Monday, 31 August 2009

Delta and the Bannermen

Delta and the Bannermen is a relatively simple tale of the Doctor helping an alien queen escape the genocidal army that has massacred her people. This is, strangely, mixed with a trip to Wales in 1959, a wayward American satellite and lots of Rock n’ Roll. However, what could be an unholy hodge-podge actually works out as a rather charming little tale. There is a degree of vagueness in Malcolm Kohll's storyline- we never find out why the Bannermen are so intent on wiping out the Chimerons. The baby food that Billy takes might be the Chimeron ‘royal jelly’ (The Chimerons seem to be eusocial) but that does not mean that it will turn Billy into a Chimeron, any more than him eating actual royal jelly will turn him into a bee. However, the scripts are nicely written and contain good characterisation- Ray, for example is based on a very recognisable stereotype, but the script makes her seem fresh.

One potential pitfall is the varying tone of the story (something that was a problem on Paradise Towers). The Navarino ’50s nostalgia tour is a rather light-hearted concept, whereas Gavrok has to rank as one of the most despicable villains ever seen on the programme. It is easy, therefore, to underestimate the skill of the production team in making the story work in terms of tone. The story was made entirely on location (apart from the TARDIS scenes) which lends an organic reality to the settings. The idea to set the story in a Welsh holiday camp is inspired- Hi-de-Hi is a clear influence on the look, and also manages to convey the British ‘50s without exposing us to the rather drab reality of Britain in that period. Chris Clough’s direction is good and the story is generally well realised- the opening battle sequence is very impressive as are most of the model shots, with the exception of the shot of the TARDIS towing the Navarino bus. There are also the rather poor destruction of the bus and Gavrok himself, but these are exceptions. Keff McCulloch’s ‘50s pastiche music is actually rather good, although his use of the Devil’s Galop/Gallop is about as effective nowadays as using Souza’s Liberty Bell for a military march. In addition, McCulloch’s own chase music would be more suitable for Chucklevision.

There are some very fine performances, most notably, Don Henderson as Gavrok. Henderson gives the character a real aura of bestial evil, at one point chomping on a haunch of raw meat and spitting it out at the Doctor. Sara Griffiths is great fun as Ray as is Richard Davies as Burton. There is also the wonderful Hugh Lloyd as Goronwy and Broadway legend Stubby Kaye as Weismuller. Unfortunately, the key characters of Delta and Billy are less than ideally played. Belinda Mayne is not very expressive as Delta, but she is better than David Kinder, who is perilously close to awful as Billy (who, for some reason doesn’t have a Welsh accent). More seriously, their romance is rather unconvincing, both in terms of how it is written and how it is performed.

However, the regulars are on fine form. Sylvester McCoy is brilliant throughout, imposing his authority on the Bannermen and dancing with, consoling (and very nearly groping!) Ray. More astonishingly, Bonnie Langford is actually very good here- especially well played is the scene after the destruction of the Navarinos’ bus.

Delta and the Bannermen is by no means perfect, but it is great fun with some wonderful moments and is well worth a spin.

NEXT: Dragonfire

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Paradise Towers

After the mess that was Time and the Rani, Paradise Towers is certainly an improvement, due in no small part to Stephen Wyatt's script. Wyatt tells a tale of an entire society that has grown in a giant tower block, but uses that setting to explore how a society that has had a large section of it surgically removed survives and adapts. The adults have gone off to fight in a war, leaving the others behind. The old ('rezzies') seem to have reverted into a very genteel cannibalism. The girls form gangs ('kangs') and the Caretakers seem to have developed into a fascistic police force. Paradise Towers itself was designed by Kroagnon, 'The Great Architect', who loved his creations so much, he saw their use by anyone else as desecrating his work. The hiding of the living brain of Kroagnon in the basement is a bit odd, plotwise, but I suppose that the story needed a villain. Nevertheless, Wyatt's script is full of great lines and an inventive use of language: 'alleviators', 'brain quarters', 'taken to the cleaners' and the like show a real love and interest in semantics.

The production makes good use of studio sets and is well directed by Nicholas Mallett with some great set design and camera work. True, the cleaning robots and the pool robot, which fulfil the 'monster' functions, are hardly very threatening, but they do not pay a large part in the story. Keff McCullough again shows that subtlety is a wholly alien concept to him, with another brash score.

The acting is variable- while there are no bad performances, Mallett doesn't seem to be able to get his performers to gel. We have some nice unshowy performances by Julie Brennon and Annabel Yuresha as the two main Kangs, but Howard Cooke's performance as Pex is heading very close to bad kids TV. Richard Briers is an actor of tremendous ability but, while his performance as the Chief Caretaker is rather good, his performance as Kroagnon is a bit dodgy. However, Sylvester McCoy is starting to really find his feet as the Doctor- his talent for obfuscation really coming to the fore. Bonnie Langford is actually quite watchable in this, which is refreshing.

It is this uncertain tone which is Paradise Towers biggest disadvantage- we have the disturbing sight of the gnawed bones on the plate, but caretakers who look like The Village People. Paradise Towers is clearly a step in the right direction, but it still has one foot in Time and the Rani territory.

NEXT: Delta and the Bannermen

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Time and the Rani

The 24th season of Doctor Who saw a considerable change in style, evident at the start by yet another arrangement of the theme tune (the least successful one so far) plus a whole new title sequence. Most notable of all is the presence of a new Doctor, with the Sixth Doctor unceremoniously regenerating at the beginning, for no apparent reason. However, that is only the beginning of this story’s problems.

Pip and Jane Baker have received a lot of flak from Doctor Who fans, some of it wholly unjustified. The Mark of the Rani was one of the highlights of Colin Baker’s first season and their contributions to The Trial of a Time Lord were worthwhile. It also has to be said that, whatever their faults as writers, they appear to be genuinely lovely people. However, it appears that they were working well outside their comfort zone with this story- The Mark of the Rani was a historical, Terror of the Vervoids was a Christie mystery in space. Time and the Rani is pure sci-fi and, as I have pointed out, another criticism that can be levelled at the Bakers is that they fail to see the distinction between quirky and silly. The basic plot is the Rani wishing to detonate an asteroid composed of strange matter in order to create a giant time manipulator so that she can play God. To do that, she has gone to the planet Lakertya and subdued its population with the aid of the Tetraps, bat-like humanoids. So far, so good. However, the story progresses in increasingly preposterous ways- the Rani dresses up as Mel to make the Doctor fix her device, Beyus shouts the combination to the outer door because he overhears the Doctor expressing sympathy for the Lakertyans, the Doctor tying up the Rani with a scarf. Episode 3, in particular, is totally superfluous and one of the longest 25 minutes of my life. Characterisation is very basic, with stock types like ‘collaborating leader’ and ‘hot-headed youngster’ being deployed. The story is based on some very poor science- this would not matter normally, but it is crucial to the plot. Firstly, you would never have an asteroid made of strange matter, you would have a spherical ‘quark star’, as it would be so massive that its gravity would make it spherical. Secondly, it would probably have a gravity at least equal to the Earth’s sun, meaning that it would be impossible to ‘miss’ it with a missile- in fact it would probably attract Lakertya itself towards it. Even if you ignore this, the dénouement is still very lazy plotting. There are some nice script touches- the Doctor’s chaotic personality causing schizophrenia in the Rani’s super-brain, for example. However, they are few and far between in the script, which is certainly not improved by the Bakers penchant for writing florid, overblown dialogue really coming to the fore here- my favourite being ‘A hologram! As substantial as the Rani’s scruples!’ Still, it could have been worse- have a read of Andrew Cartmel’s book Script Doctor to see the full horror of what they wanted to do!

In the story’s defence, it certainly looks very good. Visually, Andrew Morgan directs with great energy and, apart from the cartoony nature of the early CGI shots at the start, the special effects are excellent, particularly the wonderful bubble traps. The Lakertyans are quite well realised- I like their alien running poise, in particular and the Tetraps are also impressive. However, there is still the gaudy look typical of the Colin Baker era- his coat is present in the first episode- which means that Lakertya has a pink sky. The performances are as good as they can be, considering the overblown dialogue the actors have to say, indicating that Morgan was not as proficient with actors. Of the guest performers, Kate O’Mara stands head and shoulders over the others. Despite her being Dynasty’d up and being written as a more stock villain, she clearly loves the part. The one saving grace of the Rani impersonating Mel is that she makes a better Mel than Bonnie Langford. I have to say that Langford is more at ease in the role, and a little less annoying- but she still grates. I can’t stand the fact that she is supposed to be a strong woman and then stops and screams at monsters (unless the Doctor told her about the events of Fury From the Deep and she is, in fact, deploying her larynx as a weapon!) So, to the Doctor. Sylvester McCoy pratfalls, spoonerises and plays the spoons, but there is something refreshingly homespun about his portrayal. It is a great relief to see him ditch that abomination of a coat and things on this front, look good.

Time and the Rani is not the total disaster some have said it is- there have been many stories that are worse. It is well made and reasonably entertaining, but it is wholly without any real substance and full of moments of sheer preposterousness.

NEXT: Paradise Towers

Monday, 24 August 2009

The Trial of a Time Lord


For whatever reason, Doctor Who was off the air for over a year before returning in 1986. The season was shorter and the episode length was back to the usual 25 minutes. It has often been said that the programme itself was on trial for its life- so the wisdom of making a comeback season of one fourteen episode story seems a bit flawed to me. Of course it is not really one story, but four, but is does have a linking theme- the trial of the Doctor. I said, many moons ago in my review of The Keys of Marinus, that courtroom drama is, perhaps, the most constricting genre of all. Courtroom sets are constructed very similarly, the dynamics are similar, even the plot is dictated by the mechanics of the trial. The best courtroom dramas rely on performances and truly inspired direction. Even so, the best courtroom scenes I have watched occur in other types of drama- a good example are the astonishing court martial scenes in Kubrick's Paths of Glory. Which brings me to this season. A multi-camera videotaped production is almost certainly never going to match a feature film as far as visual creativity is concerned and, indeed, as soon as the lights go up, we see a perfectly average set and three main participants- the Doctor, the Inquisitor and the Valeyard. Whatever else the season might reveal, visually exciting courtroom scenes are not on the menu. I shall return to this aspect periodically but, I think it is useful to examine each of the separate epistopic interfaces of the spectrum before looking at the story as a whole. So…

The Mysterious Planet
The season opens with a four parter by Robert Holmes himself. Although it is by no means a 'Holmes classic' it contains much good dialogue and tells a reasonably effective story. The script is, indeed, skilful enough to make one forget that it is basically a retread of The Face of Evil- a human society split in two by an artificial intelligence, with a pallid group of humans living under the control of the AI and a savage group living outside it. Holmes creates some good characters; however, Glitz and Dibber (on the page, at least) are very similar to Garron and Unstoffe from The Ribos Operation. Despite having quite a few quibbles with the plot (water jars on display, two light years being nothing in galactic terms) the story manages to paint a believable environment and believable people to go with it.

The season as a whole opens with the most spectacular effects shot the programme had in the twentieth century. The shot of the space station is breathtaking and still impressive today. However from this story on, both location and studio scenes (bar a few effects shots) are shot on videotape, which gives a greater sense of visual unity to the programme. Unfortunately, Nicholas Mallett's direction, although not bad, is hardly inspired, with the overlit scenes in Marb Station being particularly unimpressive. The costume for Drathro is superb, but Mallett fails to shoot the robot with the requisite skill to make it appear like the vast automaton it should have appeared to be.

The best guest performance in the story is easily Tony Selby's Glitz and it is entirely due to his performance that the character is so memorable. Most of the other performances are sound, especially Adam Blackwood as Balazar, but Joan Sims is a major disappointment as Katryca- much as I love Maid Marian and Her Merry Men, it is not the thing I should be thinking of every time Katryca issues an order!

Colin Baker continues to impress as the Doctor. His greater affection for Peri and his more moral outlook is a joy to behold. Nicola Bryant is given some strong character material and she attacks it with relish.

The Mysterious Planet
is a good run-of-the-mill story- something we hadn't seen for some time.

Phillip Martin returns to Doctor Who with this fun story with a shocking twist. Like Vengeance on Varos, there is the slight feeling that Martin might drop one of the plates he is spinning- the script covers economic exploitation of less developed civilisations, genetic engineering, brain alteration, revolutions etc, whilst incorporating the possibility of an unreliable narrator. However, as before, Martin just about manages to pull it off- although there is the subplot about the Alphan rebels which is unnecessary (and probably not the work of Philip Martin). The central thread is the imminent death of Lord Kiv, leader of the Mentors and each plot thread is somehow connected to that. To bolster the plot, Martin brings back Sil, perhaps the greatest character of the Sixth Doctor era and he is accompanied by other great characters such as Kiv and Yrcanos. There are some instances of rushed scripting- Crozier’s move from brain transplants to mind transfers is rather sudden- but the story works well, with some choice dialogue- the financial conversations between Sil and Kiv, and later Sil and the Doctor are a delight.

The story is further helped by its excellent visualisation. This is the first use of paintbox image manipulation in the programme and the resultant Thoros Betan landscape is impressive (if typically gaudy for the era). There is great use of matte work and some highly effective lighting and the camerawork is very impressive. Ron Jones has been very inconsistent as a director but, with a good production team behind him, he does a good job here. The costuming and make-up are also first rate- the work for the Mentors is even more impressive than it was for Vengeance on Varos with great attention to detail- it is easy to forget that Christopher Ryan wears two similar, but not identical costumes. There is also the terrifyingly effective make-up for the Lukoser, a truly horrific creation. Jones clearly knows how to disguise the production’s shortcomings- the Raak doesn’t look very good, so it is never fully glimpsed. Overall, this is a highly impressive production.

It goes without saying that Nabil Shaban puts in another wonderful performance as Sil, a character he clearly loved playing, but he is ably supported by Christopher Ryan as Kiv, who amusingly treats Sil like an annoying illegitimate sprog who he has some regard for, finds occasionally useful, but is not above ordering the death of. However, there is one guest performance which cannot help to stand out- Brian Blessed as Yrcanos. Blessed is one of the very few actors who can go completely over the top and still make the character believable, which is exactly what he does with Yrcanos. There are wonderful little touches he gives to the role, like the throat singing he employs as a farewell. There is not enough room to fully do justice to Blessed here- he is a force of nature and the world will genuinely be a poorer place when he passes on. There are some other nice performances- Patrick Ryecart as Crozier is worth a mention- and a strangely poor one from Gordon Warnecke. Mind you, Ron Jones is no Stephen Frears.

Colin Baker has a very tough challenge- he must make the Doctor look more dislikeable than he has ever done before which, considering The Twin Dilemma is really saying something. The juxtaposition of the Doctor acting his worst on Thoros Beta and his noblest in the trial room is very nicely done and baker acquits himself well. However, this does mean that the story is Doctor-less for long stretches and it is Peri who steps up to the challenge. This, Nicola Bryant’s final story as Peri, is also one of her best performances- and she is given one of the most shocking exits for any companion ever. It seems that her mind has been destroyed and the intelligence of Kiv now inhabits her skull. The last words heard from her lips are ‘Protect me! I am your Lord and Master’ with her staring at Yrcanos with infinite menace. The Doctor’s realisation of what happens is wonderfully effective- Baker is understated and then coldly furious.

Mindwarp may not be 100% successful, but it is extremely enjoyable throughout- a fine story!

Terror of the Vervoids
Pip and Jane Baker's second contribution to Doctor Who is a return to the simple monster tale, with a heavy helping of Agatha Christie. This is nothing new- The Robots of Death also had touches of the Dame of Detection. However, the earlier story used a Christie type plot merely as the framework for a thoughtful script that aspired to so much more and succeeded. Terror of the Vervoids is a very watchable story, but the trouble is, it is too much like Christie- puzzles are more important that emotion or characters and there are numerous badly thought out ideas- notably, why the Vervoids have a lethal capability if they were genetically engineered. There is also the question of the dialogue. The Bakers showed they had no ear for naturalistic dialogue in The Mark of the Rani, but that is nothing compared to some of the appalling lines the poor actors have to say! Also present are little educational nuggets- there were thousands of children who would forever know the difference between an agronomist and a thremmatologist, that plants had chloroplasts and what a Judas Goat was.

The money is obviously running out- the space sequences obviously look bad compared to the opening shot of the season. However, the design is very clever and the story doesn't actually look cheap. Even the costumes for the Vervoids are rather good- although I'm sure their look caused all sorts of adult neuroses for anyone who saw them as a child! Chris Clough does the best that he can with what he is given and does a pretty good job, helped by some effective lighting. He also helps give the story some excellent cliffhangers, most notably the terrifying revelation of Ruth Baxter, brilliantly shot and lit, with some superb make-up.

The performances are generally good, although Honor Blackman seems a bit listless as Professor Lasky. Maurice Tierney as Doland deserves special praise for making his character seem real, with a surprisingly nuanced performance. Mind you, considering what they had to say, it is a testament to the skill of all the actors that they emerge with dignity intact. Colin Baker is wonderfully energetic in this story, a true pleasure to watch. However, there is another regular present. Bonnie Langford is obviously a hugely talented individual but Mel is, to be frank, fingers-on-the-blackboard irritating. True, she's energetic and seems to be enjoying herself, but her voice and line readings are too mannered. Then there's her screaming… Still, early days.

Terror of the Vervoids is an enjoyable, if shallow entry which ends with the Doctor being accused of genocide…

The Ultimate Foe
So, the trial comes to its conclusion with a script that was only half complete when its author, the great Robert Holmes, died. Moreover, Eric Saward, who wrote the final episode based on what Holmes had told him, refused to allow its use, meaning that Pip and Jane Baker had to write a replacement in less than a week. So it is, in fact, a miracle that The Ultimate Foe works as well as it does. Holmes returns to the nightmare virtual reality of the Matrix and creates another memorable dream realm- the Christmas Carol influence of the whole Trial season is, appropriately, concluded with a heavily Dickensian setting. Upon the shock revelation of the Master (which is rather well done) it is revealed, in a very atmospheric moment, that the Valeyard is an entity created from the distillation of the dark side of the Doctor's personality and he can only gain a truly independent existence with the Doctor's death. Although the story lacks the depth and impact of The Deadly Assassin, episode 13 is a startling piece of television and, it has to be said, that the Bakers do quite well with their concluding episode (with the obvious caveat concerning their dialogue). Holmes creates the wonderful character of Popplewick, a Dickensian clerk whose belief in a circumlocutory 'procedure' is part of the Valeyard's evil plan. There are some problems, most of which I will address later, but there are a few things that annoy me- for example the Master thanking Mel for calling him 'utterly evil' undermines the character somewhat.

Chris Clough, while he is no David Maloney, works wonders with the Matrix scenes. The Dickensian courtyard is wonderfully atmospheric and the scene of the Doctor being dragged under the beach by chthonic arms is also very memorable. There are a few silly bits (Mel being tripped up by the Keeper, for instance) but they are minor. The performances are good, with Glitz making a welcome return and an excellent performance by Geoffrey Hughes as the Popplewicks. Anthony Ainley is also very effective in his return as the Master. Bonnie Langford is still annoying as Mel, however.

So, we have watched each separate story. But that is not all that needs to be said…


If you ignore the linking theme of the season, what you have is four respectable stories. There are many moments of near greatness in them, in Mindwarp, particularly. However, the linking theme cannot be ignored as the trial scenes permeate the entire narrative. The first point that must be made is the bizarre nature of Gallifreyan justice- the prosecutor can add charges at will, the Doctor is held responsible for things he hasn’t done yet. It would appear that the most the writers had done was half-watch a courtroom drama and get a very basic idea of legal practice. This makes the actual stories far more streamlined, but it becomes increasingly obvious that trial sequences are sometimes inserted to pad out the running time. With its theme of unreliable narration, the trial scenes in Mindwarp are the most ’necessary’, but are far from the best part of the story. By the time we get to Terror of the Vervoids, the trial scenes are pointlessly intrusive- most notably the silly part where the Doctor is revealed to have trashed the radio equipment. As a whole, the trial sequences weaken the story. A notable example is the Valeyard using a series of incidents that directly point to the secret plan of the Time Lords and, rather than removing incriminating scenes, clumsily bleeps over them. In Mindwarp it is immediately obvious that anything that occurs after the Doctor is taken out of time is a fabrication, as there is nothing there to record incidents for the Matrix. And in Terror of the Vervoids, surely the fact that the incidents in question are from the future either means that the Doctor definitely gets off and the Trial is pointless, or it is only a potential future and therefore can hardly be seen as admissible.

As I predicted, the trial scenes are visually dull- it is a big step down from the stunning opening sequence to when the lights are turned on in the trial chamber. And, speaking of the opening sequence; it is stunning, beautiful- but strangely pointless. There is no sense of the trial taking place on a giant space station- indeed it could be on Gallifrey for all that it matters to the plot.

Apart from the Doctor, the only characters to appear in every segment are the Inquisitor and the Valeyard. The Inquisitor is basically characterised and her motivation, level of authority and, indeed, knowledge of the events shown is totally inconstant- most notably when she suddenly has full knowledge of the events leading to Peri’s apparent death. Lynda Bellingham deserves credit for making the character seem believable, considering what she had to work with. Michael Jayston’s voice makes him immediately memorable as the Valeyard and it is his masterful performance that makes the character so memorable. It certainly isn’t the writing- in fact, although we are told what the Valeyard is, we are never actually told who or what brought him into being and how (in the story’s defence, this is because the original idea- that the Valeyard is a future incarnation of the Doctor- was discarded at the eleventh hour). Nicola Bryant is, eventually denied her dramatic exit, but I am glad that Peri got to live, despite that- it would have been the most miserable exit possible, her mind being destroyed believing that the Doctor betrayed her. As I indicated before, Bonnie Langford does not agree with me, more due to irritation than incompetence.

This is, of course, the anticlimactic end of the Colin Baker era. One thing that I can definitely say in the story’s favour is how much I enjoyed his performance in this season and that he would have gone from strength to strength. Whatever the quality of the stories, he had what it took to play the Doctor and his firing (the first unwilling departure since Hartnell) was totally unwarranted.

There is a common cliché used when evaluating The Trial of a Time Lord, which I cannot improve on- it is much less than the sum of its parts. If you watch it, there is much goodness- but you will have to bite through layers of fat and gristle to get there.

NEXT: Time and the Rani

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Revelation of the Daleks

Eric Saward's last Dalek story boasted one of the worst scripts he ever wrote and, Revelation of the Daleks shares one of the main problems with its predecessor (and, indeed many other Saward scripts)- the Doctor is not the prime mover of the plot. However, if you ignore the fact that the Doctor (and, indeed, the Daleks) play lesser roles in the plot, it becomes evident that this is easily Saward's best script. Despite containing a few redundant sub-plots, it maintains a coherent narrative and has great dialogue and characterisation. Saward wrote this story after a very enjoyable holiday and his joy in writing it clearly shows. One oft-cited inspiration for this story is Evelyn Waugh's The Loved One, which pokes fun at the morbid tackiness of American funeral homes as only the brilliant, if odious, Waugh could. To this, Saward adds Soylent Green style cannibalism and intimations of necrophilia. Needless to say, this would never have made today!

The excellent script by Saward is more than matched by the very welcome return of Graeme Harper as director. Again, his understanding of using the camera to tell the story is obvious in every scene, creating unease and tension by composition or angle. He is backed up by excellent production values across the board- look at the nauseatingly realistic make-up on the mutant, the flawless matte work and excellent set and costume design, with the garish colour schemes that characterised the Colin Baker era actually being used to the story's advantage. A very underrated triumph of Harper's is to take several varying moods- black comedy, a portrayal of an alcoholic, some of the strongest violence of the season, Alexei Sayle- and make them fit together and work.

Harper is also a master of marshalling actors, and with a cast this impressive, the characters are a joy to watch. Saward seems to be doing his own take on Holmesian double-acts and they are realised very successfully- Eleanor Bron and Hugh Walters seem to anticipate Wilhelmina and Marc from Ugly Betty by 20 years (not that I watch it…ahem) and Trevor Cooper and Colin Spaull are excellent as Takis and Lilt. There is William Gaunt's dignified, yet knowing portrayal of Orcini which effortlessly shows both the man's morality and ruthlessness. Then there is the relationship between Tasambeker and Jobel. Clive Swift is excellent, but he could do this role in his sleep. Jenny Thomasin's performance is actually very skilled, making Tasambeker both sympathetic and unlikeable- a very tall order. A special mention must be given to Terry Molloy's best performance as Davros, making him seem, for the first time, as cunning and as dangerous as he was in Genesis of the Daleks.

The Doctor is not only a minor player in the story, but seems to have become a bit less likeable on paper. However, thanks to Colin Baker's complete understanding of the role and Harper's direction, this portrayal works excellently. Peri is again the object of lust, but this is a minor point and Nicola Bryant puts in a very effective performance.

Revelation of the Daleks has very little to do with Daleks or the Doctor and, it could be argued, that this raises the question of whether it works as a Doctor Who story at all- however, it is a great piece of television drama by any standard, easily the best Colin Baker story.

NEXT: The Trial of a Time Lord

Wednesday, 19 August 2009


I didn't see Timelash when it was originally broadcast (probably because series 2 of Robin of Sherwood started on the same day) so my first exposure to it was as an adult. I must start by saying that I have never found this story particularly painful to watch- but this does not stop me from thinking that it's a load of rubbish. The script has a story that could easily have been made into a reasonably good adventure. However, the pacing is all over the place and the overall flow is terrible- too much happens in the first episode, too little in the second, which means that it runs out of plot too soon, meaning a second ending has to be grafted on. This brings to mind The Creature from the Pit- hardly an illustrious antecedent! There are numerous plot holes and poorly thought out developments which should never have made it past first draft. The dialogue is atrocious in places, with clumsy info-dumping and terrible metaphors; McCoy seems to be aiming to do for scripted drama what William McGonnagal did for poetry!

However, the script is by no means the story's greatest problem. This is clearly the cheap story of the season, but even so, a creative director can work wonders. So why on earth was Pennant Roberts brought back? At his best, he is competent, but it was largely due to his ineptitude that Warriors of the Deep slipped from mediocrity to travesty. Here, Roberts is given bland sets and a Timelash prop that is full of tinsel. Roberts amplifies the blandness by overlighting the sets and, in a decision of staggering incompetence, draws attention to the tinsel in the Timelash by having the door open, showing us the unlit interior and then turning the light on- as if the Timelash were a very Christmassy fridge! Fight scenes are pathetically staged and the TARDIS scenes, although they start nicely, get sillier as they go on, culminating in the ridiculous 'seat belts' which makes the console look like a rubbish chair-o-plane! Roberts, as I have said many times before, goes to pieces whenever actors actually have to move- in fact the only thing that he directed that I thought was actually good is the first scene of Shada- where all the characters were catatonic!

Roberts' attitude to casting and directing actors is similarly poor. A typical piece of inept casting is that of both Christine Cavanagh and Tracy Ward- although they play different characters, they are dressed identically and look quite similar, which must have made the appearance of Ward's character unnecessarily confusing to the casual viewer, as Cavanagh's character was killed off in the first five minutes. Roberts casts actors fresh out of drama school for the first scenes (including Stephen Mackintosh, who would eventually become a very fine actor) whose lack of experience is obvious. Then, there are more experienced actors who are basically left to find the character on their own- Jeananne Crowley, a very accomplished actress, gives a terrible performance. Perhaps Roberts was too concerned with reigning in Paul Darrow's hugely florid performance as Tekker. Darrow is fun to watch, though. The best performance by a country mile is Pakistan's finest, Robert Ashby as the Borad. Even though he is hidden under extensive make-up (the only production triumph of the story) Ashby is terrifying- his voice is the most chilling for a Doctor Who villain since Gabriel Woolf as Sutekh.

Colin Baker had clearly found his feet as the Doctor and he successfully wins against what the script and production throw at him. Nicola Bryant is again the object of bizarre lust- enough has been written about her being chained up and molested by the (laughable) Morlox. Which brings me to Herbert. If H G Wells had really gone through all that before becoming a writer, he would probably have written respectable and forgettable bildungsromans.

It's reasonable fun and passes the time, but then a microwaved pork pie is tasty- but I would be very unwise to make them a key part of my diet.

NEXT: Revelation of the Daleks

Monday, 17 August 2009

The Two Doctors

The Colin Baker era was showing signs of recovering from its inauspicious start and the return of Robert Holmes should have confirmed this. Holmes's last offering, The Caves of Androzani is still a strong contender for the title of best Doctor Who story ever made, a wonderfully stylish distillation of the best of both 80s and 70s Doctor Who. What we have with The Two Doctors is more of a clash. There are signs of Holmes's brilliance- the Androgums are an alien race with a sense of culture and history, prime examples of Holmes creating worlds through words alone. There is some excellent dialogue and (when it is given a chance) good characterisation. However, the plot is poorly thought out and the pacing is a mess. The story is 'about' vegetarianism or, more precisely, in the cruelty to animals that carnivorousness engenders. Holmes was clearly happy writing a tale about Androgums coming to Earth to sample the local cuisine and it is here that his writing shines. However, he was lumbered with the longest story since 1978 and the inclusion of the Sontarans in the plot. The Sontarans serve virtually no story function other than to die messily, perhaps to punctuate the story with some action. The central plot thread of isolating a Time Lord's 'symbiotic nuclei' wouldn't be very compelling were it not for the fact that the Time Lord in question is the Second Doctor and the story itself discards this for a while (albeit with a rather entertaining tangent). Entertaining though some of these bits are, they are jumbled together with little grace.

Visually, the studio scenes have that infamous 'Sixth Doctor Look' and, unfortunately, we have Peter Moffat behind the camera. Moffat never understood the storytelling possibilities of the camera itself- apart from the oft-cited revelation of the Sontarans, he gives Shockeye a similarly uninspired introduction and totally fumbles the cucumber gag in episode one. Moffat's direction lacks any vision beyond 'point and shoot'- the best that I can say is that he is marginally better on film than on video. Despite some of the studio gaudiness, the production values are generally good. A notable failure is, unfortunately, the realisation of the Sontarans. The masks are much less effective than the ones used for The Invasion of Time and don't hold a candle to the Kevin Lindsay versions. The script makes the Sontarans look ridiculous anyway, but the (in)effect is further compounded by giving Stike a swagger stick.

As said, there are some good characters and they are brought to life by some fine performances. John Stratton attacks the role of Shockeye with relish and the scenes of him palling around with the Androgummed Second Doctor are wonderful. Oscar Botcherby is very entertaining, thanks to James Saxon's game performance. Dastari is, on the page, underwritten, but Lawrence Payne's performance is very appealing. In fact, if there's one performance I have a problem with it's Jacqueline Pearce as Chessene. It is a perfectly good performance, but she does not at any point convince us that she is an Androgum, something that John Stratton does, despite his skinny physique and ridiculous costume.

However, despite the Sontarans, Androgums and symbiotic nuclei, the main attraction of the story is still the final appearance of Patrick Troughton as the Doctor, accompanied by Frazer Hines. From the instant they appear on screen for the first time, Troughton and Hines are utterly mesmerising, their rapport undiminished from their heyday. It is a pity that Troughton is then missing for a large part of the story, but it is truly joyful to see him again. Frazer Hines had aged shockingly little since 1969 and he makes Jamie as appealing as he ever was- I love his repeated attempts to be kissed by all the ladies he meets. In addition, Colin Baker continues to be more likeable and skilful as the Doctor- his 'boiingg!' moment is both archetypally Doctorish and very Colin Baker. Nicola Bryant supports ably, as usual.

There is a problem with this story that has to be dealt with separately- the question of tone. This can be addressed by looking at one sequence. The very entertaining interplay between Shockeye and the Androgummed Second Doctor have led them to the restaurant where Oscar works. There is comic dialogue between Oscar and Shockeye, and the Androgummed Second Doctor and Shockeye eat a comically large portion. In response to a request for payment, Shockeye gives Oscar some alien currency ('nargs'). This is also reasonably amusing. Even later, Oscar (comically holding several narg notes) asks for proper payment- whereupon Shockeye stabs him in the guts. Not only is this unnecessary in story terms, it is totally undermined by giving Oscar a bitter-sweet comic death scene. Despite him having been stabbed in a place that would leave him in excruciating pain. Of all the complaints of violence in this era, in the whole programme, this is the most justified. There are other very nasty bits- Shockeye snapping a rat's neck and biting into it, Shockeye waving the severed leg of Stike around. In skilled hands, such playing around with moods could be interesting. But we are not in skilled hands.

Despite the plot and production problems, this is a reasonably entertaining story- but beware the aftertaste.

NEXT: Timelash

Saturday, 15 August 2009

The Mark of the Rani

The Mark of the Rani tells its story efficiently and informatively- indeed it really does, inform, entertain and educate in a way that noted jazz-racist Lord Reith would certainly have approved of. Pip and Jane Baker effectively place us in a well-researched historical setting (very Hartnellian) and give an unusual, but effective sci-fi explanation for events. In addition, we are introduced to the very entertaining character of the Rani. Brilliantly, she is portrayed as ruthless and amoral, but not actually sadistic or evil. The Bakers use her to effectively comment on the obsession the Master has with destroying the Doctor and makes one actually welcome the return of the goateed villain. True, no explanation is given for how the Master escaped his apparent incineration in Planet of Fire, but that is a matter of continuity, not story. The interplay between the three Time Lords is wonderful and worth the price of the DVD alone. However, the Bakers have certain shortcomings as writers. Notoriously, they have difficulties in writing naturalistic dialogue and there are some absolutely atrocious lines. A problem here that would also arise in later stories is their inability to distinguish between quirky and silly- the Rani's trees are just a step too far!

However, the greatest asset the story has is its visualisation. The location filming at the Ironbridge Gorge Museum is astounding, every bit as good as that found in the most lavish costume dramas. The locations, costuming and the plentiful extras really give a sense of time and place and director Sarah Hellings shoots with great feeling and has a great eye for an arresting image. The studio locations mesh well with the location work and I must give a special mention for the wonderful set for the Rani's TARDIS- totally different from the Doctor (and the Master's) but still instantly recognisable. If there is a production gaffe, it is the trees; but they were stupid anyway. I was overjoyed when I saw this, to see my first Doctor Who dinosaur and, although the T. rex is hardly photo-realistic it is, unfortunately, the best realisation of a dinosaur that Doctor Who had in the 20th century!

The guest performances are good, but the Bakers only really flesh out a few characters. Lord Ravensworth is excellently played by Terence Alexander and the great Gawn Grainger plays George Stephenson. The story has a strong regional feel although, it must be said, some of the Geordie characters border on 'Why-eye!' stereotypes. Kate O'Mara is outstanding as the Rani and Anthony Ainley hugely entertaining as the Master. Colin Baker puts in his best performance yet, helped, perhaps, by the Doctor being more stable and likable in the script. The interplay between the Doctor and Peri is both well written and played and Nicola Bryant gives a very engaging performance.

If you ignore those rubbish trees, this is a highly enjoyable story with a lot to recommend it.

NEXT: The Two Doctors

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Vengeance on Varos

Whatever else one can say about Vengeance on Varos, one thing is clear- it is obviously the work of a professional writer. Philip Martin's script is based on solid ideas and these ideas are well executed, which is more than can be said for the amateur drivel that was The Twin Dilemma and the fan-pleasing twaddle of Attack of the Cybermen. The main concept behind the story is the debasement of mass-entertainment- the Doctor's actions in this story are followed by cameras and are broadcast into the homes of the Varosians, two of whom (Arak and Etta) comment on what they are seeing. This is brilliantly brought to a head with the greatest cliffhanger of the Colin Baker era- the Governor directing the filming of the Doctor's apparent death. Varos is a well realised world, depicted as a former prison colony where the descendants of the prisoners and guards have formed a twisted version of a democratic society, where personal freedom is severely restricted and insurrection ruthlessly quashed- but the Governor is held totally accountable, even until death. This is brilliantly stated in one piece of dialogue:

Arak: 'I'm entitled to my opinion'
Etta: 'You're entitled to a vote, that's all.'

Martin populates this twisted world with suitably twisted characters. The Governor is a good man brought up in a bad world. He remembers the value of compassion and wants the best for his people- but he still presides over televised tortures and executions. The dynamic between him and the Chief is subtly and interestingly written. I will come to another supporting character later. Not all of the story works- the whole transmogrification plot and the character of Quillam verge on the ridiculous- but this is an excellent script, overall.

The production values for the story are excellent and the lighting is very atmospheric- however, Ron Jones (the most frustratingly inconsistent director the programme ever had) directs on autopilot- Sil's revelation is totally undramatic and there is little art to the framing and composition. He has little energy for action sequences, which comes to a head in one of the few production failures- the realisation of the cannibals as gurning men in nappies. He also allows some rather weak performances. Jason Connery would soon star in Robin of Sherwood where, under the direction of some of the best directors ever to work on the small screen, he would be effective. Here, he is rather weak, as are the other rebels. However, there are far more effective performances elsewhere- Forbes Collins is very good as the Chief (it is odd to see Prince John from Maid Marian and her Merry Men sharing screen time with Robert of Huntingdon from Robin of Sherwood). Martin Jarvis is simply superb as the Governor, excellently portraying the ambiguities inherent in the character. However, I must be predictable in handing the Best Supporting Actor award to Nabil Shaban's Sil. Shaban is a hugely talented and outspoken actor and he makes Sil both funny and repulsive- his laugh has to be heard to be believed! This is helped by a truly outstanding costume that is a masterpiece of design.

This story has a wholly unwarranted reputation for gratuitous violence. True, there is the acid-bath scene, which is unfairly maligned- true the Doctor makes a quip after the death of two men, but he is not actually violent. Indeed, most of the violence in the story is either implied or 'sci-fi'- the opening torture scene is, visually, a man having a light shone on his body. Colin Baker is allowed to be Doctor-ish again in this and puts in a good performance, as does Nicola Bryant in a sadly underwritten role.

Vengeance on Varos is by no means perfect, but it is the first Colin Baker story that I can easily recommend.

NEXT: The Mark of the Rani

Monday, 10 August 2009

Attack of the Cybermen

No-one really knows who actually wrote Attack of the Cybermen. Various people have claimed responsibility though, if I were them, I’d want to distance myself as much as possible from this script. As with Resurrection of the Daleks, the story presents a series of set pieces that are linked by a plot that utterly fails to work dramatically or logically and is full of badly thought out references to the programme’s past, mainly to The Tenth Planet (which is currently missing its final episode) and Tomb of the Cybermen (which was missing at the time of broadcast). However, the writers evoked the spirit of 60s Cybermen stories very well, in making the Cyber Plan torturously complex and incredibly stupid. The dialogue is, however, somewhat better than Resurrection of the Daleks and the characters more engaging, but the story has no idea what to do with them. The Doctor plays a more active role than in Resurrection of the Daleks, but not as great a role as he should.

Matthew Robinson again makes the story look very good- the robbery scenes look like they belong in an 80s heist film, Telos looks great and there is atmospheric shooting in studio sets for the sewers. However, Robinson’s direction of scenes in the TARDIS is very lazy- the cliffhanger to part one is terrible and Russell’s death is conveyed in a way that barely registers so, for a while, you think he has simply been forgotten by the writers. There is also some very impressive production design and costuming- The Cryons are excellently realised and portrayed and the sets for the Tombs, although rather different from the originals, are rather good. One aspect that I must comment upon is the violence. Doctor Who has had violent scenes the past, but there is a line that should not be crossed. The Cyber-massacre in The Five Doctors is just on the right side of the line, but the Cyberman being shot in the head in close up and the crushing of Lytton’s hands are going too far. This may appeal to the type of fan who is ashamed to be watching a kids show, but it shows a lack of artistic and perhaps moral judgement on the part of the production team.

The story is helped considerably by the guest performances. Of course, we have Maurice Colburne returning as Lytton, and he is accompanied by the inimitable Brian Glover. Michael Attwell and Jonathan David make Bates and Stratton memorable, even though they are given short shrift in the script. However, a rather large problem is the portrayal of the Cybermen. In other 80s stories, David Banks and Mark Hardy effectively portrayed various Cyberleaders and Cyberlieutenants. However, Hardy is not present here and while Banks is as good as ever, the other Cybermen lack the skill to make us believe in them as emotionless cyborgs- we see one of them on fire flailing about like Manuel from Fawlty Towers and another making ‘Legggiiit!’ gestures when Cyber Control is going to blow. There is also the return of the Cybercontroller, played again by Michael Kilgarriff, perhaps the most pointless piece of ‘homage casting’ ever. Kilgarriff does his best, but his more…mature physique is distracting.

Colin Baker is, again, treated poorly by the script, but he does manage to make the Doctor engaging and his interplay with Peri comes off well, with Nicola Bryant ably supporting. Overall, like Resurrection of the Daleks, Attack of the Cybermen is something of a varnished turd- but thankfully, the last of the Earthshock knock-offs.

NEXT: Vengeance on Varos

Saturday, 8 August 2009

The Twin Dilemma

There has, perhaps, never been a bigger nose-dive in quality in Doctor Who as occurred here. The Caves of Androzani is one of the absolute high points of the programme as a whole, so following it would always be a daunting task, even if it wasn't the début for a new Doctor. The script is not particularly good, but offends more in the execution rather than the plot. It tries to take on concepts like myth and modelling space-time events with mathematics. If Christopher Bidmead had edited the script, we might have had a far better story. Unfortunately, the story unfolds in a haphazard way, with some atrocious dialogue and poor characterisation, which only makes the central idea of slugs engineering supernovas seem even more ridiculous.

However, this is only the start of the horror. The production is not bad, in the sense of technical incompetence or poor budgeting, for what we have is reasonably convincing. However, the overall look sears the retinas with its garish, horrible colours. It is this story which really shows John Nathan Turner's limitations as a producer of a televised drama. He wanted the Doctor to have a horrible brightly coloured costume, not realising (or, perhaps more damningly, no-one telling him) that the limited colour bandwidth of videotape meant that everything else had to be garish as well- to say nothing of the fact that it detracts from the ability of both the viewer and, by connection, the fictional characters he meets, to take the Doctor seriously. The director is Peter Moffat, who, whilst reasonably good at directing actors, was never the most visually adventurous director. The score by Malcolm Clark is either tunelessly listless or aggressively flatulent. It has to be said, however, that the costumes and make-up for the Jocondans are first rate. The performances of the Conrads as the titular twins further cripple the story. As Womulus and Wemus, they manage to be both bland and hugely annoying. There are some great actors such as Dennis Chinnery, Kevin (A)R(R) McNally and Maurice Denham, but the terrible twins are placed in the foreground.

Of course, this is the first story for Colin Baker as the Doctor, and his portrayal is good throughout. Unfortunately, what he portrays is a raving, unlikeable madman for the first half of the story. It is a bad mistake to have the new Doctor criticising his previous incarnation- it has never been done before and this insufferably arrogant portrayal of the Doctor wasn't the best place to start. It was a good idea to have the Doctor be genuinely unpredictable, but the writing for this stinks. This, plus the awful costume, unfairly handicaps Baker's performance. Nicola Bryant manages to come out reasonably unscathed in this mess.

This is the worst debut story for a Doctor- at the time I remember missing Peter Davison at the start and still missing him at the end, something which hadn't happened with Logopolis/ Castrovalva. What I get from it now is a Doctor Who story that looks like it had deliberately been made to look bad. If you do watch it, your retinas, optic nerve and brain will never forgive you.

NEXT: Attack of the Cybermen

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

The Caves of Androzani

Well, I’m not going to say it’s bad, am I?

But seriously, The Caves of Androzani is one of the rare stories where absolutely everything comes together perfectly. The core is, of course, the script by Robert Holmes, which has fantastic dialogue and memorable scenes. Even the most minor character is well written. The most amazing thing about it is that it has all the quality of the best Holmes scripts of the Tom Baker era, but does not, in any way, feel like a throwback- in fact it feels like the epitome of all that was great about the JNT era. It takes the most troubling aspect of Saward scripts- the lack of attention paid to the Doctor- and subverts it brilliantly. The Doctor is only concerned with finding a cure for Peri’s spectrox toxæmia and is not overly concerned about the power struggles and corruption of Androzani Major. However, he has significant face time with all of the protagonists and it is his presence which leads to the climactic changes. I would call his presence a catalyst, but, of course, the Doctor doesn’t emerge unchanged…

However, the great script is only the beginning of this story’s greatness. This is the debut story for Graeme Harper as a director and, with due doffing of caps to the oeuvre of David Maloney and Douglas Camfield, this is the finest directorial work the programme ever saw in the 20th Century. Technically, Harper doesn’t put a foot wrong, effortlessly combining ‘modern’ techniques (hand-held, graduated zooms etc.) with ancient techniques (the slow cross-fade, which went out of fashion on the 60s). The ‘cinematography’ is first rate, with both shallow and deep field lenses being used perfectly, and the lighting is perfect, far more atmospheric and artistic than any of the glossy 80s American dramas shot on 35mm film. Other adventurous directors had attempted ambitious cinematic techniques, but came up against the limits of videotape- here, the fact that it is on video doesn’t matter.

One of the signs of a great director is the effectiveness of the cast and the guest performances are truly spectacular. Christopher Gable is masterful as the demented Sharaz Jek- a homicidal madman who is, remarkably, the most sympathetic supporting character. There is a simple, yet remarkable shot where Peri, on the verge of death, is in Jek’s power. The camera follows his hand as it goes down her body- to hold her hand to comfort her. It says so much about Jek’s character, and our perception of him in less than 5 seconds. John Normington is equally good as the vile Morgus. Morgus, brilliantly, performs asides to the camera, a bold move that could have so easily derailed the story- but in Normington and Harper’s hands, it is a masterstroke. Maurice Roëves makes Stotz far more interesting than the usual henchman- and his henchman, Krelper, is also interesting to watch. Harper’s mastery in directing actors is exemplified in the masterful ‘he knows that I know’ scenes between Morgus and the President.

Despite this embarrassment of thespian talent, there is one performance that towers over all- the final regular performance of Peter Davison as the Doctor. Nowhere before has the Doctor’s character been so thoroughly explored in the performance of the leading man- it is the best performance a leading actor has ever given in the role, perhaps the best performance by the actor playing the Doctor full-stop- the only other possible contender would not arrive till over two decades later. Davison’s excellence rubs off on Nicola Bryant, who gives one of the best ‘companion’ performances of all time. The regeneration scene is wonderful, topping the brilliant Logopolis sequence and giving the new Doctor post-regenerative lines for the first time.

There are no real flaws in the story- even the Magma Beast is actually rather good (look at the detail on the costume) and would have not been remarked on had it turned up in a lesser story. The Caves of Androzani is a triumph- there were better scripts in the Davison era (Kinda springs to mind) but few other stories succeeded on every level, certainly none to the same extent as this one. The Caves of Androzani is not only one of the best Doctor Who stories of all time, it is fair to say that no piece of telefantasy approached its level until Joss Whedon revisited a half-baked B-movie he had written.

NEXT: The Twin Dilemma

Monday, 3 August 2009

Planet of Fire

One of the problems Planet of Fire comes up against is the sheer number of things it has to incorporate on top of the story. Turlough’s origins are explained, before he is written out. Kamelion, too, makes an exit. Peri is introduced and the Master makes a comeback. The story itself is straightforward and unspectacular. The inhabitants of the highly volcanic planet Sarn worship the God Logar, but while Logar might have a mundane explanation, there is real power on Sarn, a power that the Master is keen to exploit. This is tied in with the fate of Turlough’s father, who may have crash-landed on Sarn a generation ago. As a script, Planet of Fire doesn’t do things that other stories haven’t done before. There is a religion that is based on a technological power (like in The Face of Evil). The Master has come to a planet to heal himself (The Deadly Assassin/ The Keeper of Traken). However, if the story is somewhat unoriginal, the script is competently written, if not as tight as it could be- the Numismaton gas concept could have been more securely tied in with the story, for example.

However, the story’s realisation is very impressive and Fiona Cumming puts in good work in the director’s chair. The location filming in Lanzarote is excellent, although it was, perhaps, unwise to make Lanzarote represent both itself and Sarn- the Canary Islands are a very popular tourist destination and Lanzarote’s volcanic plains are very recognisable. The studio scenes are also atmospheric and work well with the filmed segments. The presentation of the Master/Kamelion is suitably disorientating to have a real effect.

Characterisation is not the story’s strong point and most of the guest characters are forgettable. However, we have a truly outstanding performance by Peter Wyngarde as Timanov, who gives the character a real sense of dignity, despite his delusion. Nicola Bryant is instantly memorable as the sparky Peri, although her American accent is variable (the scene where she has to share dialogue with Dallas Adams must be excruciating for an American viewer!) We are also finally given an explanation for the mysteries behind Turlough’s character before he leaves. Turlough was hardly the most consistently written character, but Mark Strickson always gave an excellent performance and it is sad to see him go. The spectacular misfire that was Kamelion’s character is also written out in only his second appearance. Kamelion is effective in this story (mainly because the static robot prop is hardly used) but his removal is welcome. The Doctor isn’t as fully written as he usually is (outside Eric Saward scripts) but Davison fills in the gaps with his usual professionalism.

Planet of Fire is well made, though hardly essential, Doctor Who. In a considerable reformatting of the character dynamics, the Doctor is back to having a single companion- but more changes are to come…

NEXT: The Caves of Androzani

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Resurrection of the Daleks

Despite its success, the Peter Davison era needed a little something extra to fully validate it in viewers' eyes- an appearance by the show's most iconic adversaries. It had been five years since the last, somewhat disappointing Dalek story, which is probably why writer Eric Saward sees fit to cram as many plot points into it as possible. We have the Daleks losing a war to the Movellans, which prompts them to resurrect Davros. We have the Daleks also planning an attack on Gallifrey. We have Dalek agents, who are duplicates. We have Davros plotting secretly to gain control of the Daleks. This does read like it could be a Byzantine plot of power struggles and intrigue. Instead, what we are given is a series of set pieces that are so clumsily joined together it makes one wonder at Saward's appointment as script editor on a basic level- for example, the Doctor never meets Styles, a major character and only shares one scene with Lytton, in which they don't actually converse. The dialogue is generic and uninspired and the characterisation is so bad, that if this were a radio script, the listener would totally lose track of who was who. Most seriously, Saward gives the Doctor virtually no role in the resolution of the plot- he is carried along by events almost as much as the supporting characters.

What makes this story watchable is the realisation. Matthew Robinson creates many memorable scenes- the wonderfully shot opening sequence on the Shad Thames, the memorable first appearance of the Daleks (lovingly ripped off from Darth Vader's entrance in Star Wars), the horrific scenes of the faces of the space station crew dissolving. Even the special effects, which are not much better technically than with other stories of the era, seem better due to the direction. This, combined with effective production design make this story very nice to look at.

The guest performances contain a few standouts, most notably Maurice Colburne as Lytton, who is utterly compelling from the first moment he appears. Rula Lenska also does good work as Styles and Rodney Bewes manages to rescue his badly written, poorly thought out character. However, some of the other actors are not as successful. Jim Findley is not exactly bad as Mercer, but he is clearly out of his depth and Sneh Gupta, whilst being very good looking, lacks the chops to fully realise her character. Matthew Robinson marshals these variable talents to the best possible level, although he makes Chloe Ashcroft scream in a very feral way, for some reason and Del Henney's death scene is ridiculous. Terry Molloy makes a far better Davros than David Gooderson, although the subtlety of Michael Wisher's portrayal has largely been lost.

This is the final story for Janet Fielding. Tegan was often poorly characterised, but Fielding always managed to make Tegan interesting to watch and made her, in my opinion, one of the great companions. Her leaving scene is the only unqualified success of the story, beautifully written, acted and shot. Mark Strickson again makes Turlough shine, but it is Davison who takes the laurels again. As said before, the Doctor is treated worse in the script than any previous story, but Davison manages to make us believe that it is the character we know and love.

They say you can't polish a turd, but Resurrection of the Daleks proves that you can, at least, varnish one. It works as entertainment if you watch it once, but the more you watch it, the more the sheer incompetence of the script becomes evident.

NEXT: Planet of Fire