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.
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.