Or the begining of the 'Tegan era' and my few sticking points on Doctor Who's mighty run. Don't get me wrong I believe that there are a fair few knockouts in Davison's run but there are almost an equal number of clunkers. The fifth Doctor, Tegan, Nyssa and Adric battle the Master, frogface Monarch, the dark reaches of the inside - the Mara, scheming Terileptils, a misunderstood young lover, Cybermen planning to destroy the Earth and the sinister Kalid!
The regulars -
Castrovalva written by Christopher H Bidmead and directed by Fiona Cumming
This story in a nutshell: The newly regenerated Doctor needs his friends to help him get through this latest crisis…
Fair Fellow: I have developed a new appreciation for Peter Davison’s fifth Doctor since enjoying his adventures in the Big Finish audio range. I have always found his televised adventures afforded few opportunities to truly shine. There are a few exceptions (Kinda, Snakedance, Enlightenment, Frontios and Androzani) but on the whole I find that we have is a strong actor in a mostly underwritten role. Those glimpses of the older man in a younger mans dominance in Frontios and Androzani especially show the sort of dynamo we could have had in the central role all along. It doesn’t help that the quality of his stories goes up and down like a manic lie detector (Earthshock/Time-Flight shows how the quality can plummet and then Arc of Infinity/Snakedance sees a sudden ascent in quality!). However I really enjoy his turn in Castrovalva simply because it is such a gentle treatment of regeneration (perhaps this was why it was easier to adapt to Davison’s Doctor than Colin Bakers) and there is a real attempt to show the Doctor recovering from this violent biological change. The Doctor unravels his scarf just as his mind is being unravelled and he mentions Romana and K.9 and has flashbacks to his previous selves (Davison’s impression of Troughton is spot on and I did chuckle at his militaristic Pertwee!). His scenes amongst the Castrovalvan residents are some the fifth Doctor’s finest and I love his assertion that he has come to the city to find the Doctor – sheer poetry. Clearly the Doctor has used his regeneration to forget all about Adric but unfortunately the Alzarians absence niggles at the back of his mind. Studying the history of Castrovalva with half moon specs on, firing off theories and behaving inanely – why couldn’t the fifth Doctor be this well written all the time? By the end of the story the Doctor is commandingly standing up to both Shardovan and the Master, the Doctor has finally arrived.
Alien Orphan: There’s a great moment when Nyssa sees her fathers face on the scanner waving them to their deaths and she cries that she hates his face. It must eat her up that the Master is using her fathers body to commit such awful crimes and it is such a shame that we didn’t get to explore that more. She knows so little about telebiogenesis, alas. There’s a glorious moment of absolute calm during their first morning in Castrovalva and Nyssa watches the ladies work through their bedroom window, checks Tegan sleeping calmly and then takes a stroll through the streets simply basking in the ambience. Its exactly the sort of thing I would be doing if I were travelling with the Doctor and as a quiet moment of normality amongst all the madness it’s the sort of thing Doctor Who should do far more often than it does. Nyssa tries to reason with the Master but he merely tosses her across the room like a rag doll. Clearly there is no trace of Tremas left in there.
Mouth on Legs: Without a doubt one of Tegan’s (and Janet Fielding’s) best stories. Christopher H Bidmead writes so well for the feisty air hostess that he created and perhaps if he had remained as script editor we would have seen a much smoother ride for the character. There’s no whining and moaning about trying to get home here, Tegan recognises that this is a fraught situation and tries to do everything she can to help. She actually feels like a human being – a rare feat. The Doctor nominates Tegan as the co-ordinator, the one to keep them together during the healing process which is a role she seems determined to live up to. Tegan gets to enjoy the illusion that she is flying the TARDIS which is not the kind of aircraft she wanted to be indulging herself on but probably the closest she will get to being a pilot! There is some nice humour too (‘I could have shown him Brisbane’ ‘Not up to CAA standards but a landings a landing!’). This is one of the few stories that features Tegan that Janet Fielding doesn’t dominate with her aggressive portrayal and for that I am truly grateful.
Pudding Bowl Haircut: Bless Matthew Waterhouse who hasn’t the ability of a stunt man so his little scrap with the police at the beginning of Castrovalva is marred by bad time and tame kicks and punches. Although I suppose we should give credit where its due, this is the second time in two stories where he has affected a decent diversion and escape plan!
Panto Beard: Its interesting to note that every time a huge impact was made with a brand new Master the production team decided to play his story out over a handful of stories. Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks creating the Doctor’s Moriarty and had him feature in every story for an entire season. John Nathan Turner and Christopher H Bidmead re-invented the character in the form of Anthony Ainley and enjoyed a three story marathon (over 12 episodes). And when Russell T Davies decided to bring him back for the New Series there was a stonkingly epic three episode tale to revel in his madness. It would seem that one story isn’t enough and we need prolonged exposure as proof that this is the version that is sticking around for a while. He’s such a devious sod that he needs to install traps inside traps as a back up just in case his initial trap doesn’t work! It says something about his confidence in himself (or rather his confidence in the Doctor) that he knows he is going to fail and have to try again!
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘One of the advantages of stark simplicity…’
‘The solution. Oh my little friend if only you were.’
‘Definitely civilisation’ - biting into a celery stick!
‘You made us man of evil but we are free…’
‘Well whoever I feel like its absolutely splendid!’
The Good: Pre-title sequences are tenapenny these days but back in the day these were rare treats and this is one of the best, a reprise of the events at the end of Logopolis with some gorgeous Paddy Kingsland music scoring the emotive transformation. Whoever said that The Parting of the Ways was the first optimistic regeneration obviously hasn’t watched this story because everything about the fourth Doctor’s regeneration is about a young man stepping from an old mans life and pleasingly he sits up with a smile on his face. I always really enjoy the first episode because it is so different from anything else in Doctor Who – a brand new set of regulars team trapped inside the TARDIS and trying to heal the Doctor and get used to each other whilst falling into one of the Master’s most devious traps. Am I the only one who thinks it is very cute to have a cricketers changing room inside the TARDIS? Like Peter Grimwade before her Fiona Cumming manages to convince with a handful of sets and some clever editing and camerawork that the TARDIS is a labyrinthe of many passageways and different rooms. Between Logopolis and Castrovalva we have Chris Bidmead to thank for really exploring the potential of the TARDIS as an alien and unknowable setting. The consequence of being able to gain enough momentum to escape Event One is to delete 25% of the TARDIS – I love how Bidmead uses clever science to get the Doctor out of this situation and as a small side note his description of momentum here helped me to pass a GCSE exam question! So cheers Bidmead! I’m quite keen on TARDIS imagery (my desktop is usually a TARDIS photoshop that some genius has dreamed up) so I love the look of the ship lopsided sticking out of some ferns! I’m also a massive fan of long walks in the leafy British countryside and so the location work in Castrovalva is some of my favourite, passing streams and banks with the birds singing and the grass fresh and vibrant – its just gorgeous. Add to it some stunning Kingsland mood music and it is one of the few times I don’t care that the narrative has taken a massive pause because I am simply drinking in the atmosphere. How ironic that Castrovalva should be a made up location because it feels like one of the most realistic foreign locations the show has ever given us. A bustling town, full of life and packed with lovely detail such as the washer women, the hunting and the poetic dialogue. The sets are marvellous with imperial pillars, marbles steps, balconies and flaming torches all mixing to create a rich effect and Cumming adds much atmosphere by lighting the scenes appropriately for day and night scenes. Populated with characters such as Mergrave, Ruther, Shardovan and the Portreeve, Castrovalva is warm and wonderful place to visit and recuperate. A shame its all a nasty trap on the part of the Master but he gets full marks for creating a genuinely restful location. The first time I watched this story I had no idea that the Portreeve was being played by Anthony Ainley. It’s a fantastic performance, throaty and wise and after this is and his lovely turn as Tremas it is shame to see Ainley stuck with the interminably pantomimic role of the Master because it is clear he has so much more the give. I was sure Shardovan was the Master! The end of episode three is always knocked for its daft final effect and yes it isn’t quite up to scratch but the work that is done by Fiona Cumming and the actors to convince that every route leads back to the square really sells the idea for me. I can think of no better example of free will as the Master’s puppets turn on him and hold him back whilst the Doctor escapes with his companions. I have to mention Paddy Kingland’s score for Castrovalva which is one my favourites in Doctor Who’s entire run. It is one of the most emotive and lyrical of scores and adds a great deal of tension and excitement to the early scenes (I love the music as they approach Event One). The theme when the Doctor, Tegan and Nyssa dash about Castrovalva that is closing in on them like a flower at the end of episode three is also very memorable.
The Bad: I can understand the logic of having the first handful of stories being filmed before the opening story of the season because the regulars in Castrovalva are gorgeously presented. The flip side is that you go from a story like this where they are all relaxed around each other to Four to Doomsday where suddenly everybody seems unsure and delivers nervous performances. Its such a shocking contrast from one to the other that I’m not sure in hindsight it was the best idea. The chase back to the TARDIS would be much more dynamic if it wasn’t just a couple of feet away – I don’t know why they don’t just run rather than go to all the trouble of stealing an ambulance! Atmospherics aside, Tegan and Nyssa are a bit rubbish when it comes to getting to Castrovalva. First they lose the wheelchair in the stream, then Nyssa falls in, then they dump the Zero Cabinet and then they are shocked when he has gone missing! I don’t know if I would want this two watching my back. The mirrored effect of the Doctor and company crossing the Bridge is possibly a bit too simple to suggest the occlusion.
The Shallow Bit: The fifth Doctor’s costume is probably the least offensive of the Doctor’s that JNT catered for but it still feels remarkably cobbled together and more like a uniform than before. The jacket is a lovely style but I hate the colour (surely the blandest of Doctor’s should be given something other than the blandest of colours to wear?) but I love the cricketing jumper on the other hand. There is something quintessentially British about the fifth Doctor that makes me smile. Nyssa’s fairy skirt is like something out of Lewis Carroll and I was very pleased to see she swapped it for a pair of trousers to trudge around in outside. The less said about Adric’s pyjamas and Tegan’s unflattering air hostess uniform the better. It has to be said that there is something remarkably kinky about the Master keeping Adric trapped within a webbing of metal torture devices – its probably the closest to sado-machoistic bondage you will see in Doctor Who! Its well worth having a close look at Tegan’s stockings when she dabs her hand in the Doctor’s blood – there is a massive hole the size of her thighs!
Result: A gloriously sedate, warm and wonderful opening story to introduce the fifth Doctor. Critics that say Bidmead can only write cold science should rewatch the Castrovalva sequences which are imbued with depth of character and wonderful lines and observations. The opening two episodes are a little short on incident but this is more than made for by watching this new team of regulars find their way with each other plus a great chance to explore the depths of the TARDIS. Both the location work and the design are beautiful and it really feels as though JNT has upped the budget tenfold since the all studio days of the latter end of season seventeen. As the Doctor says ‘trim time ship and a ship shape team’ which is exactly what the show needed after Tom Baker’s seven year span and it genuinely feels like this is an exciting and optimistic new direction for the show. Visually and tonally there has never been anything like this before and since and I think its rather wonderful: 9/10
Four to Doomsday written by Terrance Dudley and directed by John Black
Fair Fellow: Poor Peter Davison, he really was lumbered with some pretty dire companions during his time wasn’t he? And we are about to see them at their worst in this story and his impatience in this story mirrors my own. What is especially is jarring is how comfortable everybody felt in their roles in Castrovalva (naturally since it was recorded fourth) and how uncertain and tentative they all are here. You can especially tell that Davison doesn’t have a clue how to play the Doctor and so he walks from the TARDIS and simply grins like lunatic until he meets somebody. He exhibits no character whatsoever except that he’s nice. How dull. He’s like some intergalactic Gok Wan and as soon as he meets someone civilised he starts rabbiting on about fashion and earrings! Oddly the Doctor requires Adric to perform the simplest of sums and gets so desperate to be involved at one point he fakes a faint. His fantastic reason for not wanting to warn the Earth that Monarch is coming to murder everybody is because ‘we’ll be laughed at!’ That’s never stopped him before! ‘The devils!’ he exclaims at Nyssa’s tormentors and makes me wonder if anybody has edited this script.
Arsey Aussie: What can I possibly say about Tegan in this story? As much as I might complain about her character and Janet Fielding’s less than stellar interpretation I do think she at least had a running story throughout her first season. However Four to Doomsday sees both the character and the actress at their nadir and there is no point when she ever comes across as a human being you might meet in the street. ‘Good than I can catch a train!’ enthuses Tegan although it does make me wonder why they bother to give her naturalistic dialogue when Fielding plays them so unrealistically. ‘Maths!’ spits Tegan as though Adric has suggested taking her up the ass (seriously…go and watch it again!). Tegan has terrible trouble fighting the idea that she is travelling in a time machine these days and continually rants about the Doctor having lost her her job (when she didn’t give a toss about it in Castrovalva). ‘Look, a door!’ she exclaims as though she is witnessing a miracle! Are you fashionable Tegan? I would guess not considering she wore that purple monstrosity all season. Tegan is completely hysterical despite being in no danger whatsoever. There is a hilariously awful moment when Tegan discover her body will be disposed of (hooray!) and she starts stamping her feet and screaming ‘No! No! No! No! No!’ Watching Tegan have an orgasm over the TARDIS console and then laughing insanely as tears run down her face is deeply embarrassing – I’m not sure what is going on in this scene but it is cringeworthy! Tegan stamps and kicks the TARDIS manual…a bad workwoman always blames her tools! Aside from the drawings what does Tegan contribute to this story except complain, moan and get in the way?
Spoilt Brat: No matter how much criticism you can throw at Janet Fielding and Tegan you have to triple that for Matthew Waterhouse and Adric. How unbelievably snidey, insulting and unreasonable is he in this story? As irritating as pubic louse and just as nasty. Adric declares that all women are mindless, impatient and bossy and judging by the look on Tegan’s face she wants to shove his winkle in a blender! He screams petulantly at the Monopticons and in one unforgettable moment he turns all butch and confronts one with ‘I said where is she?’ Why does the little twat ask for sodium chloride instead of salt? How do you make asking for salt so geeky? Nyssa gets a gentle shove and Adric that well known boxer of men steps in: ‘Don’t you do that to her!’ When Adric agrees with Monarch he finally puts to rest the hotly debated topic of whether Adric thinks and acts like a robot – yes he does. This is the middle adventure of three that sees Adric working for the enemy and you have to ask yourself why the Doctor bothers keeping him around. When explaining the TARDIS Adric fails his Through the Keyhole audition by only mentioning the control room, the bathroom and the cloisters – what a shitty sell! He is so daft not seeing through the Doctor’s overdone praise of Monarch – can anybody be this naïve? The final insult is that Adric has to be convinced to help the Doctor defeat Monarch. God save us.
Alien Orphan: I couldn’t remember Nyssa being in this story and now I remember why! Sarah Sutton is such a strong little actress it breaks my heart to see her wasted in the dullest writing for a character known to man! She is reading the Principles of Mathematics for fun and then spends four episodes wandering about failing to connect with the plot! She does mention her father and have a small rail against tyranny and tells Adric to shut up (yay!) but on the whole Nyssa is there to be in jeopardy right up until the last second of the story.
The Good Stuff: There are some parallels with The End of the World where we have a new Doctor, a new season; the introductory story out of the way and here is the chance to show off some superb production values. The sets are all pretty fantastic, spacious, gorgeously lit and teeming with instruments. The first and second cliffhanger are rather good, moments of cleverness in all the dross.
The Bad Stuff: What the fuck is wrong with Adric (bowler geek) and Tegan’s (bird nest slut) hair? The Doctor and company being spied on should probably be quite unsettling but Monarch and his chums have such middle class, casual voices the only thing you wonder is if they will be offered tea and cucumber sandwiches. The Urbankan make up is revoltingly bad; I have a cold at the moment and examined a tissue earlier post-sneeze and discovered something that looks like Monarch’s face nestling inside! You can see how somebody thought the Recreations were a good idea – its very Doctor Who to mix culture and fiction but it makes the already deathly slow story crawl to a halt. It’s more akin to watching Blue Peter but I think they would have made a more interesting job of it! Adric and Nyssa explore the ship in some very dull, stilted scenes and it worries me that the show is concentrating more on the set design than characterisation and performance. Bigon is a hopelessly wooden character with the odd moment of melodrama (amongst my favourites are ‘It is not as it seems!’ and ‘Great Zeus!’). So let me get this straight…Monarch destroyed his own planet with a poison, which he plans to use on the Earth to wipe out humanity before replacing them and mining the silicon of the planet. With that he plans to travel faster than light, going backwards in time to the Big Bang to meet himself because he thinks he is God. What the hell? Who on Earth scripted that load of convoluted nonsense? There is a moment in episode three when Adric and Tegan have a huge row, shrieking hysterically (‘Adric I’m warning you! Get out of my way!’ ‘No!’) which to my mind is the nadir of all companion scenes. Its two unlikable characters appallingly performed having a nonsensical and artificial argument – its horrible. Could it get any duller than Nyssa playing about with pencils and screwdrivers? And just when you think it can’t get any more boring we are subjected to another Recreational! When all the cultural dances mingle in recreation haywire you could be forgiven for thinking that you have fallen asleep and are having some kind of surrealist nightmare! The Doctor leaps into space tethered with a loose bit of old rope? The special effects for the space walk are pretty dire; all fringe lines and a painted on TARDIS. Why does the Doctor head back to the spaceship to save Adric? At one point Monarch actually stares at the screen and goes ‘NOOOOOOO!’ The Doctor leaves the TARDIS door open in front of Monarch and he doesn’t go inside…which was what he was obsessing about in earlier episodes! The story ends with Bigon and his chums grinning inanely at each other…and you don’t give a toss about any of them!
The Shallow Bit: How much filthy dialogue is there in this story…?
‘He knows I’m no good with my hands!’ moans Adric.
‘Is this one of your dropping times Doctor?’
‘Ahh the flesh time!’
‘I wouldn’t dream of interfering with you Monopticons.’
‘Our lubrication freezes and our joints stiffen!’
‘Nyssa, relieve him…’
Adric wrestles with Enlightenment in what looks decidedly like a rape scene!
Result: Four to Doomsday is one of the oddest Doctor Who stories I have ever seen. It flaunts reasonable special effects, fantastic design, gorgeous lighting but this is a lick of gloss over what is a lousy script full of confused ideas, dodgy characterisation and a distinct lack of action. If there was ever an argument against filling the TARDIS with companions this story is it; you have three terrible, overwritten, badly acted assistants clogging up the story and eating up the Doctor’s screen time and as a result the fifth Doctor is blander than ever. The story plods along and fails to generate any excitement or tension and Monarch, Persuasion and Enlightenment make for extremely crass, middle class aliens. A stilted science lecture lacking logic or entertainment and a massive misstep for the fifth Doctors opening volley of stories: 3/10
Kinda written by Chistopher Bailey and directed by Peter Grimwade
TO BE REVIEWED...
The Visitation written by Eric Saward and directed by Peter Moffatt
This story in a nutshell: Poor fishy aliens go to all the trouble of setting up a plan that will wipe out all of mankind and they only get to kill four people!
Fair Fellow: As hard as I am on Davison’s Doctor at times he would enjoy sporadic stories where his Doctor was written for really well (other great examples are Kinda, Earthshock, Enlightenment and Frontios) and I really like how Eric Saward manages to capture the old man trapped in a young mans body in this story. Despite the wealth of embarrassing melodrama in the opening TARDIS scenes there is a wonderful moment where the Doctor talks awkwardly to Adric about peoples true feelings and flustered covers his discomfort by shouting at him! He’s absolutely terrified when he realises they aren’t at Heathrow, terrified of the wrath of Tegan. He tries to explain that the TARDIS isn’t always reliable and accidentally snaps a control from the console! I really like how angry he is throughout, often snappy, impatient and hard on his companions (trust me they really need it), it works far better than the brow beaten loser of the next season. Wonders why Earth people are so parochial? Like Four to Doomsday he still gets squeaky voiced when roused as though he hasn’t quite hit puberty yet. He is magnanimous enough to skip over the fact the Tereleptil Leader has been to prison and simply wants to help him. There’s a couple of moments in part four where he really lunges at Tegan when she is being ultra irritating…I really wish he had kept this up. Oddly he is very quiet about their pivotal role in human history but I can imagine in years to come he would be extremely proud about his role in the Great Fire of London.
Screaming Harridan: Was Eric Saward trying to capture the season one vibe of the Doctor trying to get Ian and Barbara home with Tegan? The difference is that the first Doctor wanted his friends to stick around whereas the fifth Doctor cannot wait to boot this pushy bitch from his life! In extreme contrast to the next story which I have already reviewed Tegan is at her most shrill in this story, mouthing off to all and sundry and behaving in a generally pig headed manner. I honestly cannot understand why people were so excited to see her back in the Big Finish Productions range. There is the suggestion here that her bolshie attitude is her way of disguising her real feelings but it is not fed into the scripts to come enough to make it convincing, I think she simply enjoys being awkward. Tegan is still haunted by her experiences sharing her mind with the Mara. I did like her quiet admission to Nyssa that she hasn’t been the best of travelling companions (no shit Sherlock!). She always overreacts and is finding the idea of leaving the TARDIS harder than she though (What? Adric?). The fact that she is stupid is hardly an original observation. Her Guildford gag really tickles. Adric might be stronger (I don’t know if I buy that) but Tegan is more determined. Zombie Tegan is a blessed relief because she finally shuts the hell up! She’s pretty bad at throwing punches. ‘Groggy, sore and bad tempered’ is pretty much Tegan’s character description throughout her tenure. Is this the only story in which she says ‘G’day’? Tegan the Tereleptil Slayer, my God watch as she psychotically batters one to death with a gun for a couple of minutes!
Sulky Brat: What a petulant cunt he is from the very first scene. Adric is at his most irritating at this stage, gone is the actor who tried his hardest to act because his hero was the lead (Tom Baker) and in steps the arrogant sod who doesn’t bother to reign in his inexperience because he is now the longest serving member. They don’t even try and make him likable, having Adric stuff his hands in his pockets, turn his back on an argument and sulk. Matthew Waterhouse has terrible trouble making any dialogue sound authentic and moves so awkwardly around the sets, we have never had such a character/actor that has worked so detrimentally to the series before or since. As if things weren’t bad enough he then goes and twists his ankle! Watch how Adric attacks the android and it fails to throw him off so he just flings himself across the cellar and falls unconscious. He isn’t convinced that Tegan likes him, which is kind of sweet considering nobody likes him. ‘Why isn’t he here? Why is he never around when you waaaant him?’ – worst Adric line ever, he really annunciates waaa like a big baby! Kicking the android up the arse and being clobbered is the funniest thing ever, more entertaining than anything on display here! Adric bangs the console to get the TARDIS working properly but he just can’t pull it off like the Doctor (what kind of actor can’t even bang an inanimate object convincingly?).
Alien Orphan: My God this is a crowded TARDIS, huh? You have to give Eric Saward credit for at least giving every member of the crew something to do in his script even if it isn’t something terribly interesting. Nyssa has always been my favourite fifth Doctor companion, I know she isn’t the most dynamic of characters but she is being played by the glorious Sarah Sutton which means she is capable of moments of great depth and wonder. I love how firm Nyssa is with the Doctor, she really does lecture but she does it intelligently rather than wailing like Tegan. It is lovely to see Nyssa taking a pivotal role in the action (rather than being tucked away in the TARDIS doing nothing in stories such as Earthshock and Mawdryn Undead) but her scenes building the booster really are languidly directed. Her sadness at destroying the android rings true, she has only murdered a slave machine.
The Good Stuff: The opening attack on the manor is superb, well performed and atmospheric – why can’t the rest of the story be more like this, 17th Century terror told from the point of view of the local characters and not a sci-fi bit of fluff told exclusively from the point of view of our (frankly dull) regulars. John Savant deserved a much bigger role since he is such a terrific actor (go watch his unforgettable appearance as Egorian in Blakes’ 7). The kung fu crew fighting the villagers is really funny! Richard Mace automatically becomes better acted and more interesting than any of the companions even if he does talk in equally unconvincing dialogue (being a man of the theatre he explains everything with a descriptive flourish but lacks the tenacious loquaciousness of Henry Gordon Jago). The Miller nearly kills three companions with one horse! The sets and locations are pretty but they feel like varnish on an empty script. The Androids Death mask looks convincing enough. If proof was ever needed that the director can turn the lights down the cell Tegan and Adric are locked up in is steeped in shadows. The death of the sonic screwdriver is very welcome because now he can rely on his wits rather than hardware. It’s so nice that something finally happens that is attempting to approach drama I applaud the android infiltrating the TARDIS. The scenes shot on film are automatically more authentic than anything else we have seen so far it makes me wish that this whole story had taken place in London. The Tereleptil faces melt and pop like hot chip fat.
The Bad Stuff: Prepare yourselves… The opening sequence is gagging to be a pre titles sequence and probably should be as it really doesn’t connect with the main plot at all. Why couldn’t they cut the continuity between stories, it is always shoehorned into the beginning of the story clumsily (‘I was trying to escape’) and makes you feel as if you have come in halfway through another story! In the sixties they managed to link the stories with a gripping teaser at the end of each story that made you want to come back next week…why couldn’t they do that? The cut to the gorgeously lit manor to the over lit cheap TARDIS console is like a slap in the face, switching genres with no care at all. You really wouldn’t want to go travelling with this bunch would you? They remind me of a family fighting over the bathroom (except all the time). The homing device is such a crap 80’s gadget. Why is it that some directors don’t know how to move a camera? At times it feels as though I am watching theatre but I have seen stage plays where the stage and the actors moves more often than in this story. ‘We’ve found yet another power pack’/’We Alzarians are different from you’/’Whilst you were enjoying 48 hours peaceful sleep in the delta wave augmenter’ – why does nobody have naturalistic dialogue? Eric Saward has some nerve criticising Pip and Jane Baker scripts when his own dialogue is hopelessly phoney! I’m not convinced by the Tereleptil design; the face is quite nasty (and I really like the animatronic gills) but I think they might have taken the fish design too far because the scaly breastplate and tail look remarkably cumbersome and fake. And I wont hear any of that guff about the lack of time and money, if they could design and create Draconians, Sontarans and Zygons with the same time and money there can do better than this. The forest backdrop from inside the escape pod is horrendous (that’s right folks there is so little happening I am focusing my time purely on idiotic aesthetics like this!). One character is called ‘scythe man’ – would it really have killed Saward to call him Edward or something? Even facing death the Doctor manages to slip in a continuity reference (‘Not again’). All the cliffhangers are remarkably bland and we reach the nadir with part three, which climaxes on Tegan fiddling with the catch of a cage!
The Shallow Bit: I bet Adric stinks in that costume he never changes. Tegan looks ridiculous, popping up her hideous purple tunic, face caked in too much make up and with a haircut a bird would happily set up home in. Nyssa looks gorgeous in contrast, light curls, subtle make up and decked out in crushed velvet. Although famously she slips on some muffs and builds a vibrator in her room!
Result: Doctor Who visits the 17th Century in the 1980’s, this is history at its most bland. Whilst I do find Peter Moffatt underrated as a director it is stories such as The Visitation that lack pace (only occasionally hiccupping something pretending to be action) and visual style that make it hard to argue against that reputation. The only person who comes from The Visitation is Davison’s Doctor who manages to assert himself in a way he doesn’t normally. The plot of The Visitation feels like a four episode McGuffin for the final shot, which wasn’t really worth all the build up. Superficially entertaining but never once fulfilling, when a glitzy 80’s android is the best thing on offer you know you are in trouble. The designers, musician and actors try and make of this what they can but with a script this dull and direction this languid they are fighting a losing battle: 4/10
Black Orchid written by Terrance Dudley and directed by Ron Jones
Fair Face: You can understand why Peter Davison objected to this script, as the Doctor is easily the weakest thing about it. Whilst his companions get to party he is stuck wandering around some dirty old corridors and once he discovers the body all he gets to do is declare his innocence ineffectually. He has no real status within the story, no gravitas; it feels as though he is washed away in the gentle events. Plus I find it extremely odd how he shows all and sundry inside the TARDIS these days, a far cry from his dangerous reaction to Ian and Barbara walking in during An Unearthly Child. There were a few touches that were nice such as his admission that he used to want to drive a steam train when he was a boy (and you can imagine the Time Lords’ reaction would mirror Nyssa’s) and his glee at being invited to a cricket match is palpable.
Alien Orphan: How wonderful for Sarah Sutton to be able to let her hair down after playing bug up her butt Nyssa for a whole season and inject some real hysteria and melodrama into Ann Talbot. She’s such a marvellous shrieking harridan it is a good thing Nyssa is characterised the way she is otherwise imagine how catty it would be in the TARDIS with Tegan and Ann! There are lots of great moments of Nyssa in this story and since she is pretty much ignored throughout her time they are all the more enjoyable for it. I loved her incomprehensible reaction to cricket; pretty much sums it up for me as well! The confusion as to whether she is from Traken, Worcestershire or Escher made me chuckle. Nyssa is quite good at the formalised dancing on Traken and has some lovely scenes with Tegan (I know, I was surprised as well!) teaching her the Charleston. Her butterfly costume is stunning and she seems to really relax in the setting, dancing and flirting with Adric (bleaugh).
Screaming Harridan: Black Orchid is the worst story to start with for Tegan as it is entirely unrepresentative of her personality over the three years she polluted the show. Why is she Tegan smiling so much and being amenable to her hosts? It creeps me out because it is the opposite of her usual abrasive foot stamping. She throws herself into the dancing and flirts like mad with Sir Robert. Had she been like this throughout her tenure I would not have objected but lets save that discussion for seasons 20 and 21.
Pudding Bowl Haircut: Scandinavian? Adric is actually pretty fun in this story so lets be honest all of the regulars a pretty out of character but in a rather marvellous way here. In this setting where he doesn’t have to be a traitor or play and active role in events suddenly Adric thrives. All Waterhouse has to do is stand in the background, make a few suggestive comments (‘I don’t think I could do it!’) and stuff his face and he acquits himself beautifully. ‘Anyway I’d much rather eat.’ Perhaps Adric would have worked best if he was plonked in the foreground of every story, given a plate of food and told to eat and not connect with events.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Positively two peas in a pod!’
‘Strike me pink!’ – the best ever reaction to walking into the TARDIS!
The Good Stuff: Has there ever been a story that is more quintessentially British than this one? The TARDIS lands on a sunny village train platform and the Doctor is carted off in a vintage car through glorious green countryside. He plays cricket on a sunny lawn, shares some ‘Splendid! ‘Top Ho!’ dialogue and then heads back to a fabulous country manor for cocktails! Its rural Britain personified. The interior of the house is clearly studio work but there is a lot of detail in those sets and the grand staircase looks absolutely excellent (just like in Ghost Light). I really like how the Doctor and co are expected at the train station, it saves all that bother about explaining who they are in the first episode and lets us get on with the story. The ball scenes are exquisite (if a bit blowy…the girls positively glow with the cold!) with some fabulous frocks, a terrific spread and lots of dancing. It is a genuinely thrill to see this particular TARDIS crew letting their hair down, they are always at each others throats and for once they feel like a real family unit. How creepy is the Harlequin costume and come to think of it George’s disfigured make up as well? The fire he sets in the studio is really impressive – I am surprised that they let it build that much. Considering so little happens in this interlude the rooftop fireside hostage scenario (try saying that three times fast) really packs a punch. All of the performances by the guest cast are excellent, since this a period piece and there are no grandiose villains about everybody is underplaying their roles and they are more effective because of it. Well except perhaps Michael Cochrane (‘Smutty!’). The tragic ending leads to a lovely short but sweet coda, which suggests events unseen.
The Bad Stuff: It a shame Roger Limb chose to use a synthesiser for his music as his piano work as actually very nice (and I am far from his biggest fan) but the electronic buzzing that pollutes the story so really out of place. I wouldn’t have even bothered to include all those scenes with George in episode one, wandering around and dribbling, since the cliffhanger would have been a much better surprise. Whodunnit – geddit? As a murder mystery this story is trite because it breaks all of the rules, there is only ever one suspect and it reveals too much early on. Its better to enjoy this simply as a period piece.
The Shallow Bit: Both Tegan and Nyssa look foxy in this story.
Result: The most refreshing change of pace for 80’s Doctor Who, abandoning heavy plotting and tangled continuity in favour of atmosphere and frolics. It is incredible fun to watch the Doctor and friends letting their hair down and so close to Adric’s death it is nice to see them gelling together so well. The direction isn’t fantastic but it doesn’t need to be…this is a quaint trip to 1920’s Britain and Ron Jones can languish shots on steam trains, countryside, cricket matches and fabulous old-fashioned cars. There’s not a lot of tension in this but by God there’s plenty of style: 8/10
Earthshock written by Eric Saward and directed by Peter Grimwade
This story in a nutshell: The Cybermen are back and a million fan boys scream like big girls in excitement!
An English Gentleman: People always cite Kinda as the best story for this Doctor in his first season but he is basically threatened and patronised and not treated very seriously by anybody in that story. It’s Earthshock where Davison really comes into his own for me, commanding his audience and providing some exciting and tense moments. Watch how he grins quietly at seeing the Death mask from The Visitation and the double helix bling from Kinda. He is furious at Adric for vocalising his faults; his lack of explanations (he does say ‘I’ll explain later more than any other Doctor I can remember!) and failing to get Tegan home but at least he doesn’t return the favour and list Adric’s failings because this story would have to be a ten parter. It’s like having two spoilt brats in the TARDIS with the Doctor stamping his feet and refusing to go back into E-Space! Adric thinks that since his regeneration the Doctor has become decidedly immature (when the truth is the reverse – Adric was almost tolerable when there was a chance that the Doctor might have kicked the crap out of him in the towering form of Tom Baker whereas as soon as fair fellow Davison took over Adric starting behaving like a patronising twat). Davison is fantastic at suggesting the urgency of the situation both in dashing about like a madman and the intensity of his performance as he races against time to deactivate the bomb. It is the Doctor who is the bigger man and apologises to Adric. Even under the threat of death he has the arrogance of a Time Lord. The Cybermen want him to suffer for his past defeats. His reaction to seeing the Cybermen marching through the freighter is chilling, brilliantly judged by Davison. ‘For some people small and beautiful events are what life is all about!’ – that’s a great line that could only come from the mouth of this Doctor, I honestly cannot imagine either Baker either side of Davison saying that convincingly in character. Look at the Doctor’s face as they are going to kill Tegan, he looks positively terrified! The Doctor poisons and then blasts the crap out of the Cyberleader so put that in your pipe and smoke it Colin Baker detractors! In fact the more I watch of the Davison era he is proving to be just as violent as the sixth Doctor, he just seems to feel more remorse about it! The Doctor’s silence at the end of the story speaks volumes and is far more effective than when they actually do talk about it in the next story.
Maths Nerd: Unfortunately rather than accentuating his positives (there must be something), Eric Saward goes for the opposite approach opening the story with Adric pouting and sulking in his bedroom that nobody likes him or has any time for him. Well duh! He’s betrayed the Doctor more often than he has been his ally, treats Nyssa (who is his intellectual superior) like an idiot and is painfully sexist towards feminist Tegan! He’s tired of being an outsider and is an irritating know it all (watch as he tells them all the year they have landed in). Adric bitches at the scanner screen that shows the Doctor departing into the caves. Matthew Waterhouse cannot even talk to himself convincingly, sounding like a squeaky mouse as the console makes weird squarking noises. Wow, how can you look unconvincing throwing a rock? Waterhouse has a rare gift for looking stiff on screen! Adric demands to know what is going on when the Doctor is trying to disarm a bomb – get a grip, lad! ‘I’m hungry!’ he whines. He doesn’t even want to go home and just put on that display of angst to make a point and says he might change his mind one day (is that supposed to illicit some kind of fear in us?). Adric finally becomes useful and applies his intelligence as soon as they are banged up on the freighter almost as if Saward remembers he is about to kill the kid so we might as well see him achieve something before he goes. He helps the Doctor to trap the Cyberman in the door and bravely agrees to stay behind whilst they head back to the TARDIS and comes quite close to averting the ships course (although of course had he achieved that it would have been his most stupid action yet, wiping out the entire human race and giving birth to a potential race of intelligent dinosaurs). Daft old Adric misses his chance to escape – its weird that it should take his death for us to finally give a shit about this irritating character. The worst companion gets the best exit, there’s irony for you.
Mouth on Legs: The story where this phrase was coined! What is going on in the universe which sees the Doctor and Adric having an immature bitch fight and Tegan watches on as the sensible parent? To be fair to the character there has been some clear progression throughout this season that sees her start to enjoy her adventures and stop wanting to return home and calm down her more melodramatic tendencies. The next story sees her return home and should have seen the end of her adventures with the Doctor reaching a natural conclusion. How great is it to get Tegan out of that horrendous uniform and into dirty overalls and given a big gun? Tegan gets a great Ripley-esque moment where she rushes up to an injured Cyberman and blasts the crap out of it! It was halfway through the fourth episode when I realised that Tegan had not annoyed me even once throughout the entire story (usually its about 20 times in the first five minutes) which I would have an impossibility! Given their biting, back stabbing relationship I am not surprised it is Tegan who breaks down at Adric’s death. Perhaps there was more affection there than we thought.
Alien Orphan: Poor Nyssa, stuck in the TARDIS again whilst everybody else gets to go out and have all the fun. Thank goodness for Big Finish! Nyssa is dismayed at having landed on Earth again. I love how Nyssa takes charge in the TARDIS – ‘I want things to settle down before we go out.’ Probably the most emotional moment in the whole story comes with Nyssa’s reaction to Kyle’s senseless death – Sarah Sutton looks devastated and I always think back to her peaceful life on Traken at this point and wonder if the Doctor isn’t damaging her with these violent adventures.
The Good Stuff: Earthshock opens with the ultimate Doctor Who image – a bare quarry! Looking at the first episode as a whole it is the archetypal Doctor Who opening instalment with people dying in some caves, the Doctor caught and blamed and a monster revealed at the cliffhanger. It has always been a winning formula and directed this atmospherically it is one of the best examples. Its fantastic that they managed to turn the lights down for the cave scenes and as an example of how atmospheric it is go and watch the scene where the troopers emerge into a mist filled cavern and the androids enter behind them, their egg shaped heads gleaming. I love the ickiness of Snyder’s remains; it really looks like she has been reduced to blood and acid. The cliffhanger is still one of the best and you can really imagine the excited screams of a million geeks as the sleekly designed Cybermen are revealed. For Doctor Who of the time (pretty stilted in the studio) the attack on the androids is dynamically directed and I especially like the impressive visual of their heads exploding in a shower of slow motion sparks. Beryl Reid wouldn’t be anybody but JNT’s first chance to play Briggs but you have to admit she really goes for it. I don’t find anything offensive about her performance. The freighter sets match the caves for atmosphere and with some clever direction it feels vast and spooky. Whilst the action does feel a little stilted in places the Cybermen do feel like an unstoppable force as they murder their way through the crew. The siege on the bridge is an example of how sharp editing can make a scene very tense and then we get the creepy bleeding Cyberman and the guard trapped within in the door – its one great set piece after another in this episode. The Cybermen burst free from the silos and surround Tegan and Scott in the shadowy vaults of the freighter. The Cybermen want to destroy the Earth to put an end to a conference that would see several worlds unifying to defeat the metal meanies – I really like that there is a decent reason for their carnage. When that soldier is grabbed suddenly outside the TARDIS I always jump! Have we ever seen action like this in the TARDIS before? Earthshock is one of those rare occasions where you get a crushing sense of dread as Adric is left behind and Doctor runs out of time to save him. His death is beautifully handled, clutching his brother’s belt as he plummets into the Earth. Nyssa’s scream always gives me goosebumps and Tegan’s tears are very affecting. Suddenly the TARDIS doesn’t feel such a safe place to live after all.
The Bad Stuff: I don’t think the soap opera scenes added anything to this season – they were handled much better in the first season and the latest series’ but here the show feels more like Crossroads than ever. All we need is for Tegan and Nyssa to have a secret affair and Adric to turn out to be the Doctor’s son! ‘The Earth collided with something from space’ informs the Doctor in a scene that screams of setting up future developments. James Warwick is super butch (‘too many people have died for you to play the fool!’ and ‘it could be…rough!’) and never entirely believable. A lot of those rocks in the caves wobble spectacularly. ‘You could hide an army down here…’ – what a co-incidence! The musical score is often detrimental to the action. Cyber moon boots? There are a couple of hilariously gossipy Cyberman guards! A shame the exploding bridge door is clearly made of balsa wood because it’s a great moment but as it stands it looks as though they could have simply punched their way through. Things take a turn for the weird when the freighter starts travelling through time in the last episode. How funny is Adric tentatively tapping at that soon-to-explode console?
Result: One of the most dynamically directed classic Doctor Who serials with all the crew working to make Earthshock as exciting and atmospheric as possible. It’s a remarkably sturdy production with a terrific look; both the caves and the freighter are realistic, shadowy locations and everything from the costumes to the hardware adding to the shows sense of reality. The Cybermen make an impressive return to the series both in their build in the unforgettably tense first episode and their strength of numbers and insanely ambitious plans. Peter Davison gives the most assured performance of his first season and the regulars all get a moment to shine. Eric Saward might not be the most sophisticated of scriptwriters but the way he stacks the threats in this story so they escalate towards that unforgettable climax is very elegant and he writes in many impressive set pieces along the way. None of the guest characters make an impact but this isn’t supposed to be a good character drama, its all about explosions, deaths and a whopping great threat to the Earth and on that level it is the best example the show gave us. Probably the best first cliffhanger and definitely the finest companion exit, Earthshock takes risks and wins and sees an annoying companion in Adric going out in true style: 9/10
Time-Flight written by Peter Grimwade and directed by Ron Jones
This story in a nutshell: It’s quite hard to put this rationally but a Concorde is stolen by a magical genie who brings it down in prehistoric times…
Fair Fellow: One thing I have noticed whilst working my way through the worst of the fifth Doctor stories is that Peter Davison is much better than I remember. He was the best thing about yawnathon The Visitation and he also manages to scrape some dignity from this story as well. After watching Time-Flight it is nothing short of a minor miracle to say that anybody has any dignity left intact, that’s how good Davison is. He strives to give this material significance. There are some rules that can never be broken and he really goes at the girls for making the suggestion to save Adric. He points out quite reasonably that Adric did have a choice to stay on the freighter. He tries to be responsible for the TARDIS. When he name-dropped UNIT and the Brigadier all I could think of was ‘the fourth Doctor would never do that.’ Peter Davison declared this story crap and who are we to argue with the lead actor? He’s always found domination such an unattractive prospect, which is kind of good considering how many times he’s been offered a hand in controlling the universe! When asked if he loves the company of fools you can only look back at his companions this season… The look on his face when he declares that the Master has finally defeated him is one of horror – could it be that the Doctor enjoys their rivalry as much as his foe? Things are so exciting in episode four the Doctor takes a nap on the floor of the TARDIS. He was just waiting for his chance to skip back in the TARDIS and dump Tegan.
Acidic Aussie: Finally confirming that she is stark staring bollocking mad Tegan suggests going back to save Adric. Tegan is the embodiment of the ‘wants what she can’t have’ woman, she has spent the whole season arguing, bitching and beating up Adric and now he is gone she says she will miss him. In the same vein she has made such a fuss about reaching Heathrow and when they finally make it she bursts into tears at being left behind. What the hell? I can only come to the conclusion that she will never be pleased. I really wish we had Janet Fielding as a companion rather than Tegan because it seems clear from the Tegan featurette that she is a witty, observant and very funny woman – they should have let her script herself! Saying that Tegan has a personality but not a character is extremely observant and not something I had thought of before. In what threatens to become development (but shies away from that) Tegan says that flying on an aircraft feels unreal after the TARDIS. When they see Adric in the catacombs is he a vision of her subconscious guilt…or is he simply the worst nightmare Kalid could draw from her mind? Proving that Tegan has definitely gone insane she treats the passenger as if she is walking them across an airport tarmac rather than prehistoric plains to the Concorde! That scene was so surreal I had to rewind and watch it again! Its not exactly dull travelling with the Doctor (unless you are in The Visitation). Does this mean we are rid of Tegan for ever?
Alien Orphan: Poor Nyssa suffers all sorts of frightening attacks, loss of control and hallucinations! No wonder shacking up with the Lazers’ appeals to her! Nyssa’s worst nightmare is Melkur because what came from it killed her father. She is strong enough to see through Kalid’s tricks.
The Good Stuff: Contrary to popular opinion there is some good stuff in Time-Flight its just there is so little and it is swamped by the bad stuff its really hard to spot. Vanishing aircraft gives us nostalgic thoughts about The Faceless Ones (the memory cheats you know, that one wasn’t very good either). People mock how the TARDIS crew forget about Adric and get all excited about the Great Exhibition but honestly he was such a pubic fungal rash it’s the only sensible thing to do! It is very funny that the one time the Doctor tries to take them somewhere other than Heathrow that’s exactly where they end up! The Concorde looks resplendent in the snow. The first half of episode one is a lovely touch of contemporary drama – what a shame we get slingshot into prehistoric times! The Mast is trapped on Xeraphas desperate to escape (not that you would know it because he is still insufferably smug and pantomimesque). The three stooges, sorry pilots, provide some comedy relief especially when goofing about in the TARDIS. A whole race physically amalgamated into one organism is a lovely idea. A TARDIS around a TARDIS around a Concorde is another.
The Bad Stuff: Time travelling Concorde crash landing on prehistoric London is a crazy enough concept from a new writer with no idea about a show but from a director who understands the technical difficulties and budget restrictions it is lunacy. ‘Sharaz Sharaz! Jamal! Balor Balor!’ – the Master has finally gone round the bend and talking in tongues! The cheek of trying to suggest they have genuinely transported an aircraft to rocky plains by building one leg in the studio is astonishing. I’m not sure which is more tacky, Angela Clifford or the Plasmatons? How can a story dive bomb so spectacularly halfway through the first episode? The Doctor has a telepathic bubble bath! If you can make matter out of thin air wouldn’t you summon your resources to create something a little more threatening than walking lumps of white faeces? Arabian Nights? The pantomime on Eastbourne pier is more convincing than this! Hayter is such a stiff character and deliberately obtuse, literally everything somebody says to him he argues with (although he has the reverse effect of making Tegan seem quite reasonable). Any point Hayter is proven right I wanted to put my fist through the TV, he’s heartless, arrogant and perfectly awful. Imagine if Kalid had not turned out to be the Master, he would have been the shittest villain we have ever suffered…once he reveals his true identity all you can ask yourself is why? Does the Master only dress up in these outrageous disguises so he can see the look on the Doctor’s face when he transforms? You could have had a running gag with the Doctor trying to pull the mask off every fake looking villain thinking it was the Master! Somehow, unbelievably, Matthew Waterhouse is ever worse than ever. Watch the old dear in the holiday hat bashing away at the sanctum; she’s really going for it! There’s plenty of talk about the Xeraphin being at war with itself psychologically but this is never dramatised, all we get is explanations, exposition. ‘Soon I will no everything!’ – Hayter dies in terrible agony, lovely! What is it with extraneous characters flying the TARDIS this season (Tegan in Castrovalva and Four to Doomsday, Adric in The Visitation and now Stapley in Time-Flight!)? The Master has finally defeated the Doctor…by plugging in a few wires! I haven’t even mentioned the musical score which is like a cheese grater chewing into your brain and draining the story of atmosphere (to be fair the director does a pretty good job of that as well). How can they take off with all those rocks everywhere? Surely the tires would burst!
The Shallow Bit: Stapley, Bilton and Scobie are the campest bunch in a TV show until Gavin and Tim come along in The Brittas Empire. Andrew is the cutest thing. Why does the Master have such a phallic gun?
Result: For fifteen minutes you would be perfectly within you rights to think season nineteen will continue the run of luck of the last few stories and end the season on something entertaining and contemporary. I have seen Doctor Who stories crash and burn halfway through (The Ark) or in their last instalment (Pyramids of Mars) but to abandon all hope before the end of episode one, that’s a new record! It’s not just that the story looks hideously cheap or that the plot is told entirely through exposition and pantomime theatrics or even that we have to suffer another minute of Adric…the very idea at the heart of this story is so unconvincing you couldn’t even kick start it if you did have decent characters, strong dialogue or god production values (which there isn’t). Time-Flight is the most ill conceived, sluggish, embarrassing slice of hokum. The Davison era hits its nadir: 2/10