Friday, 23 September 2011

Season Six

A time of experimentation after a fairly consistent year with story length and genres shifting from story to story and a common rumour is that viewers switched off in droves during season six but on the whole the ratings were just as strong as the year before (only in the last two overlong stories did they suffer). Here we face the deadly Dominators, the Land of Fiction, Tobias Vaughn in a pact with the Cybermen, cyrstalline Krotons, an Ice Warrior invasion, space pirates and a multitude of wars...

The regulars -

The Dominators written by Norman Ashby and directed by Morris Barry

Result: Can The Dominators really be so bad that the writers were justified in disowning it and the producer for lopping off one episode and giving it to the next story? In all honesty, yes and I can’t imagine being forced to sit through another episode of this muck. It's rare to find a Doctor Who story where both the alien menace and the native populace are this mundane and the episodes suffer interminably from some monotonous direction and a general lack of incident and character. Russell T Davies once said that in order for a Doctor Who story to work you need some kind of human connection and this story made up of entirely alien characters (except for Jamie who is from the past and Zoe who is from the future which means there is still some distance between them and the audience) almost seems to set out to prove him right. It's hard to give a flying fuck about the Dulcians because they are so laid back about the whole affair of being subjugated you have to wonder why the Doctor doesn't just hop back into the TARDIS and leave them all to their fate. The Dominators are equally drab, indulging in the same argument over and over again, stalling the plot with their constant bickering. You’ll never see Troughton and Hines working so hard to try and provide the entertainment that is lacking in the scripts and the fact that they manage to provoke a handful of moments that amuse is a testament to their skill given the obstacles they have to overcome. Morris Barry can deliver some dynamic results when he is commited to the story but it feels as though he has given up at this point (in the same way it felt that Chris Clough had come Silver Nemesis - a general feeling of apathy about the whole piece). This is one story that commits every sin you would might imagine sixties television is capable of; cheap sets, drab location work, static performances and a general feeling of greyness to the whole piece. In truth very little of black and white Doctor Who is anywhere near as bad as this - it's something of an anathema, certainly when compared to some of the other gems to come in season six (The Mind Robber, The Invasion, The War Games). The Dominators is a hugely embarrassing opener to a generally great season and easily the weakest second Doctor story: 1/10

Full Review Here -

The Mind Robber written by Peter Ling and directed by David Maloney


The Invasion written by Derrick Sherwin and directed by Douglas Camfield

Result: Will wonders never cease – a Cyberman story that I really, really like! It's one of only a handful of times that I find them an effectively menacing presence in the show. Because the story takes the psychological approach, both in how they subdue the human race and their antipathy towards emotion which when infected snaps their logical minds and turns them into deranged rogues. There are a stack of compliments to be handed out to The Invasion and I’m not sure where to begin! Douglas Camfield is still to my mind the finest director the show has ever been fortunate to book and this is one of his best stories – the imagery is memorable, the action is exciting and the story is shot in unusual ways that gives it a contemporary visual dimension. Then there is the top notch team of the second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe who all get stellar moments and have developed a supremely watchable chemistry by this point. UNIT is an idea that could have bombed spectacularly but given the resources of this blockbuster they manage to pull it off with real style and Nicholas Courtney’s Brigadier is the perfect face to front this military outfit. Brilliant guest characters like Isobel, Jimmy, Packer and Watkins add a human dimension to the story that is vital and the luxurious length of the tale allows the actors to explore the roles. Whilst I think the whole story is pretty special, episode six happens to be one of my all time favourite single episodes of Doctor Who. Starting with a rogue psychotic Cyberman menacing Jamie and Zoe in the sewers and ending with them bursting from the sewers and marching down the steps of St Paul’s – it's the show at the top of its game. Is this story padded? Yes. Does it matter in the slightest? Nope. The Invasion is a story that deliberately takes it time to build up tension and when the big event finally comes you have some of the most exciting moments of the entire era. Its not one to rush your way through but I find that an episode a night before bed really gets me excited about this story – especially with the brilliant cliffhangers. I can completely see why the production team were sold on this format to push the show in a new direction, its riveting. An expensive blockbuster with one of the finest ever Doctor Who villains in Tobias Vaughn, The Invasion is awesome and to prove how the era wasn’t limping home in the sixth season its only the third best story of the year: 9/10

Full Review Here -

The Krotons written by Robert Holmes and directed by David Maloney

Result: Would The Prison in Space have made for a more entertaining watch? This story was rushed into production and it shows and it oftens has the ring of strong cheese but I find The Krotons is much better than its reputation suggests, playing with some intelligent ideas and revelling in it's condensed format. It's rare to call a Troughton story pacy but at only four episode the story doesn't outlive its welcome and it seems to have just enough plot to spread across the entire piece without any much escape/capture padding. Like so much of this story, the Krotons themselves are a marvellous idea that simply cannot be realised convincingly with the resources of the show at the time. The idea of crystalline creatures setting a thousand year old trap is a stunning one and if made today would inspire genuine awe. Back in the sixties we had to make do with hulking cardboard boxes with skirts. Holmes is still getting to grips with the series at this stage but it clear he has a unique approach to the show creatively (intelligence as a power source is a very sophisticated concept for Who), even if his characterisation and dialogue need sharpening. Whilst it does haemorrhage viewers throughout the course of the story (dropping by two million from episode 1 to 4), the first two episodes performed high above the majority of the Troughton era. So whilst interest waned there was an initial burst of interest for the story (I wonder if that had anything to do with coming after the breathlessly exciting final episodes of The Invasion?). Without a doubt the most successful element of this story are the regulars and Holmes shows that without much coaxing has a perfect handle on all three of them, giving them plenty to do and playing to their strengths. Imagine this story without the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe to keep us entertained? It would be staggeringly melodramatic and certainly belong in the vaults and best forgotten. Between them Troughton, Hines and Padbury lift this intelligent but creaky SF story into something that is much more palatable: 6/10
Full Review Here:

The Seeds of Death written by Brian Hayles and directed by Michael Ferguson

Result: The Seeds of Death is one of those stories that often gets shuffled into the pack which is a shame because there is a lot to recommend it. Nowadays they could easily squeeze this plot into 45 minutes which leaves the almost three hour running time full of padding but shot this well running around and hiding from monsters has rarely been as much fun. The Ice Warriors are beautifully shot in this story, they look great and it’s probably the story where they exude the most menace. Michael Ferguson is the forgotten classic Who director whose work is always stylish and very imaginatively shot (here he deploys pans, fades, zooms, shooting through sets, high shots, extreme wide shots on location, quick cuts, shadows and silhouettes) and The Seeds of Death would be a lot sorrier without his masterful handling of the somewhat repetitive material. There is a point around episode three when it feels like all the arsing about on the Moonbase is going to play out forever but Terrance Dicks is on hand to guide the story back to Earth and gives the story a real shot in the foot with the introduction of the Weather Control Station. Also the inclusion of Fewsham adds a great deal of pathos to the story that would otherwise be missing, he is one of the unsung guest characters that really injects a great deal of realism to an otherwise frivolous bit of running about. Troughton is sublime and Padbury isn’t far behind and all the guest performances are strong. My heart wants to give this ridiculously engaging story a 9 but my brain wants me to give it an 7 so lets split the diff: 8/10

Full Review Here -

The Space Pirates written by Robert Holmes and directed by Michael Hart


The War Games written by Terrance Dicks & Malcolm Hulke and directed by David Maloney

Result: The ultimate Doctor Who epic and ten episodes of absolute magic. The way this story stacks up its revelations and becomes more vast and epic as it progresses is breathtaking; the war, the glasses, the scanner, the second TARDIS, the mists, the Romans, the map of all the war zones, the control centre, one of the Doctor’s own people, the resistance, the Time Lords, the trial, the forced regeneration…this is a beautifully crafted piece of work that is never short of surprises. The beautifully written and performed villains encourage you to keep watching, starting very effectively with General Smythe and simply getting better and better – the Security Chief, the War Chief, the War Lord and finally the Time Lords - with each one feeling more powerful and dangerous than the last until you are gasping with delight at how high the stakes have become. I remember when I first watched this story on a scratchy videocassette at Christmas – I was watching one episode each morning before heading off really early to do some overtime and I can still remember the dazzling atmosphere of the darkness outside, the Christmas lights glowing and this black and white delight transporting me back to a point in the series that was truly innovative and gripping. I was absorbed and enchanted. You’ve got a massive and engaging cast of characters brought to life by some great actors and enough locations to fill a season all artistically shot by the director. Right at the centre of this masterpiece there’s Patrick Troughton, Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury, a great team and they are appropriately all given their finest material in their last show together. Exciting, shocking, hilarious, dramatic, action packed and reshaping the series forever, The War Games sees the Troughton era end as it began with a triumphant story. As proof of what Troughton could do with the role there is no finer story and we are blessed that this epic somehow escaped the culling and clung to the archives: 10/10

Full Review Here -

1 comment:

Bad Andy said...

I love the Invasion and think the animation has done a great job in filling the holes. I think you mean Verruca Salt in the review rather than Violet though.