The regulars -
Robot written by Terrance Dicks and directed by Christopher Barry
This story in a nutshell: ‘You can’t take on the whole world…don’t you understand they’ll destroy you!’
Teeth and Curls: Straight away the Doctor is seen to be a cheeky schoolboy sort of character sneaking about UNIT headquarters and going boggle eyed as he spots the TARDIS to escape. The transformation from Pertwee’s marvellous straightlacedness to Baker’s insanity as much of a shock to the system as the change from gruff Hartnell to irreverent Troughton. A new body is like a new house you know, it takes a little while to settle in but the nose is definitely an improvement! This is a Doctor of no responsibilities of anybody but himself and wont jump into action on the Brigadier’s say so but when he feels like it. I burst out laughing when he walked from the TARDIS dressed as a Viking Warrior and the Brig questions that he might just attract attention in a top secret UNIT investigation. He builds a tower of junk, shares scientific secrets with Kettlewell and types away in fast motion on a typewriter (with comedy music) to leave Sarah a note to tell her he’s not in trouble but if he is he will need rescuing – he’s a complete nutball and it’s very refreshing to explore a Doctor who is this unpredictable for a change. He has a little nap and works it all out and the first time the Doctor is even remotely serious in his debut is when he is told Sarah has gone off with Kettlewell. This oddball approach really comes into its own when he trips up a guard with his scarf and provides some knockout entertainment whilst distracting the SRS nuts until the Brigadier turns up and arrests everybody. Baker looks extraordinary playing about with test tubes and bubbling potions.
Lovely Lis: From the off-season twelve presents a far more feminine Sarah Jane Smith than the trouser suited career girl of her debut year. The early scenes of Sarah pursuing a story in a sporty roadster are remarkably similar to scenes in The Sarah Jane Adventures. ‘Why are you telling me?’ says Sarah as the Brigadier spills all the latest top-secret information to her because he can’t tell the Doctor. Watch Lis Sladen’s wonderful reaction when the Doctor slams the door of the TARDIS on her and then jumps when he pops out again, these two are going to be gold together. After her in-your-face sexism rants last season its rather wonderful to see her getting a stiff telling off from Miss Winters for her own chauvinism. Only Sarah would happily swan into a room that has POSITIVIELY NO ADMITTANCE on the door but then she will risk life and limb to get a good story. If we adored Sarah before this story her feelings towards the Robot seal the deal as she stands up for its rights and protects its feelings. She touches the beast in a very sensitive way that should be ridiculous but Sladen and Christopher Barry sell the relationship convincingly. Sarah has a cheeky, almost flirtatious relationship with the Brigadier, winking at him and telling him that she is still a working girl! She looks gorgeous with the scarf wrapped around her head and she throws witty insults at the SRS nitwit that made me cheer. ‘Mr Benton are we members of UNIT? Are we under arrest? Well then where we go and what we do is none of your business!’ – don’t you just want to kiss her? What a babe – she grabs a gun and threatens to blow Miss Winters’ head off! Elisabeth Sladen single handedly makes us believe in the creature and her hysterical please to the beast in the last episode give the story a touch of drama it desperately needs to keep it on the right side of farce. Even after the crazy conclusion Sarah pines for the creature and makes us think on about its death. Sarah shoves the jelly baby in her gob as a delightful indication she will be going with the Doctor on his travels once again.
Oh I Say: The first scene between Tom Baker and Ian Marter is comedy gold and both actors give superb, energetic performances in what turns out to be the blueprint of their relationship – the Doctor running rings around and thoroughly bamboozling Harry. Trussed up in the cupboard like a pair of old boots is hilarious, I do so like a character who isn’t afraid to look a bit foolish in order to become likable. How fabulous to give Harry the chance to be a real James Bond, heading into Think tank in disguise! As would be proven time and again over the next six stories Marter and Sladen have gorgeous chemistry and its apparent from their scenes locked up together. Harry is good in a fight and he gives Jellicoe an impressive right hook in the last episode. His reaction to the TARDIS is very funny.
Our Brig: Nicholas Courtney was used to playing a confused Brig by this point but nothing could have prepared him for this new incarnation and his tentative, impatient relationship with the fruit loop Doctor shows a whole new side of the character. The Doctor used to drive him mad but he misses having him about the place. There’s nothing wrong with being a bit old fashioned, he admits of his gentlemanly ways. Its great how the Doctor goes through some of the most heinous military leaders from history when trying to remember the Brigadier’s name! Hehe – he really must cultivate a sense of urgency! The Brigadier looks like he is going to explode like a nasty old blister when he screams ‘cancel the destructor codes!’ Once all the explosions are over the Brigadier doesn’t really care about the mushy stuff…when the Doctor tries to explain about the Robot’s affection towards Sarah he responds with a very unimpressed ‘hmm’ that makes me howl thanks to Nicholas Courtney’s wonderful deadpan performance. Trust the Brig to grab the biggest gun going and make everything ten times worse (and bigger!).
King Kong: The design of the Robot is a mixture of the very good (that awesome glowing head, the size of the thing and Michael Kilgariff’s emotive voice giving the creature a real sense of character) and the not so good (the floppy wrists, the smiley face that looks like the thing is always on the verge of cracking up and huge eighties shoulder pads a decade early!).
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Why is a mouse when it spins?’ – I could never figure that one out either!
‘Rather a splendid paradox, ay Brigadier? The only ones who could do it wouldn’t need to!’
‘Naturally enough the country that could be trusted with such a role was Great Britain’ ‘Well naturally I mean the rest were all foreigners!’
‘In science as in morality the ends never justifies the means.’
‘The trouble with computers is that they are very sophisticated idiots!’
‘There’s no point in being grown up if you can’t be childish sometimes!’ – probably my most quotes Doctor Who line ever.
The Good Stuff: Whilst they are never once remotely scary the unusual POV shots of the Robot, the shadow of its bulk on the wall and the terrific Dudley Simpson score during those early attack scenes all give you the correct impression that this story is going to be great fun. The dressing up scene is outrageously comical and yet somehow doesn’t attract the wrath of Doctor Who fans like Romana’s body dressing up and a similarly nutty sequence in Time and the Rani do and do you know why…because the Brig isn’t there to disapprove heartily and make the whole thing so funny! Patricia Maynard is extremely good as Miss Winters, an icy cold villainess who has some very unusual ideas about nuclear solutions to the Earth’s problems! In stark contrast to the early season seven’s humourlessly gritty UNIT hardware on display, here is all played down with jolly exciting music and colourful location work – the days of this top secret organisation are numbered. Kettlewell is brilliant eccentric played to perfection – I was howling with laughter at his distracted babble (‘they’re incompetant nincompoops!’). Imagine the fourth Doctor, Kettlewell and Amelia Rumpford travelling together – that’s enough eccentricity to drive anybody to distraction! I love a villainess with a sense of theatre and Mis Winters ordering the Robot to kill Sarah is a great moment. I appreciate the effort that has gone into the Robot tearing through the door of the warehouse, knocking over the crate and walking through a hail of bullets (although the thing is so slow you could just wait around the next corner for it to catch up and the poor sod inside almost trips up in the suit during this scene). As soon as we start talking about nuclear weapons the story takes one something of a darker tone but that is balanced by the ludicrous scenes of the Giant Robot. Winters enjoys some fabulous Hitleresque hair shaking rants! You’ve got to love the cowardice of the SRS nutters hiding away in a bunker and blackmailing the world, planning on detonating nuclear weapons all over the world and emerging to control the survivors. It’s a plan so feverishly improbable I was applauding their nerve. Yay, a massive countdown clock – all the best Bondian villains have them you know. That’s some impressive pyrotechnics when the Doctor waves the sonic screwdriver and sets of some tall explosives by the bunker. I always said that Terrance Dicks was a ruthlessly efficient plotter of stories but here he has Benton whip up the solution of how to defeat the living metal before the Robot has even grown! Amongst all the crazy special effects in the last episode there are some impressive ariel Robot POV shots. There is a glorious stupidity to the Robot trampling on that poor UNIT soldier, smashing through one of the huts with its clumpy feet and going ‘get out of my way!’ as it swipes the telegraph pole! Love the bucket of dayglo orange goo that defeats the Robot! Robot ends with one of the most positive closing scenes in any Doctor Who story with a charismatic new Doctor, two gorgeous companions and the real feeling of a universe of adventures ahead for them.
The Bad Stuff: That poor guy playing the security guard has the unfortunate job of trying to squeeze his neck into the Robot’s cumbersome pincers and making it look realistic. Of course the bloody thing has a drill head that means it can drill up through the ground in a painfully awkward looking sequence. I’m not sure that the scenes of the decapitated Robot being operated on being dressed up as a medical procedure work. There’s no point in having scenes of Kettlewell apparently appalled that the Robot has been used to kill to set up the twist that he is in with the Thinktank lot when those scenes make absolutely no sense in retrospect. How odd is it to see the fourth Doctor driving Bessie? Benton was promoted because…there was no one else to promote? The fight scene at the end of episode two is far too theatrical and lacks realism because the Robot is too cumbersome to shot with any speed. The Robot is so rubbish it has to be guided into the van! The Brigadier talks on a walkie-talkie the size of a breezeblock! The toy tank is infamously dreadful and how they thought they could get away with something so insanely cheap is really in a league of its own when it comes to Doctor Who effects. You’ve got to love the forward thinking Thinktank numpties who ask themselves if they have enough food and water after they have set the 300-second countdown for nuclear destruction – they’ve hardly got the time to pop down the shops! Kettlewell’s eleventh hour change of heart doesn’t really ring true and he tries to avert the launch by smashing the equipment with a chair! The Robot has the equivalent of an epileptic fit when he kills Kettlewell. The CSO Giant Robot and dolly Sarah is treasurable!
The Shallow Bit: Where does Kettlewell get his fabulous electrifying hair gel from?
Result: Unlike anything else in the Tom Baker era, this is a hugely fun and colourful adventure that reeks of the previous management rather than the new era of gothic horror that was to come. Its one of the few Doctor Who stories that would work beautifully as a comic strip – as the story progressed I could see some wonderfully memorable stills that would really come alive in comic book form from the early attacks to the Giant Robot taking on the army. Terrance Dicks’ dialogue is fast and furiously witty the story is full of memorable characters and moments. The special effects are diabolical when the Robot grows to monstrous proportions but some duff visuals have never gotten in the way of a good story before and here it is more than compensated by the touching relationship between the robotic beast and our Sarah Jane. Tom Baker gives a deliriously demented performance which is like a slap round the face after Pertwee’s subtleties and it’s a great show for both Elisabeth Sladen and her character who gets to dazzle throughout as the first working girl in the series. As a final hurrah to an incredible era of Doctor Who it is a thoroughly entertaining and energetic piece that I never tire of enjoying: 8/10
The Ark in Space written by Robert Holmes and directed by Rodney Bennett
TO BE REVIEWED...
The Sontaran Experiment written by Bob Baker & Dave Martin and directed by Rodney Bennett
This story in a nutshell: The title couldn’t make it much clearer…
Teeth and Curls: Maybe it is because it is all filmed on location or maybe because it was one of the first stories filmed but there is a sense of nervousness about Tom Baker’s performance in this story that we would never see again. He’s quiet and subdued for the most part with only the odd flicker of his dominance and wit in the first episode. When he says he has lost his sonic screwdriver and feels lost without it there is an uncertainty in his voice as though he doesn’t know how far he can push the eccentricity of the part. The Doctor takes the piss out of Harry’s ability to fall down a ‘whacking great subsidence’ and then does so himself! The moment it all seems to click into place for the 4th Doctor is when he is confronting Styre and challenging him to a duel to the death.
Lovely Lis: Everybody else lands on their feet but poor Sarah materialises in the bushes with her arse in the air! Sarah told Mike Yates that she liked London exactly the way it was in Invasion of the Dinosaurs and here she gets a close up view of exactly what they were trying to achieve with Operation Golden Age and it really throws her. This isn’t what she expected for the future of her planet. She has clearly been travelling with the Doctor for too long to expect mutations and creatures…still she’s on the right track and only has to wait until the next story for her fears to come true! The mental torture that Sarah is put through is pretty strong stuff for a family audience, whilst the snake is clearly of the rubber variety the zooming close ups of the rocks and the horrible sludge crawling up her legs are both really nasty tests.
Dashing Doctor: Harry is such an old fashioned romantic sort and he can’t resist running to Sarah’s rescue and calling her ‘old thing.’ Ian Marter is so appealing in the role it is such a shame that he only appeared in seven stories but his involvement in season twelve adds a lot of charm to some very violent stories. As a Doctor to find a man chained to rocks and deprived of water is a real shock and when he dies before he can help him he furiously heads off to knock Styre’s bally head off! Not that I wish to question his medical competence but if Harry had given Sarah and the Doctor a thorough examination he would have realised they were both still alive. Who cares though when he very sweetly decides to avenge their deaths by going after Styre with a bloody great plank of wood?
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Why did you make that disagreeable noise?’ – says Styre of Sarah’s scream. I have recently embarked on a Doctor Who marathon with my husband – he finally has asked for me to walk him through the entire run of the series, one episode a night. We are two episodes into The Daleks and he keeps asking the same question as Styre here, usually about Susan.
The Good Stuff: An all location story is such a brave idea for the time and Philip Hinchcliffe cleverly avoids problems but have a six parter split into two stories with four episodes all studio and two episodes all OB. He’s already proving himself to be a very savvy producer. The slow pan across the bleak moorland tells you everything you need to know about the Earth that the Doctor and friends are visiting. Sarah’s haunted reaction to the Earth being nothing but soulless moorland and the revelation that they are standing in Central London is one of those moments of Doctor Who cheek that genuinely gets away with it. Harry slipping down the ravine is a great stunt because it looks entirely accidental and dangerous. The more time you spend on this location the more you realise why it was chosen with miles of desolate greenery, mountainous hillocks and interconnected rockeries. Its British countryside at its finest and the silence is deafening. I love the moments when people are spotted just out of sight – it is filmed so quickly you are left thinking ‘did I just see that or am I paranoid like Sarah?’ It’s in those moments that the atmosphere of the first episode really works. I like the fact that the Galsec chaps are scruffy and violent; it is a sharp contrast to the emotionless and sterile populace of Nerva. Setting a story on the Ark with the sleeping remnants of humanity and then opening out the same universe to a story set on the Earth with a militaristic survival group paints an epic picture of the time period that we aren’t use to in Doctor Who. Normally this sort of thing is usually only mentioned to save money but here we actually get to see this period from two very different perspectives. The Sontaran ship looks absolutely wonderful nestled amongst the rocks; it is a defining visual image from this story. Everything about the cliffhanger is excellent from the dramatically rising music, the long awaited appearance of the Sontaran and Sarah’s shocked reaction. Styre is another fine Sontaran character with a delicious sadistic edge. You get the impression he enjoys the more intimate one on one torture than simply fighting a large scale war. The mission on the Earth to see if it is a viable base gives the Sontaran/Rutan army a real sense of magnitude. Having Kevin Lindsay play both Sontaran characters really stresses the fact that these creatures are clones. Isn’t it great how Styre shoots the Doctor dead and doesn’t even bother to clear away his body – he treats him as so much garbage! Wowza, the breast cage experiment (making a metal weight heavier and heavier until the two men cannot hold it up anymore and it crushes the mans ribcage underneath!) is the nastiest of all them and a real test of strength. It is very unusual for Doctor Who to have an entirely physical conclusion with no dialogue but the fight between the Doctor and Styre is absolutely spectacular. They dash over those rocks, the camera enjoys the full scope of the scenery and the fight arrangement is full of energy and class.
The Bad Stuff: This is one occasion where I feel that the story deserved to be shot of film and not video so ironically it’s the one of the few occasions pre Trial of a Time Lord where it isn’t. It would look so much more lush and expensive on film and instead there are times when it feels as if somebody has taken a camcorder and a group of friends to Dartmoor to film a fan production. It doesn’t help that the guns the soldiers carry and the robot look pretty tacky too, as though said fans have cobbled them up out of things in a kitchen cupboard. The funny business with Harry landing and vanishing probably looked better on paper than it does in practice. The shots of the robot and the guy running in the same frame are very funny (and I don’t think that was the intention) – it almost looks like a spoof of Doctor Who! When Sarah says that Styre is identical to Linx she is being quite kind to the designer because aside from the shape of the creature the mask looks completely different.
The Shallow Bit: Lis Sladen looks adorable in her bright yellow raincoat and woolly hat.
Result: Unique at the time for being two episodes and shot entirely on location, The Sontaran Experiment is a pleasant breather after the stifling claustrophobia of The Ark in Space and before the horrors of Genesis of the Daleks. I really wish this had been shot on film because video does make the location work look cheaper however the scenery is so spectacular it almost gets away with its awesome premise of being set on a post apocalyptic Earth. Rather than an engaging story in its own right it has more use as a coda to the story before it and another glimpse of the Sontarans. Tom Baker seems a little uncertain but he is backed up with the unbeatable Lis Sladen and Ian Marter who keep things ticking over nicely. Some of the material is pretty graphic after the Pertwee era and you can see how the Hinchcliffe era will develop. I watch this story for its gorgeous windy locations which makes me want to walk across Beachy Head breathe in some lovely fresh air. Disposable but still enjoyable: 7/10
Genesis of the Daleks written by Terry Nation and directed by David Maloney
This story in a nutshell: Can the Doctor stop the development of the Daleks?
Teeth and Curls: I’ve just finished watching the whole of season twelve and it confirms what I have always suspected – that Tom Baker took a little while before he truly found his feet in the role. When the material is top notch (The Ark in Space & Genesis) he fits into it like a comfy slipper but when it titters on the verge of being average (The Sontaran Experiment) or downright shocking (Revenge of the Cybermen) he is completely at sea but still trying to make his mark. Robot he’s allowed as a breather because anybody would be a little manic in their first story. Filmed out of sequence, Genesis was the last story of that season filmed and it shows because Tom has found his groove and would continue to play this moody, if occasionally playful hero for the next two years in this vein. There is a confidence and brio to his performance here that wasn’t there before – this the fourth Doctor that is instantly recognisable. The one who cracks jokes in the face of a rifle, walks blithely through minefields, locks swords verbally with a psychotic genius and questions his right to murder. Its one of Baker’s best stories and considering how good he is throughout his run that is no small statement.
The Doctor is shocked that the Times Lords would have nerve to ask anything of him after stripping him of his second life, exiling him to Earth and treating him as their delivery boy. Once they gave him back his freedom (he did save the entire universe after all) he thought that was it and he will no longer tolerate their continual interference in his life. Unfortunately the Time Lord agent has the one word at his disposal that makes the Doctor’s blood run cold; Daleks. ‘Who is this Davros?’ – oh Doctor, you’re going to wish you never asked. In an iconic scene Davros introduces his Mark III travel machine to his staff and the Doctor almost becomes the very first victim of a Dalek. The intensity and seriousness of his plea to the Kaled government is impressive, once the Hinchcliffe era is over there would only be a few scant moments of that kind of gravitas in the remaining four seasons. The ‘deaths’ of Sarah and Harry, two of the sweetest companions he has ever travelled with gives Tom Baker the chance to really show the audience what he is made of. He launches himself at the firing pad to stop the rocket that will kill his friends and when he fails he falls, defeated and despondent with only his mission pushing him on as if he has to complete that to make their deaths worth something. So often we explore the companions reaction to the possibility of the Doctor being dead but it is rarely the other way round and after this wave of depression its easy to see why not. Clearly his friends make his existence worthwhile, otherwise its just duty and where’s the fun in that? He’s so thrilled to see Harry and Sarah, grabbing his hand excitedly and embracing her. Davros proves once and for all that the Doctor’s companions do obstruct his life as well as enriching it by using them to extract the information for every Dalek defeat. The Doctor looks disgusted that Davros could describe a conscience as an ‘affliction.’ In a seminal moment for the fourth Doctor he has the choice to destroy the Daleks or not and he is paralysed by the choice. Holding the two wires perilously close together he questions if he would be any better than the Daleks if he causes their genocide. He remembers the worlds that became allies because of the Daleks, perhaps seeing some good in their tyranny. The story opts out of forcing him to make a choice which is a shame because I would have loved to have seen which we he jumped. Its ironic that this is exactly the same choice faced by the eighth/ninth Doctor when the Daleks invaded Gallifrey. Had the fourth Doctor intervened his people would still be alive but he would also be every bit as battle scarred and tortured as the ninth Doctor. It’s a fascinating quandary both in its own terms at this point in the shows mythology and considering what comes later.
Investigative Journalist: Poor Sarah, she hasn’t had much of a time of it of late! After watching the Doctor die she was the object of affection for a Giant Robot, she was accidentally put into cryogenic storage, tortured by a Sontaran and now she is left for dead amongst a heap of corpses as gas fills her lungs and is put to torturous work by the sadistic Thals carrying their poisonous weapons! Its enough to make a girl want to head back to London and have a rest! Sarah falls into the hands of the very sweet Muto Sevrin who takes care of her whilst she is a prisoner of the Thals. She hasn’t lost that season eleven spirit after all as she whips the exhausted slaves into a fighting unit to escape their captivity. I don’t care how contrived it might have been, the first time I saw the freeze frame cliffhanger that has Sarah falling from the scaffolding of the rocket I was absolutely gripped with excitement. There’s nothing quite like a Doctor Who cliffhanger that sings this well and I was desperate to know if this was the end of my favourite companion. The fear that Elisabeth Sladen displays as she has to cross to the rocket and is playfully kicked to her death by a sadistic guard is unlike anything we have seen from a companion before, that is real terror in her eyes and it is really uncomfortable to witness. Its one of the few moments that this fluffy show tips over into sadism – it makes for a great scene but that discomfort must mean the boundaries have been pushed as far as they can go. I find it very cute that the scene where Sarah warns the Doctor about heading down the ventilation shaft is played almost identically in her own series with the eleventh Doctor in many years to come. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
I Say: It’s a shame that there is simply too much going on in this story to give Harry the attention he rightly deserves but Ian Marter makes the most of every moment he is given. Harry shows incredible courage in his willingness to hold the landmine as the Doctor lifts his foot off, anybody else would be out of there in a shot and it says something about how much this Doctor cares for his Doctor. He looks oddly comfortable with a gun and pair of handcuffs! As a Doctor Harry finds the idea of racial cleansing horrible. Like Louise Jameson being gnawed on by a giant fluffy rat, Ian Marter gives his all when Harry sticks his foot in a deadly clam and almost convinces that it is a deadly threat. That’s how good he is.
Scarred Scientist: Michael Wisher gives the single most impressive performance as Davros in the characters run. The Terry Molloy version has taken flight on audio and his prolific nature means that I still consider him to be the definitive version but I would never suggest that Wisher’s performance here is anything less than bravura. In a sequence that redefines the word iconic, Davros is first seen in the half-light whispering to his subordinate that the weaponry on his new creation is perfect and we pan back to reveal a Dalek. We’ve never seen anything quite like Davros before. Sure there have been some pretty gruesome monsters but this monstrous grotesque, somewhere between an ordinary man and a twisted gargoyle truly sours the stomach. For a moment you could be forgiven for thinking this is a nasty looking statue because he is perfectly still and his icy, purring voice seems at odds with its lifeless natures. His limp, scarred hands shake their way towards the buttons on his wheelchair – what’s astonishing is how powerful this character seems despite his obviously crippled nature. The metal grips that is embedded in his head is nasty – it looks as though it is holding his skull together! What could have possibly happened to make a man so disfigured? Only Davros could possibly think that ‘the best is yet to come’ when talking about giving a Dalek the ability to cold bloodedly kill. His wheelchair having a Dalek design is a great touch because it makes total sense where that part of their design came from. There is something stiflingly claustrophobic about the way Davros commands the bunker with practically all of his workers terrified of him and opposing the Dalek project. Davros is also a skilled politician who can manipulate the government with gentle words whilst performing the most outrageous acts of treason by giving the opposition the ability to destroy his own people. That was the point where he went from being a superb villain to the best we have ever had. Its such a diabolical act of cowardice to ensure he can continue with his work you almost have to admire his sledgehammer techniques. That is the point of no return where Davros has surrendered everything to his work on the Daleks and nothing will stop their completion. Even if he has to tear the entire planet apart with his bear hands the Daleks will see the light of day. If you betray his trust he will finds a way to kill you as Ronson discovers as Davros lays the blame for his own treachery on the scientists doorstep and orders him exterminated. Its fascinating to see how Michael Wisher builds to a tyrannical, Hitleresque shriek as he orders the mans death almost as if he surrenders to his own Dalek side when his bloodlust boils over. Even Nyder looks appalled at the notion that Davros would murder his own people to suit his needs (although its not enough for the man to show a flicker of emotion, naturally). Davros talks of peace and prosperity on Skaro, a new dawn for the Thal race but as soon as they fire their rocket to wipe out the Kaleds he sends the Daleks in to massacre them all! Its typical Davros to talk about erasing ‘stupid emotions’ from his workforce so they can still make use of their inventive skills. The Doctor tries to convince Davros to make the Daleks a force for good in the universe and his nemesis toys with the idea playfully but that was never going to be an option. In Davros’ warped view of the world power comes through strength and the ability to threaten and kill and the only way the Daleks will survive is if they are dominant life form destroying everything else. It turns out Davros’ one weakness is a hunger for knowledge and he tries to turn on the charm to extract the Doctor’s scientific secrets. Davros actually considers the Daleks a force for good because once they have destroyed all other lifeforms there will be no need for fighting – that’s some warped philosophy. Wonderfully we get to see just how vulnerable Davros is, the Doctor practically killing him by a mere flick of a switch. He’s little more than a robot after all. There’s a stunning moment where gunfire sounds and Davros is alone in the dark in his laboratory waiting for the Elite to find him, plotting silently. Your average villain wouldn’t get a moment of chilling reflection like that. Just when you think that Davros cannot sink any lower he exploits democracy to buy himself time to get his Daleks back from their last massacre to wipe out the few scientists that are left on the planet. Skaro is literally a sea of corpses with the Daleks the only thing to show for the slaughter. After his psychotic attacks I cannot believe there are people who would still stand at Davros’ side. Ignominy is something that all power hungry dictators have to face and Davros’ punishment for his actions comes at the hands of his own creatures. Their lack of pity, the very emotion everybody has been telling him to imbue the Daleks with, is what brings Davros down and it has a delicious taste of irony to it. His dying scream is the one moment where you feel for this character in over two and a half hours, cut down as he tries to bring his creations to an end.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘We must keep the Kaled race pure…’
‘Now undoubtedly Davros has one of the finest scientific minds in existence but he has a fanatical desire to perpetuate himself in his machine. He works with conscience, without soul and without pity and his machines are equally devoid of these qualities.’
‘The Council have signed the death warrants of the whole of the Kaled people!’
‘I have betrayed the future!’
‘To hold in my hand a capsule that contained such power. To know that life and death on such a scale was my choice. To know that the tiny pressure of my thumb…enough to break the glass would end everything! Yes, I would do it! That power would set me up above the Gods and through the Daleks I shall have that power!’ – we don’t usually have dialogue as thoughtful as this to savour and it really is relishable. I love the way Davros snaps his finger and thumb together to simulate releases the virus, the old loon!
‘Rebellion is an idea in the mind! Suppress it and it hides away and festers…’
‘Do I have the right?’
The Good: · David Maloney has a great eye for memorable imagery and his opening of a mist swathed battlefield with gas masked soldiers emerging and gunned down in slow motion has to be one of the most nightmarish first scenes since Terry Nation’s The Dalek Invasion of Earth. The War Games and Invasion of the Dinosaurs have similarly dour opening scenes but there we have the Doctor and his assistants to let us know things will be all right. Genesis of the Daleks chucks you in at the deep end amidst bloodshed that it never recovers from. No wonder Mary Whitehouse was appalled – the Doctor and his chums walk across a minefield strewn with corpses and discover a bunker entrance piled high with yet more bodies. It’s a massacre! I love the shots of hulking, malformed Muto pursuing Sarah through the mist – talk about tense! The spotlight in the Muto’s face (revealing his terrified grimace) as he is shot down sticks in the memory and so does the guards reaction, worrying more about a waste of ammunition rather than a waste of life! The sequence of Sarah on the scaffolding is dynamically shot with lots of under lighting to increase the tension. He uses lighting to incredible effect as the Daleks make their way through the Thal city and Kaled bunker on a rampage, throwing their dark shadows on the wall to pre-empt their appearance. The gorgeous shot of a Dalek scouring the battlefield with explosions lit up behind it conjures up images of devastating tanks grinding up filthy land in the World Wars and taking the lives of so many.
· I sense Robert Holmes’ hand in the premise of the show because it is so instantly memorable. The Doctor being sent back to Skaro by the Time Lords when the Daleks were first created to avert their creation. I can’t imagine even a non fan wouldn’t be excited by that! There is just so much potential in this scenario from discovering how such ruthless creations came to be, to explore the war that caused their genesis and the moral implications of causing genocide.
· The first episode is a perfectly formed pieced of drama and is up their with The Invasion part six as one of the greatest episodes of Doctor Who ever made. The dramatic premise, the return of the Time Lords, slow motion deaths, explosions, a gas attack, the Doctor standing on a landmine, gunplay, meeting some truly sinister characters, the unfolding horror of the scenario and that humdinger of a cliffhanger that reveals Davros for the first time and the very first Dalek. It’s sublimely good.
· The idea of a war that has been fought for a long time so the resources have been depleted and the technology has become more primitive is fascinating because most modern wars accelerate the technology available. The notion that even as we sink back into primitivism we can still find ways to slaughter each other is a chilling one. It just makes the fight more vicious and nasty. The formation of the Elite to think up fresh methods of killing is frightening; especially when that group has become so powerful they are practically controlling the government. Davros has wormed his way to the top and changed their researches towards the survival of their race but with a sadistic desire to use the results of that research to crush all resistance on Skaro. In one bold stroke Terry Nation and Robert Holmes have taken the outwardly ridiculous appearance of the Daleks and turned it into something that is functional and purposeful. By showing the Doctor the creatures that the Kaled will mutate into we have a clear reason behind putting them inside the pepper pot casings – simply to keep them mobile and protected. The scope of Genesis of the Daleks is incredible with both sides in this war being wiped throughout the course of the story and a new race being born. We truly are seeing the dying days of this planet and the birth of a blasted wilderness that will dovetail into the very first Dalek story with the first Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan arriving to find the mess that his future self has left behind.
· There is some impressive acting talent on display throughout this story. Its great to see the usually camped up Guy Siner playing a straight part and he’s perfect for the role of the young, sadistic general whose trying to play tough. Even the way he excitedly screams out his hatred of the Thals so unconvincingly helps to explain who he wasn’t ready for this role. Who would ever believe that this is the same Peter Miles who played the violently aggressive Dr Lawrence in Dr Who and the Silurians and the madcap brainbox Dr Whitaker last season in Invasion of the Dinosaurs? Stick him in a Nazi uniform and give him a pair of menacing specs and he becomes Nyder, the cool, unnervingly controlled and sinister right hand man of Davros. There’s barely a flicker of a smile in his performance throughout the six episodes and every move he makes is robotic and perfectly judged. Michael Wisher aside, it’s the standout performance of the story. In a very small part Hilary Minster terrifies as he fucks with Sarah’s mind by pretending he is going to let her fall from a great height.
· Dudley Simpson’s music is such an odd beast because whilst it is recognised as some of the best that the show featured there is also the feeling that it can also be a little predictable at times. My opinion is that he was a superb composer who occasionally got a little too cosy. I find most of his work during the Troughton era to be of a superb standard (Evil of the Daleks, The Ice Warriors and The Seeds of Death all feature memorable scores) and whilst his music became a little safe during the Pertwee era (with some exceptions – I find his most memorable music for that era is during the year he was forced to go electronic!) it would seems that the high violence count and atmosphere of the Hinchcliffe stories has re-invigorated him! The Ark in Space had a top notch, moody soundtrack but it can’t hold a candle to what he achieves in Genesis of the Daleks. He’s relying heavily on the piano a lot here and proves what a dramatic instrument it can be and there are some terrific moments of underscoring (Davros first revealing the Dalek has a sinister underscore) and excitement (listen as he bashes away on the piano when the Daleks go in the attack in the later episodes).
· The script plays fun games in trying to convince you that Nyder is working against Davros. The idea has merit because even he looks taken aback at Davros’ mania at points but as soon as I saw him smile (it looked more like a sneer) I knew he was up to no good. When he plays his hand, Peter Miles aces the robotic response to remind you that this quisling is completely without remorse just like his mentor.
· Astonishingly this story gains momentum by scaling the story down as it goes along. Power of the Daleks worked in reverse by opening very small scale and working its way up to a Dalek slaughter. Genesis starts on an ambitious grand scale and as each side is diminished we find ourselves losing more locations until we are trapped in the claustrophobic walls of the bunker. Then the remaining scientists are bumped off which leaves one last victim; Davros. I love how the script goes from the epic to the intimate because most stories work the other way around. It literally feels as if the story is closing in around you until there is nowhere left to run.
The Bad: It would be churlish to focus too heavily on the minor mistakes made in a story that has been put together with such care. The toxic reader by the Thal rocket is simplistically designed and after the myriad of impressively designed sets the caves that the Doctor and Harry find themselves in are distinctly plastic looking and full of crapola BBC props. The electric fence and mutant cliffhangers are that brilliant but they serve their purpose. I would have loved it had they had the guts to end episode five on ‘do I have the right?’ I was utterly absorbed by the story until I saw the TOTAL DESTRUCT button and then I was reminded I was watching Doctor Who.
The Shallow Bit: Don’t dress Tom Baker up in a black leather again. Just don’t.
Result: A masterpiece of suspense and visceral and psychological horror, Genesis of the Daleks lives up to its iconic status and then some. I don’t care whose name is on the credits, this script was either heavily rewritten by Robert Holmes or he gave notes every stage. Under Terrance Dicks Terry Nation produced Planet of the Daleks and the yawning chasm that exists between that story and this is too damn noticeable to be quite believable. Whoever was responsible the script is a work of art in itself, an exercise in world building, character examination, moral dilemmas and how to pace a six part action adventure with real impetus. David Maloney is next in line for credit because he takes this script and refuses to let one iota of atmosphere bleed away. The direction is bold, violent and shocking – you wouldn’t want Doctor Who to be this way every week because it is just too disturbing in places but as a fatalistic one off it is a tour de force. The lighting is superb and Dudley Simpson’s music has really come on since Tom Baker took over the role, highlighting the drama whilst cutting away the melo. It’s a huge cast and nearly all the roles are impeccably performed from the sadistic (Hilary Minster) to the uncomfortably still (Peter Miles) with Lis Sladen and Ian Marter providing impeccable support to Tom Baker’s Doctor who has finally come into his own. The plaudits have to go to Michael Wisher though for creating such a memorable grotesque in Davros – the last three episodes see the action quotient drop but its still completely riveting because Davros’ malevolent behaviour is absolutely delicious to watch. There’s no part of Genesis of the Daleks that isn’t firing on all cylinders and it’s the first major success of many for incoming producer Phillip Hinchcliffe. Even the conclusion is satisfying, managing to be both anti climatic and loaded with irony and murderous relish. Its not a story I can watch over and over because its moribund tone can be quite hard hitting but every time I do watch Genesis I am reminded of just how good Doctor Who can be when everything comes together with absolute precision. Outstanding: 10/10
Revenge of the Cybermen written by Gerry Davis and directed by Michael Briant
This story in a nutshell: ‘You can’t even sink Nerva Beacon!’
Teeth and Curls: The irony that this should be my first foray into Hinchcliffe Who considering it is probably his least effective story (and by his I mean Tom Baker and Hinchcliffe). Looking back on Tom Baker’s first season it is astonishing how quickly he adapted to the part, he probably got it around The Ark in Space. Howeverthe script for Revenge of the Cybermen is so bad it gives him some dialogue that is so out of character (or just plain embarrassing) even an actor of Baker’s calibre (who can make anything sound realistic) cannot make it sound natural. ‘ Whose the homicidal mainiac?’, ‘Total machine creatures’ and most heinously he calls somebody ‘Sir’ So much of this script would have been rewritten, binned or improvised had it taken place in later seasons. Perhaps forcing Baker to stick to the script is not as productive as we all thought! I do like that he is still playful with Harry. I think its often forgotten how well the male companions got on with their Doctors (Steven, Jamie, the Brig, Harry, Turlough, Jack, Rory) and Ian Marter plays Harry so sweetly Baker can mock him but never maliciously. If the Doctor scents a rat he will find one. The Doctor manages to pull all his powers of deduction together to pinpoint that Kellman is the saboteur but considering he is the only suspect it is hardly the most intelligent leap! It is so like the Doctor to hold the wires in place when there is no time to rewire the transmat and get electrocuted to save his companions life. The Doctor threatens Kellman with the sting of the Cybermat unless he tells them everything he knows. Not to be out done by Sarah and her waltz with the Cybermat, he break dances on the floor once he is shot by the invading Cybermen. Realising they are going through a mid life crisis the Doctor takes every opportunity to niggle at all their insecurities.
Lovely Lis: This is the story where Sarah is so badly written that she admits thinking gives her a headache! She can’t make her snuggle up with the Cybermat look real (it would tax any actor) but she really plays her infection for real. ‘Stop going on about your stupid gold!’ – despite some reprehensible dialogue Sladen and Marter still make a magical team. Sarah has heard of the Cybermen but thought they were wiped out ages ago (obviously the Doctor has been getting out his snaps again). Go and watch her eye rolling reaction to Harry’s ‘Are you aware you’re heading straight towards us?’
An Imbecile: It is very nice to see Harry’s medical training is used consistently throughout his time with the Doctor. He’s such a thoughtless old rogue and always thinking of money! Remember in Ark in Space when he suggested that the Doctor could sell the TARDIS or where he tries to steal the (very bling) Time Ring and nab nuggets of pure gold. Guess what he wants it for? To buy himself out of the Navy and set up a little practice in the country! Its nice to have a game plan! ‘The Doctor will be worrying about us’ ‘I’m worrying about us’ – I really like that exchange. So much emphasis is placed on Haryy being an imbecile for causing the rockfall and trying to unbuckle the Doctor’s cumbersome strap but how on Earth would anybody know in either case?
Sparkling Dialogue: Are you kidding me?
The Good Stuff: Doesn’t Nerva Beacon look far more convincing on film. Jeremy Wilkin is such a playful old sleazebag, he is clearly from the Mark Strickson school of ‘looking over your shoulder’ acting. The sleek (but huge) new Cybermat design, thank god they have no comic bulging eyes any more! This is one of those Doctor Who musical scores that I shouldn’t like (ala Time and the Rani and the Keff of Death!) but I do, its oddly memorable (like the sound of a good fart). The plague effects had a test run in The Green Death so they look pretty hot. Does it need spelling out that the Wookey Hole location work is fantastic? A fabulously craggy, shadowy location which reverberates with the gunshot explosions and has lakes you can play about on with speed boats. The Cybermen head blasters are the one decent addition to their deisgn and I’m not quite sure why they didn’t hang around. The Doctor and Harry’s attack on the lonesome is one of the few action moments that looks convincing.
The Bad Stuff: The story doesn’t start on the best note with the dance of the time ring! The idea of landing in a room adjacent to a corridor full of plague ridden bodies is awesome but filling said corridor full of mannequins doesn’t cut the mustard. Ronald Leigh-Hunt and William Marlowe both had better characters to play in their previous Doctor Who roles and far better dialogue to chew on. The Ark sets have lost their cold, clinical feel which and thus they don’t feel half as visionary. Imagine disguisng actors the calbre of Kevin Stoney, David Collings and Michael Wisher behind those duff Vogan masks and forcing them to bring such banal characters to life? Revenge of the Cybermen features the worst Cybermen redesign by a country mile, their huge tubing looks like the device I use to unblock my toilet and the material is clearly sponge and not metal. You can tell this is a Barry Letts comissioned script because he lets Gerry Davis inapropriately plunder his 1960’s scripts in exactly the same way Terry Nation did with Planet of the Daleks. Kellmans spasmodic reaction to being captured made me laugh my head off! Gold is lethal to Cybermen? What a rubbish weakness! Why do they even need a weakness? Its like saying throwing a bucket of water over the Daleks could finish them off…so they want to wreck havoc on Ocean World! If Kellman is such a benefactor to the Vogan people why does he murder so many people? The studio sets cannot match the distrinctive location work and look tacky in comparison. What ever happened to Daleks bursting through walls, rising from oceans and the Cybermen tearing from eggs and cocoons? The Cybership advance towards Nerva is so slow the Doctor could have tied them up in a bow and packed them off in the time it takes them to arrive! And then as soon as the ship is docked he suddenly rushes off screaming ‘We’ve got to stop them!’ Argh! I don’t know what Caaaber-bombs are but they sound nasty! Compare Christopher Robbie to David Banks and you will find one actor who can find meance in the melodrama of playing a Cyberleader and one who exemplifies robotic campness (put your hands on your hips, and give a neck massage in ti-im-im-e!). I really want to point out all the inconsistences in the plot but they have been brought up a hundred times before but I do have to ask why the Cybermen aren’t paropletic just landing on a planet saturated with so much gold? There is no sense in the Vogans having any culture beyond their requirements to the plot and thus they are not in the slightest bit believable. The Doctor is attacked by polysterene rocks! This story really should be called Campness of the Cybermen, the Cyberleader keeps saying lines like ‘It is good!’ and ‘It has failed!’ The story lurches into insane space opera as the Cybermen aim the Beacon at Nerva…why didn’t they just do this all along? It is lovely to see a Cyberman cuddling a Cybermat so adoringly and falling to the floor in love for the creature. The planet rolling conclusion has to be seen to be believed! There are no goodbyes with any of the remaining chracters because the plot is (abruptly) concluded and I didn’t give a toss about the fate of any of them anyway.
The Shallow Bit: The Cybership is a huge silver penis! You can’t go round the galaxy invading in such a phallic veichle! Clearly the Cybermen are having something of a mid life crisis. The Doctor hides underneath Kellman’s bed and gets several thousand volts up the jacksy for the privilege. The Vogan rocket looks like a giant nob as well! What is it with these inadequate men and there compensatory craft? Is Voga the blingest planet in Doctor Who? Attacking the Cybermen from the rear, ay? Doctor you old rogue. ‘We’re still heading for the biggest bang in history!’ – I think I’ve used that line a few times in the past.
Result: Proof if it was needed that the Hinchcliffe era wasn’t quite as flawless as people might lead to believe, Revenge of the Cybermen is terrible. I will usually go to great lengths to find good things to say about the most slated stories but in this case I am stumped, its that bad. The script needs hardcore dissection to make it even passable, the dialogue is perversely bad, the plot riddled with logic vacuums (you couldn’t call them hole) and characterisation lacks finesse. The spongy tubular Cybermen fudge their comeback hysterically and they are so ineffective you actually feel quite sorry for them. Not even Tom Baker, Lis Sladen or Ian Marter can raise the bar and the extraordinary guest cast are lost somewhere in there, unrecognisable. The most exciting thing is that they managed to find some real caves to film in and the music sounds like a farting quartet having a great time: 2/10