RogerBW's Blog

Doctor Who Re-Watch, series 21 14 August 2015

I haven't given up!

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

The Doctor - Peter Davison
The Doctor - Colin Baker
Tegan Jovanka - Janet Fielding
Vislor Turlough - Mark Strickson
Kamelion - Gerald Flood and Dallas Adams
Peri Brown - Nicola Bryant

The Five Doctors

This one-off 90-minute story wasn't broadcast as part of a regular season; it came eight months after The King's Demons, and two months before Warriors of the Deep, as a 20th anniversary special.

And it was the first special, something that's become not only standard but expected with New Who. It happened because Nathan-Turner wanted it to go out on the 20th anniversary of the show, but the regular broadcast season wouldn't be brought forward (Davison was also in the sitcom Sink or Swim which would be filming over the summer), so the "special" was invented. In the end it couldn't be broadcast on the anniversary: it was held back two days to be part of the Children in Need evening of charity programming – though not in the USA. In those days before general use of the Internet there wasn't much if any leakage of plot information; the novelisation had gone on sale two weeks before broadcast anyway.

It's much more of a rogue's gallery than the previous anniversary story, The Three Doctors: much of the first half is a name-check of various old enemies and old companions, getting everyone lined up and in place for the main story of a three-way dungeon-bash towards and into the Tomb of Rassilon while Five deals with the Gallifreyan politics. (And there are more guest spots during that dungeon-bash, for the companions who could only be brought back for a single scene.) It feels something like a promotional episode for The Whole Of Doctor Who; perhaps not coincidentally, the previous month had seen the first ever official VHS release of Doctor Who material, the execrable Revenge of the Cybermen edited into a single hundred-minute format, and this may explain why for the most part the companions are kept with the versions of the Doctor they originally appeared with, rather than mixing and matching. This promotion carries on into the detailed scripting as well as the overall setup: plenty of old lines are trotted out with minor variations, presumably so that the fans could say "ooh, I remember that". (Though mostly they didn't. Most of them were going by the novelisations.)

This was the first time the programme had been written in a longer format than 25-odd minutes, and Old Reliable Terrance Dicks was brought in to write it. Originally it was going to be by Robert Holmes, and called The Six Doctors (as the First Doctor and Susan would have been android impostors); but Holmes dropped out, perhaps because of the demands from the production team that Cybermen (at Saward's insistence) and the Master (at Nathan-Turner's) should be given major roles, and Dicks stepped in instead. Some of the ideas from the first version got reused later in Holmes's The Two Doctors.

Tom Baker was originally to have a major role, going to the Capitol in the part eventually taken by Davison, whereas the First Doctor would have stayed in the TARDIS. Baker dropped out quite late in pre-production (so footage shot for Shada, and at this point not seen by anyone outside the BBC, was used instead, making this really only Four of the Doctors and One of Them a Stand-In), and there was desperate scrabbling to shuffle everyone around and keep things in place. (Baker's waxwork from Madame Tussaud's was used for publicity photos.) The script was already something of a loose linkage between set-pieces, and these late changes make it even more so. The Daleks, undoubtedly the programme's most iconic villains, are barely present as a cameo.

This is really a story to show off the Doctors and the villains, and Patrick Troughton steals the show whenever he get a chance. Richard Hurndall plays William Hartnell playing the first Doctor; the face isn't at all right, the voice isn't too bad, and the mannerisms are exaggerated. His not knowing the Master is too clearly a script conceit: the First Doctor didn't have the Master as a villain, but in the fictional universe that's being represented here the Doctor who looked like Hartnell knew perfectly well who the Master was; he just never mentioned him. Apart from Hurndall's scenes with Davison, though, the Doctors only meet in the final scenes; it feels like a bit of a cheat having been billed as a Grand Crossover Story, but it's the usual result of this sort of thing. When the primary point of the Doctor as a character is to be the smartest man in the room, how do you write two of them at once?

Everyone looks older than one might have hoped, especially Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee. That's life, I suppose.

The companions do less well, and many of them were second or third choices as other actors declined the work or weren't available for more than a cameo. Susan's job is to fall over and twist her ankle; I'm faintly surprised that Carole Ann Ford put up with it, considering how much of a fuss she's made about female roles since. She's also remarkably quick to recognise Cybermen, especially as she never met them in main continuity. Sarah Jane is similarly a bit weak and feeble, though to be fair her fall down a very unconvincing hill was originally going to be a rescue from Autons… but budget didn't allow. Louise Jameson offered to return as Leela, but Dicks claimed he couldn't find a way to fit her in. Leela? Who was last seen actually on Gallifrey? I suspect that, like The Five Faces of Doctor Who, this is another sign of Nathan-Turner trying to erase any memory of the years immediately before he took over.

For once, just for once, Ainley pulls off the Master as a genuine dramatic villain rather than a second-rater and eternal failure.

In the rest of the cast, Paul Jerricho as the Castellan resembles Eric Idle in straight man mode, and when he says "no, not the mind probe" he sounds quite remarkably unconvincing. Borusa in his fourth appearance, fourth actor and fourth personality is very obviously a character with things to hide; as in Arc of Infinity, "which Time Lord is the bad guy" isn't much of a mystery with so few candidates. It's a bit unfair of me to complain about Borusa's personality changes at this point, given how much he's been bouncing around in his previous appearances.

The obligatory New Monster for this story, the Raston Warrior Robot, wouldn't be too bad if it weren't for the way "moves like lightning" is implemented with crude cuts. Still, its role was originally going to have been taken by the Quarks from The Dominators, one of the sillier designs even for this show; in the end it was a repainted android costume from Earthshock.

There's the first outing for a new console and control room set, and a casual exposure of a Dalek mutant, but really this feels more like bad fanfic than anything else, self-indulgently throwing in characters for the sake of name-checks without any regard for their own stories. Alas, very much in the vein of future special episodes, and not at all to be taken seriously.

Comparing again with The Three Doctors: in 1973 there were no reference books, no video releases, no repeats of old serials. If you hadn't seen the stories on first broadcast, you probably knew nothing about them. The anniversary story brought back just the Doctors. But by 1983 there were magazines, novelisations, and the beginnings of video, so perhaps inevitably the anniversary story became a catalogue or museum: if you enjoyed Doctor Pat and the Yeti, or Doctor Jon in that car, maybe you should buy some books or videos of their earlier stories. At the same time, I at least got a strong feeling of Nathan-Turner's standard imprint on the show: yes, there's all this stuff from the past you should buy, but my era is the best of all, and I'll prove it by doing down the earlier things and making them seem ridiculous.

Warriors of the Deep

The show was back on its twice-a-week broadcast schedule, though now moved to Thursday and Friday evenings (except for Resurrection of the Daleks which was shown on two Wednesdays).

And so we pass from the not terribly sublime to, well, yes.

This ought to work really well. Johnny Byrne might have written Arc of Infinity, but he'd also written The Keeper of Traken. The base under siege was a venerable format that hadn't been used for a while, but it worked all right for most of the Troughton years (and a big control room set can be used through the whole story, splitting production costs). A cold-war-in-the-future plot seems reasonable enough.

But the scripts as delivered were about twice the required length, and Byrne was unavailable for rewrites, so Eric Saward started hacking stuff about, guided by Ian Levine. Out went lots of material, in came more violence and death. And then there was a general election (on exactly the date when it had been most likely to happen, but this took the BBC by surprise), so preparation time was cut; most of this serial was shot in single takes (or even using rehearsal footage) with no possibility of fixing anything that went wrong.

The first problem is purely one of the script, though: up front, within the first two minutes, we see the Silurians. And at the five minute mark the Sea Devils are mentioned too, in a great fat info-dump that basically tells us the alien side of the plot. The only mystery left is whether any specific bad stuff happening in the base will be from the Silurians or from the enemy agents who are also introduced before ten minutes have gone by. By the fifteen minute mark we've also been introduced to Chekov's Poison Gas, and we might as well have a nap for the remaining three episodes.

(And the Silurians now flash their third eyes when they speak. Silurians are not Daleks, people; yes, I know, last time I complained that it was hard to see who was talking, but the hypnotic and combative abilities of those third eyes are quite forgotten, while we've taken a step back in costume quality and their mouths don't move at all. The Sea Devils' heads loll to the side under those silly Japanese-inspired helmets.)

When the Doctor has apparently drowned, what's the point of the others heading back to the TARDIS? What are they going to do without him, sit inside until they die of boredom? Yeah, yeah, I know, they have to break up the crew, because if Turlough and Tegan were still with the Doctor they'd be able to… um… um… look, Sea Devils!

After all these years, they casually leave the TARDIS door open. They don't deserve to be time and space travellers. Even so, Tegan's mostly out of this one (good), while Turlough is the one bright spot, having apparently something like actual feelings and thoughts.

Ingrid Pitt returns (last seen over ten years before in The Time Monster), but this time she has no Roger Delgado to play against; she has the odd good moment, but mostly she's either strangely muted or a posturing villain. The others are straight out of the Doctor Who cast warehouse: a gruff base commander, a young frightened soldier, and so on. And with a crew of ten they have only two people on the roster actually qualified to do the thing the base is there for, launching the missiles? The one interesting idea, the human-computer interface, is just used to drag things out.

There is a plot, but it could easily have been two episodes long if some of the running around, and endless draw-downs and stand-offs, had been cut out. Then there wouldn't have been such a temptation to rely on under-funded special effects sequences, visibly flexible rubber doors, and monsters which are even less convincing than usual (rushed onto the set before the glue was even dry). We might care more about the crew that's gradually being killed off if we had any idea of who they were; this is no Horror of Fang Rock. Indeed, there isn't even any sense of being under the sea! Perhaps dimmer lighting would have helped. Or a sequence where part of the base floods. Still, some of the model work is great, always Mat Irvine's strong point; the orbital defence platform is particularly effective.

Byrne is clearly harking back to Doctor Who and the Silurians, but fails where Malcolm Hulke's script came close to succeeding: the Silurians are attacking, they're killing people, they're plotting to kill all humanity, and the humans are quite genuinely only defending themselves. There's no alien peace faction here as there was in those earlier stories. (In turn this makes the Doctor look like a sententious peace-at-any-price type.) These Silurians and Sea Devils could just as easily be Cybermen, and the story would work just as well. The references to Ichtar and the Silurian Triad suggest that Byrne read the novelisation of the original story rather than watching the episodes (well, they probably weren't available to watch).

It probably seemed terribly clever that the two factions in the cold war are never named, but this just makes it more obvious that the story is borrowing ideas from the real thing. And would any enemy agent claim that he was working for "the power bloc opposed to this Seabase"?

When Turlough's removed the grille to the vent shaft, why does he move away the chair he's been standing on and then have more trouble that he needs to climbing up?

The Awakening

This is the first story since my peak viewing years about which I recall absolutely nothing.

It was written by Eric Pringle, who'd first submitted it some time in the mid 1970s (probably for Tom Baker and Sarah Jane Smith). It was meant to be a four-parter, but Eric Saward pruned it down to two and cut out much of the supernatural element. There's a new director too, Michael Owen Morris; this was his only credit as director, though he'd been a production assistant for The Pirate Planet.

It starts off with a promising setup: local dignitaries insisting on unexplained re-enactment (though the term is never used, as Pringle prefers "wargames"). Shades of The Daemons, which I liked rather a lot, though Pringle claimed he had never seen it. But it all starts going wrong with Tegan's hissy-fit, followed by Bad Sir George who could have fit well in The Smugglers, and then a crew-split and runaround. Tegan is caught and locked away. So's Turlough. The May Queen has collided with the Year King. Sometimes it feels as though they aren't even trying.

But somehow Morris gets a feeling of energy into the proceedings, even when people have to reel off clumsy lines like "My mistake was telling Sir George Hutchinson. It was his deranged mind that caused it to waken." In particular there's a fine performance from Polly James as Jane Hampden, the only woman in the village (or at least the only one with a speaking part), even if she is no Miss Hawthorne.

Is it just me, or does the giant "stone" Malus-face actually work better as a statue (with glowing eyes) than as an animated nasty that would fit better in a carnival sideshow? The cyan blips look as if they were put together on the same BBC Micro that was the base computer in the previous story. On the other hand, the final model shots of the church collapsing and then exploding are actually quite good, and the visual composition outside the effects shots is lush and effective.

Will Chandler, whose lines are more or less "what", "I don't understand" and "what be tea", and who is essentially superfluous to the plot, was seriously considered as a companion. Yes, really.

Civil War Reenactment Is Bad For You, that's this week's Moralising Doctor Message. It feels like the same simplistic thinking that says that (a) war is always and everywhere worse than any possible alternative, and therefore (b) nobody should know anything about war because they might like it.

Frontios

This was Christopher Bidmead's final script for the show: he was commissioned to develop a story with monsters in it, and was inspired by the woodlice which had been infesting his flat. The eternal quest for "vulnerability" produced the very far-future setting, the sudden importance of non-interference when it's been ignored for years, and the apparent destruction of the TARDIS. (There may even have been a plan to remove the TARDIS from the show entirely, though this is unclear.)

Then the script met practicalities: the alien technology was originally meant to be built entirely from human corpses, and they were also meant to have a hovering translation device. But the first was considered too gruesome, and the second too difficult to film. The chief designer killed himself, and Peter Arne who'd been cast to play the scientist Mr Range was murdered. The alien costumes turned out not to be able to curl up into balls, so hiring dancers to wear them was a bit of a waste.

The script isn't a bad one, though it overran badly and many of the minor continuity problems can be explained by careless excision of material that would have explained things which were left in (particularly the build-up to the colonists' revolution, which seems to come out of nowhere). With the next two stories expected to strain the budget, this one was made on the cheap, and it shows: the Blake's 7 Federation helmet was probably one of the most recognisable props of British TV SF at the time.

Suddenly Tegan's in heavy eye makeup and a leather skirt. Why?

"The TARDIS has been destroyed." You say that awfully readily. And it seemed to happen awfully easily, for something that's always been implied to be reasonably tough against outside influences.

Things really start to fall apart around half-way through, when Turlough seems to start picking up random race memory just to find out what the monsters are called. Did we really need this rather than just, you know, finding things out? And then there's a random new character, the "Deputy", in part 3 whom nobody bothers to introduce, but who seems to be in charge of… something? And is then never seen again. And a needless self-sacrifice by the military loony.

Shouldn't a digging machine have some way of, well, digging? The side spikes are fair enough, but how does it make forward progress through rock?

I had forgotten the details of the bad guys' plan, the one that was fairly silly when it was in The Dalek Invasion of Earth and doesn't look any better nearly twenty years later. And the briar-patch final resolution doesn't help matters at all.

The first half is a decent script let down by poor acting, but the best actors in the world couldn't have saved the second half. Even so, it has its moments (and even its fans).

Resurrection of the Daleks

I've been distinctly unimpressed with Saward as script editor, but this story with him as script writer has some remarkably good points. In the end it's sound and fury signifying nothing, sure, but it does a rather better job than the show's been managing lately. This may have been because this story was held over from series 20 by industrial action, so there was time for a proper polishing of the script. It was also tweaked at the last moment into a 2×50 minute format in order to avoid a two-week break for the Winter Olympics. (The format change for next series had already been planned, which probably helped.)

This story leans heavily on the past, and I'm not sure how much sense it would have made to someone who hadn't seen the previous Dalek stories. (This is another one of which I have no recollection from first viewing.) It's clearly trying to please the fans rather than casual viewers, which has annoyed me before, and it's going for an action atmosphere rather than thoughful story-telling, but my standards have clearly slipped enough that I was able to get quite a bit of enjoyment out of it.

Was it easier in the old days when they had one title per episode, and so didn't have to announce what the big monster was up front? When the Daleks come in at the fifteen-minute mark, they're not surprising at all, which is a shame.

Ooh, classy BBC Micro graphics of the Time Corridor - palette switching in mode 2 (160×256 with 16 palette slots), if I'm any judge.

And it's pleasing to see Shad Thames by Tower Bridge, before the great redevelopment that broke up all the old buildings and replaced them with expensive offices and shops.

The use of the naked Dalek mutant as a creeping killer is quite inventive. But really, call that a search? And the Doctor who has just been making a point about hating guns and violence of all types is happy to carry and use a gun now? And Daleks now have mind-control venom? Or is it just Davros? What's the British Army doing carrying Steyr AUGs? (That top handle is distinctive even to me.)

We get a quick recap of Destiny of the Daleks, but Davros is even more petulant than ever. Still, ninety years of conscious immobility is some justification for his having gone mad(der), even if he was more interesting in Genesis before he was a raving loon full-time. In fact, while the plot is perhaps excessively complex (with the Daleks trying to rescue Davros, invade Earth, capture the Doctor, cure the virus and assassinate the High Council on Gallifrey, all at once), quite a few of the logical loopholes in this story manage to be patched. Why don't the Daleks blow up the space station once they've decided to kill Davros? Because the Supreme Dalek wants to see him dead. (Which rather argues for emotion over the pure logic that they're said to be using, but that was never terribly convincing anyway.) Why Davros doesn't remember the Dalek-Movellan war, given that he was briefed on it at the time, is another matter. And for that matter who the slaves were at the beginning. And where the duplicates of Tegan and Turlough came from. And why the virus canisters are on Earth. And… never mind.

The pacing's not bad, though it drags a bit in the second half; but at least this time there's been some effort spent on building up sympathy for the expendable NPCs before they're killed off. This is just the sort of thing that the show's been getting wrong of late, and to see Saward manage it in his own script only gives me a lower opinion of him as an editor. Direction by the veteran Matthew Robinson is fine, with plenty of moody warehouse shots contrasted with the various sets in the space station. And if in doubt, insert some gratuitous violence.

Both the Doctor and Davros could have learned from Tuco: "When you have to shoot, shoot. Don't talk." The Doctor doesn't have much to do in this story, perversely enough; the Daleks' plan is very nearly self-defeating. It's strange, though, that the Doctor's willing to gun down and blow up Daleks willy-nilly but can't pull the trigger on their creator.

Rodney Bewes as Stien reminds me of Michael Palin in A Fish Called Wanda (though that wouldn't come out for another four years); it's not just the stutter, it's his expression, particularly towards the end. Rula Lenska as Styles does a decent job of the bored medic thrust into a command position. Chloe Ashcroft as Professor Laird is wasted (her death could even have been the immediate trigger for Tegan's leaving).

"It's stopped being fun, Doctor." (Yeah, isn't that just what I said after series 17?) But just for once, it hasn't. Yes, it's set-pieces connected by dangling strings of plot, which was a bad sign for the way the show would be going, but for much of this series it hasn't been either entertaining or thought-provoking. This at least manages the former.

The only companion missing from the flashback sequence is Leela. Except for, well, That Robot…

Planet of Fire

Peter Grimwade had previously written Time-Flight and Mawdryn Undead (by my lights, a terrible story and something of a surprising success.) He was given this one to write, and the constraint of filming large parts of it in Lanzarote; however, the BBC's budget wouldn't stretch to sending him there to see it. He also had to write out Turlough and Kamelion, and introduce Peri. All this stress, and his script being hugely hacked about by Saward as usual, ended up making this his last work for the show, and it ends up being a series of chunks of plot scaffolding more than a story; I don't think what we get here is a fair evaluation of his writing abilities.

Which is a shame, because bits of it work quite well. (Fiona Cumming, whose holiday in Lanzarote had spurred the idea of filming there, did a very fine job in her last directing assignment for the show.) There's a lovely arched location near the beginning that it's a shame couldn't be re-used later. In turn this means that the modern-earth and the alien-planet scenes are sometimes hard to tell apart, except for the cast; might it have worked better if it had only been Sarn? (Though then there wouldn't be the same excuse for the bikini.) Also there's very little sense of place or connectivity; it seems to take a while to get from A to B but not through any sort of consistent scenery.

Oh, hey, remember Kamelion? The prop didn't work, so after all the fuss of its introduction in The King's Demons it was just left to one side and not even mentioned in the show, until nobody could convincingly argue that they "just needed a bit more time" any more.

New companion Peri shows up as a spoiled brat who manages to get into trouble on a perfectly simple swim with a float. That's our identification figure? And then she falls down a simple scree slope. And whimpers and calls for help. Bring back Sarah Jane (pre Five Doctors anyway), or Leela, or Romana. Yes, all right, she has a few good moments too.

It's a bit of a shame that the religious fanatics are all done up in vaguely Arabic-looking headdresses and robes. Oh, religious fanatics in a desert, we'll make them look like Arabs. Apparently Grimwade's original script had rather more subtlety on the subject of fanaticism.

The big split-screen between the shrunken Master and the principals is actually reasonably well mounted: it's not distractingly wobbly, and it manages to avoid an obvious horizontal line that would have been a sign of doing it on the cheap.

This was supposed to be the Master's final appearance. (And we've heard that before.) But as before they couldn't let it lie. The Master's TARDIS is a redress of the main set, of course, as has been done before; though in Colony in Space, the first time this was done, it was more than just shifting white to black. (And even he, if only when controlling Kamelion, doesn't close the bloody door. Must be something they put in the water up Gallifrey way. Why can't he unlock it from the outside, though?) The Master himself is just a generic cackling villain here. Delgado's Master was charming enough that the Doctor would plead for his life to a god; Ainley's Master can be left to burn.

Turlough comes over well here at last, with his perpetual shiftiness finally placed in a story that can accommodate it (and because the writer can finally afford to do something with him, as he's leaving anyway). Too little too late? Davison's Doctor in turn is fairly down-played, not really having much to do until the end.

Peter Wyngarde, as the chief fanatic, brings proper acting chops to a thankless role, and effortlessly hits it over the boundary. Every scene he's in is made just a bit better. More veteran actors, please!

After the first episode it's a very old-fashioned shape of story, the sort of thing we might have seen in the Tom Baker era with Leela or Sarah Jane Smith. (The sudden appearance of stock-footage lava – all right, maybe newly filmed, but clearly never in the same shot with the actors – only reinforces this feeling.)

This isn't going to be anyone's favourite story, but if you can get past all the scaffolding it's decent and workmanlike stuff; a low standard perhaps, but one that the programme hasn't reliably been meeting.

The Caves of Androzani

When Robert Holmes was finally allowed back onto the show, the only constraint given was that the story had to end with Davison's Doctor regenerating. Well, we do get a classic Holmes double-act, but not all that much of it. And then we're into the Nasty Military Men (subclass Colonialist) who might have come from The Mutants, Kinda, or indeed The Power of Kroll, combined with a Nasty Capitalist from The Sun Makers. Holmes had written some of the best scripts for this show, but this too often feels like a retread of his favourite moments. Really, ending episode one with the Doctor being executed? That's the best you can do? The first three episodes are basically a sequence of the Doctor and/or Peri getting captured and then having more of the plot explained to them.

Sharaz Jek may come out with classic Holmesian lines like "your sense of humour will be the death of you, Doctor. Probably quite soon", but when it comes down to it he's really just the Phantom of the Opera in a different mask, obsessing over a Girl who's terrified of him. (And we've already seen The Talons of Weng-Chiang.)

There's cheapness and cheapness. Having limited sets, fair enough, and the caves don't end up seeming repetitive, but we're down to the point where we can't actually show even a model spacecraft on the ground at a distance, never mind a spacecraft with people going in or out of it. The Magma Beast is pretty dire too, but at least Graeme Harper has the sense to keep it in the dark and mostly off-camera (and the climactic battle between the Doctor and the Beast was not filmed at all). Yes, of course there was also a scenery-shifters' strike, but even so.

I was faintly disappointed to learn that the "original" Salateen was not in fact another android double.

If Spectrox is so awesomely valuable, there shouldn't be any need to betray the other mercenaries: you should just be able to offer them all "as much as you can carry" and still have plenty left for yourself. Still, the scene where Stotz actually kills them is very nicely filmed, one of the best moments in the whole story. Harper's direction is generally pretty solid, though he clearly doesn't have much to work with.

In the end, everbody dies except the regulars (arguably, in the case of the Doctor) and Timmin, who had the sense not to get involved. What would have happened if the Doctor hadn't shown up? Probably, things would have gone on much as they were before, with less death all round. There's minimal foreshadowing of the regeneration itself; one scene could be taken to imply that the Doctor is more than usually ill, but could also just mean that he's tired from all the captures and escapes.

If you have two doses of the insta-cure for a debilitating disease which is affecting you, shouldn't you take one yourself before you carry the other one through a dangerous environment to your friend? That way you might be a bit less debilitated.

This is another of those stories that the fans love, especially in retrospect (perhaps because they're considering what came next). And I'm afraid I didn't, and don't. It's a decent entry by the standards of what the show had become, and my favourite of this series, but that's not a terribly high bar to get over. There's style in abundance, but it's a pale shadow of Robert Holmes at his best, and there's no substance behind it at all.

The Twin Dilemma

In a magazine poll in 2009, The Caves of Androzani was voted as the fans' favourite story. This one was voted as the least favourite (though possibly on the basis of fannish orthodoxy, which puts this as the official start of the Bad Years, whereas for me that was back in series 18; going by ratings, viewers liked this story at broadcast about as well as they'd liked Caves).

It was put here at the end of series 21 so that viewers would have a chance to get used to the new Doctor before the inter-series break: foolish, perhaps, but they'd tried the alternative before with the transition from Tom Baker to Davison and that hadn't got people all enthusiastic for the new chap. Unfortunately this effect requires the new bloke to be, well, good.

That's not entirely fair. Colin Baker was another sign of change, in a series that had already seen a lot of changes. And it's well known that he was set up, as I'll talk about when we get to the end of his run, to start off nasty and gradually turn nice. Which is all very well for the future, but it means that this story right now has a nasty, unstable, probably mad protagonist and a scared and unhappy companion whom he tries to kill, and constantly belittles after that. Why do I want to watch these people?

And for a guest cast, we get snotty Adric-oid kids who can't pronounce the letter "R", playing Space Backgammon and Mode 7 graphics, and a chief baddie that looks something like a cut-rate Zarbi. And finds Peri "pleasing", just like Sharaz Jek. Yeah, I'm feeling nostalgic for The Web Planet now. Again, why am I supposed to care?

Anthony Steven was an experienced television writer, but hadn't worked on Who before; he got conflicting instructions from Nathan-Turner as producer and Saward as script editor (and Ian Levine, who shoved in Azmael as the hermit mentioned in The Time Monster, though Steven misunderstood the instruction and put him in as an Academy tutor instead). Steven became ill during writing and may have gone a bit off his rocker; in any case, Saward finished up the writing. (Previous stories introducing a new actor had generally been given to old hands on the show, but Nathan-Turner had fired them all and only grudgingly allowed Robert Holmes back in to play for one story.)

All right, it doesn't help that the nominal scheme makes basically no sense whatsoever. The stability of an orbit is not (within reason) affected by the mass of the thing put in it. If you have enough energy to move planets, you already have enough energy to scatter your giant slug-eggs at sub-light speeds, assuming you're going for an r-strategy in the first place - which seems pretty damn stupid given how big the universe is.

Why does Space Cop Lang take off his uniform and re-dress himself as if he's off out to a particularly naff disco?

On the production side, the show can't seem to decide whether music and effects are diegetic (i.e. present in the world presented by the show) or not (just for the benefit of the audience). Director Peter Moffat had to keep sending the script back to Saward to get holes patched (and had to find identical twin teenage boy actors). There's lots of talking, and more talking; it's like the worse parts of Flash Gordon as episodes are dragged out with cheap padding (and everything looks cheap too, which doesn't help). Maurice Denham grits his teeth like the trouper he is (well, was, as he died in 2002), and the two leads do the best they can with ghastly roles; everyone else's performances are pretty horrid.

I don't think it's the worst story in the show's history. It's not even the worst story this series! But the twins are irrelevant and there isn't a dilemma.

Those closing lines seem tailor-made to respond to objections before they could be made. "And I would suggest… that you wait a little before criticising my new persona. You may well find it isn't quite as disagreeable as you think. […] Whatever else happens, I am The Doctor. Whether you like it or not."

And if you knows of a better 'ole…

But even this wasn't actually enough to kill off the show. That would take series 22.

Overall impressions

I haven't stopped. Really, I haven't stopped. But I am feeling ever-increasing difficulty in working up the enthusiasm to keep watching.

It was after Davison left that my watching became very much less reliable. I hadn't really been enjoying his stories all that much; after his departure, I watched if I happened to notice it was on, but didn't make any effort.

All the companions after Planet of Fire until the end of the show – all right, all three of them, all four if you count the TVM which I do plan to include in this re-watch – would be female humans from contemporary Earth.

Peter Davison

It's generally contended by Serious Fans that Davison was aiming for something of the style of Troughton: anarchic, sometimes pugnacious, sometimes funny. I don't really see it; he comes over too often as weak and ineffectual. Much of that comes from the scripts, which were scared of making any regular character any good at anything, but even when he's called on to be serious about something he gives an impression of "oh dear this is terrible" rather than "we must do something about this".

Of course he started with a huge disadvantage first time round, with me and I think with many fans, because he was Not Tom Baker. That wasn't his fault, and on this re-watch I'm inclined to blame production changes much more than cast changes. But I think that in trying to make him different from Tom the writers took away too much of the sense of fun that had been a constant element of the Doctor's characterisation at least since Troughton. One can't picture oneself having a pint with Davison's Doctor; he'd suddenly fall over, or see something Bad happening across the pub and want to get involved.

(Hartnell's Doctor probably drinks Dubonnet. Troughton's would always have a flask up his sleeve. Pertwee's would be a wine snob but better once he'd relaxed a bit. Tom Baker's would leave you waking up naked on the central reservation of a motorway, quite sure that you'd had a good time but hazy on the details. Colin Baker's drinks foreign export lager.)

Tegan

The narrative purpose of Tegan was to sell the show to Australia. This didn't work. As a character she never really worked for me either; she was too ready not to enjoy things. So why was she even there in the story? Too often she was just an annoying whiner, and putting her in the listing next to Victoria (who also joined after losing a close relative and left because it wasn't fun any more) seems only fair.

She did have occasional good moments when Janet Fielding was allowed to use some of her range – especially, oddly enough, when she was able to change costume (Black Orchid, Enlightenment, The Awakening).

Turlough

Turlough never really made sense as a companion: you've been trying to kill me, so I'll take you on board as part of my crew. There were some interesting ideas, but he was too much of a generic coward to be interesting.

Mark Strickson actually left the show because he wasn't getting enouh character development; had he known about the move to 50-minute episodes next series, he said, he'd have stayed, because he felt the pressure to hit a cliffhanger every 20-25 minutes was damaging the ability to say interesting things about the characters. (Or maybe it was just the lousy writers and editors, since the show had been doing this for twenty years without such problems.)

Kamelion

The Kamelion prop was a prototype which could mime speech and move its body; there were promises that it would soon be able to walk. Funding had dried up. so it was offered to Doctor Who in return for more development money. Unfortunately the lead software developer, Mike Power, died in a boating accident and nobody could complete his work (walking is hard, and it may have been that he couldn't have done it either), so it was written out of the series again with only one more appearance after its elaborate introduction in The King's Demons. Apparently it was a nightmare to operate, and the older crew members must have been having flashbacks to the days of K-9 (there's always a lot of radio noise round a television production, which doesn't help).

As a character, it's not even there.

Favourite story of this series: The Caves of Androzani.

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. Nyssa
  16. Ben
  17. Polly
  18. Vicki
  19. Victoria
  20. Tegan
  21. Turlough
  22. Dodo
  23. Katarina
  24. Kamelion
  25. Adric

  1. Posted by Owen Smith at 03:00pm on 14 August 2015

    I don't even remember Turlough. I watched the Five Doctors on original broadcast and quite liked it. I think I watched the rest of this series, I vaguely remember the Supreme Dalek and I saw Davison regenerate into Colin Baker. But the rest of this made very little impression on me.

  2. Posted by Dr Bob at 04:51pm on 15 August 2015

    I think Tegan and Peri come from that unfortunate school of writing that thinks "feisty" means "nags and complains all the time".

    I re-watched Warriors of the Deep with a friend recently. She jokingly said "They've put a work experience student in charge of the missile defence system." Then that actually turned out to be the case!

    I now want to know the drinking preferences of all the other Doctors! :-)

  3. Posted by Chris at 07:29pm on 15 August 2015

    Whereas "feisty" actually comes from "fisty", which means "windy": farts a lot.

    That was why terriers were called feisty little dogs: nothing to do with courage, a lot to do with smell.

  4. Posted by RogerBW at 08:53pm on 15 August 2015

    Dr Bob: at least Tegan wasn't played for sex appeal. Mind you, neither was Leela, but then that performance is what you get for hiring an experienced actress who's actually good at this stuff.

    I'll add my impression of Doctor 7's booze preference when I've re-watched some of his stories. I'm not planning to re-watch nuWho, though I may change my mind when I get to the end of oldWho.

    Chris: I could believe it of Tegan; she'd be the sort of person to have a permanently upset gut. Not so much Peri.

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