RogerBW's Blog

Doctor Who Re-Watch, series 18 05 September 2014

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

Doctor Who - Tom Baker
Doctor Who - Peter Davison (briefly)
Romana - Lalla Ward
K-9 (voice) - John Leeson
Adric - Matthew Waterhouse
Nyssa - Sarah Sutton
Tegan Jovanka - Janet Fielding

The Leisure Hive

John Nathan-Turner gave himself the brief of throwing away what he considered all the excessive silliness of recent series; in other words, he was a forerunner of the "everything has to be DARK and ADULT now" trend of the later 1980s. He also attempted to increase production values to try to compete with imported American series, particularly Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, which ITV now chose to schedule directly opposite Doctor Who.

The first sign of all this to the viewer is the new title sequence, logo, and theme music (up a couple of semitones, with a slightly faster tempo, and an entirely new recording, throwing out the Delia Derbyshire version that had been used in various arrangements since the beginning). And it's… all terribly Eighties, somehow, even if the closing music does feature the return of one of the phrases that's been out of the theme as used for quite a while.

Nathan-Turner, by his own admission, wasn't terribly interested in the actual stories, so he got in Christopher H. Bidmead as script editor. Bidmead was interested in computers, not unreasonably at the time, and decided to make them more important in the show; I suspect that's why we get the casual reference to a "FIFO stack" here, though Bidmead was only involved relatively late in the process.

But what's the very first thing that happens after the long, long, slow, tedious, pan across Brighton Beach? Poor old K-9 (the prop bounding over the gravel on fairly obvious wires) is knocked out of action again. Welcome back, John Leeson, now bog off home again.

Another innovation was the firing of Dudley Simpson, to be replaced by a succession of synthesiser composers from the Radiophonic Workshop. Peter Howell's incidental music here is very much in the style of what Vangelis had been doing a few years earlier (there are bits that could be straight from Albedo 0.39); it more or less works, I suppose.

An early shot of the Hive clearly shows VFX smoke hovering over it (why not real smoke; we do get that later) from a Quantel Paintbox, heavily used here for the first time (there may be some in Nightmare of Eden). Many effects are cut oddly short; Lovett Bickford, directing, ran wildly over-budget and over-time, so he used the old trick of having an actor saying "the X is exploding" then cutting directly to a stock explosion rather than actually blowing up a model of the X.

The Foamasi are best as blatantly menacing body parts (because we need something to tide us over all the setup in the early episodes; it's a pretty padded script, and suffers from the same problem as The Creature from the Pit and The Power of Kroll that the main plot is solved by the start of the final episode and something has to be found to get us to the end), and my goodness, they're unimpressive when we can see them clearly. The head and claws aren't too bad by the show's previous standards, but the rest is just a green cloth sack. The Argolins are more generic Star Trek-style aliens, distinguished only by the shiny balls that fall out of their wigs when they're dying.

After the very generic electronic equipment in The Horns of Nimon, it's refreshing to see the crystal control interface when Romana and Hardin are working on the time experiment. OK, it's a damn silly interface for simply increasing a value, but never mind, never mind, it's something to look at while we're getting the Serious Science Talk.

We've seen the Doctor get out of the chamber once at the start of part 2; why should he be stuck in it at the end? This is really where the story breaks down for me; it's had an intriguing setup, but the explanation just comes apart. It's the same problem we saw in City of Death, also by David Fisher, that rolling someone's timeline forward more than a few seconds brings up questions of breathable air, food, and so on; and nobody seems to be concerned that rolling it back would wipe the subject's memories. This contempt for storytelling reaches its nadir at the end, when not only does the Doctor solve everything off-screen because the plot needs him to, but the randomiser (which admittedly had been ignored for most of the previous series) is casually discarded.

This is the first appearance the burgundy scarf instead of the classic multi-coloured one, and the first sight of that damn silly question-mark motif (on Tom Baker's shirt) that would persist until the end of the show's run. Baker and Lalla Ward do their best, but it's all a lot grimmer than it was; all Fisher's humour was stripped out of the script by Nathan-Turner, and the fact that Baker and Ward were now at outs on a personal level doubtless didn't help.

The other cast are forgettable, though Adrienne Corri as Mena (with a sort of Elizabethan ruff) is fairly decent. Sets are overlit, over-coloured plastic, and so are the costumes.

I think the problem was that the programme was now falling between two stools. It didn't have the budget (or the cheap labour) to go up against Buck Rogers on its own ground, but it was alienating the people who'd stayed with it through recent hardships by making a deliberate break with the past in the hope of finding a new audience for Serious Science Fiction (without actually bothering to employ anyone who understood any science). This is one of those errors that so many managers make, especially if they have a background in sales: make your mark by changing everything, and focus all your efforts on getting in new punters because that's more important than retaining the old ones. By part 3, the show was out of the top 100 programmes of the week for the first time since 100,000 BC.

Meglos

1970s space wigs! I wonder what dusty corner of the BBC props department they dug them out of. For all the talk about higher production values, the new team doesn't seem to have had a sense of how this could actually be achieved. Jacqueline Hill's appearance here is the only return role by someone who'd previously played a companion; maybe it's just me, but I can't help see her as wondering who all these kids are and what they've done to the show. Her part's pretty thankless, though she has some fun nibbling daintily on the scenery. And her eventual death isn't even connected to anything we've seen before in her character; it's just a side note, inserted by Bidmead when the original script had her vaguely fading into the background. It's poorly framed and shot, too. The script-writers were friends of Bidmead's who didn't impress him with their work, but by the time they turned in the script it was too late to commission another one.

For a series that was trying to be more scientific and less magical, we get an entirely magical time loop and an entirely magical way of breaking out of it, as well as an entirely magical power source. It's all a bit disappointing, really.

One realises that the crew obviously couldn't afford to build the screens full-size, but they do look awfully obviously CSO-ed in behind the actors, in a way that's rarely been quite this blatant before. The production got a free trial of the new Scene-Sync system, an analogue process for moving a camera over a miniature set to match the movements of a camera in a CSO studio, and it works reasonably well; we don't get as much fringing and interposition between actors and models as we've seen before, but a model that's been made in miniature, or a sand tray, expanded to fill the screen just doesn't look as though it belongs in the same shot as a detailed human actor. (This was actually the only use of Scene-Sync on the show, though the BBC used it for other productions once they actually had to pay for it.)

The space bandits seem to be right out of The Creature from the Pit, and they're as boring as swaggering bullies always are; some con-men as we've seen in The Ribos Operation would have been better. They're not quite as characterless as the sapient space cactus, but they try. Unfortunately, this is a story that keeps the principals separate from the main plot for quite a long time; they don't really interact with it beyond the basic "chronic hysteresis" until half-way through the second part.

On the other hand those principals do well. This is a chance for Tom to play imperious while still keeping his standard clownish Doctor, and Lalla takes over the "serious Doctor" role as usual. They're really by far the most watchable things about this story.

Plot? Eh, science-religion divide, doppelgänger of the Doctor, mysterious ancient artifact, it's all straight out of the book at this point. Killer foliage was done better in Planet of the Daleks. But it is nice to see that Romana's allowed to escape from it on her own, unlike what we've usually seen in this show. The torch-rope sacrifice is pretty much out of Face of Evil and Underworld. Yeah, we're changing everything. Sure. This could easily have been a Key to Time story, or The Horns of Nimon with better production values.

Why did Meglos need a generic suit-wearing Earthling from "across the galaxy" to be his first body when someone hired from closer by would have been rather less trouble? If he had a specific requirement, how did he find out that this person would suit it? And why is his control room built for humans?

The background music, by Peter Howell again, develops some distinctive themes (notably in the first two scenes in the power room in part 3).

While it's not entirely terrible, it really isn't a story that works well.

Full Circle

The E-space arc was Bidmead's idea, prompted by Big Name Fan Ian Levine, and he had to fight for it: Nathan-Turner had been unimpressed with the script procurement difficulties during the Key to Time sequence (because apparently giving a writer a spec to work to rather than simply buying anything he chose to submit and hacking it about later was awfully challenging for everyone involved). There is a dull incuriosity about the idea of negative coordinates, though: what's the baseline against which they're measured? But we won't find that out (insofar as we ever get a meaningful answer at all) for another two stories.

Andrew Smith was eighteen when he wrote this script. That's how desperate the new team was, having sacked or annoyed most of the old Who writers. But let's remember that the original script didn't include the different creatures being different stages of the same species' life-cycle, or Adric; it was a basic base-under-siege dealing with a space freighter crashed on a hostile world, holding off the attacking indigenes with help from one of them who changed sides and later sacrificed herself.

That life-cycle thing is supposed to be the big mystery, but unlike better mysteries there's someone who already knows the answer; discovering it is less interesting when there's a cast member who could simply read out what's in the files.

I'll talk about Adric later. But this wasn't Waterhouse's first experience on the show; State of Decay had been filmed before this, so his performance here is even less excusable.

Here we have the TARDIS as a convenient taxi that any young idiot can fly, and as a prize to be stolen (you'd think that after seventeen years they'd learn to close the damn door); it's another step along the road of making the show be primarily about its own premises rather than about the places to which those premises allow access. Not a coincidence, I'm sure, that Andrew Smith was the first writer who'd grown up as a fan of the show.

And we have a Serious Scientific Story about evolution which uses evolution as just another sort of magic (admittedly, for once, not doing the "more highly evolved" thing). And K-9 knocked out of action again. And Romana knocked out, abandoned, hypnotised… gah. But more importantly, the Doctor's barely in the first half of this, and Romana's barely in the second, both pushed out of the way for Wonderful Adric Whom We Must All Like.

At least the direction, by Peter Grimwade, is good. At the time, the story just left me cold. The only image I remembered was the spider inside the watermelon.

State of Decay

From a story by a fan who was imitating the old stuff, to a story by one of the few old writers to be deemed marginally acceptable by the new régime. This one was originally written to be made three years earlier as The Witch Lords or The Vampire Mutation, in the slot where Horror of Fang Rock was finally produced; it was deferred because the BBC didn't want competition with its big-budget production of Dracula. It ended up being heavily rewritten for this slot (for a start, it had been meant for Leela as the companion) but it kept plenty of the horror ideas that had been all over series 14. Bidmead hated horror and kept watering it down, even while filming was going on.

But inevitably we get Annoying Adric, being annoying. I've heard all sorts of suggestions for why everyone hated him, but I think his first shots here show reason enough: he's smug. Whether you see yourself as a potential companion, think of the companions as your own proxy in the story, or simply like to look at the pretty boys and girls, nobody's concept of the ideal companion includes being smug and self-satisfied. Really, the only way I can watch these stories at all is to try to ignore Adric completely. Fortunately in this one that's not hard; Terrance Dicks had trouble working him into the script at all.

Ah, Teletext graphics. Or good old Mode 7 as we BBC Micro users knew it. At the time of broadcast, this was a clear signal of "computer", of course, but certainly not of "advanced computer"; Ceefax had been running since 1974, and by 1980 lots of people had televisions that could receive it. (And the poor resolution becomes obvious when it's clearly an entirely different system providing the old crew photographs.)

That's what Rose Tyler's first season kept reminding me of! Adric, here, trying to do basic consciousness-raising without caring to learn a thing about the local culture. Of course, he throws in his lot with the local rulers soon enough, though in the original script there was meant to be rather more genuine doubt as to whether he might actually be betraying the Doctor. Here he manages to annoy everyone in the story and be completely ineffectual. What's the point? If you're going to revise the script, revise the script…

Anyway, part 1 establishes the atmosphere, part 2 explains the plot, and parts 3-4 just move all the pieces around until they line up. Yeah, that's one thing that recent stories have mostly got right: they've avoided the big runaround penultimate episode that achieves nothing by spreading the plot more evenly through the story.

Tom Baker's subdued; he was ill during filming, but uses this to put on an effective scared face. Lalla's good most of the time, and particularly in her few scenes with Tom, but when she's only called on to scream and whimper she ends up looking bored. The guest cast is mostly interchangeable, with only Aukon getting much interest (perhaps because he's the only one willing to ham things up a bit, though the other two vampires give it a sort of half-hearted try). This is the first time we see K-9 actually crossing the lip of the TARDIS rather than conveniently appearing from just out of shot, and of course it's a comedy moment; how could it be anything else?

We've had bad effects before, but this is the series when they get naff. The flight of the scoutship in the final part is particularly naff, in a way that no mere lack of a motion controller could explain: it's model work done by someone who just doesn't care any more, with a director and producer who can't be bothered to fix it. Meh, good enough for the kiddies. The castle model's not bad, but it's lit and show by someone who just doesn't care. Apart from that, though, this is a very good-looking story.

This could have been a creditable, though not outstanding, opener for series 15. As it ended up, it's not great, but among the rubbish we've had so far this series the scriptwriting stands out worryingly plainly.

Warriors' Gate

After Christopher Priest's story Sealed Orders, a political thriller involving Gallifrey, was wrecked on the rocks of not being what John Nathan-Turner wanted, another emergency backup scriptwriter was activated.

Stephen Gallagher was another fan of the show who was trying to break into television scriptwriting. This story was based on unused ideas for a sequel his radio play The Last Rose of Summer, with a deliberate gloss of the idea of Dreamtime (its first title was The Dream Time), Cocteau's surrealism, Bester, Haldeman… it's not surprising that there ends up being just a bit too much going on.

Another remarkably long introductory sequence like the one we saw in The Leisure Hive (though this time blatantly ripped off from Alien to make for an even grungier and lower-tech setting), from another first- and only-time director who couldn't manage to stay within budget (and doubled as script doctor getting Gallagher's scripts into shape for filming). Everyone seems to have hated the experience of filming, even more than the previous hell-story The Nightmare of Eden, and this time it shows through: nobody in the cast looks happy. Christopher Bidmead resigned because he could no longer work with John Nathan-Turner. (Spotting a pattern?) Graham Harper stepped in to direct when Joyce was temporarily fired.

More blasted space bandits! All right, space slavers this time. But also a violation of the TARDIS, which to me is never a good sign; it feels like a cheap attempt to raise the stakes. The double-act of the two junior crew members Aldo and Royce feels like the sort of thing Robert Holmes would have done, but he'd have been a bit less blatant about it.

Romana talks to Adric in a very 1980s way about why Mummy and Daddy might not be together any more (and Lalla happily blows dust into Matthew's face). She really only gets one good sequence, outside the TARDIS talking to the slavers, and then she's a peril monkey for far too long, including the famous episode two ending (a hairy hand reaches for the shackled Romana, and she screams) — which would have been all very well for Victoria or Sarah Jane Smith, but this is Romana, dammit, and she doesn't do that. She does do a better job in part three, dominating the situation while still shackled. Her departure is hasty, partly because Nathan-Turner wanted to avoid "soap opera" (what a contrast with his later work, and indeed the modern show!), but in the end it just feels like the meta-fiction process that it is. Companion departures have been shaky for a while now, with Leela's sudden falling for Andred and Sarah Jane's ejection; the last vaguely decent one by my lights was Jo Grant's back in series 10's The Green Death! Still, the next one will make up for it.

K-9's gone too, of course, for blatant plot reasons (whatever's happened to the hardware, hardware can be replaced; or the Doctor could just have got the K-9 Mk III box out of the cupboard just as he had at the end of The Invasion of Time).

The slaver crew aren't bad, being lazy and incompetent in a variety of ways; Biroc's just Noble and Suffering and dull, and the other Tharils don't even speak.

In spite of budget problems, the story looks cheap: the slaver ship interior's pretty decent, and the external model isn't bad at all, but apart from that there's just the "hall" and a variety of CSO backgrounds which are mostly stills shot at Powis Castle. Walking around the hedge maze replaces running along corridors.

Dear Cthulhu, Adric does his one trick (disobeying orders) yet again. Fortunately he's not in this one much either. He does, admittedly, get one good moment when he's sitting behind the controls of the Great Big Gun ("I'm sorry. I don't know what any of these levers do. But I do know it's pointed in your direction.").

The two robots attacking each other might not have been an entirely bad shot, if it hadn't been that the one on the right drops his axe onto Tom Baker's neck and it visibly bounces. Was there really not time to shoot that short sequence again?

I didn't especially rate this story first time round, and even now I really don't see the appeal. I suspect the sort of fan who really likes this story (and they're certainly out there) is the sort who's proud of having worked out a plot that the mainstream audience doesn't understand. (In this case, it's because of information denial and a lack of actual worldbuilding: just say "time winds" and you don't have to explain anything about what they actually are.) I didn't have any trouble with it on initial viewing, but nor did anyone else I knew, so I never got that particular frisson. This was probably very good for me.

Everybody else knows more about what's going on than the protagonists, and Biroc talks in riddles seemingly just in order to drag everything out to the full four episodes. If the Doctor hadn't arrived at all, everything would have gone off exactly as Biroc had it planned, except that the Tharils wouldn't have had a pet Time Lady at the end of it; so in the end this is a story that needn't have happened at all.

The Keeper of Traken

Johnny Byrne had experience writing for Space: 1999 (the first season, the good one), and had been offered the script editor job on Who when Douglas Adams left. In this story, he wanted to consider two things: millenialism, and the tensions and politics in a country when an aged leader was dying (he was particularly interested in Yugoslavia and Tito). When the idea of reintroducing the Master was conceived, the script was heavily re-written, largely by Bidmead.

So we open with another casual penetration of the TARDIS, and the suggestion that Adric's being taught to fly it. (And that they're going to Gallifrey, so the idea of no aliens being allowed there is well and truly dead.) It's a slowish start which never quite manages to build a sense of menace, though it's trying hard. The threatening statue works very well when it's just standing there (it's apparently based on a design by Umberto Boccioni from 1913); it's less effective when it has generic Evil Red Eye Glow, and least of all when it's lurching about and lurking behind doorways like a pantomime villain.

Tom Baker seems tired in this, back to his series 16 style: funny when he gets a chance, but otherwise going through the motions now that Lalla's off the set. Adric's less annoying than usual since he actually gets one or two useful things to do.

Tremas is not too bad, though a bit of a cipher. Kassia is rather too ready to throw away everything she supposedly believes in to help the Melkur; we're told that she's been obsessing about this statue for years, but never really shown it, until she's acting more like a woman with a secret lover than a woman risking everything to help her husband in spite of himself; her transition never really convinces. The rest of the guest cast, including a number of veterans of the programme, do a decent job with essentially forgettable parts, including Nyssa who's mostly superfluous to the story though she gets one good scene confronting her stepmother; Geoffrey Beevers as the Master manages an air which succeeds in being menacing even if it's nothing like what Roger Delgado produced, and even if the Master is rather too intact compared with his state in The Deadly Assassin. On the other hand the Master's plot is altogether too complex, too dependent on a perfect prediction of exactly what everyone else is going to do. (But we ain't seen nothing yet.) The classic Master always had backups and ways out prepared in case things went wrong; this new Master predicts his enemies so that he doesn't need them. And the world-building's a bit naff: this long-enduring paradise still has a police force, and falls apart when prodded hard.

In spite of all the rewrites, the final scene of the Master taking over Tremas' body feels pasted in; it's not tied to anything that's gone before in the story, and there's no real lead up to it.

Production's a bit shonky: a dubious model shot of the TARDIS in space, a "grove" that's all too blatantly inside a studio, and shelves full of ancient electronics, bringing back memories of The Horns of Nimon. The officially-interior sets are rather more interesting, and well done if a bit bare.

In spite of all these problems, and in spite of my general mood while watching this series, I rather enjoyed it. Yes, it takes a while to get going, and there's lots of wondering around while talking portentously, especially in part two. But there's a spark here, an interest, which somehow shines through the dodgy production and the dodgier acting.

Logopolis

It was well known among those of us watching the show that, to a first approximation, police boxes weren't in use any more by 1981. So this, our ration for this series of a story set on contemporary Earth, was painting things as being a little odd from minute one. (The police box was meant to be the one on the Barnet bypass, and this was one of the story inspirations, though in the end it was removed before filming began.) The nested TARDISes make for an interesting logic puzzle, though it perhaps takes up a little too much of the first episode. (As for the ludicrous flooding subplot, let's not even talk about it.)

The way the Master's brought back seems very arbitrary. "With some of the powers of the Keeper still lingering"; yeah, I know, the show's often been arbitrary about things before, but it's generally tried not to make them major plot points. As before, the Master has a Secret Plan and is behind everything. (And the Doctor and Adric already know that he's stolen Tremas' body; if they'd only mentioned it to Nyssa a little earlier, the whole thing would have fallen apart.) But this time he's also made a complete miscalculation, which is the only reason for the sudden harking back to the classic style of the Doctor-Master team-up. Which of course is painted as something new and unthinkable, whereas back in the Pertwee years it seemed to happen nearly every story. (It's a cheap trick, literally, not to show the interior of the Master's TARDIS; we've seen it before, after all, in Colony in Space, and a console room set redress probably wouldn't have presented a major challenge.)

And really, once the antenna's out of alignment, how important is it that the cable be disconnected in a hurry anyway? And once the Doctor's out of the picture, why should the Master not simply shoot the guards and reconnect the cable himself?

Anthony Ainley as the Master worked well enough for me first time round, but now I've seen Delgado, and I see what the problem is: Ainley's trying to play a Delgado-style suave villain, but he's just not up to it, and he comes off as an annoying and theatrical pantomime bad guy instead. It would have been a bolder approach to consider that the Master's personality might have shifted during regeneration, as other Time Lords' have, and so to build a different if still villainous character.

Tegan's the first accidental companion for a while, and this does her no favours: she's not signing up for adventure, she's just dragged off from her normal life without the option. If she's meant to be an audience identification figure, then being unhappy with wild adventures makes her look ungrateful; if not, what's the point of her at all? The reluctant companion is only really compatible with the uncontrollable TARDIS of the early years. (Nathan-Turner was angling for a deal with the ABC, and Tegan was brought in in the hope of making the series more attractive to Australian TV executives.) Meanwhile there's so little for Adric and Nyssa to do that they have to be stuck in a cupboard for a chunk of the last episode; Nyssa gets a decent moment as her home world is destroyed, pleasingly underplayed, but neither of the actors does a particularly good job.

It's all a bit rushed and padded at the same time. We've never heard of Logopolis before, but all of a sudden we're introduced to it, told it's the most awesome thing ever, and then told it's the only thing keeping the universe going, and that's too hasty for a single serial; it's like those Call of Cthulhu adventures that introduce "your old friend" only to slaughter him as a motivation for getting involved in the horror. Meanwhile there's lots and lots of running around without achieving much (especially in parts two and four); this feels as though it might have been happier as a shorter story, perhaps with Logopolis prefigured earlier in the series. Baker's acting isn't bad, though he's clearly pushing the "sombre" button has hard as he can, but he doesn't actually do much: he lands the TARDIS on the bypass, he lands it at Logopolis, and he connects one cable and disconnects another. He's been sidelined from his own story.

The mysterious watcher in white was apparently meant to be mistaken for the Master, though the laughter and the return of the tissue compression eliminator seemed to me to make it clear that there was something else going on. Why he should be bandaged is never quite clear, mind. The fall itself is a comprehensive mis-step: all right, they'd decided that they couldn't show the fall itself. But rather than the Doctor losing his grip, we cut away to the kids, who've obviously been stage-directed to "follow the fall", and that robs the scene of what tension it might have had.

As so often on Bidmead's watch, there's a surface dressing of scientific language (entropy in a closed system, in this case), which is then completely betrayed by the underlying story (even if you have been expanding the system and smearing out the average entropy levels, stopping doing it doesn't suddenly make everything fall apart like a fairy-tale wizard who used to be able to chant anything he liked into existence but has now lost his anti-aging spell.)

As a stand-alone story, this is a bit of a failure. As the capstone to series 18, well, it carries on in the same style as the rest of the series, where villains and heroes are defined by what they are, their slots in the standard plot structures, rather than who they are or what they want. As an epic to carry us over the loss of Baker, well, it tries to be intriguing, but stripped as it now is of the wondering what will happen next the faults are sadly visible.

And the return to Gallifrey that's been hanging over our heads for much of this series just fades away and is forgotten.

The Gap

There was a ten month gap after Logopolis, from 21 March 1981 to 4 January 1982. This was mostly because the BBC had decided to change the scheduling, going for a spring transmission slot, and broadcasting twice a week (in most places on Mondays and Thursdays), which halved the calendar length of a broadcast series. Peter Davison was also still working on other projects for the BBC, and wasn't available for filming soon enough for broadcast to start in the autumn of 1981.

(Blake's 7 had its fourth and final series entirely during this gap.)

The Doctor Who Programme Guide

Target Books, which had been publishing the novelisations of Doctor Who stories, saw an opportunity and brought out Jean-Marc Lofficier's two-volume reference book: one gave information on the characters, the other the stories, of the series up to that point. This marked a significant shift in the way I at least saw the show: rather than being "what's on this week" with vague rumour and speculation about what might have gone before, it could be seen as something that was knowable, that had correct answers to questions about the old stuff. Where I might have tried to guess at where a particular novelisation might come in the overall sequence, now I had the information readily available.

This can be seen as a lead-in to the back-reference obsession of the upcoming series: even if you hadn't been around to watch The Claws of Axos or Genesis of the Daleks, you could look it up in these books and know what it had all been about. If you were a serious fan, anyway. If you weren't, well, you'd be increasingly lost.

The Five Faces of Doctor Who

To get people interested in the show again after the gap, several old stories were repeated, the first time this had been done. They were An Unearthly Child, The Krotons, Carnival of Monsters, The Three Doctors, and Logopolis.

The selection of stories is interesting. Obviously there were plenty with missing parts at this point, and the plan was always to show four-parters, so there weren't all that many options from the early years; An Unearthly Child was pretty much the only plausible Hartnell story, but since he's uncharacteristically nasty and violent by later standards it's unsurprising that people who first saw him here generally weren't terribly impressed with him.

Troughton's poorly served, but The Krotons was the only complete four-parter at the time. Well, at least it's not a base under siege, even if that would have been more representative.

Carnival of Monsters strikes me as a slighly odd choice. It's not a particularly terrible one, the four-parter requirement removed most of Pertwee's work from consideration, and several of the remainder didn't exist in colour, but I'd at least have been tempted by Spearhead from Space or The Curse of Peladon.

The Three Doctors is a much stranger choice, and I can't help feeling that it was a way of freezing out the Baker Years from the viewers' consciousness (or at least those Baker Years when Nathan-Turner wasn't the producer), which had the side effect of arousing fan interest in Pertwee's time on the show. Yes, it's a double dip for Troughton and Hartnell as well as Pertwee, but it's not in the end a terribly good story. When we might have had The Ark in Space, The Robots of Death, The Horror of Fang Rock or even City of Death it seems frankly cowardly.

Still, the blatant promotion had good effects: it reminded people that the programme was still going, and that people other than Tom Baker had played the lead.

K-9 and Company

K-9 was a hugely popular character, so Nathan-Turner thought that there might be less outcry about writing it out of the series if he launched a spin-off. This was the pilot for it, and to be honest it's hard to get past the credits sequence, which tries to copy action-filled American series of the era but doesn't have the material to do it (Sarah vigorously sips her wine, while K-9 dynamically sits on a wall, while generic synth action music goes on in the background). The plot of rural satanists/pagans is a bit of a rerun of the first half of Stones of Blood, with a much simpler and more banal solution (particularly if you spot Juno's rings on the high priestess' hand), and the script can never decide whether it's a series for children or one trying to appeal to all ages. (Being cut by forty minutes shortly before filming probably didn't help.)

One is not entirely surprised that this did not become a full series.

Tom Baker

Tom Baker had played the part of the Doctor for longer than anyone else, longer than Hartnell and Troughton combined. I think he's most similar in style to Troughton, with the combination of clowning and serious side, though he takes the clowning rather further. He manages to be convincingly alien in a way that Pertwee never quite achieved.

And, of course, he was the guy doing the job when I started watching the show. I can't claim to be even slightly objective about this. Between him and the later interlopers, there was no contest. (These days I think Troughton's a very strong contender, and Pertwee has some brilliant moments between the annoyances, but Tom's still my favourite.)

John Nathan-Turner was worried that Tom had become too iconic to be replaced, and hatched various plans to ease the audience into the idea of a new actor; both Louise Jameson and Elisabeth Sladen were invited back for short-term roles to cover the transition, though both declined. The next idea for a sense of continuity was to reintroduce the Master, which is why The Keeper of Traken ended up in the shape it did. But rather than making Tom Baker's departure an iconic event in his own style, this whole series has been made to be about change and decay: by the end of Logopolis, the series has been changed out from under Tom, and with all the things he enjoyed about it removed it's no wonder he agreed to go.

Romana and K-9

Romana's post-regeneration self is a very different one from the version portrayed by Mary Tamm: much more fun rather than imperious. She's picked up a series that was sometimes flagging a bit and injected vim and vigour, particularly in Destiny of the Daleks, City of Death and The Horns of Nimon. It's very hard to make a choice between them as favourite, but I think on balance Lalla just barely edges out Mary. K-9's been less successful: a great idea, but too many scriptwriters didn't know how to use it. In the end I think it fits quite comfortably between the prototypical "action men" Ian and Steven.

Overall impressions

It's been surprisingly tough work writing up this series: not the actual watching, but the working up of enough enthusiasm to start watching each story.

The show was broadcast against the utter tosh that was Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. And Buck Rogers was winning.

The first time round I had the impression that all the things I liked were gradually being taken away. This time I'm feeling pretty much the same.

Favourite story of this series: The Keeper of Traken.

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

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

  1. Posted by Owen Smith at 09:42am on 05 September 2014

    Even as a teenager watching this I was always ambivalent about Adric. And Tegan as an unwilling companion just annoyed me. But like you I was blissfully ignorant of most of the rest of the problems. I had seen Pertwee stories, so while Baker was my doctor I wasn't so shocked when he left.

    And it's MODE 7, it should always be in capitals.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 11:13am on 05 September 2014

    As far as I recall I was prepared to give the new guy a fair shake, but the gradual removal of all the fun stuff (Romana, K9, Tom Baker, and more generally the sense of humour that had been all over the previous series) didn't put me in a positive mood for what was coming next.

  3. Posted by Owen Smith at 10:57am on 06 September 2014

    I rather liked Peter Davison, I consider him as much My Doctor as Tom Baker. OK it was clearly a different show, but as a teenager that wasn't a problem for me.

  4. Posted by Paul Mason at 06:50am on 07 September 2014

    This was the series I didn't see as a kid. I jumped ship to watch the 'utter tosh' on the other side. What can I say? I was a schoolboy. And Erin Gray.

    To this day I have never seen Logopolis. I've seen the others, and I think because they are so limp, I'm sapped of any motivation to watch Logopolis. Though I enjoyed Warrior's Gate for the simple reason that it managed to generate a weird atmosphere.

    Pertwee was 'my' Doctor (and the only one I ever met) but you can't really argue with Tom, can you? I noticed Capaldi doing some very Tom lines in his first episode, for all that he's supposed to be channelling Pertwee.

  5. Posted by RogerBW at 08:42am on 07 September 2014

    I may sometimes have been tempted by Erin Gray myself.

    Logopolis in retrospect is much more interesting as an explicitly transitional story than as a stand-alone. It's part of the Great Re-Imagining (which the show's certainly had before, probably inevitably in something that survives this long, and most obviously at the beginning of Pertwee's time). Which in turn suggests that watching it in isolation would feel like a complete waste of time; it has interest mostly because of what's gone before and what will come later.

  6. Posted by Owen Smith at 12:31pm on 07 September 2014

    The Keeper made no sense to me watching as a teenager. The previous regeneration (which I'd seen) hadn't involved someone else merging into the Doctor, so why should this one? And how did the Keeper or anyone know in advance? The fall was an accident, nothing pre-ordained about it.

    As a teenager I loved the climbing about on Jodrell Bank radio telescope. Question: is it actually Jodrell Bank they used?

  7. Posted by RogerBW at 12:50pm on 07 September 2014

    The best information I can find suggests not: it was a BBC receiving station at Crowsley Park (not far from Reading), plus a model for the radio telescope. While the Pharos Project scope is obviously modelled after the Lovell, it has a much thinner version of that big thick semicircular piece of girderwork on the back. Compare http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/40/Lovell_Telescope.jpg with http://www.doctorwhoworld.org.uk/Images/episodes/cs18ep7/cs18ep7r.jpg .

    Which suggests that the shot in which the Doctor is running towards the telescope, around 15:40 in part 4, is probably a CSO composite.

  8. Posted by Owen Smith at 01:48pm on 07 September 2014

    The Lovell Telescope has changed appearance several times in its history so you have to be careful. In particular, the semi-circular section round the back for inclination of the dish was originally much more lightweight than the current structure. So it's possible Doctor Who used pictures of or was copying the early version. Also the Lovell dish got thicker, originally it was just a thin dish then they added a new dish face with a gap to the old one tall enough to stand up in (roughly). They're now in the process of re-facing that with even more accurate segments, so when finished that will effectively be the third dish on the same structure (though this third one is being laid direct on the second face so isn't as obvious).

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