way Leela's potential was being ignored by the scripts; there was even brief thought given to killing off Leela during this story (the scene in the safe), and it seemed very likely that she wouldn't renew her contract at the end of the series.

Direction is sloppy and generic, with lots and lots and lots of running along bare beige corridors, reaching a low point with the famous false cliffhanger to part 2 ("It's no good. They've seen us" is omitted from the repeat, giving K-9 time to hide and ambush the attackers). The messing about with the safe in the final part, since it doesn't end up killing Leela, just feels like padding; it never comes to anything. Conversely, both the main studio sets that we see early on, the Gatherer's office and the rebels' lair, are oddly spacious, consisting of a few props dotted around huge open areas where the walls are invisible in the distance. The Collector's office is slightly better managed.

I had quite forgotten, if I ever knew, that Michael Keating (later more famous as Vila in Blake's 7) was in this. He ends up playing much the same role. Most of the other guest cast are forgettable stereotypes; Roy Macready stands out as Cordo the self-made rebel, but he rather fades into the background in later episodes.

Not a brilliant story, with the nasty incompetent Company versus the nasty violent rebels, and very poorly mounted, but it manages at least to keep things moving. When Doctor Who becomes formulaic, this is the formula it follows. For other shows, this would be enough. After what we've seen from the last few years, it's rather a drop in quality.

(I think it was probably some time around here that I became a regular viewer who'd make some effort to be available to watch the show. I hadn't seen enough of the previous series to be unimpressed by what was happening now. Yeah, still no household VCRs, at least not affordable by us.)

(During the initial broadcast of this story, the pilot of the deservedly-forgotten SF sitcom Come Back Mrs Noah was broadcast. The rest of the series followed during the summer break between this and series 16. As far as I can tell, it was an attempt by the creators of the more successful sitcoms Dad's Army, It Ain't Half Hot Mum and Are You Being Served? to make some of that crazy science fiction stuff the kids were talking about. I don't believe it ever got a VHS or DVD release, and I hope it never surfaces in any form. At the time, I felt betrayed. This was described as science fiction. I knew science fiction, and I liked science fiction. This was... horrid.)

Underworld

(Over the Christmas gap between The Sun Makers ending and this story beginning, Blake's 7 began. The first series ended a couple of weeks after this series did. I saw quite a few episodes, though I didn't make the effort to watch every week.)

(Oh, and there was some film called Star Wars. It opened in the UK around this time, and changed a generation's ideas of what science fiction ought to look like. And indeed what sort of stories it ought to tell; traditional hard SF on film had gradually sunk into endless tales of doom, but where books had got the New Wave, films got this; people's expectations of SF became the combination of mythic and fantastical story structures with spaceships that went "whoosh", but nobody really cared how they worked. And of course Doctor Who had already been there to meet those expectations. But Doctor Who didn't do big-budget special effects or, mostly, the nonsense of the Hero's Journey, so as the rest of the filmic SF world finally caught up to its stories the show started to fall behind. In a sense, Star Wars kicked the show in the ribs as surely as Mary Whitehouse ever did.)

Anyway, on with this story. Baker and Martin again, another story reliant on visual effects, and another catchphrase ("The quest is the quest"). As we open, Leela's most definitely flying the TARDIS. It's surprising just how odd this feels to me, having now come through the show from the beginning; that's not a thing companions should be doing, especially if they've only recently learned to read.

The pacifier is an interesting innovation; shame it's entirely played for laughs, and even more of a shame that it's Leela who's the object of the comedy. She gets one or two moments in this story, but she's far too much the comic relief. K-9's rather more effective than in most of its stories, being something more than just a mobile blaster; it actually gets things to do.

"He's just laughing at us." Yes, he is; for all we've got another Time Lord history reference (thrown away without any payoff) and something that one might think the Doctor would regard as quite important, Baker's really not acting at all seriously. The idea is a good one, the crew of a ship who've been travelling for a hundred thousand years, but they don't act like people that old: well, I don't know how people like that act, but surely not this generically?

Unfortunately, after a moderately effective first part, all of that cleverness is forgotten as episode two brings us straight into CSO World, and not even the interesting one we saw in The Invisible Enemy: it's drab boring CSO. Because of the setup, any shots done in this way pretty much need to be static (coordinating two cameras to move in the same way would have been impossible with the technology of the day), so the backgrounds just make them even more lifeless. (The original plan had been for two really impressive sets, the spaceship (both of them) and the cave, rather than more sets that would be individually cheaper; that was probably the first shadow that Star Wars cast on the show, a feeling that it needed to up its game visually more than anything else. The spaceship set had already been constructed when the BBC started noticing how much it was all costing, so it's the cave that ended up getting CSO-ed. But given that they were using paintings for backdrops, they would at least have used interesting ones!) Not a particularly smart move; indeed, I think I could fairly call this story Tom Baker's Invasion of the Dinosaurs, except it depends even more on its special effects and they're even more distractingly bad. Still, it means K-9 can appear to move over rough terrain, and the shots inside the P7-E aren't too bad. But meh, that "zero gravity" sequence. Yech.

And, actually, the CSO really isn't this story's biggest problem. For a start there are major plausibility gaps: if the Minyan ship had completely run out of control crystals and needed K-9 to be its control computer, how did they expect to be able to fly away later? And as for the nebula and so on, well, science does not work like that, but science has rarely been a strong point anyway.

Things slow down very badly during part two (we get some infodump, but basically nothing happens), and part three isn't great (though it has a decent small battle, even that feels like padding). The third episode ends with what's barely even a cliffhanger! And then, in spite of the fact that most of the plot's happening in part four, it still manages to drag. There simply isn't enough material here to sustain a story of this length (and indeed all the episodes ran short in the studio, meaning that there are lots of repeated shots to pad them out). Four parts are the new six parts.

While the spaceship set is indeed very pleasing, the costumes of the guards and seers just make me think the BBC got a good deal on a job lot of eyelets. The slaves are in generic sacking. The Minyans' spacesuits aren't too bad, though the helmets are pretty silly. K-9 is attached to the Minyan ship by bulldog clips and telephone wire that look like bulldog clips and telephone wire. They're not even spray-painted silver.

But the shield guns are fun, and the external spaceship shots are decent. Given that episode one's by far the best, I think that if I were re-writing this I'd borrow ideas from The Ark and visit the ship at multiple stages on its quest as its society gradually broke down into routine-following.

Baker and Martin seriously tried to pitch the further adventures of the Minyans, encountering mythology in space, as a spinoff series. Yes, really.

During filming of this story, Louise Jameson made it clear that she wouldn't be coming back for series 16; Baker still detested Leela even if he could now work with Jameson. The producer tried to bring Lis Sladen back, but she wasn't available, so he started contemplating a character who'd be as unlike Leela as possible…

The Invasion of Time

An interesting, and deliberately deceptive, opener (The Doctor Goes Bad!), from the team of producer and (mostly) script editor writing under a house name. And in great haste; when David Weir's Killers of the Dark proved too complex and expensive even to think about shooting (involving such scenes as a stadium filled with 100,000 cat-people), they cobbled this together in just two weeks, intending to re-use plenty of sets and props from The Deadly Assassin. Robert Holmes advised informally, suggesting a 2+4 or 4+2 episode structure rather than going with a single long storyline. The story does a decent job of hiding its budget, but it soon becomes apparent that there are only two corridors in the whole of Gallifrey (uninspired direction doesn't help).

After the studio-only previous story, and with budget even tighter, the producers discovered an emergency fund for location filming. This is why there's so much location material here (and indeed much of the "studio" filming was done at St Anne's hospital, owned by the BBC, and technically "location"), which in turn explains why the super-tech machinery of Gallifrey looks so much like 1950s-era industrial electronics: it's what was lying around.

As for the main Gallifrey sets, rather faded since The Deadly Assassin, these scenes suffer from not having the crowds that were in that story: the President is inaugurated in front of about a dozen people with dubious organ music.

There's a special kick in the teeth for those few of us who remember the ancient history of last series: no non-Time-Lords are allowed to go to Gallifrey, eh? But nobody looks twice at Leela until the Doctor reminds them, and even that's made into a plot point.

K-9 is effectively used in conversation, but it's quite remarkable how noisy it is, even when it's only moving its ears. Leela doesn't have much to do in her final story, and the Outsiders even less; in an earlier version of the script they were the Gallifreyan indigenes, but that was dropped before shooting (as was the Time Lord Civil War plot).

The Vardans in their shimmery form are… well. Not really terribly impressive; they already look like tinfoil, and the crinkling sound effects remind one of this if one hadn't already noticed. But the effects don't break suspension of disbelief the way Underworld did, at least until they're obviously overlaid on a moving camera shot. Their voices are rather uninteresting and conventional, though, and their eventual appearance even more so. The vapour jets from their ship are possibly the worst idea for a practical effect I've seen on the show; even a pulsing glowy light would be better.

The Sontarans are unfortunate; Stor, played by Derek Deadman, is clearly a bit of an East End lad (talking about "the force fiowd"), which isn't quite what we've come to expect from the race. The probic vent is bigger than ever, and they still haven't thought of putting any armour over it, even a flap or shutter. (At one point Stuart Fell, unable to see through his helmet, nearly falls over a pool chair; and he's not even meant to be in combat at the time.)

Borusa has undergone a severe change of character since The Deadly Assassin, becoming much more of a stuffed shirt than before at least at first, but he is rather better played. Castellan Kelner is more interesting as the nasty self-interested secret policeman type who always shows up in a revolution, though being played by the always-excellent Milton Johns (in his final role for the show) gives him a good start. For a change we actually see some female Gallifreyans, and even one Time Lady (the rather good, at least in her studio shots, Hilary Ryan); this really points up just how odd their absence was in The Deadly Assassin.

After a reasonably well-paced four-part story culminating in the appearance of the Sontarans, there's rather a lot of running around corridors and up stairs towards the end, especially the charging about the TARDIS in part 6; yeah, it's a nice use of location shots (and better than the rather bland interiors that would be used in later production eras), but it seems a bit of a waste. The comedy sequence with duck lures and carnivorous plants seems completely out of place in what's been until now a mostly serious story.

And in the end, the demat gun doesn't seem like such a terribly ultimate weapon. I mean, you shoot people with it, and they vanish. It's hardly the only weapon we've seen in this show that works like that. There's no suggestion that you can use it to shoot spaceships, or planets; it doesn't do anything that couldn't be achieved by any old gun. What's worse, much of the point of this show has been that the Doctor doesn't just pick up a gun and shoot the bad guys. (Except in The Seeds of Death.) It's an ending that just doesn't fit with the rest of the story.

If the Time Lords are mysterious and superpowerful, they're a plot force, as they were until The Deadly Assassin. But once they enter the the story rather than hover about outside it, they're subject to the story. Which means they're no longer the ultimate impressive beings; which opens the door to stories like this. Raising the stakes (it's not just the Doctor, it's all the Time Lords; the key hidden from every President by every Chancellor) is all very well, but the previous story has taught us not to care all that much about other Time Lords, and once you get into a pattern of raising the stakes you have to keep doing it. (The producers of the revived series could have learned from this.)

Gallifrey is now just another planet of the month, and it, the Time Lords and the Sontarans are brought in because… well, because the audience is presumed to have seen them before, and to be enthused by their reappearance. If The Deadly Assassin sharpened this particular dagger, The Invasion of Time picks it up and points it at the programme's heart.

Louise Jameson asked repeatedly for Leela to be killed off, but this was felt to be too traumatic, so she stayed with Andred even though there wasn't time to work any romantic connection into the script before that point; the actors did their best to improvise on set.

Overall impressions

It was at some point following this series that the policy of wiping old episodes ceased. Yes, this late.

Farewell to Leela. Hinchcliffe and Holmes had asked for an Eliza Doolittle-style character, a primitive who'd learn from the Doctor; instead they got someone competent. Louise Jameson had probably some of the better acting credentials of regulars on the show, and was a devotee of the method. With that in mind, it's worth noting that she claimed that she was not told that Leela was meant to be "sexy", and therefore didn't attempt to conceptualise her as such.

Baker and Martin, who had two of this series' stories, simply didn't know what to use Leela for except comic relief. She's much better in Fang Rock, but the other writers don't really know what to do with her either; it's not surprising that Louise Jameson was unimpressed with what she was being asked for, after a strong introduction in series 14. I suspect she was rather too good an actress for the sort of child-friendly stuff the new production team wanted. Alas for me, her later roles were mostly in more "serious" stuff (and Bergerac and EastEnders), not of much interest to me. It's not surprising that, of the companions who weren't already established actors, she had the most success after the show; never mind the skimpy costumes, she really could act, and where some companions have done great stuff with great scripts, she did adequate stuff with terrible ones. And that acting is why I'm putting her just above Sarah Jane in my big list, in spite of some truly awful scripts.

In general, as I've mentioned under individual stories, the programme suffered by trying to play things safe and keep them cheap (the latter not bad in itself, but you need to write for your budget; a story that calls for crowd scenes simply won't work when you can't afford more than a few extras). The last time it was this blah was back in series 11, Pertwee's last, and I blamed that on Pertwee. This time I think I have to point the finger at Graham Williams, though Tom Baker doesn't help by not even pretending to take things seriously.

Next series: raising the stakes beyond the Time Lords.

Favourite story of this series: Horror of Fang Rock

Departed companions to date, ranked by how much I like them:

  1. Zoe
  2. Barbara
  3. Liz Shaw
  4. Leela
  5. Sarah Jane Smith
  6. Susan
  7. Ian
  8. Steven
  9. Sara Kingdom
  10. Jo Grant
  11. Jamie
  12. Ben
  13. Polly
  14. Vicki
  15. Victoria
  16. Dodo
  17. Katarina

  1. Posted by Michael Cule at 03:49pm on 27 May 2014

    Ah, yes. Leela. Some people talk about MY Doctor but for me Leela was MY Companion. And I wasn't even an adolescent at the time. (More so than I still am, say.)

    I'm starting to have more sympathy (if not respect) for DR WHO script editors as one of my RPG campaigns comes back after a long absence and I find that not only do I get things wrong that happened in the first run but I can't even always recall what my 'cunning plan' was when I started foreshadowing things in this season I have to bring to fruition later on.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 03:55pm on 27 May 2014

    Watching as an adult I'm having a lot of sympathy with Louise Jameson, who sometimes gives the impression of trying to do a Real Acting Job while everyone else is going "meh, good enough". (I may be reading too much into her expressions.)

    And you don't even have the option of employing someone for continuity. But I think you may have just proposed a podcast segment.

  3. Posted by Michael Cule at 10:36pm on 27 May 2014

    If we do that topic it will be full of 'do as I say, not as I do'.

  4. Posted by Owen Smith at 11:34pm on 27 May 2014

    This was during my core watching Dr. Who years, but the only story element I remember is the lighthouse.

    As for flying the Tardis, New Who makes a big thing out of River Song being able to do it better than the doctor and then almost immediately cheapens that by having the doctor teach Amy and then Clara if I recall correctly. Sigh.

    But oddly, as one of the more competent companions I don't have too much trouble with Leela flying the Tardis. She just got on with things rather than all the typical being flustered.

  5. Posted by RogerBW at 08:17am on 28 May 2014

    Well, to me Fang Rock was by far the stand-out story of this series.

    The original plan for Leela's development might well have had her flying the TARDIS to show just how far she'd come, but that would have been after other things. As it is, there's no progression; this is the same story where she's just been learning to write her name.

    (Personally I thought River Song's "handbrake" joke already cheapened the show. It's not as though we hadn't seen quite a lot of other capsules flown by other people over the years.)

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