I’m giddily excited about having my second letter published in Doctor Who Magazine, a mere 29 years after my first. Admittedly I’ve only ever written them two letters, so I’ve no-one to blame for such a gap but myself.
Writing the letter did bring home to me just how different Doctor Who fandom was in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Although like today, there’s plenty of debate, rumours and liberal helpings of positivity and negativity, it was done at a completely different pace.
There was no internet, so debates tended to be carried out in the pages of the numerous fanzines of the time. And since many of them had an irregular publication schedule (those that ever returned for a second issue) any discussions tended to last months, a far cry from today when a single internet post can gain numerous replies almost instantly. There was also DWM of course, published every month, and also DWB (in many ways the anti-DWM, and certainly in its early years a must-read, even if you had to take much of its news content with a pinch of salt).
The phantom Cartmel rumour was only one of a range of strange theories and heated debates that raged in fandom during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. In retrospect, this was the golden age of Doctor Who fanzines. Two things would help to kill the Doctor Who fanzine off – firstly the rise of the internet and secondly Gary Gillatt’s editorship of Doctor Who Magazine. Gillatt wasn’t the first fan to edit DWM, but by recruiting writers who had cut their teeth on various ‘zines, he helped to make the magazine feel very much connected to fandom and the ‘zine culture. This didn’t please everyone – some found it too insular and the in-jokes must have been baffling to newcomers – but for me, the Gillatt era of DWM is still my favourite.
There could be mileage in rooting around my old collection of ‘zines and penning a few articles on what I find. The popularity of eras, Doctors, writers and producers has certainly waxed and waned over the years (the Pertwee era was particularly unloved by a small, but vocal, minority in the early 1990’s for example) and taking a look at how the fans perceived both the series and themselves back then could be of interest.
There’s several notable things about Mawdryn Undead (such as the return of the Black Guardian and the introduction of Turlough) but let’s be honest – for most of us it’s all about The Brig.
Nicholas Courtney holds a unique place in Doctor Who history. No other actor played the same character opposite six of the first seven television Doctors and there would be several post-Battlefield appearances as well. Such as Dimensions in Time (oh dear), Downtime (quite good really) and a last hurrah opposite Elisabeth Sladen in The Sarah Jane Adventures.
Before we move on to look at Mawdryn Undead, I would heartily recommend the audiobook of his memoirs, A Soldier In Time, produced by Big Finish. There’s plenty of time spent discussing Doctor Who of course, but by far the most interesting section is devoted to his childhood and his early years as a struggling actor. Courtney’s familiar Doctor Who stories (“five rounds rapid”, “they were all wearing eyepatches”) are part of Doctor Who folklore, but where A Soldier In Time really excels is in showing us something of the real man. Let’s take a quick look at Babelcolour’s lovely tribute (which I can never watch without getting a little misty-eyed) then we’ll turn our attention to Peter Grimwade’s second script for the series.
It seems that Mawdryn Undead was originally planned with Ian Chesterton in mind, which makes sense, as it’s possible to imagine Chesterton in later years teaching at a boys school. But for whatever reason it was redrafted for Lethbridge-Stewart. It had been eight years since the Brigadier had appeared in Doctor Who, with only one of his stories repeated during this time (The Three Doctors in 1981) and for many, including myself, this would only be our second opportunity to see him in action. But we all knew how important he was to the series (both through DWM and also by reading about his earlier stories in Target Books’ series of novelisations).
Initially, we’re presented with a somewhat broken-down and dispirited Brigadier which is a far cry from the resolute, man of action of the Pertwee era. Like much of the story, there’s something of a NuWho feel about this, as it’s impossible to imagine any regular character during the 1960’s or 1970’s being put under the microscope in such a way, whereas it’s much more likely to happen today.
Lethbridge-Stewart seems to be suffering from some deep-rooted trauma, as he doesn’t remember either the Doctor or the TARDIS. Eventually the Doctor manages to break through, which leads us into a gloriously nostalgic clip-fest. This was a regular feature of the early JNT years (there were similar examples in Logopolis and Earthshock). You had to be there, but at the time this was so incredibly exciting. The notion of being able to even see, let alone own, every Doctor Who story in existence was almost beyond imagining so these brief clips were tantalising glimpses into an unknowable, magical past.
Courtney’s wonderful in these scenes, they give him so much more to work with than he’s ever had before. And just as we’ve grown used to this Brigadier, we’re introduced to another (from six years earlier). This is a pre-breakdown Brig, much closer to the character we saw in, say, Terror of the Zygons. The two Brigs (one from 1977 and the other from 1983) become central to the story, and the consequences of time travel is another element of the story which is NuWho flavoured.
The original series rarely used time travel as part of the story. The TARDIS mainly existed to drop the Doctor and his friends off somewhere and would take them away at the end of the story, although there were exceptions of course. In The Time Meddler, Steven and Vikki discuss what would happen if the Monk succeeded in changing history – would their memories of events just change and would they even realise that they had? In The Ark we see the results of the Doctor’s actions, when the TARDIS returns to the Ark several hundred years after his last visit. Dodo’s cold triggered a chain of events that led to the Monoids taking control and subjugating the humans.
Perhaps the story with the closest link to Mawdryn Undead is Day of the Daleks. In Day, two separate times become connected, which means that the events of the present are inexorably linked with the future. Something similar happens here, with the crux of the story resting on the connection of the two Brigadiers.
In retrospect, it’s not difficult to understand why time travel didn’t feature in more stories during the original series. Once you’ve uncorked that particular genie, it’s impossible to get it back into the bottle. For example, at the start of Time-Flight, Tegan asked the Doctor why they couldn’t land the TARDIS on the freighter and rescue Adric before it crashed into the Earth. The real reason was that Matthew Waterhouse’s contract was up and it wasn’t renewed – but the moment you introduce the idea that all the Doctor has to do to solve matters is to nip back in the TARDIS, you’re on very shaky ground.
The Paul McGann TV Movie (or as I prefer to call it, Grace 1999) has a particularly bad example of this, when Grace is brought back to life. When life and death are not absolute (and the new series has often been guilty of this – how many times have the dead been resurrected?) the narrative has to suffer.
As I said earlier, there are a few other notable things about Mawdryn Undead. Firstly, Mark Strickson is introduced as Turlough. It’s interesting that JNT decided to introduce another male companion so soon after Adric. The heyday of the male companion was in the 1960’s where they generally performed the strong-arm stuff that the Doctor was either unable (Hartnell) or unwilling (Troughton) to do. Later on, as Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker were able to handle their own action, the likes of Harry ended up as something of a third wheel.
During his first three stories, Turlough has an interesting story arc – he’s an agent of the Black Guardian and has been ordered to kill the Doctor. Even before he’s recruited we can clearly see he’s a bit of a wrong ‘un, so his presence in the TARDIS will certainly shake things up. Strickson’s very good here as he would be during his brief run on the programme. After the Black Guardian trilogy he’s very often sidelined, but whenever he’s given something to do (Frontios, for example) he delivers the goods.
The next item of interest is the return the Black Guardian. I love Valentine Dyall and could listen to his voice forever – butthe Black Guardian is a really rubbish villain. Although the threat of the Black Guardian had hung over The Key To Time season, he only appeared in one short scene. And a problem with the Black Guardian trilogy is that after we’ve seen him pop up once and threaten Turlough with dire consequences if he doesn’t kill the Doctor, then we’ve seen everything he can do.
You’ve also got to wonder why the Black Guardian, charged with creating universal chaos, should be concerned with destroying the Doctor. And why he couldn’t recruit somebody better than Turlough. Surely there must be more efficient killers out there?
Whilst the Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan are busily interacting with the Brigadier and Turlough the main plot is taking shape. Unusually, there’s a very low level of threat for the Doctor and his friends. Mawdryn and his friends are criminals (they stole regenerative equipment from Gallifrey, although how they got past the Transduction Barriers is anyone’s guess) but they don’t actively wish anybody any harm – they just want to die. The debate about assisted suicide carries on today and it’s surprising to see it addressed some thirty years ago in Doctor Who.
The Doctor could help (but this would mean surrendering his remaining regenerations). He declines, although changes his mind later on when he discovers Nyssa and Tegan have been infected. Luckily for everyone, the two Brigadiers chance to meet at just the right moment with the result that Mawdryn and his friends are able to die, Nyssa and Tegan are cured and the Doctor remains a Time Lord.
A quick mention for David Collings as Mawdryn. He’s sometimes hampered by the make-up and costume but he’s very compelling as the weary, resigned scientist locked into an eternal life of torment. It’s easy to see why so many people would have liked to see him play the Doctor (check out his appearances in Sapphire and Steel, where he plays Silver in a very Doctorish way).
Season 20 could have just loaded each story with classic monsters and it probably would have worked quite well. But I’m glad that they didn’t and instead there’s a wider range of stories and themes of which Mawdryn Undead is a fine example.
Terminus is a story where every main creative element (writing, acting, music, direction, etc) is just slightly off. None of the elements are particularly bad in themselves, but the cumulative effect produces a curiously static story that fails to impress.
I want to love it, because I love Stephen Gallagher’s previous script, Warriors’ Gate, but Terminus is a very different story. Whereas Warriors’ Gate was an impressionistic tale with several different levels of meaning, Terminus has a very clear narrative drive.
It could be that Gallagher was attempting to make a satirical point concerning the private company, Terminus Inc., who have a contract to process and cure people with Lazar’s disease. In the early 1980’s, the debate about private healthcare versus the NHS was rumbling on. Is Terminus Inc. a sideswipe at private healthcare providers? It’s possible, although it’s not particularly clear.
What does seem clear is that Terminus is an incredibly inefficiently run company. If nobody is ever cured, surely people would eventually realise this and not continue to pay them and send their infected relatives? If they exist to make a profit then surely it would be in their interest to cure as many people as possible, but they don’t seem to have much success with this.
Into this setup, come the Doctor and his companions. Just as the script is a little off, so none of the regulars is particularly well served by the story. It does start brightly though, with a well acted scene between Tegan and Turlough, Tegan is very suspicious about Turlough, rightly so as it turns out. They remain together for the remainder of the story, but once they’re on Terminus they do little of consequence and their importance to the narrative fades.
Terminus is Nyssa’s final story and Sarah Sutton is moved a little more centre stage, but she’s much less effective when not partnered with Davison’s Doctor. Several stories this year saw Davison and Sutton teamed up, and they worked together very well, but Nyssa fades somewhat when she’s working with the drippy Olvir or the cuddly Garm.
If you mention Olvir (Dominic Guard) then you have to mention fellow pirate Kari (Liza Goddard). Their appearance in episode one is memorable, but for all the wrong reasons. They’re supposed to be hardened space pirates, but the capes and boots somewhat negate this. Olvir’s lashings of mascara don’t help either. It’s tempting to suppose that they were two of the worst pirates ever, so their boss took the step of marooning them on the first spaceship he saw.
With Tegan and Turlough crawling around the infrastructure, achieving very little, and Nyssa waiting for a cure, that leaves the Doctor, who also has very little to do in the story. He spends a large part of it working on the mystery of the creation of the universe – but this is presented so baldly that there’s no particular interest generated. For example, when Davison announces (at the end of episode three) that the universe is in danger, it’s difficult to really care – it’s just a rather limp cliffhanger.
The Garm looks rather silly. Gallagher had intended that it should never be seen in full – only its silhouette and his glowing eyes – but he’s here, in all his shaggy-dog glory.
And Roger Limb’s music is fairly horrific. I love the majority of the Radiophonic Workshop’s contributions during S18 – S23, but Terminus is the exception that proves the rule. Sounding rather like a series of random notes, it doesn’t create atmosphere, it merely irritates.
There were numerous production problems with this story, which are fairly well documented and all these helped to contribute to the end result. But there are some highlights, like Peter Benson as Bor, who seems to be acting in a different story from everybody else.
Terminus is a story that it’s difficult to imagine anybody ever reaches down from the shelf on impulse to watch. It’s one of those (like Underworld) that you struggle manfully through whilst engaged on a sequential rewatch and breathe a sigh of relief when it’s over and happier times (Enlightenment) are ahead.
One of the notable things about re-watching the original series is that it certainly takes its time. For those of us brought up on it, it’s very reasonable that the first episode of a story would be concerned with showing us the Doctor and his companions slowly exploring their new surroundings as puzzles and answers are drip-fed, usually leading into a cliff-hanger with a strong hook that’ll bring us back for the second episode.
Enlightenment is a classic case in point. In the new series, they’d probably compress the whole of the first episode into a couple of minutes, and whilst in story terms not a lot happens we do get to enjoy plenty of time with both the crew and the officers of the mysterious craft.
After the first episode the crew don’t contribute a great deal, which is a shame as the likes of Jackson (Tony Caunter) are quite well-drawn. But their involvement early on does help to lull the audience into believing that this really is an Edwardian sailing ship, as it’s not until the final moments of the episode that we realise it’s actually quite another ship, a space ship! This is a classic cliff-hanger and one of the best changes in direction of any Doctor Who story.
By now we’ve also met the ship’s officers, who are all Eternals. The first mate, Marriner (Christopher Brown) is obsessed with Tegan, although he seems to want her purely for her mind. The Eternals, whilst they have eternal life and pretty much endless powers, are clearly portrayed as empty vessels without human (or as they call them, “ephemeral”) minds to draw upon.
Keith Barron (Captain Striker) is wonderful as the cold, logical Eternal who is desperate, like all the other captains, to win the prize of Enlightenment. Had a BBC strike not delayed production, then Peter Sallis would have played Striker. It’s a shame we missed his take on the part, but Barron is an excellent subsistute.
I have to flag up the music by Malcom Clarke. Clarke’s first score for the series was the bonkers, but compelling, Sea Devils back in 1972. His work on Enlightenment is more straightforward, but equally as good. It would be nice for SilvaScreen to pop this onto a CD, but for now we can either enjoy the iso-track on the DVD or these edited highlights from Doctor Who – The Music 2.
On-board the Buccanner, the villainous Captain Wrack (like Turlough, an agent of the Black Guardian) is going to win the race by any means necessary. Lynda Baron’s performance as Wrack is best described as “broad” but it’s an enjoyable turn and contrasts well with the icy self-control of Striker. I can’t quite work out exactly how to classify Leee John’s acting performance as Wrack’s second-in-command, or even if it can be described as acting. It’s certainly memorable though, ranking alongside Jenny Laird in Planet of the Spiders as a small, but idiosyncratic, Doctor Who appearance.
Turlough isn’t having a good time. Disowned by the Black Guardian he attempts suicide by jumping overboard (a beautifully shot sequence at Ealing) but is rescued by Wrack. He eventually comes good though and helps the Doctor to bring the Buccanner home first. This brings us to the endgame, where the Black and White Guardians meet to hand out the prize. Although if the White Guardian believes the Eternals shouldn’t have Enlightenment, why is he involved in the contest?
Sadly, Cyril Luckham had aged somewhat since his appearance in The Ribos Operation (and his costume here doesn’t really help to instill a sense of dignity). The meeting between the two Guardians is quite nice though and Turlough finally decides to choose the Doctor’s side, which cancels his contract with the Black Guardian.
It does seem that a third encounter between the Doctor and the Black Guardian was a possibility, but the death of Valentine Dyall in 1985 appeared to have scuppered that. Although the Black and White Guardians weren’t particularly well served by these three stories, there’s still scope in the concept of two universally powerful figures (with equal and opposite powers, so that neither can make a move without the other countering it) which makes it a little surprising that they haven’t been revisited since. Although they may appear eventually in NuWho, I’m sure that time will tell.
Enlightenment brings the Black Guardian trilogy to a satisfying conclusion but also works very well as a stand-alone story. The sets look solid, the lighting is pleasingly low and the acting (apart from the odd exception) is first rate. Certainly amongst the best of the Davison stories.
The King’s Demons is a romp, pure and simple. Rather like a house of cards, if you examine it too closely then it collapses, but there’s plenty of entertainment to be had over its two episodes.
The opening is very impressive as the jousting contest (with Bodiam Castle in the background) looks gorgeous. It may have little to do with the rest of the story, but it’s a welcome bit of gloss.
But there’s no way to avoid the first major problem – the Master is disguised (very badly) as a Frenchman. All the James Stoker business leads you to assume that the production team actually considered his disguise would fool people and that the Master’s reveal at the end of the first episode would come as a shock. Hmm, okay then.
Frank Windsor and Isla Blair are two of the main guest stars. Windsor was a familiar face, thanks to Z Cars and Softly Softly. Truth be told, he seems a little stiff and uneasy with the medieval dialogue (he’s much more assured in Ghost Light). Isla Blair is fine with the little she has to do, but then a two-parter doesn’t offer a great deal of room for character development.
The other guest star is Gerald Flood, who is rather good as King John alias Kamelion. Given his involvement with the Pathfinders series (pretty much a blueprint for Doctor Who and a series that’s fascinating from that perspective) it’s fitting that he eventually landed a part in Doctor Who.
Davison gets to swash a buckle, although the Doctor/Master swordfight is a bit limp and not a patch on the ones from The Sea Devils and The Androids of Tara. Tegan complains a lot and Turlough has virtually nothing to do, although you have to admire Mark Strickson for his ability to wring everything from the few lines he has.
After the “shock” reveal of the Master at the end of episode one, there’s a rather nice exchange of dialogue between Davison and Ainley.
THE MASTER: Oh, my dear Doctor, you have been naive.
THE DOCTOR: Not at all. You may disguise your features, but you can never disguise your intent.
THE MASTER: And you can’t approve.
THE DOCTOR: You know I can’t.
THE MASTER: You’ve always been my greatest stimulation, my dear Doctor, but now you inspire me.
Although the notion of the Master mucking about with Magna Carta has often been criticised (even within the story itself) I do like the concept of the Master traveling to various planets at different time periods and discretely working away in the background to undermine democracy. There was scope to develop this in future stories, although it never happened.
The ending is a mess though. The Doctor nips off in the TARDIS and blithely informs Tegan and Turlough that the Master will shortly be leaving as well, without bothering to check or apparently care if he kills anybody else before he leaves. This point, as well as many others, is addressed in Terence Dudley’s excellent novelisation. It’s well worth tracking down a copy as it clearly shows how much better the story could have been as a four parter.
Atmospheric location filming, one of my favourite scores, decent guest stars and plenty of incident packed into 50 minutes means that The King’s Demons is never dull. It may be rather unloved, but I like it and if you haven’t seen it for a while then I’d recommended giving it another go.
For me, The Five Doctors defies critical analysis as to watch it is to be twelve again, when it seemed like the best programme ever. Time may have slightly tempered that enthusiasm, but I still find it’s impossible to rewatch it without a silly grin appearing on my face from time to time.
Is it perfect? Of course not. The Five Doctors was a party where many invitations were handed out, but several people (and one very important guest) were unable to attend. Possibly in a parallel universe they had a story where the 2nd Doctor was partnered with Jamie and Zoe, the 3rd teamed up with Jo and the Brig and the 4th and Sarah were reunited. Also in that parallel universe, maybe Roger Delgado decided not to travel to Turkey in 1973 to film Bell of Tibet so that he was able to return to the role of the Master for the first time in a decade. It’s a nice dream.
But what we have is still very decent fare. Richard Hurndall isn’t attempting to impersonate William Hartnell, Hurndall is playing the first Doctor, which is an important distinction. The only Hartnell story to be repeated in the UK was An Unearthly Child in 1981, so for many of us Hurndall’s was a perfectly acceptable performance. And it still is. He captures the essence of the Hartnell Doctor, there’s certainly the hard edge Hartnell could show from time to time, for example.
Troughton’s back! He may look older, but he’s the major highlight of this story and it’s hardly surprising that they offered him another one shortly after. He has a wonderful partnership with Courtney and all of their scenes fizzle with memorable dialogue. Frankly, I could have watched a story with just these two and been very content.
Pertwee’s back! Although his hair’s a little whiter, he’s still recognisably the same Doctor that we last saw nine years previously. But his sequences don’t quite have the same appeal as the Troughton ones and it’s difficult to put my finger on why this is. Terrance Dicks had, of course, been script editor for the whole of the Pertwee era so he should have had no problem in recreating the 3rd Doctor’s characterisation. But he does has some nice moments whilst traversing the Death Zone though, insulting the Master and finding an appropriately heroic way to enter the Tower, for example.
Pertwee benefits from being matched up again with Elisabath Sladen. We’d seen Sarah two years previously in K9 and Company which was lovely, but to see her back with Pertwee’s Doctor is something else altogether. Like everyone else, her lines are rationed so she has to make the most of everything she’s given, and this she certainly does. The fact that her mittens are sewn onto her jacket is incredibly adorable as well.
Tom’s not back! The reason for his non-appearance is well known and it does leave a hole, but we still have a very good story without him. For many people, Tom Baker was the series, so it’s possibly not a bad thing that he wasn’t here – that way it’s possible to see that there can be a decent tale told without him.
Davison’s still here! Terrance Dicks said that he was keen to ensure that Davison got the best of the action and he does have some good scenes, although the Gallifrey section is a bit limp and it’s a pity that he wasn’t teamed up with Troughton and Pertwee a little earlier on. The Doctors were kept apart since there were concerns that egos would clash. I don’t think that Davision would have been a problem, but Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker certainly would have been an explosive combination.
One slight problem I have with The Three Doctors is the way that Troughton is sometimes written down in order to make Pertwee the dominant figure. Since Pertwee was the current incumbent it’s sort of understandable, but I doubt that Pertwee would have been happy to play second fiddle to Davison. And the prospect of Pertwee and Baker together is even harder to imagine. Pertwee never made any secret of his dislike of the way the series progressed after he left (those cynical souls put this down to the fact that Tom Baker was more popular with both the fans and the general audience than Pertwee ever was) so Tom’s non-appearance was possibly a blessing in that respect.
As for the monsters, we have a rather tatty looking Dalek but we finally get to see that the Pertwee Doctor was right when he said that: “inside each of those shells is a living, bubbling lump of hate”. Given that it stays in the shadows, presumably the Yeti was rather shabby, but it gives Troughton another lovely comedy moment when he’s rummaging through his pockets in a desperate search for something to sort it out with.
Since they only appeared eighteen months previously, it’s a little disappointing that the Cybermen are so prominent here but it makes both economic sense (the costumes were in stock) and also practical sense (it’s difficult to imagine the likes of the Daleks trundling through the Death Zone).
Mention of the Death Zone brings us to one of the major plus points of this story – the locations. NuWho has exhaustively mined Wales for locations but as the original series was based in London, trips to Wales were much rarer. Various locations in Gwynedd were used in March 1983 and they help to give The Five Doctors an expansive, epic feeling.
If Leonard Sachs in Arc of Infinity wasn’t the best Borusa ever, then neither is Philip Latham here. It’s hard to understand how the Borusa of The Deadly Assassin and The Invasion of Time could have ended up as the lunatic obsessed with ruling forever that we see here. So that makes his corruption (which should be shocking) something of a damp squib.
And if the Old-King-Cole Rassilon is another odd move, we do get to see the Doctors together at the end of the story, which is something to be treasured. The rarity is why it’s so special, if it had happened more often then the shine would have been taken off it.
As it was, it’s Pertwee’s final bow as the Doctor (sorry, Dimensions in Time isn’t canon, and isn’t even a story) whilst Troughton was to have one more appearance to come. Therefore, while The Five Doctors is a celebration of the first twenty years, it also marks something of an end as over the following years we would start to bid farewell to some of the actors who had done so much to ensure that the series had reached 20 not out. And while they may be gone, thanks to the magic of DVD their adventures live on forever. So for me, that’s the best way to approach this story, as an appreciation and celebration of some of the people that made this programme so special.
Warriors of the Deep seems to be based on a false premise – namely that the Silurians and the Sea Devils were the chief attraction of Malcolm Hulke’s two Jon Pertwee scripts. This is something that I’d strong disagree with. Doctor Who and The Silurians drew its strength from pitching the Doctor, Liz and the Brigadier against the likes of Baker, Quinn, Lawrence and Masters. It was the confrontations between those characters that kept the story bubbling along in the early episodes and by the time the Silurians take centre-stage, it starts to flag a little. The Sea Devils is mainly about the Doctor/Master rivalry and the Sea Devils are pretty incidental to the plot.
In order to succeed then, Warriors of the Deep needed strong human characters but although the story had some good actors, the script tended to let them down. It isn’t all bad though and with just a little tweaking here and there it could have been rather good. But, as has happened before, a lack of time and money was to prove very costly.
Let’s start positively though, Tony Burrough’s Seabase set is incredibly impressive. It’s tended to come in for criticism in the past for being too brightly lit, but I can’t see this at all. The command centre is brighter than the rest of the base, which seems logical, but the corridors have a low level of lighting and also ceilings (a familiar trait of Tony Burrough’s design work, see also Four To Doomsday). This creates shadows and helps to hide a multitude of sins – even the Myrka looks halfway decent in some of the corridor shots.
We’re barely a minute into the story when we’re introduced to the Silurians. It’s annoying that they refer to themselves as Silurians and Sea Devils (human coined nicknames, of course) and it’s even more annoying that the Silurian’s third eye now flashes every time they speak. And the annoyance factor is increased another notch whenever Icthar says “Excellent”.
The Seabase personnel tend to be split between two camps. There are some – Vorshak (Tom Adams), Bulic (Nigel Humpreys) and Preston (Tara Ward) – who have thinly drawn characters but are watchable since the actors are making the best of a bad job.
For the rest, if I was drawing up a list of shame then Ingrid Pitt as Solow and Ian McCulloch as Nilson would be top of it. Pitt was famously wooden in The Time Monster so it’s no great surprise that twelve years on she’s no better here. But it pains me to see McCulloch’s poor performance, as he’s a much better actor than this (Greg in Survivors, for example).
The central plot is quite sound. It’s a base-under-seige! A staple of the Troughton era, we haven’t had a story like this (Horror of Fang Rock) for a good few years. But it does tend to be scuppered by the fact that the Silurians and Sea Devils are, shall we say, not very dynamic.
They move incredibly slowly (and in the case of the Sea Devils, rather oddly at times). There’s also the Myrka to further slow things down of course. And while I have praised the design work, the amazing foam bulkhead door at the end of episode two is a sight to behold.
Eventually, as with most base-under-seige stories, virtually everybody dies. The Doctor’s final words are well known and yes, there probably should have been another way. It’s interesting that about twenty years earlier virtually the same words were spoken after the Thals and Daleks fought, but then it was Ganatus who had the line, whilst the Doctor seemed unmoved by the wholesale slaughter on Skaro. He’d got his fluid link back, which was the only thing he seemed concerned about.
In retrospect, this marks the start of the harder-edged style of Eric Saward. Resurrection of the Daleks, The Caves of Androzani and the majority of Season 22 would follow a similar path of heavy body-counts and violence.
Warriors of the Deep is not a total disaster, nor is it unwatchable, but a combination of factors proved to be pretty damaging. Johnny Byrne had provided a similarly limp season opener the previous year with Arc of Infinity so it’s maybe not surprising that this was his final script for the series.
Although The Awakening, like the other Davison two-parters, feels a little disposable, it’s still an decent enough story, helped no end by a larger-than-life performance from Denis Lil (Sir George Hutchinson).
Sir George has somehow (and like a lot of the story we’re somewhat vague on specifics) found himself under the thrall of the Malus, a malevolent alien entity who has lain dormant since the 17th century. The Malus feeds on violent emotions and therefore has had little to feast on since the English Civil War came to this part of the world in 1643.
So, Sir George decides that a Civil War re-enactment would be just the thing to restore the Malus to full strength. The concept of a whole village under the thrall of an alien being is a good concept, but it’s not really followed through in the story as he seems to be the only one who is actually under the Malus’ control.
True, Willow (Jack Galloway) is happy to carry out Sir George’s bidding, but that may be because he’s a bit of a bully anyway and there’s nothing to support the claim from Jane that the final battle will be fought for real. The problem with this lack of development could be due to the two part format, which doesn’t allow too much time to develop the various story threads.
If Sir George (and maybe Willow) are on the side of chaos, then the voices of reason are provided by Jane Hampton (Polly James) and Ben Wosley (Glyn Houston). Following the somewhat wooden turns of Warriors of the Deep, their more naturalistic performances are very welcome.
The TARDIS has landed in Little Hodcombe so that Tegan can visit her grandfather, Andrew Verney. This is another part of the plot that doesn’t really go anywhere since Verney is totally redundant to the plot. There’s no reason why the TARDIS couldn’t have simply turned up at random, with the Doctor being naturally drawn into the mystery of the closed village and the strange happenings in the church.
With the concept of two periods connected in time and psychic projections from the past appearing in the present, there’s something of a Sapphire and Steel vibe about this story, which is no bad thing. A refugee from the past, Will Chandler (Keith Jayne) teams up with Davison for part of the story and it’s possible to understand why he was briefly considered as companion material.
The Malus, who has been resident in the local church for three hundred years or so looks very impressive, but it’s somewhat limited, action wise. Once you’ve heard it go “rooooooooaaaaaaarrrrrrrr” a few times then it’s not got much more to offer, with the genuine scares coming from the various projections it can conjure up – particularly the ghostly Roundheads who behead an unfortunate extra.
The location of the Malus does lead one to suppose that the church was built around it, which is an interesting thought. If so, then presumably it was felt that the sanctity of the church would nullify the Malus’ baleful influence. Or maybe they didn’t notice its big head? Who can say?
One other notable point about The Awakening is that it was Barry Newbery’s final Doctor Who story as a designer and also his last work for the BBC (he took early retirement almost immediately afterwards). His most active period on the programme was during the Hartnell era, where to begin with he alternated with Raymond Cusick on each serial. Both Cusick and Newbery performed miracles with the non-existent budgets of the early 1960’s and whilst the success of Doctor Who is due to many people, both of them must take some of the credit as without good visuals, the stories would have foundered. And The Awakening was a decent story to bow out on as it featured some impressive sets – particularly the ruined church.
Although somewhat rushed and with the odd loose end, this is an enjoyable story boasting decent location filming, some good performances and a few scares along the way.
One of the most obvious things to note about Frontios is that Christopher H. Bidmead really knew how to write for Peter Davison’s Doctor. Given this, it’s a pity that Bidmead didn’t contribute more scripts for the fifth Doctor (Frontios was his second and last).
I’ve touched on this before, but Peter Davison wasn’t a personality actor like, say, Tom Baker. Baker could take an average script and by the sheer force of his personality make something unique out of it. Davison didn’t have that skill, but provide him a well written script and he could certainly make the most out of what he was given.
Frontios is a wonderful vehicle for Davison and so many of his lines zing. Picking some favourite Davison dialogue from this story is difficult, since there are so many examples, but I do love this –
DOCTOR: Look, I’m not really here at all, officially. And as soon as I’ve helped Mister Range with the arrangements, I’ll be on my way.
PLANTAGENET: Do you feel free to come and go as you please?
DOCTOR: Going, yes, coming, no. We were forced down.
PLANTAGENET: I see. You landed during the bombardment and yet you appear unharmed.
DOCTOR: I’m sorry, we didn’t know there was a war on. At first we thought it was some sort of meteorite storm.
PLANTAGENET: And what do you think now?
DOCTOR: I think your shelters are totally inadequate and your warning system does nothing but create panic.
PLANTAGENET: I did not ask
DOCTOR: Your population has already fallen below critical value required for guaranteed growth and you’re regularly losing new lives. I think, and you did ask what I think, I think your colony of Earth people is in grave danger of extinction.
There’s a bite and attack to Davison’s performance of these lines, which we haven’t seen nearly enough of during his time on the show. Elsewhere, he has a lovely line in vagueness, somewhat Troughtoneque in style, like this –
DOCTOR: Well, that’s it. Now, this should either sort out this whole Tractator problem and repair the TARDIS.
DOCTOR: Or it won’t
Sadly, one of the best moments of the story was rather curtailed due to episode four overrunning. We see the Doctor attempt to convince the Gravis that Tegan is an android that he picked up cheap –
TEGAN: Doctor, you can’t let them do this to me.
DOCTOR: I’m terribly embarrassed about all this.
GRAVIS: Not at all, Doctor.
DOCTOR: It must be the humidity causing the malfunction. These serving machines are perfectly reliable on Gallifrey.
GRAVIS: The guard Tractator here will restrain it while I show you more of our work here. It is certainly a very convincing replica of the humanoid life form.
DOCTOR: Oh, you think so? I got it cheap because the walk’s not quite right. And then there’s the accent, of course. But, when it’s working well, it’s very reliable. Keeping track of appointments, financial planning, word processing, that sort of thing.
What was cut was more detail as to why the Doctor undertook this ruse – if the Gravis realised that Tegan was human he might have decided to add her to his excavating machine. The excised material is part of the special features on the DVD thankfully, including the moment where the Doctor puts a screwdriver into Tegan’s ear!
Mark Strickson (after largely sitting out the last few stories) gets to froth at the mouth and drive part of the plot, whilst Janet Fielding is teamed up with Davison for the last few episodes, which is great fun. Just as Bidmead was spot on with Davison’s Doctor, so he was able to get the best out of the Doctor/Tegan relationship. They do spend most of episode three not achieving very much, simply walking round the tunnels. But it’s so entertaining, you don’t really notice that the plot isn’t advancing very much.
On Frontios itself, there’s a decent collection of guest stars. Peter Gilmore is the bluff Brazen, not a subtle performance maybe, but there’s the odd glimpse of hidden depths. Jeff Rawle is good as the out-of-his-depth Plantagenet, whilst William Lucas as Range has a nice line in weary resignation. Norna, played by Lesley Dunlop, isn’t a very developed part – existing mainly to elicit information from other characters – but Dunlop is very appealing and makes the character worth watching.
The odd structural flaw and plot-hole apart, this is an entertaining story that puts the Doctor right in the centre of the action. True, the Tractators (particularly their flapping arms) look a little silly, but the story is hardly unique for having slightly duff monsters.
If you want an example of Davison’s Doctor at his best, then this must rank somewhere at the top, along with Kinda and The Caves of Androzani.
Back in 1984, there was somewhat of a buzz about this one. Apart from a cameo in The Five Doctors we hadn’t seen the Daleks in a new story for five years and their previous appearance, in Destiny of the Daleks, had been a disappointment to many.
Thirty years on, Destiny is probably better regarded today than it was back then whilst Resurrection has lost a little of its lustre. But although Eric Saward’s script has its faults, there are some things it does do right and it’s a clear pointer to the style the series would take in S22.
It’s fair to say that Resurrection is a bleak tale. This nihilistic view of the universe reflects the direction in which Eric Saward wanted to take Doctor Who and he wasn’t the only writer to favour this style. Robert Holmes penned very much the same type of story with The Caves of Androzani, but it has to be said somewhat better. Therefore it’s not difficult to see that Holmes would from now on strongly influence Saward’s writing (Revelation of the Daleks with its Holmesian double-acts is surely the sincerest form of flattery).
But back with Resurrection, Saward wanted to tie up the loose ends from Destiny and resolve the Dalek/Movellan war. He probably would have been better off ignoring this and starting afresh, as it does constrict the story (as do some of the other plot threads which go nowhere – such as the Daleks’ plan to duplicate the Doctor so he can go back to Gallifrey and assassinate the High Council).
The main part of the story revolves around the Daleks’ desire to find their creator, Davros, and use his skills to solve their current problems. This is a re-tread from Destiny, but Saward does one important thing right here that didn’t happen in Destiny. One of the clearest character traits of the Daleks is how single-minded they are, so it defied belief that they wouldn’t attempt to use Davros in Destiny for their own ends before discarding him. But this never seemed to occur to Terry Nation.
In Resurrection, the Daleks are quick to realise that Davros is more trouble than he’s worth and they attempt to exterminate him. But by then he’s already re-conditioned several Daleks, which establishes the general plot-thread of Dalek civil war which we see in Revelation and Remembrance.
As for the Daleks themselves, they do look a little worse for wear, it has to be said. They’ve been given a fresh coat of paint, but since they’re a mixture of casings from the 1960’s and 1970’s they naturally do look like they’ve been around the block a few times. For anybody who wants to delve further into the history of the Dalek casings, then Dalek 6388 is a fascinating website.
Michael Wisher was unable to reprise his role as Davros, so Terry Molloy stepped into the breach. Molloy ended up playing the role three times and would go on to make it his own, managing to emerge from Wisher’s substantial shadow. There’s less character for him to latch on here than he would enjoy in Revelation (which was much more of a Davros story than a Dalek one) but he still has some nice, ranting moments.
As for the humans, there’s an interesting ethnic mix on the space-station which is unusual for the series at the time. There’s also signs of the increased gore that would appear during S22 (the Daleks’ disfiguring gas is pretty unpleasant and it’s debatable whether the close-ups should have been transmitted).
One problem with Saward’s scripts up to this point was that characters could often seem like cardboard cut-outs, existing just as long as they formed some plot function. Once that ended, they would be quickly killed off (in order not to clutter up the screen). Styles (Rula Lenska) and Mercer (Jim Findley) are good examples of this. Rodney Bewes as Stein fares somewhat better and has the chance to play the hero at the end.
The Army bomb disposal squad, headed by Del Henney as Colonel Archer are also characters that don’t really go anywhere and it’s unfortunate that Tegan spends most of the story with them. As a final story for Janet Fielding, Resurrection is a poor effort, as Tegan does little of consequence – but as is probably well known, the story was originally planned to close S20 (a BBC strike put paid to that) so her leaving scene had to be tagged onto the already-written story.
Turlough and the Doctor fare little better. Turlough teams up with Styles and Mercer, although he does nothing to advance the plot. The Doctor has one key scene (confronting Davros and proving that he’s unable to kill in cold blood) but apart from that there’s very few of the character traits that Davison so clearly enjoyed in Frontios.
Also skulking about is Lytton (Maurice Colbourne) who will return next season, although it’s worth pondering exactly how the Doctor in Attack of the Cybermen knows all about him, as here they only share one scene and never speak to each other.
After the mass slaughter, it’s difficult not to agree with Tegan that it’s all been a bit too much. But it’s probably aged better than Earthshock and for better or worse, points clearly to the direction the series would take during S22.
Although the main plot of Planet of Fire is a little dull (as it’s very difficult to care about the inhabitants of Sarn) there’s still plenty of interest – location filming on Lanzarote, the return of the Master, the departure of Turlough & Kamelion and the introduction of Peri.
Doctor Who had gone abroad twice before (Paris in City of Death and Amsterdam in Arc of Infinity) but both of those were still fairly close to home. Lanzarote was a lot further away and this helps to give the planet of Sarn an epic look that the series had never had previously. Today, of course, it’s nothing special, as Doctor Who often ventures abroad – but thirty years ago it was fairly eye popping. The bulk of the location filming occurs in the first two episodes and it certainly helps to liven up what otherwise would be a fairly static story.
Peter Wyngarde is, of course, great value and very watchable as Timanov, chief elder of Sarn, but elsewhere the pickings are less fruitful. Worst of all is Edward Highmore as Malkon, with a performance so wooden it’s probably just as well he never went too close to the fire.
Things pick up when the Master (or rather Kamelion as the Master) appears at the end of the first episode. Anthony Ainley looks rather good in the black suit and he also gets to say Delgado’s classic line – “I am the Master and you will obey me”. Great stuff, and this must rank as some of Ainley’s best work on Doctor Who, possibly because for once he doesn’t have a convoluted plan to enslave the Universe and destroy the Doctor – instead he’s motivated purely by survival.
Nicola Bryant (Peri) debuts here. She wasn’t the first companion to have a fairly sketchy character which required some input from the actor in order to make it work, but she certainly does her best with what she’s been given. It’s interesting that Peri doesn’t spend a lot of time with the Doctor in this story – the majority of her scenes are with the Master. And it’s very clear that Peri doesn’t rate the Master at all, so there’s a certain amount of humour generated from their mismatched partnership.
MASTER: Give me that component immediately!
PERI: This thing belongs to the Doctor, so it’s the Doctor I give it to and no one else.
MASTER: You will obey me.
MASTER: I am the Master!
PERI: So what? I’m Perpugilliam Brown and I can shout just as loud as you can!
We bid farewell to Mark Strickson and learn a little more about Turlough along the way. After the Black Guardian trilogy, Strickson has had few opportunities to shine, so his departure was always inevitable. And with the departure of Turlough we are left with just a single companion to accompany the Doctor. This was always Davison’s preference, so it’s somewhat ironic that it didn’t happen until his 20th, and final, story!
The reveal of the mini-Master at the end of episode three provides us with a wonderful cliff-hanger and the revived Master’s “death” in episode four was apparently – albeit briefly – to have been his final exit. It didn’t end up that way of course, which is a shame as it would have been a good story for the Master to bow out on.
So the Doctor and Peri leave Sarn, bound for new adventures. But their time together is strictly limited as a date with destiny awaits the Time Lord in the caves of Androzani.
I’ve been looking through Daryl Joyce’s Doctor Who illustrations, which can be found on his website. Some lovely work, with many extrapolating what was seen on-screen. Well worth a look. There’s also a separate section with his other TV/film work which also has items of interest.
The Caves of Androzani is one of those rare Doctor Who stories where virtually everything – script, direction, acting, music, etc – is as good as it possibly can be. The result is a story that’s nearly perfect. The Magma Beast, of course, is a sign that nothing can ever be quite perfect – but given the rest of the story, a few shots of a rubbery monster is a small price to pay.
It had been five years Robert Holmes had contributed a script to Doctor Who and his previous one (The Power of Kroll) hadn’t been a happy experience for him. Also, he hadn’t been able to get a script together for The Five Doctors (in retrospect, this was the worst thing to ask Homes to do as he never worked well with “shopping list” stories, he much preferred to create his own story from scratch).
So, Caves was the ideal commission. He had to write out the 5th Doctor, but apart from that he had a free hand to fashion whatever plot took his fancy. Holmes always liked to borrow from his favourite novels and Caves is no exception. He’d already played with the concept of The Phantom of the Opera in The Talons of Weng-Chiang, but it’s even more explicit here, as Sharaz Jek – like the Phantom – kidnaps a beautiful young woman and takes her back to his underground lair. Greel also liked to kidnap women, but he had quite another use for them!
This is the first time, but certainly not the last, that Peri will be the object of somebody’s lust. Clearly Eric Saward thought it was a storyline that had legs, so poor Peri found herself mauled by the likes of Shockeye, the Board, Jobel and Yrcanos. Although, to be fair, Shockeye was more interested in how she tasted, rather than how she looked.
What really brings the story to life is Graeme Harper’s direction. Due to the nature of the programme (i.e. the very short time available to tape the story) few directors ever attempted to do anything particularly different. There were exceptions, like Paul Joyce on Warriors’ Gate, who also pushed the series as far as it could go and produced a very stylish story – but there’s evidence to show that this was unpopular with both the crew and the cast. And he certainly exceeded the budget, which ensured he was never asked back.
Harper was also imaginative and prepared to innovate, but he was able to do so within the time he was given – and he also managed to carry the cast along with him. There seemed to be a general feeling during rehearsals and recording that this story was something unusual and special, so everybody seemed to pull together. His style favours fades, jump cuts, dissolves and hand-held shots – all of which weren’t common to Doctor Who at the time.
Harper couldn’t possibly have cast this any better. Key to the success of Caves are three actors – Maurice Roëves as Stotz, John Normington as Morgus and Christopher Gable as Sharez Jek.
It’s quite possible to believe in Roëves as a mercenary, as he certainly proves throughout the story exactly how mercenary Stotz is – ready to sell out anybody for personal gain. Normington is nothing less than totally compelling. His asides to camera (an accident that was kept in) add a certain frisson to his performance. He’s also incredibly subtle at times – watch the scene where the President complains that gun-runners should be shot in the back. Normington doesn’t reply, there’s just a twitch of a facial muscle to register what he’s thinking.
Elsewhere, Holmes gives him some wonderful material, such as –
TIMMIN: Trau Morgus?
MORGUS: Yes, what is it?
TIMMIN: The Northcawl copper mine, sir. There’s been a disaster. I thought you should know.
MORGUS: What kind of disaster?
TIMMIN: An explosion, sir, early this morning. The mine has been completely destroyed.
MORGUS: How sad. However, the loss of Northcawl eliminates our little problem of over-production. The news should also raise the market price of copper.
TIMMIN: Undoubtedly, sir.
MORGUS: As they used to say on Earth, every cloud has a strontium lining, Krau Timmin.
TIMMIN: Yes, indeed.
MORGUS: As a mark of respect for one of our late executives, I want every employee to leave his place of work and stand in silence for one minute.
TIMMIN: I’ll network that order immediately, sir.
MORGUS: No, on second thoughts, make that half a minute.
TIMMIN: Half a minute?
It’s reported that David Bowie was considered for the part of Sharez Jek, but nobody could have played it better than Christopher Gable. It has to rank amongst the very best performances in Doctor Who, sitting comfortably alongside the likes of Kevin Stoney (Tobias Vaughn), Harrison Chase (Tony Beckley) and Scaroth (Julian Glover).
Sharez Jek has several electrifying speeches, the first coming 16 minutes into episode two. It’s interesting to see how this was shot as Harper elected to record most of it “as live” on just one camera. There’s not a cut until 1:55 into the scene, on the line “hanging from the bone”. It’s tempting to suppose that Harper had planned to record the whole scene in one take and on one camera, but there was possibly a stumble which meant a brief cutaway had to be patched in.
This is part of the scene, and the dialogue is worth reproducing –
PERI: Why does he always wear that hood?
JEK: You want to know why? You, with your fair skin and features, you want to see the face under here? Do you!
(Peri squeals and runs into the Doctor’s arms.)
JEK: You’re wise. Even I can’t bear to see or touch myself. I, who was once, once comely, who was always a lover of beauty. And now I have to live in this exile. I have to live amongst androids because androids do not see as we see.
DOCTOR: What happened?
JEK: Morgus. Why I ever trusted that Fescennine bag of slime. I built an android workforce to collect and refine the Spectrox. We’d agreed to share the profits, but he’d already planned my death. When the mud burst caught without warning, how he must have gloated. But I tricked him. I reached one of the baking chambers and I survived, just.
PERI: You were burned?
JEK: Scalded near to death. The flesh boiled, hanging from the bone, but I lived. I lived so that one day I could revenge myself on that inhuman monster. And I shall.
During this monologue, Jek seems to turn into a character from a Victorian melodrama – “I, who was once comely” – which is possibly another nod by Holmes to The Phantom of the Opera. It’s certainly an odd choice of words, and in the hands of another actor it could so easily have fallen flat, but Gable is outstanding here, as he is throughout the story.
I’ve previously touched upon how Eric Saward favoured a nihilistic view of the Universe. It certainly comes across in Saward’s own Resurrection of the Daleks and it’s even more evident here. There are no heroes (apart from the Doctor and Peri). Krau Timmin (Barbara Neil) deposes the corrupt Morgus, but only so that she can take his place. And Chellak (Martin Cochrane) is quite happy for the Doctor and Peri to be shot, even though he belives they are probably innocent.
As for the Doctor, although Davison doesn’t have a lot to say in the last episode (he’s mainly running about and crawling through unconvincing CSO caves looking for the Queen Bat) overall it’s a strong story for him and he rises to the occasion to give a really good performance. He’s said that Caves was one where he actually had to do a bit of acting – witness his scenes with Gable, where he’s more than holding his own.
Caves is a story that never disappoints, has never been out of fashion and will surely always be around the top of any poll of favourite Doctor Who stories. Classic is an overused word in Doctor Who circles, but Caves certainly deserves it.
Perhaps the greatest problem with The Twin Dilemma is the sheer sense of anti-climax. Any story following The Caves of Androzani would have had a difficult job anyway, but the sheer half-hardheartedness of Twin is very surprising. As the debut story of a new Doctor, you would expect maximum effort – but there’s certainly something lacking here.
If Androzani was a story where nearly everything went right – helped by an enthusiastic first time Who director – then Twin is the diametric opposite. Peter Moffatt was seen as a safe pair of hands – he would get the show made on time and on budget, but he wasn’t someone you would expect to deliver a great deal of visual flair. Although to be fair, it does appear that the budget had pretty much run out (a regular occurrence for the final story of the season – see Time-Flight for example) which may explain the sight of computer terminals covered in tin-foil and other production shortcomings.
Twin’s other problems, like Womulus and Wemus, are well known, so there’s no point in dwelling on them. A few words must be saved for Mestor though, an incredibly inept monster design. After the perfection of Sharez Jek, it’s a bit of a shock for the Doctor’s next adversary to be a giant slug – and even more when a good actor like Edwin Richfield is totally wasted behind such an immobile mask, which negates all subtlety in performance. So Richfield (excellent as Captain Hart in The Sea Devils) is forced to rant and rave in order to be heard (and the fact that Mestor’s cross-eyed is a problem too).
There are some decent performers on Jaconda though. Maurice Denham brings a much-needed touch of class to proceedings, even if he sometimes seems to struggle with the banalities of the script. Olivier Smith (Drak) manages to make something out of nothing and Barry Stanton (Noma) is also able to bring a certain gravitas to proceedings. Seymour Green (who had previously appeared in The Seeds of Doom) has some nice comic touches as the Chamberlain, whilst Kevin McNally relishes his role as Hugo Lang.
If you haven’t heard it, then the commentary track with McNally, Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant is well worth a listen. McNally is quite the Who fan and there’s a refreshing enthusiasm from him when discussing his brief brush with the series. His interview with Toby Hadoke, as part of Hadoke’s Who’s Round is also warmly recommended.
Of course, Twin is really about one thing and one thing only – the debut of Colin Baker’s Doctor. He certainly makes an impact and is immediately very different from Davison’s Doctor. Just as Davison’s Doctor was clearly designed not to be as dominating as the Tom Baker incarnation, so the pendulum swings again with Colin Baker.
The Sixth Doctor (like the Fourth) is happy to be the centre of attention and is capable of instantly dominating proceedings. He’s far from stable here, of course, and this helps to fuel the drama as well as pushing the spotlight onto Nicola Bryant. Apart from The Edge of Destruction, it’s hard to recall the Doctor ever being quite so unapproachable (although Pertwee’s Doctor could be a grumpy old so-and-so from time to time).
I’ve always enjoyed Colin’s take on the Doctor and look forward to revisiting his stories over the coming weeks. It’s fair to say that he was short-changed during his time on the series (although the previous Doctors, bar Davison, had maybe left reluctantly, at least they all had a decent run in the series) and he never got to develop the character that would later blossom with Big Finish. However there’s enough little touches throughout his two and a bit years on the show to hint at what he might have done with the part, had he had the time.
PERI: Did you have to be so rude?
DOCTOR: To whom?
PERI: Hugo. You could at least have said goodbye. Are you having another of your fits?
DOCTOR: You may not believe this, but I have fully stabilised.
PERI: Then I suggest you take a crash course in manners.
DOCTOR: You seem to forget, Peri, I’m not only from another culture but another planet. I am, in your terms, an alien. I am therefore bound to different values and customs.
PERI: Your former self was polite enough.
DOCTOR: At such a cost. I was on the verge of becoming neurotic.
PERI: We all have to repress our feelings from time to time. I suggest you get back into the habit.
DOCTOR: And I would suggest, Peri, that you wait a little before criticising my new persona. You may well find it isn’t quite as disagreeable as you think.
PERI: Well, I hope so.
DOCTOR: Whatever else happens, I am the Doctor, whether you like it or not.
This last scene seems to be aimed not only at Peri, but also the viewers at home. As to whether they’d warm to the abrasive new Doctor, only time would tell.
Attack of the Cybermen (lousy title by the way) seems to have been born out of a fannish desire to recreate some of the Cybermen’s greatest moments. With Tomb of the Cybermen apparently lost forever, there was a certain sense in creating a new story which revisited the Tombs on Telos (although the dinky cubicles in Attack lack a certain style – Tomb did it much better).
For those playing continuity bingo, Mondas and its destruction gets a mention (The Tenth Planet) and the Cybermen once more have a liking for the sewers and also keep their ship hidden on the dark side of the Moon (The Invasion). And Michael Kilgarriff reprises his role as the Cyber Controller, eighteen years after Tomb.
The authorship of Attack has always been a slightly thorny issue. Some maintain that Paula Moore (alias Paula Woolsey) never wrote a word of the script and that it was all Eric Saward’s (with suggestions from Ian Levine). Although there are contrary opinions (Levine had greater input, Woolsey did contribute to the script, etc) for the sake of argument we’ll assume that the bulk was written by Saward, as it certainly bears his hallmarks (high body-count and violence, for example).
Lytton (Maurice Colbourne) who had been created by Saward in Resurrection of the Daleks returns. It’s tempting to think that Saward decided to reuse the character after watching Colbourne’s performance in Resurrection. His first appearance was a fairly nothing part, but Colbourne (by the sheer dint of his personality) certainly made something out of it.
The Lytton in Attack is a subtly different character – for example he has a sharp sense of humour, which is seen in his exchanges with Russell, Griffiths and Payne in the first episode. These early scenes are some of the best in the story and feel quite out of place in Doctor Who (although in a good way). They could have quite easily come from a contemporary police series, like Strangers, and it’s a shame that they didn’t remain on Earth for the rest of the story – as a story with the Doctor and Peri tracking Lytton and his merry men through London’s underworld could have been a decent yarn.
Plot hole number one. If Lytton’s two bogus policemen are still around, why does he need Russell, Griffiths and Payne? It’s established later that a crew of three is needed to pilot the Timeship, so Lytton plus his two phony coppers would seem to be more than adequate.
There’s one good reason for having Griffiths around, and that’s Brian Glover. A familiar face (and voice) on British television for a number of years prior to this appearance, he’s terribly good value. He often finds himself the butt of Lytton’s acid remarks, and this adds an unexpected twist of humour to the story. Lytton’s unique take on employer-employee relations is best illustrated when he deals with some dissent from newcomer, Russell –
LYTTON: You are new to this group and have yet to gain my confidence, that’s why I tell you nothing. These two are muscleheads and wouldn’t understand what I said anyway.
GRIFFITHS: You’ve got a rough tongue, Mister Lytton.
LYTTON: Which you will learn to live with, Griffiths, otherwise you’re out. And as your earnings have never been better, that would be rather foolish, wouldn’t it? Let’s go. Come on, Payne, there’s work to be done.
(Payne gets down into the narrow access tunnel.)
PAYNE: Oh. Hey, how thick is the sewer wall?
LYTTON: Oh, nothing you can’t handle.
(Payne takes the heavy lump hammer.)
PAYNE: I used to use one of these when I worked for the council.
LYTTON: This time it’s for swinging, not leaning on
It turns out that Russell (Terry Molloy) is an undercover policeman, sent to investigate the mysterious Lytton. Russell is a chance for Molloy to make a Doctor Who appearance as himself, rather than encased in latex as Davros. He’s rather good, and as Russell he underplays very well, a sharp contrast to the creator of the Daleks.
Whilst all this is going on, what’s happened to the Doctor and Peri? Well, they spend the early part of episode one not achieving very much – mainly dashing from place to place attempting to answer an intergalactic distress call. This has little overall relevance to the plot and mainly seems to be designed to keep the Doctor out of the loop until Lytton has allowed himself and Griffiths to be captured by the Cybermen.
One side-effect of the move to 45 minute episodes, is that for a 90 minute story there would now only be one cliffhanger. It’s a pity that the one in Attack is rather inept (“No, no, noooooooooooo!”) and the resumption in episode two is also slightly iffy. The Cyberleader (for no apparent reason) orders the death of Peri and a Cyberman steps up to deal with her. The Doctor, of course, pleads for her life, but there’s a long gap until the CyberLeader agrees. Why did the Cyberman not kill Peri straight away? Why listen to what the Doctor said? He’d been given a clear order by the CyberLeader.
So we’re off to Telos, where all the characters meet up with the Cryons, who are a bit of a rum lot. Sarah Berger, Sarah Greene and Faith Brown are amongst their number and they certainly are a memorable creation – I think it’s the long fingernails that does it. The masks do look a little cheap, but overall they work quite well as an alien species with their own unique take on events.
Lytton and Griffiths, along with two escapees from the Cybermen’s work party (Stratton and Bates) attempt to steal the Cyber Controller’s Timeship. Plot hole number two. How did the Cryons and Lytton know that Stratton and Bates were at large on the surface of Telos and also planning to steal the ship? Also, it’s fair to say that Stratton and Bates have to be the most pointless characters in the story. We spend a long time with them as they make their attempt to escape from the work party, ambush a Cyberman, etc, but in the end this plot-thread doesn’t go anywhere. And even when they team up with Lytton and Griffiths, they achieve nothing.
This being (probably) a Saward script, people start to die – Griffiths, Stratton and Bates are all quickly killed off, whilst Lytton is captured and taken to be turned into a Cybermen. First, though, Lytton’s hands are crushed to a bloody pulp – one of the most infamous scenes of the story.
Although I haven’t mentioned him much, Colin Baker is already (in just his second outing) very assured as the Doctor. There’s still a trace of the erratic behaviour of The Twin Dilemma but he’s much more in command here and more than able to hold his own against both the Cybermen and Lytton. The best of his scenes in episode two come when he’s locked up with the Cryon, Flast (Faith Brown) who describes the Cybermen’s plans for Earth.
DOCTOR: How do they intend to destroy Earth?
FLAST: It would only be necessary to disrupt it.
DOCTOR: It would still take rather a large bomb.
FLAST: They have one. A natural one. In fact, it’s heading towards Earth at this very moment.
DOCTOR: Halley’s comet?
FLAST: That’s right. They plan to divert it, cause it to crash into Earth. It’ll make a very loud bang.
DOCTOR: Indeed it will. It’ll also bring about a massive change in established history. The Time Lords would never allow it.
FLAST: Who knows? Perhaps their agents are already at work.
DOCTOR: Well, if they are, they’re taking their time about it. For a start, why? Wait a minute. No! No, not me! You haven’t manoeuvred me into this mess just so I can get you out of it! It would have helped if I had known what was going on!
FLAST: You are a Time Lord?
DOCTOR: Yes. And at the moment, a rather angry one.
Although there’s a lot to enjoy about Attack (Baker and Bryant, Maurice Colbourne, Brian Glover) the ending does leave a little bit of a nasty taste. It’s not the first Doctor Who story to end in violence and it won’t be the last, but there’s something a little off in seeing the Doctor blasting down the Cybermen. The Doctor’s used a gun before (for example, the third Doctor in Day of the Daleks was quite happy to gun down Ogrons) but it’s a pity that the resolution of the story couldn’t have been a touch more imaginative.
Still, following the fairly calamitous opening stories of the previous two seasons (both courtesy of Johnny Byrne) as a season opener Attack is a definite step up in quality and a good marker for the type of stories to come during the rest of S22.
Vengeance on Varos is a story that seems even more in tune with current trends than when it was originally broadcast, nearly thirty years ago. The rise and rise of reality television over the last few decades chimes perfectly with the similarly obsessed viewers of Varos. It’s only a short step from Arak and Etta to the viewers seen each week on Gogglebox.
The ruling elite of Varos seek to pacify the population with a daily broadcast of torture and execution, in some ways similar to the entertainments offered to the Roman people – “bread and circuses”. They also have a lucrative sideline in selling videos across the galaxy of the events seen inside the Punishment Dome – as they say, they literally have to “export or die”.
Interactive television is something we take for granted now (and Doctor Who also has had its brush with it, who could forget the difficult decision about whether to choose Mandy or Big Ron to assist the Doctors in Dimensions in Time? Not me, and believe me, I’ve tried) and it made it’s first faltering steps in the late 1970’s.
In America, Warner Amex Cable Communications pioneered a system called Qube. It offered a variety of interactive services, including home shopping and quiz shows. Each user was provided with a handset which had a number of buttons, so that when, for example, questions were asked, the viewers could instantly give their opinion – and it’s clearly this type of technology that influenced Varos (witness the Varosians ability to vote on key matters, which has the side-effect of deciding whether the Governor lives or dies).
Television violence was in 1985, as it remains now, a hot topic – so a story that satirises violence was always going to be controversial. As might be expected, there were complaints – not only from casual viewers and media watchdogs, but also from some fans who were concerned about the Doctor’s actions. Personally, I don’t have a problem with the acid bath scene, as the Doctor doesn’t actually push anybody in – the one guard pulls in the other. I do have an issue with the scene towards the end of episode one, where the Doctor leaves the machine that was about to obliterate Jondar pointing towards the pursuing guards, and we see one unfortunate guard killed.
If some of the visuals and dialogue are (intentionally) unpleasant, then no doubt Philip Martin and Eric Saward would say that that was the point. Exactly how far the programme could (or should) go during Saturday tea-time viewing is another interesting debating point.
Moving on, it’s clear right from the start that this story is going to be something unusual. Arak and Etta never interact with any of the other characters, they remain isolated from the action and only view the events on their screen and then pass comment on what they see. For example, Etta remarks that she likes the Doctor, “the one in the funny clothes”. And, like many viewers, they are also quite clear about what they like and don’t like.
ARAK: Why have they stopped? Oh, it’s pathetic. When did they last show something worth watching, eh? When did we last see a decent execution.
ETTA: Last week.
ETTA: The blind man.
ARAK: That was a repeat.
ETTA: It wasn’t. You’re thinking of that infiltrator. He wasn’t blind. Not at the beginning, anyway.
The opening fifteen minutes or so manage to set up the basics of the story very effectively. We know that Varos is a military dictatorship which appeases the working population with violent broadcasts, whilst the Governer (Martin Jarvis) negotiates with Sil (Nabil Shaban) concerning the mining rights for Zeiton-7 ore. This is, though, one of the major plot flaws in the story. Zeiton-7 is one of the most precious substances in the Universe, so it beggars belief that nobody on Varos is aware of this or that Sil and his company have been offering them a pittance for it for centuries.
One problem with this elaborate world-building is that, like Attack of the Cybermen, the Doctor and Peri take a long time to actually connect to the plot. If you treat Varos as a four-parter, then for the majority of episode one they’re stuck inside the TARDIS.
Once they arrive on Varos though, things do begin to happen. They team up with the rebel Jondar (Jason Connery) and his wife Areta (Geraldine Alexander). Both give rather stagey, unnatural performances, but there are stronger actors on Varos (particularly Martin Jarvis) so this isn’t too much of a problem. And they’re certainly better than Rondel (Keith Skinner) who is mercifully killed off very quickly.
If the rebels on Varos are a bit wet, then the baddies are much better. Forbes Collins (Chief Officer) gives a gloating performance as the power behind the throne. Nicholas Chagrin isn’t subtle as the scarred, deranged Quillam – but it’s not a part that really demands subtlety. Nabil Shaban as Sil has the showiest part and he clearly made enough of an impact to have a swift return to the series the following year. Best of all though, is Martin Jarvis as the Governor.
The Governor isn’t an evil man – he just seems to be trapped in the system and has very little room for manouvere. So he’s like many politicians then, although he – unlike them – is in constant danger of death from his people if he announces too many unpopular policies. Something that has yet to be introduced here, popular though it undoubtedly would be!
As the Doctor and Peri proceed through the Punishment Dome, they become an instant hit with the viewers of Varos (something that JNT obviously hoped would also be reflected in real life) but they find rather less favour with some of the ruling elite. Quillam, especially, seems keen to arrange a painful death for the Doctor.
QUILLAM: I see you have a keen interest in the flora of Varos, Doctor.
DOCTOR: Just a passing fancy.
CHIEF: It’ll pass faster than you think. Kill them!
QUILLAM: Wait. This man has insulted me. He must suffer for my humiliation.
CHIEF: This is no time for revenge. Kill them quickly!
QUILLAM: And deprive Varos of an example of how traitors are dealt with? The cameras are still functioning. Let the show begin. I want to hear them scream till I am deaf with pleasure. To see their limbs twist in excruciating agony. Ultimately their blood must gush and flow along the gutters of Varos. The whole planet must delight in their torture and death.
DOCTOR: An excellent scenario. Not mad about the part.
Vengeance on Varos was Ron Jones’ final Doctor Who story as director. Out of the all regular Doctor Who directors from the 1980’s he seems the most anonymous. He was no Graeme Harper, but Varos, like his previous story, Frontios, is shot quite effectively. Both were studio-bound, but Jones managed to couch good performances from the majority of the cast and whilst the camerawork is not particularly elaborate, he was able to lower the lighting and produce a decent atmosphere. Music, from Jonathan Gibbs, is sparse, but it’s quite striking. Today, it seems impossible to have a story without wall-to-wall music, so this is a trip back to a time when silence could be very effective.
Although it was originally planned to end the story with the Doctor and Peri inside the TARDIS, common sense prevailed, as the final scene, like the rest of the story, is deeply ironic.
GOVERNOR [on the viewscreen]: And that, fellow citizens of Varos, is my vowed intention. For without justice and peace and tolerance, we have no future. I know you will all work as hard as I shall for a glorious tomorrow. Thank you for allowing me into your homes. Thank you.
ARAK: No more exeutions, torture, nothing.
ETTA: It’s all changed. We’re free.
ARAK: Are we?
ARAK: What shall we do?
(Static on the viewscreen.)
A scheduling quirk meant it was allocated double the amount of location filming a story of this length would normally have had, which is certainly a great benefit. Ironbridge Gorge Museum (where the bulk of the filming took place) is a lovely location and director Sarah Hellings certainly made the best use of it.
This is best demonstrated in the opening scene of the story. Hellings elected to use all the available extras in a n expansive tracking shot showing the miners leaving work for the day and proceeding down the main street. She knew that she wouldn’t be able to have so many extras available for the remainder of the shoot, but by creating an impressive opening it allows the viewer to fill in the blanks later on when there are fewer actual people about.
Although the story features the return of the Master (so he didn’t die in Planet of Fire, no surprise really!) it’s much more concerned with the machinations of the Rani (Kate O’Mara). Originally it was scripted that the Rani acted as, effectively, the Master’s assistant (ala the Doctor and Peri) but once Kate O’Mara was cast the plans changed and she became the dominant character.
This does mean that the Master (a second-rate villain at the best of times) is made to look even less impressive as the Rani slings a series of insults his way, for example referring to him as an “asinine cretin” and she also offers a good summation of his, frankly, often bonkers schemes, “It’ll be something devious and overcomplicated. He’d get dizzy if he tried to walk in a straight line.”
Why the Master was dressed as a scarecrow at the start of the story is a mystery that’s never solved, as is the reason he chooses to divert the Doctor’s TARDIS (it’s almost as if he wants to make his evil plans as difficult as possible to achieve). His scheme here is a little undercooked it has to be said, as he plans to harness the brainpower of Telford/Davy/Faraday/Stevenson and make the Earth an unbeatable superpower. Yes, they were all geniuses – but could they really have raised the technological level of the planet to the degree the Master wants?
Episode One is great fun – plenty of location filming and nice scenes with O’Mara, Ainley and Baker all facing off. Episode Two does sag a little though – so maybe this would have worked better as just a single 45 minute story. We’ve already seen the Doctor attacked by the augmented locals in Episode One, so when we see it again in Episode Two there’s a sense of deja vu.
There’s also the business with Luke Ward turning into a tree which could possibly be the silliest thing ever in Doctor Who. There’s plenty of competition, I know, but it’s difficult to watch the scene where the bendy tree stops Peri from venturing any further, without smiling.
Cast-wise, this is very strong. Terence Alexander (at the time a familiar face from Bergerac) is good fun as the crusty Lord Ravensworth. Gawn Grainger’s accent does wander from time to time, but he gives a nice turn as the somewhat bemused, but always obliging, George Stephenson.
Although Pip and Jane Baker’s use of the English language would sometimes find disfavour with some sections of fandom, they were also able to craft some entertaining dialogue, such as this –
RANI: Who’s this brat?
MASTER: My dear Rani, quite unwittingly you’ve made my triumph utterly complete. Allow me to introduce the Doctor’s latest traveling companion, Miss Perpugilliam Brown, although her traveling days will soon be over.
PERI: I thought he was dead.
MASTER: As you observe, I’m very much alive. Your erstwhile mentor, on the other hand, is about to, I believe your modern expression is, snuff the candle.
DOCTOR: Snuff the candle? You always did lack style.
MASTER: Style is hardly the prime characteristic of your new regeneration.
RANI: Oh, do stop squabbling and get on with it.
Another plus-point is Johathan Gibbs’ score. He stepped into the breach quite late in the day after John Lewis was unable to complete the score due to illness (sadly Lewis died shortly afterwards). Gibbs’ music is quite low-key and pastoral and fits very well with the rich visuals from the location shooting. Lewis’ score for Episode One is available on the DVD as an extra and is worth a listen – although I do prefer Gibbs’ effort.
So whilst there may not be quite enough story to last 90 minutes, The Mark of the Rani, thanks to the location work, music and strong guest cast is a very enjoyable watch. And Pip and Jane Baker certainly seemed to have nailed the 6th Doctor’s character – he still has the odd tantrum, but they also bring out his scientific curiosity as well as his sense of justice. By this point in the season, Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant have formed a very effective team and they’re a pleasure to watch.
The Two Doctors is, to put it mildly, a real mixed bag. Robert Holmes was asked to include a number of elements – a foreign setting (originally New Orleans, later Seville), the Second Doctor and Jamie and the Sontarans. We’ve previously discussed how Holmes disliked “shopping list” stories – this was the reason he didn’t complete his draft script for The Five Doctors for example – so placing so many restrictions on him was possibly asking for trouble. Another problem was that it was effectively the same running time as a six-parter (which was a length of story Holmes loathed).
Given all this, it’s a little surprising that The Two Doctors turned out as good as it did. Its tone is uncertain at times (Holmes always had a dark sense of humour and was probably delighted to find his whims indulged by Eric Saward) and it’s surprising to see that Troughton is somewhat wasted, but there’s plenty to enjoy here, so let’s dive in
The opening fifteen minutes or so are pure bliss. Back in 1985, the sum total of my exposure to Patrick Troughton’s Doctor comprised of The Krotons and The Three Doctors from the Five Faces repeats in 1981 and The Five Doctors from 1983. They were enough to convince me that Troughton was a brilliant Doctor and this story only cemented my appreciation of him. Although Troughton looks much older and greyer than before, there’s still a spark there and his byplay with Shockeye and Dastari is lovely. Frazer Hines, somewhat remarkably, didn’t look much older than when he bade the Doctor farewell in The War Games, some sixteen years earlier. Whilst Hines works well later on with Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant, it’s a pity he’s separated from Troughton for the majority of the story.
Given the length of the story, it’s odd that Troughton is absent for such a long period (he vanishes fifteen minutes into the first episode and doesn’t re-appear until fifteen minutes into episode two – some forty five minutes). And after such a strong start, he’s a somewhat impotent character for the remainder of the story. He spends episode two tied up (although he has a few good scenes) and suffers the indignity of being turned into an Androgum in episode three, something of a lowlight of the story. But back to episode two, there’s a delightful scene between Troughton and Stike (Clinton Greyn).
DOCTOR: Tea time already, nurse?
STIKE: I do not understand.
DOCTOR: Just as well. A face like yours wasn’t made for laughing.
STIKE: The operation must begin at once. I am needed at the front.
DOCTOR: Yes, I heard you. What was it, a vital strike in the Madillon Cluster? Oh, dear me. Nothing changes, does it? You and the Rutans have become petrified in your attitudes.
STIKE: Nothing can change till victory is achieved. But, but I fear I might have made a tactical error.
DOCTOR: Oh? I thought the Sontarans never made mistakes.
STIKE: It is not easy being commander. The loneliness of supreme responsibility.
DOCTOR: Why don’t you resign, Stike? Take a pension.
STIKE: When I die, it will be alongside my comrades at the front. Doctor, you have a chance, in death, to help the Sontaran cause.
DOCTOR: How can I do that?
STIKE: Tell Dastari where your symbiotic nuclei is located in your cell structure. Vital time will be saved and I can be on my way.
DOCTOR: Is that what Chessene’s offered you, the knowledge of unlimited time travel? In that case, you should watch your back, Stike.
DOCTOR: She’s an Androgum! A race to whom treachery is as natural as breathing. They’re a bit like you Sontarans in that respect!
(Stike slaps the Doctor.)
STIKE: That is for the slur on my people!
DOCTOR: And for that I demand satisfaction!
STIKE: You know that is impossible.
DOCTOR: I am challenging you to a duel, Stike. That is traditional among Sontarans, is it not?
STIKE: Oh, I would dearly love to kill you, but unfortunately you are needed alive.
DOCTOR: Release me, Stike. You are not only without honour, you’re a coward as well.
STIKE: As you are not a Sontaran, Doctor, you cannot impugn my honour.
DOCTOR: Well, that didn’t work, did it?
It does worry some people that Troughton’s Doctor is working for the Time Lords (and that Jamie knows all about them). This has given rise to the Season 6b theory, but the basic truth is that this was the latest attempt by Robert Holmes to demystify the Time Lords. Holmes disliked the way they had been portrayed in The War Games (aloof, august, etc) and instead he took every opportunity to portray them as out of touch and basically corrupt. The Deadly Assassin (which so upset a vocal minority of fandom at the time) was the clearest demonstration of this and The Two Doctors, more subtly, carries this on. Holmes would, of course, continue this theme the following year in his episodes of The Trial of a Time Lord. This interview excerpt with Holmes sheds some light on exactly what he was attempting to achieve.
When I wrote The Two Doctors, it was no mistake that the Troughton Doctor knew he was being controlled by the Time Lords. The theory which myself and others who worked on Doctor Who began to conceive was that the Time Lords were in dual control of the TARDIS all the time. The first trial was a mockery, a public relations exercise, because the Doctor had become involved too close to home and something had to be done about him. That’s why he is almost half-hearted about attempting to escape, which normally he never was. He knew that they were in complete control and had been all along. To operate as sneakily as this, you would have to be corrupt, and that’s what came later, when I was the script editor. Did they not condemn the Doctor to exile for interfering in the affairs of other planets? And yet who had sent him on these missions? They had!
Episode one has some rather strange plot holes (although it’s possible to argue these away). What was reason for displaying the image of the Second Doctor apparently being put to death? If nobody was left alive then who would have seen it? And it’s incredibly sloppy to leave the equipment in place, so that when someone came to investigate they would instantly see that the Doctor’s death was a fake.
And if the Second Doctor’s death was phony, why should the Sixth Doctor be affected? It’s also a remarkable co-incidence that when the Sixth Doctor decides to seek medical advice he not only chooses Dastari (out of all the medical men and women in the Universe) but lands the TARDIS at exactly the point in time immediately after the Sontarans have attacked the space station. The only possible explanation for these whacking great plot holes is that the Time Lords were aware the Second Doctor had been kidnapped and subtly influenced the Sixth Doctor in order to get him to investigate.
Robert Holmes always had a gift for language, which is very much present in this story. True, it sometimes edges towards the macabre (there were plenty of examples of this in the 1970’s and it does seem that Saward was keen to exploit this). Colin Baker benefits from Holmes’ writing – he’s impressed me in his stories so far, but here (thanks to Holmes) he goes up another couple of notches. This is a good example of morbid Holmes.
PERI: Ugh! Oh, Doctor, it’s foul. Are you sure it’s safe?
DOCTOR: Plenty of oxygen.
PERI: Yeah, but that awful smell.
DOCTOR: Mainly decaying food (sniffs) and corpses.
DOCTOR: That is the smell of death, Peri. Ancient musk, heavy in the air. Fruit-soft flesh, peeling from white bones. The unholy, unburiable smell of Armageddon. Nothing quite so evocative as one’s sense of smell, is there?
PERI: I feel sick.
DOCTOR: I think you’ll feel a good deal sicker before we’re finished here.
And this is lyrical Holmes.
DOCTOR: She can’t comprehend the scale of it all. Eternal blackness. No more sunsets. No more gumblejacks. Never more a butterfly.
There are problems with The Two Doctors, and the major one is the Sontarans. Although they have the reputation of being a classic Doctor Who monster, they were remarkably ill used, particularly in the original series. Linx was great, thanks to a wonderful performance by Kevin Lindsey and an impressive mask. Styre was comprimised by only appearing in one episode and a slightly less impressive mask (made to ease the strain on Kevin Lindsey). Stor was pretty rubbish and the Sontarans were generally pretty ineffectual anyway in The Invasion of Time.
Which leads us on to their next appearance, in this story, and it does seem to be a case of diminishing returns. The masks here are the worst yet seen – they look far too obviously like masks (just compare them to Linx from a decade earlier). Both Stike and Varl are very tall as well, which looks a little odd – nasty, brutish and short should be how the Sontarans look. Holmes writes them quite well, and Stike has a nice military swagger, but it’s clear they’re not the focus of the story and it probably would have worked just as well with just the Androgums.
The debate about violence during S22 was a fairly hot topic and there are two main talking points here – the death of Oscar and the death of Shockeye. Oscar (James Saxon) seems to be an archetypal Holmes figure (think Vorg in Carnival of Monsters or Jago in Talons of Weng Chiang). They exist to bring a little light relief to the story with their cowardly antics, but they come good in the end – by showing unexpected reserves of courage. Holmes was never afraid to kill off sympathetic characters (Lawrence Scarman in Pyramids of Mars, for example) but the death of Oscar is a jolt.
Although he wasn’t used as much as Jago, there would have been a similar shock if Greel had knifed Jago to death in the last episode of Talons. His death is supremely pointless too – although maybe that’s Holmes’ point. Throughout the story we’ve seen how groups of characters treat the species’ they consider to be lesser than them. The Doctor and Dastari consider the Androgums to be a lower form of life, just as the Androgums regard humans as little more than animals whilst Oscar has no compunction in killing moths, which he does simply for the pleasure their mounted displays brings him.
The Doctor’s killing of Shockeye isn’t a problem – it’s obviously self defence as Shockeye was out for blood. It’s just unfortunate that we have a few shots of the Doctor smiling whilst preparing the cyanide. The sight of the Doctor apparently relishing what was about to happen is more than a little disturbing – although this may not have been the intention and simply how it was cut together.
So whilst the story flags somewhat in the last episode (like City of Death and Arc of Infinity they can’t resist a run-around so they can show off the foreign location) it’s never less than entertaining across all three episodes. It’s a pity that Troughton wasn’t used better and also that the two Doctors were kept apart for the majority of the story, but apart from these niggles it’s a very decent script from Robert Holmes and in many ways it was the last one he wrote where he was fully on top of his game.
Whatever else Timelash is, it certainly isn’t dull. But although it’s difficult (if not impossible) to argue that it’s an overlooked classic, it does have some decent elements and the bad ones are, very often, good for a laugh.
The first problem comes directly after the opening credits. It should have started with the escape of Aram, Tyheer and Gazak. This short scene manages to info-dump some important information quite well (the planet has a Citadel, a rebel encapment and the planet is ruled by the Borad) and it has a sense of urgency. Instead, we open with a bickering TARDIS scene between the Doctor and Peri.
Whilst the Doctor and Peri remain stuck in the TARDIS, arguing about the Time Corridor and waiting to enter the main plot, events are happening on Karfel. Timelash has a real range of performances, which travel the scale from Denis Carey (excellent and menacing in a small role) right down to Paul Darrow. The opening scene in the inner sanctum allows us to observe some good examples of this.
It’s probably a relief that the rebel Gazak (Steven Mackintosh) is cast into the Timelash so early on. His delivery of the lines “I’m no rebel. I love this planet. My crime is merely a concern for our world, our people, our loss of freedom, and the growing danger of an interplanetary war. ” is delivered in such a flat, lifeless way that his death is really a mercy killing.
Much better is Neil Hallett as Maylin Renis. He also departs from the story quite quickly, which is a little bit of shame. Hallett was a decent actor with decades of experience (a familiar face from series such as Ghost Squad) and his early demise allows Paul Darrow to step into the breach as the new Maylin.
Much has been written about Paul Darrow’s performance. Arch, would be a good way to describe it (other less polite words are also available). Like many parts in the story, it’s rather underwritten, so Darrow seems to to be doing his best to make it memorable, which he undeniably does. But for a true masterclass in good-bad acting, you can’t beat Graham Crowden in The Horns of Nimon. Darrow’s not in the same league.
Tracy Louise Ward is appealing as Katz. There’s nothing particularly interesting about her character, but she still manages to be very watchable. Easily the best from the guest cast is David Chandler as Herbert. He’s got the sharpest-written character (with some nice humourous moments) and he forms a good rapport with both Vena (Jeananne Crowley) and Colin Baker.
And if there’s one person holding this together, then it’s Colin Baker. Although he may have realised that the story wasn’t working, there’s no sense of that in his performance – he still gives 100% and his energy and enthusiasm help to lift proceedings immensely. But it’s not a good vehicle for Nicola Bryant as she spends the majority of the story chained up and menaced by an unconvincing rubber monster. The Board is the latest in a long line of aliens who has taken a shine to her, and sadly that’s about the extent of her involvement in the plot.
Speaking of rubber monsters, there’s the glorious appearance of the Bandril ambassador pleading for more grain, which is another highlight. There’s also some fun to be had from the gratuitous info-dumping that happens from time to time, a sure sign that the script needed at least a few more redrafts (for example, “all five hundred of us?” which very clumsily establishes how many people are present in the Citadel). The visual realisation of the Timelash, seen at the photo at the top of this post is breathtaking (for all the wrong reasons). The sight of Colin Baker dangling on a rope whilst struggling to get back to safety is something that’s not easily forgotten.
The Borad is quite an impressive villian (at least visually) and he sounds suitably menacing, thanks to Robert Ashby. His “shock” return after apparantly being killed (it was a clone that died) doesn’t really work though – as it feels like another ending tagged on to bolster an underruning episode. And as the lengthy TARDIS scene in the second episode was recorded because the episode was short, so like The Mark of the Rani there’s a sense of the story running out of steam mid-way through episode two.
But having said all this, I can’t find it in my heart to actually dislike Timelash. It’s not slapdash and shoddy like The Invasion of Time, dull like Underworld or just plain irritating like The Web Planet. It’s never going to win any popularity contests, but it’s not all bad either. Like the majority of S22 it remains fairly unloved by fandom, which is a shame, but whilst it has many faults, the commitment of the leading man certainly isn’t one of them.
Saward hadn’t been particularly happy with the way Resurrection had turned out (as he felt he’d been strait-jacketed into adhering to previous Dalek continuity). Revelation is very much his own story and is all the better for it. Although, in fact, it’s not really a Dalek story as they only appear briefly throughout. Llike Genesis, it’s very much Davros’ story.
Terry Molloy is spellbinding throughout. Despite being stuck in a perspex tube for most of the two episodes, he’s a constant, malevolent presence. Graeme Harper tends to shoot him largely in close-up and this helps to create a sense of claustrophobia. Harper is also skillful in dealing with the Daleks. Seen head-on, they’re never that impressive – so Harper elects to shoot them close-up (so we only see a part of them gliding through the frame) or from low-angles (which makes them loom over people). Another interesting shot is when Davros offers Tasambeker immortality as a Dalek – and a Dalek eye-stalk comes into view on the right-hand side of the screen.
Although Harper’s direction isn’t as immediately impressive as The Caves of Androzani, there’s still more than enough interesting visual touches to mark this as something above the norm. And like Androzani, he’s assembled a first-rate cast.
As a devotee of Robert Holmes, Saward seems to have inherited one of Holmes’ familiar story traits – namely that of the double act. Indeed, Revelation is full of them (Kara/Vogel, Tasambeker/Jobel, Takis/Lilt, Orcini/Bostock, Grigory/Natasha as well as, of course, The Doctor/Peri).
Saward obviously enjoyed writing for these combinations and the only drawback is that the Doctor is pretty much superfluous to the first episode. He and Peri arrive, get attacked by a mutant, climb over a wall and then a statue appears to collapse on top of the Doctor – that’s the end of part one and we’re half-way through the story. In fact, the Doctor could have turned up a minute before the episode finished and it probably wouldn’t have impacted the story at all.
He has slightly more to do in the second episode, but it’s the likes of Orcini that Saward seems to be much more interested in. As is probably well known, Eric Saward never really cared for the Sixth Doctor and Revelation (either consciously or unconsciously) has virtually written him out of the narrative. His infamous Starburst interview from 1986 was the first time it became public knowledge that he didn’t consider Colin to be Doctor material and this was enough to sever their relationship forever. So for example, you knew that if Eric Saward was present for a Sixth Doctor DVD commentary, then Colin Baker wouldn’t be.
But if the Doctor struggles to make an impact, the rest of the characters fare much better. William Gaunt is lovely as the world-weary assassin Orcini, wishing for one final, honourable kill, accompanied by John Ogwen as his grimy squire, Bostock. They are hired by Kara (Eleanor Bron) and her fawning, obsequious secretary, Vogel (Hugh Walters) to assassinate the Great Healer (aka Davros). The initial meeting between Kara and Orcini is a good example of Saward’s new-found comic touch.
VOGEL: Be seated, gentlemen.
ORCINI: We prefer to stand.
KARA: Of course. How foolish. As men of action, you must be like coiled springs, alert, ready to pounce.
ORCINI: Nothing so romantic. I have an artificial leg with a faulty hydraulic valve. When seated, the valve is inclined to jam.
VOGEL: Perhaps you would like one of our engineers to repair it for you.
ORCINI: I prefer the inconvenience. Constant reminder of my mortality. It helps me to keep my mind alert.
KARA: Oh, Vogel, we have a master craftsman here. I feel humbled in his presence. Oh, no wonder your reputation’s like a fanfare through the galaxy.
ORCINI: I take little joy from my work. That I leave to Bostock. I prefer the contemplative life. It isn’t always easy to find, so, to cleanse my conscience I give what fee I receive to charity.
KARA: Such commitment. Oh, you are indeed the man for our cause.
Davros has been busy since we’ve seen him last, and when he and the Doctor finally meet he (like all villains down the ages) is more than happy to explain his evil scheme in great detail.
DAVROS: I am known as the Great Healer. A somewhat flippant title, perhaps, but not without foundation. I have conquered the diseases that brought their victims here. In every way, I have complied with the wishes of those who came in anticipation of one day being returned to life.
DOCTOR: But never, in their worst nightmares, did any of them expect to come back as Daleks.
DAVROS: All the resting ones I have used were people of status, ambition. They would understand, especially as I have given them the opportunity to become masters of the universe!
DOCTOR: With you as their emperor. But what of the lesser intellects? Or will they be left to rot?
DAVROS: You should know me better than that, Doctor.I never waste a valuable commodity . The humanoid form makes an excellent concentrated protein. This part of the galaxy is developing quickly. Famine was one of its major problems.
DOCTOR: You’ve turned them into food?
DAVROS: A scheme that has earned me great acclaim.
DOCTOR: But did you bother to tell anyone they might be eating their own relatives?
DAVROS: Certainly not. That would have created what I believe is termed consumer resistance. They were grateful for the food. It allowed them to go on living.
DOCTOR: Until you take over their planets.
If some of the plot doesn’t really hang together (it’s hard to believe Davros would have rigged up the collapsing statue that pretended to crush the Doctor, it’s really not his style. And why was Tasambeker exterminated after killing Jobel? That’s what Davros told her to do) the overall experience is certainly a rich one and something tonally very different from the norm.
There are plenty of highlights, for example Alexei Sayle as the DJ broadcasting to the dead and Alec Linstead as Stengos, encased within a glass Dalek and slowly turning into a monster. It’s a pity that just as the series had hit imaginative new heights it was taken off-air for eighteen months. But the style that S22 had pushed all year had clearly gone too far for some at the BBC, so that when Doctor Who returned in 1986 it would be a radically different series.