Archive for the Classic Who Category

12.4 – “Genesis Of The Daleks”

Posted in Classic Who, Season 12 with tags , , , , on September 20, 2015 by Review The Who

CW Series 12 - Genesis Of The Daleks

If you’re watching this one after the decades of mythology built upon its foundation, this is the one where SHIT GETS REAL, GUYZ! THE FIRST SHOT OF THE TIME WAR IS FIRED! But whenever you’re watching it, this is The Secret Origin of The Daleks, with The Doctor, Sarah Jane and Harry plonked in the middle of the last days of the Thal/Kaled war, sent on a mission to end the Daleks before they’re even started.

Christ, imagine having to not only find something new to write about “Genesis Of The Daleks” that hasn’t already been said a hundred times before, but to do so in the looming shadow of “The Magician’s Apprentice” – a season opener that certain corners of the internet (i.e. the nerdy ones that you’re just as guilty of reading as I am) are fairly convinced is going to be a direct sequel. The whole context could’ve change by the time this is published!

So let’s skip quickly through the obvious flaws: 6 episodes is too long for any story, the giant clam is terrible, Terry Nation can’t help but slip into adventure serial mode even with a script editor clearly kicking him up the arse for once, there’s been a millennia of war and yet – despite being aware of it – no-one has thought to use the secret tunnel that leads STRAIGHT INTO THE THAL CITY, Thal city security is frankly terrible, it’s kind of hard if you’re of a certain age to take Guy Siner as a Nazi seriously (no matter how good an actor he is), I have friends who make a fairly convincing argument that yes, you do have the right, actually…and yet, and yet…

It’s a fucking stone cold classic, isn’t it? I mean, come on. It’s BRILLIANT. Despite being peppered with a couple of plot holes so big you could pilot a planet through ‘em. I mean, in one respect it’s like Doctor Who in microcosm. There are odd ropey bits, but those ropey bits don’t stop the whole being basically AMAZING, do they? NO THEY DO NOT. “Genesis Of The Daleks” features – in the shape of Davros – an instantly classic, utterly superb villain. Michael Wisher totally nails his performance, switching from icy megalomania to histrionic frustration, often within a single line of dialogue. It’s dirty, grimy, gritty and dark, yet doesn’t make me pull the sort of faces I normally pull at those adjectives. This is a millennia-long war that – on a 70s BBC budget – manages to feel like a millennia-long war, with all the grotty violence that suggests. The script is highly quotable and features a bunch of ideas and set-ups that define the series. The world-building is the best we’ve seen in aaaaages, there are moral dilemmas and Stuff To Think About, and – oh yes – visual references to The Seventh Seal?

Bring. That. Shit. On.

Sometimes there is no new angle, and sometimes you don’t need one. Sometimes it’s enough to just sit there going “Wheeeeeee!!”, pausing only to idly wonder how the hell Terry Nation, coming off the back of “Planet Of The Daleks” and “Death To The Daleks”, managed to write something this enjoyable. And then you thank the deity of your choice for whoever let Robert Holmes loose on Doctor Who and watch the rest of the story with a great big idiot grin on your face. And all is good with the world.

Do I really need to say any more? 8/10.

Written and edited by Steve Horry


20.1 – “Arc Of Infinity”

Posted in Classic Who, Season 20 with tags , , , , on September 20, 2015 by Review The Who

CW Series 20 - Arc Of Infinity

Ten years on and Omega’s back, hatching a plan to steal The Doctor’s “bio-data” and cross over from the anti-matter universe – which will have the inconvenient side effect of fatally blowing the matter universe up. On Gallifrey, a traitor must be unmasked before the High Council can carry out The Doctor’s termination and in Amsterdam, some teenage backpackers are being hypnotized in a spooky basement by a giant rubber chicken monster. Well, they do say the drugs are pretty good out there.

Doctor Who, just like nature, abhors a vacuum. That’s not to say that there aren’t frequent pockets of airlessness in the series; back in the days when stories had to run to 5, 6, 7 episodes or even longer to make their seasons work, you might have an entire episode of tedious corridor-running, or capture-escape-recapture shenanigans, that leave us no further on at the end of the 20 minutes than we were at the start. But in general the show manages to avoid too much “business as usual”. I’m almost certainly biased but I feel like I’ve seen lots of Star Trek episodes which are just that, and no more than that: some conventional Star-Trek-type things happen in them, no new ground is broken, no expectations are defied, and everyone seems perfectly happy with that state of affairs.

But Doctor Who when it’s working, which is to say most of the time, tends to give a little bit extra. It might be something as simple as the regulars clowning around, or some mad curveball of British eccentricity in the script taking us places that the Enterprise crew would never be bold enough to go. But there’s usually something there to love, even during supposed all-time nadirs like Season 17 or Season 24.

I’ve watched “Arc Of Infinity” around four times now in recent months and, having said all of the above, my brain can find almost zero little crumbs of Whovian comfort to cling onto for support. For a serial that’s meant to be ushering in a triumphant 20th anniversary season, it manages to demonstrate a truly breathtaking inability to understand what needs to go into a Doctor Who script to make it successful, or even remotely watchable. In my reviews of Season 19 I banged on enough about my problems with certain incoming personnel of the mid-1980’s regime but, honestly, “Arc Of Infinity” is where it becomes obvious that the pantsness of “Time-Flight” was no mere blip. The show’s format has curdled into something really quite off-putting, and pretty soon only weird anorak-sporting saddos are going to want to drink it.

But enough preamble, what’s “Arc Of Infinity” all about? Two different plots, interleaved: the first, a Gallifrey-set whodunnit in which his friends must race against time to find the traitor in the High Council and provide a stay of The Doctor’s execution; the second, some teen backpackers confronting monsters in a crypt in Amsterdam. If you’re scratching your head right now trying to work out how these two plotlines could possibly join up, don’t worry, I can practically guarantee by this point that I’ve watched “Arc Of Infinity” more times than you and I still can’t make much sense of it. Essentially Who’s fortunes had reached the stage where they could afford to film one production per season abroad (for some small values of abroad), JN-T presumably liked the idea of a weekend in Amsterdam, and they shoehorned it in.

Let’s deal with the plots one at a time. Plot A at least sounds promising, doesn’t it? A sequel to the much-loved “The Deadly Assassin”? In fact it turns out to be one of the final few nails in the coffin of the idea of setting stories on Gallifrey. What should be a planet of infinite, breathtaking wonders is once again a few beige antechambers populated by a small gaggle of crusty high-court-judge types. Apart from Borusa (who is never recognisable as a long-running character anyway, due to his twenty-a-day regeneration habit), all of the mystery suspects (including a couple of “old friends” of The Doctor) have to be introduced from scratch. Is there any reason we should care about the solution to this mystery when the characters are barely distinguishable and there’s no time to distribute clues, due to half the running time being wasted on an acned teen kicking around Amsterdam? The big twist (sorry if this is a spoiler but I really fail to see how anyone could spoil “Arc Of Infinity”) is that the suspect who seems nicest is – gasp! – the traitor and the one who seems most horrible is – no way! – loyal. Agatha Christie this ain’t. “The Unicorn and The friggin’ Wasp” this ain’t!

Meanwhile, in the Netherlands…

One thing I do grudgingly like about this serial is how it trolls its audience for the first couple of episodes. Adric has left, Tegan has left. People are always going on about how Nyssa is the best companion of that particular line-up but, Jesus, watch the two-handers between her and The Doctor in this episode and tell me that, without the mouth on legs and the pyjama-wrapped brat to liven things up, things haven’t reached “watching paint dry” levels of tedium. Anyway, the point is that we’re definitely in line for a new companion. Enter Robin Stuart and Colin Frazer, the obvious candidates, especially Robin, as Colin gets nobbled by some kind of alien turkey pretty early on. And, OMG! No one liked Adric, but they’ve achieved the impossible here and found someone even worse. Awkward, goggle-eyed, terrible dress sense, stupid (not only has he managed to lose his passport, he seriously thinks the Dutch police will throw him into jail for this), unbelievably rude to the poor youth hostel receptionist who is trying to help him, ill at ease with girls…did the production team of the time not understand that their substantial spotty teen boy demographic might want some escapism out of Doctor Who, rather than a mirror held up to all their flaws?

But of course it’s all a trick, showing us this vista of unimaginable horror so that we do what we never imagined we would and breathe a sigh of relief when it’s revealed that Janet Fielding has in fact signed up for another season. Although, one of the most interesting things in “Arc Of Infinity” is right at the end, as The Doctor’s face falls when he realizes he really is “stuck with” Tegan again. Full credit to the 1980’s production team for their exploration of the idea of companions being more of a problem for The Doctor than an asset, though it’s not until the arrival of Ace that why The Doctor tolerates having companions will be anything other than a baffling conundrum.

But yeah, Robin Stuart is terrible, the pointless choice to film some scenes in Amsterdam is terrible, Gallifrey is terrible, the whodunnit is terrible, the Matrix being a few wobbly criss-cross lines generated by a BBC Micro is terrible and an insult to “The Deadly Assassin”. Bringing back Omega with an uglier costume, no discernible personality and a giant rubber chicken for a butler is terrible and an insult to “The Three Doctors”. The technobabble (all those “pulse loops” and “fusion boosters”) and the slavishness to continuity (namedropping Leela, wasting time on a discussion about the temporal grace goof from “Earthshock”) in the place of any kind of heart is terrible. The continuing decision to have The Doctor and companion attempt to solve almost every problem with guns is really terrible. Colin Baker in the role of Maxil is not completely terrible, if your idea of “not terrible” is “able to portray a dead-eyed Nazi thug with real conviction”, but of course the idea to take this performance and make a Doctor out of it may well be the most terrible ever. I think everyone agrees that as celebrations of two decades of the show go, this is a massive misfire.

But is there anything good to say about “Arc Of Infinity”? Well…I’ll offer up two things. Firstly, and okay, this is clutching at straws a bit, the name of the episode is really beautiful and evocative. It’s hard to understand how such a poetic story title could be attached to such a lumpen and prosaic story. Secondly, there is one scene in “Arc Of Infinity” that I really like, sadly in Episode 4, so much too late to stop anyone switching off, but still. Yet another terrible decision has been made to have Omega turn into Peter Davison in an ugly boiler suit and facial eruptions legging it around the streets of Amsterdam. Briefly, though, he stops to listen to a steam organ and, these being carefree pre-Yewtree days, exchanges some coquettish smiles with a tiny winsome blond Dutch boy. The tragedy of Omega is that all he wants to do is live; listen to music, feel the sun on his face, maybe skip through a field of tulips holding hands with a tiny child, I don’t know. But of course thanks to his exile to the anti-matter universe all of these joys are lost to him forever. The rest of the adventure squanders him entirely with boilerplate villainous posturing and bluster, but this scene economically describes his predicament, as moments later his face begins to revert to anti-matter and bystanders start screaming. It’s worth all the rest of “Arc Of Infinity” put together, as far as I’m concerned.

Even the aforementioned glimmers of something good and interesting about this serial aren’t enough to amount to an extra point out of ten. “Arc Of Infinity” is an empty void of a show, a display case for continuity porn instead of imagination, technobabble instead of plot, guns instead of humour, shoddy production value, contractual obligation rubber monsters and unimaginative direction instead of any discernible love anywhere. If Doctor Who is about joylessly reprising things from the shows past then this might qualify as some kind of success, but if it’s about anything else at all then I can only award it the ultimate bad story accolade of 1/10.

Written and edited by Matthew Marcus

9.2 – “The Curse Of Peladon”

Posted in Classic Who, Season 09 with tags , , , , on October 27, 2014 by Review The Who

CW Series 9 - The Curse Of Peladon

Peladon is hosting delegates from the Galactic Alliance as it tries to join as a member but, on the eve of the conference, one of the King’s closest advisors is killed mysteriously and Peladon’s future with the Alliance is thrown into doubt as the delegates try to get to the bottom of the murder. The King must decide whether to move Peladon forward and join the Alliance or retreat into a past of medieval mythology. The Doctor and Jo land on Peladon during their first trip away from Earth in a newly repaired TARDIS and are instantly mistaken for the Alliance delegates from Earth and caught up in the chaos as it ensues.

After the long exile on Earth, “The Curse Of Peladon” shows why this era of Doctor Who did well to be earth bound in a time and universe of heavy budget constraints. All the limitations of doing this show under the workload and lack of cash are fairly clear to see here.

It’s a well loved story, and not without its charm, but it does seem to struggle under a few heavy brassneck aspects. For the first visit to an alien planet in some time, Peladon feels like it relies heavily on the BBC drama department’s historical drama sets. Drafty castle chic with torch lined walls is the order of the day. It’s the reason that my brother was convinced that all 70’s Doctor Who contained two warring factions and a monster in an underground cave. Still, there is a Shakespearean tragedy to the Peladon throne being led into disarray between the scientific advice of Chancellor Torbis and the traditional beliefs of the King’s co-advisor Hepesh with his obsession with Peladon’s mythical royal Beast Aggedor.

David Troughton does a great turn as the young King, and its nice to see Brian Hayles bring his Ice Warriors back, although it would be better to see them have more of a purpose than the somewhat stiff Martian delegates featured here as an “Are they or aren’t they the baddies?” role. Alpha Centauri’s delegate is one of the worst Who aliens ever created, carting about like a gigantic pea with a cloak and the most ridiculous high pitched voice. Even my ten year old was looking at it and wondering what they were thinking. Centauri is up there with the Absorbaloff as one of the most ill-conceived alien designs we’ve seen, so bad it could have been created by a junior level Blue Peter competition winner.

Arcturus could have been a great alien villain – head in a jar – but it just feels like they missed a trick with a rubber head in a plastic box, covered in green liquid, but with no real facial movement. Wish they’d spent the budget for the Alpha Centauri costume on a puppeteer’s hand to give Arcturus face more of an edge with movement and had a humanoid Centauri and not a giant pea-headed walloper. Most of the delegates discussion is a high pitched rummy that starts to grate quickly and you just end up wishing they would all shut up. Why would you be chosen to represent your Planet at a serious conference when you’re a mad gobshite that can’t shut up?

Royal Beast Aggedor looks a bit like a wild boar that’s taught itself to lumber about on its hind legs. A poor misunderstood creature that responds well to The Doctor singing it a lullaby and hypnotising it with a bit of bling. Most of Aggedor’s damage seems to come from statues in its image toppling over rather than the “monster” itself.

The Doctor also gets to do a bit of hand to hand combat against the King’s champion, and its always a joy to see a stunt fighter in a silver wig swapping out for Pertwee as he goes flying, or takes a heavy tumble.

I usually try and be fairly positive about the shows, but having watched this a couple of times this week, my memory of the story is definitely better than how the story itself has stood up, and I’m struggling to be as positive as I would like. Its just a bit of a naive 4-parter, that struggles to effectively create an alien planet and is let down by fairly poorly realised aliens. The Doctor and Jo are up to their usual standard, but its just a bit of a dull outing which doesn’t shine the way you’d hope. If “The Curse Of Peladon” is a satire on the UK joining the European Common Market, can we look forward to an imminent return to Peladon to see a next generation King/Queen of Peladon being advised by Chancellor Farage that they should really leave the Federation cause you just can’t trust these alien delegates. Lets hope not. 5/10

Written and edited by Gavin Dunbar

24.4 – “Dragonfire”

Posted in Classic Who, Season 24 with tags , , , , on October 27, 2014 by Review The Who

CW Series 24 - Dragonfire

The Doctor teams up with Sabalom Glitz to hunt a dragon’s treasure in the caverns beneath a planet of ice. Mostly remembered for being the one that says hello to Ace and goodbye to Mel, but there’s so much more going on here than that…

You could be forgiven for having given up by now. Even if you’re like me, and don’t think that Season 24 represents the absolute nadir of televised Doctor Who, it’s a pretty defensible claim that the show has, at this stage, not been much cop at all since “The Caves of Androzani”, three and a half years, two Doctors and one embarrassing hiatus ago. Maybe you were giving the show one last chance to redeem itself before you gave up and became a fan of, I don’t know, Star Cops or something instead. As hopefully my earlier reviews will have unequivocally convinced you, the first eight episodes of the season are pretty dire and even “Delta and The Bannermen” is rather slight. So there’s a lot of pressure on the slender shoulders of “Dragonfire”; if it wants to salvage the season, it’s going to have to pull something really very special out of the bag.

The general consensus, I believe, is that it fails and fails pretty hard. However, I would argue that it’s an almost unmitigated success…just not the one we were looking for. Here’s the problem with Season 24; what fans seem to yearn for in an era of Doctor Who is serious drama with lots of serious actors taking dramatic situations very seriously. And with continuity coming out of it’s ears. A “good” season is one that loads itself up with Daleks, Cybermen and Sontarans even though those stories are actually not very good at all (hi Season 12). A “bad” season is one where comedy is the order of the day, even if that season contains possibly the greatest Doctor Who story of all time and then more brilliant ideas in the rest of the scripts than we got in 3 years of Hinchcliffe (looking at you, Season 17). Season 24 does *try* to throw a bone to the continuity junkies. Unfortunately, we already know that JN-T doesn’t remotely understand the concept, from Season 20, when his idea of “every story containing an element from The Doctor’s past” was the Black Guardian x 3, that rubber snake that nobody liked, the Master YET AGAIN, and, okay, fair enough, Omega and all the anniversary stuff in “The Five Doctors”. But Season 24 is even more disastrous: its “kisses to the past” are the Rani from Season 22, and Glitz from Season 23. That is to say, the very recent past. Which most people were trying to forget. And then there’s the comedy question. On one of the extras on the DVD, Ian Briggs opines that “Dragonfire” is, essentially speaking, a comedy. And there’s the rub. After regenerating The Doctor into Sylv “Mr Light Entertainment” McCoy, and facing him off against Richard Briers and Ken Dodd (not to mention Kate O’Mara in pink legwarmers), was it a brilliant idea to commission for the season climax…a light and fluffy romp? Fandom’s answer to this remains unprintable to this day.

Which is all a great shame because “Dragonfire” is excellent. In a season that wasn’t crying out for some extra gravitas it would probably have been recognized for the quality romp that it is. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, 3 25-minute episodes is the perfect length for a Doctor Who story. Beginning, middle, end. And for me, “Dragonfire” (alongside “Delta and The Bannermen”), really ushers in the Cartmel era by containing about twice as much good stuff in 3 episodes as you ever got in a Pertwee 6-parter. Glitz’s quest to win back the Nosferatu. The bizarre origin story of Dorothy, blown over the rainbow to meet her own Wizard of Oz. The tragic tale of Belazs, who grew old having sold her soul when she was too young to know better. A treasure map with Singing Trees, Lakes of Oblivion and Depth of Eternal Darkness marked out. A love story for the frozen ages between the two criminals Kane and Xana (a song of fire and ice, if you will). An ANT-hunt from the playbook of Aliens, a horde of shambling zombies who have forgotten every human emotion save hate and, of course, Kane himself, vying with Gavrok for the title of the season’s most wonderfully villainous villain. It’s a close run thing performance-wise, but Edward Peel gets that much more to work with. The episode is just packed with glorious, heavyweight stuff. Pretty good for a “comedy” if you ask me.

Let’s talk about the companions. With hindsight we all quite correctly adore Sophie Aldred’s Ace, but at the time she might have grated a little, with her back-of-a-napkin-sounding origin story (seriously, a 1980’s teenager apparently randomly waiting tables on an alien planet?) and all the somewhat cringe worthy exclamations of “Brill!” and “Wicked!” on the one hand and “Bilgebag!” on the other. But then again, the scene in which Kane tries to persuade Ace to see “the twelve galaxies, the diamond sparkle of meteorite showers, the rainbow flashes of an ion storm” by only taking his golden sovereign is immaculately, yearningly acted by Sophie who, let’s not forget, is a talented 25 year old actress cruelly forced to play at being sixt…er, eighteen. Why the production team of the time made some of the choices they did is beyond me, but at least they saw Sophie Aldred’s enormous potential before burying her in horrendously wince-worthy yoofspeak.

And Mel, ah, Mel. I haven’t been kind to Mel in my reviews but the scene in which she leaves is an absolute belter, a glittering jewel of a dialogue about the bittersweetness of being nomads in space and time. Reassuringly Mel departs as she arrives, in a manner that frankly makes no sense (Mel and Glitz? It’s like a chalk and cheese sandwich), but her parting exchange with The Doctor is her best scene, so she’s forgiven at the last. It might be McCoy’s best scene so far too, to be honest. “Days like crazy paving…”

Glitz is basically a companion in this one too, in a sort of proto-Captain-Jack space rogue capacity. I like that he’s not much of a good guy – sold his crew for zombification for 17 crowns apiece! – but he’s basically loveable despite his tendency to be economical with both morals and truth.  His personal agendas add a lot to the cause of getting the plot moving quickly and efficiently, and basically he’s one of the best companions we never had.

So what’s there not to like about “Dragonfire”? Chris Clough’s direction is pretty mediocre. Remove the familiar visuals from your mind and just try to imagine this adventure based on how it reads on paper, what things like The Singing Trees and The Lake of Oblivion would have looked like on an ideal Iceworld, a world where anyone apart from that hardened showbiz trooper Sylvester McCoy can be bothered to pretend that the ground beneath their feet is constantly slippery and treacherous. Imagine that the statue of Xana really is a work of “incandescent artistry” and “unique beauty” instead of a crudely hewn chunk of polystyrene in the approximate shape of a woman. Imagine that, instead of the most baffling cliffhanger of all time, the direction had somehow bothered to convey that the only available route to the treasure was down into a precipitous abyss, instead of The Doctor seemingly whimsically deciding to take time out to hang by his umbrella from the edge of a cliff for fun. A better director could have made material this good into something wonderful. But hey, the material is still strong. Not many of the stories bearing the fateful legend “Director: Chris Clough” fared even this well.

For another so-called comedy adventure, “Dragonfire” is the most dramatic and compelling script that’s come across for ages, brimful of real villainy, real tragedy, real humanity, real poetry. All this and jokes too. (Never mind the merely average quality of the direction, feel the semiotic thickness of the performed text!) If fans hadn’t been desperately looking for a very different type of story at this particular point in time, I think “Dragonfire” would be a lot better loved, perhaps as much as Ian Briggs’ next attempt at writing for the show. As things stand I’m still convinced that it’s pretty great, and award it a context-free 8/10.

Written and edited by Matthew Marcus

22.3 – “The Mark Of The Rani”

Posted in Classic Who, Season 22 with tags , , , , on October 1, 2014 by Review The Who

CW Series 22 - The Mark Of The Rani

The Doctor and Peri land in northern England durin the first throes of the industrial revolution, where immoral Time Lord scientist The Rani is conducting naughty experiments on the locals. The Master rocks up for some reason and calamity ensues.

Finally, after an epic quest through the first three stories of Colin Baker’s tenure, I’ve reached Pip & Jane Baker’s first contribution to Doctor Who. I’m going to get all sweary, aren’t I?

Nah, not quite. 1. It’s too easy a target and 2. I actually went into “The Mark Of The Rani” with a bit of a spring in my step. Last time I watched it – when it was first released on DVD – I actually rather enjoyed it. I mean, it’s essentially 90 minutes of Time Lords bitching at each other, but it’s competently made – especially compared to the preceding stories – and Kate O’Mara is incredibly watchable as The Rani. I mean, she spends her screentime making an epic feast of the scenery, but I can live with that. She does it very well. Power stomping around Victorian England, bitchslapping The Master at every opportunity. She’s bloody great.

“The Mark Of The Rani” is essentially all about introducing this new potential recurring character, so it makes sense that everything else is secondary. Bringing The Master back to help define her is actually a rare-for-the-time sensible production decision, and there is something a bit brilliant about watching Antony Ainley pour on the sleezy charm, flirting ineptly as she refuses to take any of his shit. She essentially calls him out on everything that’s been wrong about the character since, ooooh, “Logopolis”? “What’s he up to? Something devious and over-complicated. He’d get dizzy if he tried to walk in a straight line.” she snarls, going on to refer to him as “that idiot.” And she’s totally got a point. All of The Master’s little schemes in this one are, as she says, overly-complicated. I was going to count the number of times across the two episodes that he could have basically just, y’know, shot The Doctor and been done with it but instead twirls his moustache, does a little speech and does something stupid and overly complicated instead, but ultimately I decided that life was too short. I’ll just go with ‘a lot’. He does it a LOT.

It’s not all about Kate though. There is lot to like about this one. Don’t get me wrong, mind. This isn’t a classic. It’s never going to be a favourite, it’s never going to make the top ten, but episode one at least is terribly watchable, with lots of very good things going for it. Even the music is ace. The opening arpeggios, pads and gentle lead parts are reminiscent of Vangelis. The long establishing scene that opens episode 1, dipping in and out of mini-scenes in the Victorian mining village looks terrific, all restrained camerawork and nicely grainy. The ambient floaty synth sounds contrast really nicely with the grim, sooted-up miners, who are all northern! Northern accents! In 80’s Doctor Who! A true rarity. Admittedly they’re impenetrable comedy Geordie accents, but still, that’s sort of progress, right? And it’s dark. We see a bunch of miners go for a bath only to be immediately gassed. It’s a shame that this then cuts to a TARDIS scene, THAT bloody costume (easy target alert!) and Colin Baker throwing an over-acty strop as the TARDIS is drawn off course by a time distortion caused by the presence of a nearby time machine. Which is the first thing that really doesn’t make sense. If TARDISes are thrown off course by nearby time machines, how on Earth do they leave Gallifrey in the first place? Isn’t that a massive pain in the arse?

While we’re on TARDISes, let’s stick with the positive. The Rani’s TARDIS console room is an AMAZING piece of design. Proper amazing. It looks brilliant. Where The Doctor’s TARDIS is all sharp corners and millions of buttons, the Rani’s is all smooth contours, curves and minimalism. Yeah, it’s well 80’s, but I think it looks aces. On the other hand, The Master’s little death ray of doom is essentially a big black dildo. It’s got a bellend and everything. A bellend that opens up to squirt hot laser death at big butch miners. I can’t believe no-one on the production team thought at any point thought “Erm, guys…The Master is basically waving a plastic dick of death at everyone. We should probably change that. Tea time and so on?” Maybe it’s deliberate, I dunno. There is something quite brilliant on one level about a fruity villain pantomime sneaking around the edges of the story terrorizing people with his futuristic laser cock.

Yeah, sorry, got carried away there. At least he’s not in some lame disguise. So anyways. The Doctor and Peri go off in search of the source of the distortion while three frisky miners have a towel fight. One of them actually kicks an actual child, steals some bread and scampers off laughing. Clearly if not The Main Bad Guy, certainly a nasty little tosser. While wandering around, Peri does an environmental infodump on the effects of the industrial revolution which is so unsubtle, but still quite nice in an attempt-to-engage-with-the-concerns-of-the-time stylee. They’re watched by a living scarecrow which is never actually explained or followed up on, then the three miners mug a guy on horseback and destroy his machinery. Aha! They’re luddites. Not happy about machines coming up to the north, taking their jobs etc etc. It’s a bit Hartnell, this one. An actual semi-educational historical of sorts. Not seen one of these for a while. A couple of mysterious marks on the skin of the attackers tips The Doctor off that all is not quite what it seems and we’re off into the investigation.

For the first time, Colin Baker’s Doctor actually FEELS like The Doctor. He’s less of a dick than he’s been for the last couple of episodes, he’s only semi-responsible for one random death and he seems to actually give a shit about what is going on around him. Hurrah. Though when Peri explains to the lord of the miners or whatever his name is that “The Doctor’s a little eccentric.” I can’t help thinking “DO YOU NEED TO SPELL IT OUT?! LOOK AT WHAT HE’S WEARING!”

So episode 1 builds nice and natural, The Doctor, The Rani and The Master have a couple of chatty confrontations where The Master fails to JUST FUCKING SHOOT THE DOCTOR. STOP FANNYING AROUND AND JUST SHOOT HIM and before we know it, it’s cliffhanger time.

So all in all, episode 1 can be filed under ‘quite good’. Or ‘I was entertained by this.’

So the less good? Well, episode 2. Oh, it’s like “Attack Of The Cybermen” all over again. Scratch that. Nothing is quite like “Attack Of The Cybermen” part two. Despite being well made, part two gets, to put it bluntly, boring. Yup, it’s an episode where a guy gets turned into a living tree and gropes the companion, and it’s boring. I know, right? It’s not a car crash like “Attack Of The Cybermen” part 2, but I just found my attention meandering away, and I found myself picking holes, and then I found myself thinking about other stuff I could be doing. The living tree thing is a shame. It’s something that has a lot of potential. I like the idea. I really LOVE the idea of the tree still being sentient, but it feels like P&J could have done more with it. A minefield full of matter transforming bombs? Brilliant. The execution? Less good. So I end up spending the rest of the story thinking about some of the stuff Alan Moore was doing at the same time with Swamp Thing, wondering what he would have spun out of that idea and kind of missing the rest of the episode, coming back only for the end when celebrity historical figure George Stephenson and, I dunno, some other guy say their farewells to The Doctor and Peri, talking about the two of them like they’re old pals rather than some people they were suspicious of an hour ago. Oh well.

Well, it probably benefits from the proceeding 8 episodes being crap, but “The Mark Of The Rani” earns the not exactly glowing title of best Colin Baker story so far. A very Hartnellesque historical, not life changing, but not terrible. And I’m in a good mood, so 5/10.

Written and edited by Steve Horry

19.7 – “Time-Flight”

Posted in Classic Who, Season 19 with tags , , , , on September 17, 2014 by Review The Who

CW Series 19 - Time-Flight

To celebrate finally getting that dweeb Adric out of their hair, The Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan plan a massive drunken knees-up at the opening of the Great Exhibition in 1951. So, of course, they land in contemporary Heathrow, where a Concorde flight has gone off course. 140 million years off course and the Doctor is the only hope of tracking it down. Sounds quite promising, right? WRONG.

Let’s not pretend we don’t know about the elephant in the room. “Time-Flight” is terrible. Davison’s worst story. Part of the shows 1980’s unholy trinity, along with “The Twin Dilemma” and “Time and The Rani”. Very probably the story that planted the seeds of Davison’s hasty departure from the show two years later. Some people might not hate it particularly, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anyone actually liking ‘Time-Flight”.

So what’s the problem with it? Well, let’s tackle the conventional wisdom on that bit first. According to Wikipedia, Peter Davison described it as a “very good story, but we had run out of money…the monsters were bits of foam.” And there’s a certain popular approach to Doctor Who appreciation that would agree with this assessment. After a “promising” first episode swanning around the glitz and glamour (by Doctor Who standards) of Heathrow’s Terminal One and aspirational supersonic aircraft, we end up in a dingy studio with a prehistoric landscape painted on the wall behind the actors, with The Doctor and friends being menaced by what I think are meant to be Lovecraftian “shapeless congeries of protoplasmic bubbles” but in practice look like giant grey turds on legs. And that’s before we even get to this season’s SECOND unconvincing alien snake and some aliens that resemble ugly men in leotards spray-painted silver and then decorated by a four-year-old. The First Commandment of Fandom: thou shalt not look cheap!

Essentially, this looks disturbingly like Doctor Who as parodied by Victoria Wood in her classic “Terror of the Ming-Mongs” sketch and for some people that’s enough by itself to consign “Time-Flight’ to the dustbin of history. But I’m not having any of that superficial bollocks in my review. There are much worse problems with “Time-Flight’; if one of your family members walked into the room while you were watching it, they would instantly collapse into gales of derisive mirth. Peter Davison is a lovely guy, but he’s completely wrong on this one. This is not a good story and cannot be made to look like one no matter how hard you squint at it. The story is truly, madly, deeply terrible. What is it about? To a large extent, and to use a handy quote from the Ming-Mongs, “Search me, dear.”

For some reason it had seemed a good idea to allow Peter Grimwade – a talented director, you’ll get no arguments from me about that – to try his hand at writing a few adventures too. He is absolutely terrible at this, but presumably got his awful scripts in on time, so was evidently enthusiastically recommissioned. Let’s talk about what passes laughingly within the four episodes of “Time-Flight” for a “plot”.

As I’ve suggested, the one line pitch is rather good; Concordes were sexy back then, and a Concorde taking off in the present day and landing millions of years in the past is an intriguing premise. Unfortunately, beyond that point it feels rather as if Grimwade is just making it up as he goes along. Characters spend an awful lot of time arguing with each other about what might be happening, much as if the writer was still trying to work this out for himself. “Kalid” is only the worst example of this. Now, ostensibly, I sort of like Kalid. Having established ourselves to be on prehistoric Earth, we cut to an oriental sorcerer chanting weirdly to himself in his underground lair, his unearthly pallor and snaggle teeth retroactively strangely reminiscent of something from a Rob Zombie video. This really is the stuff that children’s nightmares are made of, and if the villain had been anything close to what he appeared to be, some kind of science-horror re-imagining of the Arabian Nights in other words, it might have turned out to be a classic adventure yet.

But as we all know from the cliffhanger to Episode 2, it’s just The Master in disguise again. I’m not the first person and I won’t be the last to bring up the question of why The Master was dressed up as a fat Asian magician while he was trying to recharge his TARDIS in the Stone Age – as far as I can tell from the script, he wasn’t even expecting The Doctor to turn up! The only logical explanation is that he was engaged in some kind of twisted sex game with one of his biddable Plasmatons, then heard someone coming in the front door and reckoned he might be able to style it out.

And it’s not as if The Master is interesting after the dastardly reveal of his true identity. Essentially he’s just trying to recharge a flat battery in the Pleistocene, at which point he’ll be on his way. How did he escape from being trapped in Castrovalva before this adventure? How will he escape from being trapped in Xeraphas with a lot of angry Xeraphins at the end of this adventure? These slightly interesting questions are never answered, in favour of the Doctor Who equivalent of breaking down by the side of the motorway and having to wait an hour for the AA to show up.

The Xeraphins themselves are fucking tedious, even given their short screen time, presented as being caught up in some internal power struggle between their good and evil side that we just don’t care about because they’re ugly men painted silver with stupid names like Anithon and Zarak. Why should be care that the bad Xeraphin who want to help The Master are gaining the upper hand over the good ones? It’s just the tired will-Adric-help-The-Doctor-or-do-something-stupid-instead question with a little bit less Adric in it. The answer is the same every time and, amazingly, the Xeraphin have even less interesting personalities than everyone’s favourite Alzarian.

Ah yes, “personalities”. For an adventure that boasts so many characters, it’s a shame that so few of them have one. For some reason it’s important that there are not one but three handsome Concorde pilots in uniform traipsing around with The Doctor, of whom only Captain Stapley is in any way memorable, mostly for his constant brown-nosing of The Doctor which is an obvious attempt to be invited back to fill Adric’s berth in the TARDIS for Season 20. Not on my watch, Stapley! Of the other half dozen or so named characters the only one I can remember anything about is Professor Hayter of the University of Darlington, whose brusque northern scepticism is I expect meant to be the comic relief, but in practice just means he wastes a lot of our time denying the possibility of things the audience knows for sure to be true. (It’s a well known fact that Hayter’s gonna hate.) Oh, there is one interesting thing about him with hindsight, which is that he has *exactly* the same dress sense as the Eleventh Doctor. What with the recent televised discussion about whether The Doctor based his appearance on people he’s bumped into in his travels, you’ve got to wonder…

With so many boring characters milling around there isn’t really any time for the regulars: Nyssa in a non-startling non-reversal of the entire season’s treatment of her, spends a whole episode having an asthma attack, and apart from not looking like an idiot for choosing to dress as an air hostess for a change, Tegan doesn’t have much to do either. In fact the companion who comes off best in “Time-Flight” is probably Adric…his ghost begging his friends to turn back or else they’ll kill him is a haunting moment and the thing I remember most about watching this story the first time round, as a 7 year old in 1982. Of course those “friends” decide within about five seconds to march resolutely through his screaming form. Fuck you, Adric.

As for The Doctor, poor old Peter Davison gets to spout truly industrial quantities of meaningless technobabble and look aghast at “plot developments” that don’t make a lick of sense. Following in the footsteps of “Earthshock”, he doesn’t actually do very much; it’s Stapley & co’s random thoughtless meddling with the TARDIS, not any agency of The Doctor’s, that saves the day mid-adventure. So all The Doctor really gets to do, in 4 episodes, is beat The Master’s TARDIS back to Heathrow and “bounce” him handily off to Xeraphas. Whoop-de-fucking-doo.

There are two really damning indictments to make of “Time-Flight”. One, it was obvious that Pip & Jane Baker watched this, thought “Hmm, technobabble plus random events…we could do this, let’s give JN-T a call!” The other is that it undoes the excellent work of “Castrovalva” in establishing The Doctor as an alien fugitive for whom Earth is just another hostile planet. If all it takes for him to take charge in 1982 is a swift name-drop of UNIT? Yawn. The best thing about the entire story is the cliffhanger at the end of episode 4 but, as we all know now, Tegan getting left behind was just a lie, almost as big and pointless as “Kalid”. So all we’re really left with is an adventure that’s just one dull, idiotic thing after another until the time runs out. No one in their right mind would ever choose to rewatch this. Not even as good as “Time and The Rani”. A worthless 3/10.

Written and edited by Matthew Marcus

9.1 – “Day Of The Daleks”

Posted in Classic Who, Season 09 with tags , , , , on September 17, 2014 by Review The Who

CW Series 9 - Day Of The Daleks

On the eve of a historical world peace conference, an assassination attempt on Sir Reginald Styles raises the alarm with UNIT, who are providing security, and throws the conference and the peace it’s hoping to maintain into doubt. The Doctor’s curiousity is piqued as to why Styles assailant appears to have disappeared into the ether after his failed attack, leaving behind a futuristic weapon. Who are these time travelling guerillas and what have the Daleks go to do with the Peace Conference?

Season 9 kicks off with the return of The Doctor’s oldest adversaries. “Day Of The Daleks” is a classic time travelling Sci Fi concept and a forerunner of The Terminator; freedom fighters from the future come back in time to stop an event from happening to change the course of history and try and stop the evil aliens/computer that rule the world in their future time period from getting to that situation. Its a proper time paradox romp, one of the first real goes at it in Doctor Who, and it works really well on the whole. The weakest thing about it is probably the Daleks themselves, who seem to be a bit of a damp squib in their own adventure.

Terry Nation is credited as having orginated the stories (he was too busy to write a Dalek serial himself at the time), but writer Louis Marks had already written much of this adventure before being asked to re-write it to include the Daleks. And it really shows. It doesn’t help that there were only three Dalek props available to use at the time of filming, so they really are thin on the ground. If you have the DVD release there is a special edition version with newly filmed scenes including more Daleks and up to date effects to make it feel more full on. They also got current Dalek voice actor Nicholas Briggs in to overdub the Dalek chat, since the original vocals weren’t considered to be up to the usual quality. This makes for a more interesting concept, but it still feels a bit like its already shot its bolt by the time the Daleks come into play.

There are some good scenes with The Doctor and Jo in the future, as prisoners/guests of The Controller, puppet leader for the Daleks of the future world, admirably played by Aubrey Woods. But the best aspects rest back on contemporary Earth with UNIT, time displaced guerillas and the security of the peace conference.

Having watched both the original and special edition version over the past couple of weeks, the climax of the story doesn’t really seem to come to anything. There is no pay off after the realisation that the soldiers trying to kill Styles was caused by them trying to kill Styles rather than Styles himself. Certainly no pay off from having the Daleks. They seem to merely exist in this tale as the back story behind why people are time travelling to change the future back in the past. A real shame since they had been missing from the show for some time, and would have benefited from a more cohesive plot they were actually a part of.

A convoluted, budget return by Skaro’s finest takes the shine off an otherwise fine tale. What could have been a solid 8/10 in its own right falls to a 6/10 with an anti-climax that the original concept would have coped without. It’s not terrible by any means; its fairly enjoyable in places, just a bit of a missed opportunity/slightly wide of the mark effort. Nation’s greatest Dalek moment was still to come with “Genesis…” and Marks would have a better chance to work again on the show with “Planet Of Evil” and “Mask Of Mandragora”. An anti-climactic 6/10.

Written and edited by Gavin Dunbar