Monday, 29 June 2009

The Visitation

After three highly unusual stories, The Visitation looks like an oddity, simply because it is a straightforward ‘pseudo-historical’. The plot has a lot in common with The Time Warrior- an alien crashes in pre-industrial England and uses the local population as slave labour. The plot is very straightforward, but is half-baked in places- the Terileptils’ aims have clearly not been thought through by Eric Saward and there is a good deal of padding- a lot of it very entertaining, but blatant padding nonetheless. However, the script shows a quality not often associated with Saward: love. Saward clearly loved writing the character of Richard Mace and was clearly enjoying creating the Terileptils. Although their aims are unclear, Saward does a great job in giving the Terileptils a culture and a history, clearly because they existed as a fully formed race in Saward’s mind, rather than a stock alien menace. Saward portrays them as desperate criminals, rather than evil conquerors, which makes the interaction between the Terileptil leader and the Doctor interesting and the outcome unclear- will the Doctor talk them out of their plan? He doesn’t- in fact, the Doctor’s involvement in the outcome is not as great as it could have been.

The production is of a very high quality, with very effective period detail, as one expects from the BBC. The sets for the Terileptil ship are also very well done, although the ‘beautiful’ android is beautiful only in a gaudy 80s way, unfortunately. The Terileptils are very convincing, all things being considered. They are designed to be a cross between a man, a lizard and a fish which works very well. The fact that the voice is not treated in any way is startling and works well in this case, making the Terileptil a person as well as a monster. Even the gaffes in the Terileptil’s realisation work in its favour- occasionally Michael Melia’s chin can be seen inside the Terileptil’s mouth, but it actually looks like a tongue. Perhaps the biggest production drawback is the direction. Peter Moffat could make a scene visually interesting via editing- the wonderful opening scene is a great example- but he has no idea how to use the camera itself to tell a story- the first revelation of the Terileptil’s face is wrecked by Moffat’s shot choices and he is hopeless at directing fight scenes.

Of the guest performances, as said, there are only two real characters. Michael Melia gives the Terileptil leader dignity and menace and Michael Robbins is, predictably, wonderful as Mace. Of the regulars, Peter Davison continues to impress, as usual as does Janet Fielding. This is, unfortunately, not a story that plays to Matthew Waterhouse’s very few strengths- he is, frankly, bloody awful in parts. Happily, this is a good story for Sarah Sutton and Nyssa finally gets a bit of personality.

It won’t blow your mind or change your life, but The Visitation is great fun and well worth a punt.

NEXT: Black Orchid

Saturday, 27 June 2009


Peter Davison started his tenure on Doctor Who with two excellent stories, but even they do not prepare us for the outstanding triumph that is Kinda. Like Marco Polo and The Deadly Assassin it is a story that is like no other previously broadcast, yet remains 100% Doctor Who. The script by Christopher Bailey is one of the best the programme has ever had, full of excellent characterisation, memorable dialogue, humour and a great deal of intelligence. The actual plot is simple- The Mara uses Tegan to cross over from 'The Dark Places of the Inside' to the Material Universe. A creature that feeds off fear and hate, it attempts to use the Kinda to attach the dome where an Earth survey team lives. However, Bailey makes this plot the grounding for so much more. Buddhist iconography is dropped in from time to time, but is used to examine how we view time itself. The Wheel of Time signifies doom for the Kinda- is the reason Deva Loka is a paradise it because the Kinda do not have one eye on the future? The attack that the Mara wants the Kinda to make has no chance of success, but the Mara probably knows that- it is the very act of attacking, a plan for the future, that will doom them. The Kinda are very thoughtfully realised- telepathy is portrayed as being a mixture of feelings and words and they are seen as effectively straddling the gap between individual and collective intelligence. Then there is the story of the Earth colonists. Hindle's madness is very convincingly written- he becomes more child-like, with all the negative effects. Not everything is explained, but this actually works in the story's favour- does Hindle control the Kinda hostages, do they control him, or is it more complicated than that? On a deeper level, there are points made about colonialism and culture shock- the Earthlings believe themselves to be the superior culture, yet it is they who suffer the shock. There are also points made about male/female relationships- the box of Jana affects males and females differently. I could go on, but it is really best of you draw your own conclusions.

A great script needs a great cast and seldom has the programme had one this good. Simon Rouse as Hindle is the most convincing portrayal of madness the programme has ever seen and Nerys Hughes makes Todd sympathetic and interesting. Then there's Richard Todd (Richard bloody Todd for Christ's sake!) making Sanders unforgettable, yet not stealing scenes from the other actors (even Matthew Waterhouse- Todd is supremely generous) Mary Morris and Sarah Prince are very effective as Panna and Karuna.

The story is entirely studio-bound and, although Deva Loka is not the best realised world, I am glad there were no film sequences to jar the viewer. Peter Grimwade creates scenes of beauty and scenes of terror- the sequences inside Tegan's mind terrified me as a child- and there is the effective sequence where the Doctor and Todd see the Wheel of Time in motion.

Peter Davison's performance is even better than in his first two stories- only he could make the Doctor boldly admit to being an idiot and get away with it. Janet Fielding continues to impress as Tegan, especially in her scenes of possession. Matthew Waterhouse is actually good in the scenes where he does the conjuring trick and does not offend in others.

I will never again call one Doctor Who story the best story ever. I will only say that I have called this story that in the past and I still agree with the reasons I had for doing so. Yes, the snake is a bit rubbish, but so what? This is utterly unmissable.

NEXT: The Visitation

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Four to Doomsday

Four to Doomsday is a great example of how a well-worn premise (aliens wish to invade Earth) can still make intelligent and surprising television. It seems, at times, that Terence Dudley has never seen or read any science-fiction, but this is his advantage as he does not get bogged down in the usual clichés. The alien Urbankans are nothing like the usual would-be conquerors- their invasion plan is about as culturally sensitive as an invasion plan can be. There are only two fully developed characters apart from the regulars- Monarch and Bigon. Monarch is an insane autocrat with a God delusion, but he also recognises the need for doubt, which is why Bigon is allowed a great deal of freedom. Monarch's relationship with Persuasion and Enlightenment, his counsellors is expertly written as being a mix between the relationship between a king and his ministers and a god and his priests.

This is brought to life in a gently paced, but visually stunning production. The ship is brilliantly realised, with good model work, excellent sets (note the subtle matte work in the throne room) and truly outstanding lighting. John Black puts in a masterful job as director- the 'recreationals', featuring Mayan, Aboriginal, Chinese and Greek dances are wonderful and Black recognises the unparalleled effectiveness of an arresting image, from Bigon's revelation about his true nature to the Doctor's use of the cricket ball to get back to the TARDIS. The guest performances are excellent (although I'm surprised an actor of Burt Kwouk's stature was used in such a limited role) but the laurels have to be handed to Stratford Johns as Monarch, flawlessly portraying the madness, apparent benevolence and omnipresent arrogance of the character- I love it when Monarch's explanation for being unable to penetrate the TARDIS is that the TARDIS is too primitive for his instruments.

Peter Davison is wonderful here- this was his first story filmed and he is immediately recognisable. The Doctor goes around with a winning smile but conspires against his enemy under his breath. His dressing down of Adric is wonderful. Matthew Waterhouse's performance is strangely helped by the fact that Adric has to be duped by Monarch in the story. Nyssa doesn't make much of an impression, but Janet Fielding's grouchy interpretation of Tegan is easily the best performance among the companions.

This is a story that grabs hold of you and keeps your attention to the very end- highly recommended.

NEXT: Kinda

Monday, 22 June 2009


Christopher H. Bidmead kicks off the Fifth Doctor Era with another very oddly structured story. Again, we have to wait until the second episode for the appearance of the titular location and before that, the plot takes some rather bizarre turns. The Master's plan to send the TARDIS back in time to Event One is foiled, but it turns out that the real trap was Castrovalva all along. However, to complain about these for too long would stop one from appreciating the many strengths of this fine story. Bidmead again bases his story on a striking idea- that the Doctor would end up in a place that behaved like the impossible architectural optical illusions of the prints of M.C. Escher- but weaves it into a beautifully told story with compelling characters and wonderful dialogue. The scenes before Castrovalva contain great sequences such as Nyssa and Tegan talking about recursion, the TARDIS getting hotter as it heads towards Event One and, of course, the scenes with the Doctor. These scenes may be technically superfluous to the story, but Bidmead doesn't do padding- he just goes off on tangents sometimes and they are almost invariably worth watching, irrespective of their plot relevance. Castrovalva itself is wonderfully realised. Bidmead obviously realised that its impossible vistas would not be convincingly realised with special effects, so he creates believable characters such as Mergrave and Ruther, who are made to understand what is wrong with their world and of Shardovan, whose enquiring mind came to that conclusion long ago. Wonderfully, the realisation that Castrovalva and its people are creations of the Master makes the Castrovalvans wish to assert their right to live- as Shardovan states 'You made us, man of evil, but we are free'.

The realisation of the story is very well done, from the atmospheric location work to the beautiful Escher inspired sets for Castrovalva. Fiona Cumming shoots with great feeling- the recursion of Castrovalva is implied with some good editing and there is the fantastic scene where the Master is trapped in Castrovalva that implies great brutality without showing any violence. The lighting is excellent throughout, from the soothing tones brought out in the Zero Room to the organic-looking night-time shots. The performances are excellent throughout, with Michael Sheard and Derek Waring being especially memorable as Mergrave and Shardovan. Anthony Ainley is a bit more OTT as the Master, but he also gives a thoroughly convincing performance as the Portreeve- if you didn't know, it would be easy to believe that it was a different actor.

However, there is, of course, one performance that totally outshines the others- Peter Davison as the Doctor. This story had a new Doctor in it for the first time in seven years. Speaking for myself, I had totally accepted the new Doctor by the end. Davison is stunning throughout. When the Doctor is reverting to his past personas, Davison's impersonations are spot on, especially that great Hartnell look he gives. However, Davison has no problem in imposing his own stamp on the character, from the very first time he frowns and has to explain a joke he has just made.

Castrovalva is gorgeous television and a great start for Peter Davison.

NEXT: Four to Doomsday

Saturday, 20 June 2009


The most iconic era of 20th Century Doctor Who comes to an end with Logopolis, which is the first script by Christopher Bidmead. Bidmead’s tenure as script editor was one of the factors which made Doctor Who worth watching again after the very patchy Season 17 and his first full contribution is a very interesting story. The plotting is very odd- for the first episode and a half, the Doctor is concerned with measuring the TARDIS, but ends up materialising around another TARDIS which results in bizarre dimensional anomalies. Outside, on the Barnet Bypass, Australian air stewardess Tegan Jovanka is changing the tyre on her Aunt Vanessa’s car. However, there are two other presences- the other TARDIS belongs to the resurrected Master, who begins his new life with callous murder. Dispassionately observing this is the Watcher, a terrifying figure swathed in white- but the (unheard) conversations he has with people indicate he is a figure to be trusted, if not welcomed. Perhaps the first 40 minutes is unnecessary in plot terms, but it is very well executed- there could have been a bit of trimming in some of the Bypass scenes and the Doctor’s plan to flush out the Master’s TARDIS is one of the stupidest things the programme has done in plot terms, but the rest is compelling, if sometimes baffling- how does the dimensional anomaly work, exactly?- too compelling to be dismissed as padding. The titular planet is a fascinating alien world- the inhabitants form a giant organic computer that is used for ‘Block Transfer Computation’- using pure mathematics to create events in space/time. Bidmead’s skill at presenting scientific concepts with beautifully written dialogue cannot be underestimate it- ‘The essence of matter is structure and the essence of structure is mathematics’ is understandable by anyone, and sounds great. Into this society we first see the Master and his rash meddling results in the death of Logopolis and the doom of the Universe- Block Transfer Computation actually created the CVEs and, possibly, the micro-universes they opened into (neatly tying in the adventures in E-Space) to drain the waste energy of the Universe. For the first time, the Doctor literally saves the entire Universe, paying the ultimate price.

Bidmead’s script is one of the most cerebral that the programme has ever had, but he does not forget characterisation and is helped by some excellent performances. New regular Janet Fielding is instantly memorable as Tegan and Sarah Sutton is very effective as Nyssa. Matthew Waterhouse does not offend (the viewer can actually accurately gauge the acting talents of the three regulars by looking at their reactions to the doctor falling from the radio telescope!) Anthony Ainley makes his first proper appearance as the Master. He seems eerily cadaverous in his first scenes with Nyssa and he underplays very effectively throughout, but always giving a hint of the madness that has now taken over the character. He may have a goatee, but this is a very different character to the Delgado version.

Season 18 is one of the most visually striking eras of Doctor Who. Unfortunately, despite good direction from Peter Grimwade, there are hints of the money running out for the season, especially in the climactic scenes on the radio telescope unfortunately. However, Logopolis itself and the wonderful TARDIS Cloisters are very effectively realised.

Tom Baker’s portrayal of the Doctor grabbed the attention of the world and didn’t fully relinquish its dominance for twenty-four years. There were times when he gave the best performance yet in the title role. There were other times when he actually failed to give a convincing performance as the Doctor- something that I would not say about his three predecessors. However, his performance in his final story is phenomenal. The Fourth Doctor has always been slightly avuncular, but Baker plays it in a more grandfatherly way in the opening scenes. His dismissal of Adric Nyssa and Tegan is beautifully played, as is his discovery of the extent of the Master’s madness. Despite all this, all the character traits the Fourth Doctor ever had are still present including, most crucially, his sense of humour.

Everything comes magnificently together in the best regeneration scene yet. The Doctor sees visions of past adversaries as he hangs from the radio telescope and he falls. His broken body lies at the foot of the telescope, but he is still alive and, as his new companions call his name, he sees his old friends doing the same. ‘It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for’. He beckons to the Watcher, who is a projection of the Fifth Doctor. They merge and the Doctor sits up, a new man.

Logopolis has its faults, but it contains intelligence, humour and emotion, a great ending to a great season and a great Doctor.

NEXT: Castrovalva

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

The Keeper of Traken

It is fitting that Johnny Byrne, creator of the almost comically somniferous Heartbeat, should write this story, where the heady concepts of the rest of Season 18 are dialled back for a rather sedate tale. In fact, the pace is very different from any other Doctor Who story I have seen. The info-dumping about Traken and its main players is done rather beautifully by the Keeper using the TARDIS scanner to give a potted visual history. The story progresses naturally- indeed, if it wasn't for a major revelation, this would be a story with no surprises at all- the main plot is resolved a bit too simply for my liking. However, there is a great deal to commend this story. The plot is reasonably simple and Byrne's script is full of very stylised dialogue that never seems artificial and is often lyrical and contains good characterisation and makes Traken a believable world

This is helped by a gorgeous production- the sets and costumes are sublime and, while this is hardly the most dynamic story, it is directed with great style by John Black- indeed, the production most resembles the better of the BBC Complete Shakespeare plays that were broadcast in the 70s and 80s. There are also some truly great performances- however, it is a real pity that John Woodnut and Denis Carey disappear half-way through as they are two of the best performers. Sheila Ruskin is a bit odd as Kassia- her facial and vocal performance is fine, but her body language seems influenced by the worst excesses of silent movie acting. However, the best performance is that of Anthony Ainley. Even with the knowledge of Ainley's future in the programme, his performance as Tremas is thoroughly convincing.

This story, of course, is just as much about the return of an old adversary as it is about regime change on Traken. Geoffrey Beevers puts in a very entertaining performance as the Master that is eerily anticipatory of Ian McDiarmid's Emperor in Return of the Jedi (and beyond). The Master's scheme is foiled, but that just lulls us into a false sense of security that makes the shocking twist at the end all the more powerful. Tom Baker is excellent, being both light-hearted and contemptuous of overly legalistic behaviour. Matthew Waterhouse's performance is fine here- he seems to spark well off Tom Baker.

This is a very enjoyable story, a moment of balm to ease us into what is to come.

NEXT: Logopolis

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Warriors’ Gate

Warriors’ Gate has to be the centrepiece of the Doctor Who Renaissance that was season 18. It is a visually stunning and thought provoking story that can be discussed endlessly, but is not alienating for children- it certainly mesmerised the four year old me when it was broadcast. The premise is a simple one- the TARDIS is at the gateway between E-Space and N-Space, a featureless white void, in which they are trapped with a slave ship. However, Stephen Gallagher manages to tap all the potential of this premise- the slaves are Tharils, time sensitives who can phase in and out of space/time and navigate through hyperspace. The Tharils are ruthlessly exploited now, but they were one the oppressive masters of an empire of their own. The nature of the Tharils brings to mind some of the rudiments of quantum theory, and the influence of and references to the I Ching complement this wonderfully. The Doctor is saved by doing ‘the right kind of nothing’- in the gateway, it seems, making a choice reduces the space and one is trapped there the more one acts. Rorvik and his crew are doomed as they continue to act, even beyond the point when it would be rational to stop. However, this story is not just a musing on cosmology- it is full of fantastic dialogue and memorable characters with a plot that is dispensed with not a hint of padding.

To complement this is one of the most astounding televisual presentations of twentieth century television. Director Paul Joyce is influenced by Cocteau (the sets of La Belle et la Bête, visual imagery from the Orphic Trilogy) Welles (the long tracking shots that open the story) and creates a truly unforgettable experience. The story is full of memorable images- the spinning coin, Biroc’s entry into the TARDIS, the Gateway and what lies beyond, the axe-wielding Gundan robots. The lighting is skilfully atmospheric , with excellent set design and costumes. Joyce also marshals the cast into a truly fantastic set of performances. Not one actor is anything less than first rate, but special mention has to be made of Clifford Rose as Rorvik. Gallagher’s script makes everyone believable and Rose is excellent as a sadistic slave trader whose crew, nevertheless, have genuine respect for him.

This is Lalla Ward’s last outing as Romana and she is astonishing in it and earns her right to be E-Space’s equivalent of the Doctor. Tom Baker is genuinely galvanized by the very strong material he has to work with and even Adric does not offend in his (very limited) role here. This is also the last appearance of K9. Although the character has been somewhat marginalised in this season, he is great in this, spouting probabilities like prophecies. John Leeson always made K9 charming and it is sad to see him go.

This is a truly unmissable story that will stay with the viewer long after it has ended.

NEXT: The Keeper of Traken

Friday, 12 June 2009

State of Decay

It is surprising that the Hinchcliffe/ Holmes ‘Gothic Horror’ era never did a vampire story (actually there is a boring production based reason) but we finally get one in the form of State of Decay, from the ever present pen of Terrance Dicks. Dicks’s script takes influences from the classics of Vampire fiction (well, two of them anyway). We have the ancient castle where the vampires live and the peasants who cluster around it ‘like ducklings’ and who live in fear of their vampire lords and owe them tribute. Of course, this is adapted into a Doctor Who context, with the castle being a spacecraft and the traditional vampires that are seen are a mere shadow of the ancient evil beneath the castle, an ancient enemy of the Time Lords. The script blends horror with musings of the decline of civilisations and evolution of language and the effect of the collective unconscious on legend. There is some deft characterisation, especially in the portrayal of the dynamic of the ‘Three Who Rule’, although the rest of the characters are less well drawn- the peasants and their society are not portrayed with the same degree of care as the vampires. There are some things left unexplained- what is ‘The Wasting’ (are they the bats, if so the Three Who Rule are running a protection racket!) and what exactly is the significance of the Chosen Ones?

However, the story is further strengthened by its very impressive realisation. The sets, especially for the castle interiors are gorgeous, with some very effective matte shots being used for the throne room and the blood-red brickwork for the castle corridors are a welcome touch. The miniature shots for the castle are superbly detailed, unlike other miniature efforts in the past. The only production let downs are some of the shots of bats attacking and the realisation of the Great Vampire. I can just about forgive the giant hand, but the terrible shot of the creature on the scanner is awful. Peter Moffat directs the scenes with an elegant simplicity, although he is rubbish at fight scenes.

The cast are first rate- the Three Who rule are terrifyingly cadaverous, but it is clear that they are inhibited and controlled- witness their ritualistic hand-washing. Moffat has the Three arranged in tableaux for several scenes, which seems ‘stagey’ at first, but becomes more appropriate as one understands the story more. Zargo and Camilla are king and queen but Aukon is the one who communes with the Great Vampire. The Three are excellently performed, with special mention for the wonderful Emrys James as Aukon. Tom Baker is wonderful, with the Doctor driven by more than his usual desire to right wrongs. Lalla Ward’s Romana performs the role of Mina Murray very well, although, with Camilla, the influence shifts from Dracula to Le Fanu’s Carmilla (Camilla shows signs of being a lesbite, or lesbian vampire). Matthew Waterhouse is wisely kept in the background and doesn’t manage to be too annoying.

Despite its faults, State of Decay has something in it for all Doctor Who fans and is great fun.

NEXT: Warriors’ Gate

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Full Circle

Full Circle marks the beginning of the Doctor's adventures in E-Space. This is the first time a script has been written by a Doctor Who fan and, happily, Andrew Smith does not wade in with continuity-obsessed wish fulfilment, instead contributing an intelligent, well written science-fiction story. The script is typical of Christopher Bidmead's more scientifically literate outlook on the programme, and the story deals with questions of evolution and development and stagnation of societies. We are shown a group of humanoids living on a crashed Starliner who are seeking to leave the planet Alzarius for what they believe to be their planet of origin, Terradon. However, Alzarius goes through a cycle called Mistfall, when the air becomes suffused with gases from the Alzarian marshes, from which emerge the Marshmen, an amphibious race of humanoid reptilians- and the Doctor and Romana find that the inhabitants of the starliner are more closely linked to Alzarius than they thought.The script is full of good dialogue and the plot is developed well over the four episodes (if a little slow paced at times). The Marshmen are not depicted as monsters- indeed there are no real villains in the story- but as an intelligent, if very different life form.

The characterisation is not bad, but there are no real stand-outs. There are, however, some very effective performances from James Bree, Alan Rowe and the wonderful George Baker. However, this story is also famous for introducing a regular character who has not had the best press. Matthew Waterhouse's performance can best be described as watchable, but amateur. His line delivery is acceptable, but he seems unsure of what to do when he is not speaking. To be fair, the other outlers are not much good either- although Richard Willis has a good screen presence as Varsh and Bernard Padden is fascinatingly lugubrious.

Where this story triumphs is in its visuals. Alzarius is realised by beautifully shot locations and atmospheric set designs and Peter Grimwade uses long takes with interesting camerawork in the studio. It's not visually dynamic, but certainly shows a deep understanding of the material. The scenes with the spiders are genuinely shocking and Grimwade's treatment of the Marshmen is inspired. Of special note is the tragic figure of the Marshchild, which is shown as a terrified innocent ripped out of its home to die in a strange place.

Tom Baker puts in one of his best performances in this story- keeping his sense of humour but livid at the callous treatment of the Marshchild. Lalla Ward supports ably, although her scene of possession (the first time a companion had been possessed in years) could have been better played.

Full Circle is, incidentally, the first Doctor Who story I watched in full at the time of transmission, with the spiders bursting out of the fruit being my first 'behind the sofa' moment (although my family's sofa was against the wall, meaning I had to face my fears). Twenty-eight years on, I still found it a highly enjoyable story, well worth a watch.

NEXT: State of Decay

Monday, 8 June 2009


I have often said that many Doctor Who stories regarded as failures have nothing wrong with the basic storyline. Meglos, however, is the story of the Doctor being summoned to help an old friend, but is impersonated by a cactus along the way. If you haven't seen this story before, you did not read that wrong. The script is somewhat better than this storyline would indicate- it considers questions about science and religion and has some nice dialogue. but it contains vague explanations- we never find out what exactly what Meglos is or what his aims are; we never find out anything about the Dodecahedron, apart from the fact that it is a source of great power. Even the ending is undercooked- the Doctor came to help with the Dodecahedron, but he destroys it in the end and the Tigellan's accept (in an implausibly laid back way) that they must live on the surface- despite the fact that the Savants have lost their power source and the Deons the totem of their God, they seem to take this massive cultural upheaval very well. Characterisation is rather basic and there is an even more serious script problem which I will discuss later.

Visually, the story has its strengths, most notably the 'scene-synch' variation of CSO. This process is unique to this story which probably makes it look more striking than it actually is, but the results are impressive, especially in episode 1, where the long shots mask the tell-tale CSO fringing (it was, perhaps, unwise to begin the shot with a close up of a planet in the sky, with the string holding it up all too visible). The sets are well-designed and atmospherically lit, with the exception of the Tigellan jungle, with plants that look as if they are pantomime props. Only Meglos itself is convincing amongst the phyto-bestiary- it helps, of course, that cacti naturally look like Doctor Who monsters anyway! Terence Dudley's direction is not as striking as in other stories in the season, but his skill is evident when one considers the padding in the story. This is a very short adventure, but it is clear that the script was much too short- reprises are long and there is no need to show the time loop in so much detail. However Dudley manages to rescue it.

The regulars put in excellent performances, with Tom Baker relishing playing a villain (his cactus make-up is very good, incidentally). Of the guest appearances, we welcome back Jacqueline Hill with the greatest of pleasure and she gives the best guest performance of the lot (her death, incidentally, is not particularly essential to the plot and is badly executed) Bill Fraser and Frederick Treves are fun as Grugger and Brotodac but none of the other performances rise above adequate.

This is perfectly acceptable Doctor Who- it is a pity it cannot be something more.

NEXT: Full Circle

Saturday, 6 June 2009

The Leisure Hive

The Leisure Hive marks the biggest stylistic change in Doctor Who since Spearhead from Space, something which is obvious from the start. For the first time, someone other than Delia Derbyshire has realised the theme tune. Peter Howell’s arrangement is the earliest one I remember and I still think it is a very good reinterpretation of the Grainer/Derbyshire original.

But onto the story. David Fisher shows us Argolis, a world that has been ravaged by nuclear war, whose sterile survivors have constructed the titular Leisure Hive- a recreation complex that aims to teach the value of tolerance to the Galaxy as a lat gift to the ages. However, the Leisure Hive is on the brink of bankruptcy, just at the time when the Hive’s pioneering science of tachyonics might provide hope for the doomed Argolin race. How much of this is Fisher’s is unclear- the tone is somewhat more serious than his previous contributions, probably due to Christopher Hamilton Bidmead being the script editor. However, the script is by no means mirthless, showing that Bidmead knew the value of carefully used humour. Whoever was the main force behind the script, it is very effective. There is very little padding (this is, incidentally a rather short four parter, running only 90 minutes in total) and there is some very effective world building. We have the dying Argolins, whom the war have mutated into a race with a long youth and middle age, but a very rapid old-age. They were the aggressors in the war and are now attempting to atone. Their former enemies, the Foamasi, are a somewhat socialistic reptilian race who have, nevertheless, have fringe groups devoted to capitalism. The characters are very well written, with Pangol, the bellicose youngster Argolin contrasting well with Mena’s dignified elder.

However, what really distinguishes the story is the direction, from the very first scene which begins with a very long tracking shot of Brighton Beach. Lovett Bickford seems to have abandoned the usual method of studio direction – sitting in the gallery and cutting from camera to camera. Here, every shot has been planned and individually lit, meaning that the editing was done mainly in post-production. The story tries to find a new way of doing even the most basic shot- for the first time, the camera moves when the TARDIS materialises. However, The Leisure Hive is not merely a simple montage of ambitious techniques. Bickford has not forgotten the power of an arresting image, with the memorable tachyon dismemberments and the way in which the Argolins rapidly age. The scene where Brock is unmasked is edited in a genuinely terrifying way. Bickford also manages to get superb performances from the guest cast. A young, but still instantly recognisable, David Haig is superb Pangol and Adrienne Corri is very memorable as Mena. I must also comment on the relationship between Hardin and Mena, a relationship that might blossom into love in different circumstances, beautifully played by Corri and Nigel Lambert. Tom Baker’s performance is the best in what seems like ages. He is more subdued, but by no means serious and his portrayal of the aged Doctor is wonderful. Lalla Ward is wonderful as Romana, from her petulance in the early scenes to the sense given that she has grown closer to the Doctor since the previous story.

This is the beginning of John Nathan-Turner’s tenure as producer. There are still a few fans who see JNT as the ruination of Doctor Who. Whatever else he would do, it is blatantly obvious that The Leisure Hive is far superior to most of Season 17 and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

NEXT: Meglos

Wednesday, 3 June 2009


Shada is a tricky one to review as, obviously, what we are looking at is very much unfinished. Because bits of it were never shot it is hard to get a sense of the pacing and coherence of the thing. However, it is still possible to watch it and get a sense of the story, which is why I have decided to include it in my retrospective, in spite of the fact that it was never broadcast.

Shada was, in a sense, the end of an era and probably would have been (stylistically) the definitive example of the Douglas Adams era. The script would be instantly recognisable as Adams’ work even if it wasn’t reused seven years later as the basis for Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency (the similarities are even more pronounced than in City of Death, with entire scenes being reproduced almost verbatim). As it stands, the script is a good one. It takes an idea- a scientist who wants to be God and runs away with it, with some inspired concepts such as the mind-stealing sphere and a spaceship computer that nigh-on worships its master. There is a good deal of the comedy characteristic of the era, but a fair bit of it is funny, fortunately. The dialogue is good throughout with a few exceptions: ‘They stole our brains!’ is never a good line, no matter how necessary to the plot it is. The characterisation is reasonably good, even though the key characters of Chris Parsons and Clare Keightley aren’t exactly fleshed out- apart from Arthur Dent, Adams was never very good at making his everyman characters three dimensional. However, we have the wonderful character of Professor Chronotis and the insanely arrogant and ruthless Skagra to keep our attention. The script seems to justify the length of six episodes, which is pleasantly surprising.

The standard of the production is hard to judge, as only one of the studio sessions were made, giving the studio scenes a very uniform look. However, the location scenes in Cambridge are wonderful and the Professor’s study is a fantastic set. Pennant Roberts puts in some fantastic work behind the camera (something I’d never thought I’d type)- of special note is the opening scene, where the camera circles round the seated figures of the Think Tank, which is intercut with a countdown in Roman numerals. The Krarg is a wonderfully realised monster, making a strong impression even in its brief appearance on the surviving footage. The performances are excellent, with Denis Carey being wonderful as Chronotis and Christopher Neame’s Nordic glower being used to good effect as Skagra. Tom Baker and Lalla Ward are clearly invigorated by this story and perform excellently.

Shada would not have been the best story of the season, but it would certainly have been very memorable if it had been completed. What is left of it can actually be enjoyed as a story and it is a real pity that it was not allowed to rescue what was the weakest run of Doctor Who stories for some time.

NEXT: The Leisure Hive

Monday, 1 June 2009

The Horns of Nimon

The Horns of Nimon follows in the far-from-august footsteps of Underworld, in taking inspiration from Greek myth. This time, the unfortunate Hellenic tradition to be so honoured is the story of Theseus and the Minotaur. Again, the script is not a completely uninspired reworking of the story. The Nimon are not a race insincerely promising to grant their knowledge to a benevolent but naïve population, but to the remnants of an empire that will use that knowledge to conquer and subdue. The idea on the Nimon as ‘space locusts’ is also a good one and the fact that the ‘labyrinth’ in the story is actually a circuit to channel the energy in the Power Complex is intriguing. However, the script as a whole lacks the verve that is required to make it truly memorable and lacks the payoff that it should have had.

However, that is the beginning of the problems of the story. The set design is tepid, as is the costume design. The Nimon costumes consist of bull masks, lycra bodysuits and platform boots, which means the actors wearing them have to walk in a ridiculous way to stop themselves from falling over. This is a pity, as their voices are fantastic. Kenny McBain’s visual direction is totally uninspired- at no point does he convey the ‘labyrinth’ as even a maze, let alone a shifting circuit. The performances are very disappointing- Simon Gipps-Kent is totally unconvincing as Seth (Theseus) and Janet Ellis (for whom it is mandatory for British men over 40 to have had a crush on) shows that she was no great shakes as an actress. But, of course, there is one performance that everyone remembers. Graham Crowden is...unforgettable as Soldeed, but, it has to be noted, although he is florid and sometimes completely over the top, it is not a bad performance- in fact it is one of the few things that makes the story worth watching. The regulars seem to be enjoying themselves and Tom Baker and Lalla Ward put in good performances throughout.

The main problem with the story is tone. Apologists will claim that it is not meant to be taken seriously, yet it seemed to me that the story does exactly that, but has bizarre moments of silliness, the worst of which is when the TARDIS breaks down, making a sound that makes use of every sound effect in the Goon Show arsenal. As with many stories in this season, there are ‘jokes’ but the only time I actually laughed was whenever the Skonnan Co-Pilot hisses ‘Weakling scum!’ as the Anethans. Some have pointed to the broadcast date have stated that this is Doctor Who the pantomime but, unless you were shouting out ‘he’s behind you’ in the scene where the Doctor and co are hiding in plain sight from a Nimon, the story has little to offer as festive entertainment.

In the end, this is a story that, were it not for one very entertaining performance, would be dull in the extreme.

NEXT: Shada