Nobody loves The Armageddon Factor. Ranked 204 out of 241 stories in the recent DWM poll would appear to be a fairly accurate confirmation of its low standing.
But before we turn our attention to the story, lets have a quick look and see how its rated by some other bloggers. Philip Sandifer considers that it’s “a painful squandering of good will in a way that only deepens the concern that the series has lost its way” whilst the Wife In Space called it a complete waste of time and rated it 4/10.
In his three years as producer, Graham Williams never had much luck with season finales. Season 15 was going to conclude with a story by David Weir, until it was realised that his draft scripts would have needed a Star Wars-sized budget to make them work. So Williams and script editor Anthony Read had to cobble something up at the eleventh hour. The resulting story, The Invasion of Time, was something of a shambles – not helped by a BBC strike which meant that the production lost half of its studio allocation, so they were forced to decamp to a disused hospital to record some of the interiors.
Season 17 was even worse. Douglas Adams’ Shada was also hit by a strike, but this time there was no opportunity to record the material affected by the stoppage, so the programme was never completed or transmitted. But over the last thirty years it has spawned VHS, DVD, audio and book releases – and a notoriety that the original story probably never deserved.
This leaves the last story of Season 16 – The Armageddon Factor. This was not affected by strikes or last minute rewrites, but there does seem to be something somewhat lacking. In late 70’s Doctor Who if you weren’t careful, by the end of the season you may have run out of money so your season finale would end up looking a little threadbare. This is how Armageddon looks – no location filming and rather basic sets.
But the early episodes are helped no end by John Woodvine’s appearance as The Marshall. Woodvine is a quality actor and he also has the welcome benefit of making Tom Baker raise his game. There are other examples of this – Julian Glover in City of Death for example – so casting strong actors in late 70’s Who was clearly a good way to get Tom to focus on the matter in hand.
By this time, Tom had been in the role for five years. No actor had played the part for longer, and he still had another two years to go. Given this, it’s probably not surprising that there were times when he either seemed to go through the motions or dropped in the odd outrageous ad-lib. Having said that, the commonly held view that Baker was playing the fool throughout the Graham Williams era is quite clearly untrue. There’s the odd double take and painful pun, but for most of the time he plays it straight – although not everyone else is on the same page.
For example, Davyd Harries, as Shapp, puts in various bits of business that either director Michael Hayes approved of or didn’t notice. It’s amusing enough though and does help to pass the time during some of the less interesting passages in the first half of the story.
Because apart from Harries and Woodvine, the guest cast are fairly small and not of great interest. Lalla Ward would quite soon prove to be very important both to Doctor Who and Tom Baker, but there’s very little for her to latch on with the character of Astra. And Ian Saynor has even less of a character, if that’s possible, with the irredeemably wet Merak.
That leaves William Squire as the main villain, The Shadow. Squire was a good actor, probably best known for playing Hunter in the two Thames series of Callan. But The Armageddon Factor takes the strange decision to put him in a mask and also treated his voice, thereby making him unrecognisable. The Shadow isn’t much of a part anyway, as he tends to speak only in evil-villain talk and then give the odd maniacal chuckle. It’s a long way from the best villains of the Hinchcliffe era, such as Davros, Sutekh, Harrison Chase and Magnus Greel. The Shadow seems to have no interest beyond obtaining the last segment of the Key to Time, and therefore he can’t expect to hold the audience’s interest.
The story was scripted by Bob Baker & Dave Martin, who had been writing for the series since 1971. This was their last joint story for the series and it’s probably fair to say that very few people have ever expressed any regret that they didn’t carry on writing for the show. They were not always bad, and sometimes quite good, but they tended usually to be pretty average. But a safe pair of hands then, and just what Graham Williams needed to bring The Key to Time Season to a conclusion.
This they do, although the ending in particular has always been viewed as something of a damp squib. After a season of the Doctor and Romana searching the universe for the six segments of the Key to Time, the conclusion of this epic quest is thrown away in such a perfunctory way. Script editor Anthony Read should have been able to fashion something better, but didn’t – unless the original proposal was even worse.
But having said all this, is the story totally unwatchable? No, of course not. The first half of the story is better than the second, since John Woodvine gets stuck in a time loop in episode four and has little to do from then on. We are also denied Davyd Harries’ comedy pratfalls later on, and Barry Jackson – as cockney Time Lord Drax – is no substitute. Remember me to Galifree.
Tom Baker and Mary Tamm are both still giving it their all though. It might have been a long season, but they are committed and do their best to make the most of the thin material. This was to be Tamm’s last television appearance as Romana and although she tended to be overshadowed by Lalla Ward’s portrayal of Romana II, Tamm had a good rapport with Baker throughout the Key To Time season and remained popular with fans right up until her untimely death, at the age of 62, in 2012.
Overall then, The Armageddon Factor is never going to be regarded as a great or even a good story – but there’s far, far worse out there and Tom Baker, Mary Tamm and John Woodvine all do their best to to inject some energy into it. If I had to rate it, then a solid 6/10 would seem about right.
A nice clip of Nationwide from 1980 with Lalla Ward and K9. A rare public outing for Roger Brierley as the voice of K9 (Brierley had taken over K9’s vocal duties for a year after John Leeson left the series following the conclusion of the Key to Time season).
Ranking a lowly 211 out of 241 stories in DWM’s recent poll would imply that The Creature from the Pit isn’t a favourite of many. But apart from one (admittedly large) problem it’s difficult to see why.
The positives far outweigh the negatives – the jungle scenes at Ealing give the episodes a glossy sheen, Myra Frances is a gloriously hissable villainess, Tom’s on great form, Lalla looks lovely and there’s an entertaining guest turn from Geoffrey Bayldon.
The problem? Well you can’t really avoid it. Erato is a vast, shapeless blob that is said to stretch for miles. How do you realise that on Doctor Who’s budget in 1979?
The answer is, of course, that you can’t. So Erato looks like an inflatable green bag with a rude appendage. But the scenes in the pit are nicely lit and Erato’s green glow is quite eerie, so it’s not a total write off.
Producer Graham Williams was in no doubt that the special effects department had let the programme down and after transmission made this point in an internal memo. But it’s hard to imagine how this monster could ever have been successfully created, so you do have to wonder why this was never queried at the scripting stage.
New script editor Douglas Adams wasn’t terribly experienced, but Graham Williams had been around for a while and should have twigged that a mile wide green blob was simply asking for trouble. But whatever the merits and demerits of Erato, there’s plenty to enjoy in this story, so let’s take a closer look.
Chloris is a planet rich in vegetation but low on metal. The Lady Adrasta (Myra Frances) owns the only metal mine on the planet and therefore is able to rule with a reign of terror.
But the arrival some years ago of an ambassador from the planet Tythonus has threatened her grip on the planet. Erato proposed a trade – they have plenty of surplus metal but Tythonus is extremely low in vegetation which Erato’s people need in vast quantities.
Adrasta quickly understood that if she no longer had the metal monopoly then her power would dissipate. So she arranged to banish Erato to the pit and would henceforth throw anybody who displeased her down there.
Although transmitted third, this was the first story of Season 17 to be recorded, so it was Lalla Ward’s acting debut as Romana. Her performance here is subtly different as she was still feeling out the part. There’s some nice moments from her though – particularly when she confronts the bandits in their lair.
The guest cast is uniformly solid. Myra Francis manages to be gorgeous and deadly at the same time. Eileen Way (Karela) had appeared in Doctor Who’s first story back in 1963 and is good value as Adrasta’s right hand woman.
Organon (Geoffrey Bayldon) is a hapless astronomer who falls foul of Adrasta and found himself flung into the pit. Managing to avoid being crushed by the monster he has lived a lonely existence until the Doctor turned up. Bayldon, best known for Catweazle, sparks off Tom very well and their scenes together are highly entertaining.
Also skulking around the jungle are a group of inept bandits, lead by Torvin (John Bryans). There has been some criticism of this character over the years, so the viewer will have to decide if he’s a riff on a Fagin-like character or simply a broad Jewish stereotype – “My lovely boys”.
So while Creature has its flaws, if you can ignore the glowing green bag there’s plenty of entertainment here. Unloved for decades due to its feeble dinosaurs, in recent years there seems to be more appreciation for Malcolm Hulke’s Invasion of the Dinosaurs (1974). So maybe one day the same thing will happen here and fandom will learn to stop worrying about Erato and love The Creature from the Pit.
In 2013 the six part Jon Pertwee story, The Mind of Evil, was released on DVD in colour.
Nothing surprising about that you may think, but after the original colour tapes were wiped in the mid 1970’s only black and white film prints remained. A process called chroma dot recovery, developed several years ago, was used to restore the colour embedded in episodes 2 – 6.
Episode 1 didn’t have chroma dots though and the cost of computer colourisation was far too high. Things looked bleak until Stuart Humphryes (otherwise known as Babelcolour) entered the fray.
This short video briefly explains the painstaking work that brought the first episode back to colour as well as presenting the best moments of the episode in a stylish trailer.
With The Horns of Nimon, Graham Williams’ (televised) tenure as producer ended with something of a whimper rather than the bang he intended.
Williams had budgeted two cheaper stories (Nightmare of Eden & Nimon) in order to lavish a generous amount of location filming on the season finale, Shada. But Shada was never completed due to industrial action, which was the final piece of bad luck to befall Williams on Doctor Who.
Even before this though, Williams had more than his fair share of problems to deal with. The late 1970’s was a bad time to be a Doctor Who producer – hyper inflation meant that year on year the show’s budget was shrinking, industrial action was a constant threat and Tom Baker was proving to be more of a handful than ever.
Nimon is rated 223 of out 241 stories in DWM’s 2014 poll. So it’s very much down amongst the also-rans, rubbing shoulders with similarly unloved stories such as Arc of Infinity, Warriors of the Deep and The Time Monster. But whilst nobody in their right mind would call Nimon an overlooked classic, it does have some good points which go some way to balance out the numerous production mis-steps.
On the credit side, Tom Baker is still coming up with the goods. Six years in, there’s no doubt that he’s done all of this stuff hundreds of times before but he still manages to make it seem fresh. Whatever his thoughts about poor scripts and his off-screen spats with Williams, on-screen he’s focused and giving it 100%. And he does have the odd gem, such as –
Nimon: “Later, you will be questioned, tortured and killed”
The Doctor: “Well, I hope you get it in the right order”
Lalla Ward is equally good value as Romana. Separated from the Doctor for an episode or so she effectively becomes a surrogate Doctor and manages to effortlessly carry the narrative. Forget K9 & Company, a spin-off with Lalla and K9 was a huge missed opportunity.
As for the guest cast, a mixed bag is the kindest way to describe them. Simon Gipps-Kent and Janet Ellis are really just the Babes in the Wood – and their characters are so under-written that they aren’t called on to do much acting.
Malcolm Terris is pretty poor as the Co-Pilot which is summed up by his final scene as he faces the wrath of the Nimon and his trousers fail to take the strain. Elsewhere on Skonnos, Sorak (Michael Osborne) and Soldeed (Graham Crowden) are an odd couple, to put it mildly.
Osborne plays it dead straight, which is all the more impressive when you consider his costume. Crowden, on the other hand, gives a performance that is on another planet to everybody else – even managing the impressive feat of making Tom look like an actor of great restraint.
Much has been written about Crowden’s turn as Soldeed and it’s the sort of performance that you either love or hate. Frankly, I love it as Nimon is the wrong story for too much naturalistic acting. But as some people have never liked Doctor Who to be fun it’s no surprise that many either don’t get the joke or consider it to be out of place.
But amongst the under-acting, over-acting and no-acting, there is one perfectly pitched performance – John Bailey as Sezom. Bailey had previously appeared as the doomed Waterfield in The Evil of the Daleks (1967) and there’s a similar vibe to this character. It’s only a small part, but Bailey is excellent and it’s one of the highlights of the story.
As for the Nimon, oh dear. The Williams era is notable for a run of underwhelming monsters (immediately prior to this viewers would have been reeling from the glowing green bag that was Erato and the less-than-terrifying Mandrels) so the Nimon are pretty much business as usual. And as soon as the first one stumbles onto screen in his platform heels you know it isn’t going to end well.
The Horns of Nimon was the end of an era in many ways. When the series returned it would feel quite different with a much more serious tone to proceedings. But everything is cyclical and there would eventually be heirs to Crowdens throne (Paul Darrow in Timelash for example).
But for the moment, Nimon is the last gasp for this kind of goofy Doctor Who. Full of faults yes, but anything with Tom Baker, Lalla Ward and Graham Crowden can’t be all bad.
Change was most definitely in the air during the 18th season of Doctor Who. A new producer (John Nathan-Turner) and a new script-editor (Christopher H. Bidmead) were firmly in place, whilst an experienced old hand (Barry Letts) kept a watching brief as executive producer.
Those who have been around Doctor Who fandom for a long period will probably recall the time when S18 was highly rated. This was at exactly the same time that some of fandom intensely disliked S17.
The viewpoint at the time seemed to be –
Season 17 = Silly = Bad
Season 18 = Serious = Good
But as S17 came back into fashion this seemed to dent S18’s popularity a little. It was now seen by some as a little po-faced and science obsessed compared to the free-wheeling S17.
For me, both seasons have their merits and demerits and the dividing line between them can get a little blurred. Meglos, for example, could easily fit in to S17, whilst The Leisure Hive had originally been commissioned for S17.
By the time we get to Full Circle, the third transmitted story, we are seeing more of the pure vision of Bidmead though. Without a doubt this season, for good or bad, was created in his image. He once estimated that he wrote about 70% of S18 and Full Circle is a story that he had a great input into, as he considerably reworked Andrew Smith’s original scripts.
It doesn’t all work (there are some holes in the logic) but there’s a fine performance from Baker, particularly in episode three, and confident direction from Peter Grimwade which carries the story along.
Bidmead is quite a divisive figure. The DVDs have allowed him the space to clearly state his vision of what he believed Doctor Who should be – a series rooted in scientific fact and definitely not drawing on popular books or films to pastiche. One can only wonder how he would have got on with Robert Holmes, although we can probably guess by the somewhat strained relationship he had with Terrance Dicks, who didn’t care for his rewrites on State of Decay.
Bidmead’s extensive input across the season does mean that there’s a thematic unity unusual in Doctor Who at the time. The first six stories all portray civilisations that for one reason or another are stagnating.
The Argolins are sterile, Tigella is a planet held back by the superstitious nature of the Deons, the Three Who Rule have deliberately devolved the development of their planet, the Tharils once enslaved others but now they find themselves enslaved while the inhabitants of the Traken Union live in harmony for as long as the Keeper lives.
In the final story, the Logopolitans have been attempting to stave off the heat death of the universe by attempting to maintain stasis. But as the Doctor observes, entropy increases, and like the other stories of the season, change is inevitable.
In Full Circle, the Alzarians seek to deny the course of evolution by sealing themselves in the Starliner until the danger they believe exists has passed. Theirs is truly a stagnant society – with ineffectual leaders, the ironically named Deciders, who are unable to make any decisions except to maintain an existence based on continual procrastination.
Production-wise, this is an impressive Doctor Who directing debut from Peter Grimwade. The early episodes benefit from a generous amount of location filming and the location, Black Park, looks gorgeous in the sunshine. It looks so good that it’s surprising it wasn’t used more often in Doctor Who.
The production was fortunate to shoot in sunshine, which enhanced the shots, but there was also clearly some thought given about how to depict an alien landscape. Grimwade used coloured lamps from just off-screen to bathe parts of the landscape in an unearthly glow. It’s a simple trick, but effective.
Full Circle was, of course, the first transmitted story featuring Adric. In production terms Matthew Waterhouse had already recorded State of Decay, but as can be seen he’s still somewhat uncertain in the role.
Given his lack of acting experience this isn’t a surprise – although a more actor-friendly director may have helped to refine his performance. But anecdotal evidence suggests that Grimwade wasn’t an actors director, so Waterhouse had to make his own way.
He’s not noticeably worse than the rest of the Outlers though, who all have a whiff of the stage school about them. They’re fairly unrewarding parts but Richard Willis (Varsh), Bernard Padden (Tylos) and June Page (Keara) do the best they can. Although maybe it’s indicative of one re-write too many when Keara becomes suddenly intensely curious about everything in the last episode – possibly her lines were originally intended for Romana or Adric.
We’re on much firmer ground with the Deciders – James Bree (Nefred), Alan Rowe (Garif) and George Baker (Login). Bree had previously given a strange performance in The War Games, where every line was drawn out to the nth degree, but he’s far, far, better here. Bree plays it like many a politician or manager promoted way above their ability – he is able to project a calm outward exterior whilst having no original or helpful ideas of his own.
Alan Rowe, a familiar face from his guest appearance in Horror of Fang Rock a few years earlier, is equally indecisive as Garif. As previously mentioned, the title of Deciders is obviously intentionally ironic, but both of them are lucky to have a new Decider who knows his own mind in the form of George Baker.
Episode one establishes the planet and the mystery of the negative co-ordinates before ending on the emergence of the Marshmen. As monsters incapable of speaking, for a large part of the story the Marshmen are simply used as figures to menace the Alzarians. But the Marshchild shows that they are intelligent, reasoning creatures who have a closer relationship to the inhabitants of the Starliner than at first thought.
Episode two is where the story begins to kick into gear as the Doctor meets the Deciders and can begin to understand exactly what is happening on the planet.
In episode three the Marshchild dies and enough groundwork has been laid to ensure that we don’t regard it as just another monsters death. The Doctor’s link with the creature means he reacts with a fury that hasn’t been seen for a few years (since the conclusion of The Pirate Planet). It’s a wonderfully acted scene from Tom Baker.
DOCTOR: You Deciders allowed this to happen.
GARIF: The marsh creatures are mindless brutes. Animals!
DOCTOR: Yes. Easy enough to destroy. Have you ever tried creating one?
NEFRED: We were within our rights.
GARIF: One might argue that Dexeter was overzealous.
DOCTOR: Not an alibi, Deciders! You three are supposed to be leaders.
GARIF: Certainly we are. Though, of course, Nefred is, er, is now First Decider.
DOCTOR: Then Nefred is responsible.
NEFRED: For the community, yes.
DOCTOR: No, no! Perhaps they haven’t let you in on the secret, Login. Shall I tell him, gentlemen?
DOCTOR: Yes! And the fraud of perpetual movement. The endless tasks going round and round. The same old components being removed and replaced.
We haven’t yet discussed the other regulars. Lalla Ward gets an episode or so where she’s possessed by the Marshman. Although Sarah-Jane Smith used to get taken over on a regular basis it’s not something that has happened before to Romana, so it has a little more impact. Poor K9 finds himself decapitated half way through, which is a clear sign that his days are numbered.
The eventual solution to the mystery in episode four is something that may have been clearer in early drafts. The notion that the Marshman boarded the Starliner when it first landed, killed the occupants and then gradually evolved into the Alzarians is possibly not too explicit in the dialogue – so anybody watching for the first time might have missed this important plot twist.
And if the Starliner has been on the planet for 40,000 generations, how many generations passed until the Marshmen evolved into the humanoids we see today? It surely couldn’t have taken all of that time, so why have the Marshmen not been able, until now, to board the Starliner again?
Minor quibbles apart, this is a solid story. Attractive location filming, a decent monster, a great performance from Tom and some solid actors for him to react to all help to lift this above the norm. It’s only ranked 143rd out of the 241 stories in DWM’s 2014 poll and deserves to be higher (but then what has poor Meglos done to be ranked 231 out of 241? It’s not perfect but anything with Bill Fraser and Freddie Treves can’t be all bad, can it?)
After a slightly shaky start with The Leisure Hive and Meglos, S18 really started to gain momentum with Full Circle. And there was even better to come.
In retrospect, State of Decay by Terrance Dicks looks totally out of place in S18. As already touched upon in my article on Full Circle, new script editor Christopher H. Bidmead was a man who wanted the Doctor Who stories he commissioned to have a strong scientific basis. If there’s one thing he disliked it was scripts which paid homage to/ripped off other films, books or television programmes.
Therefore it’s no surprise to learn that Bidmead didn’t commission the story, instead it was new producer John Nathan-Turner, who whilst leafing through a pile of unmade stories found a submission entitled The Vampire Mutations from a few years earlier.
So Bidmead and Dicks couldn’t have been further apart in their understanding of what made good Doctor Who. Dicks always shared the opinion of his friend Malcolm Hulke who once said that in order to write good science fiction you need: “a good original idea. It doesn’t have to be your original idea.”
Doctor Who had been borrowing from other sources for a long time, for example other Tom Baker scripts by Terrance Dicks include Robot (King Kong) and The Brain of Morbius (Frankenstein). Indeed, the only surprising thing about State of Decay is that Doctor Who hadn’t tackled a vampire story before.
Despite Bidmead’s misgivings (and he did attempt to crowbar some of his ideas into the story, much to Dicks’ chagrin) the story went into production. And if it wasn’t clear from the script that this was Doctor Who meets Dracula then the design and costume should have made it explicit.
To be honest, there’s no logical reason why the inhabitants of the Hydrax should have chosen to dress like they’ve just walked off the set of a Hammer film, just as there’s no logical reason why Morbius, one of the greatest scientists in the galaxy, should choose to live in a castle that looked just like Baron Frankenstein’s castle instead of working and living in a modern laboratory.
But it does work in a visual sense, so sometimes you have to accept that style has to win out over content.
If Terrance Dicks was unabashed about borrowing from other sources to create his story, then it’s fair to say that his other writing traits are also present and correct here.
For Dicks, the Doctor should always be central to the action. Other stories in S18, particularly the forthcoming Warrior’s Gate, depicted the Doctor as a passive figure, not much more than an observer who does little to resolve matters. This certainly isn’t the case in State of Decay where the Doctor has the lions share of the plot.
Terrance Dicks was also well-known for his opinion that the companion existed to get into trouble and be rescued by the Doctor. He has two here – Romana and Adric – to fulfill that function. Romana does seem a little underwritten by Dicks, for example when she’s held captive in the final episode there’s not much spark. It’s tempting to suppose that he wasn’t really writing for Romana – possibly more for a generic companion along the lines of Jo or Sarah.
The peasants aren’t particularly well drawn and they tend to conform to fairly common stereotypes – the weary head man of the village, the hotheaded rebel, etc.
The Three Who Rule are more fun though – particularly Aukon (Emrys James). James was an actor of some distinction, a former RSC player, and although he can’t resist laying on the ham it was probably difficult not to.
Zargo (William Lindsay) and Camilla (Rachel Davies) underplay a little more and are very effective. Particularly when Zargo confesses to Camilla that he is afraid. A small character beat, but quite a revealing one.
Although the Three Who Rule hold the majority of the villagers in a grip of fear, there are still a few who rebel. When the Doctor meets them in their base he is shocked to discover how far their society has regressed –
KALMAR: Some of us could still read. It’s forbidden, but the knowledge was passed on in secret.
DOCTOR: What? Reading forbidden?
KALMAR: All science, all knowledge is forbidden by the Lords. The penalty for knowledge is death.
ROMANA: No schools of any kind?
KALMAR: Children start in the fields as soon as they can walk, stay there till they grow up, grow old and die.
In 1979, John Pilger, David Munro and Eric Piper traveled to Cambodia in the immediate aftermath of the overthrow of Pol Pot. What they found there was shared with the world, first in a special issue of the Daily Mirror and later in an ITV documentary, Year Zero: The Silent Death of Cambodia. Their discoveries were pretty much the same as the events described by Kalmar and this would have been clearly understood by the audience at the time. Doctor Who rarely commented on real-world events, so this is an interesting reference.
As previously mentioned, Tom Baker is in his element here. He has some wonderful material to play with, such as this –
DOCTOR: Do you know, it just occurs to me. There are vampire legends on almost every inhabited planet.
DOCTOR: Yes. Creatures that stalk in the night and feast on the blood of the living. Creatures that fear sunlight and running water and certain herbs. Creatures that are so strong they can only be killed by beheading, or a stake through the heart.
ROMANA: Or? Please, say something.
DOCTOR: Whatever it is, we want to find it, don’t we?
DOCTOR: Good. Come on then.
The only downside to the story is the reveal of the Great Vampire, which is something of a disappointment. It would have been better to leave him to the viewer’s imagination as the brief glimpse seen in the last episode fails to convince in every possible way.
This is only a minor niggle though and the Doctor’s solution to find a stake big enough to kill the Great Vampire is pretty ingenious.
With Tom Baker’s time on Doctor Who drawing to a close it was a nice touch to have a story that harked back to the Hammer Horror style of his early years. This probably wasn’t intentional though, as it seems that the script was pressed into service because stories were urgently needed.
But whatever the reason it was made, State of Decay is an effective tale from the pen of one of its longest-serving contributors. It’s not brimming over with originality, but sometimes you just need to borrow – and if you do so then borrow from the best.
If the previous story, State of Decay, could be said to depict Doctor Who at its most traditional, then Warriors’ Gate is certainly a trip into the unknown.
The inexperience of key members of the creative team is definitely a reason for this – as they didn’t necessarily know the rules then they didn’t realise when they broke them. For some, particularly director Paul Joyce, it was a bruising experience as he came up against inflexible BBC bureaucracy.
Script editor Christopher H. Bidmead was keen to get new writers onto the show and Steve Gallagher seemed to fit the bill. Gallagher had plenty of ideas but had no experience in television script-writing, but he had previously written radio plays and also had just seen his first novel published.
Bidmead was later to comment that Gallagher’s draft scripts did read like a novel, as they included many unnecessary descriptive passages. Bidmead, with some input from Joyce, set about the task of distilling Gallagher’s scripts into something workable. Along the way he included some ideas and concepts of his own, such as the I Ching.
Whilst Steve Gallagher was initially aghast at the treatment of his scripts he was later to appreciate the reasons for Bidmead’s ruthless rewrites and he would be better prepared when he came to write Terminus a few years later.
Like Gallagher, Paul Joyce was also very inexperienced in television terms, with only a single Play for Today on his cv. Joyce had hoped to direct this story in a filmic style but the reality was that this simply wasn’t achievable at this point in Doctor Who’s history.
Joyce’s preferred way of working was to shoot scenes a couple of times and then assemble everything in post-production. But as the recording time for each story was strictly limited this caused numerous delays and was very unpopular with the BBC technical staff.
Each Doctor Who story was allocated a number of studio sessions and all the material for the story had to be completed within that timescale. At the end of the recording day the sets would be removed as the next day another production or programme would need the space.
Overruns were extremely costly – at 10pm the lights went out whether everything had been completed or not – and even worse was the prospect of a remount, where another studio would have to be booked and the sets reassembled.
After day one, the production was behind schedule and it began to slip further behind as each day progressed. Joyce was sacked briefly and then re-instated and whilst everything was eventually completed there’s no doubt that tensions ran high throughout all the studio days. It’s worth reproducing this excerpt from the BBC Technical Manager’s report for the studio session which ran from the 24th – 26th of September 1980 –
The director lacks a working understanding of the methods used to make programmes in BBC television studios. His shooting ratio must be near the 10:1 level of a feature film production. He expects a 360 degree panorama to be continually available to the ‘hand held’ camera and the lighting and sound problems are endless.
If the BBC is really interested in quality and economy, no Technical Operations crew should be subjected to such self-indulgent incompetence.
It’s therefore no surprise to learn that Paul Joyce was never asked to direct another Doctor Who and it could be that this experience was one of the reasons why producer John Nathan-Turner tended to favour the likes of Peter Moffatt and Ron Jones in the future. They could best be described as “journeymen” directors and he could guarantee that they’d get the show made on time and on budget. Indeed, there wouldn’t be another Doctor Who story directed with such flair as this one until Graeme Harper helmed The Caves of Androzani in 1984.
But for all the production problems we are left with a story that is visually very arresting and although Joyce still bemoans that the final product is comprised, enough remains to mark this out as something very different.
The opening tracking shot, which takes us through the spaceship and up to the bridge, is a clear statement of intent. The hand-held camera work gives the shots a fluidity of movement which would have been impossible with the traditional rostrum cameras.
Whilst not all of Steve Gallagher’s concept and story made it to the screen he was very clear that Cocteau’s Orphee and Testament d’Orphee would be key texts that needed to be understood in order to visualise the story. Joyce certainly took this on board and the production design reflects these influences, for example in the stylised black and white deception of the world on the other side of the Gateway.
Joyce was able to recruit some quality actors, including Clifford Rose as Rorvik (best known at this time for Secret Army) and Kenneth Cope as Packard (a familiar face from Randall & Hopkirk). Rose likened Rorvik to Captain Mainwaring in Dad’s Army since he was the leader of a group of men who are less than competent and are never quite able to follow his orders out. By the end of the story, Rorvik has lost his grip on reality completely as seen in his final moments as he prepares to blast the Gateway, killing himself and all his crew in the process.
Given the denseness of the original script, it’s possibly not surprising that it doesn’t all make sense. Some sections are particularly inexplicable – the cliff-hanger ending to episode three looks wonderful as a horde of Gundan Robots attack the Doctor and the Tharils in the banqueting hall, but how only the Doctor manages to move in time from the past to the present isn’t clear at all.
Elsewhere, the answers are there, just buried deep in the text as this excerpt from episode two demonstrates –
GUNDAN: There were always slaves from the beginning of time. The masters descended out of the air riding the winds and took men as their prize, growing powerful on their stolen labours and their looted skills.
DOCTOR: Yes, well, look, look, I’m sure this is frightfully interesting. Could you get back on to the bit about the gateway, please?
GUNDAN: The masters created an empire, drained the life of the ordinary world.
DOCTOR: Your ordinary world. I’m from N-space.
GUNDAN: They came from the gateway.
DOCTOR: Ah ha.
GUNDAN: There are three physical gateways and the three are one.
GUNDAN: The whole of this domain, the ancient arch, the mirrors.
DOCTOR: The thing is, it’s not actually a physical gateway that I’m looking for.
GUNDAN: All the gateways are one.
DOCTOR: Ah. So it is here. The way out.
It later becomes clear that the Tharils were the enslavers that the Gundans spoke of and now ironically they find themselves enslaved by the likes of Rorvik. With the help of a Time Lord then can travel through E-Space releasing the Tharils held captive on other planets.
Although as it’s often been assumed that Rorvik and his crew came from N-Space and only ended up at the Gateway (the dividing line between N-Space and E-Space) by accident, who are holding the Tharils in captivity in the rest of E-Space?
Although sidelined a little, Tom Baker does have some nice moments, particularly when he faces off against Rorvik. This story is, of course, notable for featuring the departures of Romana and K9 Mk 2. It’s quite a hurried farewell (not quite as bad as Leela maybe, but close) but had Baker or Ward wanted to add anything they probably could have, so they must have been happy with it at the time.
Rorvik’s suicidal attempt to break free has destroyed his ship (and inexplicably freed the imprisoned Tharils and also sent the Doctor and Adric back into N-Space). But back in the old home universe, this Doctors days are looking distinctly numbered ….
Although some may view The Keeper of Traken as simply a prelude to Logopolis and the confrontation between the Doctor and the Master, there’s enough of interest in Johnny Byrne’s story to ensure it’s a good yarn in its own right.
Like the majority of S18, Traken was subject to a heavy re-write by Christopher H. Bidmead (and I do like the theory that later script editor Eric Saward was unaware of this and wondered why Byrne’s subsequent stories lacked the quality of this one).
One notable amendment was the revelation that Melkur was actually the Master, although this doesn’t really affect the story too much as it’s only discovered at the end of the story. Indeed, if you view Traken as a Master story then you could come away disastisifed, despite Geoffrey Beever’s brief but impressive turn.
But taking the story on its own merits and not worrying about how it fits into wider Doctor Who continuity, what we have is a tale that seems to hark back to the Hartnell era. The Doctor and Adric’s early encounter with the Keeper paints an idyllic picture of a whole series of planets free from war and hatred –
KEEPER: I fear that our beloved world of Traken faces disaster.
ADRIC: Universal harmony, you said.
KEEPER: The Doctor does not exaggerate. Since the time of the Keepers, our Union has been the most harmonious the universe has ever seen. Does the boy not know of this?
DOCTOR: Oh, he’s not local. E-space, wasn’t it?
KEEPER: How vain one can be. I thought the whole universe knew the history of our little empire.
DOCTOR: Yes. They say the atmosphere there was so full of goodness that evil just shriveled up and died. Maybe that’s why I never went there.
KEEPER: Rumour does not exaggerate, Doctor.
We’ve been here before, as this seems like how the Conscience Machine operated in The Keys of Marinus. Presumably the Source Manipulator works in a similar way and it’s impossible not to conclude that it must somehow sap the will as a complete lack of anger or aggression doesn’t seem at all natural.
In Marinus the Doctor concluded that human beings weren’t meant to be controlled by machines but there’s no such statement here as by the end of the story Luvic (from an increasingly short-list of possibilities) steps into the breach to maintain the status quo.
If the story has a feel of the Hartnell era, then the Shakespearean-style production design could be another nod to this. We don’t quite have characters speaking in iambic pentameter, as in The Crusade, but it’s close.
Production-wise, Traken is a studio-bound world that looks somewhat artificial and theatrical although it’s possible to argue that this is intentional as maybe they were attempting to replicate the look of the then current BBC cycle of Shakespeare productions.
Margot Van der Burgh (from The Aztecs) is another link back to the Hartnell era and she, like the rest of the cast, plays it dead straight – there’s no S17 goofing around here. Sheila Ruskin as the doomed Kassia is very good as is Anthony Ainley as Tremas. His performances as the Master can best be described as variable, but he’s restrained and subtle as Tremas.
Sarah Sutton gives an acceptable performance as Nyssa, although you’d be hard pressed to predict that she’s automatic companion material, as plenty of one-off characters in the past have had much more potential. But there was clearly something in the scientific nature of Nyssa that caught the attention of both Bidmead and JNT. A pity, then, that incoming script editor Eric Saward would have much less interest in developing scientific themes, hence Nyssa would have a reduced role to play, particularly once Tegan was installed in the TARDIS.
As the Doctor and Adric leave Traken all seems well, but a final confrontation awaits the Doctor in a cold and lonely place …
And so after seven long years it all came to an end on a set cobbled together from leftover pieces from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Top of the Pops.
Tom Baker still casts a long shadow over Doctor Who – he was voted No 1 in the DWM 2014 poll which is a fair indication that his support amongst older fans remains secure whilst many younger ones have also succumbed to his charms. If there’s one certainly, it’s that in five or ten years time Matt Smith will have slipped from the No 2 position but Tom Baker seems indomitable at No 1, ready to outsit eternity you might say.
Is Logopolis a good story to bow out on? Yes, pretty much. It’s by no means perfect, but it does give Tom some good moments whilst also moving into place the line-up that would accompany Peter Davison through S19.
Introduced in this story is Tegan (Janet Fielding). An unwilling traveler at first, to put it mildly, Tegan would take several stories (probably until Kinda) before she really settled in. In Logopolis, this may be partly be because she’s much more broadly Australian than later on, when her accent is notably toned down, or it could be that from Kinda onwards she was simply a better written character.
Like Adric and Nyssa, Tegan joins the Doctor after a close relative is murdered – coincidence or a definite story plan, I wonder?
Both Nyssa and Tegan have lost loved ones at the hands of the Master who makes a full appearance here, in the guise of Anthony Ainley, following his brief appearance at the end of The Keeper of Traken.
Christopher H. Bidmead seemed to hold the opinion that the Delgado Master simply wasn’t evil enough, so the Ainley Master has notably less charm than the Delgado incarnation. But this does seem to fundamentally misunderstand the role of the Master during the Pertwee era.
Whether by accident or design, Pertwee’s Doctor largely ended up as a moral, rather humourless figure, so Delgado’s Master was allowed to have all the charm and wit that the Third Doctor rarely showed. Remove this aspect from the Master and there’s little left. But the Doctor and the Master do enjoy a little byplay in Logopolis, such as this scene –
MASTER: The Pharos computer room.
DOCTOR: Yes. I envy you your TARDIS, Master.
MASTER: Excellent, Doctor. Envy is the beginning of all true greatness.
(A technician returns to the room. The Master points a device at him. The Doctor snatches it away.)
MASTER: It’s the lightspeed overdrive, Doctor. You’ll need that to accelerate the signal from the transmitter.
DOCTOR: I’m so sorry. I thought you meant to shoot him.
MASTER: Oh, Doctor. You can explain.
DOCTOR: Ahem. Good morning. Good evening.
(The Doctor notices the Master now has a weapon in his hand and drags the technician’s chair aside before the Master can fire)
DOCTOR: He’s unconscious.
MASTER: Never mind. I feel we’ve been spared a very difficult conversation.
The return of the Master wasn’t the only link to the Pertwee era. Possibly it was the influence of Barry Letts as executive producer that saw several lifts from Third Doctor stories (the radio telescope as seen in Terror of the Autons and the Master’s TARDIS inside the Doctor’s TARDIS from The Time Monster).
Barry Letts was also on hand to read the scripts and offer his advice, although often it wasn’t taken. He wasn’t happy, for example, with the Master’s line that although Tremas was dead his body remained useful, feeling that the concept of an animated corpse was rather disturbing. He also queried the rather large plot hole concerning the lash-up job that the Doctor and the Master made at the Pharos Project to save the Universe.
What would happen to the Universe, asked Letts, if the Pharos Project switched it off? This is quietly forgotten at the end of the story and the impact of the imminent death of the Universe is rather swept under the carpet.
Letts also disliked the concept of the Master broadcasting his threats to the entire Universe. How, he reasoned, could they respond? Still, he wasn’t alone in pointing out how idiotic that was!
But whilst the script does feel somewhat bitty in places, there is a definite sense of impending doom as the Doctor finds himself shadowed at every turn by the Watcher. And despite the end taking place in a hastily cobbled together set made from bits and pieces from other programmes, it’s a sequence that still (particularly for those of a certain age) resonates today.
Doctor Who would go on, but Tom Baker would be a very hard act to follow.
As soon as Peter Davison had been announced as the Doctor there was speculation as to how he would play the part. JNT believed that he had cast a “personality” actor, similar to Jon Pertwee or Tom Baker, so assumed that Davison would effortlessly inject his own persona into his portrayal.
Davison was less sure that he was that sort of actor and so went back to the tapes to study his predecessors. Castrovalva has some obvious nods to past Doctors (particularly in the first episode) but going forward what Davison seemed to mostly draw upon were elements from the Hartnell and Troughton incarnations.
Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker’s Doctors tended to automatically dominate proceedings, whereas Hartnell and Troughton might stay a little more in the background before emerging with the solution. Davison’s Doctor would also, like Troughton’s, be happy to play the fool in order to lull people into a false sense of security.
If elements of his portrayal harked back to Hartnell and Troughton, then having three companions was another link back to the 1960’s. However this worked better then than it did in 1982, for several reasons.
Firstly, as the 1960’s series ran virtually all year round, a larger regular cast helped to fill the gaps when one of the lead actors took a holiday. The stories also tended to be longer, therefore there were more opportunities to split the narrative between the Doctor and his companions.
But possibly the most obvious reason why the dynamic of the Doctor/Ian/Barbara/Susan worked so well was down to how each character operated within the structure of the series as it was during S1. To put it somewhat crudely, the Doctor provided the scientific know-how, Ian provided the practical know-how, Barbara was the moral centre and Susan screamed and needed rescuing.
Somewhat of a rough generalisation, but in essence that was how things worked. The S1 Doctor was mostly motivated by a desire to return to the safety of the TARDIS and if he helped anybody along the way it was often incidental. It was Barbara and sometimes Ian who most often tried to help others (or interfere as the Doctor would say, in The Aztecs for example).
Over time the Doctor would take over the characteristics of Ian and Barbara, so that by the early 1970’s the Doctor only needed a single companion – to ask questions, scream and be rescued (again, to put things slightly crudely).
The problem of the overcrowded TARDIS was obviously picked up during the scripting of S19, so in Castrovalva Adric takes a back seat which allows Nyssa and Tegan to take the lions share of the action. Nyssa then sits out Kinda so that Adric and Tegan can enjoy a more substantial role in proceedings.
Christopher H. Bidmead obviously loved the concept of the TARDIS and the first episode and a half are set within the ship. During this time we see flashes of the Doctor-to-be from Davison and Nyssa and Tegan’s friendship starts to develop.
Whilst the Doctor is weak and vulnerable for much of the story, particularly in the opening couple of episodes, there’s enough signs to demonstrate that Davison already has a good grasp on the part (although this story was actually recorded fourth). His character wouldn’t really emerge until the end of episode four, but it’s a confident enough performance.
Unlike Patrick Troughton or Tom Baker, Davison could never take a so-so script and turn in a performance that would help you to ignore the average material. But give him a good script and a well written character (Frontios, Androzani) and he would deliver the goods.
Once the TARDIS crew enter Castrovalva then the story really begins to motor. There are fine performances from Frank Wylie (Ruther), Michael Sheard (Mergrave) and Derek Waring (Shardovan) and the dialogue has a pleasing, lyrical nature. It’s maybe a shame that they didn’t pitch up here an episode earlier.
Michael Sheard was always such a dependable performer, both in Doctor Who and in general, and there’s a typically good performance from him in this story as Mergrave. This is complimented by Frank Wylie and together they make a nice double-act.
Most interesting of all is Derek Waring as Shardovan. There’s a clear sense of misdirection at play here as everything is directed to make the audience believe that he’s the villain (he’s dressed in black for example whilst the Portreeve is dressed in white) but he turns out to be a man struggling with the concepts of reality and illusion.
As for the Master, Anthony Ainley has a bit of a sticky wicket. In the first few episodes he’s stuck in a cupboard and forced to share numerous two-handed scenes with Matthew Waterhouse – a difficult task for any actor. He then gets to indulge in a bit of dressing up as the Portreeve. The Master’s love of disguises would reach a peak in The King’s Demons, for which I find it difficult to find adequate words to describe the full majesty of his performance. Once I reach that story I promise to try though!
He’s more restrained as the Portreeve, but it still begs the question as to whether it was designed to fool the audience or the Doctor and his friends. It’s hard to imagine that the audience wouldn’t have failed to notice it was Ainley dressed up, so let’s be generous and assume that the Doctor didn’t twig because of his post-regenerative state and the atmosphere of Castrovalva affected Nyssa and Tegan’s senses.
Apart from the Master’s dressing up games, it has to be said that this is one of the most bizarre and convoluted schemes he’s ever been responsible for. It’s therefore possible to posit that somewhere between The Deadly Assassin and The Keeper of Traken the Master went completely, totally, mad. This would explain the incredibly over-elaborate plan he’s concocted here.
Somehow he knew that the Doctor would die in Logopolis, knocked up a duplicate Adric with block transfer computation, switched him for the real one, got the faux Adric to programme the TARDIS to fly back to Event-One, and if that failed to destroy the ship then the TARDIS would journey onto the non-existant Castrovalva, as well as inputing information about the planet in the TARDIS data-bank. Faux-Adric only flicks a few buttons on the TARDIS console, but it’s enough to do all this. Clever, that!
Then the Master creates a whole world, down to the smallest details, in order for what exactly? His great plan seems to consist of nothing more than a wish to prise open the zero cabinet so he can take one last look at the Doctor before killing him. Couldn’t he have just killed him on Earth? It would have saved a lot of bother.
Ainley’s performance when the Master is attempting to open the zero cabinet with a poker is a little embarrassing, although maybe that was what they were aiming for, as it clearly shows the Master’s grip on reality has gone completely. But the final shot of the Master, as he’s pulled back in the city by the Castrovalvans, is very well done – it has a suitably nightmarish quality.
Overall then, Castrovalva is a decent opening story for Peter Davison with some good guest performances. It wraps up the plot threads from S18 and allows a fresh start for the further adventures of the new Doctor and his young group of companions.
I like Four To Doomsday. It’s by no means perfect, but there’s plenty of good things that balance out the elements that work less well. Let’s start by looking at some of the positives.
Stratford Johns as Monarch. I’ve written here about how much I enjoyed the first series of Softly Softly: Task Force, and one of the major strengths of that series was Stratford Johns’ performance. So if you ever fancy seeing what he looks like when he’s isn’t dressed like a frog then the DVD is well worth getting.
Although encumbered by the make-up, Johns is still able to bring a real personality to Monarch. At times charming, but also able to change to murderous rage in an instant, it’s a lovely guest performance.
Tony Burrough’s sets. Whilst Four To Doomsday wasn’t the first story to feature sets with ceilings, there was a real novelty to this at the time, as it allows what otherwise would be fairly static and dull corridor scenes to be lit much more interestingly. And all of the sets look pleasingly solid, there’s no S17 wobbling sets here.
Philip Locke as Bigon. The ending to episode two may lack a little, effects wise, but his final line as he holds up the printed circuit that contains his personality and reason is still compelling.
Roger Limb’s score. It’s a shame that there wasn’t an isolated soundtrack on the DVD (and the fact that there was an iso track for his frankly awful Terminus score demonstrates that there’s no justice in the world).
Peter Davison. This was Davison’s first recorded story, but you wouldn’t know that from his performance. Some have claimed that he plays the Doctor somewhat differently here, but I can’t really see it. He’s totally confident and able to hold his own against the scene-stealing Stratford Johns.
So. that’s the good, what about the bad?
Adric and Tegan. Both aren’t at all well served by the script. It was a feature of his stories that Adric would sometimes pretend to side with the baddies (State of Decay, Castrovalva) but here he swallows Monarch’s claim that he’s the saviour of humanity hook, line and sinker even though he knows that Nyssa is in danger. Any way you try to rationalise it, this is an amazing display of gullibility that does the character no favours at all.
This was only Janet Fielding’s second recorded story and whilst much better was just around the corner (Kinda), here (particularly in episode three when Tegan hysterically tries to take off in the TARDIS) she’s not given much in the script to latch onto and therefore doesn’t come over very well.
Terence Dudley’s script is a mixture of the good and bad. The basic plot doesn’t make a great deal of sense. It’s hard to imagine that the likes of Lin Futu and Bigon would be able to persuade the peoples of Earth that Monarch means them no harm, but for what other reason has he taken them onboard? Also, Bigon tells us that he can’t rebel due to his programming, but Lin Futu is able to replace Bigon’s personality chip (surely a rebellious act?) and then Bigon is quite capable, like the other leaders, to happily incite rebellion.
In my post on Castrovalva I mentioned how there was an air of the Hartnell era about that story and this is certainly also present in Four To Doomsday. Terence Dudley had directed a S18 Story (Meglos) but if you’d told me that prior to that he hadn’t watched the series since about 1965 I would have believed you.
It’s very possible to imagine the first TARDIS crew stepping into Monarch’s ship and expressing amazement at the technological wonders contained within. Whilst 1960’s Doctor Who sometimes had a pessimistic view of science (The Daleks, Planet of Giants, etc) in general there was a fairly positive vibe that scientific progress was a good thing. But as the early 1970’s dawned this was replaced with a more consistantly downbeat tone (Colony in Space, The Mutants, The Green Death, etc).
And just as in Marco Polo, where everybody settles down for a story from Ping Cho, here we see the action stop in both episodes two and four whilst a whole host of different cultures entertain us. This does help to slow down the pace of episode two to an almost glacial level, but like most of Four To Doomsday there’s something strangely compelling about the whole mise en scène.
And that’s much like the whole of Four To Doomsday. As I said at the start, it’s got problems (particularly in the characterisations of Adric and Tegan) but there’s an earnest charm about it that has always appealed to me.
Like Warriors’ Gate, Kinda was written by someone new to television and required a substantial rewrite before it was of broadcast standard. And while Christopher Bailey, like Steve Gallagher before him, had a very clear vision of what he wanted to achieve, there had to be a comprise between his original story concept and what script editors Christopher H. Bidmead and Eric Saward required from him in order to produce a Doctor Who story.
Bailey approached the Doctor Who production office in 1980 with a story outline entitled The Kinda. The inspiration for The Kinda was derived from Ursula K. Le Guin‘s 1976 novel The Word for World Is Forest.
Le Guin’s novel is set several hundred years in the future and concerns a human colony which has been established on the planet Athshe. Athshe is an unspoilt paradise which the humans regard as rich for exploitation. The Athsheans appear to be docile and primitive and have a culture based on “dream-time” in which they share their thoughts.
Although Kinda does superficially resemble this brief outline, Le Guin’s novel develops in quite a different way as some of the humans, particularly Captain Davidson, enslave large portions of the Athsheans and his cruelty eventually results in a revolt from the Athsheans with a considerable loss of life.
In Kinda nobody dies (except Panna, and as her knowledge and experience were passed over to Karuna, it’s debatable if we can regard this as a “death”). The disappearance of three of the expedition party (Roberts and two others) prior to the TARDIS crew arriving is more of a mystery and is never explained. Hindle (Simon Rouse) does, like Davidson in Le Guin’s novel, enslave some of the natives and poses a considerable threat to them, but unlike Davidson, Hindle is redeemed.
Christopher H. Bidmead was very impressed with The Kinda. For him, it was exactly the sort of intelligent science fiction he was always striving to find. Bailey was commissioned to provide a full story breakdown in summer 1980. He was briefed to include two companions (as this was before Nyssa was added to the crew) and as Tom Baker hadn’t yet decided to quit, it was written with the fourth Doctor in mind.
Bidmead found plenty of interest in the story breakdown but was well aware that a great deal of work needed to be done in order to turn it into a Doctor Who story. One major problem was that it lacked any villains – instead the conflicts came from the various choices and temptations faced by the characters. One of Bidmead’s first recommendations to Bailey was to make the Mara much more of a tangible, corporeal presence.
Although rehearsal scripts had been delivered by August 1980, it was clear that it wouldn’t be ready in time to form part of S18, so it was deferred until S19. By this time Tom Baker had been replaced by Peter Davison and a third companion, Nyssa, had been added to the mix. And by early 1981, Eric Saward was now in the script editors chair and he continued to work with Bailey on the scripts.
One early decision made by Saward was not to ask for the scripts to be rewritten in order to include Nyssa. It was felt that her absence would benefit the story as it would allow the other characters more room for development.
Thanks to Bidmead’s input, episodes one and two were in a workable shape but episodes three and four still required a substantial amount of work. For example, Saward would later comment that he always had a great deal of difficulty in getting Bailey to understand the importance of including a strong cliff-hanger at the end of each episode.
Saward’s major contribution to the script was the ending, where the Mara is drawn from the body of Aris and banished from Deva Loka forever. Bailey understood in the end that dramatically the serial needed such a conclusion, originally he had written something much more low-key.
Eventually, filmable scripts were delivered and John Nathan-Turner assigned Peter Grimwade to direct. Although they were later to have a spectacular falling out, at the time Grimwade was one JNT’s favourite directors. He had already directed Full Circle and Logopolis and would direct Earthshock towards the end of S19. Grimwade would also pen three stories for Davison’s Doctor – Time-Flight, Mawdryn Undead and Planet of Fire.
Grimwade was able to assemble an impressive cast, headed by Richard Todd. Todd had been one of the major stars of British cinema during the 1950’s (probably best known for The Dam Busters) but the decline of the film industry in the 1960’s meant he had spent more time acting on the stage during the 1970’s and by the early 1980’s he had also instructed his agent to look for interesting television roles.
Nerys Hughes was a familiar television face, thanks to her ten-year stint on The Liver Birds. Following the end of that series she had found other television work harder to come by, so this was a welcome role for her to re-establish her profile.
Mary Morris had had an extensive career in film, stage and television. For fans of British telefantasy though, she was probably best known for her roles in A For Andromeda and The Prisoner.
Simon Rouse was still a number of years away from his defining role as DCI Meadows in The Bill, but he was in good company in Kinda, as several other Sun Hill regulars such as Jeffrey Stewart (Dukkha) and Graham Cole (member of the Kinda tribe) were also present.
The decision was made to shoot the entire story in the studio. Although this meant that the forest would occasionally look a little stagey it worked quite well, although there were some problems. Early on it became clear that the movement of the TSS machine and the cameras caused the covering of leaves to be swept away and revealed the studio floor underneath. For later days, more leaves were brought in, but the floor can still be seen at various times during the story.
Story-wise, Kinda is interesting in that there are two main plot-threads (Hindle’s madness and the Mara crossing over in to the real world via Tegan/Aris) which run totally independently of each other. Both of the plot-threads offer the same possibility of destroying the Kinda and starting again the wheel of life as described by Panna in episode three.
As episode one begins, we see Adric and Nyssa playing draughts outside the TARDIS. The fact that Adric is easily able to beat her is a clear indication that she is not herself. The Doctor rigs up a delta wave augmenter in order to allow her to have 48 hours worth of uninterrupted sleep whilst the Doctor, Adric and Tegan explore their new surroundings.
As happens so often in Doctor Who, the three are very quickly separated. The Doctor and Adric end up at the Dome whilst Tegan sleeps alone under the wind chimes. One intriguing aspect of the story is how events are repeated. For example, when Tegan enters the dreamscape she encounters two old people playing chess which mirrors the same scene between Adric and Nyssa. Are the people in Tegan’s dream her subconscious representations of Adric and Nyssa?
As Tegan is offered a way out of her nightmare by Dukkha (which like many of the names in Kinda has a Buddhist translation, this one means suffering or anxiety) the Doctor and Adric meet the survivors of the survey team. They seem to be all quite recognisable archetypes – Sanders is the uptight leader and a stickler for discipline, Hindle is the rigid security officer who probably believes he should be in charge and Todd is the scientist with probably the best grasp on the reality of the situation. Two of these three will change dramatically during the course of the story.
Sanders decides to solve the mystery of his three missing team members and ventures into the forest. There he meets Panna (wisdom) and Karuna (compassion) who offers him the Box of Jhana (meditation).
The properties of the Box of Jhana do seem to change during the story. At this point it’s designed to send a message to the humans in order to bring them to the cave so that Panna can explain about the wheel of life and why they must leave Deva Loka.
The only problem with this is that the Box of Jhana can only be opened safely by a woman. Since five of the six members of the survey team were probably male, this is a bit awkward. Why Panna couldn’t visit the Dome and leave a more straightforward message is a plot-hole that is never explained.
When Sanders opens the box he regresses to childhood, although this is only temporary. Eventually he re-emerges as a whole and better-adjusted person than he seemed to have been at the start of the story. Hindle becomes dangerously psychotic so that when he looks into the box it resets the balance of his mind. The Doctor concludes that the Box of Jhana is a Kinda healing device, which is somewhat different from the start of the story when it was designed to send a message. Perhaps it does both at the same time?
Tegan is still trapped in her dreaming and agrees to let the Mara (the personification of unwholesome impulses) take over her body. Janet Fielding’s three previous broadcast stories had all been somewhat problematic for her character and Kinda is the first time that she’s been allowed to really act. But given that this is seen as a Tegan-centric story, it’s a little surprising that she doesn’t have all that much screen time.
All of her key scenes are in the first two episodes, although if you added up all the sequences in the dreamscape then they wouldn’t run for too long. Her re-emergence into Deva Loka, now possessed by the Mara, is another stand-out moment (but again it’s a fairly short scene). She’s then pretty much absent for episode three and only rejoins the narrative in the last episode. But this is definitely a story where quality outweighs quantity and what she does is certainly memorable.
Matthew Waterhouse has more screen time and spends a large amount of the middle part of the story sharing three-handed scenes with Richard Todd and Simon Rouse. The story of Waterhouse offering the vastly experienced Richard Todd tips on acting is legendary, but Waterhouse doesn’t fare too badly against these two quality actors.
At the start of the story we know perfectly well what sort of character Sanders is. We’ve seen his type in countless films, books and television programmes before (indeed, his name is a direct lift from the British empire yarn Sanders of the River). So his return to the Dome as a wide-eyed childish innocent is a major jolt.
By far the most difficult role in the story is portrayed by Simon Rouse. Doctor Who has portrayed mad and unbalanced people before, but none quite like this. It’s a tour-de-force performance.
Eventually the Box of Jhana is delivered to somebody that can understand the message and Dr Todd and the Doctor venture out to find Panna. With Tegan isolated for much of the story and Adric teamed up with Sanders and Hindle this leaves the Doctor and Todd together.
Nerys Hughes worked very well with Davison, indeed she could have made a very interesting companion. There’s certainly more of a connection between the two of them than there has been between the Doctor and Adric, Nyssa and Tegan in his first few stories.
The Kinda, like many of the civilisations seen in S18, exist in a form of stasis. Panna explains to Aris, the Doctor and Todd why the presence of the Dome and the Mara threatens the Kinda’s idyllic existence –
PANNA: Please. What are you going to do?
ARIS: We shall destroy the dome. The Not-we must be killed. This is our duty.
PANNA: You fool, you blind male fool. Do you think it ends there?
ARIS: We shall be free.
PANNA: Of course not. It doesn’t end there. That is how it all begins again, with a killing. It doesn’t end. That ends as it has always done, in chaos and despair. It ends as it begins, in the darkness. Is that what you all want?
DOCTOR: Did you see the design on his arm?
TODD: What design?
PANNA: The sign of the snake.
DOCTOR: Yes, that’s right.
PANNA: It is the mark of the Mara, the evil ones.
TODD: Doctor, I really think we should …
DOCTOR: What do you know of the Mara?
PANNA: It is the Mara who now turn the wheel. It is the Mara who dance to the music of our despair. Our suffering is the Mara’s delight, our madness the Mara’s meat and drink. And now he has returned.
The Mara (in the body of Aris) doesn’t, it has to be said, seem to pose much of a threat. The Kinda lack any weapons and Aris’ decision to build his own TSS Machine (from wood) might work symbolically but is no match for the real machine even when piloted by the inexperienced Adric.
Hindle is a much more immediate threat, but luckily he opens the Box of Jhana just in time, which solves that problem. This only leaves the job of extracting the Mara from Aris and banishing it from Deva Loka.
With the help of the Kinda, the Doctor traps the Mara within a circle of mirrors. As he says: “No Mara can bear the sight of its own reflection. It must recoil from itself. Understandably, don’t you think, given it’s nature.”
The plan works, although for some the sight of the puppet snake is a major problem. Luckily there is now a CGI snake option for those that object to the original.
After its initial transmission in 1982, Doctor Who fandom was split over the merits of this story. Let’s look at some of the differing opinions.
“Kinda was by far the most mind-taxing story of the season, [but] despite the complex nature of the story I thoroughly enjoyed watching it — every moment was brilliant.”
(Michael Emmerson, Views, News and Reviews)
“The one feature cursed by all and sundry though was that wretched snake. With its balance of good and bad scenes Kinda was good, but not, like so much of this season, excellent.”
“I felt Kinda was an exceptionally good story, but it lacked something. I regret having to put it last in the DWAS poll, but the other stories far surpassed normal standards.”
(Tim Westerman, Laseron Probe)
“Kinda was one of the most visually striking stories since the Hinchcliffe era. Television is a visual art, but it is a rare treat to see work of such high artistic quality.”
(Simon Lydiard, Skaro)
The 2014 DWM poll ranked it at number 63 out of 241 stories, which is fairly respectable. It probably should be higher, since for me it’s an exceptional story that manages to transcend the limitations of the studio environment to produce a story of some depth. It’s certainly a story that repays multiple rewatches in order to discover the various different layers of meaning contained within.
Although Antony Root was only attached to the Doctor Who production office for a few months as a temporary script editor, he made one important decision that would shape the course of the series for several years to come.
One of the scripts Root worked on was The Visitation, by a writer new to Doctor Who – Eric Saward. Root was impressed with the script and when John Nathan-Turner asked him if had any ideas about who would be a good permanent script editor, Root suggested Saward.
Eventually the JNT/Saward partnership would implode in spectacular fashion when Saward quit the series in 1986 (during production of The Trial of a Time Lord) taking his script for the final episode with him. I’m sure we’ll come back to the troubles between the two of them in future posts, but for now let’s take a look at Saward’s debut script.
By his own admission, he hadn’t followed the series very closely for some years, so The Visitation does feel like a little bit of a throwback to a previous era. It bears some resemblance to the likes of The Time Warrior and The Masque of Mandragora, both of which featured aliens interfering in Earth’s history. The Time Warrior is the closest fit, since that story was also concerned with a stranded alien using human labour to achieve his goals.
I’ve previously touched upon the difficulties in writing for three companions. So far this season, Castrovalva put Adric In the background and Nyssa only made a token appearance in Kinda. All four regulars appear throughout The Visitation and after the opening sequence Saward only features two other main speaking parts (Richard Mace and the Terileptil leader) which does help matters.
But even this doesn’t hide the fact that Adric is very much surplus to requirements. After escaping from the Manor House in episode three, he spends part of the episode hanging around the TARDIS with Nyssa before deciding to go and look for the Doctor. He quickly gets captured by the villagers and is taken away (very slowly it has to be said). Eventually he escapes and makes his way back to the TARDIS. Therefore in the course of an episode or so, he’s done very little of consequence. But a solution to the overcrowded TARDIS was just around the corner.
Nyssa’s sub-plot (building a device to destroy the Terileptil’s android) isn’t terribly interesting but it does give her something to do. That leaves Tegan, who is closest to the action during the story. But it’s clear that Saward is most interested in his own creation, Richard Mace,
It’s a feature of Saward’s scripts that they often feature characters (such as Lytton or Orcini) that you sometimes feel he would be happier writing about, without that pesky Doctor always getting in the way. Richard Mace is the first example of this, as he gets many of the best lines. And like Kinda, Peter Davison benefits by linking up with a guest actor for a good part of the story (Nerys Hughes in Kinda and Michael Robbins here).
If the majority of the story is quite traditional, with few surprises, then the opening is a little different. We’re introduced to the inhabitants of the Manor House, who we assume will feature in the story, but after this scene we never see them again and their fate is only confirmed during episode three. They’ve been disposed of by the Terileptil leader (played by Michael Melia).
Given the heavy mask, Melia’s performance isn’t particularly subtle and it’s a shame that his voice wasn’t treated – since he sounds like a man speaking through a heavy mask. But although the design of the costume is a little crude, it does have some nice animatronic touches, such as an impressive curling lip.
The Terileptil’s plan to wipe out all of humanity does recall Tom’s line from Terror of the Zygons when he queries whether the Earth isn’t just a bit too big for only six Zygons (and there’s only three Terileptils!).
Overall then, The Visitation is a good story with a strong guest performance by Michael Robbins. If it feels a little insubstantial then that’s probably due to the small number of main characters. The villagers never tend to say much apart from “kill the strangers” which means that we don’t have a great deal of perspective about the world outside the Manor House. But it’s a decent enough story midway through a solid season.
Black Orchid is a fairly simple tale, but there are some plot flaws, particularly in episode two, which impact the story.
It was the first two-parter since The Sontaran Experiment in 1975 and there are times when it’s easy to see why this wasn’t a regular format for the show. On occassions a little more time would have worked to the benefit of the story such as in the opening sequence, when we see in quick succession a man being murdered, somebody who looks like Nyssa sleeping whilst a mysterious man spies upon her and then we see someone tied up on a bed.
It’s the same person – George Cranleigh – who killed the man, spied upon the girl and is tied up on the bed, but although there’s a cross-fade between the second and third sequence this isn’t particularly obvious. A little more time spent on the opening could have made this much clearer.
The TARDIS has landed in the 1920’s where, thanks to a case of mistaken identity, the Doctor takes part in a local charity cricket match (he is, of course, an expert at the game) and is later invited, along with his companions, to a party at Cranleigh Hall.
Sarah Sutton gets the chance to play two parts, as well as Nyssa she’s also Ann Talbot (who is engaged to Lord Cranleigh). The split-screen shots work very well, although some of the sequences when her double is also in the frame are less convincing.
The party is quite a sight. It was recorded in October and as might be expected the weather wasn’t terribly kind. There’s strong wind in virtually every scene and they clearly had some rain as well, but they do their best to convince us it’s a glorious summers day.
The mysterious man in the attic Is a very tidy chap. After taking the Doctor’s fancy dress costume, killing a servant and carrying off Ann, he then returns the costume to the Doctor’s room. This is so the Doctor can then put it on and be misidentified by Ann as the murderer.
With the Doctor suspected of murder and taken off to the police station, things look bleak. Ideally it would have been good for the Doctor to prove his innocence by uncovering some clues, but instead he shows the TARDIS to the police, which does the trick. This is a rather lazy piece of writing and indeed the whole trip to the police station is a little unnecessary, it would have been better if everyone had stayed at Cranleigh Hall until the truth was uncovered.
Eventually the identity of the mysterious man in the attic is revealed to be George, the elder brother of Lord Cranleigh. George Cranleigh had been engaged to Ann before his disappearance some years previously and he carries off Nyssa in a case of mistaken identity. There then follows a rather odd sequence. George Cranleigh has started a fire and has taken Nyssa to the roof. The Doctor and Adric run up the stairs but decide it’s too hot to follow them.
Everybody goes outside, then the Doctor goes back inside and does follow them this time (what had changed?). He also makes the point that Nyssa’s life would be in danger if George realised the girl wasn’t Ann. So what’s the first thing he does when he confronts George? Tells him that the girl isn’t Ann! Poor George, who didn’t seem to have had much of a life, then plummets to his death, so that this particular family secret is brought to a conclusion.
Black Orchid has some very decent guest actors (Barbara Murray, Moray Watson, Michael Cochrane) and it chugs along nicely, but the flaws in the plot are a bit of a problem. If you want an expanded take on the story then Terence Dudley’s novelisation (available as an audiobook read by Michael Cochrane) does help to fill in the background and make the story feel more coherent.
Time has maybe not been too kind to Earthshock. In 1982 it was a clear fan favourite, voted as the best of the year in every story poll. But over the years its popularity has dipped a little, possibly because when you take away the impact of the Cybermen’s return the rest of the story does seem to be a little hollow.
The Cybermen’s last appearance was in Revenge of the Cybermen some seven years earlier. In 1981, Cyber co-creator Gerry Davis submitted a story outline on spec entitled Genesis of the Cybermen. There isn’t any evidence to suggest that the story was ever seriously considered for production, or that the submission was even acknowledged, which upset Davis.
Speaking a few years later, he expressed dismay at his treatment: “I’ve had one in mind for a long time which is a Genesis of the Cybermen story and I’d love to do it. But every time I turn around and go back to America I find Nathan-Turner’s commissioned another Cyber-script and I’m not even invited to do it. It wasn’t very pleasant to be snubbed like that.”
When Christopher Priest’s script The Enemy Within proved to be unworkable, this left a hole in the S19 schedule that was ultimately filled with a new Cybermen adventure. Eric Saward was keen to write the story and although the script-editor wasn’t generally allowed to commission themselves, a solution was found. Anthony Root, who had briefly worked as script editor earlier in the season, was credited as Earthshock’s script editor although there’s no evidence that he actually did any work on it.
The first episode or so is set in some very nicely lit studio caves and concerns what we later learn to be a bomb, guarded by two androids, who have been programmed to kill anybody who gets too close.
The bomb has been planted by the Cybermen who intend to use it to destroy the Earth. They aren’t too disappointed when the Doctor deactivates it though, as they have a back-up plan (a rather impressive back-up plan it has to be said, almost as if they knew the bomb wouldn’t work).
This transports the Doctor and his friends to a deep space freighter where they encounter a rum bunch of characters. Ringway (Alec Sabin) is a traitor who has sold out to the Cybermen and is cursed with poor dialogue, such as: “I’m tired of your snide remarks and bullying ways”. Given this, it’s not surprising that the character never comes alive, but he’s not the only one.
Scott (James Warwick) is a bluff, gruff soldier who is drawn pretty broadly. Warwick chooses to intone each line with such deadly earnest that the performance often teeters on the edge of parody.
And then there’s Beryl Reid as Briggs. Doctor Who has often cast against type, many times with great success (Russell Hunter in Robots of Death and Nicholas Parsons in The Curse of Fenric, for example). Reid is a little more of a stretch but she’s not too bad, even if she sometimes seems to be a little lost.
There’s no denying the impact that the return of the Cybermen had in 1982, but this is about all the story has going for it. The plot is a little wooly at times (something Saward could often be guilty of). Perhaps the best example of this is when the freighter starts to travel backwards in time in episode four. How is this possible? Anything’s possible, says Adric, when you have an alien machine overriding your computer. Hmm, okay.
There’s certainly a place for this type of story in Doctor Who. The Caves of Androzani managed to combine a high level of action/adventure but also had rich chacterisation. Earthshock has the action, but the characters simply don’t engage.
The story did make the brave move of killing off a companion, as Adric dies in a futile attempt to stop the freighter crashing into the Earth. This is another shock in the story, but like a whodunnit when you know the identity of the murderer, the shocks lessen when the story is watched again, so that ultimately Earthshock feels somewhat less than the sum of its parts.
Time-Flight is a bit of a mess. What it lacks in terms of budget and visuals it also lacks script-wise, so that we’re left with a pretty disappointing season finale.
It starts promisingly enough with episode one, which features Doctor Who’s most expensive ever product placement – Concorde. The location filming at Heathrow and the use of a real Concorde certainly adds a certain something.
The wheels fall off in episode two though. The prehistoric location doesn’t look great, mainly because it features incredibly obvious painted backdrops.
And just when you think things couldn’t get any worse, Kalid is revealed to be …. the Master! I’ve already written about the Ainley Master’s propensity for dressing up, in my post on Castrovalva but at least there was some logic to his cosplay in that story, since he was expecting the Doctor to turn up.
Here, there’s no such excuse, so why on earth did the Master decide to dress as an Oriental magician? Wisely, the script doesn’t dwell on this, presumably hoping that the audience won’t dwell on it either.
After escaping from Castrovalva, the Master found himself trapped on prehistoric Earth. By a remarkable coincidence, at exactly the same time the Xeraphin also become stranded in exactly the same place. The Master attempts to tap the power of the Xeraphin, but finds them difficult to control since they’re a gestalt intelligence whose good and evil sides balance each other out.
The Xeraphin are the most interesting part of the story, but they’re rather underdeveloped. Dropping the Master from the story would have allowed more time to feature them, but as it is we don’t really care about them since they’re painted so sketchily.
This is probably the least involving of all the stories featuring Ainley’s Master, but much better was to come over the next few years. For all its faults, The King’s Demons has a good explanation for the Master’s “small time villainy” and Planet of Fire is a story that is certainly lifted by Ainley’s performance.
If the visuals are sometimes disappointing and the script doesn’t really engage, then it’s just as well that the actors manage to make something out of pretty much nothing. By now the regulars are working well together and the loss of Adric has only served to give both Tegan and Nyssa more to do. After some dodgy performances earlier in the season, Fielding and Sutton have established a good partnership and they both have a good rapport with Davison’s Doctor.
The guest cast have their moments too. Richard Easton (Captain Stapley), Keith Drinkel (Flight Engineer Scobie) and Michael Cashman (First Officer Bilton) all seem to be enjoying themselves. None of the parts are that interesting, but all three actors help to give the story a much needed lift.
The main guest star was Nigel Stock as Professor Hayter. Stock had been a familiar face on British television and film for several decades (he was probably best known for playing Dr Watson alongside Douglas Wilmer and Peter Cushing in the BBC’s 1960’s adaptations of the Sherlock Holmes stories) and he brings a touch of class to the story. Professor Hayter, like the rest of the parts in the story, wasn’t a very rounded character but Stock does his best with what he’s been given.
Time-Flight ends on a cliff-hanger as Tegan’s left behind at Heathrow. Will she ever see the Doctor again? I guess we’ll have to wait until the next story to find out.
If you don’t fancy watching Time-Flight (or if you have and need cheering up) then this fab video by Farmageddon (aka Michael J. Dinsdale) should be just what, ahem, the Doctor ordered.
Doctor Who celebrated its 20th anniversary in 1983, so it’s quite understandable that it would have been dipping heavily into past continuity. Arc of Infinity is a case in point – we return to Gallifrey and the Doctor is menaced again by Omega, who last encountered the Doctor ten years earlier.
Quite how many people had been eagerly awaiting a rematch between the Doctor and Omega for all those years is debatable. True, The Three Doctors had been repeated in 1981, so Omega wouldn’t have been totally unfamiliar to its current audience, but he’s maybe not the most obvious baddy to bring back.
The return to Gallifrey promised much, but alas it’s not very impressive. I think their over-reliance on soft furnishings is the problem. Obviously, Time Lords need to sit down (although it’s difficult to imagine the Time Lords from The War Games ever relaxing in a comfy chair) but Gallifrey should be a little more imposing.
We meet another Borusa, but Leonard Sachs doesn’t match the performances of either Angus Mackay or John Arnatt. It’s not Sachs’ fault – he was a fine actor, but his timing and delivery (due to age) was just a little off.
Much better was Michael Gough as Hedin. The story tries to halfheartedly hide the identity of the traitor helping Omega, but it’s so obviously Hedin that you wonder why they bothered. Perhaps Gough would have made a better Borusa and Sachs could have played Hedin?
Colin Baker (and his impressive helmet) makes his Doctor Who debut here. You’d be hard pressed, watching this story, to predict that he’d be playing the Doctor in a year or so, obviously he must have been much more entertaining off-screen, since Maxil is a fairly thankless role.
With Tegan apparently absent, this leaves more of a chance to develop the relationship between the Doctor and Nyssa. Peter Davison has never made any secret of the fact that he would have been happy with Nyssa as his sole companion – and in the early part of this story you can see how that would have worked.
Tegan’s about though, and she follows her cousin by getting nobbled by Omega’s pet Ergon. The Ergon looks silly in the publicity stills and even sillier when moving. The fight between the Doctor and the Ergon in episode four is fairly jaw-dropping.
Stephen Thorne didn’t return to play Omega, instead it was Ian Collier. Although I have a lot of respect for Thorne (and his audiobook reading of The Myth Makers should be in everyone’s collection) his Doctor Who villains did tend to SHOUT a lot, so I’ve got no problem with Collier’s more restrained performance.
That’s once you’ve got over the mental Image that it’s Stuart Hyde inside Omega’s costume.
So we have the return of an old enemy and we’re back on Gallifrey, but the story just feels rather dull and uninteresting. It’s not really bad, just a little bland. As I’ve said, there’s no mystery about the identity of the traitor and although the Doctor’s been sentenced to death, it’s very hard to make this work in story terms. It’s incredibly obvious that the Doctor isn’t going to die, so even when he’s apparently executed we know he’s alright really.
There’s the prospect of overseas location filming to give the story a lift though and I love the initial shot, mainly for the fact that we hear an organ playing “Tulips from Amsterdam” in the background, just in case we didn’t twig where we were!
Amsterdam is heavily featured in the final episode when the Doctor and his friends pursue Omega through the streets. There’s some nice touches here, particularly when Omega is seen enjoying the sights and sounds of the city.
Hedin was certain that Omega only wanted to return to our universe so he could live in peace. The Doctor believes that Omega is mad and would threaten Gallifrey, but who is right? As the Doctor destroys Omega it’s hard not to feel sorry for him. There should have been another way.
Solid, but unspectacular, there’s nothing particularly wrong with this story but nothing that noteworthy either. Much better was just around the corner though.
Although Kinda had somewhat bemused Doctor Who fandom in 1982, it was popular with both the general audience and the Doctor Who production team, so a sequel always seemed likely.
Script Editor Eric Saward was also keen for another story featuring the Mara, as it would provide Janet Fielding with another meaty role. Saward had quickly grown to appreciate Fielding’s performance as Tegan and when interviewed by DWB in the mid 1980’s he felt that the series would have been stronger if Davison’s Doctor had only had Tegan as a single travelling companion: “If we’d just had Janet and Peter the contrast would have been excellent — critical, curious, tenacious — all the element I think make a strong and insightful companion against a weaker, much more vulnerable Doctor. Tegan was the best companion not just because of good writing, but because of Janet Fielding’s skill as an actress. Her performances in Christopher Bailey’s scripts confirmed that.”
Whilst Snakedance resembles a traditional Doctor Who story much more than Kinda did, it’s still quite unusual. Unless you count the Mara at the end of episode four, nobody dies and whilst the plot does develop in a linear way there’s still a considerable amount of time to debate the nature of evil. As with Kinda, Bailey’s Buddhist beliefs are very much to the fore.
And like Kinda, Bailey would select the names of several characters from various languages. For example, Tanha is a Buddhist term that means “thirst” and Chela is derived from a Hindu word meaning “slave” or “servant”.
Snakedance is also quite similar to Kinda in that whilst Janet Fielding does get the chance to shine, she’s also off-screen for quite some time (particularly in episode three). This gives a welcome chance for Sarah Sutton to enjoy more of the limelight. As with Arc of Infinity, Nyssa spends the majority of the story with the Doctor and there’s a very interesting, slightly bickering relationship, that develops. Nyssa was the most underwritten companion of S19 and it’s only a pity that finally she’s beginning to show more promise just when her days are numbered.
Peter Davision is wonderful in this story. For me it’s one of his three best performances as the Doctor, along with Frontios and The Caves of Androzani. From the opening scene, he seems to have much more of a sense of urgency than in recent stories, as he pushes Tegan hard (too hard for Nyssa’s liking) to remember her dreams. Later, he spends much of episode three locked up, firstly by himself and later with Nyssa. And whilst some of the other Doctors would be pacing up and down and desperately trying to find a way out, there’s a lovely sense of calm about Davison in these scenes – he doesn’t seem to be doing much, but that’s the mark of a good actor.
It’s also noteworthy that he spends most of the story unable to make people believe that he’s anything but a raving madman, since in most Doctor Who stories the Doctor tends to get welcomed into the fold fairly quickly (Kinda is a good example of this, whilst Frontier In Space is, like Snakedance, a relative rarity where we see the Doctor as an outsider for the majority of the yarn).
A key man that the Doctor needs to convince is Ambril (John Carson). But although Ambril is an expert in antiquities, he has little time for the Doctor’s doom-mongering, but the Doctor probably doesn’t help his cause in the following, wonderful, scene –
(A ceremonial helmet with a crest of five faces is on a display stand.)
AMBRIL: Now take this, for example. It dates from the middle Sumaran era and unusually is mentioned quite specifically in the Legend. Oh, there can be no doubt. The reference is to the Six Faces of Delusion. Now count. One, two, three, four, five. You will observe there are five faces, not six as the Legend would have it. Now, my point is this. I do find it quite extraordinarily difficult to take seriously a Legend that cannot even count accurately. Of course, artistically speaking, it’s an entirely different matter. The piece is exquisite. An undoubted masterpiece.
DOCTOR: What is it?
AMBRIL: Hmm? Head-dress.
DOCTOR: Try it on.
DOCTOR: Try it on.
AMBRIL: Certainly not. Whatever for?
DOCTOR: Please. I want to show you something, then I’ll go and leave you in peace.
AMBRIL: Very well.
(Ambril puts on the headdress.)
DOCTOR: Now, count the faces again.
AMBRIL: Do as he says.
CHELA: One, two, three, four, five.
DOCTOR: And one makes six. The sixth Face of Delusion is the wearer’s own. That was probably the idea, don’t you think?
AMBRIL: Get out! Go on, get out!
John Carson’s performance is beautifully judged and must rank as one of the best Doctor Who guest-star performances. There were plenty of bigger names that guest-starred in Doctor Who, but few were as good as Carson. He’s a major reason why this story works so well.
The rest of the cast are equally good though. Snakedance has a fairly small group of characters, which helps to ensure that all of them have room for some decent scenes. Colette O’Neil is perfect as Tahna, the bored wife of the Federator, forced to listen to endless tedious speeches by Ambril about the history of Manussa. Although Martin Clunes’ performance does tend to crop up on “before they were famous” type series, he’s fine as Lon, the bored son of the Federator. Jonathon Morris gives a fresh-faced vigor to the role of Chela and Brian Miller (Mr Elisabeth Sladen) has a lovely turn as the showman, Dugdale.
Which leaves Preston Lockwood as Dojjen. He doesn’t have much to say (at least not out loud) but he’s in one of Snakedance’s key scenes as the Doctor submits to a snake bite in order to discover how he can destroy the Mara. And unlike many Doctor Who stories, the Mara can’t be destroyed with a gun or an explosion, something quite different needs to be done –
DOJJEN: No, look into my eyes. You have come this far. You must not now give in to fear. Look.
DOCTOR: It’s the poison. The effect of the poison.
DOJJEN: Fear is the only poison.
DOCTOR: Fear is.
DOJJEN: Ask your question.
DOCTOR: How, how can, I must save Tegan. It was my fault, so how, how can. Destroyed. How can the Mara? It was my fault.
DOJJEN: Steady your mind. Attach to nothing. Let go of your fear.
DOCTOR: What is the Snake Dance?
DOJJEN: This is, here and now. The dance goes on. It is all the dance, everywhere and always. So, find the still point. Only then can the Mara be defeated.
DOCTOR: The still point? The point of safety? A place in the chamber somewhere. Where?
DOJJEN: No, the still point is within yourself, nowhere else. To destroy the Mara you must find the still point.
This excerpt helps to highlight that Snakedance is something unusual. For those who prefer monsters and explosions it might seem a little tame, but I’d take this over the empty heroics of Earthshock any day. If one were being picky, then you could say that Manussa is not the most convincing of planets – it looks incredibly stagey (the entrance to the cave for example, is very artificial). In the end though, I don’t really think this matters, as it’s the script and characters that are important and not the visuals.
It’s a great shame that Christopher Bailey never wrote for the series again, but at least we have Kinda and Snakedance. Not only two of the best Doctor Who stories of the 1980’s, but two of the best Doctor Who stories, period.