The regulars -
Arc of Infinity written by Johnny Byrne and directed by Ron Jones
Open Honest Face: I know that the fifth Doctor is supposed to be a genial, agreeable sort of chap who faces his adventures with a pleasant open face but come on! He is recalled to Gallifrey and told that he is going to be executed for something that wasn’t even his fault! The Doctor claims he has a great deal to say about the matter but never quite manages to make his defence and resignedly heads to his execution as though he’s actually a little bored of this body after all (in adventures like this who can blame him?). Even if he did know that his mysterious benefactor was going to save him you would at least expect him to put on some sort of show of defiance. The sixth Doctor would have railed and kicked the shit out of half of the High Council before being dragged to his death…even if he know what was going to happen he would put on a show. Davison is just…bland. It’s a complaint that I have levelled at his Doctor on many occasions and have (in recent years) felt necessary to retract but I still find most of his input in his second year is hugely unmemorable. Guess what he and Nyssa do for fun now they have finally got rid of Tegan…not visit the Great Exhibition or the Pyramids or the Singing Sands of Anangonia…nope they do some TARDIS repairs. Even before his execution he is shot in the chest and he is still remarkably civil and polite to the man who gunned him down! Grow some balls man! Then in episode three he is subjected to the appalling wibbly wobbly floaty Matrix. The dullard even disapproves with Nyssa’s penchant for evasive action (i.e. grabbing a gun and shooting everybody). The fifth Doctor looks quietly hurt by Hedin’s betrayal whereas Sixie would have lamped him (and probably saved his life as a result). The Doctor finally shows his teeth…but to Nyssa! ‘Wait in the TARDIS!’ he screams. Yeah, nice one Doctor, bully your only friend. Davison looks as though he is having much more fun as Omega, marching about in grand robes, beating up the gardener, discovering music and sharing a tender moment with a little boy. My favourite moment comes at the end of the story where the Doctor discovers Tegan has lost her job and he will be stuck with her, he grins half-heartedly and then when he thinks the scene has ended looks utterly horrified!
Alien Orphan: Sarah Sutton is waste on this show. She’s by far the most able and accomplished actor in this piece and she is forced to recite boring technobabble like she is reading a Shakespearean sonnet! Frankly she is the only person giving the Gallifrey scenes some oomph, caressing the case that holds the stasers, shooting down guards a aplenty and holding the High Council at gunpoint and arguing the Doctor’s case. I love the way she spits out the line, ‘So much for your justice!’ and she even takes on the dastardly Castellan with, ‘It’s a pity you weren’t so concerned when the Doctor was alive!’ Sutton mines a vein of drama that is missing from the rest of the story, bless her. Unfortunately all that good work is undone when Nyssa is confronted with the Ergon and screams like a harridan! She makes up for it by once again become the gun toting Trakenite and taking the momma out!
Trying Tegan: I cannot handle the way that Tegan gets off the aeroplane in episode two smiling. Who knew she had teeth since she spent so much of season nineteen pursing her lips? There is such a difference in her look from last year it is clear that some time has passed since we last saw her. She’s lost her job so all that fussing last year was for nothing. It’s interesting how we see so much of her family over the three years; Auntie Vanessa, Cousin Colin and Grandfather Andrew! Has any other companion been afforded this sort of domestic development? Mind you what an odd bunch they all are! My one residing memory of Tegan is her wailing in the Matrix: ‘Holland, Doctor! Aaaaam-ster-daaaam!’
The Good Stuff: I really had to scrape the barrel to fill this section but here goes…Omega’s mask looks quite impressive when it is glowing with antimatter. The idea of something extra-dimensional breaking into the TARDIS and attacking the Doctor is quite scary and for a few seconds there is some actual drama (my interest perked from 2-3 up to at least 6!). Colin’s day glow socks deserve a chat show of their own. Colin Baker turns up and spams his role as Maxil to make things more entertaining – oddly he is the only actor to ramp up the theatrical nature of the piece, to try and suggest this is some sort of operatic piece (which it should be set on Gallifrey). The irony of Colin Baker shooting Peter Davison is delicious. There is a quick mention of Leela, which is actually a rather nice continuity reference in a season full of them. It’s something of a minor miracle that Damon as a pleasant and helpful Gallifreyan doesn’t turn out to be a ranting super villain! During the Omega chase around Amsterdam they knock a woman over and her fruit goes rolling down the road…she should have picked one up and tossed it at the back of his head! The snotty, oozing Omega is quite nasty. You’ve got to love that doggie that tries to bite rice-krispified Omega!
The Bad Stuff: What has happened to Gallifrey? I mean it was hardly the vast tapestry of spires and gothic buildings that the Deadly Assassin promised us but they had a damn good go during seasons fourteen and fifteen. All that effort is tossed in the bin in favour of a hideous MDF Ikea nightmare; the most sophisticated, technologically advanced planet in the cosmos looks so eighties. Some of those sets actually offend my eyes, especially that corridor Costa coffee meeting joint. Bleaugh. Ron Jones is like a pendulum that swings between the horrendous (Arc and Time-Flight) and adult and gripping (Frontios, Vengeance). When he was good he was very very good but when he was bad he was awful. The conspiracy scenes lack any menace or atmosphere (plus the pencil waving is comically distracting); the TARDIS scenes are unbelievably static with no camera movement and some real dreary long shots around the console and the Amsterdam scenes look like a dull tourist video. There’s no oomph to any of it. The music is like a cheese grater to the ears; its so shrill, tinny and distracting it saps whatever atmosphere might have been generated. The menacing shadow of a High Council collar on the door is comically huge! The Ergon has to be seen to be believed; a walking, skeletal chicken! Why does the High Council sit like kids waiting to have their class picture taken? I laughed my head when possessed Colin turned around and we cut to a horrified shot of Robin…you would be hard pressed to work out which one is the zombie! The TARDIS roundels look fantastic in burnt peach so why aren’t they always that colour? The Gallifrey and Amsterdam scenes are worlds apart (figuratively and literally and atmospherically); they don’t belong in the same series let alone the same story. Hedin is so instantly nice to the Doctor it would take somebody seriously challenged to not realise he is the villain of the piece. Doesn’t Omega’s green stained TARDIS look like a gay disco! The music grinds on and on, ironing out all of the tension. By any stretch of the imagination the Matrix is lame, the 80’s graphics are distractedly under whelming but especially so compared to the nightmarish phobias from The Deadly Assassin. The odd thing about Hedin is why would you disguise your voice unless you knew you were being watched? There is no characterisation for Omega, no sense of his history or importance, no development or addition to the shows mythos…so what was the point? Such a waste of Elsphet Grey, standing in the background whilst lesser actors spout dull technobabble. The Doctor grappling with the Ergon is another of those priceless moments along with the Tinsel Timelash and Ingrid Pitt’s Kung Fu Myrka. The closing ten minutes feature a brisk jog around picturesque Amsterdam but how can so much running around lack pace? Plus it is one implausible marker after another that allows the Doctor to follow Omega. Why is the camera static on location? Tegan screams, ‘He’s disappeared’ but there are about thirty hiding places in the road they are in.
The Shallow Bit: Colin and Robin are two of the most mis-matched hitchhikers you could find. Considering they are supposed to be best mates they share no chemistry. Robin leads Colin down to a crypt so they can snuggle up in sleeping bags. Robin is probably the ugliest chap we have ever seen in Doctor Who. The chemistry between Nyssa and Talor is much better, he might be as beige as his clothes but he does seem to care a great deal for her. Tegan vibrates madly and groans her displeasure in the Matrix…the mind boggles! Sarah Sutton looks radiant in the crisp Amsterdam sunshine. I don’t wish to pick on the extras but what is going on with that little girls specs in the organ sequence? Here mum must hate her!
Result: Arc of Infinity features two equally ponderous plots that fail to gel and direction that sabotages the drama on every level. The cameras stand stock still exposing the scripts deficiencies, the actors’ stiffness and the general cheapness of the sets. When did Doctor Who start relying on technobabble over characterisation? Is this all part of JNT’s drive to aim the show at older nerds? I find it hard to believe that a story where the Doctor is forced back to Gallifrey to be assassinated and ends with him murdering a mythic Gallifreyan hero can be this tedious. Tegan returns but considering I was just getting used the peace without her that is hardly something to shout out about either. This is the story that convinced me that Russell T Davies’ decision to eradicate Gallifrey was a damn good idea. Its worth tuning in to see how well Nyssa copes being the sole companion but make sure you fast forward all scenes that don’t feature the fabulous Sarah Sutton: 2/10
Snakedance written by Christopher Bailey and directed by Fiona Cumming
TO BE REVIEWED...
Mawdryn Undead written by Peter Grimwade and directed by Peter Moffatt
This story in a nutshell: There’s a new boy in the TARDIS and he’s trying to kill the Doctor…
Fair Fellow: Back in the day when I used to review Doctor Who stories for the Doctor Who Ratings Guide (I think I was one of the sites most prolific reviewers but looking back at them now makes me cringe…I simply did not know how to string a sentence together and used to get terribly excited about things which would result in copious amounts of BOLD LETTERS and !!!!!’s) I used to try and convince the world how bland Peter Davison was as the Doctor. In fact reviews used to bat back and forth between me and few others like a critical version of The Big Questions where we would debate the pros and cons of this incarnation (why we weren’t all off out enjoying the world and making love to beautiful men and women is beyond me). In the intervening years of DWRG and starting my own blog I found Big Finish and fell in love a brand new version of the fifth Doctor on audio and the gravity that Davison (now a much older man) could bring to the role. It forced me to go back and see if I had missed anything on television and to my surprise I saw plenty more to enjoy that I had not spotted before. His charming naiveté in Castrovalva, how he was portrayed as a raving fool in Snakedance, his blazing eyed fury in Enlightenment and especially his definitive ‘old man in a young mans body’ performance in Frontios. However whilst I did find these moments scattered about throughout his run (his moral cowardice in Ressurection is another fantastic moment) there are an equal amount of stories where he is either utterly unmemorable (Four to Doomsday, The King’s Demons, The Awakening, Planet of Fire) or eaten up by the complex plot mechanics (Time-Flight, Arc of Infinity, Terminus). Mawdryn Undead is possibly the only story where he suffers the indignity of both. It should be a great story for the Doctor as portrayed by anybody because he gets to enjoy a reunion with the Brigadier (Nicholas Courtney can usually develop chemistry with any actor in the titular role) and face a moral dilemma that any actor worth his salt would get his teeth into. In both of these instances Davison lets the side down; his reaction to the Brigadier’s amnesia is one of mild annoyance (the focus on these scenes are entirely on the Brigadier) where some passion might have knocked the memories back into him and he emotes the end of episode three (‘it would mean the end of me as a Time Lord!’) like he is telling a kid what is on the menu tonight (replace with ‘its finger finger supper for tea tonight’ and you’ll see what I mean). There’s no passion in his performance, nothing to grab hold of. It’s a superb actor giving 50% and falling in between the cracks. It’s a shame because as I have said there are wonderful moments to be had for this Doctor during his run but unfortunately you wont find any of them in Mawdryn Undead. For this story at least, Turlough is ten times the character the Doctor is in terms of interest and the main difference between me reporting this now and me reporting this ten years ago is that I take no pleasure in it now. Come episode four there is so much plot to be resolved (the handicap of juggling lots of strong ideas) the Doctor becomes little more than a walking plot device trying to explain and tie the narrative up before the end. All of this would be fine and it’s a role he has played before many times but there is no personality here to make him anything more than a walking plot solver. Even when he walks out of the TARDIS to his death sacrificing himself for his companions (which is an incredible act) Davison looks a bit bored by the whole thing. I wanted to see a man with the weight of his future lives about to stolen from him not an actor wondering when the coffee break is going to be. Davison was not happy with the scripts for season 20 and these are the moments when it shows. Compared with the complexities that Nicholas Courtney is working into his performance its sadly deficient.
Alien Orphan: Sarah Sutton struggles gamely with the line ‘he could have been atomised!’ but anybody trying to say that with a straight face is doomed to failiure. Poor Sarah Sutton is so used to hanging around in the TARDIS by now whilst everybody else is having fun (she suffers the indignity of it in The Visitation, Earthshock and Mawdryn Undead) that she makes it look as if she really enjoys it! Give the poor girl something to do or write her out! Oh she’s off in the next story, you say? It does seem odd introducing new companions when the old ones are getting a pretty short shrift.
Mouth on Legs: For once Tegan’s suspicious nature is right on the nail…why would a 20th century schoolboy step into a transmat capsule and then into a blue police box with a spaceship interior and be so apparently calm about it all? Its so odd to see Tegan not approach somebody with her usual bad attitude and filthy mouth but I guess even Janet Fielding couldn’t bring herself to throw her weight around in the presence of a living legend like the Nicholas Courtney. She saves all of her bile for Mawdryn and in some hastily scripted scenes comes across as a right bitch (if this really was the Doctor I’d toss her out at the first opportunity) more than ever. I don’t care if she’s right to suspect Mawdryn becuase this woman’s bad attitude stretches my patience to its limits. Its not even that she is saying anything implausible its just the effort she puts into not being a very nice person. Its wearying. Rather wonderfully the one person she cannot brow beat is the Brigadier and he casually (almost perversely) throws as much sexism her way as possible! Although Tegan (or probably Janet Fielding) has to have the last word and quietly mutters ‘chauvinist’ when he is out of sight. Brace yourselves because I am going to finish this section with something nice to say about Tegan…the quiet moment where she thanks the Doctor for the sacrifice he was going to make is gorgeous. Why can’t she be that subtle and warm all the time?
New Boy: I wont beat around the bush – I think that Turlough was the finest innovation to the show in the eighties. You can keep Ace and her horrendous eighties slang and angst and Kamelion who was so good he only hung around for two stories. Turlough was a genuinely fresh idea; an awkward, mistrustful youth who skips into the TARDIS on a promise to murder its pilot. That’s a fantastic character spec in anyone’s eyes (although Peter Davison and Janet Fielding seem to have a bit of a problem with it but just nod and smile at them…you have to placate the stars) and paired with the inspired casting choice of Mark Strickson (who is on top form in his introductory story) and you have something that looked to be very special indeed. It would have taken a pretty inept script editor to waste a character as strong as this. Now I come here not to bury Eric Saward (he does that an awful lot himself in the DVD documentaries) but even he admits that he had a terrific actor in Strickson and a terrific character in Turlough and he failed to give him anything to do after his initial arc of three stories. But what comes next is not for this review…if you want to see how the strongest companion since Romana was treated like wallpaper check out my reviews for The King’s Demons, Warriors of the Deep, The Awakening and Ressurection of the Daleks. Everything that we see in Mawdryn Undead is very strong and it promises to be an incredible ride with this new companion. With Strickson epitomising shiftiness, a mysterious backstory that we aren’t acquainted with and a dark deal made with an ominous force, Turlough can only be considered a success in his first story at whetting our appetite for more. The sad truth is that the 80s was a year where all kinds of fruitloop shows were commissioned and one about an alien boy that wound up in a boarding school in England sounds exactly the sort of thing I mean! With Mark Strickson, Nicholas Courtney and Peter Halliday fronting it it might have been pretty good too! Turlough calls Hippo ‘fat, ugly and dull’ in a parody of a school bully and yet Turlough clearly enjoys hanging around with Ibbetson because he makes him look better. It rather accentuates what a coward Turlough is, hiding in other peoples shadows (as he would go on to do with the Doctor) and then mock them for standing on their own two feet. The look on his face when he sees the transmat pod is one of pure joy. You can very believe that he thought that he would never see sophisticated technology ever again. In the latter episodes of Mawdryn Undead Turlough is reduced to wandering around corridors aimlessly but Strickson is so good at looking shifty I always wanted to see what he was getting up to.
Chap With Wings: It’s a fact that the Brigadier was an 11th hour replacement for Ian Chesterton who should have appeared in this story. Thank goodness it didn’t work out because it would have crapped all over my assertion that he and Barbara got married and went on to have a long and happy life together. To think of Ian living in that little shed having forgotten his old life and Barbara fills me with horror. When it comes to the Brigadier it is a very different story and this is a pleasingly melancholic stepping stone between his career in UNIT and his marriage with Doris. We have often wondered what happened to companions after the Doctor has left them and the Brigadier is a very singular case because he and the Doctor shared something very special (especially in the latter stages of the Pertwee era) and he was a large part of Alistair’s life for some time. The thought that whilst the fourth Doctor headed off and started enjoying adventures in time and space the Brigadier was trapped in a less than fortunate existence, amnesiac and alone is crushingly sad. What I especially love about Mawdryn Undead is how it reveals the Brig’s seven year depression and breaks it within the same story. It means we get to experience his emotional crisis (and one which lasts some time so it isn’t handled unrealistically) and have a happy ending which smacks of having your cake and eating it but where the Brig is concerned I wouldn’t have had it any other way than to end on a positive note. Its really nice to see Nicholas Courtney given some tough personal material and he more than rises to the challenge. It has been so long since Terror of the Zygons that the meeting between the Doctor and the Brigadier feels like a massive event and I love the way they play the game of him not recognising the Time Lord because he has changed his identity…and yet when it comes to it the Brig doesn’t know who the Doctor is at all. With a sinking feeling you realise something is very wrong. The Brig catches us up with what has happened to the UNIT family since we left the Earth; Benton left the army in 1979 and sells second hand cars and Harry was seconded to NATO where he is doing some very hush hush work. Clips of past adventures are tenapenny these days (Logopolis, Earthshock…) but the black and white montage that the Brigadier experiences really means something because he is reclaiming all those wonderful, terrifying memories (its also a great example of Peter Moffatt’s visual storytelling, focussing squarely on the actor and allowing the music and the clips to guide us to the conclusion without ever telling us that he has these memories back). How can you not have the same fuzzy feeling that a cuddle with your partner gives you on a winters morning when you see all those UNIT adventures squeezed together? If Nicholas Courtney was awkward at having to take the Brigadier to some emotionally unbalanced places (‘Treatment? There’s nothing wrong with me Doctor!’) then so much the better because that is expressed in his performance and it makes the moment all the more destabilising for those of us who know and love the character. Like a lot of people in the same situation he scoffs at the idea of a breakdown despite the clear indications that he has suffered some kind of trauma. Its nice that even in these less fortunate days of his life he has found a career in teaching that he rather enjoys. When the Brigadier marches into the TARDIS and says he knows how to handle it he does have a good point – who on the Earth has experienced it twice before?
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Who are they?’ ‘Fools who tried to turn themselves in Time Lords!’
‘What you want is murder eight times over!’ ‘No what we desire is our own death…’ – when you are dealing with dialogue like that we have gone well beyond the usual JNT snazzy set piece storytelling into something a bit deeper.
‘Sometimes you have to live with the consequences of your actions’ is the Doctor’s harsh judgement on Mawdryn and his fellows. I just wish Peter Davison said it with more passion.
- It has been mentioned before (most recently by Gareth Roberts in a hilarious article in DWM) that if you described the music in Mawdryn Undead as incidental that you would be arrested under the trades description act. It is attention grabbingly present in every scene it appears (that’s every scene) and it occasionally shits all over the action as Paddy Kingsland has a heart attack whilst attached to an electric guitar. However (and this is the rub) its actually one of my favourite Doctor Who scores because musically it is actually of an extremely high standard. Whilst it might have been better paired up with a more exciting story (it does seem to stress excitement in places where none is present…or maybe that was the idea?) it is still an atmospheric, aggressive, persistent and pacy soundtrack which when listened to independent of the story actually takes you to some very visual places. Some people still cry at the loss of Dudley Simpson when he was dropped at the start of the eighties (mostly when they are enduring aural torture at the hands of Roger Limb or Malcolm Clarke) but its clear that bringing in the more melodic, less instrumental scores of the radiophonic workshop was a smart move and it gave the series a massive shot in the arm. Many people laud Peter Howell as the most innovative musician to have stepped up to the plate during this period (and I would never dream of arguing with them) but I also find Kingsland’s music a joy to listen to (in a way that only a sad Doctor Who fan like me can walking through the town with the Castrovalva music blaring in my ears…). Mawdryn Undead is perhaps his most controversial score but conversely it is the one time I would say that he approaches Howell in producing something truly memorable enough to be talked about today. The insane chords that strike when the TARDIS is about to strike the ship suggest we are going to see some fantastic Star Wars style effects as the cuboid TARDIS spins dramatically into a collision (actually the CGI on the DVD does give this whole scene much of the dynamism the music was hoping for!). Episode three is where the music is most needed because there is an awful lot of wandering around that spaceship and so Kingsland allows the different character themes to blend into each other as we cut from person to person. It makes the whole piece flow much more than it otherwise would. The upbeat score at the end of the story almost feels like a congratulatory pat on the back – we tied ourselves in knots with so many clever ideas and we managed unravel ourselves and tie them up satisfactorily! With the Brigadier back where he should be, Mawdryn given the peace he sought and a new TARDIS crew member that comes with a thrilling backstory it is exactly the sort of clap on the back uplifting music the show deserves to bow out on.
- I do think there is something in the comment that other countries enjoy Doctor Who for its ‘Britishness.’ And what could be more of a metaphor for British stiff upper lippedness than a vintage car leaving a boarding school being driven by a boy in a boater? Who else could you drop into this environment but the Brigadier – the quintessential image of a British gentleman?
- All credit to JNT for bringing back Valentine Dyall to play the Black Guardian again and its wonderful to see him availing himself of one of the finer ideas of his predecessors run. I’m not sure about the logic of sticking a dead crow on his head (it does rather look like it fell out of tree and he couldn’t be arsed to remove it) but Dyall has a deliciously gruff and sinister voice that really brings the character to life vividly. There has been a change of Doctor, several changes of companion, script editor and producer since we last saw the Black Guardian but this is a very positive link to the past in a year full of them.
- The cliffhangers in this story are all doing something different and that should be applauded. Episode one climaxes with the Doctor’s new companion trying to kill him (although to get full cliffhanger-worthiness out of the moment he picks up the biggest rock known to man and stands over the Doctor menacingly for what feels like the length of a bible) which is a very novel way of introducing a new regular to the line up! Episode two suggests that the Doctor has regenerated into something much more alien looking - an idea that has been discussed by fans before but never on screen and one that is explored through the next instalment. And episode three takes a far less visually dramatic cliffhanger route than usual and goes for a conceptual threat of the Doctor having to choose to give his lives to save Mawdryn and his friends. In each case these scenarios have never been explored before and Grimwade deserves credit for managing to find new, interesting avenues to explore when it comes to the cliffhanger.
- Mawdryn could have so easily have been a forgettable character (when he doesn’t really threaten the Doctor and his friends in any other way beyond keeping them on the spaceship) but in the hands of David Collings (following his memorable performance in Robots of Death and his stratospheric performance in Revenge of the Cybermen) he becomes a much more interesting prospect. Collings plays him with just the right amount of acidity – he’s sympathetic but also rude, he’s obnoxious but has endured a terrible punishment. Because the Doctor is roaming about elsewhere in the story we never truly believe that this ever could have been him but its fascinating to see his companions (including the younger Brigadier) trying to get their heads around the fact that this abrasive man could be their new Doctor. Collings as the Doctor…don’t tempt me with such a delicious concept! The make up team deserve a massive round of applause because his scabrous burns look really nasty and you have to wonder what sort of pain you would have to endure to wind up as bruised as that. Although I’m not sure about the upside down spaghetti bolognaise on his head…wisely the director chooses to ignore that for the most part. With his no nonsense rude attitude and his unwillingness to suffer fools gladly (well he doesn’t suffer anybody really) Mawdryn almost plays out as a prototype sixth Doctor. Perhaps Eric Saward was taking notes of the things he liked about David Collings portrayal and saving them for the next incarnation. Whilst everybody else is wandering around the spaceship sets as though they are on a shopping trip Collings is using the space like a really good actor should, crawling across the floor and climbing the walls in desperation. The unusual balletic design of their robes gives the illusion that they these people are gliding across the sets – its another oddity that works in this story’s favour. Death is always treated as something to fear on Doctor Who (including regeneration) so it is dipping its toes into some fresh waters when we close in on Mawdryn with a look of ecstasy on his face as he finally slips away. Its thoughtful moments like this that really elevate this story and it’s the only satisfying end to this terrific character. Its another Saward massacre but to quote the Doctor from Caves of Androzani ‘it feels different this time…’
- I love the dual timeline that Grimwade introduces so simply and yet so cleverly into the story. It’s the sort of thing that you imagine Doctor Who with its time travel abilities would have done plenty of times before but it has taken until its 20th season to make an attempt. Its one of those moments that really makes you sit up and pay attention to the story and one of the rare occasions when a second episode makes more of an impact than the first. Its another terrific make up job as well with the younger Brigadier looking for all the world as though the production team have a time machine and managed to sneak a younger version of Nicholas Courtney into the studio for a few days. The get out clause of both Brigadier’s heading for the spaceship sounds like it is a throwaway line (‘I remember I didn’t go with Nyssa and Tegan…I was standing near the transmitter when the TARDIS dematerialised…’) but it does actually play out in episode four but after he has lost his memory. Clever stuff. This story has got quite a lot to answer for (but in a good way) when it comes to doppelgangers stories in future series (and every science fiction show from Buffy to Farscape to Star Trek has a go at it). They build up the threat of the Brigadier meeting the Brigadier into something catastrophic that every time those other shows dabble in the same area I always think that something awful is going to happen!
- For once Time Lord technology is not introduced simply to sound dramatic (the Demat Gun in The Invasion of Time, ‘Impulse laser?’ from Arc of Infinity) but to kick the story in a very different direction. The creatures suffering eternal life for dabbling in a science that they should never have been exposed to is almost poetic since they were trying to extend their lives. It goes to show just how dangerous Time Lord technology can be in the wrong hands. For once there is more than melodramatic sentiment in the title, the clue to their eternal torture is right there for the taking at the front of each episode. The image of the other seven creatures sitting in their thrones in complete silence as Turlough discovers them and barely able to react to his presence is haunting. This is the result of eternal life – eternal borderm and decrepitude. Between this and The Five Doctors Doctor Who paints a pretty bleak picture of immortality.
- Using time and his friends as a weapon against the Doctor is a far more insidious than simply pointing a gun in his face (ala Earthshock). Watching Nyssa and Tegan age to death (the make up looks disturbingly like they are severely battered housewives – that’s pretty destabilising for kids) and reduced to childhood is such a fascinating new jeopardy I kind of wish they had made more of it. For Grimwade it is another captivating idea thrown into the melting pot that makes up this unusual story.
- The way the meeting of the two Lethbridge Stewarts causes an explosion big enough for Mawdryn and his followers to exploit and finally commit suicide is so neat even Terrance Dicks (with his insistence on logical plot resolutions) would be applauding. I honestly couldn’t see how this was going to end satisfactorily – I thought the Doctor would whip up some indecipherable technobabble to kill Mawdryn and the Brigadier’s would never meet. What we get instead is far more satisfying. Its a script that has been runs with two strong ideas only to bring them together in the climax and cancel each other out. Plus it kick starts the Brigadier’s breakdown and so effectively begins the story all over again. Very nicely done.
- The parting shot of this show is a cremation in space. Stick the CGI on when you watch the DVD as it finally gives this poetic closing image justice.
- Why did Saward feel the need to link each season with a mention at the beginning of each story with a summation of what the last one was about? If it has no place within the story you are telling then don’t include it. Ah but Tegan is still haunted by the Mara, I hear you say, it has a character purpose. Well, hardly. All it takes is for the Doctor to say ‘forget about it’ and she never mentions it again and gets on with the latest adventure. If this was something that truly got to her it would haunt her every thought…it strikes me of pretending to be character development rather than actually embracing what that actually means. It was even more apparent in Time-Flight in the wake of Adric’s death but just as sloppily handled here in a less showy way.
- The console room has never felt more like a studio set than it does in the Davison era. The way everybody hangs around the console trying to look busy is painfully awkward. Its only when the TARDIS crew lands on the deserted spaceship which is packed full of lush detail that you realise what an embarrassing empty space the TARDIS has become. Its even more apparent when Tegan and Nyssa drag some wicker furniture into the console room and sit down and then they look like two actresses left out of the action in front of some boring flats! Its in these scenes that Moffatt’s point and shoot approach to telling a story really stumbles – it doesn’t matter so much on location when there is lush greenery to admire but in a set as drab as this his static camerawork really lets the side down.
- ‘I want you to take the Brigadier back to the TARDIS – right to the centre!’ The TARDIS is an unending labyrinth. How long is that going to take? Maybe there’s room for the odd novel featuring the Brigadier and Nyssa wandering the TARDIS corridors? Hey I’ve seen books commissioned on less stable premise than that!
The Shallow Bit: The opening scene might be the gayest thing ever seen in Doctor Who (and this is a hotly contested category) with boarding school lads hanging around watching Turlough approvingly in their tight white T shirts and tiny sports shorts! The transmat capsule design looks oddly like the entrance to a particularly fruity 80s gay disco…perhaps JNT gave them some design tips? Janet Fielding hated her boob tube but it does make her look as cute as a button…some feat given her performance.
Result: It’s a JNT story written by Peter Grimwade and directed by Peter Moffatt so its bound to be shite! If you thought that was what I was going to say you are wrong because I have a sneaky (as in it grows on me more every time I watch it) fondness for Mawdryn Undead with its atypical storytelling and generally attractive production. Its by far Grimwade’s strongest script for the series and juggles a whole bunch of interesting ideas which include dual timelines, two Brigadiers, the Doctor regenerating into an alien, Nyssa and Tegan being infected by time, the Doctor sacrificing his remaining lives. Unlike Time-Flight (which is far too ambitious and complicated for its own good) and Planet of Fire (which is hampered by its shopping list of ingredients) Grimwade manages to tie all of these ideas into an engaging, well paced narrative that tosses aside the usual 80s lust for set pieces and tries to be a little more thoughtful. You’ve also got the introduction of the strongest companion we have seen on the show for some time and Mark Strickson proves to be an attention grabbing addition to the series. With his and Nick Courtney’s nuanced performance you can almost forgive how little the Doctor is given to do (beyond explain the plot) and how grumpy Tegan is in places (there’s nothing new in either of those observations and they’re a curse on the era) or how static the direction can be in the studio scenes. I’ve always found season 20 to be the weakest of the Davison seasons (any season that includes Arc of Infinity and The King’s Demons isn’t going to rank high on anybody’s list) but re-watching the stories out of order has surprised me with how innovative the story ideas are this year and how much intelligent science fiction Eric Saward was trying inject into the series whilst his producer was indulging in love letters to the past. Mawdryn Undead alone contains a number of really clever ideas (my favourite being the living death that Mawdryn and his cohorts are suffering – such a poetic consequence of their crime) but each story this year has one or two really engaging science fiction ideas at the core. Any story that can handle the Brigadier having a breakdown, reveal the dangers of misusing Time Lord technology and have the companion try and kill the Doctor and tie all three into a very clever climax is doing some quite special in my book. Add in an insane Paddy Kingsland score and some terrific design work and you have a mid eighties tale that is trying far harder than the series was given credit for at the time. Undervalued and well worth another watch: 8/10
Terminus written by Stephen Gallagher and directed by Mary Ridge
This story in a nutshell: The Big Bang explained and the Big Crunch averted…
Fair Fellow: You have got to give Peter Davison his due he is a very perceptive fellow. When he decided enough was enough after his second year and that his third would be his last it was because of the dearth of decent material he was given in season 20. Snakedance and Enlightenment aside he is pretty much sidelined, ignored or used as a device to channel plot exposition through. In Terminus the Doctor is not given any moments of charm or humour and as a result he is an unrelentingly dull person to be around. All he does is explain the plot and reel off technobabble. It’s such a waste of an actor of Davison’s calibre. He has to suffer a number of particularly inept fight scenes. The one moment he shined was during Nyssa’s explanation for why she wanted to leave; his gentle acceptance is very touching.
Narky Aussie: In Terminus Tegan manages to be suspicious, rude, accusatory, unwelcoming, judgemental and shout when she can’t get her own way…and that’s just in the first scene! Turlough describes her approach to things as sledgehammer tactics – I always knew there was a reason I liked him! Tegan is groped all over by nasty Lazar hands so I find it a little odd that it’s Nyssa that contracts the illness. If she had to save a friend or defend herself she might consider killing somebody. How funny is it when she has to try and stop the ship from disengaging and when she fails she simply screams ‘shut up!’ to the computer! Her reaction to Nyssa’s departure is, surprisingly, quiet and sweet.
Alien Orphan: I’ve always like Nyssa because even though she wasn’t always given the best material in the world Sarah Sutton was by far the most reliable and convincing of performers in the Davison era. Its great to see her leave in a story that plays to all of her strengths and weaknesses. If synthesising and enzyme is Nyssa’s idea of a good night in no wonder she get a boyfriend! It’s fabulous to have Nyssa alone and afraid in a creepy location, she really has earned this screen time. There is a sudden close up on her face as she explores the Lazar ship, which really put the wind up me! Although he doesn’t really deserve the attention Nyssa sticks up for wimpy Olvir. It makes sense for one of the regulars to catch the disease and what could be more horrifying than to subject sweet innocent Nyssa to such filth and degradation? Nyssa slips out of her skirt and parades around in her underwear, the lads punch the air with delight and the ladies step up their women’s lib campaign in fandom! ‘Are you Doctors?’ ‘Baggage handlers’ – I really like that exchange because it sums up exactly the sort of people Nyssa is dealing with. She slaps Valguard around a bit and later kicks the crap out of Olvir too and jumps his bones! She really is a compassionate woman, she begs for the more ill victims to be cured before her. She really comes into her own in the last episode, realising that the cure works but it isn’t controlled and than are just trading one killer for another. ‘The Company isn’t interested’ ‘Are you though?’ Who would have guessed that Nyssa would wind up as a drug dealer for a leper colony? Her decision to stay is sensitively handled, she has loved her time on the TARDIS but on Terminus she has a chance to put her skills into practice and really help people. Nyssa chokes back tears and kisses the Doctor goodbye…
Traitorous Ginge: An assassin in the TARDIS posing as a companion, its such an intriguing idea it’s a shame they didn’t keep it going a bit longer. Charm the way he uses it is to disagree agreeably. Tegan thinks he has the manners of a pig but I can only think she is thinking of herself. I love his eye rolling sneakiness the moment anyone’s back is turned! The decision to kill the Doctor is clearly weighing heavily on Turlough’s mind. Without realising it he almost causes the end of the universe by accident!
The Good Stuff: Continuity is littered about Adric’s room; it’s a nice subtle way for the audience to pick up on previous adventures if they have been loyal to the show. The first episode feels as though it belongs in season one, there’s long protracted character scenes of tension in the TARDIS, a slow build up of tension and a cheap but thrilling location. It could almost be The Daleks. The blackness invading the TARDIS and the skull face appearing in Nyssa’s room is bloody scary. The sound effects on the Lazar ship generate far more tension than the direction. The shields comes crashing down, the computer leaks information, the lepers emerge and fill the corridors with disease…the first episode is very well done. Even the first cliffhanger is appropriately overdone and dramatic. The CGI Terminus is beautifully realised, a 360 degrees view with the sun providing a gorgeous backdrop and the ship docking has a real sense of scale and detail. There is a pleasing amount of darkness to the script, talk of sterilisation, drug addiction, disease and corruption. I love the idea of the lift Nyssa is taking into descending into hell. A commercial company is running Terminus, making plenty of money and not curing anybody. The company sends coloured water instead of the drug that the slave workers need to survive; you couldn’t pay anybody enough to volunteer to work at Terminus. Bor is a delightful character and played with childish glee (even when his face is covered with hideous radiation burns!). Eirak also stood out as well acted and ambiguously sitting somewhere between ally and enemy. Terminus was once capable of time travel, it was a ship in flight with an enormous amount of unstable fuel, which was ejected into the void causing a chain reaction: the Big Bang. The pilot time jumped forward and the shockwaves caught up billions of years in the future and killed the pilot and damaged the second engine. Whereas the first explosion created the universe, the second would destroy it! I really like the uncertainty of the ending, which has no easy solutions and a lot of work ahead of them; it makes for a realistic conclusion.
The Bad Stuff: The Doctor shoving the chair in the door is so lame. There’s more of Roger Limb’s tinny, bland music, which is such a shame because a spookier score could really have benefited this story. Liza Goddard turns up in a huge goldfish bowl and hideous eighties make up and the atmosphere drains like letting air out of a balloon. Why are these pirates dressed up like 80’s glam rockers? That’s one of the worst robots ever with its pathetic little sticky out arms! ‘ADVANCE PARTY TO RADAR, COME IN RADAR, COME IN!’ – Goddard is both shockingly wooden and very funny (Simon walk in on that line when I last watched it and fell about laughing!). The transmitted effects of Terminus are very poor (you are much better sticking the DVD with enhanced CGI effects which tell the story far more clearly). Proof if it was needed that three companions is too many, Tegan (yay!) and Turlough (boo!) are shoved into some service hatches for two episodes and given nothing to do. Olvir is such a transvestite wimp – ‘I’m supposed to be combat trained.’ Once the atmosphere has been built the slovenly pace really hurts the story come episode two. I really like the design of the Vanir but the costumes are made out of such cheap, clunking material they merely highlight the cheapness of this production. Pity the poor pot belied, bearded Garm, he wants to be desperately terrifying but you just want to pat him on the head! The Terminus sets are so underdressed, featureless and unmemorable, that might have been the idea but it means there is nothing to feast your eyes on but empty blackness that tires very quickly. Crossing the line into the forbidden zone should be a terrifying prospect but its just duct tape on the floor and a great hairy dog. Everything has fallen to pieces come episode three, the Doctor is fighting with Valguard, Bor jumps in, the Garm shows up…its all so amateurish! Terminus is shoehorned into the Black Guardian trilogy but the Doctor and Turlough are separated throughout so we are stuck with reminders at the beginning and the end of the story and useless chats with his tap top in between. It doesn’t advance the ‘arc’ at all. The conclusion is a big grey dog pushing a lever, its such a crushingly dull way to avert the destruction of the universe.
Result: What surprised me was that when looking at Terminus with an objective eye rather than looking to be entertained there is far more to enjoy than I previously thought. The script is great and full of dark, seedy ideas and the first episode (despite Kari and Olvir) is one of the strongest scene setters of the era. Terminus deserves a stronger director and a more sober score to bring its creepy ideas to life; it needed to be brought to life with the same kind of panache as Maloney’s Planet of Evil. What with clunking action scenes, dull sets and a distinct lack of sparkle you will probably lose interest in the later episodes which is a shame because there is some intelligent detail and realism in the script. Minus points for wasting Davison but plus points for letting Sarah Sutton go out on such a strong note. Whilst I would hardly call Terminus a success, it is my second biggest surprise since starting this marathon: 6/10
Enlightenment written by Barbara Clegg and directed by Fiona Cumming
This story in a nutshell: Set sail and join the sailing race of a lifetime! A race set amongst the stars…
Fair Fellow: It really pleases me to that see Peter Davison was given some decent material to play with in his time as the Doctor because up to this point all I have seen him do is propping up lacklustre stories that need all the help they can get. You would think that in a story like Enlightenment which has many virtues that perhaps Davison would disappear into the background but nothing could be further from the truth. I especially liked his disapproval of the Eternals using human beings as blueprints so they can exist. His eyes blaze with anger during his scenes with Striker and it’s a look that really suits him. After his dull resignation throughout season 20 it is great to finally see him get passionate about something. He also looks horrified that they can read his mind and tries to keep the TARDIS safe from them. Hilariously he doesn’t even notice when Tegan has changed from a spiky haired women’s lib protestor into Edwardian royalty. The Doctor is remarkable in other ways. He doesn’t trust Turlough and I like that he doesn’t hide the fact either – this is the abrasive Eric Saward approach to characterisation working at its best. Of all the times the TARDIS has been out of reach from the Doctor I don’t think we have ever had it hidden somewhere as ingenious as in his mind. Pleasingly the Doctor doesn’t think he is ready for Enlightenment, he doesn’t think anybody is. Considering how the Time Lords are revered in the classic series that they are considered a joke in the hierarchy of higher beings with the Eternals looking down on them and the Guardians looking down on them!
Mouthy Missus: Colour me impressed but for a few episodes I actually thought they managed to do something with Tegan that was worth watching! Giving Tegan and unrequited love interest we can see why somebody might find her intriguing and what with both the Mara and Mariner searching her mind its no wonder there’s any room for Tegan left in there. The Doctor insists she stays in the TARDIS at the beginning and I have to admit I did whoop for joy. It really bugged me that she was shown something as glorious as sailing ships flying in space and still she moans, this time about sea sickness! Tegan’s bedroom on the ship turns out to be a weird mixture of her room on the TARDIS and her bedroom in Brisbane, it’s a really creepy example of what the Eternals can create from your memories. I loved it when she fought back, closed off her mind and killed her thoughts to Mariner. Decking Tegan in cut jewels and giving her that exquisite wig softens her considerably. Mariner finds the confusion in her mind exhilarating. Wrack uses Tegan as an assassin, I can think of worse uses for her! She really doesn’t know how to deal with mariner’s advances; he wants her completely, to give him existence. When she thinks the Doctor is dead the sparkle goes from her mind. It’s a shame that the show at the time was stuck in the mindset that relationships for the regulars was out of the question because it would have been quite interested had Tegan been interested in Mariner and happy to explore a romance. Her cold rejection of him at the story’s close is the grumpy Tegan we know and (cough cough) love.
Over the Shoulder: Its great to see Turlough getting s much to do because for his next four stories he would be sidelined and barely given any material and as Enlightenment proves Mark Strickson has quite a lot to give. After Adric’s embarrassing bravado it is nice to have a male companion who is clearly a wimp out for himself, oddly it makes him far more likable that he is honest about it! His scenes with the sailors are charming and he seems to fit right in. The turning point for his character comes when he tosses himself overboard, preferring to commit suicide rather than serve the Black Guardian any longer. Curiosity killed this Trion…he is almost sucked into the vacuum of space when he goes poking around Wrack’s ship (and proves that male companions can scream just as shrill as the female ones!). He’s such a turncoat, when it looks like he is going to die he begs his former employer to help him ands when that doesn’t work he cries out for the Doctor! Who else but Turlough would worm his way in with Wrack and her pirates? I love the frightened look he gives Wrack when she shows him the plank in action. He has to choose between Enlightenment and the Doctor and it feels very real that he would actually ponder on that for a moment. He wants to go home.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You are a Time Lord. A Lord of Time. Are there dwellers in such a small domain?’
‘Living minds are contaminated with crude emotions! Organic, irrational, creative, entertaining!’
‘Love? What is love? I want existence.’
The Good Stuff: This is the second time this season somebody has turned the lights down in the TARDIS and turned the roundels a burnt peach – it is so much more atmospheric than the usual over lit blandness you have to wonder why they didn’t keep it this way! The White Guardian invades the TARDIS just like old times. It’s marvellous to see the TARDIS materialise on the creaking, heaving hold of a sailing ship. It is very clever how the story completely convinces as a period piece on the high seas cumulating in one of the best surprises the original series offered up. The hands on the scanner is another delightfully unusual moment. The visual of sailing ships flying through the stars highlighted by the corona of the sun really captures your senses. Planets are marker buoys. Fire rages around the ship as they plunge through the atmosphere of Venus – the newly designed CGI effects really work a treat. The Eternals are a fantastic creation, bored immortal entities feeding on human imagination like parasites. Keith Baron gives Striker real gravitas; you really get the sense that is a bored omnipresent being. Mariner is sweet and sexy and just a little bit creepy, it’s a fascinating mix. The scenes on deck touched with starlight and an enchanting view of the stars are pure magic, it’s the sort of atmosphere 80’s Who strived for quite often but rarely achieved. The camera craning up the side of the ship is another winding new effect and the choral music expresses the wonder of the moment. The Bucaneer is beautifully designed, candle lit and decked out in pirate booty and Wrack’s clash of cultures and party really allows the designers give these episodes a rich look. I love Lynda Baron’s flirty, violent and buxom pirate captain; she cackles like a lunatic and positively glows on screen. Enlightenment brings you whatever you desire and its realisation is stunning. The whole set piece of Tegan’s explosive tiara is edited together furiously in the special edition and with a dynamic new score it feels fresh and exciting. I really enjoyed the final conceit that Enlightenment wasn’t the diamond but the choice. The White Guardian admits that whilst he exists so will the Black Guardian and he will be looking for a third encounter. Until the universe no longer needs them.
The Bad Stuff: The only thing I don’t like about this story is the daft birds atop the Guardians heads.
Result: Imaginative, enchanting, dramatic and exciting, Enlightenment is one of the best classic Doctor Who serials. The first solo script written by a woman is a belter full of clever ideas and unforgettable imagery. Fiona Cumming is one of my favourite Doctor Who directors and she really has an affinity with this material, bringing it to life with a rare touch of magic and emotion that is unusual in this series. What’s more there is a great role for the Doctor, Tegan and Turlough and all of the guest cast are worth their weight in gold. I really cannot fault this story, the dialogue is like a rich wine, the story continually finds inventive things to show us and the conclusion wraps up everything very nicely. I find it very pleasing that a story this good should not only be nestled firmly during the 80’s but also that it adds a touch of magic to one of my least favourite seasons. Give the special edition a chance, it takes a great story and cuts out the flab and adds some superb special effects: 10/10
The King’s Demons written by Terrance Dudley and directed by Tony Virgo
This story in a nutshell: The introduction of Kamelion, a companion so good he only appeared in his first and last story!
Fair Fellow: No wonder Davison thought of quitting after ending his second season on such a low. The Doctor as written here lacks any sparkle or wit, delivers functional dialogue and trips from one scene to the next as though he is a little embarrassed to be taking part in such nonsense. He gets to indulge in a sword fight which is so stagily choreographed it looks like two nervous actors brandishing weapons they don’t know how to use dancing around each other and he’s saddled with one grouchy passionless companion and another who he’s forgiven for recently trying to kill him! The Doctor has the perfect opportunity to put the Master out of his misery once and for all (and lets face it when the poor old git is dragging it up as ginger Monty Python cast off he’s clearly past his best and needs putting out to pasture…) but his ‘moral scruples’ get in the way. I wish Colin Baker were here because he wouldn’t have hesitated in putting the sad sausage out of his misery. His brilliant solution is to nick Kamelion and then just leave. He hasn’t quite got the touch that he used to. He actually shot himself in the foot a little because Davison could have enjoyed stories such as Vengeance on Varos, The Two Doctors and Revelation of the Daleks.
Mouth on Legs: Perhaps Janet Fielding is right and the dialogue Tegan is given is functional and stilted. How could anybody make a line like ‘could it be a Black Guardian trap?’ sound convincing? Mind you I don’t think the writing is entirely to blame since Elisabeth Sladen and the other really good actresses to play companions managed to sell their (occasionally) risible dialogue in a way that Ms Fielding fails to do. Tegan thinks that King John is ‘the one who lost something in the wash.’ That’s a halfway funny line, maybe there is hope for her yet! ‘Who cares!’ she whinges, ‘all I care about is getting back to the TARDIS where its nice and warm!’ Maybe not. Go and step in a rabbit trap you whinging old Aussie…the sooner you get sickened by the violence of your adventures and storm out the better. She is detrimental to the stories playing out – when one of your heroes shows this much despondence towards the adventure why the hell should the viewer be encouraged? Imagine Sarah Jane moaning about returning to the TARDIS all the time? No, she couldn’t wait to get outside and taste the oranges and step out in the snow and that’s why we loved being around her. Tegan cries ‘The Tissue Compression Eliminator!’ as if she has only just twigged that this is the Master despite the fact he transformed about 30 seconds earlier. And what the hell is it about people this season crying out the name of a weapon when they are faced with it (‘Impulse laser?’ is another beaut). ‘Look lets get out of here while we’ve got the chance!’ could be nobody else but Tegan. Contributing nothing here but moaning about going back to the TARDIS again. Maybe Davison had a point that the far more positive Nyssa complimented his character better. The shot of two Tegan’s in the TARDIS was enough to bring me out in hives! Almost as bad as when the screen was a medley of Tegan’s when the Mara invaded her mind in Kinda! Remember when Tegan welcomed Turlough so warmly into the TARDIS in Terminus (‘I don’t trust you! You’re up to something!’) well she manages to trump that with Kamelion (‘You can have my room for all I care!’). Seriously, who would want to know this miserable, depressing misanthrope unless you had a persecution complex?
Over the Shoulder: Turlough has just been introduced, his murderous secret exposed and now he is a fully fledged member of the TARDIS team! So what do they do to show off his talents…give him hardly any lines, no character whatsoever and make him completely irrelevant to the plot. What on Earth is going on with the script editor? It wouldn’t be so bad but he suffers the same fate in The Five Doctors (stuck in the TARDIS with nothing to do), Warriors of the Deep (wandering corridors and not connecting with the plot), The Awakening (locked up in a shed for two episodes) and Ressurection of the Daleks (wandering about with a cloth over his mouth discovering bodies and nothing more). What is the point of bringing in this character if you aren’t going to do anything with him? His one contribution is to call the Master ‘the EVIL ONE!’ despite the fact he has never met him before or even knows who he is. Unless the Doctor has a spotters guide to villains that he takes all his new companions through when they are officially welcomed on board. Turlough is the only character that hasn’t gotten involved in all the melodramatic shouting so he finale snaps with: ‘I’ve had quite enough of you WHOEVER YOU ARE! So don’t try me TOO FAR!’ Poor Mark Strickson, he deserves better work than this. Even the Doctor is embarrassed, encouraging him back into the TARDIS before he explodes like a Brian Blessed supernova.
The Bearded Wonder: ‘You insult ze King!’ says the Master in his least effective disguise of all time. Obviously he has a desire (much like the Doctor) to turn ginger one day and sports a flame red beard and wig as he ingratiates himself into court with his dastardly French accent! Ainley can clearly deliver the goods (his performances in The Keeper of Traken, Castrovalva and Survival prove that) but he and the writers have gotten themselves into a lazy rut where the character simply turns up at the most implausible of times (Prehistoric Earth! The Industrial Revolution! The court of King John!) in the most ridiculous of disguises (‘Shazam! Peshwari Naan!’ says Kalid, the fat oriental Buddha, ‘Hehehe!’ says a scarecrow waiting for years in a field for the Doctor to arrive, ‘I fear now hellhounds!’ says Sir Giles Estram, the ginger bearded wonder!) with the daftest of excuses (‘I will harness the power of the Xeraphin!’, ‘One that encompasses the whole human race!’, ‘Chaos shall reign and I shall be its Emperor!’). What a tired saggy old scrotum of a villain he has become. Strangely the Master’s cod French accent seems to verge into Indian on the odd occasion (‘That of the King!’). You have to wonder if the Master has asked the local witch to cast a glamour on him or something otherwise what happens to all that ginger hair when he transforms? I think I would have been more impressed if Anthony Ainley just happened to be playing another character (badly). It would have been far more surprising considering the slapdash approach to disguising him (it looks like JNT and Anthony Ainley took a day trip to a fancy dress shop and just slapped a few bits on). It makes the Doctor and his companions look completely daft for not recognising him. More to the point why does the Master need to disguise himself at all if he doesn’t know the Doctor is coming? Or are they linked cosmically some how like Time Lord magnets so he always makes proviso’s just in case? He laughs like a true pantomime villain (its something like ‘hahackhehehehe!’ and not just LAUGHING as the DVD commentary insists!). ‘Hehehehe!’ he giggles again as de Lacey is shot down, laughter is seemingly the bulk of his dialogue. Think of all the things that the Master could have done with a shapeshifting robot. Why he chooses this period is baffling when he could have returned to Gallifrey and caused havoc with Kamelion! At the climax the Master seems to have a ‘trap behind that trap that would have been a joy to spring’ to stop the Doctor escaping but the story doesn’t even cut back to him as if we are to just take for granted that he was defeated once again and is standing there in his TARDIS fuming saying something like ‘You tricky Time Lord! I will destroy every molecule of your being next time!’ Like Davison’s Doctor, he feels past his best in this story.
Dreadful Dialogue: ‘This is useless in your hands – you have moral scruples!’ – is this dialogue actually being written by a human being?
‘To serve the Devilish Doctor’s own purpose!’ – this is literally a kids pantomime, right?
‘I must distract them somehow!’ – people are talking stage directions now!
‘Fools! Medieval misfits!’
The Good: The location work around the castle is quite pretty but it is shot in such a workmanlike way that much of the areas beauty is lost on the camera.
The Bad: Why go to the lengths of dressing up the banquet sets with such detail and filming it in such pantomimic way? It feels as if we are slipping in on a local pageant rather than a serious period drama. The scenes in the castle are gagging to be shot on film but instead they look exactly what they are…cardboard interior sets. The stylophonic twing twangs of the incidental music are enough to make you wonder if this is actually taking place on an alien planet rather than in Earth’s history – there can be no other explanation for such a futuristic score! Not that I would want to endure more episodes of this nonsense but the two episode format really works against this story because there just isn’t time to develop any of the characters, to give them personalities or histories or to indulge in any period detail and discussion. It renders the whole setting utterly redundant. We’re given no reason to care about any of the characters because they all behave so irrationally – Hugh tries to torture Turlough for no reason, Ranulf barges into the Doctor’s room with his sword drawn – it feels as if we have walked into the middle of a story we have absolutely of which we have absolutely no context. The fight scenes are a joke; when the Lady Isabella is brought to the dungeon you can see all the actors finding their marks for the fight (I use the term loosely) to begin! Even the continuity is dreadful with Sir Gilles outside guarding the castle and in the very next scene he is at the King’s side at the banquet with no indication that any time has past. How exactly does the Doctor know the Master wants to rid the world of Magna Carta? They haven’t uttered a single word on the subject! By stating it is ‘small time villainy’ even the writer is admitting that this plot is shite. I’ve said again and again…so why not one more time. They introduce this rather cumbersome robot with shapeshifting powers and realise the robot is actually unusable…so why didn’t they just hire a new actor each week to play Kamelion? What a fun idea that would be! The possibilities are endless and yet Saward seems to enjoy shying away from them.
The Shallow Bit: What is up with the wench on the King’s left during the early duel scenes? An uglier broad I never did see – with that pushed up nose and bad teeth she looks like Tubbs from The League of Gentlemen! Tegan’s top is quite similar to the sixth Doctor’s coat in that it resembles a the colours and texture of a good bout of sick that somebody has made yucky patterns with. It does nothing for her in the slightest. There’s a really odd scene where the Doctor and Tegan are covered in duvets on location and Turlough stands there freezing his butt off in his school uniform! ‘You’re getting old Doctor, your will is weak!’ has gone down in infamy!
Result: Peter Davison has made no secret that he thinks Terrance Dudley’s scripts for his era were workmanlike but that expression suggests some level of competence but the sheer retardness that holds this story together boggles the mind. The Hartnell historicals are amongst my favourite Who adventures for their scope, detail, atmosphere and emotive storytelling but this sorry tale reveals that all of those skills have been lost as the genre became unpopular and all you are left with is a stagey pantomime that lacks even basic conviction. The setting is poor, the dialogue is enough to get stuck in your throat, the characters are vacuous and unbelievable and the plot isn’t worth wasting your time with. Like The Arc of Infinity that opened this season it fails to work even as a really entertaining slice of crap Doctor Who (in the same way that The Chase and Time and the Rani succeed admirably!) and it commits the ultimate sin – its boring. Failing as a drama, a period piece and even as a Doctor Who story, The King’s Demons is almost entirely without merit and a piss poor ending to the 20th year: 2/10
The Five Doctors written by Terrance Dicks and directed by Peter Moffatt
This story in a nutshell: ‘The Doctor has been taken out of time…’
Hmm: Lovely to see Hartnell appear at the beginning of the story and that his contribution to the series is acknowledged. It’s a brilliantly chosen clip too which saw us experience the Doctor’s first life changing decision on screen. All this aside it’s a first rate spot of acting from Hartnell too. Some people refuse to enjoy Richard Hurndall’s performance as the first Doctor but I think he achieves and extraordinary amount of authenticity in the role. Of course I would have given my right arm to see Hartnell in the role but that was never going to be possible and Hurndall brings to the role all the gruffness and authority I associate with Hartnell and at the same time manages to make the role his own. I find him thoroughly engaging in the part. Its great that the first Doctor ignores the feelings of fear that the Dark Tower provokes – at his age there’s little left to worry about! It’s entirely appropriate that the first Doctor is the one who figures out what the old proverb means and foils Borusa.
Oh My Giddy Aunt: Not allowed? He’s allowed everywhere! Troughton is such a shameless scene stealer and in all honesty none of the others had much of a chance when he turns up. Of all of the returning Doctors he is the one who seems to be enjoying himself the most and his scenes with Nicholas Courtney are delightful. His replacement was pretty unpromising, he says naughtily. The Brigadier thinks he is in pain when he’s trying to sing the nursery rhyme that conceals the information to gain access to the Dark Tower. I want a galactic glitter! Wonderfully Troughton barges between Hurndall and Pertwee making his presence felt and then hides behind them later when Rassilon offers them immortality.
Good Grief: If the third Doctor hadn’t been introduced flying around corners in Bessie I would have been disappointed but his line of ‘great balls of fire!’ sounds oddly out of character considering the script editor of his era put the line in his mouth. As soon as he hooks up with Sarah Jane that dazzling season eleven chemistry sparks up between them (Sarah is so happy to see him but its not long before she’s having a go!). He’s quite pig headed in refusing to believe the Master is there to help him but given their history you can’t really blame them. The Doctor happily pointing out that he was right feels authentically Pertwee. Obviously they will get the inscription wrong without his help! The third Doctor rubs his neck thoughtfully whilst declaring ‘there’s something wrong, you know!’
Fair Fellow: Poor Peter Davison is left clutching his chest and vanishing on the TARDIS floor whilst all his previous selves get to have lots of fun running about! I can’t help but laugh…I’ve always been a hit or miss kind of guy with the fifth Doctor but when he started fading away I can barely say I noticed the difference between this and his occasionally vacuous characterisation! Fortunately one mellows with age…hmm. If he wasn’t dull enough he’s the poor sod who gets lumbered with the scenes on Gallifrey. The youngest model and certainly the most impudent. Its lovely how Davison alter his performance to say goodbye to his previous selves, coughing like Hurndall, giddy like Troughton and gentlemanly like Pertwee. The thought of having to return to his own people and take charge terrifies him to the extent that once again he goes on the run from his own people ‘in a rackety old TARDIS!’
The Doctor’s friends: If I was planning on writing a review that exceeds the length of all the others put together I would have a little section for every single companion. But I want to finish it tonight. What’s this? Tegan smiling in her first scene, asking to stay where they have landed and describing it as beautiful – this must be something special! And Turlough has taken up art as a hobby but judging by the Doctor’s reaction he should stick to assassination. The Brigadier is back on UNIT territory. Nice to see the K.9 and Company continuity creeping into the series and thank goodness it did or we might not have had all those priceless K.9 scenes in The Sarah Jane Adventures! Who could be more appropriate to lie back and enjoy the beauty of somewhere as romantic and intellectual as Cambridge than Romana? Have you ever known a woman toss away her handbag in a moment of danger as Sarah does here? My friends would have to be unconscious to prise their purses from their hands…and even then it would be a struggle! Finally someone to put Tegan in her place! Her scenes with the first Doctor are an absolute delight (‘Now look young lady make yourself useful!’) and you can see how a far more authorative presence in the TARDIS would have made this era far more amusing (it actually makes me wonder how much fun a sixth Doctor/Tegan combination might have been). Turlough is such a pansy boy of course he has to make the tea! Sarah snatches the Seal of Rassilon pretty quickly from the Doctor – no wonder she could afford that fabulous house on Bannerman Road! The Brigadier doesn’t seem half as clueless as he used to be, clearly he’s used to this lark by now. In a celebration of all that is wonderful about Doctor Who somebody had to twist their ankle and it feels right that it should be Susan (she always was useless). Poor Turlough is lumbered with the Nyssa role stuck in the TARDIS whilst everyone else has all the fun. Tegan still hasn’t quite got the hang of this futuristic technology (remember when she stared in astonishment in Four to Doomsday gasping ‘look a door!’) and she gapes in astonishment at ‘an entry coder!’ Surely Tegan knows some basic mathematics! She looks genuinely devastated that it could soon be goodbye – who knew that she cared?
The Bearded Wonder: Survival aside this is clearly Anthony Ainley’s finest story as the Master. In the hands of the script editor who knows the character better than anyone the Master is cheeky, gleefully mocking and given a deliciously ironic plotline. During the scenes on Gallifrey Ainley is chundering on the scenery and makes the dull old politics an absolute riot. Just look at his delighted expression when the Time Lords read out all the evil crimes he is responsible for! He seems to love the paradox of being asked to rescue the Doctor as much as the audience do. When I first watched this story with Simon he fell to pieces at the Master’s pantomime reaction to the transmat device and to this day Simon does boggle eyed Master impressions when things surprise him! He’s enjoying himself immensely as he drives the Cybermen like sheep across a minefield and then guns down the Cyberleader! What a ruthless fellow! Give the man a clap for making ‘immmmortality!’ have 400 syllables!
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Wonderful chap. All of them.’
‘Doctor look out! Cybermen!’ – come on you know you love that line!
‘Sorry must dash!’
‘The Black Scrolls of Rassilon!’ ‘Interesting, I thought they were out of print.’
‘No, not the mind probe!’
‘On the other hand where there’s a wind there’s a way!’
‘Big, isn’t it?’
‘How long d’you plan to play pitch’n’toss?’
‘Or I shall destroy you! – the schoolboy bullying tone of the Cyberleader makes this line an instant winner!
‘He knew full well that immortality was a curse, not a blessing…’
‘Splendid fellows - all of you.’
‘Why not? That’s how it all started!’
The Good Stuff: As ever with these things I am watching the DVD special edition because I want the fullest possible experience. I know Peter Moffatt has argued strongly that this isn’t his vision of The Five Doctors but to put it simply it is all material is shot by him and the opening shots of this edition taking us for a chilling tour through the corridors of the Dark Tower is so infinitely superior to the transmitted version (the Doctor dusting the console) my decision was easily made. The Eye of Orion scenes might look like a wet weekend in Wales but it does genuinely feel remote and fresh and beautiful – for once we experience a location the Doctor enthuses about. Of all the stories to introduce the spanking new console in this was the right choice and it is a brilliant piece of design with so many screens and buttons – any kid would give their right arm to have a tinker. It seems like old tat now but take yourself back to being a kid and surely the thought of a mysterious dark figure kidnapping all these Doctors and companions and placing them on a chessboard within the Death Zone – its an ingenious concept that Dicks provides to give JNT his greatest wish, a splurge of continuity, and it makes the story work within a dramatic structure. Having David Saville back in the scene that introduces Troughton’s Doctor (he played Carstairs in The War Games) was a great touch. Peter Howell’s creepy, dynamic, exciting and thoroughly atmospheric score is one of my favourites from the series. It’s interesting that the Shada sequences are directed by Pennant Roberts who along with Moffatt are considered amongst the worst of the eighties directors and yet their styles match beautifully here with long, lingering exterior shots on sumptuous locations – these sequences showing the fourth Doctor and Romana punting down the Cam slot into this story seamlessly and it is a joy that such delightful material finally sees the light of day. Who said Moffatt cannot produce an atmosphere – go watch the scene where the TARDIS lands in the Death Zone and the scanner opens to reveal the Dark Tower and that unforgettable fog horn of Rassilon! Lots of shadows and lightning atmospherics in the scenes where the first Doctor and Susan reunite (the Dalek shadow on the wall is especially effective). There’s a wonderfully gross moment when the Dalek explodes and the mutant writhes about as green goo dribbles from its casing. There really is a remarkable amount of location work in this story, isn’t there? The slate quarry the second Doctor and the Brig find themselves in is truly desolate and uninviting and look at those horrid gnarled trees that Bessie drives by – more great locations. The Cybermen look really menacing on that misty hillside when they talk to the Master. The Raston Warrior Robot is still one of the finest Doctor Who creations; balletic, deadly and with some nasty armaments – the scene when it dispatches an entire platoon of Cybermen is unforgettably exciting. The long shot of the Tomb of Rassilon feels vast.
Lots of lovely moments that make you beam with fanboy delight – the first Doctor, Susan and the TARDIS in the same shot, the second Doctor and the Brig with Cybermen recalling The Invasion, the third Doctor meeting the Cybermen and tidying up that little gap plus his and Sarah’s magical meeting with Ainley’s Master (lovely to see Pertwee and Delgado meet and Sarah only missed a meeting with the Doctor’s arch enemy by three stories one side of her tenure and one story at the other end!). Susan seeing the Master is another great moment as is the second Doctor, the Brigadier and the Yeti (the conditions under which they first met). The first Doctor seeing the Cybermen is like a portent of his own death. Even though they are phantoms its wonderful to see Mike Yates and Liz Shaw together only missing each other by one story in the Pertwee era. The meeting between Tegan and Sarah is unfortunate however as the dazzling past meets the unfortunate present (although neither of them is especially good at pretend silent chatting). The Brigadier meeting Sarah and Tegan shows how long his association with the Doctor has been and it wouldn’t have been quiet right had Pertwee and Courtney not had a moment together. The Brig gets to punch the Master – yay!
The Bad Stuff: Is the pathetic trickle from the Fountain of Rassilon supposed to suggest the grandeur of Gallifrey? Despite some attempts to bling up the sets a tad the Gallifrey scenes still feel every bit as artificial and studio bound as they did in Arc of Infinity. Poor Sarah Jane falling down that incline and needing to be pulled up and over by Bessie – I realise this was supposed to be a mountainous drop but unsympathetic direction means that the unthinkable happens, Sarah is made to look pathetic. Has there ever been a more 1980s scene than Tegan, Turlough and Susan gossiping on wicker furniture and drinking synthetic looking drinks? Nice of Rassilon to provide some roads in the Death Zone. How blind must the Doctor and the Master be to miss that Cyberman who comes strolling out of the rocks? The Doctor is accusing a rather important Time Lord of abusing the Time Scoop and Peter Davison realises a little too late that he is staring directly at the only suspect so quickly looks at Flavia and the Castellan too! The framing of the Castellan is pointless padding. The abseiling sequence is deeply implausible given how it is shot. In Simon’s words the first Doctor walking casually over the chessboard of death pretending he is worked out its secrets is ‘a load of sweaty bollocks!’ Is this proof that the second Doctor had a life after The War Games or is his spelling out of the events in his last story a tragic continuity error on Dicks’ part? The Lord President was behind it all along – how unsurprising! I suppose given his four incarnations on TV he had to turn rogue at some point. Are the Doctors’ memories erased when they return to their own time otherwise why don’t the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th Doctors remember the events of this story?
The Shallow Bit: Proof if it was needed that our Sarah Jane was influenced by the tragic fashions of the 1980s and her frilly pink blouse, purple carrier bag mac and attached mittens are all hideous! I think she might have been at the red hair dye too. In her crazy clothes and severe haircut Tegan looks more a like a militant lesbian than ever. Zoe is clothed in bubble wrap!
Result: Somehow (and please don’t ask me how) this doesn’t feel like Terrance Dicks has dumped a load of Doctors, companions and monsters together but a rock solid narrative with clear plot progression and plenty of space for great set pieces. If you ever needed proof of the skill of this writer this menagerie of continuity is it! The Five Doctors is ridiculously entertaining and in many places inspired and it gives every participant a priceless moment. Of the Doctors Troughton shines brightest and Davison the dullest, Hurndall does a mighty fine job considering what he has to live up to and Pertwee is as effortlessly sensible as ever. It’s a wonderful story for Ainley’s Master too who manages to weave his way through the story outshining all the monsters on display. The production is similarly impressive with some stunningly bleak locations that really sell the danger of the Death Zone. With more great lines you can possibly handle, so many delightful old faces back and a real sense of occasion, the 20th anniversary special is non stop fun from beginning to end: 9/10