Archive for the Season 07 Category

7.4 – “Inferno”

Posted in Classic Who, Season 07 with tags , , , , , on February 26, 2014 by Review The Who

CW Series 7 - Inferno

A drilling project at a power plant, being driven by a madman who won’t listen, goes off the rails and green slime appears and starts turning innocent power plant workers into violent Wolfman Jacks. In the meantime, The Doctor tries to jump start the TARDIS console from the nuclear reactor and is sent into a parallel universe where normailty is an alternate, military led republic with some familiar faces behaving very badly. The Doctor must get back to his own universe and save the Earth from destruction at the hands of drilling project related disaster.

The fourth and final story of season 7 is another 7-part extravaganza. Its a bit of an ecological warning tale, with the ravaging of the planet by scientists trying to find new ways to get more powerful energy sources. A bit like modern day fracking, but with a walloper in a three piece wool suit refusing to listen to The Man From The Ministry ™ and instead putting the entire planet at risk to get the results he wants. UNIT are there to provide security at the power plant but it appears The Doctor has other ideas, attempting to get the TARDIS up and running with power from the experiments. When it all goes wrong and the TARDIS console is transported along with the Doctor to an austere military State in an alternative reality, it gives a great chance for the cast to have a break from their usual UNIT characters and show a very different side to them. A staple in the science fiction genre, this is a well thought out alternative universe; no Spock with a beard and no slightly dubious Mexican accents.

“Inferno” is a great story done well, with some great guest cast, notably Christopher Benjamin (later to return as Henry Gordon Jago) as Sir Keith Gold, Olaf Pooley as Professor Stahlman and Derek Newark as rig expert Sutton and Sheila Dunn as Petra. Pertwee is also in great form, cutting a fine dash in his cape. Nick Courtney is as wonderful as always as the Brigadier, but also gets to excel as the nasty Brigade Leader. Caroline John also does a top turn as the alternative Liz.

There is a fair bit to get stuck into here with the two storylines; the imminent drilling disaster and the alternative universe both need time for a decent set up but, once again, a great story is stretched out over 7 episodes, making it feel overly long. With season 7 otherwise being such a solid base for the way the show changed/worked, it would be interesting to have seen how it would have played out with 6 four parters rather than the seamless “Spearhead From Space” and then three 7-parters that all feel a bit long.

My only other complaint? Not entirely sure how Green Wolfmen seemed to be the natural finishing point for people infected by the escaping ooze and on top of fairly mad cheap werewolf make up, there are a couple of unlikely looks to camera by said Wolfmen which seem a bit incongruous, along with a few lingering shots of them snarling and snuffling and shuffling about, attempting to HAMMER home the monstrousness.

“Inferno” ticks a lot of boxes; great ensemble cast, solid story, regular cast getting to have a go at playing evil versions of themselves and a good take on a classic science fiction plot device. Dubious green wolfmen aside and 1 (or 2) episodes too many, this is Classic Who doing what it does best. A solid 8/10.

Written and edited by Gavin Dunbar


7.3 – “The Ambassadors Of Death”

Posted in Classic Who, Season 07 with tags , , , , on February 5, 2014 by Review The Who

DW Series 7 - The Ambassadors Of Death

The British Space Exploration Programme has lost contact with the astronauts on their Mars Probe. A shuttle is sent to find out what happened to them, only for the BSEP to lose contact with them as well. When the shuttle does return to Earth, the astronauts aren’t who they seem to be and The Doctor, Liz and UNIT are on hand to deal with the consequences.

The third story in the Third Doctor’s era had started life as an adventure for the Second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe. Re-worked to suit the new era, it was much edited/added to by Terrance Dicks, Malcolm Hulke and Trevor Roy, after David Whittaker had trouble re-writing the story for Pertwee and the UNIT team’s time and setting. Whittaker was left as the only credited writer and it was his last story for the Doctor Who.

In some respects, it’s another fine example of the strengths of this season. The contemporary setting and Earth-bound situation work well with the budgetary constraints. The use of then current space programme technology makes it seem realistic and the effects aren’t a stretch of the imagination. The eerie, impossible astronauts provide a proper creepfest. And we even get Sgt. Benton (first seen in “The Invasion” in 1968) returning to the UNIT fold.

It is heavily indebted to The Quatermass Experiment, following its storyline of astronauts returning to earth and bringing peril with them after an alien encounter but, even with the heavy lift of a storyline from an earlier science fiction classic, “The Ambassadors Of Death” proves to be a solid tale. The Doctor is in the thick of the action from the get go; getting involved with Space Programme leader Cornish, piloting the search probe, locating the original astronauts, getting gassed and kidnapped before finally negotiating the release of the astronauts once the alien ambassadors are returned home.

The main issue with the story is that, after a promising start, it becomes a meandering and dragged-out 7 parter. So what would have made a snappy and classic 4 parter struggles to live up to the solid beginning due to a lack of material to justify the 7 episode format. With stories from this period, its sometimes difficult to say whether this is a general issue that was evident at the time, or whether its more down to feeling slow and plodding compared to the modern feel of faster paced television generally. Judging by the issues the production team had in the execution of the writing and filming, that does seem to have caused the plod in this instance.

Interesting casting of note, a pre-Master Geoffrey Beevers is here as a UNIT’s Private Johnson. Ronald Allen returns as Cornish after having appeared in “The Dominators”.

“The Ambassadors Of Death” is a good offering. A solid and interesting story with lots for The Doctor, Liz and UNIT to get their teeth into, but its let down by being a bit over-long and losing out on the initial pace of the story, slowing to a bit of a plod. The good bits are good (even if they are a bit derivative of Quatermass) and its worthy of a watch, just not quite as good as it should be. But then, it can’t be “Spearhead From Space” every week. A watchable 6/10.

Written and edited by Gavin Dunbar

7.2 – “The Silurians”

Posted in Classic Who, Season 07 with tags , , , , on January 22, 2014 by Review The Who

CW Series 7 - The Silurians

Summoned by the Brigadier to help investigate some scientific irregularities at a new nuclear power plant (where power drainages and staff mental breakdowns have become an issue), The Doctor finds that all is not as it seems and soon discovers that the Earth’s previous occupants might just be looking to take their planet back.

My brother used to complain that pretty much all of 70’s Doctor Who could be summed up with the synopsis of two warring factions and a monster in an underground cave. Certainly there are two warring factions here and, indeed, the pre-requisite monster (a fairly rubbish dinosaur) in an underground cave. But there are other Pertwee Era cast-iron regularities that make their first appearance here. Scientific boffins meddling with things they don’t understand. A foolhardy project manager who won’t listen to reason when it’s all going wrong. The Man from The Ministry. A power plant. And, of course, a totally rubbish dinosaur. But this is still very early days for The Doctor’s third incarnation.

Joining The Doctor, Liz and the Brig are some great guest cast choices. Peter Miles (who would go on to play the slimy Nyder from “Genesis Of The Daleks”) is the sour project manager Dr Lawrence. Paul Darrow (Blake’s 7’s Avon) UNITs it up. Fulton McKay is the scientist Dr Quinn, very much in-over-his-head and taking matters into his own hands to try and gain more scientific knowledge. There’s even Geoffrey Palmer as a more understanding and less confrontational Man from The Ministry.

“The Silurians” plays out the interesting premise that, instead of alien invaders trying to attack the Earth, its the long buried original inhabitants of the planet who are trying to retake control. The Doctor, as usual, tries to find a peaceful end to the situation but shows he is not strictly on the side of the humans, taking into account both sides of the conflict. There is no happy ending here, with UNIT taking things into their own hands, ignoring The Doctor and destroying the Silurian base. There is a visible detachment between how The Doctor chooses to operate and how UNIT operates; they are on the same side but there is a marked difference in how they each behave. The Doctor isn’t keen on the way the military mind works for solutions, leaving a disappointed Doc at the end of the story as he witnesses the genocide of the Silurians at the hands of his new colleagues.

It would have been nice to see them film this on location in real caves as had originally been intended, but costs meant that they were forced into a studio production. This results in some of the underground sets looking a bit rushed and hokey, when the story could have had a more timeless look to it like the previous one “Spearhead From Space”.

Watching this for the first time since the DVD came out, I’d forgotten the Silurian’s disease that they try to spread amongst the humans and there are some really cool scenes with Palmer’s patient zero spreading illness as he disembarks and makes his way across London. You can see the massive influence this story had on Chris Chibnall’s “The Hungry Earth” Silurian comeback episodes. It follows a very similar narrative and, indeed, outcome.

There is lots to like about The Silurians. It’s the debut story of a much loved adversary, it’s a bit different in the new Third Doctor set-up for the programme and its got a pretty solid guest cast to keep your attention. The only complaints really would be that we haven’t settled into the UNIT character set-up we grow to know and love. It’s still early days with random soldiers and sergeants. The sets are a bit of a let down compared to how it could have looked if they’d filmed in Wookey Hole or one of them lads and it does feel slightly over-long with 7 episodes, and certainly by today’s TV programme standards, could have done with a bit more pace, but its a well thought out story from Malcolm Hulke with a good execution. A respectable 7/10.

Written and edited by Gavin Dunbar

7.1 – “Spearhead From Space”

Posted in Classic Who, Season 07 with tags , , , , on January 8, 2014 by Review The Who

CW Series 7 - Spearhead From Space

Having been forced to regenerate by the Time Lords as a punishment for disobeying their rules and meddling in the affairs of others, The Doctor is banished to Earth with his TARDIS rendered inoperable. Arriving in Oxley Wood at the same time as a mysterious meteor shower, with no memory of what had just happened to him, The Doctor must once again team up with UNIT to prevent a Nestene invasion of earth.

Throughout its 50 years, Doctor Who has been replete with landmark moments – a new Doctor, new companions, production team changes – that all contribute to the ever changing feel of the programme. In 1970, “Spearhead From Space” was a major landmark for the show, featuring the biggest changes to happen since the idea of regeneration was first introduced to allow Patrick Troughton to replace William Hartnell three years earlier. Falling ratings (through what is now seen as a golden age of the show), combined with budget cuts were forcing the production team to look for new ways to make Doctor Who and Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks came up with a money saving idea; strand The Doctor on Earth and put him to work for UNIT (first introduced as an organisation in “The Invasion” after Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart had appeared in “The Web Of Fear”).

The end result was a new look Doctor Who, with a new team for The Doctor to work with, fighting alien invasion on Earth and not having to spend money on extravagant alien planet sets. And finally, in another landmark difference to how the show had previously been presented, The Doctor’s adventures would now be filmed in colour.

Through episode 1, the unconscious Doctor spends most of his time in a hospital bed as we are re-introduced to UNIT and the Brigadier and meet new companion, scientist Liz Shaw, alongside the alien threat in the shape of mysterious meteorites. Strange things are afoot at the Auto Plastics company and, with local poacher Sam Sealy having stolen a meteorite, UNIT have their work cut out for them getting to the bottom of it all.

Jon Pertwee gets to properly kick off his characterisation of The Doctor with an escape bid from the hospital and the Nestenes. Accidentally shot at by UNIT soldiers during the escape, he is briefly back in bed before a more successful second attempt has him suited and caped from the hospital Doctor’s dressing room. With the theft of an old car, he’s soon back in business and cutting a fine dash on his way to UNIT headquarters to get back in on the action.

The Autons look so sinister (even if the masks look a little hokey by today’s standards). Simple but effective use of the mannequins and dummies and the plastification effect on the faces of the bad guys works well. The seminal scene of the shop display models coming to life still looks awesome and is such a massive part of Who folklore that it was re-imagined in the first show of the New Series when it came back in 2005.

“Spearhead from Space” is Doctor Who at its best. Pertwee gets to grips with his Doctor, UNIT seems like a natural home for him and there is a new dynamic to the show. It looks great in colour and, despite the budget cuts, the production team use what budget they have to the best advantage of the story. Watching this now in HD, it looks fairly stunning, with the dubious looking Nestene Brain being the only visual let down (but it’s still funny). Its a great template for the next few years of Who. A classic 10/10.

Written and edited by Gavin Dunbar