Saturday, 28 February 2009

The Sontaran Experiment

And so the Doctor and co transmat to Earth for this breezy little interlude. On the uninhabited planet, there are other humans who are there to reclaim it, and a Sontaran who is capturing them and conducting experiments to decide the suitability of Earth for invasion.

The Sontaran Experiment efficiently dispenses its plot in less than 50 minutes, without seeming rushed, at least until the end. The script is well written with memorable characters and dialogue- it is, indeed, odd to see such a script from Bob Baker and Dave Martin, who normally hugely underestimate what the Doctor Who production team is capable of. Here, the writing manages to convey the horror of the experiments Styre dispassionately performs on the humans, without the need for violence and gore. Here, the production team are well up to the challenge, the OB video cameras giving the story a very natural look, with great use of exterior locations, excellently marshalled by Rodney Bennett.

The supporting cast is very effective. It is always welcome to see the future not just populated by British and Americans, and the thick South African accents of the Galsec colonists really emphasises the difference from the Nerva sleepers and Donald Douglas and Glyn Jones (who, incidentally, wrote Hartnell’s wonderful Space Museum ) are excellent. However, the standout, again, is Kevin Lindsay as the Sontaran. This is his last performance as one of the bellicose spud-heads and, therefore, a last chance to appreciate the skill he brought to the role. Like Linx, Lindsay makes the Styre flick his tongue in and out like a snake, a trait that the Sontarans would, unfortunately, lose. The make-up is different, though no less effective than in The Time Warrior.

The regulars are really outstanding. This story sees the beginning of Elisabeth Sladen’s playful interaction with Tom Baker’s Doctor and she is charming and funny in another rather limited role for her. Ian Marter is thoroughly entertaining as Harry, who actually manages to fiddle about with an alien device and produce the correct result. And, of course, there is Tom Baker, in a seemingly loopy, but actually very focused performance as the Doctor.

This is hugely entertaining and, apart from the rather rushed resolution, excellent story.

NEXT: Genesis of the Daleks

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

The Ark in Space

In Robot, the production team and the audience were given a chance to get used to the new Doctor. The Ark in Space, on the other hand, is the real start of the Tom Baker era, presenting a story that would have seemed very out of place in the Pertwee era. Why this is is hard to pinpoint exactly. Perhaps is because the visceral reaction to the central antagonist (laying eggs in a human host) is not just a welcome by-product of the story, but integrated into the story as a whole. It benefits from a good script from Robert Holmes. The first episode, which features only the regulars, works very well where similar episodes have failed (such as The Wheel in Space). This is probably because the episode is also used to present Harry's first trip in the TARDIS, which results in some excellent character moments. There are also the scenes where Sarah is put into hibernation, where info-dumping is brilliantly backed with soothing but sombre chamber music. The rest of the story is plotted well with little padding and the Wirrn, on paper are a well thought-out race of monsters. A pleasant surprise is that, even though a convenient Achilles Heel for the Wirrn is discovered (electricity) the story doesn't rely on it for its resolution. The dialogue is great, with the Doctor's famous speech on the indomitability of Homo sapiens being an obvious highlight.

The sets and direction are of a very high standard. The cryogenic chamber is a fantastic design and the harsh lighting of the main sets is actually effective, as it contrasts very well with the more gloomy lighting elsewhere. However, although the model the Ark is good, if basic, the shots of it in space fail because of the floating wobbly stars. The Wirrn are also disappointingly realised- I can just about accept the man in a bubble wrap sleeping bag as the grub, but the imago Wirrn show no mobility and, most damningly, it is never shown how they actually walk.

The characterisation of the supporting roles is surprisingly lax for Holmes. The sleepers are meant to come from a highly compartmentalised society, yet this is forgotten as the story goes on. It is a real pity that Homes did not do something interesting like having the revivees be from different areas who would only have communicated through intermediaries and therefore have a massive communication problem to start with. Wendy Williams puts in a nicely ubderstated performance as Vira, but John Gregg and Richardson Morgan are flat as Lycett and Rogin. Kenton Moore is fine to start with, but is hugely overwrought when he becomes possessed.

The regulars are fantastic in this. Tom Baker plays the doctor as light-hearted, yet radiating authority. Lis Sladen works well with a rather limited role for Sarah. Ian Marter is hilarious as Harry, with his enthusiasm ('I say, what's all that for?') and clumsiness working alongside his medical expertise.

Overall, this is a flawed, but still very enjoyable and worthwhile story.

NEXT: The Sontaran Experiment

Monday, 23 February 2009


Terrence Dicks’s Wobot is a story where the Doctor helps UNIT in combating a threat, but it’s all change for this story. There is a new Doctor whose presence colours every scene of the story, while following a format that would easily fit Jon Pertwee’s Doctor. Here, the threat is a giant robot that is being used by a group called the Scientific Reform Society. The plot has a slightly lighter touch than previous stories, with a cosier kind of catastrophe than is usual- in fact the story seems to be aimed more at kids than a general family audience. This is no bad thing and Dicks’s script is full of great lines and good, if sometimes inconsistent, characterisation.

This is helped by a good supporting cast. Professor Kettlewell is obviously meant to be an absent-minded professor from a kids’ TV show, with his cardigan, pebble glasses and wild hair, but Edward Burnham gives him some depth. Then there is Michael Kilgarriff as the titular automaton. His rich voice is a welcome asset, but the real triumph is the wonderful design of the robot. The whole story is generally excellently realised. Just as Jon Pertwee’s debut was shot entirely on film, this story was shot entirely on video, even the location work, which gives the story a very unified look. Problems arise when the robot is required to grow to gigantic proportions- although background and object are better matched, due to the all-video shooting, it is far from perfect and the robot carries a doll to represent Sarah. This part of the story is obviously influenced by King Kong. Perhaps it is thankful that there are no dinosaur fights, considering what happened in the previous season. Then there’s the use of the toy tank, but it’s not egregiously bad.

However, the main reason the story is remembered is the new Doctor. Even today, 28 years after he relinquished the role, to many, Tom Baker is the Doctor. It is his likeness that appeared in episodes of The Simpsons and Family Guy, for example and only David Tennant has shaken that stranglehold since then. This is probably due to his unequalled tenure in the role, combined with the fact that it was his stories that reached the widest audience in the United States in the 20th Century. Whatever hindsight reveals, he is phenomenally good in his début- manic, incapable of even sitting normally and full of energy- I love his look of glee when he first sees the TARDIS. It is shocking how young he looks in this story, even though he was over 40. Although it was Jon Pertwee’s Doctor who said that he was serious about ‘what I do. Not necessarily about the way I do it!’ it is Tom Baker who embodies that. This interpretation of the character would be similar to Troughton’s but Baker makes the Doctor seem more alien than he has been since William Hartnell- when he speaks to Kettlewell, initially asking him to explain his solar battery, but then abruptly asking him about the robot- we get the sense that his thought patterns are really non-human. This is reflected in his dealings with the regulars- he is immediately friendly with the Brig and Sarah, but barely registers Benton- until he gives the solution to the crisis. He even drives Bessie in a way that is far from the loving manner that his predecessor had. The regulars react to this new presence very effectively and Ian Marter is instantly effective as Harry Sullivan, a man who, when asked to be James Bond, dresses as John Steed.

This would be a fun little tale ordinarily. Baker’s début makes it unmissable.

NEXT: The Ark in Space

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Planet of the Spiders

One thing that colours all reviews is personal preference- no matter how objective you try to be, it will always colour one’s impression. Therefore, I should warn you that I really enjoy this story, despite its many problems. However, I will try to be fair.

The plot itself is intriguing. The summoning of the Spiders at the meditation centre turns out to be a link between 20th century Earth and Metebelis III of the future, with the Spiders attempting to recover the crystal that the Doctor took from the planet in The Green Death. This brings aspects of the Pertwee era together for its finale- Metebelis III is probably the closest thing to ‘Bad Wolf’ that the original series produced. Jo sends the crystal back to the Doctor with an affectionate letter to the UNIT family. This is all integrated well into the plot, and doesn’t seem gratuitous. More importantly, this is no mere celebration of the past. The Doctor’s past, in fact, haunts and catches up with him. The seemingly meaningless death of Professor Clegg is a timely reminder that the Doctor leaves a trail of destruction in his wake and the Doctor’s taking of the crystal is, in fact, a theft. The Doctor is on trial in this story, and he is, indeed found guilty and must pay the ultimate price. The story is a bit flabby and could have done with some pruning, but Robert Sloman and Barry Letts produce their best script (not saying much, obviously) for the programme, telling an intriguing story with a great deal of thematic depth. Even the basic Buddhism taught only enriches the story, when it could easily have been mere proselytism (Letts is a Buddhist).

In production terms, the strengths of the story can be seen in the first episode. The scenes set at the meditation centre are excellent, with great set design and atmospheric lighting and shows Barry Letts at his very best as a director. The extended chase sequence in episode 2 is the only example of really gratuitous padding, but it at least manages to be visually interesting, with Bessie, the Whomobile, a mini helicopter, a speedboat and a hovercraft being utilised. It’s a real pity that no explanation is given for Lupton disappearing at the end of the chase, rather than immediately, as this amplifies the gratuity of the sequence. The look of Metabelis III is a bit of a let down after this. Some of the sets look cheap and there is too much use of CSO as a background. The Spiders themselves could have been far better realised. However, the Cave of Crystal and the Great One are very effectively realised.

The quality of the performances seem to vary with the location. The scenes set on Earth are strongly acted. The very talented Cyril Shaps makes the most of the brief role of Professor Clegg. John Dearth is suitably slimy and villainous as Lupton and Kevin Lindsay and George Cormack are very impressive as Cho-Je and K'Anpo. John Kane is touching as the innocent Tommy, a role that could easily have been insulting. However, amongst the natives of Metebilis III, only Geoffrey Morris as Sabor is worthy of any praise. Gareth Hunt is adequate as Arak, Ralph Arliss, less so as Tuar. Then there is Jenny Laird. Laird was actually a very experienced actress- she had a large role in Black Narcissus-however, her...presence... in the story doesn’t even deserve being called a performance.

Mike Yates’s involvement is well handled- it is clear that he has been forgiven, though his actions not forgotten, as he never meets the Brigadier in the story. Elisabeth Sladen gives a very strong performance, especially towards the end, ably assisted by Nicholas Courtney. It is interesting how the relationship between the Doctor and the Brig has developed since Season 7. It starts as mutual toleration, but the Brig describes the Doctor as a friend in The Green Death and we see them both at music hall evening where Clegg performs and, for the first time, the Doctor calls the Brig by his first name. In his final regular performance in the role, Jon Pertwee excellently portrays the well written role he is given. The Doctor must face up to the mistakes he has made and pay with his life. the chilling moment when the Great One makes the Doctor dance for her shows this very self-confident character lose control for the first time and, indeed, feel afraid. The regeneration scene (the first to be shown since the first one, and the first to be described as such) is beautifully written and performed. The transition to the next Doctor is rather simply done, but the writing and performances make up for this.

The problems I have outlined are major ones, yet I have always enjoyed this story and the good parts are too good for this story to be overlooked.

NEXT: Robot

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

The Monster of Peladon

The Curse of Peladon was an excellent story and was granted this sequel for Jon Pertwee's last season. Things seem to be on track for a successful sequel- rather than rehashing the same themes as the original, the sequel explored the consequences of them, the first time this had been done since The Ark. Unfortunately, things aren't that simple.

The Curse of Peladon had an economical narrative that was well paced over four episodes. The Monster of Peladon, despite having more plot, is still blatantly padded to six episodes. Time and time again, the narrative is broken to have a fight scene and the Doctor keeps escaping and getting captured, with Ortron finding a new reason every time to have the Doctor put to death. This is a pity, as the basic plot is quite sophisticated- joining the federation has meant prosperity for the Pel aristocracy, but no change for the masses. The advent of a war with Galaxy 5 has meant more work for the miners, causing discontent that may result in revolution. However, when hostile forces, in the shape of rebel Ice Warriors arrive, the Pels unite against them. This development doesn't quite work, although there is no reason why it shouldn't have.

The design work is variable. Elements used for The Curse of Peladon work well, but the new elements are less successful. The Vegan miner Nexos looks like a cross between Azal and a chicken and the Pel miners look like blaxploitation badgers. There are only a few sets, something which is unwise in a 150 minute story. Lennie Mayne is too good a director to be totally overcome and it is thanks to him that the story doesn't completely collapse.

Hayles's script lacks the efficiency and great dialogue of the original story.The characterisation is also far weaker, and the guest cast is variable. Frank Gatliff is good as Ortron and Alan Bennion again radiates menace as the Ice Lord. Rex Robinson is not a brilliant actor, but his gruff charisma makes Gebek very likeable. However, Nina Thomas comes short with her portrayal as Queen Thalira and Ralph Watson fails to rescue the rather poorly written part of Ettis. However, the main casting failure is Donald Gee as Eckersley, a thoroughly lazy performance by someone who is clearly at least a competent actor.

Despite the cringe inducing 'women's lib' scene, Elisabeth Sladen is fantastic as Sarah Jane- her grief over the apparent loss of the Doctor is perfectly conveyed and she does, for the first time, her 'about to be shot' performance, something Sladen can do like no-one else. Pertwee is clearly putting his all into it and is great throughout.

Other commentators have repeatedly stated how bad the story is. In my opinion, the story isn't actually bad. It just fails.

NEXT: Planet of the Spiders

Monday, 16 February 2009

Death to the Daleks

Terry Nation’s last story, Planet of the Daleks is one of the very few Doctor Who stories that I have absolutely no desire to ever see again. Thankfully, for his second Pertwee story, Nation produced a script that didn’t merely consist of the reheated scraps of previous, better stories. In Exxilon, Nation creates an interesting alien planet and the underlying scenario of the galactic plague forms an intriguing backdrop to the planet, which contains the mineral parrinium (stop it!) which can cure it. Nation again starts the story with a threat to the TARDIS, but it is part of the plot as a whole and is far more effective than the threat in his previous story. With all this plot, it might sometimes seem that the Daleks are superfluous to the story. However, for the first time we see the Daleks having to survive without their weapons and we see the Daleks as scheming geniuses, rather than merely killers, although there are two rather silly scenes of them committing suicide for no reason. It is, however, a joy to see them replacing their ray guns with traditional percussion instruments- and then using a model TARDIS for target practice. The busy plot means that there is very little padding, which is always welcome.

The production values are very impressive, with good costumes for the Exxilons and the impressive realisation of the Exxilon city. The Daleks have been repainted, which is very welcome, considering their shabby appearance in Planet of the Daleks. The ‘root probes’ for the city are very well done, with one very impressive scene where one rears out of a lake that almost makes one forget that you can see the string holding it up at some points. Michael E. Briant does some sterling work behind the camera, with some slow dissolves and atmospheric day-for-night photography and moody scenes in the caves. However, the daylight scenes are somewhat overlit, which makes the sterile city sets not as striking as they should be and Carey Blyton’s music saps some of the atmosphere- the jaunty Dalek theme is unintentionally comedic and his decision to use saxophones is almost as unfortunate as his decision to use crumhorns for Doctor Who and the Silurians.

The guest cast ranges for competent to pretty good. Joy Harrison and Julian Fox are unspectacular, but effective enough, with Duncan Lamont making Galloway quite interesting. Characterisation was never Nation’s strong point, but the better actors, with Briant’s help, are able to expand on the characters as written. The regulars work their usual magic with what they are given.

This is a rather underrated story. Nation plays to his strengths as a scriptwriter and the visualisation bolsters these strengths. It’s well worth a look.

NEXT: The Monster of Peladon

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Invasion of the Dinosaurs

I like to think that I have good taste when it comes to TV and film (and, for that matter, art, music and literature. Not so much clothes). However, as anyone who knows me can testify, I will watch any old rubbish with dinosaurs in it. Here, everyone’s favourite extinct creatures are used in Malcolm Hulke’s last contribution to the programme. Hulke always tried to present conflict where there would be explanations given as to why each party would act in the way they did. If there were villains, their motives might not be as reprehensible as their actions. Here, we have Operation Golden Age; a group who have decided that human society is dooming itself and the planet and that therefore, the human race should start again- by rolling the planet back in time to before the dawn of man and starting anew there.

The script puts forward ideas related to the threats of pollution, overpopulation and how it can be sensibly dealt with. As the Doctor says, he admires the ideals of Operation Golden Age, but abhors the drastic means to justify that end, just as we should realise that there is no ‘quick fix’ for these problems in real life. There is also the fact that Operation Golden Age is led by well meaning establishment figures who are basically willing to annihilate every human life that has ever existed on the planet (bar a chosen few) to get their perfect society. Bearing in mind Hulke’s communist leanings, is Operation Golden Age a revolutionary force destroying the bourgeoisie or an aristocratic force destroying the proletariat? Of course, I could be reading too much into it, but the script is thought provoking and, whatever the political thought behind it, it is a case of a minority committing atrocities ‘for the greater good’. However, it is less well structured than his best scripts. Although there is good characterisation, it could be better- we never find out what General Finch’s motivations are to become a member of Operation Golden Age. Thankfully the guest performances are outstanding and go some way to compensate for this. The plot thread with the colonists who believe they are on a space ship heading to a new planet succeeds largely because of the performances of the Carmen Silvera and Terence Wilton- otherwise, it would just be a rather silly aside. It is a pity that the 6 episode length couldn’t have been used to develop character, rather than have interminable chase scenes.

The regulars do great work. Hulke had a very clear idea of the Doctor being a very moral person who knew that ends and means cannot be separated morally and Pertwee plays this interpretation of the character with his usual flair and humour. Sarah Jane actually gets to be a journalist in this story and (despite being trapped by both Grover and Finch) shows resourcefulness and intelligence. The most striking character development is, of course, that of Mike Yates. His membership of Operation Golden Age is the only one that is explored in any detail and his betrayal adds to the moral complexity of the story.

Paddy Russell directs with great flair, particularly in the deserted London of episode 1. However, there is a Stegosaurus in the room- the dinosaur sequences. These are among the worst attempts I have ever seen to realise dinosaurs on screen. The models lack any kind of mobility and are sloppily designed. It is also clear that the three Tyrannosaurus models that are used are different colours and shapes. The dinosaur in Doctor Who and the Silurians was hardly of Jurassic Park standards, but at least it could walk. The appalling model work is further exacerbated by the dreaded combination of video and film when combining them with people. All this comes to a ridiculous head with the risible ‘battle’ between the T. rex and the Apatosaurus (incidentally, I find it bizarre that they gave the Apatosaurus a correctly shaped head, but gave the T. rex too many fingers!).

There is much more to this story than having rubbish dinosaurs and, despite the special effects and some plot and pacing problems, it just about qualifies for the ‘worth watching’ category.

NEXT: Death to the Daleks

Monday, 9 February 2009

The Time Warrior

Scientists have been mysteriously vanishing from a top secret scientific research complex. It transpires that a Sontaran named Linx, trapped in the Middle Ages, is using crude time travel technology to kidnap scientists from the 20th Century to help repair his spacecraft.

Season 11 brings a new title sequence and a new companion in this great little opener from Robert Holmes. The story itself is simple, but it takes the Doctor into Earth’s past (Atlantis excluded) for the first time in the colour era, which is noteworthy in itself. Again, his script is laced with great dialogue and characterisation, bolstered by an excellent supporting cast. David Daker stops just short of going over the top as Irongron and is ably supported by John J Carney as Bloodaxe. Even the scientists are given a memorable character in the shape of Donald Pelmear’s dotty Rubeish.

Then, of course, there’s Kevin Lindsay’s portrayal of Linx the Sontaran , a brilliant combination of a nicely modulated performance and fantastic make up. Even when the Sontarans returned in 2008, the new makeup was not a radical departure from the original look. The rest of the production values are first rate, with great location work being deployed. Alan Bromly’s direction is sound, although not spectacular and there are some odd editing choices.

Jon Pertwee is wonderfully playful as the Doctor, saying a line that probably describes the programme better than any other- he is serious about ‘what I do. Not necessarily about the way I do it!’ Of course, this story is also notable for introducing the character of Sarah Jane Smith. Of all the companions the Doctor has had, it is Sarah Jane who has stuck in the public’s mind more than any other, a fact reflected in her return to Doctor Who and her being accorded her own spin-off series. Elisabeth Sladen makes an instant impact in the role. It is interesting that she was deliberately introduced to combat sexism- the ‘women’s lib’ aspect is slightly overdone, but not painfully so, and it is unfortunate that the Doctor seems to make fun of it at times (although this, in no way, suggests that the Doctor himself is against it). The empowerment of women is more subtly displayed in the character of Lady Eleanor, astutely described by Barry Letts as a ‘goody Lady Macbeth’ and is always shown as being a stronger character than her husband.

This story is tremendous fun throughout and is well worth a look.

NEXT: Invasion of the Dinosaurs

Saturday, 7 February 2009

The Green Death

The Green Death has the Doctor, Jo and UNIT fighting Global Chemicals, who have been dumping toxic waste into the coal mine in the Welsh town of Llanfairfach. This is a green slime which kills on contact and causes the mutation of giant maggots. This is the threat faced by the Doctor in the story, but it is by no means the only thing driving the story. The Green Death uses its 6-episode length to fully explore each of the themes it brings up.

At first glance, the story seems to be stuffed with stereotypes. The Welsh characters drop ‘boyos’ and ‘isn’t its’ all over the place and Professor Jones and the Nut Hutchers make their first appearance looking like a bunch of hippies. This leads one to expect that the Professor will appear intermittently in the story, have the Doctor sympathise with him and get into trouble behind the Doctor’s back and have the Doctor come and rescue him, before assisting him in the final showdown. However, we are drawn into the Professor’s life and, indeed, the Nut Hutch becomes the base of operations for the Doctor, which presents the value of environmentalism in a simple way, without resorting to preaching. Then there are the maggots, for which this story is famous and justifiably so- they are convincingly brought to life by the production team and have to rank as one of the most nauseating Doctor Who monsters of all time. Robert Sloman’s script contains some beautiful dialogue and is excellent at weaving most of these points together. However, the main scheme- the computer BOSS taking over the world- is actually somewhat underdeveloped and could actually have been excised.

However, it is in the interaction and development of the characters that this story really excels. This is, of course, Jo’s last story, and the growing mutual attraction between her and the Professor is beautifully portrayed. She says, at one point, that the Professor reminds her of a younger version of the Doctor and, indeed, with them both looking down microscopes at the Nut Hutch, this is what we get. The Brigadier and UNIT are seen as efficient, but very human- the Brig’s interaction with the Nut Hutch is very different from the reactionary response the audience expects. The sight of the Brig dining at the Nut Hutch in black tie, whilst the others are in their usual clothes and neither being uncomfortable with the incongruity, speaks volumes. The performances are outstanding throughout. Stewart Bevan is instantly likeable as the Professor and it is due to the skills of Jerome Willis and John Dearth that the BOSS storyline works at all. However, the leads should not be forgotten. The Doctor’s mixture of pride and sorrow at the realisation that Jo is moving on is beautifully performed by Pertwee and Katy Manning portrays Jo’s growing independence and maturity excellently. During this retrospective, I was very pleasantly surprised by Jo Grant, expecting to find her annoying. However, Katy Manning always made her worth watching and it is fitting that her departure is so emotional for the characters as well as the viewer.

Michael E. Briant’s direction is astonishingly good throughout. There is an very well executed sequence in episode one, which has Global Chemicals company director, Stevens, explaining how his new oil refining process is more efficient and eco-friendly. This is intercut with the Professor explaining to Jo exactly why it isn’t. The sequences on Metebelis III are both frightening, because of the way they are shot and funny, because of their juxtaposition with events on Earth, without one affecting the other. The production is not perfect, though- there is far too much CSO used as sets and backgrounds. This is a pity, as it is atmospherically and subtly lit elsewhere.

The story ends with one of the saddest shots the programme has ever had- the Doctor driving in Bessie alone. It is a beautiful end to a genuinely great story

NEXT The Time Warrior

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Planet of the Daleks

…And we get this. The Doctor and Jo arrive on the planet Spiridon, where the invisible race of natives have been enslaved by the Daleks, who have hidden a huge army on the planet and seek to find the secret of invisibility. The Doctor and Jo join forces with a Thal expeditionary force to combat the Daleks.

In the 60s, Terry Nation was still a jobbing scriptwriter and had to prove to various production teams that he could be relied on to deliver the goods. Come the 70s, things were different and nowhere is this more obvious than in this phenomenally lazy script. Parts of previous Nation scripts are reused. Spiridon is a watered down version of Kembel, the Spiridonians obviously influenced by the Visians. The Jo/Latep attraction is a weak echo of the Barbara/Alydon attraction. The narrative is a weakly connected assortment of even weaker set pieces. The dialogue and characterisation never rises above the functional and the story could be described as padded if there was anything of substance to pad out.

The production values are competent at best. The squirting fungus pods and eye plants are quite imaginative, but the jungle set is otherwise unexceptional. However, cheap unimaginative design litters the rest of the production. Worst of all are the Daleks themselves, who wobble around continuously (explained, albeit inadequately. in the story) and seem in danger of literally flipping their lids (not explained in the story) The performances from the regulars are reliably good as usual, but only Bernard Horsfall stands out amongst the guest cast. It is a pity that this should appear on David Maloney’s CV, considering his outstanding record as a director in the programme.

I would like to know how contemporary viewers felt about this story. Frontier in Space promised an epic story with the Master joining forces with the Daleks. What we get is this. There is nothing really bad in the story, but there is nothing really good. It's just 150 minutes of- nothing. There are several Doctor Who stories worse than this one, but very few more boring- as far as I am concerned, boring is the worst thing a Doctor Who story can be. I was checking my watch half way through episode 2 and it says a lot when the greatest excitement was when episode 3 was in black and white, an effect that will be lost forever due to the very impressive re-colourisation used for the upcoming DVD. This is, quite simply, one of the most unappealing Doctor Who stories of all time.

NEXT: The Green Death

Monday, 2 February 2009

Frontier in Space

The Doctor and Jo land in the 26th century, a time of great tension between the Earth Empire and the Draconian Empire. Despite the peace treaty between them, reports of piracy of Earth ships by Draconians and vice versa have been reported. The Doctor finds out that the culprits are actually Ogrons, but Ogrons never act alone…

Malcolm Hulke was always interested in telling more sophisticated stories than Earth invasion standards and, whatever the eventual quality of stories penned by him, they are always interesting thematically. The characters are well drawn with believable motivations (although General Williams's change of heart about the Draconians is a bit too sudden). Frontier in Space paints a vivid picture of Earth's future, a world where the government is benevolent, but not above suspending due process and imprisoning dissenters. Draconia too is presented as a culture, rather than as monsters and shock troops. This is bolstered by the outstanding design work. For once, the décor is subdued, rather than extrapolating from the worst excesses of 70's gaudiness. The make up for the Draconians is fantastic- if they were brought back now, there is very little the current production team would have to do to improve it. It is a bit disappointing that all the Draconians wear the same types of clothes, but this is a mere quibble. Fake newscasts add a real sense of a world existing outside the sets, and there is some great location work. Paul Bernard does excellent work as the director (perhaps attempting to atone for The Time Monster!) The script demands an expansive environment and, surprisingly, this is what we get.

The main problem with the story is that it is, yet again, a padded six-parter. The Doctor and Jo spend a lot of time in cells and are captured, interrogated and escape many times. However, although the padding is there, it is not boring so it is forgiveable.

The performances are very good across the board. Vera Fusek is regal and dignified as the President and Michael Hawkins makes General Williams very believable. The regulars are as good as ever, with the great chemistry between Jon Pertwee and Katy Manning working its usual magic. This is also, sadly, Roger Delgado's last performance as the Master and one of his best. He is given some great lines, which Delgado performs with panache and a real master plan (sorry) to decimate the Earth and Draconian Empires and assisting a third party to claim what is left. The third party is, of course, the Daleks and it sends a real chill down the spine to see Delgado share scenes with the diabolical dustbins.

The last episode ends on a cliffhanger, of course, and this intelligent and highly enjoyable story whets the appetite for an epic concluding half…

NEXT: Planet of the Daleks