The regulars -
Attack of the Cybermen written by Paula Moore (possibly Eric Saward) and directed by Matthew Robinson
Busty Babe: Already Nicola Bryant and Colin Baker have developed a great chemistry and they bounce of each other very well in the first episode. Peri still thinks the Doctor might be a little unstable. A little? She is frightened as they fly in Halley’s Comets wake. Go watch the scene where the Doctor is looking off into the distance in a dream and Peri is literally jumping at his face to get his attention...and people say that these two don't light up the screen in the same way as previous Doctor/companions used to. Peri holding the shotgun probably caused a whole generation of wet dreams. The poor girl is dragged down back alleys and into the sewers for her impressive first view of London. I really like the scene where the Doctor mentions that the Cybermen are a particularly nasty alien race…and Peri starts backing away. ‘You’ll get used to it’ says Peri to Griffiths of their madcap lifestyle. Peri shows some real concern over the fate of the Earth in some eerie scenes with the Cryons. There's rather too much going on in Attack of the Cybermen to give Peri a large share of the action but she's fun for the most part and fulfills her function adequately.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘More bulges than an anti-natal clinic!’
‘I used to use one of those when I worked for the council’ ‘This time its for swinging, not leaning on.’
‘Drop it, unless you want me to open up his throat.’
‘You’re bonkers!’ ‘That’s debatable.’
‘You murder a police officer and you’ll get thirty years!’ ‘Handful of heartbeats to a Time Lord!’
The Good Stuff: JNT wasn't afraid of opening with a bang and we head straight down into the sewers to witness the murder of two workers at the hands of an unknown menace. Necks being snapped at tea time? Love it! The dramatic POV shots are very nicely done, especially when mixed with the electronic sting of Malcolm Clarke's music. You might be mistaken for thinking that you have switched on an episode of Minder during the sequences where Lytton's criminal gang plan a diamond robbery. Saward sets out to prove that this show literally can ape any other. What it does achieve is a nice taste of contemporary London in a show that was starting go fantasy crazy (this is exactly what was needed around the Time and the Rani mark too, but we'll get there in good time). Criminal gangs packing shotguns and explosions, this is muscular viewing (until we cut back to the camp as Christmas TARDIS scenes featuring Ronald McDonald and a Baywatch babe). Much of the casting in season twenty-two is superb and Attack of the Cybermen is no exception. In particular Maurice Colbourne and Brian Glover both give outstanding performances and the early scenes a kick of authenticity. It's great that they chose to film in London’s grimy, litter strewn back streets, Matthew Robinson choices to film London as it really is rather than the tarted up version we often see in the new series (after we have moved on from the council estates of seasons one and two). They really bring the lights down in the sewer scenes for some tense moments. Payne's death really impacts because of how uncensored it is. The first reveal of the Cybermen as the wall slides back and the camera looks up at the statuesque monstrosities takes some beating. Throughout Robinson is trying interesting things with the camerawork to try and make the story as visually interesting as possible. A great example is the positioning Payne's bloody corpse next to the camera as the Doctor and Peri approach - they are are unsuspecting but we know exactly what they are about to stumble on. The cut to Telos is unexpected and sudden but the action comes thick and fast to ensure the moment passes quickly. Cybermen are decapitated, men shot down and a cameraman runs down a hill in a disorienting POV shot of Bates attacking their guard. The Telos scenes could have been utterly forgettable but Stratton and Bates are so impressively performed that I couldn't help but take an interest. The sequence where they attack another Cyberman and knock his block off is very dramatically handled. The effects shot of Cyber Control in the distance really convinces. I have been complaining with each successive story that the Cybermen are becoming more like foot soldiers than the ghoulish parodies of humanity that they once were. Whilst Attack of the Cybermen doesn't handled the psychological effect of being converted, I was extremely grateful to Eric Saward for going for the body horror angle and attempting to reveal just how hideous the process is. Finally we get to see the conversion process in all its nasty glory; men gripped by technology, arms and legs replaced, their voices replaced by electronic noise. This is humanity being raped of its individuality and proof that we had every right to be frightened when the Cyber Controller pointed to the humans in Tomb of the Cybermen and stated coldly that we will be like them. Violence in the TARDIS is very wrong but it is cut together so quickly and excitingly that I barely had time to register. Griffiths is another contender for a male companion during the sixth Doctor's era because he is such a marvellous out-of-his-depth cynic (‘Have you got a taxi waiting?’). Lytton as a hero comes as a complete surprise but not an unwelcome one, his performance has adjusted just enough in this story to make the idea plausible (although he behaved abominably in Resurrection - what has brought on this change of character?). Whilst the costumes aren’t brilliant I do enjoy the delicacy and gentle characterisation of the Cryons, an unusually sweet alien race. The scene where Stratton reveals his converted arm is a terrific demonstration of the brutality of the Cybermen and their botch jobs. How many other rejects are out there with parts of their body replaced? Since it was given appropriate build up in the first episode (and here I was thinking that Saward was just being cute), the Cybermen's plan to destroy the Earth using Halley's Comet before the events of The Tenth Planet can take place actually makes a great deal of sense. If that was the only plot taking place in Attack of the Cybermen we would have been in much better shape. If you want to experience the Cybermen as a violent threat then you need look no further than the hand crushing sequence. Much lambasted, I think it works a treat and it was long past time that we saw just how bloody things could get if you pushed them too far. Poignant without saying a word, the slow camera movement away from Flast as she sits alone in the cold ready to sacrifice herself is lovely. When the Cybermen finally catch up with her they force her out into the heat and watch her burn to death - this really is the most sadistic of Doctor Who stories. You'll never see the creatures in the same light again, that's for sure.
Whilst it is amateurishly directed (it feels like the clock was about to strike ten and they had to get it in the can as quickly as possible) I rather like the furious energy of the Doctor taking on the Cybermen and murdering them all out with a weapon. It feels like things have gotten wildly out of control and the only way to restore a sense of normality is to kill the lot of them. Is it the only way this story could have been concluded? No, but Saward has once against boxed himself into a corner with too much going on and the only way he can see out is the murder everybody. It is becoming a habit on the show.
The Bad Stuff: The music is…meh. It’s too loud and intrusive and overpowers many the scenes even though on occasion it is quite effective (the Cryon theme). Nobody seems to know how to film the TARDIS set anymore, Matthew Robinson’s direction is very strong but as soon as he cuts back to the over lit, under dressed TARDIS set the cameras are suddenly static. That God-awful synth Steptoe and Son theme. The Cyber Lieutenant is the minciest of deep sea divers. The Cybermen on Telos are horrendous, taking the term robotic to its absolute extreme. Compare the menace of the Cybermen in the under lit sewer scenes to the over lit TARDIS scenes. Opening scenes of episode two see the Doctor locked in a room and scraping together tons of continuity and tossing it at the audience in one great lump of exposition, raking over the plots of The Tenth Planet, Tomb of the Cybermen and Resurrection of the Daleks. It has been mentioned before but the Tomb sets lack the style and sophistication of those in the original story. Watch out for the hilarious judo chop Cyberman who breaks free of his tomb in a violent frenzy. Look at that stupid Cyberman who tries to pat at the firework fizzing from his arm. Killing off Griffiths, Stratton and Bates is so Eric Saward – it’s as a great shock moment but afterwards you are left with no hope for any of the remaining characters. How funny is that panicking Cyberman who finds the Vastial? He beckons hastily at his mates to retreat. It’s a shame that the last action scene with the Doctor and the Controller is so rushed and pantomimic, those spinning Cybermen make it look like a salsa class.
The Shallow Bit: If you like a bit of rough, Attack of the Cybermen is the story for you. Peri bazumbas are extremely accentuated in that pink leotard. Even more so than usual.
Result: The first episode is very good; well paced with some violent and exciting touches. It feels like Doctor Who is back with a bang. The second episode fares less well with too much continuity and not enough clarity but there are still plenty of good moments and the whole story remains entertaining as a whole. What I love about Attack of the Cybermen is not only Matthew Robinson’s stylish and imaginative direction (his pacing, action sequences and ingenious use of the camera are all great) but also despite a few bumpy moments the Cybermen actually feel like a vicious threat and their conversion process is a genuinely chilling prospect. It’s a great story for the sixth Doctor because he gets to be heroic, violent, unpredictable, funny and even questions his own prejudices. Despite the general stylishness of the production there are some notable lapses, the budget fails the director on occasion and the musical score is so insistent that it will actively distract you from the action taking place. Should Doctor Who favour action over morality? Should it stick to fast paced set pieces over strong characterisation? Absolutely not, but this is where Saward and JNT took the programme in the mid eighties and your choice is to either go with it and find the treasures within (of which there are many) or resist it and sit in the corner pouting whilst still enduring the thing anyway because it is Doctor Who. Attack of the Cybermen isn’t perfect but it certainly tries very hard to be a gripping action thriller and for the most part it succeeds in it's aim to provide a high octane couple of hours worth of entertainment. Fantastic guest cast too: 8/10
Vengeance on Varos written by Philip Martin and directed by Ron Jones
This story in a nutshell: ‘Blindness, torture…executions?’
Theatrical Traveller: We have soon settled down with the Doctor and Peri and she is poking fun at his accident proneness and inability to get anything right. We’ve had three electrical fires, a total power failiure and a near collision with a storm of asteroids, he’s also got lost in the TARDIS corridors twice, wiped the memory of the flight computer and jettisoned three quarters of the storage hold! He even managed to burn dinner last night! But then he has never said he was perfect (teehee). Again I find it very interesting that when Colin Baker’s Doctor throws a paddy his detractors (I always point to Paul Cornell simply because his works are always the most forceful when comparing the character to previous Doctors but there have been other, dismissive commentators) get into a fanboy tizzy and yet when Tom Baker is furious and moody (Pyramids of Mars, Horror of Fang Rock) it is the height of fashion. The Doctor childishly sulks in a chair when the TARDIS runs out of energy but as soon as Peri rouses him from his slumber he cheekily tells her not to give up hope! I was very pleased to see him picking up on Peri’s Americanisms and once again stroking his little cat badge for luck. He can’t quite bring himself to admit that the TARDIS will work ‘like new’ when she is fed a little Zyton-7 so instead plumps for ‘like she was…’ The sixth Doctor leaves a laser on that kills a guard and all of fandom starts balling their eyes out…the eight/ninth Doctor (delete as applicable) wipes out millions of people on Gallifrey and nobody bats an eyelid. Edit: This apparently was not the case post Day of the Doctor but it certainly appeared to be so from Rose-The Name of the Doctor. Also he wiped out the whole of Skaro in Remembrance of the Daleks and all and sundry seemed to think that was the height of chic and the show returning to form. Go figure. He’s a man of action, sabotaging the cameras, taking a commanding lead role by forcing his friends to confront their fears of the giant fly and walking into danger with unthinking relish. Colin Baker plays the virtual desert scenes for real and he really convinces that he is genuinely dying. The look on his face is haunting when he stops breathing. So much has been said about the acid bath scene it almost seems churlish to try and defend it. Having just watched it I will say at no point does the Doctor try and push anybody in – the first guy falls in accidentally and the second guy gets pull in by his bloodied up mate and I hate to say it but I love the callousness of the gag as the Doctor walks away. It's called Doctor Who not Doctrine Who and I could recount many times in the past when the Doctor has quipped at people who have been hurt (‘He’s having a little lie down’ after he clobbers the slaver in The Reign of Terror, ‘I’m afraid he couldn’t make it’ about the unconscious Master left behind in The Five Doctors, ‘The Root – One, Dalek – Nil’, etc, etc). He’s quite playful with Quillam until he realises Peri is in real danger. He walks to his execution quite happily knowing that it will be a fake. Baker brings a real sense of gravity when he condemns the government of Varos and how they are being exploited by Galatron; it’s the sort of scene that you can only imagine the powerfully moralistic incarnations of the Doctor getting away with (Hartnell, Pertwee and Colin Baker really). I love how the Doctor strokes Peri’s face and hair as he tries to get her to reassert her memories, these tender moments make a mockery of their fighting and show where their true feelings lie. Whilst there are other, awesome examples of the sixth Doctor as he gradually softens throughout his reign, this is the best example of the violent, unpredictable sixth Doctor that is recovering from his regeneration. He brings an acidic touch to the role, much wit and resource and yet still manages to be quite gentle and caring. It's a beguiling contradiction.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘He’s the worst Governor we’ve had since…well since…’ ‘Since the last one?’
‘Run! Run! Go on run!’ – Arak plays the part of the kids watching!
‘I like that one! The one in the funny clothes!’
‘And cut it…now!’
‘You lying liar!’ and ‘She’s laughing at us all over the face!’ and ‘Pull the lever! Stretch them out of this life!’ and ‘Gently! Gently! Take extreme care with my person if you wish to retain your skins! Ah yes, I shall wear the mantle of power so, so handsomely!’ and ‘I will be governor of governors!’ – Sil’s so fabulous!
‘This Doctor must be eliminated. He smells the truth of things.’
‘The cameras are still functioning…let the show begin. I want to hear them scream until I’m deaf with pleasure. To see their limbs twist in excruciating agony. Ultimately their blood must gush and flow along the gutters of Varos. The whole planet must delight in their torture and death.’
The Good Stuff: Typical season twenty-two, the opening is stark and brutal with a woman almost hypnotised with pleasure as a handsome man is tortured on TV. It certainly grabs the attention. It's one of the things that the story is praised for ad nauseum but it is worth remembering just how intelligent and striking the framing device of having Arak and Etta watching the events of the story on their television just as we do on ours is. Any viewer can see themselves bitching about what is on the TV, complaining that it isn’t violent or satisfying enough and blaming the current government for all the problems. I do it all the time, safe in the knowledge that nobody can hear me. It’s almost a bit too smart for Doctor Who which makes it very special indeed. Plus the power games and opposing viewpoints of the two characters get more interesting as the story progresses. In the hands of another director Sil might have been shot more dynamically but in this case it is worth introducing the character in long shot since we get to see the full extent of his costume (with that awesome twitching tail) and his opening scene suggests he is just another character rather than the monster of the week (because there are far more terrifying dangers to come). Everything about Sil is fresh and deliciously grotesque from his orgasmic love of violence, his disgusting turd-like appearance, that wonderful snakish laugh and the delightful performance by Nabil Shaban. We haven’t seen a worthy new race in Doctor Who like this for quite a few years and it is no surprise that he was quickly pencilled in for a return visit. Martin Jarvis brings a seriousness and severity to Varosian politics; throughout you are completely on his side and watch him walk a fine line between leader and victim. The system of government on Varos makes for gripping viewing as it all comes down to numbers – if the majority disagree with the Governor he is tortured and if the majority agree he survives a blast from the disintegrator for another day. In a world where phone-in polls decide whether celebrities face intense hardship in the jungle, we're only about three steps away from this becoming a reality. There is a dramatic shot of the green light bearing down on him that really sells the horror of the vote going against you. In a society that is starting to focus more on numbers and public image this is becoming increasingly prescient. How awful is it when a man with integrity such as the Governor gets excited by Bax’s fresh method of execution because it might please the people and spare him more pain. That's desperation. Quillam is one of the most repulsive characters ever to appear in Doctor Who, there is something skin crawling about such a camp, hissable man who enjoys hurting people so much (and is so in love with his experiments he is even willing to mutilate himself). Varos has a fantastic music score, listen to the atmospherics as we lead up to Jondar’s execution and the fairytale tinkling as they enter the purple zone. Sil becomes even more wonderfully loathsome when you realise that Varos has a precious commodity that the galaxy is crying out for and he is keeping them in deliberate poverty just to turn a decent profit. Thanks to some effective lighting (imagine if this story had suffered the bleached lighting of so many other eighties stories?) this is one studio bound adventure that is very atmospheric. One of my all time scariest moments comes in this story when they are confronted with that horrid giant fly. Flies are one of my greatest phobias. I just hate everything about them from their creepy whining cries, their uncleanliness and the idea of them eating food, vomiting it up stamping the mulch into food and then eating it again (Ugh! Ugh! Ugh!) and so to be confronted with a giant fly with its hairy mouth wide, its legs twitching rubbing together and its segmented watching eyes…it gets me every time! The Governor exploiting the Doctor’s death to gain public support is utterly immoral and yet you understand why he is doing it – that’s how strong the undercurrents of this story are. In any other story the Governor would be the villain, in Varos he is a desperate man. Arak chuckling away at the Doctor falling to his death is chilling because I can see myself in a similar position in a really good death scene on the telly – Varos holds a mirror up to the audience and forces you to take a good, long look. The various methods of death in the punishment dome are pretty strong for Doctor Who; an acid bath, hanging, cannibals, physical mutation and mental torture. I’m not keen on the pink back lighting but the music, the chanting and the image of the Doctor in the noose all combine to make a memorable hanging sequence. The theory of a man frightened for his life will find solutions of the planets problems is frighteningly logical and unjust at the same time. Even Maldak who would be a faceless guard in any other story becomes a fully-fledged character when the Governor convinces him of how impossible ruling this planet is and helps him and Peri to escape at the last minute. Arak and Etta’s scenes just get better and better with the former frightened of her report against him but still stepping in to vote on her behalf, much to her horror. How atmospheric is that final set piece? The Doctor, Jondar and Areta amongst fleshy tendrils with blood red lighting and Quillam’s loathsome threats. That's some nasty makeup for Quillam’s scarring. The last scene is one of the most sublime moments I have ever seen in television – once the TV is switched off for good what do we do: ‘dunno…’ Priceless.
The Bad Stuff: That opening model shot isn’t very convincing. Areta is remarkably wet for a rebel and the actress is the weak link in the otherwise strong cast. I was quite pleased when Quillam tried to dispose of her which probably wasn't the idea. As soon as his part in the plot is over, Rondal is quickly dispatched. There is five minutes or so where the action lags in episode two. Ineffective gun play and an escape in a (really slow) buggy. The lava special effects is rubbish (primitive early electronic effects) and if you are going to feature scary cannibals do yourself a favour and don’t stick them in nappies.
The Shallow Bit: Any story that opens up on Jason Connery topless, chained up and sweating is doing something right in my book. He actually looks extremely similar to one of my ex-boyfriends and that ended in a less than satisfactory manner so seeing him being tortured so horribly is doubly satisfying. I feel at this point I should discuss the Doctor and Peri’s outfits which scream of the eighties more than pretty much anything else that was on television at the time (except perhaps Saturday Superstore). Garish, bright and the cause of much weeping sores on the eyes, the thing that strikes me as odd is that if one of them had been fortunate to wear subdued clothing (say like Peri’s gorgeous red wine coloured velvet top in Revelation of the Daleks) you could excuse that one of them is simply a loud dresser but with both them sporting such eye watering (or should that be mouth watering…especially for the men who get so many eyefuls of Nicola Bryant’s cleavage) indicates that this is the work of style icon (not) John Nathan Turner. Sil has some very kinky black slaves with him, bare chested muscle boys dressed up as Roman legionnaires. What a saucepot he is.
Result: Highly original, atmospheric and intelligent, Vengeance on Varos scores highly for its Russian doll storytelling which sees a scary Doctor Who run-around taking on much deeper context as we experience the politics of the planet that is supporting such sick entertainment and get to understand the people who enjoy it as well. Ron Jones gives his best direction in this story and subverts the stagey nature of the studio by giving the material some real integrity and still providing plenty of memorable imagery and set pieces. Colin Baker gives one of his strongest performances and has never felt more commanding in the lead role, I was riveted by his character throughout. Vengeance on Varos is a remarkably prescient Doctor Who story in that it explores a television medium that enjoys watching people suffer – the sort of reality television that has taken a grip over the schedules in recent years. The dialogue is thoughtful and Varos is fleshed out beautifully, it is no surprise that Philip Martin was drafted in pretty quickly for a second story. All this praise and I haven’t even mentioned the superb lighting, a memorable musical score and Nabil Shaban’s unforgettable debut as Sil. All this and you have one of the finest cliff-hangers and final scenes to any Doctor Who story. I’ll forgive Vengeance on Varos its few faux pas (a couple of dodgy performances, the nappy cannibals) because it pushes boundaries like no other Doctor Who story and manages to tell a gripping, frightening and considerate piece of drama: 10/10
The Mark of the Rani written by Pip and Jane Baker and directed by Sarah Hellings
TO BE REVIEWED...
The Two Doctors written by Robert Holmes and directed by Peter Moffatt
Aristocratic Adventurer: I always remember Terrance Dicks mentioning that Robert Holmes always wrote in moments of charm for Jon Pertwee’s screamingly serious third Doctor that softened his character and added some much needed humour. He achieves exactly the same thing with the sixth Doctor in The Two Doctors who was suffering from a tumultuous reputation at this point. Throughout this story he manages to be witty, clever, insulting and wonderful fun to be around. If you were not convinced at the beginning of the story, then he has fully emerged as the Doctor by the end. His delightful interaction with his former self sells his status as the latest to carry the torch. What’s the use of a good quotation if you can’t change it? Isn’t it lovely to see the Doctor and Peri chilling out for a change having a lazy afternoon fishing (and barking at each other, naturally). He suffers a mind lock with his former self when he is being tortured (does that mean all his previous incarnations experience a moment of pain as well as the memory bounces down from one to the other to reach the sixth). Once he gets a scent of a mystery he cannot leave. I love his arrogance mouthing off to the stations computer and then scoffing at its attempts to kill them. This really is a Doctor that you would want on side in a barney. He affectionately strokes Peri’s face after she faints. I can't imagine anything more essentially Doctor-ish than using bits of old wire in improvised escape plans. How does he breathe when he closes his respiratory passages? With difficulty! Notice how he is a lot softer with Jamie than he is with Peri (I like to think it is because he remembers their previous rapport but the truth is he is probably muted because the Highlander would more than likely deck him if he treated him to the same abuse). Poetic melancholy is how he responds to the end of the universe, a far cry from how the fifth Doctor would(n't) have reacted. There are real moments of lunatic eccentricity (‘Something to do with getting my haircut!’). He puts Peri down in the funniest of ways (‘Small though it is the human brain is quite effective when used properly!’). Once they arrive in Spain he strips out of that ridiculous coat and looks gorgeous in his colourful waistcoat. He’s interested in everything! The Doctor is rubbish at subterfuge, hanging off windows and tiptoeing about; he would make a terrible spy. He gets a kiss from Anita (for a second he is dumbfounded) and Jamie doesn’t (and he is gagging for it). Even though he is tricking Stike it was some very quick thinking to feed Jamie lies without acknowledging the presence of the Sontaran. Poor sod, he is chained up, slashed with a knife and stalked through the Spanish hills by a cannibal wielding a samurai sword. All in a days work. I cannot be the only person that thinks the Doctor murdering Shockeye with cyanide is a good thing? He tried to eat Peri and Jamie! Finishing off a nourishing story the Doctor considers the theme of the story and decides to turn vegetarian. Colin Baker is a delight in The Two Doctors, here is a man playing his dream role and loving every second of it. I just can't resist him.
Oh My Giddy Aunt: How fabulous is it to have Troughton back for the length of a six parter? He lights up any story whenever he appears. It warms my heart to think that he got to have this much fun with the part so soon before his death and he realised how much he was still loved by his fans. The sixth and second Doctors are my favourites so sticking them together charms me before the story even begins. Setting this story where he does Robert Holmes irreverently pisses off the whole of fandom by screwing up the end of The War Games and creates fan theories to explain his causal mentioning of the Time Lords. It's a hilarious finger in the eye for conformists. The Doctor tirades against the Time Lords continually trying to control his life. Think of the commotion if the scientists at Camera knew he had arrived, naturally they would all be scrabbling around after his autograph. I love how he oils the console! Jamie is not for sale, more’s the pity. He’s a bit of an exile these days. Not as progressive as you might believe and his diplomatic skills consist of behaving petulantly, insulting and childish. Nobody sulks quite like Troughton. He reacts very dramatically to the news of Jamie’s death, bless him. ‘Oh my giddy aunt! Oh crumbs!’ – this might be something of a parody of the character Troughton played but who cares, he is sublime in his last performance. The Doctor suggests a Sontaran should resign and take a pension. I love how he winds up Stike; he presses his buttons brilliantly and gets a slap around the chops for his trouble. He’s witty in the face of his own death (‘Doing the job on the cheap are you?’). Troughton’s eye rolling Androgum Doctor is irresistible; he has great fun strolling about Spain with John Stratton mentioning mouth-watering grub. ‘Some of us have these little privileges!’
Busty Babe: I always thought Peri was a little grumpy and nervous in this story but upon watching I was quite impressed at the amount of fun Holmes manages to have with her. Bryant and Baker were often given abrasive material to play but they share superb chemistry and when given sparkling lines they work magic together. ‘Perhaps you should see a Doctor?’ - nice one Peri! Sometimes she makes amazingly shrewd remarks. Poor Peri is half-frozen, asphyxiated, forced to clamber through miles of pipe and savaged by horny and deranged Highlander. Don’t get this American babe angry, she knees Jamie in the nuts and then gropes the Doctor. It’s great that it is Peri’s suspicious mind that conjures up the idea of the Sontarans trying to set the Time Lords up. Her reaction to the end of the universe taking centuries is hilarious (and the Doctor’s reaction to her even more so). Proving that she is learning (albeit slowly) Peri grips the console when the Doctor announces he is landing. She’s only good for causing a distraction and Shockeye describes her as a ‘fine, fleshy beast!' Shockeye gets as far as holding a huge shearing knife to her throat and to top that off she gets a jug of water in the face! Peri talks about tourists eating paella and chips as though from experience; I bet she had plenty of holidays when she was younger, the spoilt brat. Nicola Bryant trying to salvage something poignant from Oscar's death scene is hilariously funny, she's acting her heart out whilst he hams up his final breath. I love how well she slips in with the second Doctor and Jamie, it's like they have always been together.
Scots Babe: All Jamie has to do is stand in the background and admire the Doctor’s diplomatic skill! Hines and Troughton slip back into their old magic routine with effortless ease. It's like they have never been away. He is described as having soft white skin whispering of succulence. I wouldn't argue with that. Deranged with extreme fear at seeing the Doctor put to death, he attacks Peri. Although I think that is just his excuse to get his leg over. He thinks Peri’s Doctor is worse than his (many would agree but not me). The randy old sod finally gets a smacker…with Peri!
Sparkling Dialogue: I could happily recount the entire script since this is one story that is sold by its dialogue. Simon and I quote this story more than any other, its one that both a Doctor Who addict and a non-fan enjoy with equal relish. Go figure.
‘You give a monkey control of its environment and it’ll fill the world with bananas!’ which is a great line but made even funnier when we see Peri chomping on one later in the story.
‘You have more letters after your name than anyone I know. Enough for two alphabets.’
‘Christopher Columbus…he had a lot to answer for!’ he says looking at Peri...
‘Like a star on my dressing room door it becomes conspicuous by its absence!’
‘Eternal blackness. No more sunsets. No more Gumblejacks. Nevermore a butterfly.’
‘I don’t speak Spanish!’ ‘That’s alright, neither do they’ ‘But what if a Sontaran answers the door?’ – this is gold! Simon adores that scene.
‘Have you ever eaten a Sontaran?’ ‘Certainly not!’ ‘No, nor have I. They always seem so tough and tasteless.’
‘But I remember a dish…Shepherds Pie!’
‘Do you serve humans here?’
‘That is a 20 Narg note! You can change that anywhere in the nine planets!’
‘This is the part where I always say you can tell a butcher from a botcher!’
‘The time continuum should be big enough for both of us…just.’
The Good Stuff: There’s a wonderful moment of nostalgia as we open on the second Doctor and Jamie in black and white. Shockeye’s kitchen is a wonderful set strewn with carcases and huge cooking pots. John Stratton gives one of the best guest performances in the shows entire run, he says every line with sensual relish, making each one disturbing and very funny at the same time. Dastari’s study is another great set, huge gorgeous globes and plants tarting up the usual stock sci-fi sets. The Saward era continues to expose the hypocrisy of the Time Lords; he had a rant in Attack about their meddling, met two renegades in Mark of the Rani, their interference in other peoples time travel experiments is exposed here and we finally uncover their depths of deception in Trial of a Time Lord. The era plays as a perfect explanation as to why they had to go in the new series. It’s nice to keep the Sontarans off-screen during their invasion to maintain the mystery. Servalan in Doctor Who is another of my wishes come true and whilst Jackie Pearce is phoning it in for the most part, she did that for the majority of her run in Blake's 7 and was still fabulous. It’s great to return to a location we have already seen but for it to be given new emphasis because of the attack. Why didn't Doctor Who do this sort of thing more often? It's a startlingly atmospheric and cheap. I love the realisation of the computer turning the station into a death trap. Setting the Time Lords up to take the blame for the attack is a fantastic idea, I wish we could have seen that followed through with some sort of consequence (for the Sontarans or the Time Lords). The Dona Arana’s theme is gorgeous. Murdering and eating an old blind woman, those Androgums really are savages. The designs continue to impress as we head down into the service ducting, endless scaffolding that is atmospherically lit, highlighting the actors in blood red silhouettes. Oscar and Anita are the most superfluous of characters, a theatrical restaurateur and his dark eyed naiad but in the hands of Holmes they are such fun to be with that any objections are moot. For once the Sontarans are important characters instead of stock heavies and Holmes is perhaps the only writer who has the right to take the piss out of their comic one-track-mindness as much as he does. I will never forget the first time Simon watched The Two Doctors and the moment when Shockeye bit into the rat sent him into a gag reflex! It is horribly macabre and very funny (especially when he holds the creature up with a giant bite mark carved out of its side!). 'Smoke salted...it might just be tolerable.' A simple mention of memory affecting drugs clears up all of our logic gaps in one foul swoop, I like how Holmes bothers to concoct a reason to explain how the earlier Doctor doesn't remember events in the same way Baker, Martin and Dicks failed to do in previous multi-Doctor celebrations. If the Sontarans acquired time travel technology they could head back into pivotal moments in their war with the Rutans and turn all of their defeats into victories. The stakes are high if they succeed. Stike’s blazing eyed reaction to being called a coward is a memorable scene. Both cliffhangers are great but the end of part two wins out because Shockeye is such a savage piece of work and having him leer down the camera at the audience is shiversome. Jamie always was protective of his best friend and Stike gets a dirk in the knee for lying to the Doctor and to affect their escape. The first meeting between the Doctors is worth waiting for, its pure (‘SNAP!’) magic. It soon becomes the Seville Massacre when Cheseneye and Stike turn on each other but then it's a Saward script edited story so of course the majority of the guest cast have to be exterminated. Love the Sontaran theme, it's especially dramatic during their death scene. Comically childish and viciously savage, the Androgums are one of the most frightening humanoid races in Doctor Who. Stike’s death takes place in three, equally undignified, hilarious stages. Step One – he is burnt by acid. Step Two – he is electrified by the module. Step Three – he is blown to pieces by his spaceship. The final (chokingly funny) indignity is when Shockeye holds up his bloody stump of a leg which is so far beyond tasteless it’s hilarious. Turning the Doctor into an Androgum might feel like Bob Holmes has run out of things to do but it mixes the two themes of this story, the loss of identity and animal savagery in brilliantly comic fashion. The Andalucian location work is bleached in glorious sunshine and features a wonderfully furious Spanish guitar score courtesy of Peter Howell. If Holmes knew how much Oscar's death was going to upset fandom I am sure he would have pushed it even further. I find it screamingly funny, shot through with jet black humour ('dissatisfied customers usually just don't leave a tip.'). Cheseneye lapping up the Doctor’s blood isn't just there to gross you out (it is one of the few times Doctor Who manages that feat) but also demonstrates Holmes’ theme of fighting your nature perfectly. Tenderising the meat and breaking up the fatty tissues is such an inspired way for Jamie to be tortured. Suddenly we’re in Texas Chainsaw Massacre territory as Shockeye draws his huge Samurai sword and hunts the Doctor’s through the dusky hills – this story is beautifully iconoclastic, it features the weirdest of juxtapositions (the horror of Shockeye and the beauty of the landscape) that make it utterly unique.With five corpses littering the hacienda lets hope that Peri called in Torchwood Spain. ‘That’s the point, its not in two places at the same time. My TARDIS is at least five minutes walk from here!’ – Holmes is such a tease.
The Bad Stuff: Colin Baker’s harness is very obvious at the end of part one. Similarly, Oscar’s blood pouch is very apparent.
The Shallow Bit: Peri just loves having her best friends on display, doesn’t she? They are squeezed together and smooshed throughout the story with hormonal glee. Jamie finally gets his leg over. ‘A young one with a good proportion of meat to the bone’ Shockeye squeezes Peri cleavage together like cookie dough at the beginning of part three. ‘There’s some juiceful meat on this one alright!’ – Jamie’s equipment gets a mention.
Result: I love The Two Doctors with a passion bordering on insanity so please feel free to skip this one if you don't. People bemoan Peter Moffatt’s direction saying that the story lacks pace but have you read the script? This is not supposed to be a dynamic piece, it’s written as a piece of theatre with character interaction and fabulous dialogue triumphing over action. It's a televisual matinee with the added bonus of delicious visuals. Don’t watch The Two Doctors if you want a fast paced action romp (and it was the norm at the time so I am not surprised that people were a bit bewildered by this) but if you are in the mood for rich performances, a fruity script, sumptuous design and sunny locations then this is a real treat. Holmes’ script is brilliantly subversive, exploring the themes of identity and animal savagery with intelligence, blackly comic touches and witty loquaciousness. Everyone is running around in the sun having a great time, chewing on their lines and having a blast in each other’s company and their chemistry glows on screen. You could dismiss the whole piece and say that it is slow paced and the direction misses the mark on the occasion but that would nitpicking and ignoring a wealth of treasures within. I've listed plenty of examples above of why I adore this adventure so much but there is just as much again that I have failed to include (in fear of testing your patience to the limit). Probably the most pleasurable story to watch in the classic series last ten years, at least for me: 10/10
Timelash written by Glen McCoy and directed by Pennant Roberts
Aristocratic Adventurer: It’s easy to mock the overdone characterisation of the sixth Doctor in this story but amongst the dreck there are still some (scant) gems to be found. Colin Baker is trying his best to find something in the melodramatic drivel he is given to say…although at times the material is so bad he just surrenders to it. His ‘bad…bad…BAD!’ confirms all your suspicions that he is a shrieking bully and he needs to tone it down a bit. I prefer it when he is quiet and contemplative such as his wistful reminiscence about the Andromeda galaxy. He says that it is so difficult to recruit good staff these days throwing a disdainful look at Peri and suggests that he has little mercy for time meddlers. He and Herbert share some fun chemistry, the scene where he discovers him in the TARDIS always makes me chuckle. I've said this in practically every episode of the season but the Doctor has fun chemistry with plenty of male one off guest stars this season and it is a shame that he never got to travel with a male companion of his own. I think that really would have worked and helped to soften him up a little. This Doctor is about as powerful as a burnt out android. Looks like the sixth Doctor has developed exactly the same sort of lame swearing as the ‘ham fisted bun vendor’ third Doctor and ‘spack off!’ fourth Doctor – his latest attempt is ‘microcephallic apostate’ (one day he will just say ‘you fucking twat'). That is one ugly drawing of Jon Pertwee. Strange how you forget how you used to look…that’s because you never used to look like that. Mind you, you can just imagine the dictatorial third Doctor lecturing Magellan on his unethical experiments, can’t you? I love the moment when Herbert tells the Doctor not to worry about him and he gives him a pained look and says ‘I’m not.’ You have to love this guys confidence, in the face of Tekker holding a gun in his face he dismisses him with ‘do shut up and go away.’ He is responsible for Tekker's death in a round about sort of way but he did warn him not to fire. Watch the Doctor’s amazing growing hair as he rushes into the TARDIS in episode two to stop the missile…it grows about three inches between scenes (you can really tell this padding was filmed later). I love him picking up the struggling Peri and throwing her out of the TARDIS. It is an example of the hysterical chemistry between them really working. Putting the TARDIS between the missile and Karfel is incredibly dangerous and reckless, but might save an entire planet. What you have in Timelash is an exhausted actor (torn between this and panto) trying to salvage something from a retarded script. The fact that he manages at all is something of a minor miracle but this is still the weakest story for the characterization of the sixth Doctor and even this isn't that bad. He's still memorable, at least.
Busty Babe: Ouch, how did this characterisation of Peri ever get off of the drawing board? Eric Saward says on the documentary that Peri was one of the better companions they had but they could never find anything for her to do. Why not? As script editor I would have ripped up this script and started all over again. This doesn’t hark back to sixties misogyny, Doctor Who has never been this sexist before. Peri is dragged around by a collar, treated as a sex object, salivated over and forced to scream continually in the face of the monsters. It’s unforgivably bad. In episode two she is released from her manacles and just stands there screaming like an idiot until a man comes in with a flaming torch and rescues her. Nicola Bryant manages to salvage a few moments. When the Doctor threatens to take her home she jumps in immediately to stop him which reveals that she does enjoy travelling with him to a point. Her botany is brought up again (it's mentioned in The Mark of the Rani, Timelash, Revelation of the Daleks and The Mysterious Planet) which is nice although she does look like a plum sticking her tongue out at the poisonous plants. Easily Peri’s weakest story, you can’t help but feel sorry for Nicola Bryant – mind you with her best three stories coming up she's in for a wealth of strong material before she departs.
Sparkling Dialogue: In general the dialogue is horrendous so it really surprises you when a gem comes along:
‘Time for another election…’
‘Maybe spirits from the other world might find fishing a little mundane.’
‘The waves of time wash us all clean…’
The Good Stuff: There’s an early sequence between Mekros and the Maylin in the darkened power distribution room, which might (almost) convince you that this story could amount to something (they are the best actors in the guest cast). The silky voiced Borad hidden behind his chair reveals that Doctor Who gets something very right no matter how bad the story. Paul Darrow is so insanely over the top that you can’t fail to adore him as Tekker ('It’s called treason and he is the traitor!’). I like the sudden cut to 1885, something the show didn't do enough back then (a sudden switch in location halfway through the story but is an expert at these days). Herbert is hopelessly wet and yet he’s rather sweet and certainly more likable than Peri in this story. His attempted exorcism of the Doctor provides a good laugh. I rather like a bumbling fool, it is the same sort of humour that made Xander so appealing in early Buffy. Tekker luring Mekron to the inner sanctum with promises of promotion only to blame him for all their problems is laugh out loud funny. Only Paul Darrow could play that quite as deliciously, revelling in his characters naughtiness. It's hopelessly lost in the execution but HG Wells finding inspiration in this adventure to write The Time Machine and The Invisible Man is an idea that really appeals. ‘The most luminous force in this part of the galaxy!’ – Tekker needed his own spin off series. The make up for the Borad is so good it’s shocking that a story this inept can get something so right.
The Bad Stuff: Come on own up…who on Earth designed that android with a blue face and blond hair (and musical footsteps)? Jeananne Crowley has appeared in dramas as good as Educating Rita and Tenko so why does she choose to play Vena as a monosyllabic robot – I thought she was one at first. The first scene in the Council Chamber (a bare room with a few stools, these Karfelons really enjoy the minimalist look) is pure exposition (‘Our old allies the Bandrils!’, somebody exclaims and mentions ‘all 500 of us?’ when it comes to the immediate danger to the city populace) and unmasks the inexperience of the writer. The Timelash itself might just be the most embarrassingly designed piece of sophisticated technological equipment that Doctor Who ever coughed up - rustling with deadly tinsel and constructed out of cardboard hexagonal rods. The Doctor and Peri riding the time tunnel is horribly farcical and in no way amusing, it’ll leave you scrambling for the remote if somebody remotely normal who wouldn’t think to watch this nonsense walks into the room. If their dancing in seatbelts wasn't bad enough, Roberts chooses to treat Baker and Bryant's voices so they sound like excitable mice. Why did the android steal Peri’s St Christopher? Did he have a taste in primitive Earth religion? I don’t mind the Bandril design, we’ve seen far worse puppets before and since in the show but why did they give them such camp voices – it's like attack of the Smurfs! Why does that random person walk into the room and give Peri the cryptic note? It feels like this being made up on the hoof. Where is the script editor? Was he performing a JNT pantomime as well? Peri declares that Karfel ‘lacks sparkle’. Are you kidding me? It's one of the dullest, barest planets we have ever visited and fancy taking a visitor on a tour of those boring corridors as though it is one of the tourist spots. Someone had a bright idea to add seams of minerals to the underground rock faces except in reality it looks like someone has attacked the polystyrene with crayon. The Morlox look genuinely awful, like a grinning grey turd on a stick. Why doesn’t Peri run from it when she clearly has space to get away and the creature cannot move beyond it's limited swivel space on the end of its stick – that is probably the worst example of the rushed direction of this story. The most useless bunch of rebels (and Dicken Ashworth sounds really bored) we have had the misfortune to watch revolt. Not one of them has a shade of character as far as I can see. The terrible plotting continues as the rebels are attacked because Peri dropped her note. Yeah, you heard me correctly...she dropped the note. That's desperation for you. The Doctor invents a brand new eighties craze; it’s called the android mirror dance. Give it a try and we might get it to catch on in the clubs. The Doctor dangling from the Timelash might have sounded good on paper but the design is so bad it and the direction so lacking in tension or magic that you might feel as though this is is the pantomime and that they are going to stage the TV story Timelash at the end of Eastbourne pier.. Doctor Who has rarely looked this cheap. Some dialogue should never be uttered and the following examples qualify: ‘Unpleasant journey!’, ‘He’s dangling on the edge of oblivion!’ and ‘Don’t tell me you’ve got a fat female Morlox with a slinky walk?’ Was Saward aiming for b-movie Who when he let these lines through? The Bandril ship looks like a flying hair dryer and comes with its own disco beat (optional extra). ‘You’ve tricked me!’ screams the Borad, hardly you twat, for once the Doctor told the villain precisely what would happen if he didn't behave himself. The hastily scripted TARDIS scenes are quite fun but clearly padding. You're watching Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant struggle to fill time nonsensically. How many climaxes can one story have? The Borad is the Loch Ness Monster? Again a clever idea but it only works if he is a full Morlox, which he isn't. How disappointing it would be if a half man/half Morlox stumbled out of the Loch screaming 'he tricked me!' Hardly the stuff of great myths. I cannot believe they had the nerve to have the Doctor say ‘I’ll explain later, it’s a neat trick’ about surviving the missile explosion. I don't really like to say that writing is lazy because it is a tough profession but there are quite a few times in Timelash where that accusation could unhappily be levelled.
Result: Surely it cannot be a co-incidence that the two worst directed eighties stories were helmed by the same man and without all the excuses of Warriors of the Deep (lack of time, an election in the wings, a monster that wasn't ready to go, etc) I can only conclude that Pennant Roberts is not a very good action adventure director. Timelash is more enjoyable than Warriors simply because it doesn't’t take itself at all seriously (whereas watching a sniffy piece of drama fall to pieces is tragic) and with its wealth of faults stacking up over the two episodes it becomes a frothy, useless b-movie slice of Doctor Who. It's rare for so many things to go wrong with a production; turgid direction, appalling performances, crass dialogue, dull music, cheap design, childish plotting and insulting sexism that you simply have to let it wash over you and bask in its ineptitude. Redeeming features are Herbert who is quite likable and Tekker who makes me howl with laughter every time he opens his mouth. Timelash doesn’t quite reach the enjoyment of other comically incompetent Doctor Who's (The Chase and Time and the Rani are my gems in that category) but it is far more enjoyable than it has any right to be given its slew of faults: 5/10
Revelation of the Daleks written by Eric Saward and directed by Graeme Harper
This story in a nutshell: The Doctor and Peri visit a planet devoted to the dead...
Theatrical Adventurer: Some have argued that the sixth Doctor does take something of a back seat in Revelation of the Daleks and that this has something to do with Eric Saward's casting of Colin Baker as the Time Lord. Both may be true but I don't think that it detracts from the story as a whole. Colin Baker's Doctor is such a wonderfully dominant figure in every other story in his tenure that a one-off story where he is sidelined in favour of a superbly drawn guest cast is no bad thing. It also helps that the half of the story that he does feature in prominently sees some of his finest characterisation and certainly one of Baker's most charismatic performances. I love the respect that he shows to the mutant, gently holding his hand as he dies in his arms despite the fact that he has just attempted to kill him. This is a Doctor that because of his extremes of personality is capable of surprising you when he is tender. There have been few scenes so perversely engaged in the double entry in Doctor Who then that of the Doctor and Peri climbing over the wall ('I rarely use it...'). Stengos, like Azmael, Magellan and Tonker Travers, is another character that we have never heard of before but has apparently played a pivotal role in the Doctor's life before. There's no reason to assume that everybody that we have encountered with the Doctor are the only people he knows - he surely has off screen adventures (look at all those novels for a start). It's nice for the sixth Doctor to be drawn into an adventure on a personal note for a change, to look out for a friend rather than t repair some piece of the TARDIS. Colin Baker excels at the moments where the Doctor is confronted with something that haunts him (remember his reaction to the end of the universe in The Two Doctors) and he delivers a genuinely traumatized turned when the Time Lord has to face the possibility of his own death (in keeping with the theme). The thought of never again regenerating and that this is where his body will end up, it's the events of The Name of the Doctor in a microcosm. Apparently it would take a mountain to crush an ego like his. The Doctor/Davros confrontation in episode two is one of the greatest scenes of the eighties, both characters given the chance to shine verbally and the Doctor in particular coming to the fore as a moral character who wont stand for Davros' revolting scheme. It's witty, dramatic, grotesque and hugely entertaining. What a shame they didn't get more time together (go and listen to the Big Finish audio Davros for more magic from this pair). The quiet moment where he sits with Orcini at the climax and allows him the dignity of killing himself without objecting might be my favourite sixth Doctor moment and he doesn't say a word.
Busty Babe: Proof, if it was needed, that Peri can work extremely well as a solo companion, that she compliments this Doctor perfectly and that the pair of them can get on. Saward is clearly as bored with all the griping between the pair as everybody else (mind you he was the script editor, he had the power to do something about that a long time ago) and presents a far more effective pairing; playful, considerate and sparky. There's a sly piece of continuity in the opening scenes, harkening back to the Doctor's newfound vegetarianism thanks to the events of The Two Doctors. Peri does not approve, especially of the Doctor's ghastly nut roast rolls. Her botany degree is given some consideration again and she mentions that her grades aren't exactly spectacular - there is an effort to make Peri less of a cipher and more of a person. The scene where she beats the mutant to death to save the Doctor and feels remorse for behaving so savagely could have been hideously overplayed but instead is hauntingly played by both Bryant and Baker and shows the Doctor comforting his companion at a disquieting time. This is the first time Peri has had to kill in order to protect the Doctor. Tellingly Peri admits that the Doctor is a close friend when she thinks that he is dead, a sign of how far they have come since his regeneration. Her scenes with the DJ are vital for her growth, showing her homesick for America that would continue to be explored in the next season.
Scarred Scientist: 'It is an offer that must be fulfilled through blood! Show me your total obedience and kill Jobel!' My personal favourite Davros story. I can sympathise with anybody who might disagree and put forth Genesis of the Daleks of Big Finish's Davros as a alternative (because they are both top dollar too) but for me this is the story that does the most interesting things with the character and presents the most shades. Not only does he live up to the ranting old loon of repute he is also teasing and hilarious, sadistic and manipulative, intelligent and patient, blackly comic and terrifying. Terry Molloy cites this as his personal favourite because he had the chance to bring his voice right down and show a boarding, menacing side to the character that was absent in Resurrection. Early scenes of him sitting like a spider in the heart of Tranquil Respose and directing everything, chuckling to himself as the Doctor walks into his trap, are genuinely unsettling. When Davros has something to giggle about, be scared. He is forced into doing business with people like Kara ad tries to restrain his tongue when dealing with her, sometimes failing dismally. He's in hiding from the authorities and other factions of Daleks and so doesn't want his real name mentioned on open communications. Davros takes perverse pleasure in manipulating Tasambeker, he can see how weak and easily led she is and selects her because of it. He strokes her ego a little, tugs on her insecurities and then directs her to murder the man she loves to please him. It shows a new kind of sadism in the character, playing with peoples emotions for sick pleasure. He had no intention of upholding his promises - as soon as Tasambeker has seen Jobel off, Davros sends in the Daleks to polish her off too. He could have just have easily have dispatched a squad to kill Jobel too, he wanted to manipulate his victim into doing it for him for his own perverse gratification. He's drawn the Doctor to Necros to pull off another joke in awful taste, trying to convince the Time Lord that this is where he is going to die...and then attempting to kill him. He's lost his mind but there is still a keen intelligence shining through, directing all of the insidious threads of this story. I'm not sure if the Davros in the tank was a clone throughout or whether he put one in place as soon as he realised he was being targeted by Orcini but it's a marvellous surprise either way. Trust Davros to be so paranoid as to create another version of himself purely for the purpose of being blown away. His method of receiving universal acclaim (a nice reversal of his usual notoriety) is to take a starving universe, develop a way of luring in the dead, turning them into food and selling it back to them. He's had some revolting ideas in his time but that takes the biscuit.
Grotesques: Such is the quality of the performances and the dialogue that I feel compelled to give the astonishing guest cast in this adventure a section of their own. It might be predictable to say that they are split into Robert Holmes style double acts (no he wasn't the first person to pair of strong characters against one another but he is responsible for some of the best double acts the show ever presented) but Saward's close friendship with Holmes and his sudden penchant for vivid character pairings is a remarkable co-incidence. When the usual Saward massacre takes place in the second episode you feel every death because these characters have the depth to go on beyond this story...
Few people could admit to have such a bloated ego with so little reason than Mr Jobel, the Chief Embalmer at Tranquil Repose. You'd have to search a long time to find a character quite this grotesque, drowning in his own self importance, convinced that he is something of a ladies man, insulting, flirtatious, lecherous and turncoat. As soon as Jobel sets his sights on Peri nothing can hold him back. His charm has the same effect as repelling magnetic poles, she wants to run as far away from him as possible. Somehow he has caught the eye of Tasambeker, one of the supervising attendants. Jenny Tomasin's performance has come under fire in the past but this is one occasion where an uncomfortable turn isn't a problem - that is the whole point of the character. Dumpy and awkward, she is the obsessive sort who takes out her frustrations with herself out on other people whilst fawning over somebody out of her reach. She's a character that you both despise and pity, not an easy mix to pull off. It's ironic that this doomed love match should end up with a pair of scenes of both characters being killed and Jobel's fate at the hands of the woman he has spurned is perfect, his toupee falling off with his last breath revealing his hideous egg-like dome underneath. All his barely concealed ugliness revealed at his death. Perfect.
One of Sward's most bizarre characters is the DJ, an entertainer that is set up in Tranquil Repose to communicate with the those in suspended animation and keeping them up to date with current affairs and playing them music to make their lying in state an entertaining experience. Whilst his public persona is all overdone humour and in yer face broadcasts, he makes snide and sarcastic asides to the bodies at times that reveal a much more complex character. I think I would be far less forgiving of such an outrageous character (I know some people who wont give this story a chance simply because of the DJ) if it weren't for his gorgeous scenes with Peri in part two where he is revealed to be quite a shy, bashful man. He's confident and charismatic when behind the microphone, adopting the persona of old American DJ's (he'll adopt every persona from Elvis to a stoned out student) but in reality he is quite an unassuming man. I imagine a lot of actors to be like this.
There are also a pair of grave robbers in town, Natasha and Grigory, the former who is trying to find out why the courts were so unwilling to give her fathers body back. Saward uses this pair to suggest that something very sinister is going on, performing the Doctor's role in episode one of investigating the dark underbelly of Tranquil Repose. These two talk in typical Saward macho dialogue but I do love the occasional moment of morbid humour that Grigory brings to the table ('You forget I'm a Doctor, when they slice me open I'll know the name and function of each organ that plops out.').
The corner of the galaxy that this story portrays is further expanded with Orcini and Bostock, a pair of assassins hired by Kara to take out Davros. Steeped in honour and looking for glory, these two could easily have been macho clichés but thanks to a pair of subtle performances, especially from William Gaunt, who imbues Orcini with a courteous stillness that somehow makes his history as a professional murderer even more convincing. It is the relationship between the two characters that us again so interesting, a pupil and a mentor but it seems to go much deeper than that. There is a respect between them that suggests a long partnership and Orcini's quiet and understated stroking of his squire's head after he dies and he is about to commit suicide speaks a thousand words. Interestingly as soon as Bostock is dispatched by a Dalek, Orcini is happy to throw his life away too.
Probably the least interesting are Takis and Lilt because they are portrayed as little more than violent thugs (well Lilt is, Takis usually stands back smugly and let's it happen) but once again they are terrifically cast. The most interesting thing about this twosome is their apparent turn at the climax, suddenly becoming the good guys after spending the story roughing up characters, going at them with knives and alcohol and fists. Clearly Lilt is a little deranged ( Takis is no better, setting him on people like a guard dog) but were they simply reacting to a restrictive situation set up by Davros? Will things genuinely be more productive with these two in charge?
Sparkling Dialogue: I could recite half the script, but these are my personal favourites...
'I hope they're on time, she's already started to froth.'
'I killed him...and he forgave me. Why did he have to be so nice about it?' 'You had no choice.'
'You've got a wife and half there, George. They found a cure for Bex syndrome forty years ago. Still, it would be interesting to know what she's really doing with the money.'
'There will be no drinking, swearing or smoking of herbal mixture in the presence of the deceased...'
'Those rose red ruby lips were made for kissing...' '...but not by you' 'I love a woman who plays hard to get' 'Then you'll love me to death!'
'Serve me with your total being and I shall allow you to become a Dalek...'
'I would rather run away with my mother than own a fawning little creep like you.'
'This is a highly directional, ultra sonic beam of rock and roll! It kills!'
'But did you bother to tell anyone that they might be eating their own relatives?' 'Certainly not! That would create what I believe is coined consumer resistance! They were grateful for the food...it allowed them to go on living.'
* I love the confidence of Saward's writing and how he isn't afraid to have two narratives co-incide briefly in the same scene without either of them meeting (such as the grave robbers dashing through the corridors of Tranquil Respose at the end of Jobel's rant about etiquette). Or how he can shift tones so self-assuredly, turning the mutants attack into a touching warning of the shocking experiments that are going on on Necros. He's far more invested in his guest characters in episode one than he is in the Doctor and Peri (despite characterising both of them magnificently) but in order to pull that off there has to plenty going on and real complexities in the relationships. It's hard to believe that this is the same writer that brought us the surface-level depth of The Visitation and Earthshock (both stories barely contained characters) - with Revelation Saward has managed to brew up a whole world of nuanced characters, intriguing situations, engaging relationships and twisting loyalties. There are plenty of worlds in Doctor Who that seem specifically designed for the titular character to land in and sort out its problems. That is it's only function, to provide a setting for a Doctor Who story. Not so with Necros, this is busy world, populated with strange, perverse, wonderful characters and it's complexities exist whether the Doctor visits or not. The fact that the Doctor is kept out of the action for so long and this world keeps on turning in a fascinating way proves that. It's Saward's greatest achievement on the show.
* Not only is Revelation of the Daleks one of the funniest serials of the eighties but it is also one of the scariest too. It is packed to the gills full of horrific imagery and frightening moments that I'll give some consideration to here. The attack by the mutant a great example, a thrilling fight sequence that sees a blistered, blemished, salivating man come screaming from the darkened woods and threaten the Doctor and Peri. It's a revolting make up job and the camera settles at the bottom of the snowy ravine so the Doctor and the mutant can come rolling dynamically down the hill. Truly this is the stuff of nightmares. Although not quite as much as the much celebrated sequence where Natasha discovers her fathers remains in Davros' laboratory of horrors. Lit from below in a pulsating red light, discovering brains suspended in tanks, Natasha and Grigory stumble upon a glass Dalek holding the sickening remains of her father. There is all manner of technology grafted onto his body and pulsating organs and offal smeared across his head - it is one of the most unpleasant sights in the series' long history. More insidious is the psychological implications of the scene, Natasha having a neat breakdown at having to murder her dad in order to protect him. It is impeccably scripted, acted and directed and one of the finest moments of horror in small screen science fiction I have ever seen. I've watched it dozens of times and it still gives me the chills. Stengos is bring turned into a Dalek in the most horrific way imaginable and the way he slips from caring father to mechanical killer (with excellent, rising music) is superbly acted. The assassinations begin in episode two and some of the murders are up close and personal.
* If you are going to write a Doctor Who story that revolves around the theme of death you have to be very sure of the tone you are going for. Saward settles for blackly comic and explores the theme in a number of entertaining ways. I love the idea that if you take a look at the numbers that the whole idea of Tranquil Repose doesn't work - there are simply too many people alive now for people to be stored and brought back once their terminal conditions are curable. And yet people like to believe that there is the possibility of going on and the relatives can live their lives safe in the knowledge that they have done their best by the loved ones...it is a shared delusion when secretly everybody probably knows the truth. That kind of pretence exists in our lives all the time and it's nice to see the most subversive Doctor Who story built around that kind of self delusion. The truth of the matter, though, is positively nauseating. Trust Davros to come along with a scheme that takes care of both over population and starvation in such an awesomely disgusting manner. Yes, that's right, he's turning the dead into food and delivering them back into the hands of their loved ones to nosh on. An idea so grim I am surprised it made it past the censors.
* In Resurrection of the Daleks Saward simply used the creatures as assassins but he tries a completely different and far more insidious tactic in Revelation and thus manages to find new ways to make them Scary. Firstly there is the terrifying notion of people being turned into Daleks on their death bed and the psychological implications of that (dealt with in the transformation of Stengos). Then there is the idea of being offered that form of immortality as a reward. That's chilling. Davros sends a squad of Daleks to 'escort' Kara to him for her protection and it is loaded with ominous threat. Check out the menacing shot of them coming through the mist in the catacombs. Then there is the whole idea of a Dalek civil war, that is barely touched upon here but has massive implications. Finally I love the notion of Daleks being destroyed with music, the joy of which is something that simply could not comprehend. It is the perfect method to dispatch a Dalek because if they took over there would be no music. The Daleks get to murder a great number of the characters and I found the DJ's casual execution the most shocking, mostly thanks to Peri's horrified reaction.
The Bad: The transitions between floors are a neat idea but they don't really work. Tasembeker's 'Find the intruders!' has to be seen to be believed. I get that the Dalek voices are untreated to suggest that they are human...but they don't really work. The climax of the Daleks sweeping in and taking Davros away only feels unsatisfying because I was desperate to know what happened next - a sure sign that this story had sunk its claws into me.