Or the begining of the 'Tegan era' and my few sticking points on Doctor Who's mighty run. Don't get me wrong I believe that there are a fair few knockouts in Davison's run but there are almost an equal number of clunkers. The fifth Doctor, Tegan, Nyssa and Adric battle the Master, frogface Monarch, the dark reaches of the inside - the Mara, scheming Terileptils, a misunderstood young lover, Cybermen planning to destroy the Earth and the sinister Kalid!
The regulars -
Castrovalva written by Christopher H Bidmead and directed by Fiona Cumming
Fair Fellow: I have developed a new appreciation for Peter Davison’s fifth Doctor since enjoying his adventures in the Big Finish audio range. I have always found his televised adventures afforded few opportunities for him to truly shine. There are a few exceptions (Kinda, Snakedance, Enlightenment, Frontios and Androzani) but on the whole I find that we have is a strong actor in a (mostly) underwritten role. Those glimpses of the older man in a younger mans body that dominate in Frontios and Androzani and show the sort of dynamo we could have had in the central role throughout his era. It doesn’t help that the quality of his stories goes up and down like an apoplectic lie detector (Earthshock/Time-Flight shows how the quality can plummet so dramatically before Arc of Infinity/Snakedance exposes how the show can suddenly ascend to new highs again). However I really enjoy his turn in Castrovalva simply because it is such a gentle treatment of regeneration (perhaps this was why it was easier to adapt to Davison’s Doctor than Colin Baker's) and there is a real attempt to show the Doctor recovering from his violent biological change. The Doctor unravels his scarf in the same fashion that his mind is being disentangled and he mentions Romana and K.9 and takes on the persona of his previous selves (Davison’s impression of Troughton is spot on and I did chuckle at his militaristic Pertwee). There is a real sense of history behind the character now that has never been exploited at the point of a regeneration before. It is something that will get out of hand later on his time on the show but it feels fresh and nostalgic here. His scenes amongst the Castrovalvan residents are some the fifth Doctor’s finest and I love his assertion that he has come to the city to find the Doctor – sheer poetry. The Doctor has wisely used the regeneration to forget all about his mathematical genius of a companion but nature abhors a vacuum and he niggles his way back into his mind. Studying the history of Castrovalva with half moon specs on, firing off theories and behaving inanely – why couldn’t the fifth Doctor be this well written all the time? Whatever my criticisms of Bidmead's charactersation of the fourth Doctor in Logopolis were (he was the ultimate expressions of the naughty undergraduate that the script editor couldn't bear and he tried to shape him into something quite against his nature), his fifth Doctor is spot on because he is the one who has the ultimate hand in creating him. It is quite telling that the next time he will be characterised quite this rivetingly is Frontios, Bidmead's next contribution. By the end of the story the Doctor is commandingly standing up to both Shardovan and the Master, it feels as though he has finally arrived.Where the wealth of companions felt like it was threatening to overwhelm Tom Baker and cramp his style, the final scenes of Castrovalva have a positive air to them. The fifth Doctor is young and beautiful and he is heading off into the universe with three faced youths (well, two fresh faced faced youths and one permenant middle aged scowl).
Alien Orphan: There’s a great moment when Nyssa sees her fathers face on the scanner waving them to their deaths and she cries that she hates his face. It must eat her up that the Master is using her fathers body to commit such awful crimes and it is such a shame that we didn’t get to explore that more. She knows so little about telebiogenesis, alas. There’s a glorious moment of absolute calm during their first morning in Castrovalva where Nyssa watches the ladies work through their bedroom window, checks Tegan sleeping calmly and then takes a stroll through the streets simply basking in the ambiance. It's exactly the sort of thing I would be doing if I were travelling with the Doctor and as a quiet moment of normality amongst all the madness it’s the sort of thing Doctor Who should do far more often than it does. It feels very Hartnell era and that is absolutely a compliment. Nyssa tries to reason with the Master but he merely tosses her across the room like a rag doll. Clearly there is no trace of Tremas left in there.
Mouth on Legs: Without a doubt one of Tegan’s (and Janet Fielding’s) best stories. Christopher H Bidmead writes so well for the feisty air hostess that he created and perhaps if he had remained as script editor we would have seen a much smoother ride for the character. It is strange because where he characterised her as an , unbearable harridan in Logopolis, she is a much more reasonable, deliberating character here. Perhaps it has something to with Janet Fielding's performance too considering this is her fifth story to be filmed and not her second. She's bedded into the role. There’s no whining and moaning about trying to get home here, Tegan recognises that this is a fraught situation and tries to do everything she can to help. She actually feels like a human being – a rare feat. The Doctor nominates Tegan as the co-ordinator, the one to keep them together during the healing process which is a role she seems determined to live up to. Tegan gets to enjoy the illusion that she is flying the TARDIS which is not the kind of aircraft she wanted to be indulging herself on but probably the closest she will get to being a pilot! There is some nice humour too (‘I could have shown him Brisbane’ ‘Not up to CAA standards but a landings a landing!’). This is one of the few stories that features Tegan that Janet Fielding doesn’t dominate with her aggressive portrayal and for that I am truly grateful. It shows that the character be made to work with the programme, rather than it working despite her.
Pudding Bowl Haircut: Matthew Waterhouse who hasn’t the ability of a stunt man so his little scrap with the police at the beginning of Castrovalva is marred by bad time and tame kicks and punches. Although I suppose we should give credit where its due, this is the second time in two stories where he has affected a decent diversion and escape plan.
Panto Beard: It's interesting to note that every time a huge impact was made with a brand new Master the production team decided to play his story out over a handful of stories. Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks creating the Doctor’s Moriarty and had him feature in every story for an entire season. John Nathan Turner and Christopher H Bidmead re-invented the character in the form of Anthony Ainley and enjoyed a three story marathon (over 12 episodes). And when Russell T Davies decided to bring him back for the New Series there was a stonkingly epic three episode tale to revel in his madness. It would seem that one story isn’t enough and we need prolonged exposure as proof that this is the version that is sticking around for a while. He’s such a devious sod that he needs to install traps inside traps as a back up just in case his initial trap doesn’t work! It says something about his confidence in himself (or rather his confidence in the Doctor) that he knows he is going to fail and have to try again!
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘One of the advantages of stark simplicity…’
‘The solution. Oh my little friend if only you were.’
‘Definitely civilisation’ - biting into a celery stick!
‘You made us man of evil but we are free…’
‘Well whoever I feel like, it's absolutely splendid!’
The Good: Pre-title sequences are tenapenny these days but back in the day these were rare treats and this is one of the best, a reprise of the events at the end of Logopolis with some gorgeous Paddy Kingsland music scoring the emotive transformation. Whoever said that The Parting of the Ways was the first optimistic regeneration obviously hadn't paid attention to this story because everything about the fourth Doctor’s regeneration is about a young man stepping from an old man's life. Pleasingly he sits up with a smile on his face. I always really enjoy the first episode because it is so different from anything else in Doctor Who – a brand new set of regulars trapped inside the TARDIS and trying to heal the Doctor, getting used to each other and falling into one of the Master’s most devious traps. Am I the only one who thinks it is very cute to have a changing room for cricketers inside the TARDIS? Why not in a ship of infinite rooms? Like Peter Grimwade before her Fiona Cumming manages to convince with a handful of sets and some clever editing and camerawork that the TARDIS is a labyrinthe of many passageways and different rooms. Between Logopolis and Castrovalva we have Chris Bidmead to thank for really exploring the potential of the TARDIS as an alien and unknowable setting. With Castrovalva he puts an equal amount of weight behind the characters and it makes a huge difference to the overall piece. The consequence of being able to gain enough momentum to escape Event One is to delete 25% of the TARDIS – I love how Bidmead uses clever science to get the Doctor out of this situation and as a small side note his description of momentum here helped me to pass a GCSE exam question. Cheers Bidmead! I’m quite keen on TARDIS imagery (my desktop is usually a TARDIS photoshop that some genius has dreamed up) so I love the look of the ship lopsided sticking out of the ferns. I’m also a massive fan of long walks in the leafy British countryside and so the location work in Castrovalva is some of my favourite, passing streams and banks with the birds singing and the grass fresh and vibrant, it's just gorgeous. Add to it some stunning Kingsland mood music and it is one of the few times I don’t care that the narrative has taken a massive pause because I am simply drinking in the atmosphere. How ironic that Castrovalva should be a made up location because it feels like one of the most realistic foreign locations the show has ever given us. A bustling town, full of life and packed with lovely detail such as the washer women, hunters and a unique poetic dialogue of their own. The sets are marvellously designed and built with imperial pillars, marbles steps, balconies and flaming torches all mixing to create a rich effect and Cumming adds much atmosphere by lighting the scenes appropriately for day and night. Populated with characters such as Mergrave, Ruther, Shardovan and the Portreeve, Castrovalva is warm and wonderful place to visit and recuperate. A shame it's all a nasty trap on the part of the Master but he gets full marks for creating a genuinely restful location. The first time I watched this story I had no idea that the Portreeve was being played by Anthony Ainley. It’s a fantastic performance, throaty and aged and after this is and his lovely turn as Tremas it is breaks my heart to see Ainley stuck with the interminably pantomimic role of the Master because it is clear he has so much more the give. I was sure Shardovan was the Master. The end of episode three is always knocked for it's dodgy final effect and yes it isn’t quite up to scratch but the work that is done by Fiona Cumming and the actors to convince that every route leads back to the square really sells the idea of a labyrinth turning in on itself for me. I can think of no better example of free will as the Master’s puppets turn on him and hold him back whilst the Doctor escapes with his companions. I have to mention Paddy Kingland’s score for Castrovalva which is one my favourites in Doctor Who’s entire run. It is one of the most affective and lyrical of scores and adds a great deal of tension and excitement to the early scenes (I love the music as they approach Event One).
The Bad: I can understand the logic of having the first handful of stories being filmed before the opening story of the season because the regulars in Castrovalva are gorgeously presented. The flip side is that you go from a story like this where the actors are relaxed around each other to Four to Doomsday where suddenly everybody seems unsure and nervous and unsure. It's such a shocking contrast from one to the other that I’m not sure in hindsight that it was the best idea. The chase back to the TARDIS would be much more dynamic if it wasn’t just a couple of feet away – I don’t know why they don’t just run rather than go to all the trouble of stealing an ambulance. Atmospherics aside, Tegan and Nyssa are a bit rubbish when it comes to getting to Castrovalva. First they lose the wheelchair in the stream, then Nyssa falls in, then they dump the Zero Cabinet and then they are shocked to discover the Doctor has gone walkabout. I don’t know if I would want this two watching my back. The mirrored effect of the Doctor and company crossing the Bridge is possibly a bit too simple to suggest the occlusion.
The Shallow Bit: The fifth Doctor’s costume is probably the least offensive of the Doctor’s that JNT catered for but it still feels remarkably cobbled together and more like a uniform than anything that came before it. The jacket is far too stylised and I hate the colour (surely the blandest of Doctor’s should be given something other than the blandest of colours to wear?) but I love the cricketing jumper underneath. There is something quintessentially British about the fifth Doctor that makes me smile. Nyssa’s fairy skirt is like something out of Lewis Carroll on speed and I was very pleased to see she swapped it for a pair of trousers to trudge around in outside. The less said about Adric’s pyjamas and Tegan’s unflattering air hostess uniform the better. It has to be said that there is something remarkably kinky about the Master keeping Adric trapped within a webbing of metal torture devices – it's probably the closest to sado-machoistic bondage you get to enjoy in Doctor Who if that is what floats your boat. Some swear there is a scene where you can see Adric's stiffy...but, well...who would want to go looking for that? It's well worth having a close look at Tegan’s stockings when she dabs her hand in the Doctor’s blood – there is a massive hole the size of her thighs.
Result: A gloriously sedate, warm and wonderful opening story to introduce the fifth Doctor. Critics that say Bidmead can only write cold science (me in the last story then) should rewatch the Castrovalva sequences which are imbued with a depth of character and wonderful lines and observations on the new TARDIS crew. The opening two episodes are a little short on incident but this is more than made for by watching this new team of regulars find their way with each other plus a great chance to explore the depths of the TARDIS. Both the location work and the design are beautiful and it really feels as though JNT has upped the budget tenfold since the all studio days of the latter end of season seventeen. As the Doctor says ‘trim time ship and a ship shape team’ which is exactly what the show needed after Tom Baker’s seven year span and it genuinely feels like this is an exciting and optimistic new direction for the show. Visually and tonally there has never been anything like this before and since and I think its rather wonderful: 9/10
Four to Doomsday written by Terrance Dudley and directed by John Black
Fair Fellow: Poor Peter Davison, he really was lumbered with some pretty dire companions during his run, wasn’t he? It's not like the actor is even silent on the topic either as has been covered in DVD commentaries, documentaries and interviews. And we are about to see them at their worst in this story and his impatience mirrors my own. What is especially is jarring is how comfortable everybody felt in their roles in Castrovalva (naturally since it was recorded fourth) and how uncertain and tentative they all are here. You can especially tell that Davison doesn’t have a clue how to play the Doctor and so he walks from the TARDIS and simply grins like lunatic until he meets somebody. That's his default setting and yet people seem obsessed with the fact that he is really channeling something deeper (Paul Cornell) when the actor himself admits he was just winging it at this stage with little off screen assistance. He exhibits no character whatsoever except that he’s nice. How dull. Rather like an intergalactic Gok Wan he starts rabbiting on about fashion and earrings when he finally catches up with the locals. At one point the Doctor requires Adric to perform the simplest of sums (maybe his mind is still a little buggered after the regeneration) and he's so desperate to be involved at one point he fakes a faint (perhaps noting how much fun it looks when his companions do it). His fantastic reason for not wanting to warn the Earth that Monarch is coming to murder everybody is because ‘we’ll be laughed at!’ That’s never stopped him before. In fact until he became a walking apology that was often his prime motive for warning the people of whatever planet is in danger this week, it was all part of the fun. ‘The devils!’ he exclaims at Nyssa’s tormentors and makes me wonder if anybody has edited this script. Very awkwardly stitched, his Doctor is at this point with no direction to take him in. How strange that the next story should pretty much sum up the fifth Doctor for the rest of the era. Perhaps that shows how variable the quality of the writing can be at this stage in the shows history.
Arsey Aussie: What can I possibly say about Tegan in this story? As much as I might complain about her character and Janet Fielding’s less than stellar interpretation I do think she at least had a running story to focus on throughout her first season. There was something for her too moan about (it is when she's had the chance to return home and she chooses to step back into the time machine and still berates the Time Lord at every opportunity when the real problems begin!). However Four to Doomsday sees both the character and the actress at their nadir and there is no point when she ever comes across as a human being you might meet in the street. ‘Good than I can catch a train!’ enthuses Tegan with such unnatural stress it sounds as though she is waiting for an applause for making the most mundane of observations. ‘Maths!’ spits Tegan as though Adric has suggested taking her up the ass (seriously…go and watch it again!). Tegan has terrible trouble fighting the idea that she is travelling in a time machine these days and continually rants about the Doctor having lost her her job (when she didn’t give a toss about it in Castrovalva). ‘Look, a door!’ she exclaims as though she is witnessing a miracle...do they not have them in Australia? Are you fashionable Tegan? I would guess not considering she is going to wear that purple monstrosity all season. At most points of this story Tegan is completely hysterical despite being in no danger whatsoever. There is a hilariously awful moment when Tegan discovers her body will be disposed of (hooray!) and she starts stamping her feet and screaming ‘No! No! No! No! No!’ like a kid that has been told that if she doesn't clean her room she'll be grounded for a week. Watching Tegan have an orgasm over the TARDIS console and then laughing insanely as tears run down her face is deeply embarrassing – I’m not sure what is going on in this scene but both the direction and the performance are massively at fault. If there is a portion of the universe that can empathize with her at this moment in time I fear for them. Rather wonderfully all the participants (including Janet Fielding) fall about laughing during this euphoric juncture. Tegan stamps and kicks the TARDIS manual…a bad workwoman always blames his tools. Aside from the drawings what does Tegan contribute to this story except complain, moan and get in the way? She creates a lot of irritating false drama that makes no impact that this precisely the opposite of what a companion should be doing. Bring back Sarah Jane.
Spoilt Brat: No matter how much judgement you can throw at Janet Fielding and Tegan you have to triple that for Matthew Waterhouse and Adric. How unbelievably spiteful, insulting and unreasonable is he in this story? As irritating as pubic louse and just as nasty. Adric declares that all women are mindless, impatient and bossy and judging by the look on Tegan’s face she's ready to shove his little winkie in a blender and serve it up as an Alzarian smoothie. He screams petulantly at the Monopticons and in one unforgettable moment he turns all butch and confronts one with ‘I said where is she?’ It's quite hilarious. Despite the fact that he may recognise it by its chemical title only a true geek that is asking for a bruising would ask for sodium chloride rather than salt. Nyssa gets a gentle shove and Adric that well known boxer of men steps in: ‘Don’t you do that to her!’ When Adric agrees with Monarch he finally puts to rest the hotly debated topic of whether Adric thinks and acts like a retard– yes, yes he does. It's not even as though the little dunce is going along with Monarch's ludicrous scheme to put himself in the position to affect their escape, he genuinely believes in this crusty frog and his web of lies. This is the middle adventure of three that sees Adric working for the enemy and you have to ask yourself why the Doctor bothers keeping him around. When describing the interior of the TARDIS, Adric fails his Through the Keyhole audition by only mentioning the control room, the bathroom and the cloisters. Given that the Ship is infinite, that's a pretty shitty sell. He is so daft not seeing through the Doctor’s overdone praise of Monarch that you have to question whether anybody could be quite this naive. The final insult is that Adric has to be convinced to help the Doctor defeat Monarch.
Alien Orphan: I couldn’t remember Nyssa being in this story and now I remember why. Sarah Sutton is such a strong little actress it breaks my heart to see her wasted in this vacuous effort at writing for a character. She is reading the Principles of Mathematics for fun and then spends four episodes wandering about failing to connect with the plot, obsessing over technology, walking into traps and being rescued from a potentially disastrous haircut. Four to Doomsday might be solely responsible for her reputation for being boring because she is given more techie material to perform than K.9 with none of the charm thrown in to make it bearable. She does mention her father, has a small rail against tyranny and tells Adric to shut up (yay!) but on the whole Nyssa is there to be out in jeopardy and she fulfills that role right up until the last second of the story.
The Good Stuff: There are some parallels with The End of the World where we have a new season and Doctor and now the introductory story is out of the way there is the chance to show off some superb production values. The sets are all pretty fantastic, spacious, gorgeously lit and teeming with instruments. The first and second cliffhanger are rather good too, moments of cleverness in all the dross.
The Bad Stuff: The Doctor and company being spied on should probably be quite unsettling but Monarch and his chums have such middle class, casual voices the only thing you wonder is if they will be offered tea and cucumber sandwiches or not. When so much effort has been put into making the setting as menacing as possible it is a shame to waste that potential with such drab point and shoot direction. The Urbankan make up is revoltingly bad; I have a cold at the moment and examined a tissue earlier post-sneeze and discovered something that looks like Monarch’s face nestling inside. You can see how somebody thought the Recreations were a good idea – it's very Doctor Who to mix culture and fiction but it makes the already deathly slow story crawl to a halt as Tegan designs the latest androids to make it up the catwalk. Adric and Nyssa explore the ship in some very dull, stilted scenes and it worries me greatly that there was ever a point in the show when the set design was given more concentration than the atmosphere, the characterisation and the performances. Bigon is a hopelessly laboured character who wanders through the story with glazed eyed borderm with the odd just the odd moment of melodrama (amongst my favourites are ‘It is not as it seems!’ and ‘Great Zeus!’). So let me get this straight…Monarch destroyed his own planet with a poison, which he plans to use on the Earth to wipe out humanity before replacing them and mining the silicon of the planet. With that he plans to travel faster than light, going backwards in time to the Big Bang to meet himself because he thinks he might be God. Or something. What the hell? I don't think even Terrance Dudley was sure what was going on, he was just making it up as he went along and kept adding new plot elements when things got a bit too quiet. There is a moment in episode three when Adric and Tegan have a huge row, squaking hysterically at each other in a vain attempt to create drama (‘Adric I’m warning you! Get out of my way!’ ‘No!’). To my mind it is the nadir of all companion scenes, topping anything useless that Susan, Dodo and Victoria might have done. It is two unlikable characters appallingly performed having an artificial argument – it's horrible. Could it get any duller than Nyssa playing about with pencils and screwdrivers? The recreationals are repeated ad nauseum to a point where you might genuinely think you have switched over to Blue Peter. When all the cultural dances mingle in recreation haywire you could be forgiven for thinking that you have fallen asleep and fallen into a surrealist, cultural nightmare. The Doctor leaps into space tethered with a loose bit of old rope? The special effects for the space walk are pretty dire; all fringe lines and scribbled in TARDISes. Why does the Doctor head back to the spaceship to save Adric? At one point Monarch actually stares at the camera and goes ‘NOOOOOOO!’ The Doctor leaves the TARDIS door open in front of Monarch and he doesn’t go inside, a bizarre oversight given his obsession with the craft in earlier episodes. The story ends with Bigon and his chums grinning inanely at each other…and I couldn't help but wish the whole lot had been flushed out of an airlock for all the colour they added to the story.
The Shallow Bit: The Doctor is wearing a costume rather than clothes and his companions all follow suit. You wouldn't see anybody on the street dressed up anything like this bunch and it makes them a little hard to buy into as real people. Plus Adric's bowler and Tegan's messy birds nest cut make them deeply unfashionable, even for the eighties. Adric wrestles with Enlightenment in what looks decidedly like an attempted rape scene.
How much filthy dialogue is there in this story…?
‘He knows I’m no good with my hands!’ moans Adric.
‘Is this one of your dropping times Doctor?’
‘Ahh the flesh time!’
‘I wouldn’t dream of interfering with you Monopticons.’
‘Our lubrication freezes and our joints stiffen!’
‘Nyssa, relieve him…’
Result: Four to Doomsday is one of the oddest Doctor Who stories I have ever seen. It flaunts reasonable special effects, fantastic design, gorgeous lighting but this is a lick of gloss over what is a second-rate script full of confused ideas, dodgy characterisation and a distinct lack of action. If there was ever an argument against filling the TARDIS with companions this story is it; you have three terrible, overwritten, badly acted assistants clogging up the story and eating up the Doctor’s screen time and as a result the fifth Doctor is at his most insipid. The story plods along at a glacial pace with little interest, failing to generate any excitement or tension and our triumvirate of villains (Monarch, Persuasion and Enlightenment) make for extremely crass, middle-class aliens, lacking menace. A stilted science lecture lacking logic or entertainment value and a massive misstep for the fifth Doctors opening volley of stories. The show is so up and down at this stage my critical faculties are crippled but I'm astute enough to recognise that this is unacceptable television: 3/10
Kinda written by Chistopher Bailey and directed by Peter Grimwade
TO BE REVIEWED...
The Visitation written by Eric Saward and directed by Peter Moffatt
Fair Fellow: As hard as I am on Davison’s Doctor at times he would enjoy sporadic stories where his Doctor was afforded some stirring material (other great examples are Kinda, Earthshock, Enlightenment and Frontios) and I really like how Eric Saward manages to capture the idea of a old man trapped in a young mans body through his general grouchiness in this story. Despite the wealth of embarrassing melodrama in the opening TARDIS scenes there is a wonderful moment where the Doctor talks awkwardly to Adric about peoples true feelings and flustered covers his discomfort by shouting at him. He really doesn't know how to handle all these hyperactive children. He’s absolutely terrified when he realises they aren’t at Heathrow, terrified of the wrath of the Air Stewardess a few metres down the corridor. The Doctor tries to explain that the TARDIS isn’t always reliable and accidentally snaps a control from the console, waving it about ineffectually to make his point. I really like how angry he is throughout; often snappy, impatient and hard on his companions (trust me they really need it) and it is a darn sight more effective than the brow beaten Time Lord from season twenty. He wonders why Earth people are so parochial? Like Four to Doomsday, he still gets squeaky voiced when roused as though he hasn’t quite hit puberty yet. He is magnanimous enough to skip over the fact the Tereleptil Leader has been to prison and simply wants to help him - I could imagine the sixth Doctor coming down much harder on him. There’s a couple of moments in part four where he really lunges at Tegan when she is being ultra irritating. I'm not demonstrating for the right to commit domestic violence in the TARDIS but I really wish he had kept this up. Oddly he saves the strangulation attempt for Peri. He is very quiet about their pivotal role in human history but I can imagine in years to come he will be boasting to all and sundry about his role in the Great Fire of London.
Screaming Harridan: There is a real feeling of season one in Davison's first year. Not just with the overcrowded TARDIS and lengthly domestic scenes but also with the running theme of trying to get one of them back to their correct time and place. The difference is that the first Doctor wanted his friends to stick around whereas the fifth Doctor cannot wait to boot Tegan from his life. Tegan is at her most shrill in this story, mouthing off to all and sundry and behaving in a generally pig headed manner. It seems to be a nervous response to feeling helpless but it's one I suggest she drops quickly because being rude to the people she meets on these adventures really isn't the way forward if she is going to stay alive (especially when they are usually accused of sabotage/murder/being up to no good). There is the suggestion that her bolshie attitude is her way of disguising her real feelings but it is not fed into the script well enough to come enough to make it convincing, I think she simply enjoys being awkward. Tegan is still haunted by her experiences sharing her mind with the Mara. I did like her quiet admission to Nyssa that she hasn’t been the best of travelling companions, a small moment of gratitude amongst all the volume. The Doctor comments that she always overreacts and is finding the idea of leaving the TARDIS harder than she thought. The fact that she is stupid is hardly an original observation, she admits. Her Guildford gag really tickles. Adric might be stronger (I don’t know if I buy that) but Tegan is more determined. A bet she's got the muscles of a horse. Something has gone pretty wrong with a character when I am pleased that she has turned into a zombie for simple reason that she has shut the hell up. She’s pretty bad at throwing punches, that's for sure. ‘Groggy, sore and bad tempered’ is Tegan’s character description throughout her tenure. The Visitation is the only story in which she says ‘G’day’ Tegan the Tereleptil Slayer! Watch as she psychotically batters one to death with a gun and try and control yourself. It is impossible.
Sulky Brat: What a petulant cunt he is from the very first scene. Adric is at his most irritating at this stage. Gone is the actor who tried his hardest to act because his hero was the lead (Tom Baker) and in steps the arrogant sod who doesn’t bother to reign in his inexperience because he is now the longest serving member. They don’t even try and make him likable; having Adric stuff his hands in his pockets, turn his back on an argument and sulk for the majority of the time. Matthew Waterhouse has terrible trouble making any dialogue sound authentic and moves so awkwardly around the sets, we have never had such a character/actor that has worked so detrimentally against the series before or since. It's nice to see a male companion twist their ankle but it does only encourage more ill feeling towards the lad. When he fails to attack the android successfully in the cellar, Adric bizarrely flings himself across the room and lies stock still. He isn’t convinced that Tegan likes him, which is kind of sweet considering nobody likes him. ‘Why isn’t he here? Why is he never around when you waaaant him?’ - he stresses waaa like a big baby. Kicking the android up the arse and being clobbered is the funniest thing ever he has ever done, it's priceless. Adric bangs the console to get the TARDIS working properly but he just can’t pull it off like the Doctor. What kind of actor can’t even bang an inanimate object convincingly? Eric Saward has moved as far away from the original concept of Adric (a cosmic Artful Dodger) as possible and isn't even attempting any damage limitation (he could limit the infection of the character by cutting his screen time down to nothing). He'll be gone soon and the show can search for a new identification figure. There hasn't been one yet in the fifth Doctor's era.
Alien Orphan: You have to give Eric Saward credit for at least giving every member of the crew something to do in his script even if it isn’t something terribly interesting. Nyssa has always been my favourite fifth Doctor companion. I know she isn’t the most dynamic of characters but she is being played by the glorious Sarah Sutton which means she is capable of moments of great depth and wonder. I love how firm Nyssa is with the Doctor, she really does lecture at him at times but she does it intelligently rather than wailing like Tegan. It is lovely to see Nyssa taking a pivotal role in the action (rather than being tucked away in the TARDIS doing nothing in stories such as Earthshock and Mawdryn Undead) but her scenes building the booster really are languidly directed. Her sadness at destroying the android rings true, she has murdered a slave machine. Given the general effectiveness of her character when paired solely with the fifth Doctor I can only imagine how this story (and others this season) might have played out had she been his only companion. Imagine no more, check out the prolific amount of Big Finish adventures that feature this duo and see how wonderful it might have been (Spare Parts, Creatures of Beauty, The Game and Circular Time are all phenomenal examples).
The Good Stuff: The opening attack on the manor is superb, well performed and atmospheric – why can’t the rest of the story be more like this? 17th Century terror told from the point of view of the local characters and not a sci-fi bit of fluff told exclusively from the point of view of our (frankly dull) regulars. John Savant deserved a much bigger role since he is such a terrific actor (go watch his unforgettable appearance as Egorian in Blakes’ 7). Obviously the Doctor has been teaching the crew a little kung-fu between adventures since their (judo chop!) skills come into play when they are attacked by a bunch of yokels. Richard Mace automatically becomes better acted and more interesting for the simple reason that he isn't Adric, Tegan or Nyssa. He's overloaded with unconvincing, overly theatrical dialogue...being a man of theatre I understand why he explains everything with a descriptive flourish but he lacks the polished loquaciousness of Henry Gordon Jago. The Miller nearly kills all three companions with one horse. I wish. The sets and locations are pretty but they are varnish on an empty script. Had it been shot with any care (at night would be the preferable options), the android's mask might have been really creepy. The few moments when the lights are turned down and Moffatt allows the story to be drenched in shadows (Tegan and Adric in the cells) the story automatically becomes far more atmospheric. I guess the Doctor is going to have to rely on wits rather than hardware now the sonic screwdriver has been destroyed. A shame they couldn't be so merciless in the new series. It’s so nice that something finally happens that is attempting to be dramatic that I applaud the android for infiltrating the TARDIS. The scenes shot on film are automatically more authentic than anything else we have seen so far it makes me wish that this whole story had taken place in London and filmed at Ealing. Imagine how polished this would have looked, how atmospheric. The Tereleptil face melts and pops like hot chip fat. Nasty.
The Bad Stuff: Prepare yourselves… The opening sequence is gagging to be a pre titles sequence and probably should be as it really doesn’t connect with the main plot at all and could do with the divide from the main action. Why couldn’t they cut the continuity between stories, it is always shoehorned so clumsily at the beginning of the story (‘I was trying to escape!’ 'In the TSS?'), the dialogue is unnatural and it makes you feel as if you have come in halfway through another story. You would be perfectly within your rights to think that this is episode two. In the sixties they managed to link the stories with a gripping teaser at the end of each story that made you want to come back next week…why couldn’t they do that? The cut to the gorgeously lit manor to the over lit cheap TARDIS console is like a slap in the face, switching from period drama to cheap SF so sharply you feel as though you have been slapped around the face. You really wouldn’t want to go travelling with this bunch of whiners would you? They remind me of a family fighting over the bathroom first thing in the more, except this is all the time and about everything. The homing device is such a crap 80’s gadget in a period that was polluted with fad gadgets. Why is it that some directors don’t know how to move a camera? At times it feels as though I am watching a piece of theatre but I have seen stage plays where the stage and the actors moves more often than the cameras in this story. Moffatt explains in the DVD extras that he likes to rest the camera and let the actors do the work but when your cast is as lacking as this you are stuck with no visual stimulation to distract you from their dismal efforts. ‘We’ve found yet another power pack’/’We Alzarians are different from you’/’Whilst you were enjoying 48 hours peaceful sleep in the delta wave augmenter’ – why does everybody talk in such affected, contrived terms? Eric Saward has some nerve criticising Pip and Jane Baker scripts when his own dialogue is hopelessly affected at times. I’m not convinced by the Tereleptil design; the face is quite nasty (and I really like the animatronic gills) but I think they might have taken the fish design too far because the scaly breastplate and tail look remarkably cumbersome and fabricated. And I wont hear any of that guff about the lack of time and money, especially not when they could design and create Draconians, Sontarans and Zygons with the same time and money. The forest backdrop from inside the escape pod is horrendous. One character is called ‘scythe man’ – would it really have killed Saward to call him Edward or something? Way to make these controlled yokels even more faceless. Even facing death the Doctor manages to slip in a continuity reference (‘Not again’). He knows what is expected of him in the JNT/Saward era. All the cliffhangers are remarkably bland and we reach the nadir with part three, which climaxes on Tegan fiddling with the catch of a cage. The sequence where Death turns up and holds his scythe to the camera would have been an ideal placing for a cliffhanger.
The Shallow Bit: I bet Adric stinks in that costume he never changes. Tegan looks ridiculous, popping up her hideous purple tunic time and again, face caked in too much make up and with a haircut a bird would happily set up home in. Think I'm being rude? Listen to what Janet Fielding has to say about the look in the DVD commentary. Mine is the more muted criticism. Nyssa looks gorgeous in contrast; light curls, subtle make up and decked out in crushed velvet. Famously she slips on some muff and builds a vibrator in her room.
Result: Doctor Who visits the 17th Century in the 1980’s, this is history at its most unstimulating. The period is only used as an atmospheric backdrop for the tale, rather than Saward getting to grips with the drama that is inherent in this century. Whilst I do find Peter Moffatt occasionally underrated as a director it is stories such as The Visitation that lack pace and visual style that make it hard to argue against that reputation. The only person who comes from The Visitation is Davison’s Doctor who manages to assert himself in a way that we rarely get to see. Rather than dashing about woods and farmhouses for four episodes, it might have been better to have used the time to build up the devastating historical event that takes place in the climax like The Massacre. The Hartnell tale gave the approaching riot considerable gravity so that when the fighting broke out the audience was on tenterhooks and breathless at the scale of the violence. The Great Fire of London in comparison is caused by a malfunction of technobabble and comes at the end of story that has absolutely nothing to do with the event. It feels like an irrelevant twist that comes out of nowhere when it should be the focal point of the entire story. It would be like The Fires of Pompeii being a dash around the streets of the city with no mention of the upcoming mountain blast and climaxing on the chimney being blown and the Doctor turning to Donna and saying 'let's get out of here, people are about to die...' Like the death of Nyssa's father that was never dealt with, like the loss of Adric that will be skipped over, Saward seems to avoid the emotional opportunities that are ripe for the picking. Superficially entertaining but never once fulfilling, The Visitation is a barely adequate Doctor Who invasion tale when it could have been something spectacular. The designers, musician and actors try and make of this what they can but with a script this dull and direction this languid they are fighting a losing battle: 4/10
Black Orchid written by Terrance Dudley and directed by Ron Jones
Alien Orphan: How wonderful for Sarah Sutton to be able to let her hair down after playing prim and prissy Nyssa for a whole season and get the chance to play up a little hysteria and melodrama in her secondary role of Ann Talbot. It goes to show how much of Nyssa's poker face and ambivalence is a performance. Imagine if Ann and Tegan travelled with the Doctor? The cattiness in the ranks would go off the scale. There are lots of great little moments for Nyssa in this story and given how invisible she is during much of her tenure they are all the more enjoyable for it. I loved her incomprehensible reaction to cricket; pretty much summing it up my allergic reaction to the game. The confusion as to whether she is from Traken, Worcestershire or Escher made me chuckle. Nyssa explains to Tegan that the dancing on Traken is much more formalised on Traken than it is in 1920s Earth which leads her companion to teach her a few steps of the Charleston. Finally these characters are being written as people rather than plot devices and caricatures. The chemistry between Nyssa and Tegan hasn't been this palpable since Castrovalva. They deck Nyssa out in a butterfly costume and she looks stunning and ultimately Sutton seems to relax into a setting and genre she is clearly quite comfortable playing in. Nyssa gets dance and flirt and behave like a young girl about the universe.
Screaming Harridan: Entirely unrepresentative of the Tegan that plagued the show for three years, if this was your first exposure to the character then you might wonder what all the fuss is about? She smiles her way through most of the story and is extremely pleasant to her hosts, thanking them for their hospitality and generosity. It is such a contrast to her usual foot stamping attitude that you have to question whether Terrance Dudley has ever watched the show before, let alone contributed ones which featured the nadir of Tegan's characterisation (both Four to Doomsday and The Kings' Demons are possibly her weakest tales where she does little but sulk and throw tantrums). Since this is the superior version of her character, I shan't complain too much. She throws herself into the dancing and flirts like mad with Sir Robert. Had she been like this throughout her tenure I would have been delighted. Amazing how much softer Janet Fielding plays the character when she is given the opportunity.
Pudding Bowl Haircut: Scandinavian? Completely the set of out of character regulars, even Adric is pretty fun in this story (even if his appearance is kept to the absolute minimum, as I have suggested all along). In a setting where he doesn’t have to be a traitor or play and active role in events, Adric thrives. All Waterhouse has to do is stand in the background, make a few suggestive comments (‘I don’t think I could do it!’) and stuff his face and he acquits himself beautifully. ‘Anyway I’d much rather eat’ - I actually laughed at that line! Perhaps Adric would have worked best if he was plonked in the foreground of every story, given a plate of food and told to eat and not connect with events. Amazing how tolerable he is that way.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Positively two peas in a pod!’
‘Strike me pink!’ – the best ever reaction to walking into the TARDIS.
The Good Stuff: Can you think of a story that is more quintessentially British than Black Orchid? The TARDIS lands on a sunny village train platform and the Doctor is carted off in a vintage car through glorious green countryside. He plays cricket on a sunny lawn, shares some (‘Splendid! ‘Top Ho!’) ritzy dialogue and then heads back to a fabulous country manor for cocktails. It's rural upper class Britain epitomised. Whilst it is clearly a studio set, the house has been designed with plenty of detail that sweeps you away in the romance of the period and the grand staircase looks splendid. I really like how the Doctor and company are expected at the train station, it saves all that bother about explaining who they are in the first episode and lets us get on with the story. It's not until episode two where the usual rounds of suspicion begins, subverting expectations. The ball scenes are very nice done and have a terrific atmosphere, but it is a shame that the weather was so inclement on the day they decided to film. Fabulous frocks, a terrific spread and lots of dancing. It is a genuinely thrill to see this particular TARDIS crew letting their hair down, they are always at each others throats and for once they feel like a real genuine group of friends. I'm not certain what is creepier, the harlequin outfit or George's disfigured make up. The fire he sets in the studio is really impressive – I am surprised that they let it build that much given the usual safety regulars or perhaps it is all camera trickery. Considering so little happens in this interlude the rooftop fireside hostage scenario (try saying that three times fast) really packs a punch. All of the performances by the guest cast are excellent, since this a period piece and there are no grandiose villains about everybody is playing their roles for real and they are more effective because of it. Well except perhaps Michael Cochrane (‘Smutty!’) but he is so marvellously over the top it is easy to forgive him. The tragic ending leads to a short but sweet coda, which suggests events unseen.
The Bad Stuff: It a shame Roger Limb chose to use a synthesizer for his music since when he decides to polish the ivory keys he does a rather lovely job. The electronic buzzing that pollutes the story is really out of place. I wouldn’t have even bothered to include all those scenes with George in episode one, wandering around and dribbling as the cliffhanger would have been a much better surprise. Whodunnit – geddit? As a murder mystery this story is trite because it breaks all of the rules, there is only ever one suspect and it reveals too much too early on. It's better to enjoy this simply as a period piece.
The Shallow Bit:Shirking off their 'uniforms'. both Tegan and Nyssa look beautiful. Go figure, JNT.
Result: The most refreshing change of pace for 80’s Doctor Who, abandoning heavy plotting and tangled continuity in favour of atmosphere and frolics. It is incredible fun to watch the Doctor and friends letting their hair down and so close to Adric’s death it is nice to see them gelling together so well. They might all be vaguely out of character but given that in three of those cases it is a move in the shows favour (only the Doctor is absent) it is hard to object too strongly. The direction isn’t fantastic but it doesn’t need to be…this is a quaint trip to 1920’s Britain and Ron Jones can languish shots on steam trains, countryside, cricket matches and fabulous old-fashioned cars. There’s not a lot of tension in this but by God there’s plenty of style: 8/10
Earthshock written by Eric Saward and directed by Peter Grimwade
An English Gentleman: People always cite Kinda as the strongest story for Davison's Doctor in his first season but he is mostly ineffectual as a protagonist in that story, threatened and patronised and not treated very seriously by anybody. It’s Earthshock where Davison really comes into his own for me; commanding his audience and providing some exciting and tense moments. Watch how he grins quietly at seeing the Death mask from The Visitation and the double helix neck wear from Kinda. He is furious at Adric for vocalising his personal faults; his lack of explanation (he does say ‘I’ll explain later' more than any other Doctor I can recall) and failing to get Tegan home. I'm pleased that he doesn’t return the favour and list Adric’s failings because this story would have to stretch to a ten parter and that is all it would be about. With Adric whining about being homesick and the Doctor stamping his feet and refusing to go back into E-Space it is like having two overgrown children in the TARDIS at each others throats. Adric thinks that since his regeneration the Doctor has become decidedly immature (when the truth is the reverse – Adric was almost tolerable when there was a chance that the Doctor might have kicked the crap out of him in the towering form of Tom Baker whereas as soon as fair fellow Davison took over Adric starting behaving like a patronising twat). Davison is fantastic at suggesting the urgency of the situation, both in dashing about like a madman and through the intensity of his performance as he races against time to deactivate the bomb. Ultimately it is the Doctor who is the bigger man and apologises to Adric first. Even under the threat of death he has the arrogance of a Time Lord. The Cybermen want him to suffer for his past defeats, which is going to be some punishment given their ineptitude in the past. His reaction to seeing the Cybermen marching through the freighter is chilling, brilliantly judged by Davison. ‘For some people small and beautiful events are what life is all about!’ – that’s a great line that could only come from the mouth of this Doctor, I honestly cannot imagine either Baker either side of Davison saying that convincingly in character. Look at the Doctor’s face as they are going to kill Tegan, all that facetiousness has dropped away and for once he looks genuinely terrified. It's another example of the Doctor behaving in an uncompromising and violent before Colin Baker took over the role - here he poisons and then blasts the crap out of the Cyberleader and somehow that passes muster whereas much of the violence towards the antagonists is questioned and vilified in the next era. Perhaps it is because the fifth Doctor looks genuinely mournful when he slaughters his enemies. The Doctor’s silence at the end of the story speaks volumes and is far more effective than when they actually do talk about it in the next story.Sometimes saying nothing is far more moving.
Maths Nerd: Unfortunately rather than accentuating his positives (there must be something), Eric Saward goes for the opposite approach by opening the story with Adric pouting and sulking in his bedroom that nobody likes him or has any time for him. It is hardly enamouring him to the audience, is it? He’s betrayed the Doctor more often than he has been his ally, treats Nyssa (who is his intellectual superior) like an idiot and is painfully sexist towards Tegan. He’s tired of being an outsider and yet does nothing but encourage that treatment from others and is an irritating know it all (watch as he tells them all the year they have landed in and try not to clench your fist and want to ram it down his throat). Adric bitches at the scanner screen that shows the Doctor departing into the caves. Matthew Waterhouse cannot even talk to himself convincingly, sounding like a squeaky mouse as the console makes weird squeaking noises. How can you look unconvincing throwing a rock? Waterhouse has a rare gift for looking stiff on screen unmatched by any other actor to have appeared on the show. Adric demands to know what is going on when the Doctor is trying to disarm a bomb – there is a time and a place, lad. ‘I’m hungry!’ he whines. He doesn’t even want to go home and just put on that display of angst to make a point and suggests he might change his mind one day (I believe that supposed to illicit some kind of fear in the audience when all it invites is disappointment). Adric finally becomes useful and applies his intelligence as soon as they are captured on the freighter. It feels as though Saward has suddenly remembered he is about to kill the kid so we might as well see him achieve something before he goes. Adric helps the Doctor to trap the Cyberman in the door and bravely agrees to stay behind whilst they head back to the TARDIS and comes commendably close to averting the ship's course. Although of course had he achieved that it would have been his most stupid action yet, wiping out the entire human race and giving birth to a potential race of intelligent, self-perpetuating dinosaurs. Daft old Adric misses his chance to escape – what is so weird about the final ten minutes of Earthshock is that it should take the extreme action of his death for me to feel anything (but irritation) about this character. The worst companion gets one of the best ever exits, there’s irony for you.
Mouth on Legs: The story where this phrase was coined. What is going on in the universe to bring to bear a moment that sees the Doctor and Adric having an immature bitch fight and Tegan watching on as the sensible parent? There does seem to have been some deliberate progression plotted into the season for the character, where her desire to return home is lessened (she mentions in the last story that she wanted to stay with the crew for a while), she has started to enjoy her adventures a little more (Black Orchid again) and her melodramatic tendencies have been watered down (Fielding's performances in the latter half of the season are far more palatable than those of Four to Doomsday and The Visitation). The next story sees her return home (and to Heathrow no less) and should have seen the end of her adventures with the Doctor, her voyage reaching it's natural conclusion. It is marvellous for Tegan to be able to strip out of that hideous uniform and rough for a while in military fatigues. If her psychotic attack on a Tereleptil taught me anything in The Visitation it is that this woman is dangerous when riled and that is taken to the next level in Earthshock. She even gets a great Ripley-esque moment where she rushes up to an injured Cyberman and blasts the crap out of it at close range. It was halfway through the fourth episode when I realised that Tegan had not annoyed me even once throughout the entire story (normally it is within the first couple of minutes of episode one) which is something of a minor breakthrough. All it takes is some reasonable characterisation and pleasant demeanor. Given their biting, back stabbing relationship I am not surprised it is Tegan who breaks down at Adric’s death. Perhaps there was more affection there than we thought.
Alien Orphan: Poor Nyssa, stuck in the TARDIS again whilst everybody else gets to go out and have all the fun. Thank goodness Big Finish have given the character more opportunities. Nyssa is dismayed at having landed on Earth again. I love how Nyssa takes charge in the TARDIS – ‘I want things to settle down before we go out.’ Probably the most emotional moment in the whole story comes when Nyssa reacts dramatically to Kyle’s senseless death – Sarah Sutton looks devastated and it is impossible not to think back to her peaceful life on Traken at this point and wonder if the Doctor isn’t damaging her with these violent adventures.
The Good Stuff: Earthshock opens with the ultimate Doctor Who image – a bare quarry! There can be no doubt at what you are watching. Looking at the first episode as a whole it is the archetypal opening instalment with people dying in some caves, the Doctor being caught and blamed, plenty of atmosphere and a monster reveal at the cliffhanger. It has always been a winning formula and directed this moodily it is one of the finest examples. Somebody has remembered that if you turn the lights right down it creates a sense of atmosphere and dread and there is one moment in particular that stands out in this respect, the troopers emerging into a mist-filled cavern with the camera tracking their movements slowly, the androids entering behind them, their egg shaped heads gleaming. To give Grimwade his credit the first episode is packed full of memorable imagery like that. I love the ickiness of Snyder’s remains; it really looks like she has been reduced to blood and acid. Suddenly the danger feels real. The first cliffhanger is still one of the best and you can imagine the excited screams of a million geeks as the sleekly re-designed Cybermen are revealed. Given the fact that multi-camera techniques in a studio usually means that action is fairly stilted, the attack on the androids is dynamically directed and I especially like the impressive visual of their heads exploding in a shower of slow-motion sparks. Beryl Reid wouldn’t be anybody but JNT’s first chance to play Briggs but you have to admit she really goes for it. I don’t find anything offensive about her performance even if she didn't have a clue what she was talking about. The freighter sets match the caves for atmosphere and with some clever direction it feels vast and spooky, the ideal place to hide a Cyber Army. The Cybermen feel like a genuinely unstoppable force as they murder their way through the crew in Earthshock, if there is one thing the show always manages to get right about these creatures it is their numbers and their relentless advance. The siege on the bridge is an example of how clever editing can make a scene far more tense than it otherwise would be with cuts to the Cybermen at each door and the Doctor's voluminous reaction. It is one memorable set piece after another in Earthshock, the Cyberman bleeding down the corridor and the guard trapped within the door are both images that linger in the mind. Casting my mind back to the Williams era and I cannot imagine that period of the show ever managing to pull off a monster reveal as effective as the moment when the Cybermen burst free of the silo and surround Tegan and Scott in the shadowy vaults of the freighter. It looks gorgeous and is tense and exciting, JNT's stock and trade. The Cybermen want to destroy the Earth to put an end to a conference that would see several worlds unifying to defeat them. You have to give Eric Saward a round of applause for thinking up a decent reason for all this carnage as I can think of quite a few stories that never bothered. There's a terrific jump out of your seat moment when the soldier is suddenly grabbed by the throat outside the TARDIS - we have simply never had Doctor Who like this before. Earthshock is one of those rare occasions where you get a crushing sense of dread as you approach the climax, as Adric is left behind and Doctor runs out of time to save him. That feeling of anxiety is usually reserved for the regeneration stories. Adric's death is beautifully handled, clutching his brother’s belt as he plummets into the Earth. Nyssa’s scream always gives me goosebumps and Tegan’s tears are very affecting. Suddenly the TARDIS doesn’t feel such a safe place to live after all.
The Bad Stuff: I don’t think the soap opera scenes added anything to this season – they were handled much better in the very first season but here the show feels more like Crossroads than ever. All we need is for Tegan and Nyssa to reveal their secret affair and Adric to turn out to be the Doctor’s son. ‘The Earth collided with something from space’ informs the Doctor in a scene that screams of setting up future developments. James Warwick is super butch (‘Too many people have died for you to play the fool!’ and ‘it could be…rough!’) and never entirely believable. Having recently watched The Nightmare Man it is clear that this was all an affectation and that he can take to the screen in a far more naturalistic fashion. A lot of the rocks in the caves wobble spectacularly. ‘You could hide an army down here…’ – there is foreshadowing and then there is hitting your audience over the head with future developments. Peter Grimwade is right, the musical score is often detrimental to the action. And sounds a lot like a farting competition at times. Cyber moon boots? There are a couple of hilariously gossipy Cyberman guards standing about making emphatic hand gestures. The Cybermen bursting through into the bridge is such an effective moment that it is a shame the door is clear made from balsa wood. Things take a turn for the weird when the freighter starts travelling through time in the last episode. Even for a show that can be about anything and going anywhere this feels as if it comes from absolutely nowhere. How funny is Adric tentatively tapping at that soon-to-explode console?
Result: One of the most dynamically directed classic Doctor Who serials with all the crew working to make Earthshock as exciting and atmospheric as possible. It’s a remarkably sturdy production with a terrific look; both the caves and the freighter are realistic, shadowy locations and everything from the costumes to the hardware add to the sense of reality that Grimwade is determined to push. The Cybermen make an impressive return to the series, their appearance is given excellent build up in the unforgettably tense first episode and their strength of numbers and insanely ambitious plans are more impressive than ever. Peter Davison gives the most assured performance of his first season and the regulars all get a moment to shine. Eric Saward might not be the most sophisticated of scriptwriters but the way he stacks the threats in this story so they escalate towards that unforgettable climax is rather elegant and he includes many impressive set pieces along the way. None of the guest characters make much of an impact but Earthshock isn’t supposed to be a good character drama; its all about explosions, deaths and a whopping great threat to the Earth and on that level it is one of the best examples the show ever gave us. Featuring one of the best first cliffhangers and definitely the finest companion exit, Earthshock takes risks and wins and sees an annoying companion depart the series in true style: 9/10
Time-Flight written by Peter Grimwade and directed by Ron Jones
This story in a nutshell: It’s quite hard to put this rationally but a Concorde is stolen by a magical genie who brings it down in prehistoric times where he psychologically overwhelms the crew and passengers and gets them to break into a metal egg to reach some psychic aliens. Or something. Doctor Who has never sounded more like a b movie.
Fair Fellow: One thing I have noticed whilst working my way through the worst of the fifth Doctor stories is that Peter Davison is much better than I recalled him being. He was the best thing about mostly yawnsome The Visitation but he acquitted himself rather well in Castrovalva, Kinda and Black Orchid too, even though all three stories portray him as ineffective character. His biggest challenge was always going to be Time-Flight, a story so outrageous in its ambition it was bound to fail and required an actor of steel to drag something respectful from its ashes. After watching Time-Flight it is nothing short of a minor miracle to say that anybody has any dignity left intact, that’s how good Davison is. He strives to give this material significance and that is what you call a game performer. There are some rules that can never be broken and he really goes at Tegan and Nyssa for making the suggestion to save Adric. He points out quite reasonably that Adric did have a choice to stay on the freighter, although I have to wonder if it had been somebody else that he thought something of he might have bent the rules a little and at least tried. Let's be honest that was never going to be the case with Adric. He tries to be responsible for the TARDIS. When he name-dropped UNIT and the Brigadier all I could think of was the fourth Doctor would never do that. Peter Davison declared this story crap (a remark that led to a minor backlash against the actor from fans who thought he was summing up his entire era) and who are we to argue with the lead actor? He’s always found domination such an unattractive prospect, which is lucky considering how many times he’s been offered a hand in controlling the universe. When asked if he loves the company of fools you can only look back at his companions this season and weep. The look on his face when he declares that the Master has finally defeated him is one of horror – could it be that the Doctor enjoys their rivalry as much as his foe? Or that he is simply appalled that he has been bested by such a preposterous scheme? Things are so exciting in episode four the Doctor takes a nap on the floor of the TARDIS. At the climax he was just waiting for his chance to skip back in the TARDIS and dump Tegan, wasn't he?
Acidic Aussie: Finally confirming that she is stark staring bollocking mad Tegan suggests going back to save Adric. Tegan is the embodiment of the ‘wants what she can’t have’ individual, she has spent the whole season arguing, bitching and beating up Adric and now he is gone she says she will miss him. In the same vein she has made such a fuss about reaching Heathrow and when they finally make it she bursts into tears at the thought of being left behind by the Doctor and Nyssa. What the hell? Is that she just likes a moan? I can only come to the conclusion that she will never be pleased. Go with me here because I'm going sound a little loony tunes myself but I am starting to wish that JNT had let Janet Fielding play herself as Tegan rather than forcing her into the characterisation as decreed by Eric Saward and his merry band of writers. It is clear from the commentaries, featurettes and behind the scenes extras over at Big Finish that she is a witty, observant and enjoy woman to spend time with - the complete opposite of the character that she was shaped into on this show. JNT obviously saw some of those qualities in Janet Fielding and then proceeded to let his script editor stamp them all out over three years. It's devastating. Fielding comments that Tegan has a personality but not a character and that is an extremely intelligent observation and not something I had thought of before. In what threatens to become development (but stops just shy of that) Tegan says that flying on an aircraft feels unreal after the TARDIS. When they see Adric in the catacombs is he a vision of her subconscious guilt…or is he simply the worst nightmare Kalid could draw from her mind? In a moment of sheer insanity (and extreme amusement) Tegan talks to passengers that are stumbling across prehistoric Earth towards a Concorde as though they are on the tarmac at Heathrow. It's so bizarrely juxtapose that if you had just switched on you would have to wonder what fresh madness you had stumbled upon. Tegan admits it is not exactly dull travelling with the Doctor. Depending on your opinion of the character (some strange, unbalanced individuals out there admire her) the climax will provoke two opposable reactions. Either her exit will be greeted with a party or tissues.
Alien Orphan: Poor Nyssa suffers all sorts of frightening attacks, loss of control and hallucinations. No wonder shacking up with the lepers feels like the more appealing option come Terminus. Nyssa’s worst nightmare is the Melkur because what came from it killed her father. She is strong enough to see through Kalid’s tricks, though. It is clear that Peter Grimwade doesn't know what to do with Nyssa and so he writes her out of a scene as soon as possible. He does the same thing in Mawdryn Undead, which is probably the worst case of leaving Nyssa in the TARDIS to file her nails since she joined the crew.
The Good Stuff: Contrary to popular opinion there is some good stuff to be unearthed in Time-Flight but it is so swamped by ineptitude that it is often hard to spot. Vanishing aircraft gave me nostalgic thoughts about The Faceless Ones (the memory cheats you know, that one wasn’t exactly a classic either). People mock how the TARDIS crew forget about Adric and get all excited about the Great Exhibition but honestly he was such a fungal rash it was the only sensible thing they could possibly do. It is very funny that the one time the Doctor tries to take them somewhere other than Heathrow that that is exactly where they end up. The Concorde looks resplendent in the snow. For a few seconds of footage you can see exactly what JNT was aiming for. The first half of episode one is an acceptable slice of contemporary drama, it is just when we are slingshot into prehistoric times that things derail so spectacularly. The Master is trapped on Xeraphas desperate to escape, which is at least a decent enough reason for his actions if not his methods (not that you would know he was desperate though because he is still insufferably smug, pantomimesque and looking like he is having a great time). The three stooges, sorry pilots, provide some comedy relief especially when goofing about in the TARDIS. A whole race physically amalgamated into one organism is a lovely idea. A TARDIS around a TARDIS inside a Concorde is another.
The Bad Stuff: Time travelling Concorde crash landing on prehistoric Earth is a crazy enough concept from a fresh writer with no idea about the show but from a director who understands the technical difficulties and budget restrictions (he helmed the under funded Logopolis and Kinda) it is lunacy. ‘Sharaz Sharaz! Jamal! Balor Balor!’ – the Master has finally gone round the bend and started talking in tongues? The cheek of trying to suggest they have genuinely transported an aircraft to the rocky wilderness of prehistoric Earth by building one out of proportion leg of an aircraft in the studio is astonishing. I’m not sure which is more artificial, the performance of Judith Byfield as Angela Clifford or the design of the Plasmatons? How can a story dive bomb so spectacularly halfway through the first episode? The Doctor has a telepathic bubble bath. If you can make matter out of thin air wouldn’t you summon your resources to create something a little more threatening than dancing lumps of white faeces? Arabian Nights? The pantomime at Eastbourne is more convincing than this set up. Hayter is such a stiff character and one who is so deliberately obtuse that literally everything somebody says to him he argues with. Although he has the reverse effect of making Tegan seem quite reasonable. Any point Hayter is proven right I wanted to put my fist through the TV, he’s heartless, arrogant and perfectly awful. A character made out of pure cardboard. Imagine if Kalid had not turned out to be the Master, he would have been the shittiest villain we have ever witnessed…before the reveal you have to ask yourself why but afterwards you have to ask yourself why why why why why? Does the Master only dress up in these outrageous disguises so he can see the look on the Doctor’s face when he transforms? Has he spent entire years/decades/centuries in ridiculous guises waiting for his nemesis to show up (I guess so if you count his stint as a scarecrow in The Mark of the Rani). A more post-modern show would have run with the running gag of the Doctor trying to pull the mask off every fake looking villain thinking it was his arch enemy. Somehow, unbelievably, Matthew Waterhouse is ever worse than ever in his final, infinitesimal performance. Watch the old dear in the holiday hat bashing away at the sanctum; she’s really going for it! There is an extra trying to earn her fee. There’s plenty of talk about the Xeraphin being at war with itself psychologically but this is never dramatised; all we get is explanations, exposition, dry old facts. ‘Soon I will know everything!’ – Hayter dies in terrible agony, which is probably my favourite moment from the four episode, however unintentionally. What is it with extraneous characters flying the TARDIS this season (Tegan in Castrovalva and Four to Doomsday, Adric in The Visitation, all and sundry around the console in Black Orchid and now Stapley in Time-Flight). This isn't a number nine bus, you know. The Master has finally defeated the Doctor…by plugging in a few wires hehehehehe. That would have been a crap defeat. I haven’t even mentioned the musical score which is like a cheese grater driving into your brain and draining the story of atmosphere, although to be fair the director is a co-conspirator in that aim too. How can they take off with all those rocks everywhere? Surely the tires would burst? I can't believe I am trying to rationalize this nonsense.
The Shallow Bit: Stapley, Bilton and Scobie are the campest bunch in a TV show until Gavin and Tim come along in The Brittas Empire. Andrew is the cutest thing. Why does the Master have such a phallic gun? Is it saying something about him psychologically and sexually?
Result: For fifteen minutes you would be perfectly within you rights to think season nineteen will continue the run of luck of the last few stories and end the season on something entertaining and contemporary. I have seen Doctor Who stories crash and burn halfway through (The Ark) or in their last instalment (Pyramids of Mars) but to abandon all hope before the end of episode one is a new record. It’s not just that the story looks hideously cheap or that the plot is told entirely through exposition and pantomime antics or even that we have to suffer another minute of Adric…the very ideas at the heart of this story are so unconvincing you couldn’t even kick start it if you did have decent characters, strong dialogue or decent production values (of which there is a dearth of all three). Time-Flight is the most ill conceived, sluggish, embarrassing slice of hokum. The Davison era hits its nadir: 2/10