Having reached the end of the series, I’ve found that a Brothers fix is still required, so I naturally turned to the 1976 long-playing extravaganza that is Christmas with the Hammonds.
Colin Baker’s website has done a wonderful public service by making it available for everybody to enjoy. If, for example, you’ve ever wondered how Paul Merroney would wrestle White Christmas to within an inch of its life, then this is the disc for you.
Without further ado, let’s jump straight in ….
Winter Wonderland, Sleigh Ride – Bill & Gwen Riley
Derek Benfield and Margaret Ashcroft favour a soft duet singing style and they also both handle individual lines with aplomb. A very solid start.
The Holly and The Ivy – Jane Maxwell
I don’t believe I’ve ever heard Kate O’Mara sing before, so I wasn’t sure what expect. She can certainly handle a tune and together with a tasteful string arrangement it seems that Kate was taking it very seriously. Two out of two so far, can this good run continue?
We Need A Little Christmas – David Hammond
Robin Chadwick may be slightly flat, but how can you not love the jaunty backing track? It’s only two minutes long, which means it doesn’t outstay its welcome.
The Christmas Story – Mary Hammond
Jean Anderson is spared the ordeal of singing as instead her track tells the story of the birth of Jesus. You can imagine Mary telling this story to her three sons every Christmas, whether they wanted to hear it or not. Good old Mary.
The Twelve Days of Christmas – 1: Jane 2: Bill 3: Gwen 4: April 5: All 6: Jenny 7: Ted 8: Mary 9: Brian 10: Paul 11: David 12: All
It’s tag-team time as everybody pitches in. It gives us our first opportunity to hear the vocal talents (ahem) of Patrick O’Connell and Colin Baker, whilst it also confirms that a whole track of Jean Anderson singing might have been a step too far.
Cantique de Noel – Brian Hammond
Decades later, during The Cult of the Brothers documentary, Richard Easton still seemed to regard his major contribution to the album with fondness and a little pride. And why not? He can hold a tune well and, as befits his character, adds a touch of gravitas to proceedings.
Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas – Jenny Hammond
With only a piano accompaniment, Jennifer Wilson is a little exposed, but thanks to her breathy singing style she just about pulls it off.
Good King Wenceslas – Ted Hammond and Paul Merroney
Nice to see that Ted and Paul managed to bury the hatchet in order to contribute to this duet. It’s fair to say that neither Patrick O’Connell or Colin Baker were blessed with angelic singing voices, so their decision to keep their tongues firmly in their cheeks was the only possible option. It’s certainly memorable.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer – April Hammond
It’s slightly surprising that April and Paul didn’t have a duet together. Singing is clearly not Liza Goddard’s strength, so the clip-clop backing attempts to cover some of the cracks.
White Christmas – Paul Merroney
After the delight of Good King Wenceslas, it seemed obvious that the world needed more of Colin Baker’s unique vocal talents. Fair play to the man for sharing this track in all its grisly glory (instead of claiming that it had somehow been lost). It’s three minutes which defy description (but once again I have a feeling Mr Baker wasn’t taking it entirely seriously, or possibly a little alcoholic refreshment had loosened him up somewhat). The line – “may all your days be Merroney and bright” – is sheer genius.
Good Wishes For the Season – Gwen, Bill, Jenny, Ted, Jane, Brian, April, Paul, David & Mary
This is lovely as all the cast – in character – take turns to wish the listeners the compliments of the season. Naturally enough Mary gets the last word whilst Jane (“keep the men in their place and have a fantastic time”) has the most memorable message.
A treat from start to finish, it feels a little odd to be listening to it in July, but come December I’m sure I’ll be revisiting Christmas with the Hammonds again.
Within the first few minutes of the series seven opener – To Honour and Obey – it’s plain that change is in the air. First we have a new title sequence which acknowledges that Hammond Transport is now about more than lorries (shots of swooping aircraft makes that plain).
But even more startling is the fact that we’re presented with the sight of Paul Merroney (Colin Baker) having a shave. All of the main characters (with the exception of Paul) have previously had their private lives investigated in exhaustive (and some might say exhausting) detail. Up until now Paul’s has been exempt from this – indeed the others have unkindly referred to him as a robot on more than one occasion, suggesting that he doesn’t have a private life at all.
Seeing Paul Merroney in any other setting than a purely business one is something of a jolt, but since this episode is concerned with his wedding I guess we’re going to have to get used to it. Brian (Richard Easton) is his best man, which rather implies that poor Paul is somewhat lacking in friends. Although his bride-to-be April (Liza Goddard) might make up for that. Or maybe not, let’s wait to see how their marriage plays out ….
Given Brian’s previous problems with the bottle, it’s a little strange that he got drunk at Paul’s stag party (a pity we didn’t see it, I’m sure it would have been a hoot – no doubt Paul was stuck in the corner, sipping a tomato juice). Paul then discusses his father (in the first five minutes we learn more about Paul the man than we had in the last two and a bit series).
We’re quickly introduced to members of April’s family. Her father, Lord Winter (Anthony Nicholls), has little time for his son-in-law-to-be and April’s brother, Simon (Terence Frisby), shares his disdain – although since Simon and Paul are involved in a power-struggle at the bank, at least their conflict is professional rather than personal (Lord Winter just considers him to be a dull fellow).
Brian’s children have been conspicuous by their absence for most of the series to date. Even when he and his former wife, Ann, were together we never saw much of them. So when Brian’s daughter Carol (Debbie Farrington) suddenly turns up, it’s a bit of a jolt. Mind you, that’s nothing compared to the shock when Ann (Hilary Tindall) also reappears ….
I’ve missed Ann, so it’s lovely to see her again – even if it’s only a fleeting visit. With Brian now entering a tentative relationship with Jane Maxwell (Kate O’Mara), Ann’s presence certainly helps to shake up the status quo, although Carol is the key figure here – seemingly undecided about whether to live with her mother or father.
Carol’s now a new-age hippy chick but Ann’s still the same old Ann. They both bow out in episode four, The Female of the Species, with Carol rather bamboozling Brian before she goes. And before Ann leaves she has the chance to confront Jane (Hilary Tindall and Kate O’Mara – an implacable force meeting an immovable object).
Happy marriages are something of a rarity in The Brothers. This series Ted (Patrick O’Connell) and Jenny (Jennifer Wilson) are the first to suffer a few bumps in the matrimonial road. Although they’ve always seemed well-suited, it should be remembered that as soon as they tied the knot Jenny became incredibly bossy (her ill-fated desire for a child was just one of the times when Ted – a hard-case in business but a teddy-bear at home – gave way).
This year Ted’s showing signs of mellowing on the business front. Spending time away on a business course helped him to finally release that Paul Merroney wasn’t quite the villain he always believed him to be (something the viewers twigged some time back). When he returns home, Jenny’s off to visit her daughter, Barbara, in Canada (and more than a little irritated that Ted’s changed his mind about joining her). Barbara (Julia Goodman) is another familiar face from the past to make a return this year (her marriage – surprise, surprise – has hit something of a rough patch).
A little extra spice is added to Ted and Jenny’s relationship after April, at a loose end during one of Paul’s numerous foreign trips, offers to cook Ted dinner. There’s no strings attached – it’s just a friendly offer from April who’s concerned that Ted will waste away if he has to fend for himself – but the reactions of their respective spouses are quite instructive. Paul’s coolly amused (his long-standing disdain of Ted still stands) whilst Jenny doesn’t say a great deal (although it clearly rankles, as we’ll see during the next few episodes).
Of course it was Paul who mischievously told Jenny that her husband and his wife had enjoyed a meal together rather than the hapless Ted, who no doubt would have much preferred to have kept quiet. This leads April to liken Paul to one of the Borgias – which he takes as a rich compliment!
Regular viewers will probably be expecting several long-running plot-threads to rear their heads one last time. And you won’t be disappointed as yet again Mary’s (Jean Anderson) health takes a turn for the worse, leaving the brothers to play nursemaid, although neither Brian or David (Robin Chadwick) are falling over themselves to volunteer. The sight of Brian and David tossing a coin (Brian lost, so he had to stay at home with her) is a nice comedy moment.
The saga of Gwen Riley’s (Margaret Ashcroft) new house also continues to rumble away – every time she seems to be on the verge of moving, something happens to prevent her (this time she’s been gazumped). Once again, Ashcroft (and Derek Benfield as Bill Riley) impress as the one couple who somehow manage to juggle their work and private lives without resorting to taking lumps out of each other. Ashcroft gets to flex her acting muscles a little more towards the end of the series after Bill and Gwen’s son is involved in a motorbike accident.
Later series of The Brothers tended to be shared out amongst a pool of writers who would then pen a block of consecutive episodes. For the seventh and final series this was split as follows – Ray Jenkins (episodes one to three), Brian Finch (episodes four, five and nine to twelve), Elaine Morgan (episodes six to eight) and N.J. Crisp (episodes thirteen to sixteen).
Elaine Morgan’s three scripts – Arrivals and Departures, The Distaff Side and Cross Currents – are of particular interest. Although this was her only contribution to The Brothers, her extensive career spanned the mid fifties to the late eighties with many notable credits. The Life and Times of David Lloyd George is an obvious career highlight, with top-quality literary adaptations (including The Diary of Anne Frank, Testament of Youth and How Green Was My Valley, amongst others) also featuring heavily on her CV.
Christine Absalom appears in Morgan’s three episodes as temporary secretary Judy Vickery. It’s fair to say that she and Paul don’t hit it off – possibly it’s her toy Snoopy (a good-luck mascot, she tells him) or maybe it’s because she appears to be slightly flustered (although she assures him that once she settles down she’ll be fine). As an outsider, Judy allows us to see the regulars through a fresh pair of eyes – especially the martinet Paul Merroney (the way she mispronounces his name to begin with is a lovely comedy touch).
Paul, enroute to Istanbul, calls April from the airport. She has bad news for a him (a family bereavement) and is appalled when he doesn’t cancel his flight and return home This is a key moment, as although Paul shows a spasm of pain at the news, business comes first. It’s an attitude which April finds incomprehensible and serves to sow the first seed of disharmony between them.
The unexpected arrival of Paul’s mother in The Distaff Side throws the Hammonds into a tizzy. With Paul still away and April uncontactable, Ted and Brian attempt to play pass the parcel with her. Luckily, Mrs Merroney (Norah Fulton), a plain-speaking Geordie, takes up Gwen’s offer of a bed for the night (much to Brian’s obvious relief!)
Mrs Merroney’s conversations, first with Gwen and Bill and then later with April, help to shed considerable light on Paul’s character. A sickly, bookish child, he found himself teased by the local children – therefore his drive to succeed in business was partly borne out of a desire to prove his parochial home-town rivals wrong. These are further strong scenes from Elaine Morgan.
Elsewhere, there’s a nice spark of jealously directed towards Jane by Jenny. Jane’s arrival in series five generated a certain amount of friction amongst all the members of the Hammonds board, although it was rather downplayed the following year. Quite why Jenny should be so set against the possibility of Jane becoming a Hammond (after all, that’s precisely what she did by marrying Ted) is a bit of a mystery but it helps to give Jenny a little more to work with on the character front.
Jenny’s paranoia keeps on bubbling away (she’s convinced that everybody is plotting against her). The best moment comes when she confides to Mary that Brian and David are locked in a bizarre love triange with Jane! That’s somewhat far from the truth – since Brian’s long-relationship with Jane has been platonic, David sees nothing wrong in inviting her out for a couple of meals.
The result of Jenny’s rash comment puts Mary on the warpath. She attempts to rope Ted in, but he’s less than keen to get involved – although their conversation sets up a pulsating later scene which sees Ted accuses Jenny of spewing posion. With their marriage already a little rocky, this simply adds to the pressure. Jenny has the last word as she cruelly, but maybe accurately, labels the Hammond brothers as “a lush, a failure and a has-been!” Wonderful stuff.
Everything then kicks off in typical Brothers style as Mary confronts Jane, Brian confronts David and David, in a huff, packs his bags and leaves home.
Episode ten – Celebration – is ironically titled, as Jane receives the bad news that one of her new C41s has disappeared somewhere in the Atlantic, Jenny receives a summons for dangerous driving whilst Paul and April’s marriage seems to have hit a brick wall.
Possibly this was art imitating life, as Colin Baker and Liza Goddard had married for real shortly after Paul and April tied the knot in the series. Baker would later acknowledge that their union was probably a mistake as it sadly didn’t last very long.
April is a rather passive character to begin with – content to wait at home for her husband to return from the office (although capable of becoming annoyed when he’s late). April bemoans the fact that their luxury flat has become a gilded cage for her, but she seems unable or unwilling to do anything to rectify the situation, such as finding a job. Given that the role isn’t terribly interesting for large stretches, it’s lucky that Liza Goddard was on hand to breathe a little life into her. Goddard does icy detachment better than anybody and some of her later scenes suggest that April could have developed into quite the bitch had the show gone to an eighth series.
Paul Merroney’s latest scheme is to expand into the Middle East. From a modern perspective, setting up bases in places such as Baghdad and Kuwait seems to be asking for trouble, but it’s true that it was a different time back then. Only Brian opposes the plan, whilst the others see a chance to make a handsome profit (although the risk factor is great).
Whilst the cast were confidently expecting an eighth series, I wonder if the return of co-creator N.J. Crisp to write the last four episodes was something of a sign? Crisp had only penned a handful of episodes during the previous couple of runs, so it could be that he had an inkling the series was reaching the end and wanted to be the one to conclude it.
Whilst a continuing drama can never come to a compete stop, there’s a sense that The Brothers was reaching a natural conclusion. We’ve seen over the years how Hammond Transport had changed from a privately owned company to a publicly owned one, but the Middle East scheme serves as the catalyst to finally wrest control away from the Hammond family (via a new share option which will raise much needed capital but will also serve to dilute their majority share-holdings).
But various questions remain unanswered as the credits rolled for the final time. How would Paul and April’s wobbly marriage have resolved itself? Most intriguingly, would Paul’s Middle Eastern escapade have been a disaster? If so, then he might have been eased out and maybe the Hammonds would have attempted to regain control of the company.
Although there were plenty of options for future storylines it wasn’t to be, so The Brothers came to an end on the 19th of December 1976 with The Christmas Party. Final treats include Brian’s quite astonishing moves on the dance floor and Ted’s firm rejoinder after Paul suggests that Hammond Transport Services Ltd is a rather old-fashioned name. Surely something like Worldwide Transport Services would be better?
Another strong collection of episodes, this seventh and final series of The Brothers is just as addictive as the previous runs. It’s easy to why it captivated a generation back in the 1970’s and forty years on it’s still as entertaining. If you’ve been collecting the DVDs then you’ll know how good the show is, if not then I’d strongly recommend picking up series one and making your way through a classic slice of seventies drama from there.
The Brothers – Series Seven is released by Simply Media on the 10th of July 2017. RRP £29.99. It can be ordered directly from Simply here.
Series six kicks off in a typically confrontational way as Ted (Patrick O’Connell) clashes with Merroney over Brian’s future. Will Brian be welcomed back onto the board? Ted wants a fair deal for his brother and – possibly surprisingly – Merroney concurs. But the reason he gives is sure to put Ted’s back up. “Because of the three of you, he’s the only true professional”.
Colin Baker still looks as if he’s enjoying himself enormously as Merroney continues to call the tune, forcing the others to dance to it. His relationship with Brian (Richard Easton) has always been complex. He values Brian’s business acumen and knows that Brian likes him personally (which has helped create a bond between them) but it’s also plain that Merroney would drop him like a stone if he proved to be unreliable.
Somewhat Godot like, Brian has an influence over events even when he’s not on screen. The series opener, Red Sky At Night, begins with the others awaiting his return. But when he’s not on Don Stacey’s charter-flight there’s concern all round. Where is he? Is his absence further evidence of his unreliability?
When Brian (still sporting the impressive moustache he grew last year) does reappear, it’s telling that it’s Merroney he goes to see. Although both David (Robin Chadwick) and Ted have fought for their brother’s interests in their own ways, Brian clearly feels more comfortable with somebody outside of the family.
Brian’s gradual reintegration back into the business is a running theme during these early episodes as is the question of Jenny (Jennifer Wilson) and Ted’s adopted baby, William. When the baby’s real mother decides she wants him back, Jenny starts to feel the strain. One has to wonder why Jenny and Ted didn’t legally adopt the child (William was abandoned by her mother six months earlier but she now feels more confident that she can look after him).
Our sympathy should be with Jenny, but there’s something more than a little off-putting about her manic determination to hang onto William whatever it takes. Jennifer Wilson plays these scenes well and since her character’s usually so level-headed and sensible it’s an interesting change to see her put under pressure for once.
Jenny is happy to cast William’s natural mother, Pat Hawkins (Elaine Donnelly), in a poor light, but that’s not the impression most will get when they hear her story. “Look, I’m just a girl from the local estate, okay? And I got a baby. And I couldn’t explain to my mum and dad why I wanted to keep him. So I did the only thing I could do and I gave him away”.
One might raise an eyebrow at the revelation that Pat’s husband, Alan (Ian Marter), works for Hammonds. Something of a remarkable coincidence it must be said, but this does allow Ted to be pushed over the edge a little further (like Jennifer Wilson, Patrick O’Connell seems to relish these dramatic scenes). Plus it’s always a pleasure to see the late Ian Marter, even in a small role like this.
Carleton Hobbs makes a welcome reappearance as Sir Neville Henniswode (Hobbs had appeared in series four but was presumably unavailable for series five, which led to Llewellyn Rees taking over the role). Hobbs had a decent film and television career but for me – and I’m sure for many others – he’ll forever be the definitive radio Sherlock Holmes. Just to hear the timbre of his voice is enough to conjure up images of foggy streets and Hansom Cabs ….
One of the more unlikely developing plotlines concerns the relationship between Sir Neville and Mary Hammond (Jean Anderson), the imposing matriarch of the family. At least this enables Mary to get out of the house every so often and therefore makes a nice change from her usual scenes (which tend to consist of her chivvying one or more of her sons). Since both David and Brian are currently living with her at the family home, she’s got ample opportunity to fuss around them.
The first half of series six sees the Hammonds struggling to balance their work/private lives. Brian is still finding his way back to fitness slowly, David has never been terribly business minded anyway, whilst Ted and Jenny are more concerned with the fallout from William’s departure than they are with Hammond Transport.
This leaves Merroney in a strong position, although Bill Riley (Derek Benfield) for one isn’t prepared to roll over for him. Bill’s rise through the ranks has been an entertaining running thread over the last few series. Initially he was a little diffident at board meetings – due to his elevation from the shop floor – but by this point he’s more then happy to speak his mind.
He’s matched in the common-sense stakes by his wife Gwen (Margaret Ashcroft). Whilst the majority of the characters in The Brothers are middle-class or higher, the Rileys are resolutely working-class and proud of it. It would be easy for them to be portrayed in a patronising light, but this doesn’t happen – meaning that there’s something charming in the way they enjoy the simple pleasures of life (an evening game of Scrabble, for instance). But they’ve not immune to pressure and Bill’s increasing workload will be seen to have a negative effect on their marriage.
Merroney’s private secretary Clare Miller (Carole Mowlam) still finds that her loyalty is divided between Merroney and David. With neither man in a regular relationship, both are content to use her as a dinner companion and confidant. Although Clare is a character designed to react to others rather than instigate her own plotlines, Mowlam still manages to give Clare a spiky sense of humour, ensuring she’s more than the cardboard character she otherwise could have been.
During S5, Merroney seemed mainly to exist in order to thwart the Hammonds at every turn. But throughout this run of episodes he’s more nuanced – whereas previously he was totally dedicated to Sir Neville and the bank, now he confesses that he’s beginning to side with the Hammonds over certain matters. Although on other occasions he’s quite prepared to steam-roller right through them, if he can ….
Brian also shows some unexpected facets to his personality (since his breakdown he’s become a more relaxed and far-thinking person). At one point he expresses his new personal philosophy. “You’ve got to feel that what you’re doing is really worth doing. Nobody makes money except the Mint. All the rest of us do is push it around a bit, trying to make sure that we get a little more than the next man. But it’s not wealth. Wealth is enriching. Making money is just debilitating. In the end it leads to a sense of personal isolation”.
When David finds himself rejected by Clare in episode eight – The Chosen Victim – it serves as something of a wake-up call for him. All his life he’s been able to get whatever he wanted (until Clare). Will this make him a more rounded and less arrogant character? It’ll be interesting to see if his growth continues next series.
Paul Merroney and Jane Maxwell (Kate O’Mara) fractious relationship shows no sign of abating. At one point she tells him he’s “one of the lowest forms of life I’ve ever come across”. But when you learn that Merroney was castigating Jane’s ex-husband, the hard-drinking pilot Don Stacey (Mike Pratt) at the time, it’s easy to understand the reason for her anger.
Don bows out of the series in the sixth episode, Tender (broadcast just a few months before Pratt’s death at the age of 45). Pratt’s gaunt appearance gave the running plotline of Don’s impending medical exam a bitter irony. “Sooner or later they’ll find something that creaks or groans or doesn’t react fast enough and that’s it. You can keep as fit as you like, but Anno Domini gets you in the end”. Don didn’t do a great deal (although his leaving scene was a powerful one) but he was always an amusing character and Pratt, even though he was clearly ailing, always played him with an agreeable twinkle in his eye.
As series six moves towards its conclusion, several familiar faces pop up. Clive Swift plays the shifty Trevelyan whilst Joby Blanshard (best known as the plain-speaking Colin Bradley from Doomwatch) appears as Van der Merwe.
After being somewhat subdued in the early episodes, Ted roars back into life (few sights are more impressive than that of Patrick O’Connell in full flight) whilst Brian and Jane seem to be forming something of an alliance, both personally and professionally. But Brian’s wounded psyche (he has a fear of being touched) might be a problem. Richard Easton, as so often throughout all six series, impresses here.
The sight of April Winter (Liza Goddard) who briefly appears in the penultimate installment – The Bonus – signifies that change is on the way for Merroney. His offhand comment that she’s his fiancee is a real leftfield jolt – although April’s been mentioned on several occassions (which has prepared the ground for her arrival) it’s hard to imagine the coldly efficient Merroney ever being in love. Clare is crushed by the news. Bill later tells Gwen that “the torch that girl carries for him makes the Statue of Liberty look like a candle”.
Hammond Transport has undergone substantial changes over the last few years, morphing from a wholly-owned family concern into a company with strong ties to the bank (where Sir Neville and Merroney reign). But it’s the proposed takeover bid from Kirkmans which threatens to split the Hammond family down the middle. Some, like David, would be happy to sell their shares for a handsome profit whilst Ted (and especially Mary) are resolutely opposed to the deal.
When Merroney goes AWOL (he’s in Amsterdam, meeting with Van der Merwe) the others (especially Ted) are concerned that he’s plotting behind their back. His adventures in Amsterdam are great fun, adding a touch of out-of-season glamour to the series. The sight of his discomforted face as Van der Merwe’s daughter whisks him round Amsterdam at great speed in an open-top jeep is worth the price of admission alone.
The series finale – Birthday – might be partly concerned with Mary’s birthday celebrations but business matters are also on her mind. The takeover from Kirkmans may have foundered but a merger with Van der Merwe’s company is still very much on. But Mary, frustrated at being out of the loop, begins to flex her muscles. As with previous years, the final episode finishes on a strong hook which will lead in nicely to the start of the next series.
The Brothers remains a very moreish and ridiculously entertaining series. Richard Easton and Colin Baker especially impress, but there’s no weak links here. Four decades on it’s still easy to see why the show built up such a large and devoted fanbase (not only in the UK but in many other countries as well). Sharply defined and well-acted characters, placed in perpetual conflict with each other was a key part to its success and the passing of time has done nothing to dull this winning format.
The Brothers – Series Six is released on the 12th of June 2017 by Simply Media and contains thirteen 50 minute episodes across four discs. RRP £29.99.
The beginning of series five finds The Brothers in something of a transitional phase. Two key cast members (Gabrielle Drake and Hilary Tindall) had left the show at the end of the previous run, although fresh blood (most notably in the shape of Kate O’Mara as Jane Maxwell) would shortly arrive to shake things up.
The departures of both Drake (Jill Hammond) and Tindall (Ann Hammond) were used to good dramatic effect though. Ann and Brian had gone through the relationship mill during the previous series and even though their union was now at an end, Brian continues to suffer. But his broken marriage is just one reason why he goes severely off the rails in the early episodes.
Although Tindall was gone, her character was still alive and therefore a return was always possible (and indeed Ann did make a fleeting reappearance in a handful of episodes at the start of the seventh and final series). But Drake wasn’t so fortunate, as Jill is dispatched in the time-honoured way of dealing with soap actors who either can’t or won’t carry on (an off-screen accident). Talking about this decades later in The Cult of The Brothers documentary, it seems that Drake was a little taken aback at just how ruthlessly Jill was dealt with.
Another character, Martin Farrell, had also left, which results in both personal and professional consequences. Professionally, it means that the position of chairman is vacant – which seems tailor-made for the ambitious Paul Merroney.
And on a more personal note, it was plain that Ted Hammond’s nose was put out of joint last series by the interest Farrell had been taking in Jenny Kingsley (Jennifer Wilson). So with Farrell out of the picture, Ted (Patrick O’Connell) rekindles his own relationship with her. Lest we forget, Jenny carried on a lengthy and clandestine affair with Ted’s late father. Unsurprisingly this meant she has always been viewed with great disfavour by Ted’s mother – the indomitable matriarch Mary Hammond – but it seems that Ted has eventually summoned up the courage to defy his mother and make an honest woman out of Jenny. Although I’m sure there’s still going to be a few bumps ahead before they can enjoy a lifetime of wedded bliss.
The series opener, the aptly titled Life Goes On, finds Brian in a pretty poor state. This concerns the bank – they don’t want to see their investment in Hammonds put at risk because the new managing director is feeling flaky – but Paul Merroney has put plans in motion to protect their money ….
Although Merroney was a rather peripheral character during the last series, here he really starts to make his mark. For one thing, he’s gained an assistant – Clare Miller (Carole Mowlam). Apart from signifying Merroney’s increasing significance, Clare also emerges as a character in her own right – becoming close to David, for example.
Baker’s good value in these early episodes as Merroney begins his manoeuvres. Surprisingly, only the bluff Bill Riley realises that Merroney has his eye on the chairman’s job – which doesn’t say much for the business acumen of the others! There’s a delicious sense of duplicity on show from Merroney as he puts the blame for the recent ousting of Ted as managing director firmly on the shoulders of the departed (and innocent) Farrell.
The way the audience learns about Jill’s death is done in a very interesting way which makes a positive out of the fact that Gabrielle Drake was no longer a member of the cast. Jill isn’t mentioned during most of the first episode, although that wasn’t unusual (she was absent from the first few episodes of series four). It’s only right at the end of Life Goes On, when David runs into a friend who’s been out of town for several months that we find out Jill is dead. This is an incredibly jolting moment which provides us with a strong hook into the next episode where her fate is discussed in detail.
The dynamic between the three brothers – Ted, Brian and David – has been the motor which has powered the series to date. Whilst series five continues to play on their conflicts, the emergence of Paul Merroney as a major player refreshes this somewhat – as an outsider he has quite a different set of loyalties.
But the brothers still dominate the storylines especially, in the early episodes, Brian. In many ways he’s now got everything he wished for – he’s become managing director of Hammonds, ousting Ted. Or has he? We’d seen in previous series that it was Ann who was the ambitious one, constantly pushing him forward. So the fact that he’s gained in business but lost out in his personal life must come as a bitter irony to him.
Richard Easton continues to impress as Brian, especially when he starts to lose the plot (the episode title Breakdown makes it fairly obvious what’s going to happen). As his drinking increases, Brian is encouraged to seek psychiatric help. And always around is Merroney, plotting to oust Brian at one point and then (so the others fear) attempting to buy Brian’s shares so he can gain overall control of the company. But as we’ll see, Merroney is no cardboard villain – he may be mainly motivated by self interest but he’s also not without compassion for the stricken Brian.
As Brian, ensconced in a nursing home, retreats into the background, so other plotlines begin to develop. The long-running will they/won’t they relationship between Ted and Jenny is now very much back in “they will” territory and moves forward at a rate of knots. The problem with Mary (Jean Alexander, as good as always) still has to be overcome though, as the icy disdain she feels towards the woman who conducted a long-term affair with her late husband continues to be a fruitful source of drama. Even when Mary and Jenny appear to be on civil terms there’s always the sense that at any moment things could change ….
Although the departure of both Hilary Tindall and Gabrielle Drake left something of a hole, two new female characters filled the gap nicely. Clare’s divided loyalties (between David and Merroney) generate a good source of drama which plays out as the series progresses whilst Kate O’Mara makes an immediate impression as Jane Maxwell. Debuting in episode six, Flight of Fancy, Jane is the hard-headed director of an air-freight business which Hammonds have an interest in. As a proactive business woman she’s something of a rarity in the world of The Brothers (Jenny might be a board member of Hammonds, but she’s a much more passive character).
Also appearing for the first time in this episode is Mike Pratt as Don Stacey, a hard-drinking pilot. This would be Pratt’s final television role before his death in 1976 at the age of just 45. Don would appear throughout the remainder of series five and the first half of series six. Whilst it’s always a pleasure to see Pratt, it’s rather tempered by how ill and haggard he looks.
Yet again, things conclude in the boardroom (episode thirteen, Warpath) as Merroney continues to scheme although it’s possible that in Jane he’s finally met his match (a decade or so later Baker and O’Mara would once again lock horns, this time in Doctor Who). With Ted under pressure and Brian’s fate still uncertain, things are left nicely poised for the following series to pick up where this one left off.
By now, The Brothers had become a well-oiled machine and series five not only manages to develop the existing characters in a variety of ways but it also develops intriguing new ones as well. It continues to be highly addictive stuff, especially as the Hammonds, Merroney and Jane jostle for power and superiority. But there’s time for more personal stories as well (Jenny’s longing for another child) which ensures that the series isn’t completely boardroom and business based.
The Brothers – Series Five is released by Simply Media on the 27th of March 2017. RRP £29.99.
The story so far. Following the death of Robert Hammond, control of his thriving haulage firm was split four ways – equal shares were distributed to his three sons – Ted, Brian and David – whilst the fourth equal share went to his mistress Jenny Kingsley.
With no-one in overall control, there’s a constant power-struggle as elder son Ted (currently managing director) finds himself under attack from his two brothers, both convinced they could run the company better than him. And the trauma in the boardroom is matched by equal strife in their respective bedrooms.
We’ve previously seen that David’s (Robin Chadwick) recent marriage to the lovely, if rather doormat-like Jill (Gabrielle Drake), has had a few wobbles, mainly because his roving eye was elsewhere. He hadn’t actually been unfaithful, but Jill’s suspicions created a definite rift which they attempt to heal during this run of episodes.
Middle son Brian (Richard Easton) suffered even more spectacular marriage problems during the third series, although he remained blissfully unaware. His bored wife Ann (a wonderful performance by Hilary Tindall) found solace in the arms of smooth advertising type Nicholas Fox whilst chugging down far too many sleeping pills and drinking heavily. Her unhappiness at feeling trapped in a loveless marriage culminated in an overdose, although she appears to be quite her old self again now, even to the extent of restablishing contact with Nicholas.
Elder son Ted (Patrick O’Connell) doesn’t have any complaints on the marriage front, but that’s only because he’s single. He has his eye on someone though – Jenny Kingsley (Jennifer Wilson). His desire to wed his father’s mistress has been a running thread for a while, although Ted’s mother, the powerful matriarch Mary (Jean Anderson), strongly disapproves. This might have been one of the reasons why Mary keeled over at the end of series three with a heart attack.
So as series four begins, all three brothers face challenges in their personal lives whilst the business of running Hammonds also continues to cause them tremendous strife. And waiting in the wings is ambitious merchant banker Paul Merroney (Colin Baker), a man who always has his own agenda …..
The series four opener, Emergency sees Mary seriously ill in hosptal. She was discovered (off-screen) by Ted and Jenny who had returned from a brief holiday with life-changing news – Ted had proposed and Jenny accepted. But their happiness quickly evaporates as he blames himself for leaving his mother on her own.
We then see a nice visual signifier of the bond between mother and son. Whilst Ted goes to the hospital to await further news, Jenny stays behind to contact Brian and David as the camera lingers on a framed portrait of Mary and Ted. It’s a clever, unspoken touch which forshadows the dominance Mary will exert over her elder son.
When Mary gets better she has no compunction in telling Ted that he can’t marry Jenny. He might be a hard-headed businessman but he always seems to come off second best with his mother. And this is enough to convince Jenny that marriage to Ted would be impossible.
Business matters take centre-stage again with episode two, Secret Meetings, as Brian and David plan to offer merchant banker Martin Farrell (Murray Hayne) a seat on the board – the first step in their plan to make Hammonds a public company. Of course they’ve yet to mention this to Ted, so sparks inevitably fly when they do. Having said this, it’s surprising that Ted accepts their plan meekly, but he’s got an idea up his sleeve – if Bill Riley also joined the board then (provided he always votes Ted’s way) the status quo would remain. This is classic Brothers, featuring plot and counterplot.
If David has always irritated me somewhat, then Brian is a much more sympathetic character, even if it’s impossible not to feel a little frustrated by the way he remained oblivious to Ann’s lengthy relationship with Nicholas Fox (Jonathan Newth). But even Brian’s blindness could only continue for so long without it seeming totally unbelievable, and when he finally twigs it’s the cue for high drama. His first reaction, of course, is to reach for a drink (heavy alcohol consumption, along with an equally herculean nicotine intake, is something of a feature of the series).
Brian doesn’t confront Ann straight away, which enables him to calmly twist the knife and make her feel even more guilty than she already is. This is a good move – since you know the showdown will happen eventually, making us wait a little simply heightens the expectation. But Brian’s not backward in letting Ann know exactly what he thinks of her when the truth does emerge. “Your whole world begins and ends with yourself. You’re shallow, you’re superficial and utterly self-centered. Nothing matters to you but self, self, self!”
Ann doesn’t take this lying down. “You are a predictable bore, Brian. You don’t want a wife, you want a second mother. Somebody to cook and clean for you, and tuck you in and say, ‘there, there’ whenever you’re not feeling very well.” Both Richard Easton and Hilary Tindall are firing on all cylinders throughout (the end of episode five – Partings – as Brian knocks a shocked Ann to the floor is one of a number of stand-out moments). If Brian, following his separation from Ann, becomes something of a tortured figure then so does Ann herself. It slowly dawns on her that Nicholas Fox (a serial seducer) has no interest in a long-term relationship ….
David decides to become a racing driver (!) which means that Jill has to wait anxiously on the sidelines, hoping that he won’t be hurt. Frankly, this isn’t much of a role for Gabrielle Drake (compare and contrast to the plotlines dished out to Hilary Tindall) so it’s no surprise that she decided not to return for the fifth series.
Drake might also have been a little miffed that Jill didn’t turn up until the fourth episode and when she does finally make her first appearance it’s only to be once again verbally smacked down by David (he’s less than impressed with her anniversary gift to him – a penthouse flat – complaining that he doesn’t want to be a kept man). He eventually accepts it, but does so with his usual brand of charmless ill-grace.
The on/off relationship between Ted and Jenny allows Martin Farrell to step in (much to Ted’s extreme annoyance) whilst Bill struggles with the responsibilities of having a seat on the board. He’s always been proud to have the respect of the men, will this change now he’s one of the executives?
Brian’s run of bad luck continues in Saturday, but the later part of series four focuses on company traumas. The decision to make Hammonds a public company offers up a new range of storytelling possibilities. Until now, boardroom squabbles have largely been confined between the three brothers, but now that anyone is free to buy shares everything changes.
And this is partly where Paul Merroney comes in. He’s introduced in the fifth episode as a colleague of Farrell’s, brought in to advise how Hammonds should go public and although his screentime throughout series four is quite limited, he’ll become more central in the years to come. But Colin Baker, in his first regular television role, certainly makes the most of the material he’s given.
The wonderful Richard Hurndall guests in Bad Mistake as Clifton, an influential investment manager crucial to Hammonds’ future. Ted’s blunt style leaves Clifton less than impressed, giving Hurndall a chance to demonstrate his familiar icy, amused detachment. This episode also marks the point where Merroney starts to have an influence on company policy, much to Ted’s disgust.
The series finale, the aptly named The Crucial Vote, sees Ted struggling to keep the board united as the infighting intensifies. There’s no doubt that there will be many more twists and turns to come in the battle for Hammonds, which bodes well for future series.
Interweaving numerous plot-threads across its fourteen episodes, series four of The Brothers continues to be highly addictive entertainment. Brian and Ann’s disintegrating marriage is the definite highlight although the unstable powder-keg that is Edward ‘Ted’ Hammond also entertains. Patrick O’Connell plays Ted as a man constantly struggling to keep his anger in check – which can be seen most clearly any time that Jenny and Martin Farrell exchange glances. David’s fleeting desire to be a racing driver is less easy to swallow, but at least the one racing-centric episode – The Race – is not without interest, especially for the authentic track footage.
If you’ve yet to sample the world of the Hammond brothers, then now – with the first four series available and the remaining three due out by the end of the year – would appear to be the ideal time to do so.
The Brothers – Series Four is released by Simply Media on the 9th of January 2017. RRP £29.99.
Most of the regulars take centre-stage in at least one series three episode. Avon features heavily in Aftermath and Rumours of Death, Cally’s the main character in both Children of Auron and Sarcophagus whilst Tarrant (and his identical twin brother) stars in Death-Watch. Danya is the only one who doesn’t really have an episode of her own, unless you count her introductory tale, Aftermath.
For everybody’s favourite thief, City at the Edge of the World is a chance to see a more proactive and heroic Vila. Even when the script didn’t really feature him, Michael Keating could always be guaranteed to take whatever material he had and make it work to the best of his ability. Unlike some actors he didn’t do this by upstaging others – it was simply down to his natural comic timing. A great example can be found in Powerplay. Vila, wounded and alone in a strange forest, attempts to frighten off any would-be attackers by pretending to be a whole troop of fighting men! It’s an old gag – and only a throwaway moment – but Keating’s a delight to watch.
But there’s no doubt that it’s good to see Vila right in the thick of things for once. Too often he tended to end up as either the butt of other people’s jokes or simply blissed out on adrenaline and soma. In City at the Edge of the World he’s witty, resourceful and gets the girl. What more could you ask for?
We open with Tarrant being irritating (yet again). The Liberator needs crystals for its weaponry systems and he’s struck a deal with the mysterious inhabitants of a nearby planet. It’s simple enough – the crystals in exchange for Vila’s help. When Vila disappears and the box of crystals turns out to be a booby-trapped bomb, Tarrant is forced to eat humble pie (not before time!)
Vila’s been brought to the planet by Bayban the Butcher (Colin Baker). A vision in black, Baker is clearly having a ball (Paul Darrow later repayed the favour by going even further over the top in the Doctor Who story Timelash). It’s a cartoony performance but it works perfectly in this context. Following a couple of stories that were played too straight, City bubbles along with an infectious sense of humour and many quotable lines. This is one of my favourites, courtesy of Bayban who’s peeved to find out that he’s top of the Federation’s Most Wanted list – after Blake. “What do you mean, ‘after Blake’? I was working my way up that list before he crept out of his creche. WORKING my way up. I didn’t take any political shortcuts.”
Bayban has a crack force of mercenaries, led by Kerril (Carol Hawkins) and Sherm (John J. Carney). Carney, who’d previously given an excellent comic performance as Bloodaxe in the Doctor Who story The Time Warrior, is just as good here. He’s got little to do except react to the others – but he does it so well. Hawkins plays the unlikely love interest (or at least it’s unlikely to begin with). Their first meeting is memorable – we see Vila cowering at her feet, whilst she mocks him (“little man”). He then suggests she bathes more regularly (and uses mouthwash too).
The unexpected thaw in their relationship seems to happen after she changes out of her black leathers and into something more feminine. Possibly Chris Boucher was attempting to make a point here. She spends the early part of the story attempting to be one of the boys (and acting aggressively) but once she changes clothes she becomes a more passive and submissive character – effectively acting as Vila’s assistant.
To be honest the story isn’t the strongest – a mysterious race seek entry to a new world, but rather carelessly they’ve lost the key to the door. Only their leader Norl (Valentine Dyall) ever speaks, so they remain rather undeveloped – but then they’re not really the focus here (it’s more of an excuse for Vila to demonstrate his skills and Colin Baker to chew the scenery). Dyall is compelling though. He had the sort of voice that instantly commanded attention, so whenever he speaks it’s hard not to listen.
Vila is given a chance to cross over to this new world with Kerril. It’s a beautiful, unspoiled planet where they could live out their lives in peace. He declines, and his reason gives an insight into what makes him tick. “There’s nothing there worth stealing. You know why I neutralize security systems, open safes, and break into vaults? It’s because I can and most people can’t. It’s just that, it’s what makes me, me. Kerril, a thief isn’t what I am, it’s who I am.”
After a couple of average stories, City at the Edge of the World gets us back on track.
One thing that the range of Doctor Who DVDs (from An Unearthly Child to the TVM) isn’t short of is documentaries. Just about every release has a plethora of supplementary information – from story-specific features, interviews with people from both in-front of and behind the camera to more tangential featurettes (such as The Blood Show from the State of Decay DVD. A twenty minute documentary on the use and meaning of blood in society? No, me neither).
But back at the start of the 1990’s, things were very different. The only British-made documentary screened during the series’ original twenty-six year run was 1977’s Whose Doctor Who. Reeltime Pictures catered for the fan market during the 1980’s and 1990’s with the MythMakers series of interview videos, but these (like VHS releases of convention panels) were only preaching to the converted. A mainstream documentary on BBC1 seemed like a remote possibility.
But 1993 was Doctor Who’s 30th anniversary and even if the show had been off the air since 1989, it still had a certain presence (thanks to healthy VHS sales). Kevin Davies was keen to make a documentary celebrating the program and he had an impressive calling card – The Making of the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – a popular straight to video documentary that mixed archive footage, outtakes and new interviews.
Thirty Years in the TARDIS was to eventually take very much the same shape – although prior to this format being agreed Davies made numerous other pitches which were rejected. These included Tomb of the Time Lords which would have featured Ace searching the Doctor’s memory in the Matrix – which would have provided the excuse for a series of clips. Another intriguing possibility was The Legend Begins, a drama-documentary about the creation of the series (Davies suggested Pete Postlewaite as Hartnell). We would have to wait another twenty years, and Mark Gatiss’ An Adventure in Space and Time, for this idea to eventually hit the screen.
Thirty Years in the TARDIS was produced by The Late Show team and although Davies had been given a free hand, some higher-ups became concerned with the approach used. Davies wanted to take the nostalgic route to try and pinpoint why Doctor Who had been such as success whilst The Late Show team felt that the documentary should have a more factual basis and so additional interview material was shot.
In the end, this made the transmitted version a rather uneasy comprise between Davies and his producers. But even though it was a bit of a hodge-podge, there were still plenty of impressive moments (especially the drama recreations). However, Davies still felt that there was a better documentary that could be made from the material and so in 1994 More Than Thirty Years in the TARDIS was released on VHS.
Davies had free reign to re-edit the program to his wishes as well as adding an additional forty minutes (bringing the running time up to ninety minutes). From the perspective of 2015 it’s just another documentary, but back in 1994 it was something rather special.
Although the pirate video network (see Cheques, Lies and Videotape on the Revenge of the Cybermen DVD for more info) was still flourishing at the time (which meant that some of the rarer material featured – studio outtakes, for example – were in circulation) not everybody had access to them. So a major draw of the VHS were the snippets from studio sessions, including The Claws of Axos and Death to the Daleks , as well as ephemera like the Tom Baker/Lalla Ward Prime Computer adverts. Even the end credits were fascinating, as they were packed with clips of studio off-cuts.
Jon Pertwee, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy were interviewed, but Tom Baker and Peter Davison were conspicuous by their absence. Tom did make an appearance via archive footage though and given that many anecdotes were already calcified by this time (yes, Jon Pertwee does mention Yetis in Tooting-Bec!) this probably wasn’t too much of a drawback.
One notable new section concerned the thorny issue about who exactly created the Daleks (was it Terry Nation, Raymond Cusick or Davros?). This discussion was intercut with Jon Pertwee’s appearance on the Anne and Nick show where he disagreed that it was Terry Nation (much to the amusement of the studio crew!).
The DVD release of More Than is pretty much a direct port of the VHS master which means that many of the clips look rather grotty. Along with the staggering number of special features, the amount of restoration work carried out the DVD releases is really highlighted when you see exactly how badly the stories used to look.
If you didn’t live through the 1990’s as a Doctor Who fan, then More Than is probably not going to have the same special appeal today as it did then. Just about every scrap of interesting material can be found in a more complete form somewhere on the DVD range (you want the whole studio spool from The Claws of Axos? You’ve got it) but More Than does manage to compress twenty six years of history into an entertaining ninety minutes.
This obvious nostalgia apart, it remains a very decent documentary that does its best to explain the magic of the series and I’m glad it ended up on DVD.
If The Ultimate Foe brings The Trial of a Time Lord to a slightly disappointing conclusion, the somewhat chaotic nature of the scripting of the story is probably the reason why.
Eric Saward had commissioned Robert Holmes to write the two concluding episodes. Holmes was mid-way through episode thirteen when he was hospitalized and sadly, he was to pass away shortly afterwards. With Holmes in hospital, Saward completed episode thirteen and, working from Holmes’ story outline, wrote the concluding episode.
JNT wasn’t happy with Saward’s ending (the Doctor and the Valeyard were trapped, apparently for ever, in a Time Vent) and asked for it to be changed. Saward refused and then resigned as script editor, taking his script with him. He also attempted to stop his section of episode thirteen from being used, but was unsuccessful.
Pip and Jane Baker were commissioned to write a new concluding episode. For copyright reasons they couldn’t be given any details of Saward’s script. So all they had to go on was episode thirteen and to make matters worse they had only a few days to deliver a workable episode.
Holmes’ section of episode thirteen runs up until the Doctor enters the Matrix. After that (with one exception) the rest was scripted by Saward. What’s interesting about Holmes’ scenes is how he takes yet another opportunity to tarnish the reputation of the Time Lords. Holmes had started this process some ten years earlier with The Deadly Assassin. And in many ways, The Ultimate Foe is really The Deadly Assassin II.
Episode thirteen answers some of the unanswered questions from The Mysterious Planet (although it’s debatable how many people actually remembered the points that are tidied up). Glitz and Mel are called as star witnesses and the Master pops up. I love the reveal of Ainley on the Matrix screen as well as his comment that he’s been sat in the Matrix watching everything and “enjoying myself enormously”.
All of the Time Lords’ dirty schemes are revealed (they’re somewhat complicated it has to be said) and there then follows a scene which could have been a game-changer in the direction of the series.
MASTER: You have an endearing habit of blundering into these things, Doctor, and the High Council took full advantage of your blunder.
INQUISITOR: Explain that.
MASTER: They made a deal with the Valeyard, or as I’ve always known him, the Doctor, to adjust the evidence, in return for which he was promised the remainder of the Doctor’s regenerations.
VALEYARD: This is clearly
DOCTOR: Just a minute! Did you call him the Doctor?
MASTER: There is some evil in all of us, Doctor, even you. The Valeyard is an amalgamation of the darker sides of your nature, somewhere between your twelfth and final incarnation. And I may say, you do not improve with age.
The origin of the Valeyard is something of a mystery and is never addressed. There was further mileage in an evil anti-Doctor (possibly taking over from the Master as the Doctor’s main nemesis) but it was never explored again (on television at least). But these two episodes do give Michael Jayston a chance to flex his acting muscles (and lose the hat!) and whilst the Valeyard never develops beyond a fairly stereotypical villain, Jayston does give him a bit of class.
Given the scripting race against time, episode fourteen is actually a lot better than it could have been. There’s some nice set-pieces (the Doctor apparantly convicted in a fake trial room and the unmasking of Popplewick aka the Valeyard) but the Valeyard’s ultimate plan (to assassinate various key Time Lords) is a little less than impressive. But there’s some prime examples of the Bakers unique use of the English language to enjoy – “a megabyte modem” and “there’s nothing you can do to prevent the catharsis of spurious morality” amongst others.
And then it’s all over. The Doctor is free to go and leaves with Mel (paradoxically before he’s actually met her!) and the Valeyard lives to cackle another day. Colin Baker’s final words “carrot juice, carrot juice, carrot juice” are perhaps not the most impressive last words he could have had – but, of course, it wasn’t planned to be his final story.
Over the last three weeks or so, I’ve really enjoyed revisiting all of Colin Baker’s stories for the first time in a number of years. He was something of a victim of circumstances and had things been different he could have gone on for several more years and really established himself as one of the best Doctors. But even given his rather compromised stint, there’s still plenty to enjoy in S22 and S23 and it’s with a little regret that I bid him farewell.
Anybody who’s ever studied the tortured production history of S23 will probably be aware that Eric Saward had some trouble in finding workable scripts. Various writers were approached and submissions were made, but many of them came to nothing. So it’s fair to say that Pip and Jane Baker weren’t his first choice to fill episodes nine to twelve – they were commissioned more as an act of desperation when everything else had fallen through.
Not that Saward had much to do with the story. The dispute over his script for episode fourteen (which I’m sure we’ll touch upon when we reach The Ultimate Foe) triggered his resignation and Terror of the Vervoids went through the production process without a designated script-editor (JNT assumed these duties).
The lack of Saward isn’t really notable – as the Bakers were quite able to script a decent story off their own bat (although as per all their stories, sometimes the characters are saddled with very unnatural sounding dialogue). Vervoids is an entertaining whodunnit, packed with suspects and red-herrings galore. It may (like the rest of S23) look a little cheap (some of the Hyperion III seems to be cobbled together from stock) but there’s a decent set of actors and minimal interference from the trial, which makes this one of the highlights of S23.
Chris Clough was assigned director of the final six episodes and his influence is notable from the first shot – he’s turned down the lights in the Trialroom and everything instantly looks a great deal better. Although there are a few instances when it appears that the Matrix has again been tampered with, this doesn’t impact the story as badly as it did Mindwarp. And episode nine allows the story time to develop with the trial sequences book-ending the episode – it’s nice, for once, to have an episode where there aren’t delays every few minutes which are devoted to discussing meaningless points.
It’s maybe just as well that the Internet didn’t exist in 1986, as the casting of Bonnie Langford would have caused it to melt. She wasn’t exactly welcomed with open arms by a certain section of Doctor Who fandom (who clearly saw her casting as the final straw) but looking back at this story she’s perfectly fine. She does lack any sort of background (inevitable since we’re introduced to her cold in this story) but Mel’s young, keen, headstrong and with a knack for getting into trouble. She can also scream in tune with the closing sting on the theme music, which is a good trick!
True, her opening scene is somewhat iffy –
MEL: This will wake you up.
DOCTOR: Carrot juice?
MEL: It’ll do you good. Honestly, carrots are full of vitamin A.
DOCTOR: Mel, have you studied my ears lately?
MEL: It’s your waistline I’m concerned about.
DOCTOR: No, no, seriously, though. Is it my imagination or have they started to grow longer?
MEL: Listen, when I start to call you Neddy, then you can worry. Drink up.
DOCTOR: You’ll worry sooner when I start to bray.
But things do pick up after this. It’s also interesting to note how mellow Colin Baker’s Doctor is – he’s a million miles away from the abrasive character of S22, all his previous arrogance and bluster have gone.
Once aboard the Hyperion, the Doctor and Mel mix with the guests and staff and start to uncover various conspiracies. Clearly one whodunnit wasn’t good enough for the Bakers, so there’s a diverse series of events and problems which need to be solved.
Honor Blackman and Michael Craig are the main guest stars. Blackman is good fun as the constantly bad-tempered Lasky, whilst Craig (although he sometimes has the air of a man who wishes he was elsewhere) is solid enough as Travers. David Allister is quite compelling as Bruchner, the scientist with a conscience, whilst the late Yolande Palfrey manages to make something out of nothing, as the stewardess Janet.
Lurking in the air-conditioning are the Vervoids, who aren’t the most impressive monsters that the series has produced. They’re just too polite to be particularly threatening (“we are doing splendidly”) and it doesn’t help that the actors in the suits tend to do typical monster acting – lurching from side to side and waving their arms about.
But if the Vervoids do lack a little something, then there are still a few scares to be had in the story. Since the majority of cliff-hangers this season have ended on a crash-zoom of the Doctor’s pouting face, it’s nice to have two that buck the trend. Episode nine gives us a chance to hear Mel’s ear-splitting scream as the Hydroponic centre explodes whilst episode ten has the creepy reveal of Ruth Baxter.
After twelve weeks, we’re now into the trial’s endgame. Episodes thirteen and fourteen will either provide a satisfying conclusion to the previous three months or, well, they won’t. The ultimate foe awaits ….
Mindwarp is the story which suffers most for being part of the Trial format. Like The Mysterious Planet the action stops periodically whilst not terribly interesting points are debated in the Trialroom. For example, in episode five, there are six courtroom scenes, several of which don’t serve any particular purpose (apart from providing some exposure for guest stars Michael Jayston and Lynda Bellingham).
But more serious than this is the Doctor’s growing realisation that what he’s watching on the screen varies significantly from his own memories. Story-wise, this is interesting – but it does damage the narrative, how can we care about what we’re watching if it might not be true?
This concerned Colin Baker, who in rehearsals queried whether certain scenes were real or created by the Matrix. Eric Saward was unable to clarify, so this leaves sections of the story feeling a little unsatisfactory. We can say that the Doctor’s interrogation of Peri on the Rock of Sorrows in episode six and the end of episode eight are at least two examples of faked pictures.
On the original transmission, the end of episode eight was a shock (even allowing for the crash-zoom into the pouting face of Colin Baker). That this ending is negated later in the season is a fatal flaw. It would have been far better to have it revealed that the Time Lords were responsible for Peri’s death – since they took the Doctor out of time before he could save her. Instead, we have the fudge that it never really happened.
If we put aside the problems with the Trial format, then Mindwarp is still a solid, if unspectacular, Doctor Who story. Brian Blessed is the main guest star and he produces a typical Brian Blessed performance. Even by the mid 1980’s, he was (in)famous for his larger than life performances and he delivers a typical one here. He has a greater range than this though (at times he’s quietly menacing in I Claudius) so it’s a pity he couldn’t have had a more subtle character to play.
Nabil Shaban returns as Sil, much more of a comic relief than he was in Vengeance on Varos. Christopher Ryan (clearly an actor who can’t appear in Doctor Who unless he’s encased in latex) is very good as Kiv, Sil’s boss. Patrick Ryecart gives a typically smooth performance as the unscrupulous Crozier whilst Thomas Branch is able to overcome the difficulties of restricting make-up to deliver a touching turn as Dorff. It’s not all good news though, as Gordon Warnecke is monumentally wooden as Tuza, but his bad performance is an exception.
This is Nicola Bryant’s last story and, as has become a familiar story trope, she spends the majority of it fighting off somebody’s unwelcome attentions. It surely can’t be unintentional that Yrcanos shares a number of character traits with the Doctor (they both shout a lot, for example). The Peri/Yrcanos romance must be the least convincing since Leela/Andred and it’s interesting to ponder exactly how much of a say Peri had in matters. After the Doctor was removed from Thoros Beta she clearly had few other options than to stay with Yrcanos, but after the Doctor realises she’s still alive he never seems particularity interested in visiting to see how she is. Poor Peri!
Nicola Bryant does have some good material though (her final scene is stunning) and there’s some nice exchanges between Peri and Yrcanos.
PERI: Why do they want Tuza?
YRCANOS: Execution one at a time, that’s how it will be.
PERI: Oh. Oh, it’s strange. Ever since we came to Thoros Beta I’ve been homesick. Not so much for a place, but a time. I just want to be back in my own time with people I love.
YRCANOS: What is that? Love?
PERI: Well, it’s when you care for someone or something more than yourself, I guess.
DORF: More than yourself?
PERI: Well, I know it sounds crazy, but, sometimes more than life.
YRCANOS: I care nothing for mine.
PERI: How can you say that, Yrcanos?
YRCANOS: Well, on my planet of Krontep, when we die, our spirit is returned to life, to be born in a more noble warrior.
PERI: Until what? Where do you end after all your brave deaths?
YRCANOS: You become a king! Me, after my next death, I join the other kings on Verduna, the home of the gods.
PERI: To do what?
YRCANOS: Why, to fight! What else?
PERI: Well, that figures
If the Trial sequences don’t help the story, then the decision to have the Doctor act out of character for several episodes is also not a great move. Colin Baker’s abrasive performance during parts of S22 hadn’t found favour with some, so S23 (particularly with its reduced running time) should have concentrated on making him a more accessible character. Of course, at the time nobody knew that Baker would shortly be sacked by BBC management – if he had stayed on then this wouldn’t have mattered so much.
Mindwarp seems to be a slightly less focused story than Vengeance on Varos. Varos had a clear satirical point to make, whilst Mindwarp doesn’t – and at times feels much more like generic Doctor Who. It’s also saddled with some pretty poor dialogue – “Nobody likes brain alteration” – which suggests that Eric Saward’s attention was elsewhere. Indeed, he’d soon be gone and his eleventh hour walkout would be another blow to an already beleaguered season.
Doctor Who’s fall from grace in the mid 1980’s was dramatic and sudden. In 1983 the series celebrated its 20th Anniversary and still seemed to be regarded as one of the nation’s favourties. But by 1985 the series was tagged as old fashioned, violent and dropping in popularity.
Doctor Who needed friends in high places, but it was sadly out of luck. Previously, executives and programme controllers had both enjoyed the series as well as recognising its importance in the BBC1 schedules. But by the mid 1980’s a new breed was in place – Michael Grade and Jonathan Powell disliked the show and their dislike became public knowledge.
Therefore, in 1986 it was clear that the series was in trouble. Initial omens for S23 weren’t good. The episode count was slashed to fourteen 25 minute episodes, film was replaced by VT for exterior shots and there was a general feeling that the budget was much tighter than before. If the reduced episode count had ensured that more money was spent on each story then that would have been understandable, but apart from the odd impressive FX shot the series looked as cheap as it had for a long time. Foreign filming (a regular occurrence during the previous three seasons) now seemed to be a thing of the past.
With only fourteen episodes, the programme needed to make an instant impact, but it’s fair to say that the most calamitous decision was to have an overall umbrella theme of the Doctor on trial. Given that the series was fighting for its life with the BBC executives, it clearly struck JNT and Eric Saward as a witty idea to have the Doctor do the same.
As it stands, the Trial sequences slow each story down, as periodically the action is paused for the Doctor, the Valeyard (Michael Jayston) and the Inquisitor (the late Lynda Bellingham) to debate what we’ve all been watching. The Trial only really comes into its own in the last two episodes, but at the start of the series that’s three months away. How many people would stick with it throughout all fourteen episodes and remember the plot threads from this first story which are only answered three months later? The ratings tell their story on that one.
The Trial starts with The Mysterious Planet which was Robert Holmes’ final complete script for the series. Holmes died whilst writing the first of the two episodes designed to wrap the season up and it’s long been regarded that his illness played a factor in the slightly underwhelming nature of this story.
The Mysterious Planet feels like a first draft and although there are familiar Holmesian traits (such as the roguish Sabalom Glitz) there’s a certain lack of sparkle. It’s a perfectly serviceable story (although it draws heavily on Holmes’ own back-catalogue) but after being off-air for 18 months, Doctor Who needed to come back with a bang and this was a little disappointing, It’s certainly no Caves of Androzani, that’s for sure.
Whilst looking for inspiration, Holmes seems to have drawn upon his debut Doctor Who script, The Krotons. Drathro, like the Krotons, remains unseen by the population and regularly takes the two most intelligent work-units to live with him. Although Drathro actually puts their genius to some use, unlike the Krotons.
While the story is a little underpowered, there’s still plenty of good moments. The relationship between the Doctor and Peri has noticeably softened since S22 and therefore it’s a shame that Nicola Bryant’s days were numbered, particularly since this is the last story where she has decent interaction with the Doctor. And as with The Two Doctors Colin Baker benefits from having Robert Holmes write his dialogue.
DOCTOR: I know how you feel.
PERI: Do you?
DOCTOR: Of course I do. You’ve been traveling with me long enough to know that none of this really matters. Not to you. Your world is safe.
PERI: This is still my world, whatever the period, and I care about it. And all you do is talk about it as though we’re in a planetarium.
DOCTOR: I’m sorry. But look at it this way. Planets come and go, stars perish. Matter disperses, coalesces, reforms into other patterns, other worlds. Nothing can be eternal.
Tony Selby seems to be enjoying himself as Sabalom Glitz. Glitz is derived from other Holmes creations, such as Garron, but there’s a slightly harder edge to Glitz (at least in this story).
GLITZ: You know, Dibber, I’m the product of a broken home.
DIBBER: You have mentioned it on occasions, Mister Glitz.
GLITZ: Which sort of unbalanced me. Made me selfish to the point where I cannot stand competition.
DIBBER: Know the feeling only too well, Mister Glitz.
GLITZ: Where as yours is a simple case of sociopathy, Dibber, my malaise is much more complex. A deep-rooted maladjustment, my psychiatrist said. Brought on by an infantile inability to come to terms with the more pertinent, concrete aspects of life.
DIBBER: That sounds more like an insult than a diagnosis, Mister Glitz.
GLITZ: You’re right there, my lad. Mind you, I had just attempted to kill him. Oh, I do hate prison psychiatrists, don’t you? I mean, they do nothing for you. I must have seen dozens of them, and I still hate competition.
The core of the story (a group of primitives who treat various technological devices as items for worship) is a very familiar one and Joan Sims is, at best, merely acceptable as Katryca. We’ve seen far too many similar civilizations in previous Doctor Who stories for the Tribe of the Free to make any particular impression, sadly.
But although The Mysterious Planet is uninspired, it’s not particularly bad. On it’s own merits it’s perfectly watchable and would have slotted in very comfortably mid-season to many a series of Doctor Who. As a season-opener for what looked like a make-or-break year, it falls somewhat short though.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.