Sunday, 25 September 2016

The Impossible Planet written by Matt Jones and directed by James Hawes

This story in a nutshell: An old fashioned New Adventure novel turned into a two part spectacular...and a pretty good one at that.

Mockney Dude: Aside from one scene, this is one of the more responsible takes on the tenth Doctor in his first year. If he was the Doctor that was supposed to be the most human then that is achieved in spades here as he feels like a regular Joe trapped in an impossible situation and trying to do his best. He's smart and funny and personable but doesn't exhibit too many of those overt quirks that make the Doctor stand out from the crowd. It's probably what make David Tennant such an attractive prospect to the audience at large. The only moment I wanted to rip out his intestines and strangle him with them was when he was trying a little too hard to be a nice guy. Where he asks for a hug because humanity is so insatiably curious. It's the sort of cloyingly sweet sentiment I expect from's that New Adventures mentality that used to get me in such a state. Aside from that though Tennant is riding high on the enjoyment of his first year. He might not has realised at this point just how much the audience would take to him but it's clear there is a natural confidence and charisma that he exudes in the part.

Chavvy Chick: It is a funny old business, I do like it when there is a third companion, partly because it gives the show more dynamics to explore but also because John Barrowman and Noel Clarke genuinely bought something quite special to the show once they had settled into their roles. However when it comes the Tenth Doctor and Rose, a third wheel simply exposes the weaker aspects of their characters, namely their ignorance of how much they are hurting the third member and how involved in themselves they are. Take away the selfishness of their intimacy and their relationship is far sweeter, as it was in The Idiots Lantern and here. David Tennant and Billie Piper have something of a controversial relationship in the history of Doctor Who, fandom seems to have had an allergic reaction to them working together but as far as the general public are concerned they can do no wrong. Their chemistry this season is palpable but their carefree existence and smugness lacks the hip unity of Piper and Eccleston's relationship, it feels far more selfish. And yet it scores on such a domestic, emotional level that the audience at large could really buy into it. The Impossible Planet is where things shift up a gear, where we're building up to that extraordinary climax to the season. This is back when the relationship between the Doctor and the companion was as important as the plots, where the beats between them have a real impact. This episode exposes the richness in their partnership, both the characters and the actors. The Doctor's quiet despair at being trapped without his TARDIS is rectified slightly by the sweet moment where he and Rose talk about settling down, both of them too shy to admit they would choose to live together. This truly is a love story, the only time you could point to a Doctor and companion and swear they were so wrapped up in each other that it could actively be called a romance. Rose's admission that 'everybody has to leave home' and that being trapped in this situation is not so bad because she is with him are possibly the most mature scenes the character has ever had and all the better because they are understated and bashfully performed. Bravo. Also Rose's gentle kiss of the Doctor's helmet suggests an intimacy between them that surpasses anything we have seen before without stripping them of their dignity and getting all sweaty. It's just the two of them and for one they aren't so obsessed with each other that the situation feels insignificant. Instead the scenario that is playing out is as operatic as their relationship. The two work in real harmony.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'The bitter pill. I like it.'

The Good: Imagination soars as with all the best Doctor Who stories. The Ood are a marvellous idea, a slave race that only reaps pleasure from serving others but with such a stomach-churning appearance. Loads of scope to be damn creepy and yet sympathetic at the same time, slaves of the humans or the Beast. Aesthetically they are unlike anything we have ever seen before, enough to turn your stomach but proving to be rather sweet until they are used like puppets. The big reveal that the base is affixed to a lump of rock orbiting a Black Hole is well presented to make the viewer gasp and gawp, helped no end that it is visually spectacular as well but bonus points for holding this off for ten minutes. Had this been a regular one-off episode this would have been tossed in the air before the opening theme. The science might be wonky but it feels like dangerous place to be and that is vital to any horror story. It is a terrifying thought being sucked into a black hole and the episode wastes no time in demonstrating the power of this phenomenon, Murray Gold's effective strings accompanying an entire star system being consumed by the gaping maw in space. The idea of a great evil under the ground waiting to be unearthed might not be original but it is a cliche for a reason, it's an enjoyable conceit. It turns a dark and gritty episode into an unnerving one, especially when the nature of the beast below is revealed. I am not easily scared. I think Doctor Who has managed to give me the shivers maybe three or four times in its entire run but there was one scene in this episode which terrified me more than any other that I have seen in TV or film for years. It was impeccably filmed, crawled under my skin and festered. Toby stands outside the base in the airless vacuum without a spacesuit before the black hole. His eyes are blood red, his face is stained with alien scrawl and he is grinning at Scooti. A beautiful smile of pure evil, beckoning him towards her. The glass cracks and she is sucked, screaming into space. I love the tiny moment between the Beast controlled Toby and the security officer where he tells him that his wife never forgave him. It's a backstory that we are never privy too but a line that opens a world of possibility for the character. It's some skillful character writing. Part one is more about exploring the setting and concepts, the slower paced second episode is where the guest characters are vivisected but this is a story that was heavily influenced by Davies and so powerful character nuggets cannot help but creepy through. It's lovely to see some grit in the new series, I remember Russell T Davies saying how much he channel hops and stops on the show with the prettiest picture regardless of how good the show is. Doctor Who this season is perhaps a little too pretty: New Earth, Tooth and Claw, The Girl in the Fireplace, and The Idiots Lantern, all feature gorgeous productions with attractive imagery but it all looks a bit too NICE. Here we've got all the style but instead we're jumping down below decks with the workers. The sets are dirty, unsteady, filled with smoke... it really helps to put across the sense of clinging on to this rock for dear life. I like the contrast of the futuristic setting with the modern costumes, nothing too flashy but casual and comfortable just how you would want to be in that environment. Lighting is exceptional throughout, especially during Toby's murder scene and the Doctor and Rose's settling down conversation. I like how well thought through the structure of a working day has been considered in this story too. In science fiction I can pretty much forgive a multitude of sins if the situation is presented in a believable way. That doesn't necessarily mean in a contemporary way but as long as it establishes its own rules and sticks to them (or breaks them for the sake of good drama) I can usually immerse myself in that world. And the impossible planet is an easy world to immerse yourself in.

The Bad: The cliffhanger is utterly deceptive, especially the way it is filmed. It looks as if something terrifying is rising out of the pit but we discover in the second episode that that wasn't the case at all. The crane shot really makes you believe that whatever is below the base is on its way out. 

The Shallow Bit: It's the base of the good lookers. Fortunately they can all act too.

Result: I remember when his two part story first aired vividly, I did not have high hopes for the story. Whilst I loved Matt Jones' novel Bad Therapy, a very sweet character piece in the final third of the New Adventures, I couldn't stand Beyond the Sun, his Bernice Summerfield novel and I regularly found his column in DWM the most annoying thing about the magazine. The episodes themselves seemed to have the least compelling 'wow factor' in series two (no sign of Cassandra, Queen Victoria and werewolves, Sarah Jane or Giles from Buffy, Mickey as a companion or the return of Steven Moffat, Cybermen or Maureen Lipman as the villain). The trailer wasn't exactly thrilling and the best thing you could say about it before it transmitted was that 'that bloke from Casualty is in it'. Oh what a stupid fool I am. Hype is one thing (who wasn't disappointed with New Earth?) but a show firing on all cylinders and proving what it can do in every department is another and that is exactly what The Impossible Planet does. It is practically flawless technically and I genuinely feel it had the strongest cast yet assembled for the new series until this point (the two parters two thirds into series three and four would eventually surpass it in that regard). The Impossible Planet was a wonderful surprise, an episode that restored the the faith in series two after three mixed episodes in the middle of the year. The script is exemplary, heavily edited by Russell T. Davies and is on par with the best of the year. Matt Jones has written a damn good script, on par with the best of either year. The story is packed with great ideas and they are dramatised very well. This is a textbook case in how to effectively build up tension, spend the first fifteen minutes setting the scene and introducing the mystery, then mid-episode introduce some major problems for the characters to react to before your big reveal in the last third which gets everybody on the edge of their seat thinking it has all gone to hell. Jones has written an extremely strong cast of characters, so successfully thought through that the death of somebody we have only known for twenty minutes has a major impact. Whilst the cast are responsible for bringing these people to life, they really don't have anything to work with if the script is lacking. At this point it was the strongest ensemble to date and the chemistry between the actors is palpable The Impossible Planet is real edge-of-the-seat drama and an attempt to be scary that succeeds on just about every level. It's a great example of Doctor Who doing its best to give you nightmares before you go to sleep. It's almost a shame it is broadcast in the daylight. Do yourself a favour and tape it and watch it later in the dark on your own. I was captured by this when it was first broadcast and it holds up very nicely almost a decade later: 9/10

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Pyramids of Mars written by Lewis Griefer and directed by Paddy Russell

This story in a nutshell: 'I bring Sutekh's gift of death to all humanity...'

Teeth and Curls: Season thirteen sees Tom Baker give his darkest, possibly his most compelling, interpretation of the character. Maybe it's just when he is directed by Paddy Russell (there are tales of creative differences) but he's in an unusually brooding and black mood in this piece, which, like Horror of Fang Rock, suits the material. I never once doubted this man was an alien, such was his disturbing and inhumane reaction to events. Several moments during Pyramids of Mars are seminal Tom, as important as his moral debate in Genesis of the Daleks, his agonised rant in The Pirate Planet or his fizzy humour in City of Death. It is worth noting how little time the Doctor has for the incidental characters in this story, his lack of reaction to Lawrence's death and his seething justification of it are extremely powerful. Confronting Sutekh in his tomb we get to see the Doctor at his heroic best, walking into a death trap to stop this dark God obtaining his freedom. The Doctor locking horns with a God from the Dawn of Time. That's an intoxicating idea. 'Then I abase you Sutekh... you are a twisted abhorrence!' It's brilliant stuff and all the better for Tom's vicious delivery. This is why his scenes with Sarah are so important. There is an unspoken warmth between them, the desperate Time Lord attempting to stop a being 'even more powerful than anything even I have ever encountered' and the inquisitive journalist ('You mean Sutekh is still alive?'). In his scenes with Sarah he shows a glimpse of humanity and it's vital to cling onto those moments. All the oft-quoted scenes are genius because they are the only moments of intimacy in and otherwise bleak story ('Your shoes need repairing', 'Don't be so pedantic at a time like this!'). They really are made for each other, Sarah proving more resourceful than usual (looking ultra cool holding that rifle!) and able to drag out that cheeky smile of the Doctor's despite his sour mood.

Investigative Journalist: Elisabeth Sladen looks beautiful in her Victorian finery and glows in a story that is starved of beauty and warmth. It's a script that gives her a lot of cool things to do and say. If somebody pointed at this story as the one that portrayed a companion at their finest I couldn't possibly disagree. Sarah gets to be resourceful and a bit useless, brave and frightened, humane and crack jokes, run from the monsters, ask the right questions, scream and proves invaluable (dressing the Doctor up, calling off the mummies, firing the pistol). Even more, she highlights the Doctor's strengths ('We've got to go back') and weaknesses ('Sometimes you don't seem... human!'). She is pivotal to the story's success and Lis is divine throughout. In her autobiography she states that Paddy Russell made the actors over play every scene until the creative spontaneity was strangled from the story. It might not be her chosen way of working but I cannot deny that I think this is possibly her strongest performance in a very consistent run so I have to side with the director on this occasion.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'Deactivating a generator loop without the correct key is like repairing a watch with a hammer and chisel... one false move and you will never know the time again.'
'All life is my enemy. All life will perish under the reign of Sutekh the Destroyer.'
'Perhaps he sneezed?'
'We don't want to blamed for starting a fire... got enough of that in 1066!'
The Good:
* More than any other I can think of, Pyramids of Mars is about death. Robert Holmes has always said he wanted to scare the kids he was watching (I have an image of him as a shadowy spectre in their bedrooms at night waving his fingers and making disturbing shadows on the bed) that were watching and with this story he has proven that no-one could do it better. Steven Moffat has tried his damnedest to wrestle the mantle off him but there is something very clinical and obvious about the way he goes for obvious childhood fears. Death is frightening concept (especially for children) and encapsulated perfectly in the character of Sutekh, who wants nothing more than to destroy everything he touches. Shockingly it isn't the celebrated moments that impress (or scare) me but those moments that remind you of your own mortality, how you could be here one second and gone the next. As the victims pile up so does the twisted manner of their death. Collins the butler is murdered from behind, a terrifying concept, not even knowing that death is approaching. Namin is killed because of his faith in death (Sutekh), his murderous actions paid in kind as a black robed messenger of death leans down and takes his life now his role is over. Warlock is faced with an unspeakable horror (the mummies) and betrayed by his old friend who orders his death. Murder at the hands of a loved one, that's hard to top. But Holmes goes one step further with dear old Lawrence Scarman who sweetly spends most of the story pining after his brother. When his animated corpse comes to visit, Lawrence refuses to believe Marcus is dead and is proven horribly wrong when his brother kills him in service to his deity. Thank goodness that is off screen, it's almost obscenely cruel. All these moments, acted with pure conviction, terrify the hell out of me and keep me glued to the screen in trembling terror.
* There are elements of a b movie about Pyramids of Mars (even the title) but to shrug it off as pulpy cheese does it a terrible disservice. I have yet to see a B-movie that comes anywhere close to as compelling as this story and I am a massive fan of the genre. There are very, very few Doctor Who stories that are realised with such style. The story looks gorgeous, far, far better than City of Death and The Two Doctors which are probably its closest companions in the style stakes, simply because this is plugged as a regular Doctor Who story, a solid four parter in the middle of a terrific season. There's no foreign location shoot or special reason for the show to aspire to such visual heights beyond the fact that Paddy Russell is a particularly stylish director. She would easily breach the top ten directors list because she knew how to deliver atmosphere without the hyperactive tricks of Lovett Bickford, the frenzy of Graeme Harper or the military discipline of Douglas Camfield, as brilliant as they all are. The story transcends its B-movie roots thanks to Russell's detail, just take a peek at her location work in the dense, leafy woodland. If you enter these woods today you're not going to be coming out again, that's what she manages to say. The sequences of Ernie Clements the luckless poacher are terrifying, the mummies aren't especially fast but they are relentless. They never stop coming until they get you and shots like Ernie stopping for a breath by a gnarled oak with the two mummies positioned in shot atop the incline, like silent statues, then suddenly lurching to life as he reveals himself are terrifying.  Scarier is the shot of Ernie running at an incredible pace with the mummies closing on him close behind. These nasties will relentlessly pursue you until you're too tired to keep coming. Russell has an incredible eye for visuals, capturing the story's thick atmosphere with intense detail. Watch the slow pan across the woods as Namin, gun trained, pursues the Doctor and a bleeding Warlock hiding beneath an oak tree. Or Sarah training her gun on the explosive, ready to blow the Osirin missile to pieces. Or just the simple trick of the green light that is tearing the Doctor's soul into a million fibres. Russel isn't afraid to give the actors exposure because she has chosen them with an expert eye for casting and she knows precisely what they are capable of. 
* And what a cast list it is. One of the most celebrated complaints about those cheesy seventies horror movies is the miserably bad performances. There's no such problem here. Pyramids of Mars is packed with absorbing performances, strong actors that seem to relish the opportunities Holmes' giving script provides them. Michael Sheard would do exceptional work elsewhere on the show but this is my favourite of his performances, doing a sterling job of making Lawrence as pathetic and tragic as possible (the two things are inextricably linked). He is a sterling British gentleman in every respect, well dressed, decisive ('In view of what you've told me I'm going to call the police!') and helpful. His exploration of the TARDIS is a joy because it reminds us of our first glimpse at the wondrous box; sheer, unadulterated pleasure ('It's preposterous!'). The joy of this character (and Sheard's interpretation) is his quiet attempts to keep up with the complexities ('Fascinating, are you saying the future can be changed?') the story throws up and yet remains firmly loyal to his brother despite all the proof that he is dead ('I can't believe that my brother... he and Dr Warlock were the closest of friends...'). This is why the cliffhanger to episode two is so brilliant, not because of the mummies finally catching up with the Doctor but because Lawrence proves where his loyalties lie by sabotaging the Doctor's plan ('I was thinking of my brother!'). It's impossible not to like him, which makes his death a more powerful moment and as a result makes the tension between the Doctor and Sarah more palpable.
* Bernard Archer is buried under so much make-up, which is one of the few unsubtle elements of the show and yet he still manages to exude a cold menace. It could be because he spends the story calmly walking from scene to scene with his terrifying mummy companions and killing people without any reaction at all, not even a satisfied smile. Or it could be how he only looks mildly inconvenienced when a bullet opens up his back. The fact that he is so quietly haunting throughout leaves his most shocking scene, killing his brother, so disturbing because he finally loses his temper and lashes out, proving his love for Sutekh. He's angry because he feels something. That's horrible.
* There are some Doctor Who villains that you simply cannot forget once you have seen them, for a manifold of reasons. The visual hook (the Jagaroth) or the concept behind them (the Mara) or simply because they exist at such a personal cost to the Doctor (the Master). Sutekh is one of the finest villains the show ever presented, a God of War who wants to grind the whole of reality into dust for no other reason that he finds the idea amusing. There's a terrifying visual hook in his painted mask (it's one of the scariest things I have ever seen on the show) and the performance by Gabriel Woolf is mesmerising. Sutekh lays his cards on the table, he has no redeemable features ('Where I tread I leave nothing but dust and darkness... I find that good') and if released you have no doubt he will live up to his claims. It's a stunning vocal performance that captures all the horror of Holmes' script and magnifies it tenfold, the silky malevolence in his voice that freezes me up. The Doctor and Sutekh are opposites in all ways with the Osiran encapsulating everything the Time Lord is vowed to fight against. Death and destruction taken to such an extreme, it is easy to claim Sutekh as the ultimate Doctor Who villain.
* Make an argument that Dudley Simpson's music got lazier and more predictable over time and I will hand you ten stories throughout his tenure that shows that when it comes to musical scores on Doctor Who that there are none finer. Evil of the Daleks, The Ice Warriors, The Seeds of Death, The Curse of Peladon, The Ark in Space, Genesis of the Daleks, The Masque of Mandragora, The Talons of Weng-Chiang, Image of the Fendhal, The Ribos Operation, The Androids of Tara. City of Death is justifiably his most recognised score but for my money Pyramids of Mars is the best. It's a tale that gives him a great deal of scope instead of rattling out the same old instrumental melodrama (not that there is anything wrong with that...there are some Doctor Who stories that would have a terribly flat atmosphere without Dudley's music). He manages to capture the atmosphere perfectly and several of his motifs are memorably scary. Ernie Clements' delayed death chase is Simpson at his height; pacey, dramatic and scary. His dark, ethereal score for Sutekh is similarly creepy and unusual. He uses simple instruments (the shaker during Sarah's near encounter with the mummies in the woods) to great effect. And who could ever forget Namin attacking the pipe organ in episode one? 

The Bad: What could possibly go wrong when Pyramids has so much in it's favour. Not a great deal to spoil the overall effect I have to be honest. There are a few production errors that are marginal but inescapable in the sort of turnover the show was facing at the time - some shonky model work, the occasional odd reaction shot that doesn't quite work - but on the whole it is a remarkably stylish piece of work. Episode four is where all my problems wind up. After three episodes of thrills and scares it's an all studio escapade featuring 'childish stratagems' and feels like all the money has run out and the plot is being improvised. The pace is slower and it resorts to cheap tricks like the Doctor's 'death' and the two mummies question trap. And Sutekh's ultimate defeat feels a little easy given the awesome build up he has received. Mind you episode four does have Marcus Scarman's ashen death scene, which is one of the shows most graphic.

Result: Would Pyramids of Mars turn up in my top ten? I'm almost willing to bet that it would feature in a good 80% of fans personal favourites. I think it is dazzlingly good, for 75% of it's running time. Hinchcliffe suffered from the curse of the last episode more than any other producer on the show. Bringing to a conclusion those interminably long Troughton or Pertwee six parters was like taking old yeller out and blowing his brains out, a mercy killing. And so much of the inconsistent eighties was suffering to start with that it is refreshing to reach the final instalment and start again. Much of Hinchliffe's output is polished and substantial and he and Robert Holmes were pretty spectacular at getting a memorable opening night out of the writers. So often really great stories limp to a disappointing conclusion, simply because they are ending. But more than that, stories such as Terror of the Zygons, The Android Invasion, The Hand of Fear, The Deadly Assassin and Talons of Weng-Chiang have anti climactic resolutions after everything that has come before. Episode four contains much that is good (the Doctor/Sutekh scenes are intense) but it lacks the frisson of the earlier episodes and feels cheaper and less dramatically satisfying. Pyramids of Mars continually surprises for it's first three episodes, delivering one seminal moment after another. Choose any five minutes and you'll stumble across a classic Doctor Who scene. Paddy Russell is one of the series most accomplished directors and this is her most accomplished story. I could wax lyrical about the production values, acting, atmosphere, memorable death scenes and music but I have already done that above. Instead I'll go on record saying that this is the best fourth Doctor and Sarah story, revealing everything that works so well about this pairing. Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen always had something special but what they deliver here is magnificent. It's a story I watched a lot when I first got the VHS and DVD and so it doesn't grace the player as often as it should. What a shame, watching this is drinking in classic 70s television. Pyramids of Mars was a last minute replacement but despite some plot holes, it's pretty damn wonderful. It's shit your pants scary too, which few Doctor Who stories are: 9/10

Friday, 2 September 2016

The Time Meddler written by Dennis Spooner and directed by Douglas Camfield

This story in a nutshell: The Doctor battles with one of his own people...a man who is trying to meddle in history...

Hmmm: Anybody who thought that Hartnell might have lost those gnashing teeth in season two might be in for a surprise at the sheer viciousness of his dealings with the Monk. He's appalled at his behaviour, it is the antithesis of his approach to time travelling. There's still a twinkle in Hartnell's eye though, even when he is condemning the Monk for his outrageous behaviour and certainly when he is devising a scheme to nip it in the bud. But not before one the first Doctor's gentlest scenes, his wonderfully warm scene moment with Vicki that takes place after Ian and Barbara have left the TARDIS. If anybody ever thought that Hartnell was always distant and unlikable, take a look this two hander. It's as open and vulnerable and cuddly as the Doctor has ever been. It's probably a good thing that Steven tripped into the TARDIS when he did because things might have gotten a little too Little House on the Prairie. He instantly bumps heads with the young astronaut over his disbelief that the TARDIS is a time machine and spends much of the story chastising him for his lack of faith. Season three would be a turbulent time for the show, a time when the show changed hands twice and the female assistants join the show with nooses around their necks. The relationship between the Doctor and Steven is the one constant and it's a very muscular friendship, brought to life by two actors who clearly respect each other a great deal. And that all starts here. You can see everything that works between them, their attempts to outdo each other, their grudging fondness and how they support each other whilst still having an opinion of their own, often ones that clash. It's one of my favourite pairings in the entire classic run.

Alien Orphan: Excuse me? Can somebody tell me who this resourceful, responsible young lady is? The previous story was The Chase where Vicki got in everybody's way, screamed, grabbed her head like she was scared it was going to fall off and fell for some pretty obvious traps. She was useless. Who ever knew it was Ian and Barbara that were holding her back? Suddenly Vicki is the seasoned traveller and teaching Steven the rules and in the space of about five minutes from one story to the next Vicki seems to have matured about ten years. I much prefer her this way and her chemistry with Steven is instantaneous. I really with the misunderstanding with O'Brien's desire to leave the show had never occurred because this was a very promising line up. The regulars in The Time Meddler raise the story from a good one to an occasionally great one. I love Vicki poking around inside the Monk's TARDIS and her horrified reactions to his morally ambiguous behaviour (mind you she was pushing some pretty serious reforms in The Romans earlier in the season). For the most part she spends the story going from one setting to another looking for the absent Doctor but it's comforting to know in the Hartnell free episode that O'Brien and Purves are more than up to keeping us entertained until he's back from his holiday.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'Met Leonardo Da Vinci and discussed the possibility of powered flight.'
'Put 200 pounds in a bank in 1966, nipped forward 200 years and earned a fortune in compound interest.'
'So how exactly does one enter this contraption of yours? Hammer and chisel?'

The Good: Aside from the crisp and quotable dialogue, the thing that stands out the most in The Time Meddler is the direction. Douglas Camfield has been handed one of his earliest Doctor Who assignments and gives this story a very stylish look. The difference between Camfield and the other omnipresent director this season (Richard Martin) is that he keeps things simple, That's not meant as an insult, as a result of Camfield's careful direction most of the story feels as though it was shot on location when it is entirely studio bound. He works like a magician, using clever tricks like adding inserts of the sea crashing and gulls circling in the air to some terrific sets and atmospheric sound effects to complete his illusion. The camera pans through the shadowy monastery sets, which adds some tension and intruige to what is going on in the deserted cloisters. Camfield tries to capture the story in unusual ways, low and high angles, which makes a refreshing change from the stuffy point and shoot approach of some directors. Dennis Spooner has written an interesting spin on the usual educational historical, already trying to stretch the show in interesting ways. He does this increments so as to stagger his surprises, so the story feels at first like it is going to be another story that educates about a well know period of history but slowly evolves into the first pseudo-historical. The gramophone reveal is when the historicals all change for Doctor Who, where science fiction first makes his presence in history. The Monk is looking to pervert history just for fun to change the lives of millions of people just for a bit of a laugh. To make things better for his design. It might presented in an amusing way (especially the moment Vicki realises how he makes all of his money) but it's still an awe-inspiring concept, and pretty terrifying. Lovely moments abound; the aforementioned gramophone, the discovery of the watch, the canon on the beach, the Doctor knocking out the Viking and then being taken hostage. However the highlights are the end of episode three where the series landscape shifts for the first time (although we didn't know at the time it would lead to a whole list of renegades to come) and the devious trap the Doctor springs on the Monk at the climax. You feel sorry for him, despite everything. He's one of those villains that deserves a 'I'll get you next time!' moment. He's simply too good to write out for good.

The Bad: Unusually for a historical for this period the characters who aren't the regulars or the villain of the piece are a pretty faceless bunch. The Saxons aren't imbued with much in the way of character, only Edith and that is mostly because of how the Doctor reacts so magically to her. It's sad that the day Doctor Who decides to show the consequences of rape at the hands of a terrifying force, the chosen victim isn't someone that our sympathies are particularly invested in (imagine if it had been Vicki?). Mind, I question whether a story that is quite this frivolous should be pushing something as mucky as rape in the face of it's viewers anyway. It was bad enough in The Keys of Mariuns where it was treated like something out of a Benny Hill sketch. The fight scenes are where Camfield lets the side down, which is odd given that would become his forte in later seasons of the show. They feel like the belong on the stage, as though a television camera is a little too wide to contain the pantomimic conflict.

Result: Let's face it, season two is the difficult second album. There's a feeling of the show trying to outdo its first year by making everything bigger and better and more experimental. It's a reasonable approach to take and the ratings certainly show that the audiences were responding well but there's no denying that there is more apathy in the second year and a feeling that their ambition outreaches their resources. The two big budget spectaculars, The Dalek Invasion of Earth and The Web Planet, were handed to a director who would happily blame time and money as a reason for why they mostly look wonky but fails to take into consideration that other directors at the time (Camfield) were delivering much more polished work on less money. Planet of the Giants and The Space Museum are both pretty dull, odd given one features genuinely realistic giant sets and the other has an astonishing first episode. It's not a very inspiring line up and if it wasn't for the three historicals that are peppered throughout the season - The Romans, The Crusade and The Time Meddler it would almost entirely be a write off. I would mention The Rescue but it's a little too inconsequential for it's own good and as for The Chase...well it's marvellous in all the wrong ways. The Time Meddler ends this inconsistent run on a reasonably high note, a fun tale of attempted time perversion that drags a little in places but is extremely well executed on the whole. The joy of this story isn't the plot, although it is quite surprising in places but the sheer delight of having four skillful actors working on a quality dialogue and hogging the screen. William Hartnell was one of the joys of season two, toning down his paternal anger and adopting a more amiable grandfather role and here he gets to veer between mentor to Steven and Vicki and prosecutor of the Monk. Peter Butterworth was quite the steal at the time and there's no denying that he is the charismatic star of the show. Finally Maureen O'Brien and Peter Purves make a terrific duo and it is a crying shame that they denied more stories together, the former taking on a more responsible role now Hill and Russell have left and the latter showing the teeth and grit that would put him in good stead when he is practically driving the show next season. The Monk's scheme is deliciously insane and once we get to the good stuff - the reveal of his TARDIS and the confrontations between the Doctor and his new nemesis - the story really is firing on all cylinders. But that is the main problem with this story, in order to get to the tasty moments there is a lot of padding and hideous Viking/Saxon grunting. It's not the best of Hartnell but it is certainly very admirable and enjoyable. Dennis Spooner knew how to spin a yarn without tortuously complicated plots or unrealistic demands on the budget. The Time Meddler is good old fashioned entertainment and there is nothing wrong with that. It just doesn't aspire to be much more than that, which the top tier Doctor Who's aspire to. Not a classic but in a season of stories reaching for the stars and falling flat on their faces, this is a reliable piece; never terrible and often quite special: 7/10