Archive for the Season 12 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


12.3 – “The Sontaran Experiment”

Posted in Classic Who, Season 12 with tags , , , , on July 4, 2014 by Review The Who

CW Series 12 - The Sontaran Experiment

The Doctor, Harry & Sarah beam down to the solar storm battered Earth for some reason or another. Some human colonists have returned home to be picked on by a Sontaran. Boredom ensues.

Ah, the last-minute, “Shit! A-6-parter-has-fallen-through! What are we going to do?” filler story.

The first time Doctor Who did a two part filler story, it was “The Edge Of Destruction”/Inside The Spaceship/whatever you want to call it. And it was awesome. A hysterical blast of uber-tense psychological drama, it ramped up the tension following two adventures where The Doctor had behaved like a selfish child, kidnapped some schoolteachers and generally behaved like an untrustworthy dick. An arsehole in a box, if you will. Then “The Rescue”, a putting-the-fun-into-the-functional-run-around story that introduced the hip new companion and had a great little bit of pseudo-monster design. This time round…where do I start? Seriously, where do I start?

It’s really hard to find anything to write about “The Sontaran Experiment”. It exists. It isn’t going to make your life better watching it. It’s not going to bore you either. It’s just…well, there. Which is nice and all, but, well. It gives one very little to work with. I’m probably going to eat up my word count trying to think of something interesting to say about something that isn’t really that interesting.

Ho hum.

It looks great, mind. Filmed entirely on location in sunny (*sniggers*) Dartmoor and consequently nicely grainy. The Sontaran design is still ace, loving the golf ball spaceship still, REALLY love the anorexic sibling of the Smash robots rocking up, but, well, stuff is missing. Anything to stick in the mind, specifically. Styre isn’t as funny as Lynx and the script isn’t as funny or as clever as “The Time Warrior”. I could pick holes in some of the logic and wonder why the Sontarans feel the need to experiment on a species that not only has colonised the galaxy, but they’ve encountered as far back as the middle ages, or wonder why – when Trafalgar Square has found itself buried under a reformed Earth – the Nerva Beacon transmat thingie is still in place. But, well, life is too short.

Oh sod it, while I’m here: the structure doesn’t really work either. In a two parter called “The Sontaran Experiment’, with much less time to tell a story than normal, the usual end of episode one monster reveal seems a bit silly. “Oh noes! It’s a Sontaran! Who’d have guessed from the FUCKING TITLE?”

Still, Harry is awesome. He’s still my favourite slightly pompous, terribly well-spoken military twat and the chemistry between the leads is still fun. I wasn’t bored while watching it. It’s just terribly hard to get excited by and terribly hard to bash out a couple of hundred words about.

So yeah. “The Sontaran Experiment”: at least it’s not ‘The Twin Dilemma”.

A story that doesn’t even inspire me enough to write a ‘hilarious’ sign off. Wonder if the next story is any good? A snoozy 4/10.

Written and edited by Steve Horry

12.2 – “The Ark In Space”

Posted in Classic Who, Season 12 with tags , , , , on April 10, 2014 by Review The Who

CW Series 12 - The Ark In Space

The Doctor, Harry and Sarah arrive on a deserted space station to – – no wait, come back! It’s okay; Robert Holmes wrote this one! Anyway, the space station seems to be deserted but it turns out that the posh, clever members of the human race are in suspended animation. While the humans are revived, The Doctor and co discover that something else is living in Space Station Nerva…and it’s not too keen on humans.

“The Ark In Space” is widely seen as a bit of a classic. I must confess, I’ve always found it a little bit boring. I know, I know…please don’t judge me. So I went in expecting to piss off anyone reading this right from the start. Part of the problem is, I guess, context. Coming straight after 5 years of Pertwee, Letts and Dicks, I can imagine this might be a bit of a mindblower. Watching it now, being able to dip in and out of eras at will, it kind of feels a bit…well, for an hour and 40 minutes, it exists. It’s a base-under-siege story. There are lots of base-under-siege stories. I enjoyed it, but I can’t get overly excited about it. Does that make me a bad geek? Still, there is much to love here. So, with that in mind;

The Good; after starting with a VERY similar monster’s viewpoint shot to “Robot”, episode 1 is essentially 25 minutes of the new regulars wandering around solving puzzles. As a follow on from the cuddly soft launch for Baker T – all recurring characters, recurring tropes and fun predictability – “The Ark In Space” spends some time with just the new Doctor and his two companions talking. And it’s ace. Tom Baker is Tom Baker, Ian Marter is very likeable considering he’s playing a massively sexist prick and Liz Sladen…well, Liz Sladen is rather short-changed for the first three quarters of the story, but come episode 4 she gets to basically be awesome. In between the hysterical bits.

The dialogue absolutely sparkles. When The Doctor tells Vira of Harry’s medical skills, but that “Harry here is only qualified to work with sailors,” I very nearly spat coffee over my computer screen laughing. It’s also worth noting that Tom Baker is fabulous throughout. Second story out and he very much is The Doctor. “Robot” wasn’t a fluke. He’s particularly brilliant at turning around everything anyone says to him – for example, later in the story, a Wirrn possessed Noah threatens to take him back to the cryogenic centre. The Doctor replies immediately with “You’re absolutely right, there’s no time to lose!”, owning the situation despite being held at gunpoint. He radiates a confidence that belies the fact he’s clearly working everything out as he goes along. He manages to seem like he’s a shambolic busker and two steps ahead of everyone else simultaneously, and he does it effortlessly. It’s a joy to watch. He gives excellent seriousface/seriousvoice as well. “When I say I’m afraid, Sarah, I’m not making jokes” he says, and you believe him.

Brilliant ideas are dropped all over the place. In typical Bob Holmes style, the monsters are terrific. Giant insect bastards who infect their hosts and feed off them in order to emerge fully grown, pre-Alien? Yes please. And his conception of a human race where social mobility no longer exists is superbly depressing. Everyone has their place. Your average working class people are described by the crew of the Ark as ‘regressives’ or ‘units’. You follow orders because your commander says so. You can’t take on someone else’s job because you’ve got your job and your responsibilities. We don’t muck in together, we have our task and our task only. I get on with my thing, you get on with yours. Which is a concern that feels – in 2014 – surprisingly prescient. The crew of the Ark are proper humourless bastards too. They called their captain Noah. As “an amusement.” “A joke?” asks Harry to a confused look from Lira. Yeah, we don’t know what a joke is in the future either. This compartmentalisation of human classes also powers an important plot point later in the story, when one of the engineers sacrifices himself in place of The Doctor to rid Nerva of the Wirrn due to that ‘being my job’. It all ties up very nicely. Though I did find it amusing that a progressive observes that ‘this is a stitch up!’ Good to see that phrase has survived.

Noah’s journey from pompous space captain to possessed bad guy to ultimate saviour of the human race is terribly well done as well. From the early ‘Oh noes! Noah’s got a green monster hand hidden in his pocket!’ stages, smacking his hand on a console in frustration, to being a bag of green bubble wrap sliding along corridor floors and looking menacing in various ventilation shafts before finally going full Wirrn from episode 3 onwards, it’s all terribly well done. And then when he finally – as a Wirrn – sacrifices himself to save the world, you do genuinely feel for the character. The Wirrn even have an actual motive, one more interesting than world/universal domination: they are out for revenge due to being almost wiped out by the humans. Whoops. But this is good as it’s one of the first times early Doctor Who gives us a sympathetic monster. Yes, they’re horrific parasites, but they have just cause.

The Less Good: I just found it a bit predictable. The Doctor and friends land in an unknown environment. They stumble across a puzzle or two, giving us a cliffhanger every five minutes. They meet the inhabitants. Obviously The Doctor and co are taken for bad guys almost immediately, especially when The Doctor is caught seemingly trying to sabotage the ship. Well, we know he’s saving it, but the stupid progressives don’t get that. But, y’know, it’s a bit by-the-numbers. Sarah Jane seems to spend an awful lot of the story flaking out, screaming and getting hysterical. The same Sarah Jane who has now been dealing with this stuff for an entire series. Feminist Sarah Jane, the new strong woman. It’s a bit…patronising, maybe? We know she’s made of sterner stuff. I’ve seen it suggested elsewhere that she’s frazzled after being cryogenically frozen, but we don’t see the same sort of behaviour from any of the other characters so that doesn’t really wash with me.

And for all the dialogue triumphs, we still get the Wirrn-possessed Noah declaring that “Resistance is useless!” Le sigh.

It frustrates me that after listing out all the good about this story and then a humble three less good points that I’m still a bit nonplussed by the whole affair. I can’t work it out. When I think about the good bits, I’m genuinely impressed. But I’m not exactly sitting here desperate to watch it again. And worst of all, at no point in this review have I been able to crowbar in the line ‘Wirrn deep shit now, boys.’

Ho hum.

As I say, I spent a lot of time watching this episode wondering why THIS is seen as a classic and, I dunno, “Robot” isn’t. Which is probably my bad. I mean, great dialogue, great performances from the regulars, great monster idea, but it’s not MASSIVELY exciting. I just find it kind of average. SORRY! For four 25 minute chunks of time it existed. “Robot” at least has the fun factor. “The Ark In Space” is just a bunch of people talking in various rooms which I would normally go for but, on this occasion, I can only give a resounding “meh”. An average 5/10.

Written and edited by Steve Horry

12.1 – “Robot”

Posted in Classic Who, Season 12 with tags , , , , on January 29, 2014 by Review The Who

CW Series 12 - Robot

ROBOKINGKONG! Following on from The Greatest Chase Sequence Of All Time, The Doctor has regenerated into a relatively unknown actor named Tom Baker. Wonder if he’ll be any good? Meanwhile, top secret plans for a top-secret disintegrator gun have been stolen in mysterious circumstances, and one by one all the component parts are going the same way. Who is behind all this? Who the Hell are The Scientific Reform Society and what do they have to do with any of this? The Doctor teams up with Sarah Jane Smith and UNIT to investigate.

There is something about 70’s UNIT stories that give me a great big warm glow. It’s Comfort Who. My first Doctor was Sylvester McCoy but my second was Mr Jon Pertwee (“Day Of The Daleks” if you’re interested) so there is something about that era that I just can’t get all critical about. I just can’t. And make no mistake, it might be Tom Baker’s face all over the title sequence now, but this is very much an epilogue to the Pertwee period rather than the shining dawn of a bright new era. If you want that sort of thing you’re going to have to wait ’till the next story.

For now, though, we’re bidding farewell to the Barry Letts & Terrence Dicks vision with one last outing following “Planet Of The Spiders” full-on Barry Letts blow-out. Bar Buddhist undertones, pretty much all of the tropes of the previous five years are comfortably in place. Secret scientific society with a plan to better mankind through nefarious means? Check. Ecological concerns? Check. Clumsy but well meaning support of feminism? Check. Military action (possibly by HAVOC), complete with helicopters? Check. The Doctor zooming around the Home Counties in Bessie? Dodgy CSO and a script oblivious to the limitations of the special effects budget? Hell yes. The only things we’re sorely lacking are an ineffectual civil servant screwing things up and Stephen Thorne’s big booming voice for the big bad robot. Seeded throughout the story are some of the elements we will come to recognise as the tropes of new script editor Robert Holmes and new producer Philip Hinchcliffe. This isn’t the first time, for example, that we’ll see The Doctor thrown into an existing story. “Robot” sees writer (and outgoing script editor) Terrence Dicks fusing UNIT era Doctor Who with King Kong, but soon we’ll be seeing a Time Lord Frankenstein, The Alien Prisoner of Zenda, Doctor Who & The Hammer Horror Remakes of Mars and Lovecraft In Space, amongst others, mostly to fantastic effect.

“Robot” begins with a quick recap of the previous adventure. We see Pertwee fade to Baker once more and we’re off. Contrasting utterly with Pertwee’s staid patrician, Baker is immediately a far more mercurial Doctor, wriggling desperately out of any attempts by his friends to engage with him and itching to get back to the TARDIS and his travels. He’s all boggle eyes and bemused smirks. The smirk refuses to leave his face for the entirety of this story and it’s all the better for it. If he’s not smirking he’s feigning boredom or detachment, putting his feet up and reclining on any available surface. This attitude suits the story perfectly: for all the fun to be had, it’s very much a by-the-numbers runaround. It’s like he’s fully aware of and is taking it easy. And this is not necessarily a criticism – this is Comfort Who, after all. I’m not alone in loving the challenging and the original, the stuff that stretches the format and blows your tiny mind, but sometimes you just want to sit back, put your feet up and switch the brain off while Tom Baker gallivants around looking amused while chaos erupts around him.

Comfort Who generally has Terrence Dicks’ name attached to it in some capacity; sometimes as script editor, sometimes as script writer, sometimes as novelist. Dicks is the master of fun, entertaining stories that may not necessarily change the way you think about stuff, but keep you suitably riveted for their duration. It’s a romp – a word rarely seen outside of tabloid newspapers and Russell T Davies interviews, but completely appropriate when discussing this story. Writing a story that breezes along effortlessly without feeling padded is an equally valid skill and, when it’s as much fun as this, utterly commendable. This is a canny move on Hinchcliffe’s part. With a new Doctor to introduce, following on from 5 years of Pertwee, it makes sense for him to utilise the existing supporting cast and employ a trusted pair of scripting hands to deliver a competent piece of Comfort Who to get people used to the new fella.

That’s not to say that “Robot” is without it’s surprises. The fascist Scientific Reform Society are easy to laugh at; despite being a collective of super-intelligent science loonies with access to all the atomic weapons in the world, they’re still terrifically small scale and homespun, all sub-Nazi uniforms and meetings in a little community centre surrounded by barbed wire. But the episode 3 reveal of who actually leads their group is nicely set up, logical, and genuinely surprising if you haven’t watched this story in years and had kind of forgotten that bit (HELLO!), meaning that rather than the usual capture/escape/capture/escape yawnathon that traditionally fills the episode 3 space, we instead get a superb set up for the conclusion. Which unfortunately ultimately boils down to The Doctor dousing the now giant titular robot in soapy water, causing him to dissolve. But still, it’s fun. And Baker delivers the scene with tongue far enough in cheek to get away with it.

It’s not all about Baker though. “Robot” has some great material for Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith, who gets to do all of the heavy investigative lifting. It’s Sarah Jane who gets interested in Think Tank, proactively investigates and – eventually – breaks in to their facility, getting all the intelligence on the robot. It’s Sarah Jane’s compassionate response to the K1 robot that causes it to question his instructions, ultimately saving the day. And then she saves The Doctor at the resolution of episode 2’s cliffhanger and outwits Benton (admittedly not that tricky) in order to infiltrate a Scientific Research Society meeting. The only real mis-step is that perhaps she is a little too quick to accept The Doctor’s transformation, but I suppose if you’re going to travel through time and space in a police box that is bigger on the inside, you can accept that maybe your new alien father figure can become a whole new person too.

There’s so much to love with this story. Ian Marter excels as new companion Harry Sullivan, joining Nicholas Courtney as a second unflappable straight main to Baker’s unpredictable loon. The K1 robot is slightly shonky in execution – particularly when lumbering around the various sets – but it’s a beautiful piece of design work. And, most importantly, it’s never ever boring.

Sorry, but I just can’t help myself! This, as I’ve said more than enough now, is Comfort Who. My critical faculties go out of the window and I just sit there enjoying the kitsch with a stupid grin on my face. Tom is tremendous, I love a bit of Dicks and one era is closed off nicely while the groundwork is laid for the new one that’s just around the corner. A cracking 8/10.

Written and edited by Steve Horry