Although the main plot of Planet of Fire is a little dull (as it’s very difficult to care about the inhabitants of Sarn) there’s still plenty of interest – location filming on Lanzarote, the return of the Master, the departure of Turlough & Kamelion and the introduction of Peri.
Doctor Who had gone abroad twice before (Paris in City of Death and Amsterdam in Arc of Infinity) but both of those were still fairly close to home. Lanzarote was a lot further away and this helps to give the planet of Sarn an epic look that the series had never had previously. Today, of course, it’s nothing special, as Doctor Who often ventures abroad – but thirty years ago it was fairly eye popping. The bulk of the location filming occurs in the first two episodes and it certainly helps to liven up what otherwise would be a fairly static story.
Peter Wyngarde is, of course, great value and very watchable as Timanov, chief elder of Sarn, but elsewhere the pickings are less fruitful. Worst of all is Edward Highmore as Malkon, with a performance so wooden it’s probably just as well he never went too close to the fire.
Things pick up when the Master (or rather Kamelion as the Master) appears at the end of the first episode. Anthony Ainley looks rather good in the black suit and he also gets to say Delgado’s classic line – “I am the Master and you will obey me”. Great stuff, and this must rank as some of Ainley’s best work on Doctor Who, possibly because for once he doesn’t have a convoluted plan to enslave the Universe and destroy the Doctor – instead he’s motivated purely by survival.
Nicola Bryant (Peri) debuts here. She wasn’t the first companion to have a fairly sketchy character which required some input from the actor in order to make it work, but she certainly does her best with what she’s been given. It’s interesting that Peri doesn’t spend a lot of time with the Doctor in this story – the majority of her scenes are with the Master. And it’s very clear that Peri doesn’t rate the Master at all, so there’s a certain amount of humour generated from their mismatched partnership.
MASTER: Give me that component immediately!
PERI: This thing belongs to the Doctor, so it’s the Doctor I give it to and no one else.
MASTER: You will obey me.
MASTER: I am the Master!
PERI: So what? I’m Perpugilliam Brown and I can shout just as loud as you can!
We bid farewell to Mark Strickson and learn a little more about Turlough along the way. After the Black Guardian trilogy, Strickson has had few opportunities to shine, so his departure was always inevitable. And with the departure of Turlough we are left with just a single companion to accompany the Doctor. This was always Davison’s preference, so it’s somewhat ironic that it didn’t happen until his 20th, and final, story!
The reveal of the mini-Master at the end of episode three provides us with a wonderful cliff-hanger and the revived Master’s “death” in episode four was apparently – albeit briefly – to have been his final exit. It didn’t end up that way of course, which is a shame as it would have been a good story for the Master to bow out on.
So the Doctor and Peri leave Sarn, bound for new adventures. But their time together is strictly limited as a date with destiny awaits the Time Lord in the caves of Androzani.
Back in 1984, there was somewhat of a buzz about this one. Apart from a cameo in The Five Doctors we hadn’t seen the Daleks in a new story for five years and their previous appearance, in Destiny of the Daleks, had been a disappointment to many.
Thirty years on, Destiny is probably better regarded today than it was back then whilst Resurrection has lost a little of its lustre. But although Eric Saward’s script has its faults, there are some things it does do right and it’s a clear pointer to the style the series would take in S22.
It’s fair to say that Resurrection is a bleak tale. This nihilistic view of the universe reflects the direction in which Eric Saward wanted to take Doctor Who and he wasn’t the only writer to favour this style. Robert Holmes penned very much the same type of story with The Caves of Androzani, but it has to be said somewhat better. Therefore it’s not difficult to see that Holmes would from now on strongly influence Saward’s writing (Revelation of the Daleks with its Holmesian double-acts is surely the sincerest form of flattery).
But back with Resurrection, Saward wanted to tie up the loose ends from Destiny and resolve the Dalek/Movellan war. He probably would have been better off ignoring this and starting afresh, as it does constrict the story (as do some of the other plot threads which go nowhere – such as the Daleks’ plan to duplicate the Doctor so he can go back to Gallifrey and assassinate the High Council).
The main part of the story revolves around the Daleks’ desire to find their creator, Davros, and use his skills to solve their current problems. This is a re-tread from Destiny, but Saward does one important thing right here that didn’t happen in Destiny. One of the clearest character traits of the Daleks is how single-minded they are, so it defied belief that they wouldn’t attempt to use Davros in Destiny for their own ends before discarding him. But this never seemed to occur to Terry Nation.
In Resurrection, the Daleks are quick to realise that Davros is more trouble than he’s worth and they attempt to exterminate him. But by then he’s already re-conditioned several Daleks, which establishes the general plot-thread of Dalek civil war which we see in Revelation and Remembrance.
As for the Daleks themselves, they do look a little worse for wear, it has to be said. They’ve been given a fresh coat of paint, but since they’re a mixture of casings from the 1960’s and 1970’s they naturally do look like they’ve been around the block a few times. For anybody who wants to delve further into the history of the Dalek casings, then Dalek 6388 is a fascinating website.
Michael Wisher was unable to reprise his role as Davros, so Terry Molloy stepped into the breach. Molloy ended up playing the role three times and would go on to make it his own, managing to emerge from Wisher’s substantial shadow. There’s less character for him to latch on here than he would enjoy in Revelation (which was much more of a Davros story than a Dalek one) but he still has some nice, ranting moments.
As for the humans, there’s an interesting ethnic mix on the space-station which is unusual for the series at the time. There’s also signs of the increased gore that would appear during S22 (the Daleks’ disfiguring gas is pretty unpleasant and it’s debatable whether the close-ups should have been transmitted).
One problem with Saward’s scripts up to this point was that characters could often seem like cardboard cut-outs, existing just as long as they formed some plot function. Once that ended, they would be quickly killed off (in order not to clutter up the screen). Styles (Rula Lenska) and Mercer (Jim Findley) are good examples of this. Rodney Bewes as Stein fares somewhat better and has the chance to play the hero at the end.
The Army bomb disposal squad, headed by Del Henney as Colonel Archer are also characters that don’t really go anywhere and it’s unfortunate that Tegan spends most of the story with them. As a final story for Janet Fielding, Resurrection is a poor effort, as Tegan does little of consequence – but as is probably well known, the story was originally planned to close S20 (a BBC strike put paid to that) so her leaving scene had to be tagged onto the already-written story.
Turlough and the Doctor fare little better. Turlough teams up with Styles and Mercer, although he does nothing to advance the plot. The Doctor has one key scene (confronting Davros and proving that he’s unable to kill in cold blood) but apart from that there’s very few of the character traits that Davison so clearly enjoyed in Frontios.
Also skulking about is Lytton (Maurice Colbourne) who will return next season, although it’s worth pondering exactly how the Doctor in Attack of the Cybermen knows all about him, as here they only share one scene and never speak to each other.
After the mass slaughter, it’s difficult not to agree with Tegan that it’s all been a bit too much. But it’s probably aged better than Earthshock and for better or worse, points clearly to the direction the series would take during S22.
One of the most obvious things to note about Frontios is that Christopher H. Bidmead really knew how to write for Peter Davison’s Doctor. Given this, it’s a pity that Bidmead didn’t contribute more scripts for the fifth Doctor (Frontios was his second and last).
I’ve touched on this before, but Peter Davison wasn’t a personality actor like, say, Tom Baker. Baker could take an average script and by the sheer force of his personality make something unique out of it. Davison didn’t have that skill, but provide him a well written script and he could certainly make the most out of what he was given.
Frontios is a wonderful vehicle for Davison and so many of his lines zing. Picking some favourite Davison dialogue from this story is difficult, since there are so many examples, but I do love this –
DOCTOR: Look, I’m not really here at all, officially. And as soon as I’ve helped Mister Range with the arrangements, I’ll be on my way.
PLANTAGENET: Do you feel free to come and go as you please?
DOCTOR: Going, yes, coming, no. We were forced down.
PLANTAGENET: I see. You landed during the bombardment and yet you appear unharmed.
DOCTOR: I’m sorry, we didn’t know there was a war on. At first we thought it was some sort of meteorite storm.
PLANTAGENET: And what do you think now?
DOCTOR: I think your shelters are totally inadequate and your warning system does nothing but create panic.
PLANTAGENET: I did not ask
DOCTOR: Your population has already fallen below critical value required for guaranteed growth and you’re regularly losing new lives. I think, and you did ask what I think, I think your colony of Earth people is in grave danger of extinction.
There’s a bite and attack to Davison’s performance of these lines, which we haven’t seen nearly enough of during his time on the show. Elsewhere, he has a lovely line in vagueness, somewhat Troughtoneque in style, like this –
DOCTOR: Well, that’s it. Now, this should either sort out this whole Tractator problem and repair the TARDIS.
DOCTOR: Or it won’t
Sadly, one of the best moments of the story was rather curtailed due to episode four overrunning. We see the Doctor attempt to convince the Gravis that Tegan is an android that he picked up cheap –
TEGAN: Doctor, you can’t let them do this to me.
DOCTOR: I’m terribly embarrassed about all this.
GRAVIS: Not at all, Doctor.
DOCTOR: It must be the humidity causing the malfunction. These serving machines are perfectly reliable on Gallifrey.
GRAVIS: The guard Tractator here will restrain it while I show you more of our work here. It is certainly a very convincing replica of the humanoid life form.
DOCTOR: Oh, you think so? I got it cheap because the walk’s not quite right. And then there’s the accent, of course. But, when it’s working well, it’s very reliable. Keeping track of appointments, financial planning, word processing, that sort of thing.
What was cut was more detail as to why the Doctor undertook this ruse – if the Gravis realised that Tegan was human he might have decided to add her to his excavating machine. The excised material is part of the special features on the DVD thankfully, including the moment where the Doctor puts a screwdriver into Tegan’s ear!
Mark Strickson (after largely sitting out the last few stories) gets to froth at the mouth and drive part of the plot, whilst Janet Fielding is teamed up with Davison for the last few episodes, which is great fun. Just as Bidmead was spot on with Davison’s Doctor, so he was able to get the best out of the Doctor/Tegan relationship. They do spend most of episode three not achieving very much, simply walking round the tunnels. But it’s so entertaining, you don’t really notice that the plot isn’t advancing very much.
On Frontios itself, there’s a decent collection of guest stars. Peter Gilmore is the bluff Brazen, not a subtle performance maybe, but there’s the odd glimpse of hidden depths. Jeff Rawle is good as the out-of-his-depth Plantagenet, whilst William Lucas as Range has a nice line in weary resignation. Norna, played by Lesley Dunlop, isn’t a very developed part – existing mainly to elicit information from other characters – but Dunlop is very appealing and makes the character worth watching.
The odd structural flaw and plot-hole apart, this is an entertaining story that puts the Doctor right in the centre of the action. True, the Tractators (particularly their flapping arms) look a little silly, but the story is hardly unique for having slightly duff monsters.
If you want an example of Davison’s Doctor at his best, then this must rank somewhere at the top, along with Kinda and The Caves of Androzani.
Although The Awakening, like the other Davison two-parters, feels a little disposable, it’s still an decent enough story, helped no end by a larger-than-life performance from Denis Lil (Sir George Hutchinson).
Sir George has somehow (and like a lot of the story we’re somewhat vague on specifics) found himself under the thrall of the Malus, a malevolent alien entity who has lain dormant since the 17th century. The Malus feeds on violent emotions and therefore has had little to feast on since the English Civil War came to this part of the world in 1643.
So, Sir George decides that a Civil War re-enactment would be just the thing to restore the Malus to full strength. The concept of a whole village under the thrall of an alien being is a good concept, but it’s not really followed through in the story as he seems to be the only one who is actually under the Malus’ control.
True, Willow (Jack Galloway) is happy to carry out Sir George’s bidding, but that may be because he’s a bit of a bully anyway and there’s nothing to support the claim from Jane that the final battle will be fought for real. The problem with this lack of development could be due to the two part format, which doesn’t allow too much time to develop the various story threads.
If Sir George (and maybe Willow) are on the side of chaos, then the voices of reason are provided by Jane Hampton (Polly James) and Ben Wosley (Glyn Houston). Following the somewhat wooden turns of Warriors of the Deep, their more naturalistic performances are very welcome.
The TARDIS has landed in Little Hodcombe so that Tegan can visit her grandfather, Andrew Verney. This is another part of the plot that doesn’t really go anywhere since Verney is totally redundant to the plot. There’s no reason why the TARDIS couldn’t have simply turned up at random, with the Doctor being naturally drawn into the mystery of the closed village and the strange happenings in the church.
With the concept of two periods connected in time and psychic projections from the past appearing in the present, there’s something of a Sapphire and Steel vibe about this story, which is no bad thing. A refugee from the past, Will Chandler (Keith Jayne) teams up with Davison for part of the story and it’s possible to understand why he was briefly considered as companion material.
The Malus, who has been resident in the local church for three hundred years or so looks very impressive, but it’s somewhat limited, action wise. Once you’ve heard it go “rooooooooaaaaaaarrrrrrrr” a few times then it’s not got much more to offer, with the genuine scares coming from the various projections it can conjure up – particularly the ghostly Roundheads who behead an unfortunate extra.
The location of the Malus does lead one to suppose that the church was built around it, which is an interesting thought. If so, then presumably it was felt that the sanctity of the church would nullify the Malus’ baleful influence. Or maybe they didn’t notice its big head? Who can say?
One other notable point about The Awakening is that it was Barry Newbery’s final Doctor Who story as a designer and also his last work for the BBC (he took early retirement almost immediately afterwards). His most active period on the programme was during the Hartnell era, where to begin with he alternated with Raymond Cusick on each serial. Both Cusick and Newbery performed miracles with the non-existent budgets of the early 1960’s and whilst the success of Doctor Who is due to many people, both of them must take some of the credit as without good visuals, the stories would have foundered. And The Awakening was a decent story to bow out on as it featured some impressive sets – particularly the ruined church.
Although somewhat rushed and with the odd loose end, this is an enjoyable story boasting decent location filming, some good performances and a few scares along the way.
Warriors of the Deep seems to be based on a false premise – namely that the Silurians and the Sea Devils were the chief attraction of Malcolm Hulke’s two Jon Pertwee scripts. This is something that I’d strong disagree with. Doctor Who and The Silurians drew its strength from pitching the Doctor, Liz and the Brigadier against the likes of Baker, Quinn, Lawrence and Masters. It was the confrontations between those characters that kept the story bubbling along in the early episodes and by the time the Silurians take centre-stage, it starts to flag a little. The Sea Devils is mainly about the Doctor/Master rivalry and the Sea Devils are pretty incidental to the plot.
In order to succeed then, Warriors of the Deep needed strong human characters but although the story had some good actors, the script tended to let them down. It isn’t all bad though and with just a little tweaking here and there it could have been rather good. But, as has happened before, a lack of time and money was to prove very costly.
Let’s start positively though, Tony Burrough’s Seabase set is incredibly impressive. It’s tended to come in for criticism in the past for being too brightly lit, but I can’t see this at all. The command centre is brighter than the rest of the base, which seems logical, but the corridors have a low level of lighting and also ceilings (a familiar trait of Tony Burrough’s design work, see also Four To Doomsday). This creates shadows and helps to hide a multitude of sins – even the Myrka looks halfway decent in some of the corridor shots.
We’re barely a minute into the story when we’re introduced to the Silurians. It’s annoying that they refer to themselves as Silurians and Sea Devils (human coined nicknames, of course) and it’s even more annoying that the Silurian’s third eye now flashes every time they speak. And the annoyance factor is increased another notch whenever Icthar says “Excellent”.
The Seabase personnel tend to be split between two camps. There are some – Vorshak (Tom Adams), Bulic (Nigel Humpreys) and Preston (Tara Ward) – who have thinly drawn characters but are watchable since the actors are making the best of a bad job.
For the rest, if I was drawing up a list of shame then Ingrid Pitt as Solow and Ian McCulloch as Nilson would be top of it. Pitt was famously wooden in The Time Monster so it’s no great surprise that twelve years on she’s no better here. But it pains me to see McCulloch’s poor performance, as he’s a much better actor than this (Greg in Survivors, for example).
The central plot is quite sound. It’s a base-under-seige! A staple of the Troughton era, we haven’t had a story like this (Horror of Fang Rock) for a good few years. But it does tend to be scuppered by the fact that the Silurians and Sea Devils are, shall we say, not very dynamic.
They move incredibly slowly (and in the case of the Sea Devils, rather oddly at times). There’s also the Myrka to further slow things down of course. And while I have praised the design work, the amazing foam bulkhead door at the end of episode two is a sight to behold.
Eventually, as with most base-under-seige stories, virtually everybody dies. The Doctor’s final words are well known and yes, there probably should have been another way. It’s interesting that about twenty years earlier virtually the same words were spoken after the Thals and Daleks fought, but then it was Ganatus who had the line, whilst the Doctor seemed unmoved by the wholesale slaughter on Skaro. He’d got his fluid link back, which was the only thing he seemed concerned about.
In retrospect, this marks the start of the harder-edged style of Eric Saward. Resurrection of the Daleks, The Caves of Androzani and the majority of Season 22 would follow a similar path of heavy body-counts and violence.
Warriors of the Deep is not a total disaster, nor is it unwatchable, but a combination of factors proved to be pretty damaging. Johnny Byrne had provided a similarly limp season opener the previous year with Arc of Infinity so it’s maybe not surprising that this was his final script for the series.
For me, The Five Doctors defies critical analysis as to watch it is to be twelve again, when it seemed like the best programme ever. Time may have slightly tempered that enthusiasm, but I still find it’s impossible to rewatch it without a silly grin appearing on my face from time to time.
Is it perfect? Of course not. The Five Doctors was a party where many invitations were handed out, but several people (and one very important guest) were unable to attend. Possibly in a parallel universe they had a story where the 2nd Doctor was partnered with Jamie and Zoe, the 3rd teamed up with Jo and the Brig and the 4th and Sarah were reunited. Also in that parallel universe, maybe Roger Delgado decided not to travel to Turkey in 1973 to film Bell of Tibet so that he was able to return to the role of the Master for the first time in a decade. It’s a nice dream.
But what we have is still very decent fare. Richard Hurndall isn’t attempting to impersonate William Hartnell, Hurndall is playing the first Doctor, which is an important distinction. The only Hartnell story to be repeated in the UK was An Unearthly Child in 1981, so for many of us Hurndall’s was a perfectly acceptable performance. And it still is. He captures the essence of the Hartnell Doctor, there’s certainly the hard edge Hartnell could show from time to time, for example.
Troughton’s back! He may look older, but he’s the major highlight of this story and it’s hardly surprising that they offered him another one shortly after. He has a wonderful partnership with Courtney and all of their scenes fizzle with memorable dialogue. Frankly, I could have watched a story with just these two and been very content.
Pertwee’s back! Although his hair’s a little whiter, he’s still recognisably the same Doctor that we last saw nine years previously. But his sequences don’t quite have the same appeal as the Troughton ones and it’s difficult to put my finger on why this is. Terrance Dicks had, of course, been script editor for the whole of the Pertwee era so he should have had no problem in recreating the 3rd Doctor’s characterisation. But he does has some nice moments whilst traversing the Death Zone though, insulting the Master and finding an appropriately heroic way to enter the Tower, for example.
Pertwee benefits from being matched up again with Elisabath Sladen. We’d seen Sarah two years previously in K9 and Company which was lovely, but to see her back with Pertwee’s Doctor is something else altogether. Like everyone else, her lines are rationed so she has to make the most of everything she’s given, and this she certainly does. The fact that her mittens are sewn onto her jacket is incredibly adorable as well.
Tom’s not back! The reason for his non-appearance is well known and it does leave a hole, but we still have a very good story without him. For many people, Tom Baker was the series, so it’s possibly not a bad thing that he wasn’t here – that way it’s possible to see that there can be a decent tale told without him.
Davison’s still here! Terrance Dicks said that he was keen to ensure that Davison got the best of the action and he does have some good scenes, although the Gallifrey section is a bit limp and it’s a pity that he wasn’t teamed up with Troughton and Pertwee a little earlier on. The Doctors were kept apart since there were concerns that egos would clash. I don’t think that Davision would have been a problem, but Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker certainly would have been an explosive combination.
One slight problem I have with The Three Doctors is the way that Troughton is sometimes written down in order to make Pertwee the dominant figure. Since Pertwee was the current incumbent it’s sort of understandable, but I doubt that Pertwee would have been happy to play second fiddle to Davison. And the prospect of Pertwee and Baker together is even harder to imagine. Pertwee never made any secret of his dislike of the way the series progressed after he left (those cynical souls put this down to the fact that Tom Baker was more popular with both the fans and the general audience than Pertwee ever was) so Tom’s non-appearance was possibly a blessing in that respect.
As for the monsters, we have a rather tatty looking Dalek but we finally get to see that the Pertwee Doctor was right when he said that: “inside each of those shells is a living, bubbling lump of hate”. Given that it stays in the shadows, presumably the Yeti was rather shabby, but it gives Troughton another lovely comedy moment when he’s rummaging through his pockets in a desperate search for something to sort it out with.
Since they only appeared eighteen months previously, it’s a little disappointing that the Cybermen are so prominent here but it makes both economic sense (the costumes were in stock) and also practical sense (it’s difficult to imagine the likes of the Daleks trundling through the Death Zone).
Mention of the Death Zone brings us to one of the major plus points of this story – the locations. NuWho has exhaustively mined Wales for locations but as the original series was based in London, trips to Wales were much rarer. Various locations in Gwynedd were used in March 1983 and they help to give The Five Doctors an expansive, epic feeling.
If Leonard Sachs in Arc of Infinity wasn’t the best Borusa ever, then neither is Philip Latham here. It’s hard to understand how the Borusa of The Deadly Assassin and The Invasion of Time could have ended up as the lunatic obsessed with ruling forever that we see here. So that makes his corruption (which should be shocking) something of a damp squib.
And if the Old-King-Cole Rassilon is another odd move, we do get to see the Doctors together at the end of the story, which is something to be treasured. The rarity is why it’s so special, if it had happened more often then the shine would have been taken off it.
As it was, it’s Pertwee’s final bow as the Doctor (sorry, Dimensions in Time isn’t canon, and isn’t even a story) whilst Troughton was to have one more appearance to come. Therefore, while The Five Doctors is a celebration of the first twenty years, it also marks something of an end as over the following years we would start to bid farewell to some of the actors who had done so much to ensure that the series had reached 20 not out. And while they may be gone, thanks to the magic of DVD their adventures live on forever. So for me, that’s the best way to approach this story, as an appreciation and celebration of some of the people that made this programme so special.
The King’s Demons is a romp, pure and simple. Rather like a house of cards, if you examine it too closely then it collapses, but there’s plenty of entertainment to be had over its two episodes.
The opening is very impressive as the jousting contest (with Bodiam Castle in the background) looks gorgeous. It may have little to do with the rest of the story, but it’s a welcome bit of gloss.
But there’s no way to avoid the first major problem – the Master is disguised (very badly) as a Frenchman. All the James Stoker business leads you to assume that the production team actually considered his disguise would fool people and that the Master’s reveal at the end of the first episode would come as a shock. Hmm, okay then.
Frank Windsor and Isla Blair are two of the main guest stars. Windsor was a familiar face, thanks to Z Cars and Softly Softly. Truth be told, he seems a little stiff and uneasy with the medieval dialogue (he’s much more assured in Ghost Light). Isla Blair is fine with the little she has to do, but then a two-parter doesn’t offer a great deal of room for character development.
The other guest star is Gerald Flood, who is rather good as King John alias Kamelion. Given his involvement with the Pathfinders series (pretty much a blueprint for Doctor Who and a series that’s fascinating from that perspective) it’s fitting that he eventually landed a part in Doctor Who.
Davison gets to swash a buckle, although the Doctor/Master swordfight is a bit limp and not a patch on the ones from The Sea Devils and The Androids of Tara. Tegan complains a lot and Turlough has virtually nothing to do, although you have to admire Mark Strickson for his ability to wring everything from the few lines he has.
After the “shock” reveal of the Master at the end of episode one, there’s a rather nice exchange of dialogue between Davison and Ainley.
THE MASTER: Oh, my dear Doctor, you have been naive.
THE DOCTOR: Not at all. You may disguise your features, but you can never disguise your intent.
THE MASTER: And you can’t approve.
THE DOCTOR: You know I can’t.
THE MASTER: You’ve always been my greatest stimulation, my dear Doctor, but now you inspire me.
Although the notion of the Master mucking about with Magna Carta has often been criticised (even within the story itself) I do like the concept of the Master traveling to various planets at different time periods and discretely working away in the background to undermine democracy. There was scope to develop this in future stories, although it never happened.
The ending is a mess though. The Doctor nips off in the TARDIS and blithely informs Tegan and Turlough that the Master will shortly be leaving as well, without bothering to check or apparently care if he kills anybody else before he leaves. This point, as well as many others, is addressed in Terence Dudley’s excellent novelisation. It’s well worth tracking down a copy as it clearly shows how much better the story could have been as a four parter.
Atmospheric location filming, one of my favourite scores, decent guest stars and plenty of incident packed into 50 minutes means that The King’s Demons is never dull. It may be rather unloved, but I like it and if you haven’t seen it for a while then I’d recommended giving it another go.
One of the notable things about re-watching the original series is that it certainly takes its time. For those of us brought up on it, it’s very reasonable that the first episode of a story would be concerned with showing us the Doctor and his companions slowly exploring their new surroundings as puzzles and answers are drip-fed, usually leading into a cliff-hanger with a strong hook that’ll bring us back for the second episode.
Enlightenment is a classic case in point. In the new series, they’d probably compress the whole of the first episode into a couple of minutes, and whilst in story terms not a lot happens we do get to enjoy plenty of time with both the crew and the officers of the mysterious craft.
After the first episode the crew don’t contribute a great deal, which is a shame as the likes of Jackson (Tony Caunter) are quite well-drawn. But their involvement early on does help to lull the audience into believing that this really is an Edwardian sailing ship, as it’s not until the final moments of the episode that we realise it’s actually quite another ship, a space ship! This is a classic cliff-hanger and one of the best changes in direction of any Doctor Who story.
By now we’ve also met the ship’s officers, who are all Eternals. The first mate, Marriner (Christopher Brown) is obsessed with Tegan, although he seems to want her purely for her mind. The Eternals, whilst they have eternal life and pretty much endless powers, are clearly portrayed as empty vessels without human (or as they call them, “ephemeral”) minds to draw upon.
Keith Barron (Captain Striker) is wonderful as the cold, logical Eternal who is desperate, like all the other captains, to win the prize of Enlightenment. Had a BBC strike not delayed production, then Peter Sallis would have played Striker. It’s a shame we missed his take on the part, but Barron is an excellent subsistute.
I have to flag up the music by Malcom Clarke. Clarke’s first score for the series was the bonkers, but compelling, Sea Devils back in 1972. His work on Enlightenment is more straightforward, but equally as good. It would be nice for SilvaScreen to pop this onto a CD, but for now we can either enjoy the iso-track on the DVD or these edited highlights from Doctor Who – The Music 2.
On-board the Buccanner, the villainous Captain Wrack (like Turlough, an agent of the Black Guardian) is going to win the race by any means necessary. Lynda Baron’s performance as Wrack is best described as “broad” but it’s an enjoyable turn and contrasts well with the icy self-control of Striker. I can’t quite work out exactly how to classify Leee John’s acting performance as Wrack’s second-in-command, or even if it can be described as acting. It’s certainly memorable though, ranking alongside Jenny Laird in Planet of the Spiders as a small, but idiosyncratic, Doctor Who appearance.
Turlough isn’t having a good time. Disowned by the Black Guardian he attempts suicide by jumping overboard (a beautifully shot sequence at Ealing) but is rescued by Wrack. He eventually comes good though and helps the Doctor to bring the Buccanner home first. This brings us to the endgame, where the Black and White Guardians meet to hand out the prize. Although if the White Guardian believes the Eternals shouldn’t have Enlightenment, why is he involved in the contest?
Sadly, Cyril Luckham had aged somewhat since his appearance in The Ribos Operation (and his costume here doesn’t really help to instill a sense of dignity). The meeting between the two Guardians is quite nice though and Turlough finally decides to choose the Doctor’s side, which cancels his contract with the Black Guardian.
It does seem that a third encounter between the Doctor and the Black Guardian was a possibility, but the death of Valentine Dyall in 1985 appeared to have scuppered that. Although the Black and White Guardians weren’t particularly well served by these three stories, there’s still scope in the concept of two universally powerful figures (with equal and opposite powers, so that neither can make a move without the other countering it) which makes it a little surprising that they haven’t been revisited since. Although they may appear eventually in NuWho, I’m sure that time will tell.
Enlightenment brings the Black Guardian trilogy to a satisfying conclusion but also works very well as a stand-alone story. The sets look solid, the lighting is pleasingly low and the acting (apart from the odd exception) is first rate. Certainly amongst the best of the Davison stories.
Terminus is a story where every main creative element (writing, acting, music, direction, etc) is just slightly off. None of the elements are particularly bad in themselves, but the cumulative effect produces a curiously static story that fails to impress.
I want to love it, because I love Stephen Gallagher’s previous script, Warriors’ Gate, but Terminus is a very different story. Whereas Warriors’ Gate was an impressionistic tale with several different levels of meaning, Terminus has a very clear narrative drive.
It could be that Gallagher was attempting to make a satirical point concerning the private company, Terminus Inc., who have a contract to process and cure people with Lazar’s disease. In the early 1980’s, the debate about private healthcare versus the NHS was rumbling on. Is Terminus Inc. a sideswipe at private healthcare providers? It’s possible, although it’s not particularly clear.
What does seem clear is that Terminus is an incredibly inefficiently run company. If nobody is ever cured, surely people would eventually realise this and not continue to pay them and send their infected relatives? If they exist to make a profit then surely it would be in their interest to cure as many people as possible, but they don’t seem to have much success with this.
Into this setup, come the Doctor and his companions. Just as the script is a little off, so none of the regulars is particularly well served by the story. It does start brightly though, with a well acted scene between Tegan and Turlough, Tegan is very suspicious about Turlough, rightly so as it turns out. They remain together for the remainder of the story, but once they’re on Terminus they do little of consequence and their importance to the narrative fades.
Terminus is Nyssa’s final story and Sarah Sutton is moved a little more centre stage, but she’s much less effective when not partnered with Davison’s Doctor. Several stories this year saw Davison and Sutton teamed up, and they worked together very well, but Nyssa fades somewhat when she’s working with the drippy Olvir or the cuddly Garm.
If you mention Olvir (Dominic Guard) then you have to mention fellow pirate Kari (Liza Goddard). Their appearance in episode one is memorable, but for all the wrong reasons. They’re supposed to be hardened space pirates, but the capes and boots somewhat negate this. Olvir’s lashings of mascara don’t help either. It’s tempting to suppose that they were two of the worst pirates ever, so their boss took the step of marooning them on the first spaceship he saw.
With Tegan and Turlough crawling around the infrastructure, achieving very little, and Nyssa waiting for a cure, that leaves the Doctor, who also has very little to do in the story. He spends a large part of it working on the mystery of the creation of the universe – but this is presented so baldly that there’s no particular interest generated. For example, when Davison announces (at the end of episode three) that the universe is in danger, it’s difficult to really care – it’s just a rather limp cliffhanger.
The Garm looks rather silly. Gallagher had intended that it should never be seen in full – only its silhouette and his glowing eyes – but he’s here, in all his shaggy-dog glory.
And Roger Limb’s music is fairly horrific. I love the majority of the Radiophonic Workshop’s contributions during S18 – S23, but Terminus is the exception that proves the rule. Sounding rather like a series of random notes, it doesn’t create atmosphere, it merely irritates.
There were numerous production problems with this story, which are fairly well documented and all these helped to contribute to the end result. But there are some highlights, like Peter Benson as Bor, who seems to be acting in a different story from everybody else.
Terminus is a story that it’s difficult to imagine anybody ever reaches down from the shelf on impulse to watch. It’s one of those (like Underworld) that you struggle manfully through whilst engaged on a sequential rewatch and breathe a sigh of relief when it’s over and happier times (Enlightenment) are ahead.
There’s several notable things about Mawdryn Undead (such as the return of the Black Guardian and the introduction of Turlough) but let’s be honest – for most of us it’s all about The Brig.
Nicholas Courtney holds a unique place in Doctor Who history. No other actor played the same character opposite six of the first seven television Doctors and there would be several post-Battlefield appearances as well. Such as Dimensions in Time (oh dear), Downtime (quite good really) and a last hurrah opposite Elisabeth Sladen in The Sarah Jane Adventures.
Before we move on to look at Mawdryn Undead, I would heartily recommend the audiobook of his memoirs, A Soldier In Time, produced by Big Finish. There’s plenty of time spent discussing Doctor Who of course, but by far the most interesting section is devoted to his childhood and his early years as a struggling actor. Courtney’s familiar Doctor Who stories (“five rounds rapid”, “they were all wearing eyepatches”) are part of Doctor Who folklore, but where A Soldier In Time really excels is in showing us something of the real man. Let’s take a quick look at Babelcolour’s lovely tribute (which I can never watch without getting a little misty-eyed) then we’ll turn our attention to Peter Grimwade’s second script for the series.
It seems that Mawdryn Undead was originally planned with Ian Chesterton in mind, which makes sense, as it’s possible to imagine Chesterton in later years teaching at a boys school. But for whatever reason it was redrafted for Lethbridge-Stewart. It had been eight years since the Brigadier had appeared in Doctor Who, with only one of his stories repeated during this time (The Three Doctors in 1981) and for many, including myself, this would only be our second opportunity to see him in action. But we all knew how important he was to the series (both through DWM and also by reading about his earlier stories in Target Books’ series of novelisations).
Initially, we’re presented with a somewhat broken-down and dispirited Brigadier which is a far cry from the resolute, man of action of the Pertwee era. Like much of the story, there’s something of a NuWho feel about this, as it’s impossible to imagine any regular character during the 1960’s or 1970’s being put under the microscope in such a way, whereas it’s much more likely to happen today.
Lethbridge-Stewart seems to be suffering from some deep-rooted trauma, as he doesn’t remember either the Doctor or the TARDIS. Eventually the Doctor manages to break through, which leads us into a gloriously nostalgic clip-fest. This was a regular feature of the early JNT years (there were similar examples in Logopolis and Earthshock). You had to be there, but at the time this was so incredibly exciting. The notion of being able to even see, let alone own, every Doctor Who story in existence was almost beyond imagining so these brief clips were tantalising glimpses into an unknowable, magical past.
Courtney’s wonderful in these scenes, they give him so much more to work with than he’s ever had before. And just as we’ve grown used to this Brigadier, we’re introduced to another (from six years earlier). This is a pre-breakdown Brig, much closer to the character we saw in, say, Terror of the Zygons. The two Brigs (one from 1977 and the other from 1983) become central to the story, and the consequences of time travel is another element of the story which is NuWho flavoured.
The original series rarely used time travel as part of the story. The TARDIS mainly existed to drop the Doctor and his friends off somewhere and would take them away at the end of the story, although there were exceptions of course. In The Time Meddler, Steven and Vikki discuss what would happen if the Monk succeeded in changing history – would their memories of events just change and would they even realise that they had? In The Ark we see the results of the Doctor’s actions, when the TARDIS returns to the Ark several hundred years after his last visit. Dodo’s cold triggered a chain of events that led to the Monoids taking control and subjugating the humans.
Perhaps the story with the closest link to Mawdryn Undead is Day of the Daleks. In Day, two separate times become connected, which means that the events of the present are inexorably linked with the future. Something similar happens here, with the crux of the story resting on the connection of the two Brigadiers.
In retrospect, it’s not difficult to understand why time travel didn’t feature in more stories during the original series. Once you’ve uncorked that particular genie, it’s impossible to get it back into the bottle. For example, at the start of Time-Flight, Tegan asked the Doctor why they couldn’t land the TARDIS on the freighter and rescue Adric before it crashed into the Earth. The real reason was that Matthew Waterhouse’s contract was up and it wasn’t renewed – but the moment you introduce the idea that all the Doctor has to do to solve matters is to nip back in the TARDIS, you’re on very shaky ground.
The Paul McGann TV Movie (or as I prefer to call it, Grace 1999) has a particularly bad example of this, when Grace is brought back to life. When life and death are not absolute (and the new series has often been guilty of this – how many times have the dead been resurrected?) the narrative has to suffer.
As I said earlier, there are a few other notable things about Mawdryn Undead. Firstly, Mark Strickson is introduced as Turlough. It’s interesting that JNT decided to introduce another male companion so soon after Adric. The heyday of the male companion was in the 1960’s where they generally performed the strong-arm stuff that the Doctor was either unable (Hartnell) or unwilling (Troughton) to do. Later on, as Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker were able to handle their own action, the likes of Harry ended up as something of a third wheel.
During his first three stories, Turlough has an interesting story arc – he’s an agent of the Black Guardian and has been ordered to kill the Doctor. Even before he’s recruited we can clearly see he’s a bit of a wrong ‘un, so his presence in the TARDIS will certainly shake things up. Strickson’s very good here as he would be during his brief run on the programme. After the Black Guardian trilogy he’s very often sidelined, but whenever he’s given something to do (Frontios, for example) he delivers the goods.
The next item of interest is the return the Black Guardian. I love Valentine Dyall and could listen to his voice forever – butthe Black Guardian is a really rubbish villain. Although the threat of the Black Guardian had hung over The Key To Time season, he only appeared in one short scene. And a problem with the Black Guardian trilogy is that after we’ve seen him pop up once and threaten Turlough with dire consequences if he doesn’t kill the Doctor, then we’ve seen everything he can do.
You’ve also got to wonder why the Black Guardian, charged with creating universal chaos, should be concerned with destroying the Doctor. And why he couldn’t recruit somebody better than Turlough. Surely there must be more efficient killers out there?
Whilst the Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan are busily interacting with the Brigadier and Turlough the main plot is taking shape. Unusually, there’s a very low level of threat for the Doctor and his friends. Mawdryn and his friends are criminals (they stole regenerative equipment from Gallifrey, although how they got past the Transduction Barriers is anyone’s guess) but they don’t actively wish anybody any harm – they just want to die. The debate about assisted suicide carries on today and it’s surprising to see it addressed some thirty years ago in Doctor Who.
The Doctor could help (but this would mean surrendering his remaining regenerations). He declines, although changes his mind later on when he discovers Nyssa and Tegan have been infected. Luckily for everyone, the two Brigadiers chance to meet at just the right moment with the result that Mawdryn and his friends are able to die, Nyssa and Tegan are cured and the Doctor remains a Time Lord.
A quick mention for David Collings as Mawdryn. He’s sometimes hampered by the make-up and costume but he’s very compelling as the weary, resigned scientist locked into an eternal life of torment. It’s easy to see why so many people would have liked to see him play the Doctor (check out his appearances in Sapphire and Steel, where he plays Silver in a very Doctorish way).
Season 20 could have just loaded each story with classic monsters and it probably would have worked quite well. But I’m glad that they didn’t and instead there’s a wider range of stories and themes of which Mawdryn Undead is a fine example.