The regulars -
The Time Warrior written by Robert Holmes and directed by Alan Bromley
The Mighty Nose: The very story that this category gets its name from! I recall Uncle Terry once mentioning that Pertwee liked Robert Holmes scripts because he allowed him his ‘moments of charm’. Moments? This is possibly (with Carnival of Monsters) is possibly the Doctor's most disarming charm offensive; he’s like a rapier of witty lines, fantastic ideas and a wealth of sparkling scenes. People often cite Tom Baker as the Doctor who changed the most during his tenure, natural since he was in the hands of three different producers. But if you look closely you can see a definite progression of character and performance in Pertwee's time, and I don't think it is simply that he became indifferent in the role as others have claimed. When I think of the third Doctor I conjure both the acerbic poison tongue of season seven, the fun Nazi of seasons eight and nine, the excited adventurer of season ten and the bewitching gentler version he became after Jo left the series. Katy Manning made such a huge impact on Pertwee you might think it impossible for Barry Letts to find a replacement with equally bewitching powers but Pertwee's chemistry with Sladen is instantaneous, and develops over a much shorter period of time. It is a very different pairing because Sarah is a much more independent woman, she doesn't want to pass him his test tubes or make the tea, she's her own woman and yet despite her best efforts she is still charmed by him. As are we all. Instead of shopping her out to the Brigadier straight away, the Doctor cheekily puts his feet and up tries to decide what to do with this journalist spy that has fallen into his lap. As soon as he spots the guns in the Middle Ages he declares the whole scheme absolute lunacy. He’s just a tourist but he likes it on Earth. Finally we get to see where the Doctor gets his marvellous bouffant done, at Linx the barbershop – he looks quite hilarious with that volumiser atop his white curls! Watch the Doctor being chased around the courtyard and imagine it played at double speed with the Benny Hill theme tune. It is pretty comical but I do love the fact that he was a man of action right up until his demise. A long shank rascal with a mighty nose who works for UNIT in an advisory capacity, that is how he is described in this story. He’s a courtly rogue and charms his captors and gets appointed as Lord Wessex’s warlock once he brews a magic potion to slay the dog. The Doctor’s idea of a playful counter attack consists of stink bombs and dummies, he's more of a strategist than a murderer despite what Sarah might think. He’s serious about what he does but not necessarily how he does it and gleefully describes his people as galactic ticket inspectors, stamping out unlicensed time travel. Always a man of impeccable social graces, the Doctor hilariously copies Edward's food tossing at his table much to Sarah's amusement. He cannot stand on the sidelines as Linx tortures the scientists, even at the cost of his own life. Now he’s over 200 it's not as if he was a lad anymore although watching this story it is clear he still likes behaving like one. The third Doctor with his charming manners fits into this period of history effortlessly and it is a pity that we didn't get to experience more stories where he skipped back in time and ingratiated himself in the past. It is a pity that this is the last combination of Pertwee and Holmes because they bring the best out in each other.
Sumptuous Sarah: Sarah's introduction is a world away from Jo's and that is both deliberate and necessary. Instead of losing her head, attempting to blow UNIT HQ sky high and working as a pawn for the villain (as her predecessor did), she is introduced as a thinker from the off. An ambitious career woman who has already earned something of a reputation but hasn't quite reached the upper echelons of journalism and is waiting for her big story that will set her career on fire. She forces herself into the story, pretending to be her he aunt to get a good story for her paper. Rather than falling into the trap of being the one who asks all the questions because she is a dumb assistant, Sarah has a built in reason to do so, because she is a journalist and asking questions is what they do. We've not had a stowaway in the TARDIS for a while and she is probably (to my mind) the most welcome of the lot. Sarah being accosted by a peasant is hilarious – she really gives as good as she gets (‘If this is a rag day joke it isn’t funny!’). Go and watch the scene where she mouths off to Irongron and tries to figure out where she is; she manages to be bolshie (‘Get lost!’), cute, funny, annoying and perfectly plausible in her investigation of her setting. She’s not uncomely (raises eyebrows) according to the King and that never hurts your chances of sticking with the series for a lengthly period of time. Sarah as military advisor to Lord Wessex is quite brilliant, she's so feisty he declares that if he had an army of Sarah’s he could take the kingdom in record time. You wouldn't want to to get on this woman's bad side if her lack of intimidation before the gentry are anything to go by. In a marvelous set piece she takes great delight in informing the Doctor that she hasn't rescued him but captured him. Sarah manages to convince as both an insulting ‘Lady’ (‘Stand aside or I shall have you flogged!’) and a starving serving wench ('Look at that great spider!'). You could say that her reactionary character spec is occasionally mishandled (The Monster of Peladon) but in Holmes' hands an advocate of womans lib was never going to be allowed to lecture and he builds this side to the character into the story with his trademark wit - ‘What subservient poppycock! You’re still living in the Middle Ages!’ By the time they have disaptched of Linx and she has been able to see him in action, Sarah is perfectly convinced that he is a good guy (and rather a charming one at that) but she’s not so sure that the he isn't a magician.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘All my eggs in one basket’ ‘That’s fine so long as no one steals the basket…’
‘A straight line might be the most direct route between two points but it’s by no means the most interesting.’
‘Why don’t you take off that ridiculous gear and go home to your butchers shop!’
‘Are you wearing a hat?’
‘Young girl? I would have thought he was a bit old for that sort of thing?’
‘I’ll chop him up so fine that not even a sparrow will fill its beak!’
‘He’s just like a little boy stirring up and red ants and the black ants…’
‘Isn’t that a bit unsporting old chap? I mean sitting ducks and all that?’
‘I’m in no great hurry I assure you!’
‘He is a toad! Who knows what a toad thinks?’
The Good Stuff: Holmes has always found that the most effective way to bring the best out in his characters is to highlight one against another - hence the Holmesian double act as it has become known. Irongron and Bloodaxe are fairly strong characters (they are certainly strong personalities) in their own right but when the iron fisted approach of one is complimented by the dim witted indolence of the other you have comedy gold. David Daker and John Carney make a superb duo from their first scene, the two actors clearly egging each other on to see who can take their part the furthest. I could hang about with these Medieval coves all day. How refreshing it is to step back into history after being trapped in the present for so many years (with the odd excursion into the future and the occasion leap to a parallel universe). To walk into the past once more and let the BBC do what it does best, brew up an atmospheric historical drama, is the ultimate refreshment at this stage. Enduring Doctor Who monsters have to score on two fronts, impressive writing and memorable design. The design of the Sontaran ship is blissfully simple and yet elegant and plausible and the way his helmet matches the shape of domed head was a unique selling point at the time (later monsters like the Judoon steal this approach). It is fortunate that the production secured the talents of Kevin Lindsey to play Linx because he is throwing himself at the part without any hint that he is playing an alien character, it is a straight up performance of an intriguing character laced with subtle nuances. Holmes was the ultimate anarchist when it came to Doctor Who writers and I bet the idea of supplying contemporary weapons to characters in the Middle Ages appealed to him greatly, his revenge against Dicks for giving him an assignment he initially didn't have much interest in. Ruebish is one of those characters that is completel peripheral to the plot and just turns up to comment wryly on the action and to give the scientists a face. Holmes ensures his presence is a delight, however, with some very witty lines (‘I haven’t seen my wife and family for three days now. Just goes to show there’s always a silver lining!’). Whilst Alan Rowe remains quite forgettable in the role of the fey King, June Brown makes her presence felt as his slightly sinister wife - ‘Does he walk so high that an arrow cannot reach him?’ I always enjoy seeing the TARDIS in unusual places, it is a prop that seems to transplant into any location and look as if it belongs there and certainly looks magnificent atop a leafy hill in the Middle Ages. It baffles me that the Sontaran make up would never be quite as good as it was here again. If they managed to achieve perfection in their initial appearance why did they devolve into dried up husks after each consecutive appearance? Friedlander remembers that this is a living, breathing induvidual and goes to the lengths to ensure that its skin glistens as though perspiring. In the Sontaran military academy they have hatchlings of over a million cadets and thus they can sustain massive causalities – it is clear that this race has been thoroughly thought through by Holmes (indeed when he came to hand his creations over to Bob Baker and Dave Martin in their sophomore outing they were more than a little perturbed to learn every little detail about the species from their creator, right down to their sexual habits!). All the sequences with the robot knight are a delight, especially the bizarre sight of the creature decapitated and with a chest full of arrows and still marching forward to attack. The production has clearly been given some consideration; the sets are mossy, straw laden and dripping with lichen and filth and they match the stylish location work (of which there is a generous amount) filmed around the castle. Doctor Who has often been known to call upon the atmosphere of verdant British forestry (some of my favourite examples are Image of the Fendhal, State of Decay, Castrovalva and The Visitation) and The Time Warrior always feels like it has been given an extra polish when they are larking about in the woods. In a story full of great set pieces, the noisy, stinking, smoky attack on Lord Wessex’s castle comes out on top. Holmes might not have got his legions of soldiers bearing arms on the castle but this still looks quite impressive for a TV production of the time. To give the Sontarans such an obvious flaw (the probic vent) is an inpsired move on Holmes' part and he explains away their pride of the weakness that ensures they must always face their enemies (a shame we never seem plug into their ships though). Thanks to this story I have had many a happy moment screaming 'Look at that great spider!' and enjoying the emotional carnage afterwards. After such an impressive debut it is a shame that Linx has to die but the idea that this is a cloned species means that we can always catch up with another version of his character at a later date.
The Bad Stuff: Whoever fitted Pertwee into the robot costume didn't dp a particularly good job of disguising him. The result is that Irongron looks a fool for not realising there is a Time Lord snuck away inside. The only part of the production that I can fault visually is the stock footage deployed to represent the castle being destroyed. It fails to convince on any level. Mind the CGI version on the DVD is one of the few times when the effects team have somehow done an even worse job.
Result: I can remember pouring over the Howe, Stammers and Walker handbooks when I was a young lad, taking in every detail of their thoroughly researched and polished efforts. The facts that they revealed about so many Doctor Who stories that I hadn't seen yet were essential. However, in retrospect there was one area where I felt that these mini bibles on the series let themselves down and that was the capsule reviews of each story. Perhaps I was too young to realise how subjective they are but I took every word of their opinion on each story as law and I have noticed that in and around that period (1990s) generally speaking their opinion on certain stories was absorbed by fandom and as a result periods of the show were neglected or ill considered as a result. Certain stories suffered greatly in this respect (The Romans, The Gunfighters), certain eras were heavily criticised (the 80s) and certain seasons went down as having relatively little merit. What's fascinating since then with the rise of the internet and plenty of discussion between regular Joe's of the merits of every and all aspect of Doctor Who is that many of these fan myths have been challenged and practically all of the stories/eras/season that were muddied have been re-evaluated and in some places elevated considerably. Season eleven is one such blighted season, one I was certain was going to be apalling based on Howe, Stammers & Walker's persuasive arguments against it. When I finally got around to watching all five adventures (it took me ages because I was so determined to avoid this obviously appalling year) I began my love affair with the tail end of the Pertwee era, a period of some shocking depreciation. So sit back and read as I take through one of my personal favourite years of the era and explore why I think it is so misrepresented. It all kicks off with The Time Warrior; a witty, characterful, pacy adventure that has no interest but to keep a giddy smile on your face for four episodes and succeeds in spades. Perhaps it came a little late in the day but it is wonderful to see the third Doctor enjoying a historical adventure and especially one so packed with action and great characters as this one. The effervescent script has great lines for every character and as a result each performance is lifted with Pertwee, Sladen, Daker and Lindsey in particular make the most of the opportunities that Holmes has presented them with. Behind the scenes talk may bemoan Alan Bromely's outdated approach to directing but you cannot fault much of what made it to the screen with the location work as polished as it gets for the era and some lively action and dialogue scenes keeping the story ticking over nicely. Holmes could happily tip his hand to most genres and like his earlier Carnival of Monsters he seems determined to make this tale as funny as possible and as a result it is one of my most re-watched stories. All eyes are on Sarah who is written with the sort of independence she wouldn't show again until her own series kick started in the noughties, and her feisty, no-nonsense attitude sets her apart from Jo immediately. It is clear that by the end of this story that Sladen and Pertwee are going to make one hell of a team. The Sontarans haven't been as precisely written since this adventure and Linx still stands proud as the definitive article when it comes to this popular race. The Time Warrior destroys the lie that the Pertwee era got worse as it went along, and remains one of the series' most entertaining serials: 9/10
Invasion of the Dinosaurs written by Malcolm Hulke and directed by Paddy Russell
Sassy Sarah: I adore Sarah Jane Smith; I feel the need to get that off my chest because you will never hear me say a bad word about her no matter how daft she acts. She could sometimes be written as a total dunce and a wimpering screamer to serve a plot point but thanks to Elisabeth Sladen's commited performance and the general feeling of the production team that this character is something worth treasuring Sarah manages to transcend any faults she might have to become something a bit special. The ultimate Doctor Who companion. I remember having a total crush on her when I was eight which played havoc with my burgeoning sexuality. Looking back it was because I wanted to be like her; brave in the face of danger, travelling through time and space and having a wail of a time with the Doctor. Watching Sarah develop in this season is a fascinating experience because she manages to go full circle; starting out as a career woman who investigates unusual phenomena (such as she does in this adventure featuring time travel and dinosaurs), becoming something of an intergalactic hippie who adopts the lifestyle of travelling with the Doctor as her own before being ceremoniously dumped back on Earth and picking up the pieces, once again investigation unusual activity as a side bar to her career in The Sarah Jane Adventures. Hulke characterises Sarah as a razor sharp career girl, independent enough from the Doctor to ignore him and follow her own hunches regardless of how much he dismisses her. Sarah tries to rationalize everything, making sense of the story in her own way and in doing so she manages to figure out who is behind everything and why (in doing so she leaves herself in their clutches but nobody's perfect). Sarah is the one who figures out where the experiments are and how they are being powered and it is Sarah who sniffs out the villains. That is sharp contrast with Jo who often needed everything spelt out for her. Always thinking of her career, Sarah wants to take some snaps of a T-Rex to sell to the papers once the crisis is over. She talks about contacts and makes her own allies, she feels far more grounded in the real world than any of the previous companions. She’s brave too, jumping on the back of a knife wielding maniac and is willing to open an airlock and risk being spat out into space to prove her theory that the spaceship set up is a sham. Sarah is the story’s conscience, pointing out how cruel it is to delude the environmentalists and pointing out that rolling back time is worse than murder. Sarah rocks, always has and always will.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘So much for honour amongst thieves!’
‘Doctor, you’re under arrest!’
‘If we don’t get down there there won’t be a London Transport to explain to!’
The Good Stuff: The deserted London scenes are fantastically eerie. Decades before 28 Days Later, Paddy Russell takes to London in the early hours of Sunday morning without permission and takes some staggering material of a thriving city before it has stirred. I always loved the fact that the first episode only existed in black and white, like Planet of the Daleks episode three and The Mind of Evil it felt grittier for it. Regardless of whether it is viewed in monochrome or colour, the first episode is still the most atmospheric for many a season with a chilling central mystery of why London is deserted, strong roles for both the Doctor and Sarah trying figure this thing out and some terrifying moments such as the looters in the jewelers store. Suddenly it feels as though we are back in season seven territory. The mashed up car and bloodied corpse really help to sell the idea that some terrible danger has befallen the capital city. In this emergency UNIT are suddenly a powerful military force again, evacuating London, and serving a much more important purpose (protection) than the muscle behind the Doctor's adventures. I really like the idea of UNIT setting up shop in a school as it makes a refreshing change from the usual laboratory sets and it adds to the feeling that this state of emergency has been staged in a hurry. After forgetting about the character for some time it seems that Letts and Dicks have decided to give Mike Yates a memorable send off. This kind of dark character development is almost unheard of in Doctor Who (where the heroes remain heroes and the villains remain villains) and it is very refreshing that the events that shook up Mike in The Green Death are built upon so effectively. Not since the Brigadier blew up the Silurians has there been a suggestion that anybody in UNIT could be working against the greater good. For all their love of weaponry and explosions, the organisation has always been characterised (via the Brig, Yates and Benton) as doing what they do for the best of intentions. Yates' sabotage of the Doctor's experiments gives Invasion of the Dinosaurs a real edge and Richard Franklin really seems to appreciate the chance to play something other than the usual whiter than white Mike. Despite the fact that they are underwritten, Peter Miles and Martin Jarvis make a terrific villainous duo and if I were going to cast a pair of bad guys their names would be at the top of my list. Hulke never sets out to write a story with an outright moral compass, nobody is truly good or truly evil as he paints his characters in shades of grey. Grover's aims might be extreme but he is reacting to a situation that he considers has spiraled out of control and wants to give the Earth another chance. His moralistic and played subtly so he never comes across as anything but a normal guy who cares about the way the world has been abused. (I love his ‘I do hope in the future we can be friends’ to Sarah despite her attempts to expose him). This is a part that could so easily be written an played in a melodramatic fashion and it pleases me that Hulke and Russell ensure that he maintains his integrity even in the wake of such a lunatic scheme. The blue pulsing lights that freak out Sarah have a similarly disorienting effect on the viewer. I have complaint against the cliffhanger to episode three but it is one of my favourites because it comes from nowhere and doesn't give you enough time to think through the implausibility of the reveal ('we left Earth three months ago!'). With no way of rewinding the tape when this was first broadcast and checking to see if Sarah really did still have the bump on the her head or not, viewers must have been left wondering what is going on. I am sometimes hard on Dudley Simpson's soundtracks but I do think he is a genuinely talented composer who conjured up some enthralling scores for the series. Nobody could work on a show for the span that he did and not possess some degree of skill. Check out his subtle whiplash underscore as the Doctor investigates the bunker, providing an atmosphere that wobbly sets are lacking. Even more awesome is his work when the Doctor is on the run for his life, Dudley employs every instrument at his disposal (I especially like the sax work when he is evading the guards in the woods) to make sure this critical sequence is given the appropriate fanfare. Carmen Silvera is a real acting coup and she works wonders with a role that is written in a very narrow minded way, making Ruth a real person rather than an obstruction to Sarah's escape. Being a Farscape fan hearing the name John Crichton made me squeal. The naivete of the greatest environmental minds thinking they are off to an unspoilt planet that will cared for with the utmost precision is astonishing but it is a very pleasant idea which assumes the best of the people they have selected so you can understand why it seduced them. Hulke isn't about to condemn the human race in it's entirety, allowing both sides to make their case (Sarah passionately states that Grover has a warped view of things) case in this very balanced argument. You have Ruth and Mark talking about cruelty and degradation on one hand and Sarah fighting back with love and beauty on the other. The script points out the things worth fighting for whilst also highlighting some of our ugliest mistakes, it is a very intelligent overview of the best and worst of humanity. With dinosaurs. UNIT hunting the Doctor is beautifully shot with sweeping helicopters, car chases through derelict hangars and woodland evasions, really selling the idea that this a desperate Time Lord that would be dragged back to his employers in chains. ‘Well Doctor you better overpower me’ says Benton and you can’t help but adore this lovable grunt. The Mexican standoff between the Brig and the General is filmed during a beautiful sunset, capturing the beauty of one of the Brig's finest moments. All the UNIT gang get great moments to shine but the best scene comes when Mike holds the gang at gunpoint. It is clear that he has gone too far now and once this emergency is over he will be relieved of his duty and forced out of service. As though Hulke (or Courtney) are bored of the principled tone of the series, the Doctor’s ‘moral of the day’ is undercut by the Brigadiers deadpan, ‘hmm.’ It makes me howl every time.
Dangerous Dinos: I don’t want to shove the discussion of the dinosaurs into either the good or bad sections but a special little category of their own. They deserve it. No they are not the most effective special effects that the show has ever produced and yes they do threaten to take you out of the action but there is an earnestness to their presentation that I really admire despite the shoddy workmanship. The way paddy Russell charges on, directing the hilt out of this story despite the cringe-worthy effects, shows you something about a woman who is willing to fight on through adversity. Some of the physical effects work more effectively, the Pterodactyl attack is edited so fast that you barely have time to register and its vicious jaws bursting through the car window actually makes for quite a decent shock. The T Rex does look gloriously like the Chewits monster…but he also has a similarity to Sram from Terrahawks (which I haven’t seen for many a year but I can still remember vividly). See if you can find Google Sram and you’ll see what I mean. Look at the care that has gone into creating the miniature sets for the dinosaurs wander about in - there are buildings, level crossings, subway stations, aircraft hangars and on the whole they all look pretty authentic. When Big Man T-Rex first appears his head explodes from a building with his little claws wobbling furiously in a very cute fashion - probably not the effect they were aiming for. He stomps off behind a building as if to say ‘I’ve had enough of this nonsense!’ as the squaddies keep tossing grenades at him! The Stegosaurus looks rather good and the model industrial estate he wanders about in is excellent. Under the spell of chromakey, the Brontosaurus wobbles precariously but again it is a fairly decent static model. Drunk T-Rex falls face first to the floor and we see him snoozing like a baby through the window, the result of chomping his way through one too many barrels of booze. Dozy Dino finally wakes up thanks to Sarah’s flash happy camera and whilst the attack on her shouldn’t work (because the thing looks ridiculous), Lis Sladen is so convincingly terrified when the tail smashes through the window I was almost seduced into believing this was actually happening. Terrifying T-Rex head butts the hangar girders and bursts through the wall as if to say ‘Surprise!’ Fighting off the Pterodactyl with a mop has to be seen to be believed, Jurrasic Park it aint. It’s nice to see a Dino with road safety and the Brontosaurus waits patiently beside traffic bollards. Celebrity Dino Death Match! Big Man T-Rex vs. Billy Bronto! How on Earth did they think they could ever do this justice? Driving through Bad Boy Bronto’s legs is something you know the Doctor will be bragging about for years to come. Perhaps one or two dinos stuck around at the end of this adventure, giving an explanation to the rampant spate of Jurassic attacks in the ITV series Primeval. I love the dinos in this story, it's the sardonic part of me that enjoys time in their company and they add a massive dollop of kitsch to an already hugely enjoyable story.
The Bad Stuff: More of a complaint actually, the Doctor states ‘Great Britain always closes on Sundays.’ I wish. The Scots soldier accent slips from scene to scene. We've had to cope with the idea of crap looking dinosaurs invading London and Mike Yates as a traitor, did we really need the shock of the Whomobile as well? It is possibly the most glorious expression of Pertwee’s midlife crisis yet. Look at all that litter on the streets of London, not a very subtle visual clue of how much we are polluting the planet. A big raspberry for episode four where the Dinos disappear for the length of a bible and the plot runs on the spot whilst the Doctor makes his way down to the underground base…only to make his way back up again! Invasion of the Dinosaurs probably suffers the most from the Howe, Stammers Walker handbooks (and television companion), they rip this story to shreds whilst failing to see any of its merits. Just as my reviews are entirely subjective, that was absolutley the case with the handbooks too and everybody is entitled to their opinion. The difference is that there really wasn't many other professionally written books at the time or anybody making much of a counter argument for these panned adventures. Which is not a fault of the authors, perhaps.
The Shallow Bit: I love how Sarah's dress sense changes as she adopts the time travelling lifestyle. At first it was all feminist trouser suits and leather jackets (admittedly a look that Lis Sladen can pull off) and before long it's Victorian dresses, denim dungarees and 'just like Andy Pandy.' Pertwee's bouffant is extraordinary in this adventure, looking for all the world as though he has stuck his finger in a power socket and it gave him more volume than he bargained for. John Crichton (did I mention how much I love that name?) fills out his tight T-shirt and even tighter trousers very nicely indeed.
Result: I will defend the many strengths of Invasion of the Dinosaurs until my dying breath. It is a story that has been slated on the strength of its (admittedly defunct) special effects which seems to blind the critical audience to its manifest of treats. Episode one is an atmospheric chiller with an claustrophobic feel despite the wealth of dazzling location work and it leads into an adventure that remembers many of the strengths of season seven (the darker tone, the well written guest cast, moral ambiguity that throws open interesting debate) and even some of weaknesses (padding, naff monsters) and conjures up a time before the UNIT adventures got too cosy. Malcolm Hulke's ridiculously ambitious premise is sold completely on the strength of the performances and the entire cast acquit themselves perfectly. Sladen's presence as Sarah is already opening up fresh storytelling possibilities and it is so refreshing to have a companion cutting loose from the Doctor and indulging in their own investigations. I was surprised when the DVD came out that the Dinos weren't given a CGI replacement option (I guess it was too expensive) but I'm actually rather pleased because I secretly worship them, it's like Jason and the Argonauts meets the Chewits monster adverts and it might just be the ultimate expression of b-movie kitsch (a genre I am mad for) in Doctor Who. If you can't see past shaky special effects then you are watching the wrong show. Paddy Russell directed for the show four times and proved (as Fiona Cumming did during the fifth Doctor's era) that it is a shame that more female directors didn't get to cut their teeth on the show (her other gems include The Massacre, Pyramids of Mars and Horror of Fang Rock). Dodgy Dinos aside, she has total control over this production ensuring that the performances and location work compensate for any failings elsewhere. Some mark it as padding but I really enjoy the scenes of the Doctor on the run from UNIT and truth be told this is easily the organisations last truly interesting exploration (although it is starting to feel like Star Trek's Federation where every Admiral is corrupt). Pertwee gives his finest performance of the last season here (the last episode of Planet of the Spiders excepted) and seems genuinely energized by this love letter to his first season in the role. Despite a few minor complaints I have always found this story extremely engaging and re-visiting it today I haven’t changed my opinion at all. Big Man T-Rex is still on top: 9/10
Death to the Daleks written by Terry Nation and directed by Michael Briant
Good Grief: The Doctor always comes back from Florana feeling a hundred years younger, this is another of the Doctor’s mystical unseen pleasure worlds that we never get to visit. This is how he coaxes these young slips into the TARDIS, isn't it? He knows they will always end up somewhere cold and miserable but instead he promises seas of warm milk (ugh!). A much forgotten team, once again there are some lovely moments between the third Doctor and Sarah. He finally loses it when another companion complains about his poor piloting skills, although in his defence the TARDIS has been drawn to Florana and drained of power. It is the first time he has had the chance to taunt the Daleks without the fear of them blasting the crap out of him and he really looks as though he is enjoying the experience. I love the cold logic of this statement - ‘The only alternative to living is dying’ - it feels as though they are introducing the possibility that the Doctor could die and accept the inevitable before it actually takes place in Planet of the Spiders. Leaping into a religious ceremony, the Doctor risks execution to save Sarah’s life. I love the scenes of the Doctor and Sarah creeping through the catacombs trying to convince each other that the growling up ahead is just a subterranean wind effect (‘Next time you have an idea…keep it to yourself.’). Watch out for the gorgeous moment when the Doctor tells Sarah that he might not be coming back from the city and strokes her face intimately and looks for all the world as though he is going to kill her. There is far more going on here than is in the script, Pertwee and Sladen suggesting a depth of intimacy that goes beyond anything even the Doctor and Jo experienced. Pertwee’s Doctor is so casually arrogant you have to admire his audacity: ‘The city defies all attempts to interfere with it’ ‘I think I know a way.’ The universe is now down to 699 wonders, which makes the Doctor sad.
Juicy Journalist: Sarah can sink anywhere, apparently. I love her sense of humour in adversity (‘hooray for old fashioned oil!’) and at this stage of the game I've long forgotten all about Jo Grant (Who fans are fickle like that). She’s smart enough to head back into the TARDIS when she is wearing inappropriate clothing for the climate, more in tune with the new series companions in that respect (or more specifically, Donna). The Doctor admits that Sarah is rather headstrong and is probably out looking for him rather than remaining in the safety of the TARDIS. He's got the measure of her alright. She's not afraid to get into something of a scrap either, roughing up Bellal when he tries to drag her away from the Doctor and hysterically attacking the Doctor with questions when he manages to escape the Dalek. The Doctor needs an assistant who can think on her feet and the way Sarah gets Jill to fill the bags full of sand and sneak the perrinum away from them proves she is made of the right stuff.
The Good Stuff: I've heard an awful lot of criticism about Death to the Daleks in the past but I really cannot see what its detractors are going on about. It might be because this is one of the very first 'old' Doctor Who stories that I ever watched. I remember getting my hands on the edited together video version (I can still hum the BBC Video music with the star logo) and watching it over and over as a lad, thrust into a world of dangerous primitives, devious Daleks, roots which burst from underground to set folk on fire and a whole bunch of arrows shooting through the air. To my twelve year old eyes it was the most exciting thing I had ever seen. The Doctor was stalwart and true, Sarah Jane was brave and beautiful and the Daleks were both helpless and awesomely powerful. Exxilon was the most exciting world in the universe, with creepy underground caverns, misty quarries and a beautiful city that shone with brilliance. I loved it then and when I stick on now it still excites me greatly now, and not just for nostalgic reasons. Michael E. Briant was one of the more innovative directors and he goes to some lengths to ensure this story is executed in as unusual and atmospheric a way as possible. The opening scenes look gorgeous, a man runs through the misty half-light and is shot in the stomach with a arrow, falling to his death into muddy water. How could you not get excited by a dark and mysterious opening sequence like that? Now the TARDIS is back in action, Nation can be relied on to give the ship a new spin (just like he did in Planet of the Daleks with the fungus shooting plants removing all of the ships oxygen) and it is fascinating to watch the old girl lose her juice and fall dead and silent. Suddenly the ship becomes a frightening place full of shadows and silence, almost sepulchral. Watch carefully for Exxilon hands groping at the sand and rocks as the Doctor and Sarah explore the landscape, very subtle and creepy. This might be one of the creepiest worlds the Doctor has visited yet, or at least certainly in the first episode. The atmosphere is genuinely frightening - check out Sarah running through the misty moonlit fog back to the apparent safety of the TARDIS. Briant uses fades to suggest the passing of time and POV shots to put the audience in the uncomfortable position of being the monster that is attacking Sarah in the TARDIS. Don't get this Doctor or companion frightened, they both deck the crap out of the Exxilon's that they encounter. I tend to applaud successful effects more than I criticize ones that haven't worked because the budget that supported Doctor Who was miniscule and so when something as glorious as the Exxilon city is created it is genuinely worth celebrating for all the effort that has gone into making it work. A story that features stereotypes such as Stone Age tribes, a sacred city, rock monsters and stock SF uniformed characters really shouldn’t work but everybody is treating the story with such gravity that it transcends its cliches into something quite absorbing. Nation is testing out his fresh idea of a plague that devastates the population (which would later go on to power his series Survivors) and for once it is nice to have the stakes this high, with the lives of ten million people hanging in the balance over the consequences of this story. Candle lit, incence laced sacrifice scenes manage to generate an atmosphere all of their own that suggests a genuine society outside of the confines of this story, especially with the (very catchy) chanting. Even though the Daleks are powerless (probably the best idea in a story bubbling with innovation) you just know the devious buggers will find a way to overcome their impotence and turn on their allies eventually. Much of the underlying tension comes in waiting for them to make their move, whilst pretending to co-operate. It is no secret to say that Carey Blyton's score for Death to the Daleks has come in for some flack in the past but I personally think that it is his most accomplished soundtrack for the series. I loved it as a child with its simple, catchy tunes and to this day I can join in with most of the cues. The Dalek theme has been bashed for being slightly comedic but cannot you imagine those scenes of them wobbly along the sand dunes without it? Sacrilege. The most interesting of the human characters is Galloway, so it is a good thing that he gets the most screen time. He's a character painted in shades of grey, never quite a hero or a villain and his death bed conversation with Stewart suggests a tense back story between the two of them that is never explore further. It's a story that isn't afraid to promote some powerful imagery and the Dalek whose head blows off after coming under attack by the Exxilons and their subsequent use of its burning shell as a totem pole made for quite the video cover when this story was first released. Can you honestly look me in the eye and tell me you don't find the idea of Daleks fitted with machines the most exciting idea of all time? When they blast away in the inner sanctum with casual abandon it is total carnage that would make Eric Saward smile. I remember thinking that I wished Bellal would step into the TARDIS with the Doctor and Sarah at the end of this adventure when I was younger, although looking at the story as an adult it is hard to imagine him fitting in with any of the subsequent stories (maybe Monster of Peladon with its menagerie of aliens). Arnold Yarrow takes what is usually a standard role (the friendly alien that aids the Doctor) and turns it into something much more memorable, creating a very likable ally and wonderfully sweet-tempered character in Bellal. I have recently come to the conclusion (thanks to a marathon viewing of Blake's 7 and Survivors) that Terry Nation is a much better ideas man than I ever gave him credit and looking through his catalogue of Doctor Who stories they are littered with exciting, engaging concepts. The back story of Exxilon can be added to that list, a people who created their own downfall by building a city that can protect, repair and maintain itself. A structure with a brain that turned on its creators that leeches off the power of passing ships, that also gives a clever explanation for the energy problems in the first episode. Have you ever screamed so hard at the TV so hard that your voice has gone hoarse? Imagine my 12 year old self deploring the Exxilon that is set alight by the root to fall backwards in the water! Nowadays I can see the strings holding the hoover pipe up but back then it was just the most rivetting thing I had ever seen. A building full of puzzles and games that kill you in you lose - what is this Knightmare? The maze on the wall, the deadly IKEA flooring, the hypno room and Daleks in hot pursuit…how could kids fail to love this? How could adults resist either? The Daleks are right hard nuts, gliding across the flooring of death and blasting the crap out of it when it only gives them a mild headache. I can think of few moments in Doctor Who as psychedelic and and freakish as the sanity assault, Briant deploys simple but mind numbing effects to drive the Doctor out of his mind. The story keeps coming up with fun ideas; the city creating antibodies to protect itself is a lovely touch of zombie horror in a story that has already thrown some pretty scary moments at the young'uns. The Doctor and Bellal run through the city whilst it has a nervous breakdown which translates into doors having a paddy and the lights dimming but the effect is quite disorientating. The Daleks are like big kids; once they have taken the Perineum they want to scorch the planet so nobody else can have any. Galloway’s suicide is a lovely touch of ambiguity at the end of the tale because he isn't the sort of character you would imagine would be capable of self sacrifice.
The Bad Stuff: If Galloway is the most interesting of the human characters, Jill Tarrant (what is it with Nation and that name?) is the most irritating and played with robotic incredulity. Why we need a character this goofy who states the obvious all the time baffles me...isn't that what the companion is for? The Dalek saucer once again looks remarkably like a bottle top…did they learn nothing from Planet of the Daleks? The root sequences might feature some explosive Dalek action but hanging a hoover pipe from a string is precisely the sort of nonsense that non-fans are expecting when they tune in. The chatter between the Daleks is as banal as ever and in the least subtle plotting ever witnessed they scream their underhanded plan aloud metres from their new allies. The editing of the third cliffhanger is bizarre, showing the Doctor's horrified reaction to...flooring! Is this the first time we have seen a Dalek have a nervous breakdown because it has failed one task? Michael Wisher is having a field day with the voice work but it really does seem that these creatures fall to pieces at the slightest possibility of failure. It’s a shame the death of the city is so clearly model work although the melting walls and screaming are both great touches.
Result: I got this story for my twelfth birthday and can still remember trembling with excitement as I inserted the video into the machine and sat down by my mums feet in the near dark of the living and watched Death to the Daleks from beginning to end. It had it all as far as I was concerned; the Doctor doing aikido, Sarah Jane being menaced in the TARDIS, a creepy foggy planet to explore, aliens, fights, sacrifices, hidden secrets, sentient buildings, puzzles...and Daleks! To this twelve year old boy there was never going to be a Doctor Who story that topped this one. Unfortunately jaded adult eyes have since viewed Death to the Daleks and spotted strings holding up the root, dodgy CSO and bottle cap Dalek saucers and so it has lost a little of its edge but when I slip in the shiny DVD version I still get that buzz of excitement when watching. I wish I could turn off my critical faculties sometimes and simply enjoy something for what it is (Simon has this ability and I would love to be able to adopt it at times) but Death to the Daleks still works for me for the most part.At four parts this story has a fantastic pace and there’s always half a dozen things to overcome that keeps the momentum going. The new look Daleks are pretty snazzy, looking for all the world as though they have stepped off an assembling line rather than tatty BBC props. It's little but a stack of really groovy set pieces but each of them work to a greater or lesser extent and Michael Briant keeps the story visually arresting throughout. Nowhere near as tired and worn as people will lead you to believe, this is an inventive and snazzy little piece with plenty of atmosphere: 8/10
The Monster of Peladon written by Brian Hayles and directed by Lennie Mayne
This story in a nutshell: A return to the medieval world of Peladon…
Good Grief: ‘I can’t believe he’s dead. He was the most alive person I’ve ever met…’ I found the Jon Pertwee interview in the latest issues of DWM extremely interesting especially with regards to his approach to the role in season eleven. By all accounts he was grieving for the loss of Katy Manning and Roger Delgado, he was working with the knowledge that the role that had made him a household name was soon to come to an end and he was no longer surrounded by comforts such as UNIT and the Brigadier on a regular basis. To throw in a new assistant must have been tricky especially after his relationship with Katy Manning was so spectacular. And yet somehow (and this is something that he acknowledges with some pride) there is a palpable chemistry between him and Sarah Jane that is vastly different from that of the third Doctor and Jo and also acres apart from the relationship between the fourth Doctor and Sarah. It is there in their games of trust in The Time Warrior, and when he tempts her with the delights of a trip to Florana in Invasion of the Dinosaurs, and when he cups her face so intimately in Death to the Daleks before he heads off to the City of the Exxilons. And it’s never felt keener in the lead up to the regeneration scene in Planet of the Spiders – I can’t think of a scene more intimately played between two actors in Doctor Who. There is something very special between them, a Doctor a little past his best and a companion in her prime and brought together they ground each other and produce real magic. Away from Sarah is where the problems lie (at least with this story, I think Pertwee acquits himself rather well in every other season eleven story) as Pertwee seems to breeze through one scene to the next without a care in the world. Is this really the same Doctor who screamed out in frustration when the world was burning in Inferno? It almost feels as if the return to Peladon was in some way appeasing the leading man by surrounding him with familiar things before his swansong but the resulting effort that he puts into his performance is subjacent to the norm. Saying all that the characterisation is still mostly excellent and he lives up to the typical Terrance Dicks description of the Doctor (which is as succinct an example as you are going to get); he’s charming and courteous, protects the underdog, is never cruel or cowardly and faces death in order to save lives. Perhaps Pertwee is a little more complacent than usual but there is certainly no part of this story that you could point at and say he is giving a poor performance or that the Doctor is behaving out of character (and that is not something you could always say about various other incarnations). It’s moments like the Doctor hypnotising Aggedor with his spinning mirror whilst singing a Venusian Lullaby when I love Doctor Who the most. No other show in the history of anything ever would dare to present anything as absurd as this. It’s lovely that the Doctor gets to indulge in one more swordfight before his regeneration and Pertwee’s Doctor looks magnificent clashing swords with Ettis (Terry Walsh, less so). The Doctor is at his best in episode six when he tinkers about in the refinery and continues to be witty and defiant even when Eckersley throws all the mind tricks he can at him.
Investigative Journalist: It’s interesting to compare how Brian Hayles writes for his two female protagonists in the Peladon stories. Drippy Jo is easily shoehorned into the role of playing royalty and falling in love whereas tomboy Sarah spends her time arguing her way out of trouble, grappling with soldiers and miners and taking an active role in the fight to reclaim the planet. It looks like women’s lib really has dawned on this show. In her Doctor Who career Lis Sladen has had to convince in the face some pretty absurd looking props posing as monsters (she managed to make Big Man T-Rex from Invasion of the Dinosaurs a genuine threat for a few seconds, that’s how good she is) but her fazed reaction to being first confronted with Alpha Centuri clearly shows that she is being pushed to the absolute limits. She soon slips into her groove and they develop and affectionate relationship. It’s how the other characters react to Centuri that make it so convincing (at least to me). Come episode two she stands between Centuri and sword wielding mainiac, grappling with Ettis with her usual spunk. Show don’t tell has always been my philosophy so having Sarah ram the idea of feminism down Tharila’s throat is the one time when I felt that she was a walking diatribe rather than a authentic character with an attitude that favours equality. I half expected her to walk out the throat room declaring ‘power to the batches!’ and clicking her fingers. It’s a shame because everywhere else in this story Sarah is handled as excellently as ever. Episode six is great for Sarah where she gets to hold a gun on Eckersley, bravely face what she thinks is going to be a shot to the back and grieve over the loss of her best friend.
Menagerie: It’s not secret that this is direct sequel to The Curse of Peladon and as such it tries to cram in as many of the popular monsters from that story as possible whilst trying to add a few more to the mythos. It’s also true that I have an unerring affection for Alpha Centuri which completely bypasses my good taste chip and forces me to ignore all the design faults and naiveté that goes into creating such a creature. Whether it’s Ysanne Churchman’s insanely shrill voice, Stuart Fell’s intimate gesturing (oo-er), Brian Hayles’ scripting or simply because I immediately sympathise with any creature that looks that phallic I couldn’t tell but in my mind this is a living, breathing ‘penis in a cloak’ (TM Terrance Dicks) and in no way a rubber costume with a stuntman inside. In fact in my more delirious moments I can be seen menacing my husband around the flat with my hands as claws going ‘che-che-che…we could all have been killed!’ and trying to grapple the phone off him as he attempts to ring the local nuthouse. His bitchy line in episode five ‘thank you Eckersley but you are still a traitor!’ might be the best thing in this entire story. Vega Nexos doesn’t last beyond episode one but he continues the bizarre fascination of trying to make all aliens that visit Peladon as weird as possible, what with his glassy boss-eyed stare, his bare man boobs and his impressively hairy legs. Perhaps not the most convincing of races ever developed for the show but the way everybody seems to accept him convinces the viewer that this is a perfectly acceptable representative of his planet. Although given that the make up and costume artistes have failed to glue his eyes on in line makes that hard to swallow at times. Needless to say I have been looking for a head warmer in the style of the Peladon miner badger wear but to no avail. I hate it when science fiction shows feel the need to give their aliens funny haircuts to try and suggest their otherworldliness and this a particularly comical example. Bless Rex Robinson for acting his way out of it, the only miner to escape the show with any real dignity. Aggedor is still a man in a monkey suit but Lennie Mayne seems more careful this time to keep him in the shadows and to shoot him dramatically with quick cuts.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Quite the little Napoleon, aren’t we?’
- Since this is our second visit to Peladon it is quite nice to see how the place looks given another airing. This planet made quite an impact back in season nine, offering up a stormy, wind lashed castle atop a mountain with creepy catacombs to play about in. Monster re-uses the same sets but there is definitely a different vibe this time around. I would say that the main sets feel plainer and the lighting is far simpler (it isn’t helped by what is clearly supposed to be an imaginatively shot high angle in the throne room that really exposes the paucity of the set and the flatness of the studio floor) and less atmospheric but the catacombs (they’re called mines this time) are much improved for being shot on film. It genuinely feels as though they have found some old mine workings to film the show in. Regardless it’s still a fun playhouse of gothic trappings to play about in.
- What to make of the Aggedor creature? Through the eyes of an adult it is clearly a poorly disguised bit of trickery (although the mass murder it commits is certainly a convincing point in its favour) but to a young child this might just be the ultimate fright. A glowing, roaring, giant statue that belches smoke and strikes people dead with a breath of fire. Plus it zips about all over the place, appearing apparently at random and it is that unpredictability that gives it is edge. Mind you the extra that dies in the first scene is almost as frightening, or at least his performance is.
- Donald Gee as Eckersley is so charming, affable and carefree that it would have been a greater surprise if he hadn’t turned out to be the villain. He’s also decked in black leather, camp as hell, smooths his way in with Sarah and revels in being the sexiest person around on Peladon. And his hands never stray far from his hips. He really couldn’t give off any more indications that he is up to no good. Half the fun is waiting for him to make his move whilst wrapping everybody around his little finger. I wont say that Gee is giving a particularly nuanced performance (because he really isn’t) but he does everything that the script requires of him. Only a baddie would hop into a room and exclaim ‘Alright chum, I’m here, what’s the panic?’ When the Ice Warriors turn up he brilliantly refuses to admit that any of this argy-bargy is anything to do with him and the way that Azaxyr treats him so gently suggests that there might have been some interspecies romance in the past between them. He’s the sort of villain who every bugger can eavesdrop on at the appropriate point and hear him rubbing his hands together and cooing ‘fooled them all…’ Eckersley even knows which camera to turn to in a sweep of villainous decadence as he declares that once the Ice Warriors win he will be ruler of Earth. Despite his many failings, you can’t help but love this guy (when he pulls out his gun to shoot a bystander he does so with an apologetic ‘sorry chum’). Thalira is appalled by the mess of bodies in the mines both Pels and Ice Warriors and as proof that he has what it takes to make it with the best baddies Eckersley looks around and shrugs ‘never mind.’ What a guy. Anything less than a tussle with Ageddor would have been a disapointing end for him.
- Anyone who argues that the Pertwee era didn’t have a deliberate political agenda (stand up Terrance) must surely crumble in the face of the complaints that the miners bring to the Doctor in the form of bad pay, terrible working conditions and no thanks. It’s nice that Doctor Who can bridge the gap between fiction and reality like this and make a Citizen Smith stand for the underdog. It even ensures that the miners aren’t entirely blameless in what they are accused of either to keep things balanced.
- Hindsight is a wonderful thing but the whole mystery of what is behind the refinery door generates some great suspense early in the story that is somewhat lacking in the miner plot.
- Functional, adequate and acceptable are all uncomplimentary words to toss at a director but I mean them with the greatest respect when it comes to Lennie Mayne’s handling of this story. He’s not looking to revolutionise genre television (like Graeme Harper) or to craft each shot artistically (stand up David Maloney) or even turn the show into a masterpiece of action (a round of applause for Douglas Camfield) but instead Mayne wants to provide six episodes of rollicking entertainment. I wouldn’t even say it is Mayne’s best direction (that for me would be The Hand of Fear) but he seems very comfortable here (perhaps a little too comfortable on the odd occasion) and every now and again there is a shot that really makes you ponder how the hell he did that (such as the long shot looking up from the pit at the Queen, Ortron and Centuri staring down). The POV shot of the miners attacking an Ice Warrior from inside the helmet is quite imaginative too.
- The end of episode three is a doozy with an Ice Warrior baring down on the camera. It’s precisely what I have been hankering for since the very beginning…some real menace. I really like the mind games that they chose to play with the Ice Warriors in the Pertwee era, first pulling off a coup by having them turn up as noble and honest creatures in Curse of Peladon (against all expectations) and now reversing that innovation and having them return to their malignant ways (although a line is slipped in to suggest this a splinter group so their portrayal in Curse is still how the race should be seen in general). To be honest I prefer them as baddies because there is something marvellously chilling about their design and menacing about the way they are shot. The green carapace armour looks fantastic in colour and they add to the rich blush (the Doctor’s coat, the royal purples of the Queen and Ortron’s costumes) that stand out from all the beiges and browns on offer elsewhere. Alan Bennion plays a very different kind of Ice Lord to the one he presented in Curse, relishing the chance to play bad and spit out each line for all they are worth. My one complaint about the Ice Warriors is that one of their number has been fitted with a helmet so smiley that he lacks any menace when he stomps along the corridors with a huge grin plastered all over his face (it wouldn’t seem out of place for him to scream ‘please be my friend!’ as he pursues all and sundry). Brilliantly the Ice Warriors take out eight miners in about three seconds, showing that they mean business. Although they get their comeuppance when Aggedor turns on them (and make sure you keep your eyes peeled for the Ice Warrior who legs it up the passage when two of his chums get disintegrated). Ice Warriors are clearly not above the old hiding behind pillars routine and waiting until the miners are up close and then cutting them all down (think of the similar trick that Daleks pulled off in their first story with the Thals).
- In typical tidy Terrance Dicks style, the narrative turns back on itself when the Ice Warriors arrive so the miners that had been such a threat in the first half of the story are now working with the Doctor and co (except Ettis of course but he’s got problems) to try and save the planet. Azaxyr’s terror methods unite the people of Peladon to rise up against their oppressors. It’s no neat you could write a thesis on it. It’s practically the same tight narrative construction that unfolds in Paradise Towers but it is (mostly) praised in that story and declared lazy in Monster of Peladon. Come episode five I had completely forgotten about the identity of the miscreant controlling the ‘spirit of Aggedor’ so the way it is suddenly dropped in was a great surprise. Then for the Doctor to figure out how the trick was done and use it against those who were exploiting it in the first place…Terrance Dicks’ elegance at its finest.
- I don’t know if the scripts for Planet of the Spiders were written at this point but there is some marvellous foreshadowing for the events that were about to strike. The sequence where Sarah thinks the Doctor is dead is magnificently played by Elisabeth Sladen (you genuinely believe that Sarah thinks the Doctor is gone) and its a dummy run for what would play out in the next story. Also Sarah mentions that the Doctor always said that while there’s life there’s hope which are his eventual dying words.
- By the end of the story it is clear that there is a hierarchy of villains in this tale that is quite similar to The War Games (except The War Games pulls it off far more memorably). On the bottom rung of the ladder is Ortron who means well but causes trouble regardless, followed by psycho miner Ettis who cannot be reasoned with, topped by the Ice Warriors who are thrilled at the chance to go on a killing spree, led by Azaxyr who is motivated by greed and power and at the top strutting about in tight leather is Eckersley who is running rings around them all. It would have been awesome if at the last minute Alpha Centuri had swished his cloak and revealed that he was the brains of the outfit all along.
- Nina Thomas is no David Troughton, that’s for sure. You can remind me that she is supposed to be a naïve young slip of a Queen until you are blue in the face but that still doesn’t excuse how vacant Thomas appears to be in the role at times. Thalira has a habit of speaking her lines with a glassy stare that suggests she’s just taken a good sniff of powered Peladon lapacho. I’ll toss Sarah’s feminism aside for a moment and point out that she is a bit of fox though. Even when she finally grows some balls (metaphorically speaking), she’s a bit rubbish being dragged from cave to cave by Eckersley. She’s wetter than a frogs backside and drippier than a frying pan after a days work at a greasy spoon. As if Sarah needed to ask if she could faint convincingly. It feels as if the women’s lib angle is added so Thalira can rise up and do something brave and prove her worth but at the climax she is still being dragged around by men. Useless harpy, they should stick Sarah on the throne.
- This is far from Dudley Simpson’s best score for the show and in parts seems to be made up of a ‘best of’ series of steals from other stories. Things improve exponentially when the Ice Warriors show up (it feels as though he is invested in the story again) and he provides them with a terrific scream-like sting that really sends a shiver down the spine when they appear. He has a fit on the bongos (or whatever drums he happens to be playing) in episode six as Eckersley and Thalira take a tour of the catacombs.
- At times the story does seem to forget what constitutes an interesting story. Demonstrations of mining technology might be impressive on a production level but it feels like we have wandered into a dreary ‘how it’s made’ documentary on Sky. With aliens.
- Ettis is one of those characters that turns up in Doctor Who at least once a season who is so obstinate and irrational he is constructed out of plot conveniences rather than characteristics. He is just there to muddy the waters, to stir up trouble and to get in the Doctor’s way. Without Ettis this story could comfortably be three parts long. Ralph Watson does what he can with what is basically a series of rants that equate to little more than narrative contrivances but he cannot mine (hohoho) for anything deeper because if he went looking he would discover there is nothing there. Ortron is similarly defiant but at least he is seen to have a decent reason for doing so and he shows some genuine concern for Thalira and Peladon in his machinations. Ettis handicaps events because that is what he is designed to do. Come episode four he has to be put out of his misery, he’s killing his closest friends and threatening mass murder of all in the citadel. There was nothing more extreme to be done with this cipher.
- The end of episode one is absolutely precious with Blor’s hilarious reaction to being confronted with the spirit of Aggedor being more akin to a baby gurgling at an extreme high pitch. Go and watch it again. I promise you most comedies couldn’t score laughs like this. Perhaps somebody high up at the BBC complained that Doctor Who was no longer taking itself seriously because the gurgle has miraculously vanished during the reprise in episode two. It loses something as a result.
- Come episode three and the story desperately needs something more potent than the miners and their machinations to prop the story up. Fortunately Brian Hayles has something scaly, green and nasty right up his sleeve and they don’t come along a moment too soon.
- In a shocking moment of oversight the director doesn’t even bother to use a Jon Pertwee voiceover as Terry Walsh takes on Ettis. He just has Walsh do a particularly gravelling Pertwee impression. Face hits palm.
The Shallow Bit: Sarah is wearing a leather jacket and chords. As far as I am concerned the only year she had any dress sense was season eleven (although her later fashion effrontery was admittedly much more fun and said something about how much she had loosened up – like the Doctor – into a seasoned time traveller).
Result: Nowhere near as bad as its reputation. On the one hand The Monster of Peladon is overlong, padded, repetitive and unoriginal but on the other it is exciting, topical, adventurous and bursting with character. I’m probably not the best person to talk about the Pertwee six parters (plus) because I pretty much adore most of them and not just because of their individual merits (and with stories like Inferno, The Sea Devils & Frontier in Space these are easy to spot). Their length means that you get taken on an extended adventure away from your life for a while (and let’s be honest there are always times when that is a necessity) in the hands of one of the most expert storytellers (Terrance Dicks’ nuts’n’bolts approach to Who pervades his era). For six episodes you can get whisked away to Peladon or Draconia or Spiridon for an action packed adventure infused with great morals (the way that the good guys triumph so spectacularly over evil makes this perfect fairytale Who). It might be easier to approach this era as a child in that respect but I think there are times even as an adult where it is necessary to drag out your inner ankle biter and immerse yourself in something as pleasurable as formulaic classic Who. In this respect The Monster of Peladon comes out extremely favourably featuring as it does monsters you can coo at (Alpha Centuri) and monsters you can hiss at (the Ice Warriors), a dastardly villain (Eckersley), a rock solid Doctor (even a somnambulistic Pertwee is debonair and upright) a feisty companion (the inestimable Sarah Jane), plenty of running about, action and danger and even the odd moment of high drama (the Doctor’s apparent death and Sarah Jane’s reaction) to take your breath away. I’m not trying to pretend for one moment that this is classic Who or anything approaching it because it is far too safe and habitual to really make an impact but it is perfect comfort viewing on a evening when you are at a loose end. I can think of nothing finer than slipping into the TARDIS and heading off to Peladon to help the Doctor out in an exciting adventure involving miners, monsters and modest hermaphrodite hexapods. Don’t expect anything revolutionary but do expect typically engaging Doctor Who. If this is the sort of thing you don’t like then I don’t know what you are doing watching Doctor Who because so much of its oeuvre is made up out ubiquitous action adventure like this that taps into your inner kid: 6/10
Planet of the Spiders written by Robert Sloman (with Barry Letts) and directed by Barry Letts
Good Grief: Without criticizing Patrick Troughton, it has to be acknowledged that Jon Pertwee took a dying show (the BBC were half convinced to axe the thing and it was only because they couldn't think of anything better that they gave Doctor Who another shot in colour) and turned it into a ratings success. Troughton's last batch of episodes were lucky to reach five million and could fall as low as three whereas in Pertwee's final two season it was regularly soaring to the heights of ten or eleven million - they are numbers that you simply cannot argue with. And whilst much of the reason can be attributed to Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks' approach to the show, the leading man is always one of the biggest draws to any television show and Pertwee deserves his portion of the victory as well. Not the most obvious choice to play the Doctor and surprising the audience by choosing to play the role entirely straight, Pertwee offered an intelligent, arrogant man of action who dashed through his stories like a moral compass, holding the sonic screwdriver in one hand and with his other arm around his pretty assistant. It has become popular to knock his Doctor (and era) in recent years but there must have been a reason so many warmed to his interpretation of the character (although it has to be said that his successor was even more popular, numbers wise, building on his success). Planet of the Spiders proves to be an appropriate final showing for the third Doctor, a story where he gets to show off all those sides of his character that made him so unique. There are cuddly scenes with the Brigadier, more serious moments in the UNIT lab, a whole episode devoted to his love of fast vehicles, plenty of opportunities to glitter (TM Tom Baker) in the face monsters, an opportunity to re-visit his childhood and even some lovely development at the climax where he comes to acknowledge his arrogance and face his fears. Barry Letts (and Robert Sloman) ensure that as the third Doctor bats his butterfly wings one last time we get to see all the facets and colours. He’s fun and playful, a man of action, beautifully serious at times and violently takes on his opponents. With a mixture of Earthbound action and alien landscapes, it sums up his era rather nicely too. The Doctor plays along with the Professor for a while before surprising him with the truth that he knows he is a powerful clairvoyant – the Doctor is every bit the performer as much as Clegg. Only Benton’s coffee can rouse the Doctor from his trance. He spent some of the finest days of his life with the Hermit from Gallifrey, learning to see into his mind and look at the universe afresh. There has always been tangible chemistry between Jon Pertwee and Elisabeth Sladen but just watch the scene in episode two where he doesn’t listen to anything she is saying then makes her repeat it again when she says something that finally catches his attention. There is far more the sense of two equals working together with Sarah Jane, like it was with Liz Shaw. You have to admire the vanity of the man as he stops the Brigadier from shooting at Lupton because he might damage his car. If his role as the Doctor was something of a mid life for Pertwee then he gets one dramatic final flourish in episode two where he gets to play James Bond in high speed vehicles across a variety of landscapes. He talks about the TARDIS as though she were alive and always leaves the actual spot that they land up to her. The Doctor and Sarah share some very funny black humour later in the story, whimsy through adversity as they find themselves in the Spiders' larder. I was laughing my head of at the Doctor wiggling his way free of the webbing crying ‘Harry Hackenschmidt!’ - he could sure be a facetious fella at times! The Doctor is not used to losing control and being humiliated and frightened in the way the Great One pulls at him with invisible puppet strings. The Doctor accepts that it was his greed for knowledge that set all this off, stealing the crystal in the first place. Interestingly Barry Letts was very much of the opinion that the Doctor should be made to repay for his arrogance and greed (his Buddhist philosophy emerging) whereas Terrance Dicks disagreed strongly but did not oppose the producer. I am inclined to agree with the former, it warms my heart to think that the Doctor would acknowledge and repent for his failings before his death. His reunion with his mentor is very poignant because the Doctor shows rare reverence for a character and we discover that the disciplines of the Time Lords were not for the Doctor and that was why he stole the TARDIS. I’m so glad that the third Doctor got such a brave exit – he was always one to walk into danger and here he faces his fear even at the cost of his own life. He is missing for three weeks after confronting the Great One as the cells in his body degenerate and the TARDIS brings him home, which tellingly is Earth, UNIT Headquarters. Pertwee is astonishingly gentle and devastating in his last scene, proof of what a superb actor he is right up to the last moment and the silent close up on his ghostly face when he dies always reduces me to tears. He had me in rapt attention right up to his last breath.
My Sarah Jane: I thought it would be hard to watch this story after the news of Elisabeth Sladen’s death. That night I had guests and had to hold myself together with smiles until they had left but as soon as the door was shut I collapsed in the hall and burst into tears and couldn't stop.If that makes me sound like a big wuss then I am unconcerned, this was the first time that grief has touched my life in this way. Where somebody whose career I followed and admired had been snatched away without warning. Look back on my previous reviews – I have always considered Sarah Jane the finest Doctor Who companion and Lis Sladen’s commitment to the character and the show has always impressed above and beyond any other actor that has appeared in Doctor Who. It was a devastating blow to lose the Doctor’s best friend; it felt like a little bit of my childhood had died. But when I stuck Planet of the Spiders on I didn’t find myself choking back tears but as enthralled as ever by her superb performance – I laughed at Sarah poking fun at the Buddhism, loved her awesome interaction with the Doctor, screamed as the spider appeared on her back and she showed real fear and finally the tears came as she wept over the Doctor’s death. We shouldn't selfishly groan about what we wont see from Elisabeth in the future but bask in the work she has done over the years in bringing such a marvelous character to life. I intend to do just that – I will always love Sarah Jane and I shall continue to enjoy her unique contribution to the Doctor Who universe. The commentaries on these DVDs are a wonderful bonus because we can still spend many hours in Elisabeth’s company and listen to her unique take on the show that brought her so much popularity. Sarah is still after a good story and cannot resist Mike Yates’ summons to the monastery in deepest marmoset, although you get the strong impression that she feels something for the man as well after the incident with the Golden Age bunch. There is something personal, almost flirtatious about their banter and I think she would have been drawn to the monastery whether there was a story there or not. She’s still a career girl, working for Metropolitan magazine and it’s a shame that we lost that once she was whisked off into time and space by the fourth Doctor (with the odd acknowledgement - Terror of the Zygons). She is respectful to a point but can only keep a poker face for so long when discussing the activities of the Buddhist monastery (‘like contemplating their belly buttons?’). Sarah emphasizes with Tommy, she doesn’t patronise him and as such he is drawn to her. Like so many she is clearly not keen on spiders (I'm one of those weirdos who thinks they are rather cute). I love how real Sarah feels, discussing fabulous planets and aliens like talking about fish and chips and the Liverpool docks. She's already had a moment to pause and consider the danger of travelling with the Doctor when she thought he was dead in The Monster of Peladon and we get a glimpse of her future grief when he lies unconscious outside the TARDIS on Metebelies Three. They saved the greatest 'Good grief!' for last, the spine tingling sight of the spider clinging onto Sarah's back. I love how she smells his coat to remind herself of him three weeks after he has gone to his death, suggesting an intimacy and warmth between them and a longing for his return. Her tears at his death make this easily the most affecting regeneration, it genuinely feels as though the Doctor has died and his companion cannot cope with the loss.
Chap With Wings: Another tragic loss to Doctor Who making the commentary on this story an especially valuable one. It’s a shame that we couldn't have had more of the Brig in the third Doctor’s last story (compared to say Robot where he is a strong presence throughout) but as a joyous indictment of the Brig's relationship with the Doctor relationship and the way it has grown we get to witness the two of them socialising together in the first episode. Of course the Brig likes a bit of the old exotic dancing, the dirty get! There’s a very revealing moment that the Brigadier seems to want to skip over – a moment of intimacy in Brighton with a young lady called Doris who would go on to be a very important person in his life.Watch out for his typically stalwart expression when the Whomobile takes to the skies.
Camp Captain: It's most unlike Doctor to look back to previous adventures and capitalise on them so to have Mike Yates come back after his betrayal of the Doctor and the Brigadier in Invasion of the Dinosaurs is an unusual moment of development and allows for some redemption of the character. After his devastated reaction to Jo's engagement to Cliff, it is possible that it was losing her that was the turning point for his character so it is rather lovely that he would try and re-define himself as an individual who shouldn't be afraid of his feelings in this story. Mike is trying to find himself in a Tibetan Monastery after his discharge from UNIT. Sarah comments on the fiendish cunning of the man hiding away and spying on the spooky goings on in the cellar. Trust an ex-UNIT operative to sniff out the one monastery in England to be conjuring evil giant Spiders. His compassion protects him when he is attacked by the Spiders, but then he always was something of a sensitive soul. Whilst the character was set up originally to have a bit of a fling with Jo Grant, his relationship with Sarah is far more flirtatious and you could see how if the wonderful Ian Marter wasn’t available that Sarah and Mike could have gone off into space with the Doctor. After their interaction in this story I can see how this could have been made to work for the benefit of the series.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘When everything is new, can anything be a surprise?’
‘Bow down before me planets! Bow down stars!’
‘A tear, Sarah Jane? No don’t cry. While there’s life, there’s hope.’
The Good Stuff: Cobwebs strewn and giant spiders jumping on peoples backs – it's about time somebody drew on one of the most prevalent phobias and how appropriate to end the Pertwee years with such a memorable monster from an era that gave us mannequins, gargoyles and maggots. Cyril Shaps is one of those actors that exudes amiability and whatever guise he turns up in (even whiny Viner from Tomb of the Cybermen, but especially the Archemandrite in The Androids of Tara) I cannot help but be drawn to him on screen. Here he plays a showman with a real talent for ESP, trying to hide the gift that has cursed him in plain sight. The Doctor's assertion that all human beings have Clegg's capabilities given the right genetic switch being thrown is intriguing and certainly worthy of further exploration (The Tomorrow People had a good stab at that). There is a real contemporary seventies atmosphere to the first episode that we haven't seen a great deal of in season eleven whilst we have been having fun in the Middle Ages, Exxilon and Peladon. Shots of Sarah leaping from a train station and into a tasty red sports car could have come from any contemporary drama of the time. Who ever knew that chanting could be quite as creepy as this? Revealing once again that the Pertwee era was the most serialised of all the classic periods; here we catch up with Mike after his breakdown, find out a little about Jo's adventures up the Amazon and witness a reunion between the Doctor and his mentor. It is appropriate that Planet of the Spiders wraps up all of these threads, the plotting again following up on the Buddhist themes of cleaning out the clutter before the new man breaths life. You can actually hear Katy Manning reading the letter aloud it captures Jo's voice so well and Pertwee dictates wistfully, clearly still missing his friend. Topping off a nourishing first episode, excitement abounds as UNIT HQ descends into psychic chaos, the Professor screams his last and a giant spider appears in the monastery, quivering on its eight legs. I've heard complaints about the silky Spider voices and whilst they can be shrill on the odd occasion (and that weird chorus of 'hmms' they make when giving their assent is just bizarre), I find the voice work of Ysanne Churchman and Kismet Delgado some of the best in the series. What is it with the Doctor's friends agreeing to sacrifice themselves for the Doctor? It's Benton's turn this time around, the lovable old grunt. The idea of a final confrontation between the Doctor and the Master to top of this era is an intoxicating one but tragic events scuppered those plans and so Letts had to fall back on the idea of giving the Doctor a new foe for this story in the form of Lupton. In many ways he is a far more sinister character than the Master (who had become a little cuddly by the time of Frontier in Space), a failed man who seeks power over others to make himself feel more important. John Dearth gives a fantastically feral, sweaty, violent and nasty, just-this-side-of-psychotic performance, a desperate man is always uncomfortable to watch and this is a guy who is past his prime but doesn't know it yet. From the outset it is clear he has got a nasty surprise coming to him and given his previous complications in life it is unfortunate that he should choose such a self destructive path. Everybody piling into Bessie to chase the Whomobile should be tacky but I was cheering with joy - if you can't be a little silly and self congratulatory in your swansong then when can you? Hooray for the comedy copper (he, Stuart Fell's tramp and Pigbin Josh from The Claws of Axos should have set up their own rural sitcom) who is utterly bemused by all the space vehicles that keep racing by him in the English countryside. I wont deny that the chase is indulgent (how could I not - it's over twenty minutes long!) but Letts directs excitingly and it is full of comedy touches that make the absence of a narrative for an episode speed by enjoyably enough. The twitching, breathing spider court is a memorable set up. I wondered how this story would hold up to some of my non fan arachnophobic friends and showed them a couple of scenes but they couldn't get past the shot of the Spider rearing up to attack Sarah and then leaping on her back! Who knows what pandemonium would have occurred had they gone with the original, breathing Spiders. Pertwee gets to indulge in a spectacular fight with three guards – Hiya! Judo Chop! Sorry, forgive me. Whilst there is an element of the theatre (there is no way you will be convinced that Metebelies Three is anything but a staged planet) about them, the night time scenes are evocatively lit (both in the shadowy house and the moonlit exterior) and the funereal bell tolling pre-empts the tragedy to come. Thank goodness I didn't show my mates the Queen Spider - she has horrid shiny eyes and twitching mandibles - it really is a grisly piece of design work. There was perhaps too much subtlety going on with the Tommy thread when I first watched this story and I found it quite boring but through adult eyes I can know see how the Buddhist themes are re-affirmed through him. John Kane’s performance as he reads the child’s book with ease is affecting, a mixture of relief and awe that comprehending the symbols on the page is so effortless. You can count on Terrance Dicks to ensure that the set up of the Spiders on Metebelies Three is going to be back up by an appropriate back story - the colonists came to the planet and the Spiders came scuttling out of the spaceship into the crystal caves and grown out of all proportion, physically and intellectually. There's one moment when the humans in the cellar are surrounded by numerous Spiders, surely the worst nightmare for a large proportion of the audience. The exchange: ‘Tommy you’re just like everybody else’ ‘I sincerely hope not’ is loaded with meaning– after being an outsider all his life Tommy is now in the position to fit in and he cannot imagine anything worse. I cannot think of anybody finer than George McCormack to play K'anpo, he radiates warmth, wisdom and good humour. In his hands, the wise old mentor that the Doctor has waxed lyrical about lives up to his reputation. The Doctor’s mentor knows that they are both soon to regenerate and it is fascinating to see them interpreted in different ways, one is played as a delightful rebirth and the other a tragic murder. Visually the Great One is one of the more formidable foes that the Doctor has encountered but when you add that hysterical, vehement voice she become more than worthy of the rare honour of being a Doctor Who villain that manages to kill the main man. How could this possibly be the final Pertwee story without an almighty explosion and Barry Letts goes all out blowing up a mountain. I love how K’anpo gives the regeneration a little push, gently easing the Doctor on his way.
The Bad Stuff: Oh dear, the Whomobile taking to the skies is exactly the sort of effects disaster that Michael Grade leaps upon when trying to formulate a prosecution against the show. Similarly the effects shot of Sarah transporting is one of the most important of the story (it is a shocking moment, but the realisation is shocking too). How Jenny Laird has an acting award named after her baffles given her performance in Planet of the Spiders, she is hilariously awful (‘I shant let them take you! I shant! I shant!’) and this is precisely the sort of thing that Barry Letts is normally very good at weeding out so I'm not sure what went wrong here. Those are some of the least aesthetically pleasing corridors on Metebelies Three and the Spiders larder feels as though it could do wth more cobwebs or menace or anything...although it is hilarious that they have gone to the lengths of spinning webbed cushions for their victims! Why writers give critics openings with lines like 'this is monotonous!' is a mystery. What is up with episode five's cliffhanger oddly re-edited and five minutes into episode six?
The Shallow Bit: I kind of find Ralph Arliss really attractive – even dressed up like a hippy. Which possibly makes me nuts.
Result: Arachnophobics beware! Metebelians flee! The Spiders are attacking! Often unfairly criticised for a couple of dodgy effects, Planet of the Spiders is a fine celebration of the Pertwee era and a memorable tale for the actor who brought the show a new direction and success to go out on. Rather than concentrating on its few faults (like so many Who fans have an obsession with doing) let's discuss its many strengths. The cast is genuinely impressive (something that bolsters all of the Letts directed stories) with Cyril Shaps, John Dearth and George McCormack all rocking in some well written and characterised roles (especially Lupton, a genuinely nasty piece of work). There is plenty of well directed action, terrific development for the Doctor, Sarah and Mike and memorable scares with the twitching, giant Spiders that have a habit of leaping on their victims backs. The first episode is one of the strongest of the era and the last episode takes the Doctor on the most important journey of his life so far, climaxing on a final scene that will melt your heart as the Doctor tries to comfort Sarah as he dies before her. The Metebelies sequences are quite theatrical but nowhere near as bad as people pretend they are and pretty nicely realised on the whole (only a few CSO shots appall but the design and lighting is very strong) and the power games with the Spiders are great fun, and their voices are particularly effective. There is about an episodes worth of padding, which is unfortunate and some of the acting choices of the Metebelies actors (Jenny Laird is clearly in a world of her own) are unusual. There are so many lovely, characterful touches throughout (Mike’s redemption, Jo’s letter, the return of the Doctor’s mentor, Sarah’s grief smelling the Doctor’s coat) it generates more than enough relevance to make this a worthy swansong to a memorable Doctor. With three of its main cast and the director now no longer with us it stands a fine example of their incredible work: 8/10