Wednesday, 29 July 2009


Frontios sees the very welcome return of Christopher H. Bidmead to the Doctor Who fold. While Frontios lacks the resonance of Castrovalva and Logopolis, the story is structured in a more linear way, making it more accessible to the casual viewer. This is not to say that Bidmead has been dumbing down- he takes a simple premise like colonists threatened by aliens and builds a well thought-out world out of it with striking imagery, such as Frontios 'burying its own dead', the Tractators' mastery of gravity and, most notably, the destruction of the TARDIS- which is tied in very well with the story. There is also some wonderful dialogue and characterisation. Bidmead might have intended to bring a greater level of real science to the programme, but he understood what the building blocks of good writing were and could write some very funny lines, when required. Even the character names have a Dickensian creativity- Captain Revere, Plantagenet, Brazen, Range- that add to the richness of the story and I'm sure the erudite Bidmead had Wittgenstein at the back of his mind when he named the monsters Tractators. The whole tale is given a sense of unease by the revelation that they have travelled beyond the scope of Time Lord knowledge- 'Whereof one cannot speak, one must remain silent'.

The look of the story is stunning, with fantastic sets and spectacular, if not exactly photo-realistic matte paintings. The lighting is subdued and based on reds and greens, which aids the atmosphere of the story considerably. Ron Jones's direction is masterful, creating memorable shots and scenes- most notably the climax. The TARDIS, the only regular set in the programme is shown intermeshed with Frontios- a startling enough sight, which Jones works wonders with. Jones is probably the most infuriatingly inconsistent director ever to work on the programme- he can do excellent work in this and yet send one to sleep with Arc of Infinity. If there is a flaw to the story, it is in the realisation of the Tractators, but they are by no means awful.

Bidmead's memorable characters are brought to life by a superb cast, who are very effectively marshalled by Jones. Peter Gilmore makes Brazen totally believable and a very young Jeff Rawle gives Plantagenet a real sense of humanity. The regulars are given some very strong material. Turlough's race memories are excellently conveyed by Mark Strickson, who manages to show very raw emotions without being overwrought. Tegan has a lot more to do than usual, and Janet Fielding attacks the role with relish. However, it is Davison who continues to astonish, improving on his already stellar best in the role.

Frontios is not that well remembered, so if you have never seen it before, you are in for a very pleasant surprise.

NEXT: Resurrection of the Daleks

Monday, 27 July 2009

The Awakening

The Awakening is similar to The Dæmons, in that it has an ancient alien menace lying dormant in an English village that has given rise to superstition and legends. However, The Awakening is totally dissimilar to The Dæmons, in that it is not badly acted and sloppily written. Eric Pringle paints a delightful little tale of a (English) Civil War re-enactment that has awakened the Malus, a demon that was feared in Civil War times. The Malus is, in fact, a war machine from the planet Hakol that is using the psychic energy from the re-enactments to rebuild itself and is bringing actual 17th century people forward in time. Pringle keeps the plot simple enough to work as a 50 minute story and has time to create some good characters and some wonderful dialogue.

Michael Owen Morris directs with great energy- the opening sequence is edited to highlight the contrast between Roundhead horsemen and Jane Hampden in modern dress. Morris creates some wonderful scenes and images- The Malus slowly manifesting on the TARDIS wall is memorably creepy, as is the horrific decapitation of the roundhead re-enactor by the memorably spectral genuine roundheads. The location filming is exquisite and the studio scenes are atmospherically shot and lit. The costumes are, as expected, fantastic. The Malus is, arguably, conceptually very similar to the Mara but, fortunately, the production is strong enough to give the Malus its own identity. The monster is simply realised, but Morris’s skill as a director makes all the Malus’s manifestations memorable and give it its own identity.

There are some great guest performances from Polly James and the wonderful Dennis Lill, who makes Sir George Hutchinson a very vivid character. However, the most impressive guest is Keith Jayne as Will Chandler. Jayne disappeared from the screen in the 80s, which is a real pity as he was an excellent child actor and his studied, but unfettered portrayal of Will showed his talent was only increasing. I am not surprised that there were many who wanted him to become a companion.

Peter Davison is clearly enjoying himself and gives his usual excellent performance. Turlough is rather underwritten here, but Mark Strickson easily fills in the gaps. Tegan, although in the position of being a damsel in distress, does not act like one, in another very good performance by Janet Fielding.

The Awakening is utterly charming and well worth checking out.

NEXT: Frontios

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Warriors of the Deep

Warriors of the Deep saw the return of the Silurians and the Sea Devils to Doctor Who. It is, perhaps, unfortunate that Johnny Byrne wrote this story having never even seen the two Pertwee stories, but his script is reasonably good. The plot is reminiscent of the Troughton era monster stories, but Warriors of the Deep has the advantage of not having been broadcast between stories with exactly the same 'base-under-siege' plot. The very early introduction of the hexachromite gas makes the outcome extremely predictable and, indeed, the plot is a bit too straightforward. However, there are some nice concepts, such as the need to link to a human brain to launch nuclear missiles (Byrne is considerably more skilful in using technobabble than in the interminably dull Arc of Infinity) and there is some great dialogue for the regulars and, incidentally, the first fart gag in Doctor Who.

However, the story's visualisation is close to catastrophic. Pennant Roberts has never been the most skilful of directors, but his work here shows a fundamental lack of understanding of how to use visual images to tell a story. The Silurians are revealed by a simple cut, like they were a recurring adversary on Stingray. The camera work is incredibly lazy with any scene not requiring basic composition just being shot statically. This all comes to a head in the storming of the sea base. This takes up a good deal of the story, but, thanks to Roberts's ineptitude, what we get are lumbering Sea Devils moving against humans inching carefully backwards- not very exciting! The lighting has been criticised as being excessive, which is not quite the case- it is uniform and does not create atmosphere, as well as not conforming to expectations of what a sea base should look like. The realisation of the Silurians and Sea Devils are considerably less successful than the originals. They do not move their lips when speaking (which the originals did) and they move very slowly- a far cry from the fast moving Sea Devils of the Pertwee era. There is the nice touch of having blinking eyelids for Sauvix, but this is, incredibly, only utilised twice! Roberts has conversations between the reptiles take ages, with huge pauses between the speakers, almost as if it were a satellite link. Then there is the Myrka, one of the most pathetic looking monsters to ever appear in the programme. The sterile lighting only amplifies the problems in the realisation of the saurians. On the good side, although it is overlit, the set for the base is actually quite good and the music is wonderfully atmospheric. The production was rushed, by all accounts, but that does not excuse things like the Silurians' costumes not being fitted properly.

The guest performances are rather lacklustre, with some being downright dreadful. Ingrid Pitt has great screen presence, but she is not a very good actress, but Ian McCulloch as Nilson and Nitza Saul as Karina are far worse. Tom Adams is good as Vorshak, but he succumbs to Roberts's poor direction- Vorshak does not even react when he is shot. However, if there is one great thing about this story it is, again, Peter Davison. The Doctor is brilliantly characterised in the script, his handing over of his gun being a great touch and Davison attacks the part with gusto, giving one of his finest performances. Janet Fielding and Mark Strickson also work very well with the material they are given.

The end of the story is superlative- both the reptiles and the humans are dead and the Doctor, with a tremor in his voice, says 'There should have been another way'. This could easily be applied to the story as a whole, a story that could easily have been so much better.

NEXT: The Awakening

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

"The Five Doctors"

Doctor Who's 20th Anniversary was marked by this feature length episode. As expected, the story is primarily there to celebrate Doctor Who's history, of which there was a hell of a lot. Terrence Dicks's script was a last-minute rush job that juggled five Doctors and their companions and the usual array of guest characters, so it is a miracle that the story works so well. Dicks reuses a plot element from The War Games (kidnapping alien beings to do battle in a game) and uses it to give each Doctor breathing space in this convoluted affair and the quest aspect is well handled to bind the differing journeys together. The story is also a quest for the identity of the Doctor himself, something made explicit in the plot and also lying implicit in the story's aim to be a celebration. Gallifrey is again given a sense of history with great economy and Dicks includes a great deal of memorable dialogue in a script that shows his skill and consummate professionalism.

Peter Moffat is hardly the most visually adventurous director, but he does reasonably good work here. Despite Gallifrey having a similar look to Arc of Infinity, scenes are cut with more urgency which compensate for this. The locations are well shot, with some very atmospheric scenes in the caves, and there is some great matte painting work for the exterior of the Dark Tower and great set design for the interior. We get some of the series' most celebrated monsters, with the appearance of a Dalek and a Yeti, but the main 'monsters' are the Cybermen. These are of similar design to those in Earthshock but, unfortunately, the key touch that made this design so great (the silver jaw visible behind the face-plate) has been omitted. However, the Cybermen form part of perhaps the most memorable set-piece in the story, the Raston Warrior Robot. This is a shockingly violent scene, where a platoon of Cybermen are impaled and dismembered by the Robot. The Robot is instantly memorable in a scene that is immaculately shot and edited.

Of course, the main attraction is the appearance of the five Doctors themselves, although, in reality, this is really another 'three doctors'- William Hartnell had been dead for 8 years and Tom Baker declined to appear. Jon Pertwee and Patrick Troughton effortlessly ease back into their roles and their interplay with their companions is excellently written and performed. Tom Baker appears in the form of a scene from Shada, but the First Doctor has been recast. Doing an impersonation of the inimitable Hartnell would have been disastrous, so it is good that Richard Hurndall gives us his own interpretation- he doesn't giggle or go 'hmm', but we still believe in him as the Doctor. If it had been up to me, I would not have had the First Doctor in it, but Hurndall does a good enough job. The guest performances are good, with Phillip Latham's power-mad Borusa being a highlight. The characterisation of the Master as being thwarted in his attempts to help the Doctor is highly amusing and works well.

The Five Doctors is eminently successful in both celebrating the programme and entertaining the viewer. This is the first story where I have had to review two versions. In 1995, an extended edition was released with 'improved' special effects and extra scenes. However, there are only two actual improvements, in my opinion- the first entrance of Borusa and the Doctor going into Borusa's office are better edited, but, in general, the pace is lost in the new edit. Also, the iconic black trapezoid used to represent the time scoop has been needlessly replaced with what looks like a CGI ice cream. If you only have time for one, make it the original.

NEXT: Warriors of the Deep

Monday, 20 July 2009

The King’s Demons

In today’s TV climate, we are used to climactic series finales and Enlightenment certainly felt like one. However, it was not the finale, but was followed by this brief oddity. The story is somewhat uninspired- the Master is using a shape-shifting robot called Kamelion to impersonate King John, so that Magna Carta will not be signed. Given only 50 minutes to tell the story, it would be hoped that this will result in a lean script from Terence Dudley, who had written the great historical two-parter Black Orchid. However, what we seem to get is not a four parter with the padding taken out, but the plot, the padding and very little else. Characterisation is non-existent, with characters changing their attitude to the Doctor with each change in circumstances. It doesn’t help that the brief for the story seemed to be a grab bag for all the bullet points for the anniversary season that had not been fulfilled earlier- a historical, a Master story and the introduction of Kamelion. The story just stops with the regulars running into the TARDIS, which is a hardly the most inspired turn of events.

The production goes some way to healing the problems. The sets and costumes are of a high standard (the castle set is very reminiscent of the one in The Crusade) and Tony Virgo puts in a reasonably good job behind the camera. Frank Windsor makes Sir Ranulf seem more rounded than the script allows, although a fine actress like Isla Blair is given far too little to do. The ‘surprise’ of Sir Gilles being the Master is the least effective plot twist in ages- I instantly recognised Ainley at the time. King John (or the Kamelion version of him) is played wonderfully by Gerald Flood. However, the robot itself is something of a disappointment- well designed, but lacking in mobility, and the decision to keep it as a regular character was a bad one, as the production team would eventually realise.

The regulars put in great performances, with Peter Davison again elevating the mundane to the watchable. I love Tegan’s reaction to the Kamelion version of herself as well. However, The King’s Demons, although not terrible is totally inconsequential, and you will lose nothing by skipping it.

NEXT: "The Five Doctors"

Saturday, 18 July 2009


Enlightenment has at its core a simple image- a sailing ship gliding through space. This hugely evocative image is immediately appealing in its own right, but this story takes that image and runs away with it. Barbara Clegg turns it into a race between immensely powerful beings called Eternals, who exist outside time and space. The Eternals, however, lack creativity, dependent on ‘ephemerals’ for ideas, perhaps even intelligence itself. This is best shown in the ambiguities of the character Marriner- is he galvanized by her personality or is he, indeed, in love with Tegan? The guest cast do excellent work with these characters. Marriner is beautifully played by Christopher Brown, and Keith Barron plays Captain Striker with an eerie sense of detachment that is absolutely perfect. Lynda Baron’s performance as Wrack is hugely entertaining, while actually staying the right side of OTT. The only performance that isn’t first rate is Leee John. Hee tries to bee intense, but only suceeeds in beeing very camp- although the fact that hee is placed in the foreground for the Wheeelhouse sceenes for non-speeaking shots tends to reflect badly on him- it takes a very good actor to not look stupid when hee is placed in such a situation and hee was not a professional actor.

The story is beautifully realised, with sumptuous costuming and great sets- the design work is very carefully modulated so that we can see the contrasts between the different ships and crews without them clashing. Fiona Cumming is great in the director’s chair, setting up interesting compositions and it is probably due to her talent that Leee John remains watchable. There are many memorable scenes apart from the ships, such as the message from the White Guardian, the first appearance of Marriner (which starts off being very eerie and then becomes funny) and Wrack channelling the Black Guardian’s power. The lighting is superb throughout and the special effects beautiful, if not exactly state-of-the-art. Even the music (by Malcolm Clarke) is worthy of special praise.

This brings the Black Guardian Trilogy to an end. As an arc it was a rather weak one, so it is good that the stories had so much else to recommend them. The final scene has all the threads coming to a head, with Turlough making a final decision as to which side he’s on. The relationship between the Doctor and Turlough is very interesting; at the beginning, the Doctor all-but tells Turlough that he doesn’t fully trust him, and the end is unclear as to if the Doctor knew of Turlough’s bargain. Tegan’s interplay with Marriner is excellently performed- indeed this is very strong material for Strickson and Fielding and the companions come off almost as well as the Doctor. Almost, but not quite. Davison makes the Doctor a champion for all whose time is finite and we are cheering him all the way.

This is a wonderful story, that had me spellbound at the age of seven and still enchants today.

NEXT: The King's Demons

Wednesday, 15 July 2009


Stephen Gallagher wrote Warriors' Gate, perhaps, the highlight of the already outstanding season 18. His second script is not as well remembered and, indeed, I can remember not really enjoying it at the time of transmission. However, I was pleased to find that I enjoyed it much more as an adult- not an ideal thing for a Doctor Who story, admittedly! Gallagher's script again displays a great deal of ambition. The concept of Terminus as a leper colony is dealt with very well, with social ostracism of sufferers and healthcare run as a business actually being explored. The Vanir, who staff Terminus are basically slaves, dependant on a drug not because they are addicted, but because it keeps them alive. The Garm, a mutant canine biped, may be the cure for the Lazar disease, but he is even more of a slave as the Vanir. It is clear that this situation could have been easily avoided, but for the apathy of Terminus Inc. There is also the plotline where it is discovered that Terminus is at the precise centre of the Universe, which turns out to be no coincidence- Terminus is actually a time-travelling ship from the previous universe that caused the Big Bang- and could cause another, destroying our universe as it did its own. On paper, this looks rather like a Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy type concept (and, indeed, it results in the rather rubbish cliffhanger of a comically large red switch on the verge of flipping) and seems at first glance to be disassociated from the Lazar plot. However, it is tied in well with the character of Bor, a Vanir who is determined to get to the truth behind the radiation leaks and finds a more profound truth. Gallagher has a real talent for characters living in (for them) mundane situations and he provides some excellent dialogue. The Black Guardian framing does not interfere at all with the plot and even the long sojourn of Tegan and Turlough in the ventilation shaft is well handled.

Terminus was obviously the cheap story of the season, yet it is surprising how good it looks. The limited number of sets do not detract from the visuals and the lighting (apparently seen as inadequate by John Nathan Turner) adds to the grimness of the story. The obvious comparison that must be made is with Alien (Terminus even has its own 'space jockey') and Mary Ridge is very creative in using what she is given, with vertical shots through grilles and good use of modelwork. The costumes for the Vanir are quite effective, although the Garm leaves a bit to be desired.

Most of the performances are first rate, with the Vanir actors being particularly noteworthy. Best of all is Peter Benson as the increasingly deranged, but determined Bor. There is, unfortunately one very weak link- Dominic Guard as Olvir, who is either incompetently bland or horrendously overwrought. The Go-Between notwithstanding, it's clear who got the talent in that family. In fact, the raiders could have been easily written out, although Liza Goddard gives an effective performance. This is also Sarah Sutton's final story. Nyssa tended to be somewhat swamped as a character, which did Sutton no favours. However, she did shine, when she was given a chance to and she gets a fantastic leaving scene that makes perfect sense in character terms. The interplay between Tegan and Turlough is very well written and performed and Peter Davison is awesome. As usual.

Terminus might not be the most enjoyable story, but it contains a great deal of substance and should not be ignored.

NEXT: Enlightenment

Monday, 13 July 2009

Mawdryn Undead

Peter Grimwade's second contribution to Doctor Who is, thankfully a vast improvement on his first, Time-Flight. The story takes place in two time zones, making it a rare instance of time travel being part of the plot, rather than the means to get the Doctor to his latest adventure. This is tied to the journey of Mawdryn and his fellow scientists on a quest for death. Apart from this, the story has to introduce new companion Turlough, have a guest role for the Brigadier and incorporate the return of the Black Guardian. In spite of some irritating technobabble, this story works very well. This story, of course, caused the 'UNIT dating controversy', but I can easily overlook this- things were more homespun then. Then, there is Mawdryn and his companions. They are by no means villains and their motivation in the story is a welcome change from the usual. There is good dialogue and all the strands are tied up very well.

The realisation of the story is very impressive, with sumptuous sets for Mawdryn's ship. However, the costumes for the mutants are a bit silly and, even though it has been pointed out by others, why does the Black Guardian have a dead crow on his head? Peter Moffat plays to his limited strengths as a director- canny editing sells the juxtaposition of different time zones and there are no fight scenes or complicated camera moves, something which Moffat has never been good at. The only time his limitations are shown is in the appalling shot of the 'dream Turlough' getting back into bed.

There are some very good performances, from Stephen Garlick's engaging 'Hippo' to Angus Mackay's restrained, yet very effective headmaster. However, there are two performances which really stand out. For the first time since 1975, the Brigadier appears and never before has he been portrayed as such a layered character and Nicholas Courtney rising admirably to the challenge, making the 1977 and 1983 Brigadiers genuinely seem like one person at different times of their lives. The portrayal of the Brig's apparent breakdown is portrayed surprisingly effectively and sensitively without betraying the heart of the character- something which is as much due to Courtney as to the script. I have seen David Collings in many things and he has never been anything less than brilliant. Collings infuses Mawdryn with a sense of menace, pain and tragedy, yet Collings makes us see a good person condemned to suffer for one mistake. Peter Davison works his usual magic, as does Janet Fielding and Mark Strickson makes an immediate impression as Turlough.

Mawdryn Undead is a highly enjoyable entry- with, incidentally, a really cool title!

NEXT: Terminus

Saturday, 11 July 2009


After two disappointing stories, the Peter Davison era is back on track with a sequel to the previous season's fantastic Kinda. Like all good sequels, Snakedance expands on what the original explored. In what could have been a disastrous move, it explains the origin of the Mara, an origin that is very reminiscent of the origin of the Id monster of the film Forbidden Planet. However, the story is about so much more than that. It is about how cultures develop, how history is recorded and interpreted and how horrors in the past can be so blunted by ceremony and ritual that it can easily be forgotten that that horror could rise again. Manussa is a fantastic example of world building where a culture of a thousand years is painted with consummate skill. The technologically advanced Manussan Empire is destroyed by the creation of the Mara and the Sumaran Empire it commands. The post-Sumaran Manussans seem to live in a non-industrial society, although mentions of other worlds and space travel do not surprise them. Knowledge is also a key theme- perhaps the key scene is the 'Six faces of Delusion' where Ambril's attention to detail has made him overlook the blatantly obvious. Christopher Bailey's script is rich in invention and has some wonderful dialogue. The ending is a bit abrupt (the story was overrunning) but this does not really detract from the story.

Fiona Cumming directs wonderfully, with some very memorable imagery- the scene where Tegan looks into the mirror and her head is replaced by a snake's skull is terrifying. There is some great editing (such as the mixing of the snake and Tegan) and the lighting is superb. The costumes and sets are of a very high standard- the only criticism I can make is that the sound of footsteps are wooden, rather than stone and earth.

Characterisation is first rate, with a very talented cast doing it justice. Despite his own, well publicised reservations, Martin Clunes is excellent as the arrogant, pampered, but by no means evil Lon and Colette O'Neil is very dignified as his mother. John Carson makes Ambril engagingly pompous and Johnathon Morris gives a nicely low-key performance as Chela. Most interesting is the portrayal of the regulars. The Doctor is seen interrupting dinner parties and comes off looking like the lunatic that the supporting characters think he is. Janet Fielding is again wonderful as the villain and Sarah Sutton gives an engaging performance, particularly in the charming opening TARDIS scene where she tries to get the Doctor to notice her new outfit.

The Mara stories are not only a highlight of the Davison era, but of Doctor Who as a whole- unmissable telly!

NEXT: Mawdryn Undead

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Arc of Infinity

For a Doctor Who story, or indeed any story, to succeed, it is essential to have a situation that the viewer will care about. If the Doctor is threatened, if a planet is in danger, we must feel that danger, understand the nature of the threat. I say this now because, while Arc of Infinity is, in every way, a better made piece of television than Time-Flight, it utterly fails to connect to me as a viewer. The threats to the Doctor are explained by using the most extreme barrage of technobabble that the programme has ever seen and it never ceases. This is a story that progresses entirely by constructing, deactivating or bypassing various contraptions, rather than anything involving actual ideas or characters. The adversary of the story is Omega, but his identity is revealed far too late in the story and only those who remembered The Three Doctors would be able to pick up on the mentions on anti-matter to guess the identity of the antagonist. The Amsterdam section of the story is very poorly integrated with the Gallifreyan section and shows a shocking lack of anything approaching invention or imagination.

Visually, the story is competent, but dull. The location filming in Amsterdam is so unimaginative that it could have been shot anywhere- Only Fools and Horses would shoot in the same location with far greater flair two years later. Gallifrey is realised as a kind of futuristic coffee shop. Ron Jones's direction is hardly memorable, but he can have hardly been galvanised by the material. The most disappointing thing of all is the Matrix, which is realised as a bunch of criss-crossed lines.

There are some excellent actors here, but most are wasted. Leonard Sachs makes a rather disappointing Borusa and Elspet Grey is given little to do. Michael Gough, however, refuses to be cowed by the blandness and plays his part with vigour. On Earth, the performances are less good, with Andrew Boxer coming off more as a talented amateur, rather than a professional. Peter Davison manages to be engaging throughout and Sarah Sutton fills the role of sole companion rather better than I would have expected- however it is good to see Janet Fielding back.

If the story has a success it is the eventual portrayal of Omega. He is not just a villain- he thanks Hedin for his help and is genuinely angry at his death. Ian Collier is pretty good in the role (a far cry from his previous appearance in The Time Monster). Omega's costume design is excellent and the Ergon, while it is hardly the best Doctor Who monster, is about a thousand times better than the Gel-Guards. The best thing of all is Davison's child-like performance as the reborn Omega, which gives the final 15 minutes of the story more drama, wonder and excitement than the rest of the story put together. It is far too little, far too late, though.

NEXT: Snakedance

Monday, 6 July 2009


Of all the stories of Season 19, Time-Flight stands out the most, for one reason- it's bad. Time-Flight drives home how well the John Nathan-Turner era started- from The Leisure Hive to Earthshock, there was not a single story that was not wonderful on at least one level. Time-Flight breaks this remarkable winning streak. The first episode is actually quite good, very reminiscent of The Faceless Ones. However, as we carry on it is obvious that there is very little plot for the next 72 minutes. Basically, the Master (sorry to let the cat out of the bag) has been stranded on Jurassic Earth and has discovered the Nucleus- the collective intelligence of the people of the planet Xeriphas- is also there. To help him gain control of it, he kidnaps humans from 1982.

This could have been made into a run-of-the-mill Doctor Who story in the hands of a skilful writer. However, the script is overloaded with technobabble- there are times when you realise that the Doctor and the Master are, basically, intoning random collections of words at each other. The Master is disguised as Kalid- a mysterious magician. The trouble is, there is no more reason for a tubby conjurer to be on Jurassic Earth than a goateed baddie and there is certainly no reason for the Master to keep up the silly voice when he's on his own. The portrayal of the Nucleus as a collective intelligence with a split personality is an intriguing, if not very original idea, but it emerges too late in the narrative and is not adequately developed or even properly integrated into the story. There is also one criticism I have held since I first watched this story at the tender age of six- this is the second story where we are teased with mentions of dinosaurs, but none appear!

However, a patchy script can be invigorated by a good production and, again, the first episode looks great, with good location filming in and around Concorde. However, the production team was fighting a losing battle when the story had to portray Concorde crashing on Jurassic Earth. The sets have all the greyness of lumps of rock without any of the other features that would make it a convincing rocky landscape. The Plasmatons bring to mind the Gel-Guards with the added 'advantage' of also being a dull grey colour. Ron Jones's work in the first episode is very good- Nyssa's vision of the dead Xeraphin is a real 'behind the sofa' moment. However, he seems to lose interest in the story after the first episode and pretty much directs on autopilot.

The performances are competent enough, if a bit lifeless- only Nigel Stock is memorable amongst the guest cast. It is here, however that we see Peter Davison's tremendous strength in the title role. Davison plays it like he believes it and it is this that lifts the story from unwatchable to barely watchable. Janet Fielding continues to impress and Sarah Sutton puts in a nice performance.

There are worse stories than Time-Flight- but after typing this review, I have lost the motivation to actually name them.

NEXT: Arc of Infinity

Saturday, 4 July 2009


In evaluating Earthshock, one has to look no further than the title. It’s a very cool title, evocative and sounding fantastic. The trouble is, it’s not actually a proper word. Earthshock seems to exist largely in the moment- Eric Saward writes scenes of great tension very well, but their linking together to form a coherent story is less successful. It is very fast paced- it can, indeed, be seen as two frenetically paced ‘base under siege’ stories, each having the Doctor blamed for mysterious deaths. However, it does just about work as a story, despite some very poorly thought-out plotting- the androids draw attention to the bomb, rather than protect it from discovery, the Cyber-plan seems like it was made up on the spot, the ship jumping back through time is a totally random development. The memorable scene of the Cyberman getting frozen in the door is typical of this- we are led to believe that the Doctor focuses all his efforts on one door, but totally ignores the other one. It is, perhaps, in this story that Eric Saward understands the character of the Doctor best- he solves the first crisis with a combination of scientific knowledge and wild improvisation and, even though he uses a gun, is directly involved in the climax of the second crisis. Characterisation is efficient, if colourless as is the dialogue. The script has its flaws, but it is better written than one would expect.

However, the production values are stunning. Immediately, the story looks expensive- the uniforms for the troopers look futuristic without looking dated- I wouldn’t be surprised if the costume designers for Starship Troopers were subconsciously ripping Earthshock off. Peter Grimwade manages to match the frenetic pace of the script, with montages as frenetic as those on The Leisure Hive. There are an embarrassment of memorable scenes- the Cybermen breaking out of the silos, the storming of the TARDIS. Episode one, in particular, is a mini horror masterpiece. The androids are simply, but extremely effectively realised and there is the horrible fate that awaits those who are shot by them- a pool of slime and blood, which is really near the knuckle. The guest performances are excellent, making up for the stock characterisation. Special mention must be made of Beryl Reid whose vast talent compensates for her miscasting.

All this talk, and I have barely touched the two things that this story is famous for. After seven years, the Cybermen return with a brand new look. Visually, this design was the most effective yet (with all due respect to the Tenth Planet and Invasion versions). The key genius touch is the moving silver chin, which manages to get over the fact that these creatures used to be human in a way that hadn’t been done since their debut. The voices, however, are too emotional, but they are, at least, far better than those on Revenge of the Cybermen. Again, the Cybermen show emotion and irrationality when they profess to be incapable of either, but this is nothing new, to be frank.

This story also sees us saying goodbye to Adric. It has become a cliché to criticise Matthew Waterhouse’s performance, but such criticism has some justification. It was only in Black Orchid that he ever put in a performance that could actually be called good and his performances before then were inoffensive at best and abysmal at worst. In Earthshock, Waterhouse manages to convey the emotions required, which is enough to ensure that his death is affecting, as well as the complete shock it must have been at the time. Janet Fielding again demonstrates she is easily the best actor amongst the companions, but Sarah Sutton puts in a nice reactive performance. Peter Davison is excellent. As usual.

Despite its flaws, Earthshock is excellently made and is, for my money, the second best Cyberman story of the 20th Century.

NEXT: Time-Flight

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Black Orchid

Black Orchid is a wonderful little interlude for the programme- the first time since The Highlanders where the only sci-fi element is the TARDIS. The effectiveness of the story depends on whether one truly appreciates what the script is trying to achieve. This isn't a period murder mystery (there's only one suspect) but can be seen as Doctor Who barging into a BBC period drama- one can imagine a drama called The Cranleighs where the explorer George Cranleigh disappeared in the 1980 season, Latoni appeared in the 1981 season and the 1982 season finale was a crossover with Doctor Who, where the family secret was finally outed. Despite a great deal of contrived coincidence, Terence Dudley's script is delightful, full of great dialogue and good characters who all come alive in the mere 50 minutes it takes to tell the (very intriguing) tale.

As one would expect from the BBC, the production values are first rate, with splendid sets and costumes. Ron Jones directs very well and I must, at this point, highlight the effectiveness of the opening 90 seconds or so, before the TARDIS appears. We open with a shot of a man being strangled by an unseen assailant, followed by a shot of what appears to be Nyssa sleeping. The assailant walks in, but then we have a shot of the assailant tied up, which is followed by a shot of an Amazonian Indian reading a book- all in less than 2 minutes. If you had never seen this story before, this totally bonkers and brilliant montage would pique your interest immediately. The story also fulfils the 'scaring small children' requirement. The realisation of George Cranleigh, with his horrific scarring and gargling vocalisation is very memorable, as is the most striking visual in the story- the scary Harlequin mask.

This story cannot be discussed without mentioning the cricket match. The effectiveness of this part is highly dependant on how one views cricket. North and South American, Mainland European and East Asian viewers might be baffled and/or bored, but British, African, Caribbean, South Asian and Australasian viewers will appreciate these wonderful sequences, especially Peter Davison's genuine and wonderful wicket. The scoring is a bit peculiar, though.

The guest performances are all wonderful with Michael Cochrane, Barbara Murray and Moray Watson effortlessly bringing their characters to life. Davison is his usual brilliant self, but I must make special mention of his trio of companions. Tegan is enjoying herself for the first time and Janet Fielding is wonderful; flirty, loving the 20s dances and clearly proud of being with the Doctor. Sarah Sutton is very effective in her dual role of Nyssa and Ann, but the biggest surprise is Matthew Waterhouse, who doesn't put a foot wrong in this and is actually fun to watch.

This is 50 minutes of wonderful television and highly recommended.

NEXT: Earthshock