The regulars -
The Ribos Operation written by Robert Holmes and directed by George Spenton-Foster
TO BE REVIEWED...
The Pirate Planet written by Douglas Adams and directed by Pennant Roberts
This story in a nutshell: I wouldn’t even attempt to sum this one up!
Teeth and Curls: The Doctor takes great exception to the TARDIS being described as a veteran and vintage vehicle and he doesn’t understand what rubbish they are teaching at the Academy these days! Rather than be told how to pilot the TARDIS by some rank Academy amateur he rips the page of technobabble out of the manual with a riposte of ‘absolute rubbish.’ He is perfectly capable of admitting when he is wrong – only this time he isn’t! Its clever how the script plays on the Doctor’s frequent piloting errors because in this instance, the rarest of occasions, he genuinely is right. Making contact with a new civilisation requires tact and experience but the only trouble is the Doctor is dreadful at it (well he does look like a complete fruitcake). Besides as K.9 so rightly points out Romana is prettier than he is. Looks like the old liquorice allsorts trick works on all guards around the universe. He saves planets mostly but this time he has arrived far, far too late. Whilst Romana is acting as the Captain’s scientific advisor she suggests that he should seek the Doctor’s advice if he has the stamina. You suddenly see the wisdom in Tom Baker’s frivolous performance as the Doctor because suddenly all that irreverence drops away as he informs Romana that they have stumbled on one of the greatest crimes of all time and you really believe him. The horror he expresses has all the more impact because of his previous frippery. He has a great little rant at the Mentiads - ‘His name’s the Captain and you know that! Why haven’t you kicked him out?’ He’s known hundreds of people that have lived for hundreds of years, it doesn’t necessarily make them evil. Being an expert at regeneration and at winding up evil tyrants there seems to be a bigger glint in the Doctor’s eye than ever when pulling apart Xanxia’s eternal life scheme in the last episode. And it earns a belt around the face. This is the furthest the Doctor has pushed the TARDIS in his life, to the point where the old girl almost explodes with the pressure she is under to co-exist at the same time as the pirate planet. It seems that even the Doctor doesn’t feel that a story has ended without a big bang and he punches the air with delight as the Bridge goes up in flames!
Snooty Fox: The fabulously posh Mary Tamm is well in her stride now and Romana is turning her nose up every suggestion that Doctor makes. Romana has been studying the manual of the Doctor’s capsule and has a far better understanding of how the machine works and proves it by providing a perfectly smooth landing. She has an air of casual arrogance that runs throughout the entire tale; taking the piss out if the guards, smiling in the face of their guns and mouthing off to the Captain about her heritage. However even Romana has to admit that the Doctor’s solution to grabbing Calufrax is fantastic.
The Tin Dog: K.9 is at his best in this story, witty as hell and he even gets a fight scene with another robot animal! The Doctor is being flippant but K.9 realises that a piece of cake has no relevance to the Key of Time at all. He makes four attempts to tell the Doctor that Romana has been arrested but he is so busy getting involved he doesn’t have the time to notice. It might be a bit naff looking but I love the fact that K.9 gets to fight off another electronic animal to save the Doctor. He’s a good dog.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘How paralysingly dull, boring and tedious!’ – a line that could sink any other show (imagine if it was spoken in Underworld?) but the last accusation you could level at The Pirate Planet!
‘All I know is that this planet wasn’t here when I tried to land.’
‘Has anybody seen a planet called Calufrax?’
‘Wrong? Its an economic miracle! Of course its wrong!’
‘Calufrax buried inside Zanak, the Pirate Planet, and having the goodness sucked out of it.’
‘And leave them defenceless! As weak as ordinary men! Obliterable!’ – go on say that line out loud, its great fun.
‘Its not scale that counts but skill’ – the Doctor Who motto.
‘Appreciate it? Appreciate it? You commit mass destruction and murder on a scale that’s almost inconceivable and you ask me to appreciate it? Just because you happened to have made a brilliantly conceived toy out of the mummified remains of planets!’ ‘Devil storms, Doctor, it is not a toy!’ ‘Then what’s it for? What are you doing? What could possibly be worth all this?’
‘All guards on the alert! Someone is using a counter jamming frequency projector! Find it and destroy it immediately!’ ‘Captain do you suppose any of the guards know what a counter jamming frequency projector looks like?’
‘Who’s Newton?’ ‘Old Issac. A friend of mine on Earth. Discovered gravity. Well I say he discovered gravity I had to give him a bit of a prod’ ‘What did you do?’ ‘Climbed up a tree’ ‘And?’ ‘Dropped an apple on his head’ ‘Ah, and so he discovered gravity!’ ‘No no, he told me to clear off out of his tree. I explained it to him afterwards at dinner.’
· I remember I gave this story to a friend of mine to watch because he had read some Douglas Adams and he was quite keen on Doctor Who but had only dipped into certain eras of the classic series and hadn’t seen any of Williams stuff. Once he had watched half of episode one he phoned me and left an answer phone message practically screaming about how truly dreadful and cheap this story was and he wasn’t sure how he was going to persevere. Once he had watched all four episodes I had another answer phone message that simply said ‘THAT WAS BRILLIANT!’ Something happened in those three and half episodes that completely won him over.
· After that disastrous model shot we jump to the Bridge which is a genuinely phenomenal set built during the stage of the season where they would have still had money! Its multi level, detailed, colourful and immediately plants you in the story – bravo.
· I have heard people criticise Bruce Purchase’s performance as the Pirate Captain but I think it is absolutely spellbinding. The whole point of the character is that he hides his genuine depth underneath all that bluster and aggression and had Purchase toned down the performance it would have completely blunted his gentler turn in the last episode which is loaded with pathos. Plus his lines are gorgeous and he literally spits them out with glee. No I’ll take the Pirate Captain exactly as he is thank you very much: ‘My soul is imprisoned, bound to this ugly lump of blighted rock beset by zombie Mentiads and interfering Doctors.’ His relationship with Andrew Robertson’s toadying Mr Fibuli is one of the great double acts in Doctor Who, full of threats of violence until he dies and then his true feelings are revealed. We literally see his human side try and murder Xanxia whilst his robot side (controlled by her) disarm him. It’s the perfect visual way to show the struggle that must be going on inside him. His bluster to cover the fact that he is working out a way to kill Xanxia is a lesson to all of us to never take things on their face value. The Captain’s smoking, sparking death is horrible.
· It is obscured by intelligent ideas but the first episode of this story is actually a typical example of the Doctor Who formula. A duped civilisation, an underground menace, a dictator…these staples appear in many an adventure. As the story progresses and things get more complicated Adams beautifully subverts the tradition Doctor Who adventure.
· I always chuckle when the Captain sends his guards out to capture the Doctor and as the door opens for them he ducks under it and says hello. Small things please small minds.
· The location work in the power station and the abandoned mine is extremely good at suggesting the scale of the operation and gives the story and its ideas a lot more gravitas than it would otherwise have. The Doctor and Romana are dwarfed by giant engines that genuinely look as though they have the stamina to push a planet through space and mine the life out of its chosen victim. They head down in a real mineshaft and then stand in a massive, ice swept cave. It looks fantastic and the scene where the Doctor spells out the nature of the Pirate Planet standing on the wet surface of a dead world is one of the finest moments in Doctor Who. Its brain burstingly imaginative and backed up by great visuals.
* Episode three begins with about ten minutes worth of exposition but because it is infused with humour, the characters are so enjoyable and the dialogue flows from the actors mouths like a fine wine filling a glass you barely notice.
· When I realised that the final resting place of Zanak will be the heavily populated planet of Earth it quite took my breath away. I never once considered the Earth being involved in a story as far out as this one and it has to be said that it is the most ingenious threat to the planet that the series ever attempted. Considering how many times it has faced the axe that is quite a statement. The last episode becomes a race against time to save the planet from being obliterated. Great stuff.
· The scene where the Doctor and the Captain argue over the ethics of this operation surrounded by the dead husks of the worlds he has destroyed is one of my favourites. The concept alone is hard to get your head around and when the Doctor suddenly, sickeningly throws all of his venom at the Captain it brings home the lives that have been lost in this obscene scheme. Astoundingly good science fiction, ideas filling your head with imagination and with a real emotional bite.
· Watch as the dialogue skips along so intelligently as the Doctor tells Kimus that the Captain has no defence against the Mentiads but then points out a psychic interference transmitter…but don’t worry because he doesn’t have the minerals to operate it…oh wait those happen to be among the planets he has eaten. Just brilliant.
· The sight of Xanxia caught between the time dams is an arresting image and leads us into the final, gob smacking twist that the evil Queen is still alive and her consciousness is currently in the form of the Captain Nurse. Whole planets have been sacrificed to keep this shrivelled thing alive.
· The solution to the cliffhanger is shown to the audience before it takes place but we don’t realise until afterwards. Its revelation leads into the exposure of the Nurse as a hologram. Nicely done.
· How could it be a pirate story without the Doctor walking the plank?
Brilliant Ideas: This is Douglas Adams’ debut Doctor Who script and it is spilling with imagination, almost too much to be contained within four episodes of a science fiction adventure serial. I love the idea of the Pirate Captain with half of his body made up of spare parts after his ship crashed (including a giant crushing metal arm) and whoever decided to stick the mechanical parrot on his shoulder deserves congratulations and not just because it probably pissed Tom Baker right off (who was still waiting for his shoulder hugging cabbage to feature). The script is patient enough to show us the effect of the TARDIS and the Zanak attempt to materialise on Calufrax at the same time two episode before we even learn the planet can consume other worlds. Adams treats his audience with intelligence and trusts that they can remember details. The effect of the two vessels materialising at the same point is the entire fabric of the space time continuum being ripped apart. It seems that the Doctor has made a mistake in his assessment of Calufrax but we soon learn he was right and something sinister is afoot. The most expensive gemstones in the universe strewn about like litter exactly where you wouldn’t expect to find them – more clues as to the nature of the planet. I think its rather wonderful that a man who has diamonds and rubies can be enchanted by a jelly baby. You have a secret underground cult that seek out rogue telepaths. The Nurse slips into the story invisibly in the second episode, you’ll barely notice that she is there and have no idea that she is the savage Queen Xanxia behind this whole nasty business. The lights in the sky, the engines, the gemstones – there has been a wealth of hints but upon first viewing I don’t think anybody could have imagined the scale of the operation with Zanak claiming entire worlds. Zanak wraps itself around other, smaller worlds, smothers it, crushes it and mines all the mineral wealth out of it. The Mentiads are a telepathic gestalt, many minds combining to make a far more powerful whole. Every time that Zanak crushes a planet it releases its enormous quantity of energy and there is a psychic blast which attacks the Mentiads and makes them stronger. The energy needs of the time dams keeping Xanxia alive increase exponentially, eventually she will have burn up suns, galaxies, universes even to keep herself alive. In the end though, she will die. Or destroy the multiverse. And to top it all of the second segment to the Key to Time is an entire planet. That man Adams is a genius.
The Bad: This is one of those stories that hits you with a dreadful special effect in the first few seconds that makes you think that its going to be a dreadful story when it actually it is hoodwinking you completely. I know this didn’t happen but I could almost imagine Douglas Adams writing OPEN ON SHODDY MODEL EFFECT TO FOOL AUDIENCE because I credit him with so much panache in his storytelling. The population of the pirate planet seems to consist of about four people going ‘HOORAY!’ Mula sings the why song in her garishly decorated house (it goes something like ‘Why why why why why…’) and you be forgiven for thinking that you have switched over to CBBC. Is the end of episode one the cheapest looking cliffhanger of all time? I think so. Episode four features Pralix’s new single ‘The Power Has Gone’ – keep and ear cocked for it. It goes ‘The Power…has gone! (pause) Thepowerhasgone!’
The Shallow Bit: Kimus rather fancies himself as a bit of a stud and walks into Mula’s house as though she is about to put out for him. Once she hugs him he swishes his hair back as though he is in a shampoo commercial and I could have sworn he looked at the camera and said ‘because I’m worth it!’ Those are some of the kinkiest and yet most elaborately beautiful guard costumes ever. In fact all the costumes are made from rich, colourful fabrics that are a feast on the eyes.
Result: An inspiring piece of writing that justifies Graeme Williams’s approach to Doctor Who and then some. A lot of people come down hard on The Pirate Planet for its weak production values and tepid direction but that is doing a disservice to the sheer entertainment this story offers. Once you get past episode one I think the majority of the story looks pretty good but what really matters is that Douglas Adams fires up my imagination like no other writer. Adams is a perfect fit for Doctor Who where his creativity can be let off the leash and the result is one of the smartest, funniest and best structured scripts (this is the longest Sparkling Dialogue section by some margin) in the shows entire run. The twists are genuinely monumental and the final episode is packed full of wonderful scenes and subversions. Tom Baker is on fire and his confrontation with the Pirate Captain is one of the fourth Doctor’s best ever moments. With a parrot, a plank and a Pirate Captain that plunders other peoples goods its even a damn a good pirate story! It was completely insane for them to even attempt making something as ambitious as The Pirate Planet on a Doctor Who’s budget but that is one of the reasons this is my favourite show. It flourishes on this kind of giddy imagination and doesn’t hold back and as a result there are many moments in this story where Doctor Who approaches absolute genius: 9/10
The Stones of Blood written by David Fisher and directed by Darrol Blake
Teeth and Curls: Season sixteen is something rather wonderful nestled in the middle of Tom Baker’s reign as the Doctor. It’s after his first three seasons where he was really trying to impress and before his last two where his fatigue starts to become apparent, this is the point where he is having the most fun. I love his huge grin when he realises they are going to Earth and whispers the name excitedly in her ear; it is really cute how he wants to show off his favourite planet to Romana. The Doctor and Romana are starting to enjoy each other’s company (‘How do I look?’
Snooty Fox: She’s an odd one, Mary Tamm’s Romana. I much prefer Lalla Ward’s bossy matriarch and yet I find the first incarnation has a far better season. Fortunately the writers concentrated on her comic potential with the Doctor and Romana constantly clashing and Romana as the straight man so nine times out of ten she was really funny but there are plenty of moments (mostly in The Power of Kroll but there are isolated moments in each story) where she was quite awkward. The Stones of Blood encapsulates Romana as whilst she shares some wonderful scenes with the Doctor and Amelia she also acts like a right wimp hanging off the cliff and turning on her best friend. Is she honestly so stupid that she thinks the Doctor finds her so irritating that he pushed her off a cliff (must’ve been tempting). Her reaction to the life and death situation is realistic and shaky but lacks drama because it’s so implausible. She’s rather good at puzzles and even better at bossing the Doctor about. Romana is so much more convincing when she is doing research at Vivien’s house. When Mary Tamm is strapped to the wall next to the robot skeleton her expression screams ‘has my career come to this?’ I really like how she gives Amelia a peck on the cheek at the end; it’s a sign of affection that we’ve not seen from this character before and a gesture that she might be thawing out.
Sparkling Dialogue: 'I'm no fashion expert'
'Does your Cailleach ride a bicycle?'
'Nothing like sausage sandwiches when you're working something out' Never a truer word spoken!
'It's closing on us fast!' 'But its impossible!' 'No it isn't we're standing still.'
'In the cause of science I think it's our duty to capture that creature!' 'How? Have you any plans?' 'We could track it to its lair...' 'COME ON!'
'If they should break through run as if something very nasty were coming after you because something very nasty will be coming after you' 'But what about you?' 'Don't worry about me I'll be doing plenty of that in any case.'
'What does it matter? You know what they say about hyperspace' 'No?' 'They say its a theoretical absurdity and that's something I've always wanted to be lost in.'
'Aren't you supposed to offer me a last toffee apple or hearty breakfast or something? A free pardon!'
'Time, rust, dust, pieces of fluff! How would you like it if you condemned an inncent humanoid to death just because you got a a bit of fluff stuck in your sprocket wheel or whatever you have in there!'
'Too late I've just been executed.'
The Good Stuff: The mist sliding over the moon, blood poured onto stone, pulsating evil…the opening scenes have a love taste of Hinchcliffe horror. The dialogue is quick, witty and wonderful and in sharp contrast to the story I have just watched a world away from Arc’s dreary technobabble. The model shots where Romana first points out the nine travellers is very atmospherically shot and scored. Amelia Rumpford is a legend, the great companion that the fourth Doctor never had. Their chemistry is loaded with warmth, gentle humour and mutual respect and reminds me greatly of the sixth Doctor and Evelyn. The Doctor really should have had an elderly companion or failing that the BBC should have picked up a comedy drama Rumpford Investigates. Amelia is hilarious, insulting, intelligent and utterly magnificent exquisitely played by Beatrix Leahman in the twilight of her career. David Fisher steeps the story in mythology and history rather than just using the premise as an excuse to scare he gives it a real backbone (we learn much about stone circles and Druids). The crow looks really scary in the darkness, its beedy eyes lit by fire. The beautifully scored first appearance of the Cailleach is actually rather unexpected and creepy. I love the cosiness of the settings; the vast English countryside, Vivien’s cottage, DeFries’ manor; it is a splash of ordinariness in the otherwise space age William’s era. Those set designers go to town smashing up the manor! The Ogri are actually pretty well designed and look great pulsing with hunger, its only when they move that there are problems. The crows on the TARDIS are very well done (how did they get them to stay there?). The swinging light in the cellar proves how effortlessly atmospheric this story can be in parts. One of my favourite scenes in Doctor Who’s television history comes when the Ogri pursues the Doctor and Amelia to the cliff top. Dudley Simpson’s music is priceless in those scenes. I could sit around and watch the Doctor and Amelia chatting in the cottage for the entire four episodes, those scenes are gorgeously played. The ‘SWITCH OFF!’ scene had me in stitches, all that build only for the machine to go ‘phut!’ The nighttime camping scene is justly praised; it’s a sudden moment of grisly horror, exquisitely filmed (I love the how the scream dissolves into red…). I adore the sparkly, squeaky voiced Megara…they remind me of brutally anal Doctor Who fans! People mock the comic courtroom scenes (often saying that the horror bleeds out of the story because of them) but I would rather watch a pleasing blend of comedy and drama that has some substance than a dozen screamingly pious Hinchcliffe atmosphere pieces. The Megara discussing amongst themselves sounds like a drunker gay bitch fight! The last episode is plotted very satisfactorily, the Doctor exposing Vivian Fey as Cessair of Diplos and Romana and Amelia proving her alien blood type. Turning the Cessair into one of the stones has a delicious ring of justice to it.
The Bad Stuff: The Doctor handily recaps the Key to Time premise for those of us who haven't watched the first two stories. Its one of the frequent dangers of serialised arc storytelling over an extended period and I have seen it time and again in shows like Buffy, DS9 and Battlestar Galactica where plot points are awkwardly repeated so people can catch up. The first cliffhanger is genuinely awful, the direction is uncharacteristically bad so it is difficult to see what is actually going on! Poor K.9, has a companion ever been so mistreated? In his time he is abused, decapitated, blown up, Wolfweeded, turned evil, loses his power over and over and here he is the victim of the stony Ogri! Vivien Fey is so obviously the villain since she is the only character who has been standing in the background with sly grins. Her useless wand can't even draw a circle properly in fizzing electric! The Doctor does the hyperspace jig when he lands on the ship, probably the only moment in this story when Tom Baker looks daft. Some real effort has gone into making the hyperspace ship look good, especially the swirling colours in the windows so it is such a shame that the model work is so unconvincing (especially considering the Williams era has some of the most accomplished model work the series has to offer). Dippy Diplos is such a duff villain; she stares at the screen hypnotically and growls 'Oooogriii!' Her look of pantomime horror as her sentence is read out belongs to a children’s studio bound entertainment show. They should have just called in Grotbags!
The Shallow Bit: Mary Tamm is elegance personified in that gorgeous red wine coloured dress.
Result: The Stones of Blood pretty much sums up Doctor Who perfectly; two parts creepy horror, one part glowing domestic drama and one part science fiction madness, lots of quality performances and even the odd duff bit. David Fisher bursts onto the scene with possibly the wittiest script in Doctor Who, crammed full of sparkling, imminently quotable dialogue. I can still remember one evening my mum came home after having a really bad day and she watched this story with me and laughed herself silly and went to bed singing its praises - I can't imagine a harsher critic of Doctor Who! It’s ridiculously entertaining throughout with some notable direction and effortless changes of tone. Realising the quality of the Key to Time season, this fun thriller isn't even my favourite story of the year: 9/10
The Androids of Tara written by David Fisher and directed by Michael Hayes
TO BE REVIEWED...
The Power of Kroll written by Robert Holmes and directed by Norman Stewart
The story in a nutshell: The Doctor lands on a swamp and meets some primitives and fights a giant squid. No, really!
Teeth and Curls: Season sixteen was a special time for Tom Baker’s fourth Doctor, where in even the lesser of adventures he was still having a whale of a time. Kroll has a higher than usual amount of location filming and Baker always said he preferred doing the location work where they could hang out in pubs and live away from home for a few days so its no wonder he seems in such jubilant mood here. You can just see Baker, Madoc and McCarthy throwing down the pints and regaling each other with tales! I’m not sure if they only appeared in this story but I really loved the birds on the Doctor’s lapels. The Doctor just looks right breaking through the reeds and hopping through the swamps and I adore the way he plays the flute with a piece of bamboo! Fancy mistaking him for Rhom Dhutt! He scoffs at the methane catalysing plant since he has seen hundreds before (despite the fact that this is the prototype!). Watch the scene where he is offered a drink at the refinery…he puts it straight into his pocket! He is described as too glib by half and when his sympathies are revealed Thawn thinks he is a Swampie lover! Baker continues to have nice chemistry with Tamm (I especially liked the ‘this is the…’ ‘I told you not to exaggerate.’ Its great how the Doctor keeps babbling on about the window to Romana’s annoyance when that turns out to be their salvation, Holmes knows how to write the Doctor as an intelligent eccentric. If I doubt, cut everything! The Doctor can tell when people are putting two and two together and blaming him! He’s had a happy life, he’s 760 and he can’t complain! Baker is a great action hero whether he is beating up Swampie’s, rowing his way to safety or taking on a mile long squid!
Snooty Fox: Mary Tamm walks around this story with her nose in the air as if it is all a bit beneath her and to be fair it probably is. Romana is kidnapped in record time and find this sacrifice business all a bit tedious until she is confronted with a real monster and then she screams her lungs out of her mouth! That’ll learn yer! Shame on Robert Holmes for shoving his own creation in such a blatantly sexist role! She hates underground passages, that’s about the extent of what we learn about her here. No wonder Tamm (who does sound especially bored in parts) decided to leave at the end of the year.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Progress is a very flexible word. It can mean just about anything you want it to mean.’
‘Some sort of holy writ?’ ‘Its atrociously writ!’
‘Now you know what its like to be within an inch of death.’
The Good Stuff: Like The Invisible Enemy, I don’t mind this much-maligned story at all and can see its merits even when it is excruciatingly embarrassing in parts! The TARDIS landing amongst the reeds looks great and overall this is fantastically alien looking location (as ever with the lesser directors it is the location work where all the energy and style resides). If you are going to do a story about primitives (and I’m not saying that you should, mind) you have to throw everything at it and the awesome location, canoes, huts and green skinned natives they conjour up here is as good an attempt as we ever saw in the series. ‘He’s a Swampie!’ ‘Doesn’t he count?’ ‘No’ – Holmes doesn’t shy away from the racist element of the story proving that even the lesser Doctor Who stories can have a point. When I’m alone at night and there is nothing to do I sometimes indulge in the Swampie ‘Kroll! Kroll!’ dance! Rhom Dhutt is a fabulously cynical old rogue, selling the Swampies rubbish weapons and trying to get out of the line of fire before they start using them. ‘He’s obviously one of those creatures who’s not always about the place!’ – I really like that line and I don’t know why! I always choke with laughter when that gun blows up in the Swampie’s face! Okay so the cross section is awful but the Kroll model itself is not bad at all, I especially love his flapping mouth bits! To be fair to Kroll if somebody was poking at my tentacles with giant rod I would burst from the pipe and drag that fella away! It’s a pretty good shock moment and it cuts away very quickly. To adults it probably looks very daft to have Haag dragged away by the tentacle but I bet the kids lapped it up (oh look…the ratings double from 6 to 12 million between episodes two and three!). The chase through the swamps makes a refreshing change from the usual old corridors. I know its pretty bad but I can’t help but love the end of episode three where the Doctor and Romana head straight towards Kroll in their little rowboat! Thawn is stabbed in the gut by a spear and a whole lot of blood erupts from the wound! Its tentacle palooza with the race against time ending and I love the look on the Doctor’s face when he emerges holding the fifth segment. Episode four as written is one exciting set piece after another, mutiny, shootings, stabbings, the refinery under siege and the orbital shot detonation. Fenner’s fate does not look good and I like that ambiguous ending.
The Bad Stuff: John Leeson should stick to being K.9, he provides an unconvincing, squeaky voiced emphatic gesturer. You have some very obvious gas pipes masquerading as torches. There are some great actors in the refinery scenes and yet they seem to spend most of the time staring at a screen doing nothing. ‘Oh my ankles are breaking!’ Romana complains when they clearly aren’t! The Refinery model work is dreadful, looking like a miniature oilrig standing up in a puddle. Shining a blue light and shaking the camera does not make a convincing storm! I laughed my head off when the tentacles came limply through the Swampie wall with Kroll’s bulbous head badly superimposed over the top – I probably would have scrapped that effects shot! The Refinery mutiny should probably be a bit more exciting than ‘all life began on Mother Earth!’ and it probably wasn’t the idea for me to be cheering when Dugeen was shot in the back just to shut him up. Wobbly walls and ladders ahoy in the rocket silo that do somebody writing to the BBC to complain! I’m not sure if I can point to a more atrocious model shot than the Kroll model emerging from the puddle next to the Refinery model – the scale just looks wrong and it completely fails to convince. Romana heads out in to the corridor because she ‘just wants to see!’ which is a sign of terrible writing to simply put her in danger. Ranquin fawning before the floppy tentacle is one of the most embarrassing Doctor Who sequences ever – you would die if anybody but the most die-hard fan saw that!
The Shallow Bit: is it wrong to find naked green men sexy? Some of them have fabulous legs!
Result: Oddly serious for a Robert Holmes script in the Graeme Williams era, this is another much criticised story that I don’t have much of a problem with. There are some moments in there that would turn up on any fans ‘most cringeworthy scenes’ but to balance that there is some of the best location work we have ever had, a reasonably accomplished giant monster (Kroll kicks the shit out of dodgy Dinos and the Skarasen!) and Tom Baker having a whale of a time! It is a slow story for sure but Holmes writes his racism angle well and the last episode winds up being one of the most gripping of the year. Norman Stewart clearly wasn’t a Doctor Who director (his other credit is Underworld) but he at least manages to make the location work look good. Overall a flawed but of nonsense but elevated by its inclusion in season sixteen: 6.5/10
The Armageddon Factor written by Bob Baker & Dave Martin and directed by Michael Hayes
The story in a nutshell: The Key to Time has been assembled at last and the whole universe has been paused. Two worlds are at war and missiles are heading towards one planet and a bomb is waiting to demolish both. Trapped in a 3 second time loop which is bleeding to a conclusion…
Teeth and Curls: Another season sixteen story and Tom Baker again at his height. What is immediately obvious from the very first episode is how comfortable Baker and Mary Tamm are at the end of their time together, they fire dialogue at each other beautifully quick and make a wonderfully watchable team (‘As soon as we hand this over to the White Guardian, the better!’). The Doctor always goes into every situation thinking the best but knowing it will always be the worst! The Doctor is at his improvisational best, telling the Marshall that he has visited a war zone for the purposes of tourism, running a profitable, educational business visiting different battle zones! Just watch the scene where the Doctor babbles about ventriloquism and suddenly realises the Marshall is a puppet for another power, it is a fantastic example of his lunatic intelligence. The Doctor’s ultimate deterrent in war is peace. There is a great visual when the Doctor bursts from the furnace shrouded in steam and holding K.9! There is a want of patience in his nature. What is it about the Doctor that he keeps getting people to give him a good blow! I’m so glad somebody is vicious to useless Merak and who better than the Doctor in a bad mood (‘Insects! With stings in their tails!’). Baker and Lalla Ward have instant, intimate chemistry. Theta Sigma was his nickname at school and he and Drax were at tech school together. The Doctor’s megalomania speech over the Key to Time is both over the top hilarious and pretty scary! He has absolutely no sense of responsibility whatsoever, he’s capricious, arrogant, self opinionated, irrational and he never knows where they are going!
Marvellous Mary: Totally comfortable in the role now, it would have been very interesting to see what Mary Tamm would have given us in season seventeen. Romana is now operating the TARDIS on her own rather than the Doctor (I rather suspect he likes standing back and letting her do all the dirty work and making clever comments). She’s observant, patient and intelligent and her icy aloofness has vanished completely (which makes perfect sense for when she regenerates into the warm and witty Lalla Ward). Her ‘I’ll explain to you when I’ve got about 2 weeks to spare’ is wonderfully deadpan. I love it when Romana grips Merak’s neck (I was screaming ‘Snap it!’ at the telly!). Its brilliant to see Romana reminding the Doctor of the living cost of all this trickery (‘We’re murderers!). I was very impressed overall, Romana doesn’t get a great deal to do in this story (hence Mary Tamm’s departure?) but everything she does here is quite delightful.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You could fry eggs in the street!’
‘This blessed plot!’
‘No glory, no speeches, no medal and no blood.’
‘Imagine the amount of power needed to stop the entire universe…’
‘What’s this heap of junk?’
‘Any second now beautiful mushrooms will blossom and burst…’
‘Remember me to Gallifrey!’
The Good Stuff: Standby folks because this section might be a lot longer than you think…the opening is brilliant, making you groan with despair at the soap operatics and then letting you in on the hoax. In sharp contrast to the direction of Underworld the cameras never stop moving in this story, pans zooms, fades and the story feels much more visually interesting as a result. John Woodville really gives the situation some gravity; his grim faced seriousness is exactly what the story needs at its heart (he’s positively Shakespearean in placed talking to un unknown phantom). The Atrios sets are dirty, under lit, rubble strewn and claustrophobic, it really feels like a bombed could release the ceiling on your head at any minute. I love the darkness of the first episode, Astra being led into an irradiated zone and the Marshall shooting down her escort, it’s all drenched in shadows and really creepy. A missile heading towards the TARDIS – wow this really does feel like a season finale (The Parting of the Ways anyone?). ‘The corpse on the left however, is recent’ – haha K.9 has a dark sense of humour. The first appearance of the Shadow is fantastic (and the music is really creepy). Considering how cobbled together it is the Marshall’s bridge is a vast, impressive set. The mighty battle fleet of Atrios…six ships (watching the lights wink out is disheartening). I love the Doctor’s idea of a psychological barrier; study the enemy so they don’t want to attack. Something between Atrios and Zeos absorbing the light and energy, this is a script that is continually innovating. How macabre is the glowing skull in the dark that the Marshall communes with (and the menacing purr coming from it must have given some kids some nightmares). ‘One of us is being extremely stupid’ ‘Affirmative’ – I love how John Leeson says that line. The model of the shadows domain is imaginatively designed and well lit and the sound effects inside his cave system make it feel far more sinister. I really like the simplicity and the symmetry of the design of Mentalis (especially the sloping walls). Mentalis is given Atrios a battering, killed millions without a flicker and totally invincible – it really helps that we’ve seen the results of its work already (and it doesn’t talk which is lovely). A lump of metal programmed not to accept defeat. An explosion that will take out both planets – the Armageddon Factor. Hooray, Merak falls down a hole and vanishes from the action for a while. Mentalis, a scorpion stinging itself to death. I love the pace of episode four; the ticking bomb, the Marshall’s missiles, it’s quite a climatic situation. Faking the sixth segment is a clever conceit as is the whole universe in a free second time loop (I hate to be rude but that must be the best orgasm ever!). The under lit shot where Astra is hypnotised by the Key is bewitching. I know I shouldn’t but I adore Drax and his stupid cockney accent, he’s such a cuddly rogue I can’t bring myself to hate him (plus its nice to see who built Mentalis). It’s a lovely performance by Barry Jackson and he and Tom Baker share some delightful scenes (‘It must be synaptic adhesion’). The miniature effects really work both the shrinking of the Doctor and Drax and avoiding being trampled on by giant Mute feet! Lalla Ward somehow manages to salvage the vacuous character of Astra and is enthralling throughout. I love the idea of the Shadow being blinded by the light of the TARDIS. The Doctor and Drax inside K.9, a Trojan Canine with the metal mutt having to ham it up – this story is capable of odd moments of total delight! Astra being the sixth segment is another great idea, up there with my other favourite segment – the Pirate Planet! I love the visual of the Doctor and Drax jumping from K.9’s innards! That’s the best snipping the wire to defuse a bomb scene ever followed by Romana’s spectacularly dramatic ‘the Marshall!’ The Shadow’s planet goes up with spectacular fireworks and I love the almost Moffatesque way the two plots, previously untouched, converging so satisfactorily. People say that the ending is rubbish and unworthy of 26 weeks of build up but I think that is a little ungrateful, Bob Baker and Dave Martin integrate the Key into their plot dramatically, there is a lovely double bluff with the Black Guardian and the device is given some real reverence and worship. Have the keys been scattered into brand new segments? Lets do this whole thing over again because this whole season has been a hoot! The Randomiser works under the principle of potluck and promises much for the next season.
The Bad Stuff: Merak is the dripping string of wimp lard ever to appear in a Doctor Who story. His characterisation doesn’t extend beyond saying the name Astra over and over again (its perfect for a drinking game, honestly watch this and have a shot every time he says it – I promise you this you will be bladdered by episode three and paralysed by episode five. Alcohol poisoning caution). Turning K.9 into scrap is an extended set piece that whilst looking quite good and may have had the kids screaming at the telly goes on for far too long. The ‘K.9 it’s a trap!’ ‘A trap?’ cliffhanger is extremely panto-esque. Shapp is another bumbling incidental character that continually threatens to ruin what is otherwise a well-written story; this is one character that sabotages the story whenever he appears. K.9 gets all snooty after he has got it on with Mentalis and you really want someone to give him a sharp kick to remind him of his place! The Shadow quickly degenerates into a ranting, cackling panto villain, a shame considering all the effort that goes into the first two episodes to make him as creepy as possible. The whole bad K.9 sequence is tiresome; clearly the writers have run out of things to do come the fifth episode. It really bugs me how the interesting war plot is put on hold for an entire episode in favour of party games. Suddenly at the beginning of part six the Doctor remembers ‘the time loop must be at breaking point by now!’ as though the writers have suddenly remembered everything they have to wrap up. K.9 bursts through a very polystyrene wall!
The Shallow Bit: That is Mary Tamm’s best costume yet, she looks positively edible! Having two Romana’s together must give the guys in the audience some very bad thoughts! ‘Care for a blow?’ There is five Mary Tamm’s together in one scene to answer to your every whim – down boys!
Result: A perfect representation of the Graeme Williams era; moments of comedy, darkness and imagination intersped with moments of pure pantomime. The first four episodes are as good as anything in the sixteen season but the story really stutters come episode five but recovers for a marvellous conclusion. It’s a well-plotted story, at least initially and the script keeps bringing fantastic ideas to the surface and dramatically explores a very unusual war. Despite some empty moments I find the Armageddon Factor an extremely watchable story, full of inventive touches, thoughtful direction and a general feeling of everybody (aside from a few dodgy performers) trying their damdest to make this end of season oh-shit-the-budget-has-run-out spectacular as impressive as possible. Underrated: 7.5/10