Classic Doctor Who
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Here it is November 23, 2013, fifty years to the day when Doctor Who premiered on the BBC. There have been millions of words and hundreds, if not thousands, of web pages devoted to this show over the years, and since I am new to the world of Classic Who, I don't expect my views to mean much to anyone but myself. Possibly to someone else who is not yet familiar with the show, but not a true fan. It has been well over a year since I began my exploration of the show, and except for the serials that have been lost, I have now watched through Series Eleven, which is the end of the Third Doctor's (Jon Pertwee) reign. I'll be adding to this page as I watch more of the show. In the interim, there have been a few of the episodes thought to be lost that have been recovered, and/or completed with animation taking the place of missing episodes. The latest batch appeared less than a month ago, but so far the BBC have made them available only through iTunes. Since I've already gone past those in the show's broadcast order, I'll have to backtrack and watch them at a later time when they are released on DVD or possibly streaming on Amazon, Hulu or Netflix.
The quality of the writing and acting varied quite a bit over those eleven years. In my opinion, several of the guest actors fared better than a few of the regulars. The set design, props, makeup and costumes have also been spotty, ranging from impressive to downright laughable on occasion. I've had to remind myself that the show was originally (and maybe still is) considered a children's adventure show by the BBC, and I have little knowledge of the other types of shows that the UK was watching in the early 1960s. It is possible that even the worst of Classic Who was superior to anything else in that category. In the beginning, there were quite a few stories set in Earth's historical past, but those became few and far between in later years, and with just a very few exceptions, they've been absent in the new Who incarnation. Toward the end of Series Three, individual episode titles were abandoned and subsequent ones were released as "The Savages, Episode 1," "Episode 2," etc. Before that, each episode had a different name even though most were part of multi-episode arcs. I've been relying on a good Wikipedia page for a lot of information and links to other pages. They show the earlier individual episode titles along with the blanket title under which they are generally known today, including how they have been marketed on DVD. What I will attempt to do is take a brief look at each of the serials I have seen, with notes on missing episodes that I may one day get to watch.
The First Doctor - William Hartnell
For a character who is supposed to be several hundred years old when we first encounter him, I suppose it was appropriate that William Hartnell is to date the oldest actor to assume the role. In David Longhorn's review from several years ago, he stated that producers didn't expect the show to last but a few years, so there wasn't a worry about Hartnell's age. David also said it was decided to replace him when it was apparent he was having difficulty remembering his lines. That might be the case in his last episodes, which I have yet to see, and while he might have flubbed some lines prior to that, so did several of the other actors, especially William Russell as Ian Chesterton and Carole Ann Ford as the Doctor's granddaughter Susan. I attribute that more to a rushed filming schedule which did not allow for retakes than on incompetence on the part of any of them.
The first serial opens with two teachers discussing the peculiarities of one of their students, Susan Foreman. They decide to investigate her home life but discover the address she has provided the school to be an abandoned warehouse. Inside they discover a lots of old junk along with a Police Public Call Box. Susan's grandfather decides they have been in London too long and it is time to depart for another location. The teachers, Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill) are arguing with him and follow him into the call box, only to find it is "bigger on the inside" and is actually a TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimension In Space), a machine that travels in both space and time. They refuse to leave because they fear the Doctor does not have Susan's best interests in mind, so he takes them on a trip to prehistoric times.
I'm sure "An Unearthly Child" was impressive to at least younger viewers in '63, but the surviving footage is of poor quality, the story is very simplistic and the acting is weak. Carole Ann Ford started out as my least favorite of the ensemble, but William Russell wasn't much better, both in the way he delivered his dialog as well as being ill-suited for several action and fight scenes. In truth, hardly any of the action scenes were well choreographed, but Russell's clumsiness made that even more apparent. On the other hand, I was very impressed with Jacqueline Hill. Not only was her character better written, she approached her scenes with more seriousness. She was believable, whereas it always seemed Russell was "play-acting."
It didn't take long for them to abandon the historical for the fantastical, with the second serial introducing the recurring villains of the Daleks, created by Terry Nation. The Doctor and his companions arrive on the planet Skaro, and eventually aid the Thals in overcoming the oppression of the Daleks. I'm not sure why the Daleks have been brought back so many times, because they are more comical than they are threatening, and their voices alone are enough to make me cringe. This was followed by a two episode story involving the Doctor's continuous problem of controlling the TARDIS in its journeys, then by the first of the missing serials, a return to Earthly historical stories. Just yesterday (11/22/13), a rumor surfaced that a copy of "Marco Polo" has also been found, but rumor is all that is at this point. "The Keys of Marinus" returned to science fiction territory, but it is slow moving, boring and confusing all at the same time. It is narrowly redeemed by a strong fifth episode (out of six), with an atypically good performance from Russell. Then came "The Aztecs," a superior story with a great performance by Hill but more awkwardness from Russell. Ford was next to useless in this one, but by this point Hartnell was comfortable in his role and very sympathetic in his insistence that they could not meddle with history.
"The Sensorites" has its weaknesses, mainly in costuming and makeup, but the story itself is interesting and there are several guest actors who boosted the production by their performances in spite of the alieness of their appearance and speech patterns. The Doctor's continuing support for all species to be considered equal gains strength here, and it is also rubbing off on Barbara and Ian. The first series ends on another strong historical story, "The Reign of Terror" (aka The French Revolution). The DVD set features two previously missing episodes recreated with animation, and the result is a very satisfying story with good performances from regulars and guest actors. Historical figures featured include Robespierre, Paul Barras and even Napoleon.
The second series begins with "Planet of Giants," which in spite of what was probably a limited budget does a good job with the sets and the "miniaturization" of the time travelers. The rest of the story isn't satisfactory though, mainly suffering from little to no interaction between the shrunken travelers and the other characters in the story. In "The Dalek Invasion of Earth," the TARDIS arrives in a future London besieged by the menace from Skaro, but the Doctor and his companions are successful in aiding a resistance group to defeat them. Carole Ann Ford's Susan left the show at this point, her character having fallen in love with one of the resistance fighters. Her replacement, Vicki (Maureen O'Brien), came aboard in the next serial, "The Rescue," which was just two episodes. Next the TARDIS travels to ancient Rome, with Nero (Derek Francis) on the throne. Other than his performance, including his lustful pursuit of Barbara, along with the schemings of his wife Poppaea Sabina, there is little to recommend about this story. It certainly isn't as bad as "The Web Planet," and the least said about that one the better. "The Crusade" is missing two of its four episodes, which have yet to be found or restored, but I did get to see short scenes on one of the "Lost in Time" DVD compilations.
"The Space Museum" features yet another minority that the time travelers aid in throwing off the yoke of their oppressors. It is overlong at four episodes, and is little more than a set-up for "The Chase" which followed. At the end of "Museum," the Doctor takes a device that had been on display, and through that the Daleks pick up the location of the TARDIS, and now in possession of a time travelling device of their own, pursue the Doctor through a succession of stops that have little to do with each other. The last of these introduces a character who will be a new companion for the Doctor and Vicki, with Barbara and Ian finally able to return to the London of their own time. The second series concludes with a semi-historical tale, "The Time Meddler." The travelers land in 1066, and while there is discussion of the impending Norman invasion, the story is mainly about another person from the Doctor's home planet, one who also posesses a TARDIS, although his is disguised as an altar in an old abbey, and he apparently is better at controlling it than the Doctor. The Meddling Monk's intention is to prevent the invasion, which he believes will aid Britain in becoming more technologically advanced earlier in their history. Of course, the Doctor cannot allow that to happen.
The third series is mostly missing, with only three out of ten serials complete and released to DVD. What I have missed from this year is both the arrival of at least two different companions and the departure (by death) of one of them. I only know this from reading synopses on various sites. The only satisfactory story that survives is "The Ark," in which the TARDIS encounters a generational starship (twice), once mid-way through its journey, then again as it nears its destination. "The Gunfighters" is a mostly (unsuccessful) comical look at events leading up to the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone. "The War Machines" ends the year on a weak note as the Doctor battles WOTAN, a self-aware computer bent on ruling the world, a story told much better four years later in the theatrical feature Colossus: the Forbin Project.
The first two serials of the fourth series are the last to feature Hartnell. All four episodes of "The Smugglers" are missing. "The Tenth Planet," which features the regeneration of the Doctor from Hartnell to Patrick Troughton, has had its missing fourth episode restored with animation and it was released on DVD just this week (11/19/2013), but I have yet to see it. Netflix doesn't have it yet and the price at amazon is a bit steep at the moment. Overall, I would give a passing grade to the First Doctor's tenure, in spite of several weak stories and the cheesiness of the sets and costumes. Those are balanced just enough by the Doctor's strong will and determination to do right by all peoples whenever possible, and by his success in passing along that philosophy to most of those he encounters.
The Second Doctor - Patrick Troughton
It is unfortunate that the majority of Troughton's stories are missing. None of the serials that finish out the fourth series are complete, and none have been restored for DVD. Up until a few weeks ago, only one of the stories from the fifth series, "Tomb of the Cybermen," had been released. Copies of "Enemy of the World" and "The Web of Fear" were unearthed, in Nigeria I believe, and those are the ones now available on iTunes. Hopefully they'll be released on DVD soon. Series Six fared much better, with only one story, "The Space Pirates," missing. The other six serials are available on DVD and I have seen them. "The Invasion" is the only one of those that had to rely on animation to complete the story.
The Troughton era ended in June of 1969 with "The War Games." It is a very good story about renegade Time Lords abducting soldiers from various historical (and future) periods, and trapping them in a controlled environment where they must continually fight, and even if they die they are brought back to do it all over again. At ten episodes it is much longer than necessary to tell the story, with a lot of back and forth with the Doctor and his companions on the battlefields, and then on the Time Lords orbiting ship. It would have worked much better with just five or six episodes, but it is still a satisfactory story. However, the Doctor does some things frowned on by other Time Lords who come in to stop the slaughter, and he is put on trial and forced to regenerate. I suppose they had not yet settled on the actor who would replace him, because the last episode just fades to black with Troughton's countenace getting more and more out of focus.
That wiki page linked to above says that Troughton's stories were more action oriented than those of Hartnell's, and the few I have seen bear that out. I preferred Hartnell's performance more, although I hope more of Troughton's serials are found in the future so that I can get a better overview of his approach to the character. At this time I can't say much about Troughton's companions either. Frazier Hines and Wendy Padbury were in the majority I saw, but still fewer than needed (including their introductory episode) to form an opinion of their work.
The Third Doctor - Jon Pertwee
I've really enjoyed the majority of Pertwee's stories, but since he appeared in the role for five years, and all of those stories have survived, there are too many to mention them all. When the Time Lords forced the Doctor's regeneration at the end of "The War Games," they also exiled him to Earth with a non-functioning TARDIS. Many of Pertwee's early stories involved the Doctor working with UNIT, originally the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce, later changed to the Unified Intelligence Taskforce. In spite of this restriction in the Doctor's movements, the stories set on Earth were as exciting as any that had come before. Several recurring alien foes (and friends) were introduced early in Series Seven, including the Autons and the Silurians, and of course the Daleks recur from time to time, as they continue to do today. Another Time Lord nemesis, the Master, also appeared frequently, up until Roger Delgado's untimely death in an auto accident.
Another recurring character is a UNIT commander, Colonel Alastair Lethbridge-Stewart (later Brigadier, and even later Sir Lethbridge-Stewart), portrayed by Nicholas Courtney. Sometimes he is a sympathetic character, other times he's comic relief, and then there are occasions he disappoints the Doctor because at heart he is just a soldier and is forced to do things of which the Doctor disapproves. When he initially begins working with UNIT, the Doctor gets an assistant, Liz Shaw (Caroline John). She can't properly be described as a companion since she never took a trip in the TARDIS. Her replacement in Series Eight, Jo Grant (Katy Manning) did eventually get to travel in time and space as the Time Lords loosen their restrictions on the Doctor, mainly because they require his help on various planets. Jo remains the Doctor's companion until the last story in Series Ten, and the next year Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) came aboard. Several years ago I watched Jo's last story ("The Green Death") and Sarah Jane's first ("The Time Warrior") because of Elisabeth's appearance in the new series, and the many positive comments I read about her character. Tom Baker's first series was Elisabeth's second, and while I am looking forward to those stories I have to say now that I was very impressed with Katy's performance throughout her run.
The best of Pertwee's stories includes his first, "Spearhead From Space," which is the only classic Who serial shot entirely on film. Thus it is the only one of them of sufficient quality to warrant a release on Blu-Ray. Others that I can recommend are "The Ambassadors of Death," "Inferno" (featuring an alternate universe story line with Evil Lethbridge-Stewart), and most any of those featuring Delgado as the Master, with the exception of "The Claws of Axos" and "The Sea Devils." Those two feature some of the worst costumed monsters I've ever seen on TV. In addition to those two, I'd also recommend avoiding "Invasion of the Dinosaurs" and "Planet of the Spiders," both from Pertwee's final year. "Colony in Space" is very good, and is the first time Jo Grant traveled in the TARDIS. Also recommended is "The Curse of Peladon," featuring Patrick Troughton's son David in a good performance as King Peladon, along with a very good story. Peladon is revisited a few years later in "The Monster of Peladon."
"The Time Warrior," the first story of Series Eleven is perhaps his best. It introduced Elisabeth Sladen as a strong-willed journalist who inadvertently gets involved in an adventure in medieval England, and it also introduced the Sontarans as recurring villains. The Third Doctor undergoes regeneration at the end of the final Series Eleven serial, "Planet of the Spiders," due to excessive radiation poisoning. In between that one and Pertwee's first, "Spearhead From Space," he embued the Doctor with a steady and unwavering moral sense, always intent on doing the right thing at the right time, but willing to take the blame if his plans did not produce the desired result. Tom Baker is consistently named most fans favorite Doctor, but he's going to have to prove himself to me all over again since Pertwee seemed perfectly fit for the part.
The Fourth Doctor - Tom Baker
I'm not sure if this will surprise anyone, but right now I'm still leaning toward Pertwee as my favorite Classic Doctor. I don't have any specific complaints against Tom Baker, but since he was in the role for seven years it allowed for more time in which the stories themselves didn't satisfy me. You may recall I previously said that in a lot of cases the supporting actors did as good a job as the regular cast. During the majority of Baker's stories the exact opposite was true. The faults I noted for earlier stories continued throughout the Baker era; weak scripts, poor acting, ludicrous costumes, makeup and special effects. The serials averaged four episodes each, although a few were either shorter or longer than that. In most cases they could have been at least an episode shorter, since there is so much repetition of action. That's not to say there weren't good episodes along the way. The only one from Baker's first season that I felt was well written and acted was "Genesis of the Daleks," wherein the Doctor has a chance to destroy the Daleks in the early stages of their development, but chooses not to because of his reverence for all life.
With one exception, I liked all of the companions during this era to varying degrees. Elisabeth Sladen continued as Sarah Jane Smith for more than two years. She's probably my favorite, so I was disappointed not only when she left the show, but how the Doctor left her on Earth at the end of "The Hand of Fear." It is possible he lied to her when he told her that only Time Lords were allowed on Gallifrey, which was his destination in the next story. However, his next companion, Leela (Louise Jameson), not only was allowed to travel with him to his home planet on a later adventure, she stayed there when she fell in love with one of its inhabitants. After Leela came Mary Tamm as Romana, a fellow Time Lord (or is it Time Lady?), and I was disappointed she was only around for one season. She did a very good job in spite of the fact her season had some of the weakest stories. She was replaced by Lalla Ward, yet her character was still supposed to be Romana, only regenerated. Ward had played another character in "The Armageddon Factor," which was Tamm's last appearance, and the way that one ended they wouldn't have been able to justify Princess Astra still being around to travel with the Doctor. Just as each incarnation of the Doctor has a different personality, so it was with the two Romanas. I preferred Mary Tamm, but Lalla Ward added a sharp bite of sarcasm that helped keep the Doctor grounded. Just a few episodes before Ward's departure another companion, Adric (Matthew Waterhouse), came on board, and he is my least favorite so far. He was supposedly very intelligent, but he continually followed his faulty instincts instead of relying on the Doctor's guidance.
Baker was in the role so long there's no way I'd want to talk about all of the serials during this period, so I'll just highlight the stories I liked. I already mentioned "Genesis of the Daleks" from Series 12, Baker's first year. None of the others impressed me. One of the serials from Series 13 that I can recommend is "Pyramids of Mars," which has the Doctor and Sarah Jane in 1911 England at the home of an Egyptologist. It's sort of a cross between The Mummy and Stargate, with the gods revered by the Egyptians being from Mars. The Doctor not only has to rescue the English professor from a pyramid on Mars, he also has to block the Martian Sutekh from utilizing a portal to invade Earth. Another good one is "The Brain of Morbius," which could have been just as hokey as many other stories if not for a good script and acting from everyone. The Doctor and Sarah Jane land on a desolate planet and discover Solon, a scientist who has been luring unsuspecting spaceships to crash. His intention is to procure a suitable head in which to implant the brain of Morbius, a notorious Time Lord renegade. When he learns the Doctor is also a Time Lord he knows he has found the perfect specimen. This is one of the few times that Sarah Jane was as instrumental to the successful completion of the mission as the Doctor, most other times she was relegated to damsel in distress mode, which may have been a factor in Sladen deciding to leave the program.
Series 14 fared a bit better, with three (or four) stories that I enjoyed. "The Hand of Fear," other than featuring the departure of Sarah Jane, is one of the best serials of the Baker era. The main part of the story involved Sarah becoming possessed by a petrified hand (along with its hypnotic ring) following an explosion in a quarry. She is compelled to go to a nearby nuclear power plant where she is able to get close to the reactor. The hand absorbs enough radiation to become animate, and later regenerates into full form. Eldrad was a condemned fugitive from the planet Kastria, originally male, now in female form. Both the acting by Judith Paris in this role, along with her costume, were way above par for the show. Unfortunately, after she persuades the Doctor to return her to Kastria she regenerates into male form, and the Doctor learns of Eldrad's true psychopathic nature. The next story, "The Deadly Assassin," was the first time the Doctor has an adventure without a companion. He returns to Gallifrey, lured to his homeworld through visions of the assassination of the President. When the President is actually killed the Doctor is framed for the crime, but he is able to mount his own defense and soon learns his old nemesis, the Master, is behind the assassination. This was the first appearance of the Master in nearly four years, and in the interim Roger Delgado had passed away. Peter Pratt portrayed him here, but in very heavy makeup since the Master had supposedly been severely injured before his return to Gallifrey. His intention was to steal the Sash of Rassilon and the Eye of Harmony and use their energy to extend his regeneration cycle. Even though the Doctor thwarts his full plan, the Master is still able to escape, and it is possible he stole enough energy for several more regenerations.
This was followed by "The Face of Evil," which introduced Louise Jameson as the next companion, Leela. The story is good although it does suffer from the repetition of action I mentioned earlier. It turns out the Doctor himself is the face of evil, at least in the minds of a primitive tribe he encounters. He had apparently been to this planet before since his likeness has been carved into the side of a mountain, although he does not recall that previous journey. He discovers that Leela and her tribe are descendants of a survey party that had crash landed generations ago. They refer to themselves as the Sevateem (Survey Team), and their sworn enemies are the Tesh (Techs), descendants of another group from that same crash landing. After the Doctor and Leela manage to reconcile the two groups and end their years-long war, Leela decides to follow him into the TARDIS, although it is not by the Doctor's invitation. I'll skip over the next weak story to get to the final one for Series 14. There are parts of "The Talons of Weng-Chiang" that I like, others I don't. The acting is good, and the script is too, and I liked the setting of Victorian England, complete with the Doctor in deerstalker hat, à la Sherlock Holmes. The main problem is that at six episodes it is entirely too long for the story it needed to tell. There are many elements of the "mystery" that I had figured out well in advance, and the conclusion was too drawn out.
I dislike the majority of Series 15, the main reason being the introduction of K-9, a robotic dog. The producers had not originally intended to keep him around as long as they did, but someone obviously thought that he would be popular with the younger viewers. That may have been the case, but I could have done without him altogether. The Doctor became too dependant on K-9 to get him out of situations, whereas before he relied on his considerable intelligence, along with support from his companions. K-9 stayed around for more than four seasons, and even when one version of him was destroyed they just built another to replace him. Another fault with this season was the way the Doctor kept referring to Leela as a savage, not only to her face but also in the way he described her to others. She may not have had knowledge of general customs on Earth, and certainly not other planets, but she was very intelligent and was able to fit herself adequately into most situations. In my opinion, the Doctor did not treat her with the respect she deserved. She may have felt the same, and perhaps was the reason she decided to stay on Gallifrey at the end of the final story that year, "The Invasion of Time." It's the only story from that year that I liked, even though it was again much too long at six episodes.
Series 16 consists of six interlinked serials known collectively as The Key To Time. The White Guardian tasks the Doctor with retrieving the six individual pieces of the Key, but warns him that the Dark Guardian is also seeking them. The new companion is the Time Lady Romanadvoratrelundar, but the Doctor shortens that to Romana. I know I said I would just mention the stories I liked, but I have to point out one that was extremely disappointing, both for the overall story as well as bad effects and generally atrocious acting by several of the supporting players. "The Pirate Planet" was the first Who story written by Douglas Adams. It is terrible. Enough said. Only two of the other stories would be worth revisiting, and both mainly for the acting of the supporting players. "The Androids of Tara" featured the villain Count Grendel, played by Peter Jeffrey. Not only is he very good here, I had hoped he would later be revealed to be the Master, since I felt his performance was worthy of that nefarious Time Lord. His counterpart is the benevolent Prince Reynart (Neville Jason), soon to be crowned king and wed to the Princess Strella. Little does he know that Grendel has created an android duplicate of Reynart, which he intends to use in a plot to usurp the throne. As had become the norm over the past few seasons, this one concluded on a six episode story, and again much longer than needed. In addition to Lalla Ward as Princess Astra (who turns out to be the sixth segment of the Key), John Woodvine turns in a very good performance as the Marshall of Atrios' military, and other standouts include Ian Saynor as Merak, the love of the Princess' life, and Barry Jackson as Drax, a Time Lord from the Doctor's past. As I had expected, the season ends with the Doctor realizing the Black Guardian has been impersonating the White, and when he leaves Atrios the Doctor fits a randomizer into the TARDIS console to send it off to an unknown location of time and space so that the Black Guardian cannot follow.
The next season is generally poor, with the exception of "City of Death," which marked the first time the show filmed outside the UK. The story begins with the alien Scaroth and his attempts to escape death on a hostile planet. It turns out that planet is Earth, only 400 million years in our past. A radiation blast from Scaroth's ship is credited with the creation of the first forms of life on the planet, but it also fragments Scaroth and throws the various pieces of him into a perpetual time loop through the millennia. The story picks up with the Doctor and Romana taking a break in Paris in 1979, when he senses a time distortion. Their search for the anomaly takes them to the Louvre, where they witness a woman apparently casing the museum around the display of the Mona Lisa. They follow her to her home and discover she is the Countess Scarlioni (Catherine Schell). Her husband the Count is played by Julian Glover, a very accomplished actor of many years, his most recent appearances being on HBO's Game of Thrones. It turns out that the Count is actually one of the parts of Scaroth in disguise. His various forms in different historical periods have aided in many technological advances, his intention being to correct the initial accident that kept him from escaping Earth. The Count plans on stealing the Mona Lisa, then he will sell it and six exact copies of it to further his experiments in time travel. He has those copies because one of his other selves convinced Leonardo da Vinci to paint them, and then the copies were hidden in the walls of the mansion in which the Count would later reside. This is the best story of the Tom Baker era, and would rival several other TV shows if the production values had been better. The script was heavily rewritten by Douglas Adams, and I have to assume he is the one who came up with the time fragmentation story line. It is an example of the good work I know he was capable of, which makes the earlier "Pirate Planet" episode even more disappointing. It also points out how much better Classic Who could have been on a more regular basis with better writing and acting. Along with the intriguing drama, it also has quite a bit of wry humor, most evident in the reactions of a detective on the case, as well as the concluding scene featuring Eleanor Bron and John Cleese as art gallery patrons who witness the TARDIS disappearing on the Doctor's departure.
There would have been another very good story in Series 17 if not for the fact that production on "Shada" was shut down due to a technicians strike at the BBC. It was also written by Douglas Adams, and if completed would have been six episodes. Twelve years later, the footage that had been shot, along with a few extra special effects, was released on VHS, with Tom Baker narrating connecting scenes. It has since also receieved a DVD release, unfortunately with no extra footage. What is available convinces me it would have been better than most other stories from this era, "City of Death" excluded, and I wish they had at least animated the unfilmed episodes as they have done with some of the lost episodes from the First and Second Doctor's stories.
There's not much to recommend about Series 18, Tom Baker's final year, at least up till the final two stories. However, I do feel the need to point out why the rest are not satisfying. Again, weak scripts, laughable creature costumes, and illogical actions on all fronts. There were seven serials, all with four episodes, and the middle three involved the Doctor being trapped in E-Space, an alternate dimension that he does not understand. In the first of these stories, "Full Circle," we meet Adric, who would later become a companion. I wish the Doctor had left him on Alzarius. If I didn't know differently, I might have assumed the next story, "State of Decay," had been broadcast around Halloween, because it had a vampire theme. Nope, it ran from late November to early December instead. "Warrior's Gate" saw the departure of Lalla Ward as Romana 2 when she decided to stay in E-Space, and that left just Adric as a companion (boo!), but at least she kept K-9 with her (yay!). "The Keeper of Traken" reintroduces the Master, but we don't discover than until the last episode of that story. We briefly see Peter Pratt in the role again, but in the next story, "Logopolis," he has regenerated and taken the body of Tremas (Anthony Ainley) from "Traken." Tremas' daughter Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) has become friends with the Doctor and Adric, and decides to travel with them after the death of her father. When she sees the Master in Logopolis she mistakenly thinks her father has come back to life. The Doctor is able to convince her of the truth, and they search the city to determine why the Master is there. In the end, the Doctor has to actually ally with the Master in order to prevent the total destruction of the universe, and the final episode concludes with another regeneration.
There have been several times when I've asked myself why I was continuing with this show, but then I decided I've made it this far, might as well finish the course. I have already seen a few of the stories with the Fifth Doctor, Peter Davison, but I'll wait to talk about him. At least in the beginning, Adric and Nyssa are still with him, along with new companion Tegan Jovanka, who came aboard in the first episode of "Logopolis." I have read several negative comments about her but I haven't seen enough to form an opinion yet. To be continued.
The Fifth Doctor - Peter Davison
I understand that everyone has their own opinions, their own impressions of the Doctors, which are their favorites or least favorite, and the same goes for companions. Until I can rewatch some of Peter Davison's stories I am a bit ambivalent on my feelings about him, mainly because I sensed an ambivalence in his performance. Of course, every actor approaches the role from a different perspective, and each season featured different writers and producers who also wanted to put their stamp on the show, but I continually got the impression Davison was thinking, "What did I get myself into, and how do I get out of it?" That might have had as much to do with his companions as it did with the scripts. Other than Nyssa (Sarah Sutton), Davison's companions left a lot to be desired, both in the actors' performances as well as the way their characters were written. I'm willing to admit I'm probably wrong about Davison's approach to the role, but compared to the dominating presence of Tom Baker the best I can say of the Fifth Doctor is that he was very aloof. This was most evident in his reaction to the fate of one of his companions toward the end of his first season...but, I'm getting ahead of myself.
In spite of my feelings towards Davison's performance, I did like quite a few of the stories in his tenure, beginning with the first of Series 19, "Castrovalva," which involves both the Doctor's traumatic stress following his latest regeneration, and a pursuit of The Master (Anthony Ainley) through the Escher-like maze of the title city. In spite of some clunky dialogue, questionable FX and cheaply made sets, this story, as well most of the season, was surprisingly good. "Four To Doomsday" involves the mysterious Monarch, on whose starship is a collection of four different historical Earth peoples recreated as cyborgs. It was vague as to why he had kept these specimens, because also on board are the rest of Monarch's civilization, their DNA stored in a giant data bank. Monarch's plan when reaching Earth is to release a plague to kill all humans, then bring his people back to life to repopulate the planet. "Kinda" was the weakest story of the season, with Tegan (Janet Fielding) being possessed by the snake spirit Mara, along with the typical brash stupidity from Adric (Matthew Waterhouse). "The Visitation" is a semi-historical story, taking place in England in 1666. The non-historical part concerns an invading alien species, the Teraleptils, and the story ends when an alien weapon explodes and starts a fire in a bakery on Pudding Lane, the beginning of the Great Fire of London.
The next serial, "Black Orchid," was only two episodes, but it had so many elements it surprises me they didn't stretch it out to more as they did with nearly every other story. It is set in 1925 on the English country estate of Cranleigh Hall. The plant of the title was brought back from a South American expedition, led by famed botanist George Cranleigh, who supposedly died and did not return. The Doctor is mistaken for another doctor expected to attend the annual costume ball, and he and his companions are escorted to the estate. Along the way they make a stop, and the Doctor gets to show off his cricket skills. Once at the estate, they meet Lord Cranleigh, George's brother, and his fiancée Ann Talbot, who had previously been engaged to George. She is identical in appearance to Nyssa, and also played by Sarah Sutton. In other scenes we see a Brazilian Indian watching over a mysterious figure in an attic room, Lady Cranleigh (George's mother) later speaking with the Indian and acting suspiciously, guests in costumes dancing, including someone wearing a Harlequin costume intended for the Doctor, and Ann and Nyssa confusing everyone by wearing identical costumes. Other than the TARDIS and the Doctor and his companions, there are no SF elements to the story, which plays out more like an Agatha Christie mystery.
This brings us to a story I alluded to before. At the beginning of "Earthshock," Adric complains to the Doctor that he was not receiving the respect he deserved, certainly not compared to the way he felt the Doctor treated Nyssa and Tegan. He demands to be taken back to his home planet, but the Doctor says that is an impossibility since it lies in E-Space. The TARDIS reaches its destination, a future Earth time, where the Doctor is once again confronted with the Cybermen, who intend to set off a bomb during a conference on an interstellar alliance, with many extra-terrestrials in attendance. The Doctor foils that plan, but the Cybermen's back-up plan of crashing a space freighter into Earth is put into motion. The Doctor, his companions, and several other Earth people travel to that freighter to confront the Cybermen. Adric is able to break the navigation code, but in doing so also sends the ship back in time about 65 million years. With the Cybermen trying to take back control of the bridge, the TARDIS departs the ship with everyone but Adric, who stays behind in a desperate attempt to change the ship's course to avoid collision with Earth. The Doctor does not interfere, knowing the subsequent impact is what led to the mass extinction of the dinosaurs. If not for that, man might never have evolved, and he feels that is the better outcome. As much as I disliked Adric, I didn't want his story to end that way, but it was an heroic exit. It was also the first companion death I have experienced, any previous ones being in lost episodes.
In the follow-up story, "Time Flight," which ends the season, both Tegan and Nyssa are very depressed about the death of their friend, and while I am sure the Doctor mourned Adric too, he doesn't show it. Perhaps he just didn't want to acknowledge his guilt in the matter, but it did seem peculiar to me. Tegan asks to be taken back to Heathrow airport in her own time. She was an airline stewardess, and Heathrow had been her destination on the day she originally encountered the Fourth Doctor. When they arrive there, Tegan wanders off while the Doctor becomes involved in the mysterious disappearance of a Concorde jet, which turns out to have been hijacked in time by The Master. The Doctor's TARDIS hitches a ride on another Concorde which duplicates the flight pattern of the first. The Master's TARDIS had been damaged and stuck in Earth's past after his exit from Castrovalva. An alien expedition from Xeraphas is also stuck there, and the Master is attempting to access their power source, and had created a time contour to get the jet's crew and passengers to help him. Of course, in the end the Doctor thwarts his plans once again, and sends the Master off in a TARDIS with a malfunctioning "temporal limiter." When they get back to Heathrow the Doctor assumes Tegan is where she wants to be. However, we see Tegan has changed her mind, but is too late for her to get back on board the TARDIS as the Doctor and Nyssa depart.
The 20th season was a landmark for the show of course, and to commemorate it all of the stories from that year feature villains from the Doctor's past. The first, "Arc of Infinity," sees the Doctor again confronted with Omega, a renegade Time Lord first seen in the Season 10 opener, "The Three Doctors." It also features a performance by Colin Baker as the Gallifrey military commander Maxil, the first time for an actor to appear who would later portray the Doctor. The only other time that has happened is with the current Twelfth Doctor, Peter Capaldi. In a serendipitous turn of events, the Doctor and Nyssa end up in Amsterdam on Earth and are reunited with Tegan, who is searching for her missing cousin. Little does she know his disappearance is connected to the Doctor's struggle with Omega. In the next story, "Snakedance," Tegan is once again influenced by the spirt of Mara, first encountered on Deva Loka in the previous season's "Kinda." But this story takes place on the planet Manussa, currently celebrating Mara's banishment 500 years before. Throughout her run, I wasn't that impressed with Janet Fielding, but I do think she did a very good job in portraying Tegan-in-a trance in the Mara stories, although I realize that might not sound complimentary.
The next three stories, four episodes each, have their own title but are also known collectively as The Black Guardian Trilogy. That villain had been the Fourth Doctor's nemesis during the Season 16 arc of The Key To Time. The first group of episodes, "Mawdryn Undead," are among my favorites even though it did introduce a character, later to become a companion, that I actually liked less than Adric. Vislor Turlough (Mark Strickson) is an alien posing as human in 1983. He's a student at a school where retired Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) teaches mathematics. After an accident, as Turlough lies unconscious, the Black Guardian contacts him and offers to return him to his home planet in exchange for killing the Doctor. The TARDIS is trapped on board a starliner, itself trapped in time, and the Doctor figures out that the vessel's transmat beam is the cause. Turlough arrives on the ship too, the Black Guardian utilizing an Earth-bound transmat station to get him there. When the Doctor and Turlough return to Earth in an attempt to break the transmat beam's hold on the ship, they inadvertently cause a temporal shift which causes the 1983 version of Lethbridge-Stewart to lose memory of the Doctor and the TARDIS. In an attempt to jog his memory, the Doctor takes him back to the starliner. Meanwhile, Nyssa and Tegan end up back on Earth in 1977 and take younger Lethbridge-Stewart back to the starliner via the transmat beam. Their timeline merges back with the Doctor's on the ship, and he fears the consequences if the two versions of Lethbridge-Stewart should meet. And this is just the tip of the story, which also involves an alien race on the ship who have tried to turn themselves into Time Lords, but failed, and their plea to the Doctor to enable them to die. To do so he would have to renounce any further regenerations, condemning himself to die at the end of his current incarnation. We learned in the Fourth Doctor story, "The Deadly Assassin," that a Time Lord's life cycle includes twelve regenerations, or thirteen separate incarnations. The Fifth Doctor states he has eight regenerations left, confirming that the First Doctor (William Hartnell) was the original.
"Terminus" was a weak story on almost every level, from the script to the acting of the supporting cast, from the sets to makeup and creature costumes. The Black Guardian's hold over Turlough becomes tedious, with the Doctor's foe seemingly helpless in getting Turlough to do his bidding, as well as showing he's a weak villain to begin with if he can't do the deed himself. Unfortunately, it also marked the exit of Nyssa. I know I haven't said much about her yet, but at this time I think she's my second favorite companion of Classic Who, the first being Sarah Jane Smith. Not only is Sarah Sutton gorgeous, her acting was very good and she appeared to take the role seriously. Nyssa was from a high-born family on her home planet of Traken, highly educated and intelligent enough to hold her own in discussions with the Doctor, as well as several of the antagonists. She ended her association with the Doctor by choosing to stay on Terminus, putting her scientific aptitude to work on finding a cure for the leprosy-like disease infecting the inhabitants. The Wikipedia page I've referenced several times says that producers had not originally intended to keep her around after Davison's first story arc, but he persuaded them to reconsider since he felt she was the one who could best support the way he wanted to approach his interpretation of the Doctor. That alone lifts my opinion of Davison quite a bit. With Tegan and Adric sometimes over-shadowing Nyssa in several stories, it might explain that detachment I sensed in Davison's performance.
"Enlightenment" concluded the trilogy. The TARDIS lands in the hold of a sailing ship, and the crew they meet say they have no memory of coming aboard, have been below decks the whole time, and do not know their destination although they believe they will be involved in a race with other ships. It turns out the ships are replicas of ancient Earth vessels, but they are actually in space and use solar winds for propulsion. The ships are under the control of various Eternals vying for the reward of Enlightenment, what they believe will be the ability to obtain all knowledge. Eternals are ethereal beings who cannot think for themselves, so they need ephemerals to inhabit and do their bidding. The overall story is far-fetched, but it does end on a good note. The Doctor and Turlough actually win the race, causing the Eternals to dissipate and the ephemeral bodies they inhabited to disappear. Turns out the Enlighteners are the White and Black Guardians, and the Doctor is offered a huge diamond as his reward. He is disgusted with the White Guardian's participation in the race and refuses, offering it instead to Turlough. The Black Guardian tells him he now has the power to kill the Doctor, but Turlough hurls the diamond at the Black Guardian instead, causing him to burst into flames and disappear. The Doctor assures Turlough that he has achieved Enlightenment, for it was not contained in the diamond but rather in the choice he made.
"The King's Demons," another semi-historical tale, ended the regular portion of this season. The Doctor and his companions arrive in England in 1215 to witness a joust between the champions of King John and Sir Ranulf Fitzwilliam, who has objected to increased taxes. The Doctor realizes someone is impersonating King John, since at that time the monarch would have been in London taking the Crusader's Oath, and this is confirmed by the arrival of Sir Ranulf's cousin. The false king turns out to be a robot (Kamelion) who can change its appearance, and his champion, Sir Giles Estram, is really the Master in disguise. The Master's plan is to alter events so that King John never signs the Magna Carta. Other than these revelations the story is not that interesting, and thankfully was only two episodes. Eight months later, on November 23, 1983, the 90 minute 20th Anniversary Special, "The Five Doctors," was broadcast. It marked the first time a Doctor Who episode was shown first in the United States, its UK premiere coming two days later. All five actors who had portrayed the doctor appear. William Hartnell, who had died in '75, is represented first in archive footage, then in later scenes the First Doctor was played by Richard Hurndall. Tom Baker declined the invitation to participate, but was featured (along with Lalla Ward) in scenes from the unfinished story "Shada," which at that time had not been seen by the public.
Some mysterious person or force is capturing the various incarnations of the Doctors, along with some of his companions, and bringing them to the Death Zone on Gallifrey. The High Council is desperate to help them, and even offers the Master a pardon and a new set of regenerations for his cooperation. The different Doctors are paired with companions, the only ones I can remember for sure being the Third Doctor with Sarah Jane. Other pairings had originally been planned, but the unavailability of certain actors forced changes. In other cases, limited availability reduced appearances to short cameos, such as with Frazier Hines as the Second Doctor's companion Jaimie McCrimmon. It was natural that I originally assumed the Master was behind it all, even to manipulating the Council into asking for his help, but the villain turns out to be Lord President Borusa, who wants to use the Doctors to eliminate all of the security precautions in the tower at the center of the Death Zone, in which lies the tomb of Rassilon. He wants to obtain Rassilon's ring to achieve immortality. It's the perfect example of "be careful what you wish for." In the end, the previous Doctors are returned to their time streams, and the current incarnation is offered the Presidency for his help in foiling Borusa's plan. While not exactly declining, he calls on Councillor Flavia to rule in his stead until his return. Only he has no plans to return to Gallifrey any time soon, if ever again.
Several past villains appeared in Series 21, but it was the episodes featuring new (and never recurring) ones that were better. The season opened with "Warriors of the Deep," which saw the return of both Sea Devils and Silurians. The Daleks showed up again in the fourth serial, and the Master in the fifth, but in my opinion the best story of the year was the second one, "The Awakening." At first it seemed as if it would be another historical tale, but it turns out villagers of Little Hodcombe in present day are re-enacting a battle from the English Civil War. There is an SF element though, with an ancient alien creature known as the Malus controlling several of the villagers and feeding off their psychic energy. The Malus finally reveals itself from its hiding place in the walls of a church. It may just be coincidence, but I wonder if Steven Moffat was thinking of this story when he began Season 7 of New Who, because the crack between dimensions first seen in Amelia Pond's room is remarkably similar in shape to the crack in the church wall as the Malus emerges. This story was just two episodes, and a good example of how tight and focused writing could have improved many other stories. "Frontios" followed, introducing the Tractators, insect-like creatures who could manipulate gravity, but overall the story was weak and too long at four episodes. The only good part of "Resurrection of the Daleks" was the performance of Maurice Colbourne, who a few years earlier was one of the best things about the 1981 Day of the Triffids mini-series. He's not a sympathetic character at the start, but he does learn the evil of the Daleks and their creator Davros, and has a change of heart in the end. Okay, maybe two good things about this story. Tegan decides to stop traveling with the Doctor. No offense meant to Miss Fielding, but I never warmed to her character.
"Planet of Fire" was my second favorite story of the year. The Master returns, a new companion is introduced, and another departs. An artifact of unknown origin is discovered in an underwater dig off the island of Lanzarote by Professor Howard Foster. His step-daughter, Perpugilliam "Peri" Brown has accompanied him on the expedition, but she is growing bored and wants to spend some time in nearby Morocco. When he refuses to leave the dig, she steals the artifact and tries to swim to the island from their boat. The TARDIS has arrived on the island's shore, responding to a signal sent by the artifact. Turlough rescues the drowning Peri and brings her into the TARDIS to recover. The TARDIS dematerializes on its own and heads for the desert planet of Sarn. Turlough recognizes a symbol on the artifact, that of over-lapping triangles, as a match to a tattoo, or maybe a birthmark, on his arm. When they reach Sarn they meet another with the same symbol on his arm, and Turlough thinks they may be brothers, both sent away from their home planet after their father was involved in an unsuccessful revolution. The secondary plot involves Sarn natives worshipping a god of the volcano, the Master taking advantage of their superstitions to utilize the gases emitted from the volcano, along with his manipulation of Kamelion (remember?). That was the shape-shifting robot he used in "The King's Demons" the previous season, and while the Doctor had retained the machine then, for some reason he was not seen again until this story. Of course, the Master is defeated again, Peri decides to travel with the Doctor, and Turlough decides to return to his home planet, since it is now believed those who had been allies of his father are now in power.
"The Caves of Androzani" marked the end of the Davison era. It was an attempt at a very complex story line, but in my opinion it didn't fully succeed, and was more convoluted than necessary, involving several different conspiracies and betrayals by various characters. There are many occasions in which I think I must be watching different shows than everyone else, because what seems to get high marks from others get a "meh" from me. According to a poll by the UK publication The Telegraph, this was named the best story ever for Doctor Who, including both the classic and new shows. I strongly disagree with that. In the end, the Doctor and Peri are suffering from the effects of contact with a substance called spectrox, and there is only enough antidote to treat her. The Doctor believes his own regenerative power will protect him. It does, and he transforms into his next incarnation, played by Colin Baker, right in front of Peri. Series 21 did have one more story, but since it was the first full one with Baker as the new Doctor, I'll continue with this page at another time.
David Longhorn's review of Doctor Who
Gallifrey One - the biggest Doctor Who fan site
BBC's Doctor Who Page
A list of Doctor Who serials
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