Monday, 26 September 2011

Season Eighteen

'Enough of this silliness!' cries incoming producer and script editor JNT and Chris Bidmead! The trouble is Doctor Who is a bit of a silly show at heart and when you try and make it a serious science fiction show it begins to feel very earnest. Still I cannot deny that some of Tom Baker's finest material turns up in this moribund final series. The Doctor loses Romana and K.9 and gains Adric, Tegan and Nyssa (unfair trade!)and faces breakaway Fomasi, intergalatic thugs & a cactus doppleganger of the Doctor, evolutionary Marshmen, vampires (eek!), slavers and the Master trying to take down the planet of Traken and the universe!

The regulars -

The Leisure Hive written by David Fisher and directed by Lovett Bickford

Result: You'll notice that I have mostly talked about the visual aspects of this story rather than it's narrative. There is a reason for that. In some ways this is a strikingly adult production (especially in its efforts to sell the story through pictures) but in others it feels more than ever that the show is being aimed geeky loners who love scientific jargon and everybody taking everything deathly seriously. That is why everybody except those geeky loners abandoned ship. Attention grabbing direction from Lovett Bickford helps to keep the story visually arresting and awash with eye catching imagery and colours and some strong acting helps to push the po-faced storyline along with special honours going to Tom Baker, David Haig and Adrienne Corri. Intelligent details and thoughtful moments compensate for a lack of humour and a layer of entertainment that could be found in even the weakest of Williams tale has been sacrificed to make the show as 'straight' as possible. The worst crime is the amount of dreary technobabble on display, it anchors the show in real science but leaves a paucity of interesting dialogue. Style over substance? Not really because there is a lot of style and substance here but the thing it is lacking most of all is enjoyment. A sign of things to come: 6/10

Full review here -

Meglos written by Andrew McCulloch and John Flannigan and directed by Terrance Dudley

Result: It makes me laugh to this day that John Nathan-Turner and Christopher H Bidmead criticised the Graeme Williams/Douglas Adams collaboration and wanted to take the show away from ‘that’ll do’ and ‘too much silliness’ and then they produce Meglos as their second story which is the epitome of those two criticisms. What’s even funnier is that it is the camp excesses of this story that so strongly mimic the best of the Williams era are that are the most enjoyable elements of this story – Tom Baker’s arch performance as Meglos and the chucklesome Gaztaks who feel as though they have wandered into the wrong show and just bully everybody for a laugh! When we are focussing on the Tigellan politics the show abandons all ambition and realism and it's one dreary artificial scene after another (despite Jacqueline Hill’s best efforts). When it comes to the universe of planets in Doctor Who Tigella is up there with Dulkis and Karfel in terms of the effort that has gone into establishing it visually and creatively. It’s a story that is bogged down with sci-fi clich├ęs - a planet on the verge of extinction, doppelgangers (which even the Doctor calls ‘old fashioned’), a megalomaniac wanting to take over the universe, sentient plants - and fails to do anything original with any of them. Add to that a general failing in production values which really highlights the unnatural nature of the production, a waste of Lalla Ward’s talents and a final episode that lacks any interest or ingenuity and you have a disappointing sophomore effort for this supposedly fresh new season. If it wasn’t for the music and Tom Baker’s efforts I would write this one off completely: 4/10

Full review here -

Full Circle written by Andrew Smith and directed by Peter Grimwade

Result: Full Circle is the first story of season eighteen that proves that Bidmead’s approach to Doctor Who could work. The script is very good indeed; intelligent and exploring some pretty weighty scientific and biological themes but (and this is the important part) there is an emotional core to the story too (Romana’s dilemma, the Doctor's fury over the Mash child’s death, Adric losing his brother). It’s also the lushest and most attractive looking Doctor Who story in an age with some beautiful location work, detailed sets and imaginative directional touches. Unfortunately this is the story that gave us Adric so it isn’t entirely perfect. There are a few moments where you wonder if he might work out but they are outweighed by some dreadful acting that proves Waterhouse was far too inexperienced for the part. A beautifully structured story with some great surprises and an optimistic ending that promises more exciting things in E-Space: 8/10

 Full review here -

State of Decay written by Terrance Dicks and directed by Peter Moffatt

Result: I still assert that State of Decay is the ultimate Tom Baker story with the styles of all three of his producers combining to create a rough overview of the era. There is the gothic horror and scare elements favoured by Philip Hinchcliffe, the witty undergraduate humour highlighted by Graeme Williams and also the scientific approach as loved by (‘Stop this silliness!’) the JNT/Bidmead collaboration. It even highlights the best and the worst of Doctor Who visually with the general design of the piece being very rich and attention grabbing whilst being let down at practically every turn by all of the special effects, especially the most important one at the climax. Terrance Dicks is not a script writer to let you down and he packs in some interesting mythology about the Time Lords, lovely moments between the Doctor and Romana and a wealth of colourful lines to quote. There’s a great Paddy Kingsland score which highlights the atmosphere of terror and the sensuality between the Three Who Rule suggests the eroticism of Vampire tales without ever upsetting the delicate family audience of the BBC. Some dodgy performances aside this is a pretty fun if utterly predictable story to watch with one whopping great problem at the heart of the story in Matthew Waterhouse’s Adric who harms every scene in which he appears: 7/10

Full review here -

Warriors’ Gate written by Stephen Gallagher and directed by Paul Joyce (with some help by Graeme Harper)

Result: Doctor Who as a scientific fairytale, Warriors’ Gate is the show at its most rewarding and visually stunning. There are so many moments to treasure throughout that it is impossible to recount them all (although I have had a good try above) and everything from the set design, lighting, effects, music, performances, direction and scripting are at their peak. Visually it feels like Hinchcliffe is back in the hot seat but imaginatively it feels like Williams is still in control, Warriors' Gate feels like the best of both their takes on Doctor Who and yet remains one of JNT's greatest achievements as producer. Packed full of clever ideas, witty moments, dramatic twists and fantastic characters it is hard to fault a story that takes such an unusual approach to telling a story and gets it so right. One of the highlights of the JNT era and proof if it was needed that eighties Who could be just as bold, innovative and imaginative as anything that came before and since. Masterful: 10/10

Full review here -

The Keeper of Traken written by Johnny Byrne and directed by John Black


Logopolis written by Christopher H Bidmead and directed by Peter Grimwade

Result: Christopher H Bidmead is far more comfortable doing clever things with the TARDIS than writing for his characters or creating any kind of drama the audience can relate to. His script for Logopolis is all ideas and no sparkle; it would be so embarrassing if the universe were to end in a wave of technobabble as it threatens to here. It is directed imaginatively but the budget really lets the Grimwade down and given how striking many of the stories of season eighteen look you can't help but blanch at how no money seems to have been secreted away in the kitty for Tom Baker’s last story. Baker is trying his damnedest to make his swansong count for something and Sutton manages to salvage a couple of very good moments out of this mess but with Fielding over emoting and Waterhouse just barely on the right side of average even the regulars are a real mixed bunch. I honestly cannot imagine the fourth Doctor having any continuing adventures with this trio. Had things not turned out the way they did I think he might have piloted the TARDIS into a supernova to force his regeneration to let Davison enjoy the pain of their company. Tegan joins the series and the universe decides to give up and rot away – I do not believe the two events are unrelated: 5/10 

 Full review here -

1 comment:

LR Buxton said...

Good reviews Joe! I've always been a fan of s18 of Dr Who and its more austere tone, I think the e-space trilogy is incredibly diverse and full of great ideas. Agree that Warriors Gate is a unique, surreal masterpiece and Full Circle has a wonderful premise. I think Keeper Of Traken is a touch underrated though, particularly Ainley's performance before turning into the Master - though personally I still prefer Ainley to Simm.