Monday, 26 September 2011

Season Seventeen

A time of frivolity and madness for the show, season seventeen is notoriously unpopular but is one of the periods in the shows history that I most frequently rewatch because I find it so much fun! The Doctor, Romana and K.9 face the Daleks locked in battle with the Movellans, the splintered last of the Jagaroth, Erato the giant plant creature, the homicidal Mandrels with a secret of their own, the Nimon offering fools gold to the people of Skonnos and finally the Gallifreyan war criminal Salyavin!

The regulars -

Destiny of the Daleks written by Terry Nation and directed by Ken Grieve

Result: Beneath all the trappings there is a sound science fiction story at work here and clearly Douglas Adams has had a huge impact on Terry Nation’s original script, for good or for ill. There is a disquieting first episode, which is slow but dripping with atmosphere and an exciting, visually impressive concluding episode that ends the story on a good note but it’s the humdrum middle episodes that really let this story down. How can any story can be this dynamic (fantastic camerawork, effects and action) and this dreary (the majority of the performances, the plodding script) at the same time baffles me. Tom Baker seems almost subdued in the early episodes in a story that refuses to give him all the usual pantomime schtick to play about with but soon finds his comfort zone when the Doctor is reunited with Davros and he can spend some time winding him up. Lalla Ward looks resplendent and whilst she is still easing her way into the role has an easy chemistry with Baker that already rivals that of Tamm's and would be far superseded in the next story. Destiny of the Daleks has a bottom of the barrel reputation but as usual the truth is that it is no where near as bad as people make it out to be. At the same time it isn’t the Dalek spectacular that should have opened the season and could have done with double the budget thrown at it and the script given another once over to iron out any conflicts in tone that keep cropping up. Completely unrepresentative of the Williams era, Destiny trades wit and imagination for flashy visuals and set pieces and it also has one of the best DVD covers too. Flawed but fun, all told: 6/10

Full review here -

City of Death written by David Agnew and directed by Michael Hayes


The Creature from the Pit written by David Fisher and directed by Christopher Barry

Result: Creature from the Pit plays like a pantomime complete with an ice queen, comedy bandits, a monster and a moral. If you cut away one episode and the bandits this would be a much sharper piece and probably enjoy a better reputation. Tom Baker is enticingly good but Lalla Ward has yet to perfect her interpretation of Romana. With old school actors such as Eileen Way and Geoffrey Bayldon present the story feels a lot more necessary than it has any right to be but I do love how the script suddenly pulls itself together in the last episode and surprises with a trip into hard science after all the mucking about in caves. The creature is an attempt to do something wildly different that doesn't quite come off but you can see what they were aiming at in certain scenes (Tom Baker helps immeasurably to sell the likelihood of such a creature) and it even works in execution during some shots. This story is best watched at Christmas with young children, a teaspoon and an open mind. It isn't a favourite of mine by any stretch of the imagination but it is always a story that I enjoy: 6/10

Full review here -

The Nightmare of Eden written Bob Baker and directed Alan Bromley

Result: Wildly imaginative and intelligent but also cheap looking and farcical, The Nightmare of Eden will conflict its audience depending on what you are looking for from Doctor Who. I love it - Bob Baker’s only solo script for the series is a belter, loaded with great ideas, funny lines and held together with a very strong message. The drug-dealing angle gives the comedy some gravity and the performances, whilst sometimes veering over the top, keep the energy levels high. Sometimes you think that the director must have walked out during the shooting of the story and then you discover that he did and it is astonishing that this quirk slice of Doctor Who turned out as good as it does. Ward and Baker are at the top of their game, especially the latter who aside from one moment of pantomime is giving a commendably serious performance that drives home the drama of the message. Any story that can juggle spongy predators, computerized zoos, miniature landscapes you can step into, ships making love, inebriated authority figures, slapstick bureaucrats and a love story gets my vote. Of all of classic Who, this is one of the most entertaining examples: 8/10

Full review here -

The Horns of Nimon written by Anthony Read and directed by Kenny McBain

Result: The Horns of Nimon is a very clever piece of writing disguised as a comic pantomime and it offers much to those who want to laugh at Doctor Who and those who want to take it seriously. The gags and outrageous performances will make you chuckle but when it needs to be serious (the truth about the tribute, Romana’s trip to Crinoth) it becomes sedately earnest. It’s the last of old school Doctor Who where the show relied on strong storytelling and from here on in (including the new series) we are mostly treated to witty scripts and strong productions (with some standout exceptions). As such Nimon should be praised for its engaging use of ideas and dense plot construction rather than criticised for its lack of resources. On the odd occasion the story tips over into farce (hello Graeme Crowden) but collectively I found this story a huge dollop of fun with some unexpected statements on some very tired ideas: 8/10

Full review here -

Shada written by Douglas Adams and directed by Pennant Roberts

Result: Only in a Douglas Adams script could you stop for a pot of tea in a gentleman’s study which just happens to be a TARDIS before heading off to defeat the villain. I’ll forgo all the usual platitudes about how much of a crying shame it is that this story was never completed and avoid the churlish criticism of those who claim that had it been broadcast it would never have earned the attention that it has (oh wait…). Shada is a fine story to end the much maligned but generally strong season seventeen on, an adventure that bothers to finish the season off with a memorable climax. The first half of the story almost exists in it’s entirety and is the best chunk of material of which to judge it on and I found the majority of it charming in the extreme. The location in and around Cambridge looks great and grounds the story like very few in the Williams era, allowing Adams to inject a great deal of domestic allure into his imaginative tale. In Tom Baker, Lalla Ward, Denis Carey, Daniel Hill and Victoria Burgoyne you have an honest to goodness ensemble championing the tale, each character appealing in their own right and all the different pairings proving a success. The story is a clever one with its clues expertly slipped in early so Adams can build on them as the narrative progresses, bringing all the elements together just before the fifth episode climax beautifully. If Adams thought this was one of his weaker efforts then it proves that this is one time when his instincts deserted him because it is a very nicely plotted piece of work packed with incredible ideas. Perhaps he wasn’t just being modest, or perhaps he was incapable of delivery poor work. A shame that we can’t see all the vital confrontations with Skagra (he’s prevalent in the first half of the story but disappears altogether later on) are missing but the story rallies for much of the final episode and it is clear that the pace would have been pretty damn furious, capped by a very sweet coda. There might be a few amusing diversions here and there but on the whole there is six episodes of dramatic material to be found in Shada and that is not a plaudit that you can pin on many other stories of this length. Is it an all conquering classic? No. But Shada is a lovely piece of work to cap off the Williams era with and contains so much of what made those three years a delight: 8/10

Full review here -

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