Warriors of the DeepBookmark and Share

Friday, 24 March 2006 - Reviewed by Ewen Campion-Clarke

These ape primitives will die as they have lived. In a sea of their own blood.

When I first saw Warriors of the Deep, the fickle finger of fate meant I had seen all the fifth Doctor stories previous and seen Doctor Who and the Silurians. I watched it and, I admit, I cringed. No, not the Myrka - Solow! She's far more embarrassing, looking stupid, talking stupid, acting stupid. I thought when I saw her in The Time Monster, she was trying to do an Atlantean accent. Here she talks like she's got a broken jaw and is hardly wearing something that could distract from her complete lack of talent like she was armed with in her first adventure. I found her attempt to attack the Myrka shockingly believable. Embarrassing, but, yeah, Solow seems stupid enough to try picking a fist-fight with a sea dragon.Warriors is not a bad story. If this was an audio story (bar the Silurian's voices which I concede are crap), it would be highly regarded, so the plot at least is sound and that's always half the battle. The ideas in this story are very impressive. This is a future where the world could end in nuclear war, but there's no hope that an attack could be a mistake. If Sea Base 4 fires its missiles, it isn't because Karina knocked over her coffee and the whole thing's a dreadful mistake. It need a human being plugged into the computer and the Commander's permission before they can even aim their weaponry, so there's no risk of accidents. Yet, at the same time the whole crew are under the thumb of their computer who is so obtuse no one can tell until the last minute whether this is just a drill or the real thing.

The Doctor says that nothing has changed since 1984, and it's hard to disagree. In fact, it's as relevant today as it was, with security and fear of terrorism at its height and the paranoia that it won't be some hairy monster that wants to kill you as an infidel, but rather the friend you've known your whole life. Its exemplified in the scene where Maddox is ordered to strangle Karina to death, Karina who is the closest thing he's got to a girlfriend and the only person who genuinely cares for him as anything other than a glorified modem. It's a scene far more unsettling than any number of monsters firing machine guns at you, especially as you know Maddox doesn't want to do this and has no control over himself.

Of course, he does this because he's being controlled by enemy agents Neilson and Solow who are working for 'the other power bloc' and are not particularly sympathetic. Solow whines in a monotone that she's a doctor and not that good at murder, and Neilson tells her to shut up (not enough, say I), and after that they're evil villains smiling as they betray their colleagues and murder in cold blood. It would easy to say this power bloc is represented as a bunch of camp psychopaths, but the staff of Sea Base 4 aren't shown in a particularly better light. Bulic is a thug, Preston an uptight bitch and Vorshak not much better. He has no people skills, believing that telling a nervous, twitchy intruder will cooperate if told he will be treated 'with honor'. He ignores the Doctor's advice, continually threatens him with death, and is generally unpleasant. His stiff lines like 'You'll get no help from me, Silurian' come across less as bad acting, and more as good acting. Vorshak is trying to sound tough and failing completely. For all his talk of honor, he runs a base that could wipe out a million civilian population centres, plans to execute unarmed prisoners, and is happy to have people have their minds probed. When Solow tells him that Maddox needs 'rebooting' for humanitarian reasons, it's clearly meant to stir emotion in Vorshak. It fails. He shows no concern for Maddox before, during or after as anything other than a firing key.

This fits with comparing and contrasting Vorshak with Icthar, who is similarly planning to trigger mass bloodshed without a care, isn't interested in the welfare of his 'men' and is a boring conversationalist to boot. Although the Silurians and humans aren't characterized very well, they are shown to be mirror opposites to each other, and it all aides the Doctor's position, caught between two races who both think they were here first and are spoiling for a fight. The humans attack the Silurians without cause, but the Silurians keep attacking the humans knowing the 'ape primitives' can't possibly fight them. Vorshak is prepared to die to stop the missiles firing, and Icthar is prepared to die to fire them. As Turlough points out, just because the Silurians as a species are good, it doesn't change the fact the ones on Sea Base 4 are ruthless genocidal maniacs. But so are Preston and Bulic, and you can't tar humanity for their individual prejudice.Earthshock aside, the fifth Doctor's era is a quiet, calm string of adventures when more often than not it's the bad guys who die, if indeed anyone. But this story dumps the Doctor back in the Earthshock world, where monsters kill all humans, humans kill humans, and no one will listen to the weirdo in the police box. The death and destruction around the Cybermen is no longer a one-off any more. Warriors might as well have begun with the TARDIS fallen through a CVE as it lands in a season of bleak stories where good people die and the righteous don't necessarily triumph. It's like the final season of Tom Baker's Doctor, with the Time Lord finding himself in adventures better suited to his sucessor.

But while the fourth Doctor got depressed and broody, the fifth Doctor tries to swim before he sinks. Warriors of the Deep shows him at his most anarchic, aggressive and desperate so far. He sets the base's nuclear reactor to critical - just as a distraction to stop some guards. The Doctor wields guns, wrestles with guards and sets up laser canons in this story, as if the sharp edges of the fifth Doctor are being brought to the surface in this proper base under siege story. But there is also the Doctor's belief that he can sort this out without violence, that if the humans surrender bloodshed can be avoided. He's right, and it's proved when the Sea Devils do not kill Turlough and Bulic when they drop their guns (Icthar insists that as long as the humans insist on fighting, the Sea Devils will fight back - and win). Anyone complaining that the presence of hexachromite makes the plot obvious misses the point. Its so obvious it's almost a sick joke, with the Doctor being told right away he has the means to wipe out his enemies in one go. The Doctor tries to find another way, not using the gas until the last moments of the episode and even then tries to dilute it so as not to kill the invaders. The reason all the Silurians and Sea Devils die is not down to the Doctor, but because Bulic adds another entire canister to the air supply. Like in The Silurians, it's not the Doctor's methods that fail, but his faith in supporting characters. And when his good intentions have come to naught, when he has failed for a third time to make peace and this time not even saved humanity, something cracks in the Doctor, a development that I'll keep an eye on.

Tegan and Turlough are also given a good slice of the action. Tegan is curious about her future, willing to dive into the reactor tanks without a second thought, and open-minded enough to not object to saving the lives of Silurians - when the Doctor growls he's not sure why he likes humanity, it's not hard to see that Tegan (and others like her) is the answer. She cares for the Doctor, but still stays true to her character, rubbishing the Time Lord's plans and Turlough's cowardice, not to mention the priceless moment when she easily opens the door her companions have been struggling to budge for most of a scene.

Turlough also decides to knuckle down and become a companion rather than a passenger for Warriors. The Doctor openly wonders if Turlough is up to it, and the story nicely shows Turlough trying to prove it. While his instant dismissal of the Doctor being dead seems a bit rash, we see him willingly let the guards capture him in order to give Tegan a chance to escape. It's quite clear that Turlough believes the Doctor is dead, and is not happy about it. He doesn't try to sweet-talk Vorshak and the others, but is furious with them for killing his friend and seems on the point of exploding when the commander dryly speculates "the boy seems to be right". Turlough is even willing to pick up a gun, run through a base of hostiles and threaten Neilson with death in order to give Tegan and the Doctor a chance of survival. But his resolve isn't perfect, and we see when he is locked up and given a chance to think, his first thought is to head for the TARDIS and abandon the others. Ultimately, Preston shames him into going back for them, but the fact she succeeds shows that Turlough isn't beyond redemption. He can be very brave, but only if he convinces himself that he has a chance of surviving and success, and his argument that futility and nobility often get mixed up is true. Vorshak believes doing things for honor, Turlough does them because they are the right thing to do.

But all this is looking beneath the surface, something that the harsh lights and green monsters have put off other reviewers.

The easiest way to enjoy Warriors of the Deep is to look at it not as a show crippled by bad design and acting, but a perfect documentary of the plot. It's very funny that way. For example, all the humans are wearing ludicrous amounts of eye shadow and have a large V sewn onto the backs of their uniforms. Now, that's easily explained. When the Doctor says 'nothing has changed' since Tegan's time, he includes the fashion; and I find it very easy to believe that Vorshak had his initial sewn into the uniforms so that everyone on the base knows the name of the commander. Yes, it is true that the story would be more tense and gripping if the lights were turned down but be serious. This is a military base! It was built and designed for people to live and work in at the bottom of the inky depths! The architect was not going 'I know, if I leave a few light bulbs out, it'll get all gloomy and creepy if some ancient reptiles attack!' was he? And considering how gloomy the corridors are, or the how dark the control room gets during missile runs, I think the story's dark and shadowy enough.

I am of the personal belief that seeing monsters during daylight or in brightly lit room is a great move - OK, it might flag up how crap the outfits are, but on a level it makes them more frightening: these things don't just hide in the dark or only come out at night. Hiding in the light won't stop them following you and killing you. Yes, I know this doesn't excuse the Myrka, but look at it this way - yes, the Myrka looks pathetic and ridiculous. So does the duck-billed platypus, but that has a fatal sting and could kill you. The Myrka is lethal and, worse than that, looks stupid. Being killed by a Dalek or a Cybermen is bad, but being killed by the Myrka is truly horrific - imagine having 'killed by scaly pantomime horse' on your tombstone. No wonder the Silurians use them as weapons, the enemies would run a bloody mile. And on paper, it looks good with its long seaweed beard and clear Sea Devil descent. Isn't it brilliant when it comes across Solow and is totally baffled by her? Surely you can sympathize with it as it confusedly mirrors her kung-fu hand gestures as if trying to understand her? Or how it desperately repeats them as the Doctor fries its brain?

But the Myrka has nothing on the Sea Devils. In the original story, these orange (or are they green?) turtle heads in their string vests looked cool, cute and dangerous as they stormed through prisons and blew up life boats and peered into diving bells... Here, they... they... They're not as good. With those silly inflatable shoulder pads and mini-satellite dish guns, there's a definite failure of style there. But the story gives us more than enough clues to explain the Sea Devils' behavior. When Scibus explains that the Sea Devils never revived on schedule but effectively overslept, you have to wonder what this gang of turtles found so interesting as not to leave the bunker. And we see a shot of the window, beyond which is green smoke.

Did Sauvix and his Sea Devils spend the last sixty five million years sharing bongs and giggling? Watch the story and judge for yourself. The Sea Devil's expressions are frozen somewhere between "I'm shober, honest," and "Whooooooaaaaaa!" As Sauvix boasts that his warriors were revived and ready for battle, we see them barely able to stumble in a straight line. One of the Devils spends the entire attack on the Sea Base staring at the ceiling and aiming his gun at it, as if following a very interesting fly. Two more bump into each other in part four, and few can keep their heads from rolling around the place. And none of them can shoot straight! It takes five attempts before they kill the blinded Neilson who is standing right in front of them! Sauvix's wonderfully drunken "Bring forth... ... ...er, the cutting device!" is almost as brilliant as when he stares intently at the scroll Icthar tells him 'study well'.

As a fighting force, their behavior is criminally pathetic. But if we assume the Sea Devils are all incredibly stoned and trying not giggle, their actions make perfect sense.

And this leads me to Scibus, undeniable the most effective and amusing comic relief character in Doctor Who. Forget Mickey, Duggan or that philosophical bloke from Dragonfire, Scibus deserves his own spin-off TV show for the side-splitting antics he has here. I laughed myself hoarse watching this Silurian's antics, which recalled more of Dougal McGuire in Father Ted than a Silurian officer.

Every second line of Icthar seems to be "Excellent, Scibus", which is said sarcastically, patiently, depressed and bored depending on what Scibus does - for example peering into one of those recycled Cybermen guns despite its Tarpok that's supposed to be using them.

When Icthar asks if the Sea Devil chamber is warm enough for the Silurians to enter, Scibus stares blankly at Icthar for a full three seconds, looks at the door, then back at Icthar and says in a very uncertain voice "... No?"

When Icthar tells Scibus to revive the Sea Devils, Scibus turns back to the door control then presses it, then hastily punches the other controls, clearly thinking "Oh, god it's got to be one of these buttons..."

When Icthar introduces Scibus and Tarpok as his "companions" to Sauvix, Scibus gives a little girly wave to Sauvix, the shameless flirt.

Scibus and Tarpok spend half of episode three looking like Aldo and Royce in Warrior's Gate, carrying a picnic hamper. By the end of the episode, they have mislaid in and appear to be looking for it when Sauvix bumps into them and Icthar hastily asks how the battle's going.

Scibus starts to press controls on the control panel in the last episode with a childish glee, followed by the agonizing wait as he adjusts the position of the Manipulator again and again, as if trying to get the feng shei just right.

His death scene has him make a strange gurgling noise. Which Icthar ignores. So Scibus makes it louder. Before sliding off his stool and hitting the floor. And gurgling again.

Warriors of the Deep ends up something of a rarity in Doctor Who - two completely different stories with the same plot, actors and special effects. If you watch the story, you are rewarded with one of the grimmest, coldest moral dilemma bloodbaths Doctor Who can offer. If you watch the production, you are rewarded with an Earth Reptile version of Dude, Where's My Car.

Utterly entertaining.





FrontiosBookmark and Share

Friday, 24 March 2006 - Reviewed by Ewen Campion-Clarke

The earth is hungry. It waits to eat.

The end of the planet Earth is something that Doctor Who has found itself irresistibly drawn to. In the original outline for the series, the first time we realized this police box was a time machine was when the scanner showed Earth exploding and 'Doctor Who' concluded they had traveled into the future to see this. In the revived series, RTD based a whole story around that in The End of the World. The Ark also showed what humanity was up to during this apocalypse, and both Inferno and Pyramids of Mars upped the stakes by showing the destruction of Earth happening all too soon.

There's something odd about stories set in a universe we're our home planet is no more. Maybe it's just because I live here, but I do get lonely when I experience The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Babylon 5, Blake's 7: The Logic of Empire, Titan AE or just hear that line from The Ark where a character is coldly reminded that "the Earth itself no longer exists". To know my world isn't in the sky... It's not a pleasant thought and I believe it's the reason why all fans, to an extent, were uncomfortable with the idea of Gallifrey being destroyed. Not necessarily for the planet or its inhabitants, but because the Doctor had to feel that feeling from now on. And who'd wish that on anyone?

But Frontios goes further.

All these 'end of the planet Earth' stories contradict themselves to a lesser or greater extent, but they are universally positive. The world doesn't end in Inferno or Pyramids of Mars. Humanity and Monoids get a happy ending in The Ark and the Earth is put out of its misery by an evolved humanity in The End of the World. It is put down to a rite of passage, of accepting one's end, of new hope.

Not in Frontios.

I might complain that it contradicts a good 80% of televised and untelevised Doctor Who, but it's the point. The future we see on Frontios is bleak. Humanity has not touched every star, mingled with alien races, set up an empire that will last a thousand years. Humanity is alone, the other planets are devoid of life, and Earth's civilization is described by the Time Lords as "a group of refugees".

Depressing, isn't it? Grim, bleak, doom-laden... and utterly believable.

Come on, admit it, you've looked up at the night sky and occasionally wondered if there wasn't life out there and the Earth is all there is. Frontios dares to set a story in that thought, and its braver than I am. There are not even any Earth colonies to send help, or outposts in other galaxies. The settlement on Frontios is all there is.

And its dying.

This background is what gives Frontios an edge. I could easily complain the first scene where Bragen and Range do nothing but spout exposition at each other in angry voices, or that Norna has a well-tended mullet and uses the word "chicken" as an insult when she presumably has never seen one in her life before, but it doesn't matter. Maybe those Blake's 7 helmets the orderlies wear are cursed, because they make the bleakest setting and plot I can think of in Doctor Who.

There is a problem in that the bleakness just gets a little too big - the problems are painted on too large a canvas to be comfortable. The colony ship crashes, killing most of the crew before an outbreak of plague slaughters the rest. Yet, the survivors are numerous enough to survive thirty years of asteroid storms as well as being picked off by Tractators, retrogrades and court martials. Heck, the timescale is a bit large for me. The bombardment has been going on, non-stop for thirty... years... Now, if it was three years I'd think 'what a long time'. But thirty! Plus, Frontios is said to have no wood or plant life, which makes you wonder how the humans have been cultivating food or how they could survive on Frontios even without a bunch of angry wood lice snatching their corpses. Bragen says that oft-mentioned-rarely-seen Captain Revere held the colony together on sheer personality, and the fact all the colonists seem to actually believe they're all right as long as Plantagenet is alive supports that.

Also, I began to get really irritated at the speeches of the colonists, especially when they kept saying "the people of Frontios". Now, to be honest, I think they're not the people of Frontios at all, but the immigrant of Frontios. But surely they'd say "us", wouldn't they? "Why didn't he tell the people of Frontios?" demands Norna, when "Why didn't he tell us?" would work just as well, if not better. Not to mention the abundance of descriptions of "nasty things we call Frontios".

And why is one of the main aims of this story to ditch the hatstand? What's wrong with the hatstand? It was barely noticeable, being white on white (and they bring in back in Season 24...) so why arrange it to be removed from the TARDIS? Especially when there's categorically the other one from Castrovalva to put in its place... However, it does afford some classic and memorable scenes. The Hatstand of Fatal Death, wielding by Turlough the Unhinged. A fanzine title if ever I heard one.

Onto the positive. Logopolis was about death, Castrovalva about rebirth, and Frontios is about horror. Pure and simple. Any story that has people being sucked into the ground when they're dead or ill would horrify me, but when painted against the terribly bleak view above, it reaches another level. For example, moments after Tegan realizes that Frontios has a shoot-to-kill policy and she cries "Every death increases the risk of extinction!", one of the patients drops dead. Range's little speech about corpses vanishing from graves, people disappearing and sighting of someone being sucked face-first into the ground... Are you creeped out, yet? I'm creeped out. I literally shuddered when I saw a photo of the sides of the excavating machine, and you see that while the wasted body of Revere drives it, there are four more dead bodies involved. I'm thankful that the gore in the novelization was left out. The Gravis is hideous enough without having a floating severed head doing his talking for him, and grabbing people with severed arms. Brrrrr...

And if that wasn't worse, the TARDIS crew aren't left untouched by Frontios, either. I once realized that the reason the Doctor's so damn calm when he's arrested or sentenced with death is that all he needs to do is nip back to the TARDIS and he's safe; no one can catch him. I realized that while waiting outside the principal's office of my school, deep in trouble, and by god was I envious. I could have used an escape clause like that. And that's the point of the first episode. The Doctor saunters in, acts like he owns the place, confident he can escape when necessary. But in this story, he can't.

I defy anyone, absolutely anyone to believe that the TARDIS was destroyed at that early cliffhanger. Definitely, the Doctor's 'oh dear, still, never mind' attitude suggests he knows that the ship isn't destroyed, just inaccessible - you could almost think his story about the destroyed time machine is simply dupe some hidden enemy into thinking that he does believe his ship is gone, until he starts doing the complete opposite in the final half of the story. To be honest, it's very lacklustre. When the Doctor coldly tells Tegan to 'forget the TARDIS', it's just as a reminder to viewers that police box isn't there this week, it's not the anguish that accompanies the Doctor in The Shadows of Avalon when arguably exactly the same thing happens to the Time Lord's blue box.

The regulars are very well characterized. From Tegan and Turlough's visible discomfort at the hyper Doctor in their first scene, to their final fond farewells to Frontios, the characters are just that - characters. They behave and react realistically and believably. Tegan wants to see what happens to her people, Turlough has a slight flirt with Norna and the Doctor is still capable of flicking two fingers to the Time Lords when someone's dying at his feet. In fact, I think the whole 'mustn't interfere' stuff was added to link up with The Five Doctors rather than to define the Doctor, who continues his little evolution as a more pro-active, less polite person. The bits where the Doctor plays a dangerous game of bluff with the Gravis return the manipulative Doctor of the Black Guardian trilogy, as he puts Tegan's survival over her opinion of him - look at the hurt on her face when he sneers at her for being a broken android. And who can't help but love a scene where the Doctor challenges his captor to let him help them or just shoot him now... and gets six rifles aimed straight as his chest?

The guest cast are pretty good. For a last minute replacement, the guy playing Range is very good, able to deliver witty banter with the Doctor, calm down Plantagenet, coldly advance on Tegan with a knife and laugh down his own prosecution and still be believable. Norna is rather bland to be honest, and her hair gives her a faintly elfish look her. I preferred her as Susan Q in The Happiness Patrol, to be honest. Bragen and Plantagenet are extremely irritating, posturing buffoons that Doctor Who seems designed to make the audience hate, but it's hard not to like them when you break through. We first see Plantagenet as a scared, frightened little man prone to posturing - but he genuinely cares for his people and his father, and is willing to tackle an enemy on his own, showing no fear when sucked into a giant by giant monsters. Bragen's continual growling hides a man who has survived forty years on discipline alone, no wonder he acts like that. He is suspicious of the Doctor, but judges the Time Lord on what he sees him do - when he determines in episode three to find our hero, it isn't clear if he wants the Doctor found to save the day or simply shot dead where he stands. His death, sacrificing himself to save Turlough who he ruthlessly manipulates throughout the final too episodes, is very moving - it's human spirit like that that kept Frontios from collapsing, and its that which RTD tries to celebrate every episode. Good for him.

Now, despite all this, the end of the story leaves a lot to be desired. By me, at least and it's as though huge chunks of the plot have been removed. (Actually, being the sad fan I am, I know exactly what was removed, but it isn't relevant). This is a story that needed another episode at the very least. The first two episodes concentrate on the problems of Frontios, while the second show the monsters in the tunnels below and the balance is lost for the final episode. While it's amusing to see that one wrong word from Tegan ultimately leads to Cockerill being dubbed a cult leader, the plot doesn't really go anywhere. The sight of retrogrades beating Cockerill and leaving him for dead (as well as attacking Norna for more than her food supplies...) is as grim and nasty as the story gets, but after Cockerill gets to his feet the rets simply fall into line after one sentence from their speaking member.

Cockerill taking over the colony in an hour goes against the decay into anarchy shown elsewhere, with so much widespread looting not even Bragen is prepared to shoot to kill, knowing it won't leave anyone left alive if he does. It also means the trial of Range happens during this uprising, which feels a bit stupid to me. I could understand the idea of Bragen holding public inquiries while the world crumbles around him, but it feels less like stubborness and more like the writer forgot their was a riot going on outside.

There's no resolution to this. Cockerill rallies his troops... and Norna tells him he's being silly, and Range sobs that 'Frontios is doomed!' and Norna says maybe it isn't... And that's it. The next time we see the colony, it's back to working order and everyone's the best of friends as ever they were.

The monsters this week are as horrible as they can be. The Tractors in general look a bit too clean and smooth, indeed if it weren't for that hideous clicking they make they'd be cute. In fact, they're only saved by the Gravis, the most vomit-inducing monster I can think of. For a start, it looks like it's been dipped in warm curry sauce instead of the Tractator's nice purple colour, and there are those bulging veins on its blank eyeballs and the slimy baleen in its mouth... Oh, it's disgusting. Utterly disgusting and its slimy, gurgling voice is even more nauseating. Who cares if it's got a nose or not, it's some hideous mutant anyway, and its big ears and fur between its carapace...

ARGHHHH! I HATE THIS THING! ARGH!

When Turlough's brain goes bye-bye and he's left a drooling wreck, you've got to wonder what could be so brain-twistingly horrible. If the Gravis was identical to the ordinary Tractators, you'd be unimpressed. Seeing the Gravis, you realize Turlough shows admirable self restraint. And the knowledge that there are Tractators everywhere, apparently, only kept docile by not having this revolting creature stirring them up into conquering the universe...

Frontios, despite its casual rejection of series continuity for the sake of atmosphere and badly-structured ending, is definitely a good story. The Tractators were apparently hoped to return, this time whipped into a frenzy by the Master instead of the Gravis, and to be honest, I would have watched it.

Actually, thinking about the Gravis, it strikes me we never actually SEE the Doctor and Tegan drop him off on Kolkokron. When Tegan complains they can't have the Gravis in the console room (why not? More interesting than a hatstand) I was expecting the Doctor to throw him at Kamelion as a roommate. Now there's a sitcom. But I wondered...

When the TARDIS split up what happened to Kamelion? Was he thrown into the underground depths of Frontios - and he'd have probably ended up in a different time zone, what with the TARDIS exploding and all. What would have happened if the Tractators found him? Would he have changed shape to assume a form pleasing to them?

Basically... I think the Gravis may really have been Kamelion all along.

After all, Kamelion doesn't really have free will. And if he can play a lute when in the form of King John, surely he can manipulate gravity in the form of a Tractator. He probably gave the rest of the Tractators that plan to mine Frontios, until one day the Doctor arrives and discovers the truth. Well, he can't let Plantagenet know that his people were nearly wiped out because of the Doctor's pet android lodger, can he? So, he locks Kamelion in his room with no supper and pretends that the Gravis 'is on Kolkokron', so as not to cause offence.

Well, that is what I think, anyway.





Resurrection of the DaleksBookmark and Share

Friday, 24 March 2006 - Reviewed by Ewen Campion-Clarke

Avert your eyes if it offends you...

Resurrection of the Daleks has to be the most bored Doctor Who story ever.

Not that it's dull, or boring, but bored. The story seems to be looking around, desperate to find something interesting, and then dropping it, bored, before finding something new.

Look at the way it treats the Doctor. For two episodes he's stuck in a plot that has nothing to do with the rest of the story - skulking around some eerie docklands patrolled by sinister police force that he never meets. Working with the bomb disposal squad that ignore pretty much everything he says. At the half-way mark, the Doctor travels into the main plot with the Daleks... and gets locked in a room for another episode, getting his memories sucked out in a flashback sequence. When he gets out, he picks up a gun (something he was deliberately avoiding all through the first two episodes) and heads off to kill Davros. Except he doesn't. Then he goes back to the warehouse plot and releases a virus that blows up the Daleks.Resurrection of the Daleks is a story that has no interest in the Doctor, Tegan or Turlough. And considering it's Tegan's swansong, that's a bit of a shame. She gets knocked out in part two, then hides in the TARDIS for the rest of the story, leaving it and running away, and then changing her mind at the last minute. Her departure is one thing that's handled well, but it would make more sense for her to depart in the belief the Doctor's become a hardened killer than a general 'being sick of it'. Tegan seemed 'sick of it' before she joined in Logopolis and didn't want to leave in either Time-Flight or The King's Demons.

No, Resurrection isn't interested in the TARDIS crew.

Maybe it's the Daleks? Yes, the Daleks! After all, first time since 1979 we get to see the metal pepperpots from Skaro and this time no Douglas Adams "sillyness". Yes, we can forgive a story for focussing on the monsters that made the series famous.

One problem. Resurrection seems less interested in the Daleks than it does the TARDIS crew.

Now, if I was in the position for writing a story for the Daleks, I'd want to use them. Make them deadly, kill-all-biped psychopaths or very cunning, self-controlled alien death machines. Make them scary, nasty and feared by one and all.Resurrection doesn't do that, does it?

The first time we see the Daleks, they explode through a door and... get blown up. This gives them their new catchphrases. Forget "Exterminate!" or "Resistance is useless!", the Daleks spend most of the story shouting "Retreat! Withdraw!" or "My vision is impaired, I cannot see!" They aren't even able to defeat a bunch of smoking layabouts who run the space prison. They need Lytton and his men to get the job done, to defeat Styles and Mercer, to face off against Davros. The Daleks have seemingly dozens of plans working all at once and not one of them works. The Supreme Dalek spends the entire story staring at a crystal ball and complaining.

The Daleks don't seem to have any reason to be in the plot. When two of them appear and wipe out the control deck crew, it seems like a token gesture. See? Daleks are in this one! But Lytton's mercenaries do more work. The Daleks pop in for a gloat at the Doctor when they record his memory, and then run away leaving the human character Stien to do their work. As many troopers are ambushed by Davros' little laser gun as are Daleks, and they are interchangeable on a story level.

Not only are the Daleks badly used, they're treated with open contempt. Lytton calls the Daleks stupid to their faces, plots behind their backs and escapes with his life. Davros, their creator, is determined to make a new race of Daleks that aren't as crap as the one that are here. The Daleks explode, froth, melt and disgorge their contents at the slightest provocation. They can't even go through doors without blowing them up first and its painful to see the humans using normal doorways you have to step open while the Daleks have to wait to slide the entire wall back to let them through. The Daleks we discover are, in fact, on the edge of extinction with those rastafarian androids the Movellans completely defeating their enemies off screen.

We're supposed to be impressed by these things? Scared by them? The policemen are more intimidating!

No, the Daleks are as irrelevant to Resurrection as the Doctor.

Maybe it's Davros?

After all, Davros definitely gets a lot of screen time. He's the prisoner who, in an hour after his release, has brainwashed four troopers, a chemist and two Daleks to his cause and sensible created a batch of weapons of mass destruction. Davros also appears, for some reason, to have the moral high ground. The Doctor strides in, picks up a gun and is about to kill this one-armed, blind cripple in a wheelchair.

And Davros stops him using the power of words alone.

Um, forgive me, but the Doctor is the hero of the series, isn't he? Not Davros. Davros is an insane megalomaniac directly responsible for wiping out his own species. Yet the scenes in Resurrection show him cleverer than the Doctor and the Daleks combined. The Doctor is said to be the insane one, rejecting the fact that all sentient life exists merely to beat the crap out of each other. The Doctor said to be the weak one for not murdering a helpless victim right away. Humans are pathetic too, apparently, because we don't slaughter prisoners as soon as look at them.

Of course, Davros gets his comeuppance in the end. But the Doctor doesn't defeat him, or the Daleks, or all the characters united. Davros loses because he is stupid and forgets that a virus designed to wipe out Kaled mutants might just effect his mutated Kaled body.

Well, maybe Resurrection is more concerned with original characters...

Wait a minute, what original characters? We get three groups - Archer, Laird and the troops on Earth, 1984; Mercer, Styles and the prison gang in space, in the future; and Lytton, Stein and the mercenaries. These characters aren't treated particularly reverently. Archer and his gang are systematically killed and then replaced with clones. It takes ages to drain the knowledge of the Doctor and it seems to be important for the victim to be alive, but the Daleks are able to copy and convert several dead soldiers as well in the living in around ten seconds. And why are these perfect copies such crap actors? Why isn't Laird copied?

Now, it strikes me that if you kill off a character and then replace it with a clone, in storytelling terms you might as well not have killed them off at all. Are we supposed to care when the evil cloned soldiers get shot by Daleks? But if it were the original, fighting desperately to keep the Daleks in the warehouse and away from the rest of London, we might actually care.

But we don't. They die. So do a lot of people. A lot of good people, according to Tegan, and it's lucky she tells us that because we certainly don't get a chance to make our own mind up.

Take Mercer and Styles. We get a good chance to know them. A chance, anyway. The first sequence shows Mercer as young, idealistic and rebellious and Styles as tired, desperate and corrupt. The crew of station are more interested in relaxing and playing cards and smoking and laugh aloud at the idea of their workplace actually getting attacked. But in ten minutes Styles is gleefully determined to sacrifice her life on a suicide charge into the Dalek ship, not to mention blowing up the station. In the final battle, she's the first to be shot - which is either shockingly innovative or dramatically pathetic, I'm not sure which. Similarly, Mercer doesn't get any real emotion to his death, he doesn't even scream.

Indeed, there is so much carnage, you wonder if you're supposed to care. The opening scene where a bunch of alien prisoners and a harmless tramp are machine-gunned to death, that's shocking. Like the opening to the author's The Visitation on speed. But then there's another massacre on the space station when the mercenaries gas the workers and the Daleks blast those that are left. By the time Turlough has hopped over the heap of corpses, either trying to prevent infection or stop himself vomiting with a hanky, I think we're fully desensitized. Daleks shoot each other, shoot humans, explode with toothpaste... Tegan seems to be the only one to notice it was a complete bloodbath.

Stein is the only character who dies with a point - and even that's debatable. The Daleks shoot him and luckily his corpse hits the control. And it's ironic because he is the most badly-plotted character there. Why is he with the other prisoners? How come he hides when surely all he has to do is wander into the time corridor for a welcome and that food he's always asking for?

Come to think of it, who are the prisoners at the start of the story? Why are they imprisoned on Earth 1984 in the first place? Why was Lytton's lieutenant so stupid as to arrange for these 'valuable specimens' to be shot dead? Does it matter, if the converter seems able to work on dead bodies? It seems the specimens are to be converted into evil Dalek clones to bring down society... but why try that in the future as well as 1984? Surely if human society collapses in the twentieth century, it won't exist in the twenty-third for other duplicates? What is the plan the Supreme Dalek has to control Davros and why the hell doesn't he use it? Where did Davros get that funky brainwashing gun and why didn't he use it earlier, like when he was arrested? I could complain at the bad continuity between other Dalek stories, but I'll simply ask why Eric Saward was so utterly useless at them after watching every existing Dalek story? Wasn't he paying attention? Was he actually interested in writing this story at all? Was there some subtext that the world needed to know?

Is Resurrection more of a message story? What is it's message? Er...

Well, I think it is that the only way for life kind to go on is to blow up absolutely everything else.

After all, the day is won when Stein blows up the space station, the Daleks, and (apparently) Davros. It's Lytton that survives the story by killing anyone who can stop him. If the humans had blown up Davros, none of this would happen. Its blowing up Daleks that stops them. The Movellan canisters are rubbished by Tegan, Laird and Turlough when they discover they are not bombs and can't blow anything up. The Doctor snatches up bombs and blows up more Daleks.

So, the moral of the story is the only winners are those with superior firepower and no moral scruples.

Remind me, why the hell was this allowed to be shown in Doctor Who? Full frontal nudity has as much place in this program - and at least that's slightly more wholesome! This story was written by the SCRIPT EDITOR of Doctor Who and he couldn't even remember that the Doctor is supposed to show a better way to resolving situations than shooting your enemy in cold blood? Eric Saward recently admitted in DWM that his heart wasn't in Resurrection of the Daleks. Which, considering he had an extension of year to tinker with it, is a damning indictment of his skills.

Now, this isn't to say that Resurrection of the Daleks has no merit. All those involved (bar Saward) give their all to this mess, making such a sleek and polished production that the fans of 1984 were conned into thinking it better than The Caves of Androzani (a fact now treated by people with the same amusement than once people thought the Earth rested on the back of a tortoise). The actors give it their all, the special effects are massive. The moment when the TARDIS takes off carrying Tegan and Turlough to safety is treated with equal respect if not emotion when the Doctor pulls the same trick in The Parting of the Ways.Resurrection of the Daleks continues the harshness of Season 21, and finally shows the characters cracking under the strain of this cruel universe. The Doctor snaps and picks up a gun, while Tegan gives up and walks away. The Time Lord avows to mend his ways and stop any further carnage from now on. The rest of the stories in the season would show how well this progressed.





Attack of the CybermenBookmark and Share

Friday, 24 March 2006 - Reviewed by Ewen Campion-Clarke

It didn't go very well, did it?

Decisions, decision. Is Attack of the Cybermen are decent story with a few plot holes, or a terrible waste of space with several moments of brilliance? Hard to tell.

What's wrong with the story? (I'm doing Season 22 in 25-minute episodes because that's how I saw it)

1) No unity of action. The first two episodes are set in the London sewers. Which have no bearing on the rest of the plot. All the important stuff is happening on Telos, which we don't see until episode two, and the TARDIS doesn't arrive until half way through episode three. The whole trip to London is irrelevent, and the Doctor might as well have landed straight on Telos and given the story a chance to breathe. Or maybe set the whole story in 1985 London for Lytton's attempts to leave the Earth, a kind of homocidal Ford Prefect, and his diamond hiest. Has there ever been a story like that? Seeing the Sixth Doctor and Peri caught in a bank robbery would be intriguing... But it's a throwaway plot, which leads us to...

2) Too many ideas, not enough interest. Like Resurrection of the Daleks, Attack throws in a mass of ideas, plots and characters and after juggling them for a moment, gives up and ends in a massive explosion. The return of Lytton and his policemen isn't the epic it's supposed to be simply because the Doctor barely met the former and never met the latter. Peri's met neither! The idea that the Time Lords have manipulated the Doctor into getting caught in the plot are nonsense, as the TARDIS arrives in 1985 because the Doctor was already heading there, and any other manipulation was down to Lytton. Speaking of Lytton, why does he send out the distress signal before going on the raid? Why does he decide to aide the Cryons instead of just trying to hitchhike his way off Earth? If Halley's Comet is so crucial to the plot, why is it only ever mentioned in two scenes involving the Doctor? How are the Cryons responsible for all the Cybermen dying while frozen in the tombs? Who are Bates and Stratton, how do they have access to a time machine, and how do the Cryons know what they're up to? Why do the Cybermen leave the policemen's helmets on when converting them? If the Telos scenes are, as they appear, set in the far future, how did Lytton contact the Cryons from 1984? If the Cyrons have a spy camera in the cold room, how come they don't realize that Flast is in there as well? And how has a bimbo like Rost lived so long in a guerilla war?

3) Wasting Lytton. Now, out of the disparate elements of Ressurection of the Daleks, Lytton was worth coming back for. A cunning warrior capable of surviving a bloodbath that at the time seemed to have wiped out the Daleks and Davros and still take a potshot or two at the Doctor, I can see at least one person considering him a replacement to the Master (who was, after all, dispatched eight episodes ago). Who can forget the brilliant bit where Stein reminds Lytton that the Daleks will ultimately turn on him, and Lytton doesn't do anything but smile knowingly - he's already prepared for that. Doctor Who needed a recurring villain, and Lytton definitely passed the audition. Imagine if The Mark of the Rani had featured Lytton trying to get a lift off the evil Time Lady, or if it was Lytton out for revenge, not Orcini out for honor, that hunted down Davros in Revelation of the Daleks. But no, instead, he dies here, in his second appearance, with his sidekicks gone by the end of the second episode and forgotten. I thought this was written by Eric Saward who, after all, created and rather liked the character.

4) Wasting Lytton (b). At the end of the story, the Doctor discovers Lytton was working for the Cryons and suddenly he's a good guy. Uh, no, he isn't. In his debut, Lytton happily allowed a bunch of unarmed civilians and a passing tramp to be shot dead, deliberately gassed and shot helpless prisoners, slaughtered his own men and did with a smile. He threatens to have Russell killed and ultimately betrays Griffiths, Stratton and Bates. The only-in-for-it-for-himself Lytton clashes harshly with the big-bleeding-heart Lytton who condemns Peri for not having any compassion, and the one the Doctor mourns for at the end. The Doctor, despite his complete lack of on-screen evidence that Lytton was a bastard, did not misjudge him. Lytton could have told him what was doing and got the Time Lord on his side, could have sweet talked his way round the Cybermen. If the Doctor wants to feel guilty, it should be because he was prepared to leave Lytton on Telos, not because he ultimately failed to save him.

5) Decapitating Cybermen. It beggars belief that Saward wrote this story after Earthshock. The earlier Cybermen story showed them to be near indestructible, ruthless, powerful and was only able to defeat them by making it part of history. Take out the extinct dinosaurs and the Cybermen would have won. But here they can get stopped by bullets. Bullets! That's the one thing that has never effected the silver giants till now - but one shot from Griffiths can make one bleed to death, and Russell can blow another's head apart with a single round! Not to mention the endless scenes of Cybermen getting their skulls smashed from their soldiers by metal poles, laser blasts and bare fists... Worse, like Resurrection of the Daleks, Attack shows this classic monster race on their last legs, with one overcomplicated time-travel-bomb-involving plan to stop them being wiped out... And it fails! Did Saward feel he had to kill off every character he enjoyed writing for? Only the regulars and two Cryons survive this story...

6) Too much continuity! As Gareth Roberts pointed out, building a sequel plot out of The Tenth Planet, The Tomb of The Cybermen, The Invasion and Resurrection of the Daleks is almost but not quite as pointless as building a sequel plot to The Smugglers, The Evil of the Daleks, The Mind Robber and Frontios. Worse, you can tell the really obvious padding of the scenes with the Doctor and Peri where they discuss his regeneration. Oh, and Totter's Yard. Why the hell was that there? Why? In Remembrance of the Daleks, it was there because it was one of the few places we saw the First Doctor visit in the first episode, and it also contrasts him with the Daleks - he used the yard as a home and spent most of his time in a police box, the Dalek uses the yard as shelter and spends most of its time killing people from the safety of a shed. There's no reason for the TARDIS to land there, in fact, all I could think of was that the chameleon circuit still thought that a police box looks good in a scrapyard... And imagine! Without all the pathetic scenes about the Terrible Zodin and the chameleon circuit and the Doctor running around London, he could have got straight into the plot. Is it a crime to have the TARDIS land in the action nowadays? And worse, the continuity is WRONG! The tombs don't look the same as in Tomb, which begs the question of why do it then? Why get the guy who played the Controller to come back when all the actor had no dialogue and was brought into wear a massive silver suit that hid his features? Not only does he make the Controller fat, twitchy and robotic, I can barely understand a word he says. Bring him back to play the Giant Robot (as Big Finish did), but not this! The Controller in Tomb was a creepy queen bee of the Cybermen, and this one is a jowly moron you get bored waiting for someone to attack!

Hmmmm. Pretty damning evidence. But there are good sides to.

1) The Sixth Doctor. For the last three years we had a Doctor who behaved realistically when a gun was pointed at him, being prone to panic, desperation and not being believed by people in authority. While that did have its merits, it is nice to see the Doctor have a gun pointed at him... and he beats the living snot out of his assailant, and then, for a laugh, puts on the police helmet and then wanders into the line of fire to give Peri a scare. There's also the brilliant moment where he offhandedly tells Peri to shoot the uncooperative Russell. No one can possibly believe the Doctor actually wanted her to do it, because if he did want Russell dead he would have done it himself. Like the fifth Doctor, this one is not exactly perfect as he causes the TARDIS to repeatedly malfunction, winds up his enemies to no avail and makes mistakes with fatal consequences. However, this Doctor is constantly building himself up as a genius and thus the moments he's exposed as a fraud all the more entertaining. The only downer moments are the noted 'Who cares about Lytton if he's not a good guy?' scene, and the moment when he agrees he wants the Cyber Controller and all his followers as dead as Flast. It's bloodthirsty and not the best.

2) The comedy. The Doctor's funny, and always has been, but the repartee between Lytton and his gang, not to mention Stratton and Bates who seem to have been written with Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmonsen in mind. Having seen the bloke who plays Stratton in countless police dramas as loud, psychotic overbearing fathers, seeing him young and punkish is a nice culture shock. There's lots of lovely humor moments, with only Rost's 'wit' failing. No one sheds a tear when a Cyberman punches a hole through her, so maybe it was intentional. The whole angle of fixing the chameleon circuit is a waste of time, but it's laugh out loud funny as the TARDIS assumes more and more impractical shapes so you don't notice at first that it's finally fixed. The line "time travel... in an organ!" deserves points for sheer postmodernist alone. The destruction of the Cybermen is worth a laugh too, like the panicked one that tries to pat out its exploding hand with "Naughty sleeve! Don't burn! Naughty sleeve!" or the "Oh, heavy!" wave from the Cyberman as he and his fellows jog casually away from a bomb about to detonate. And how cool is it to see Terry Molloy utterly baffled when people start mentioning Daleks?

3) The violence. Or rather, lack of it. People seem to think this story is one long bloodbath when it's nothing of the sort. Thanks to the dark and some poor pixelation, we can barely see humans getting their necks broken by the Cybermen, who kill people with nice clean laser guns. Even the Cryons dying is nothing more intense than smoke and light. All right, there is the infamous 'Cybermen crush Lytton's hands' scene, but this is after a story where the Cybermen beat the crap out of people with no blood spilt at all, making it quite clear these things are tough. When the impassive Stratton begins crushing Griffith's hand, that's to show you how powerful these things are. When the Cybermen do crush Lytton's hand, that's to show you how tough Lytton is. The small amounts of hydraulic fluid spilt during the fight scenes hardly matter, and its nice to notice the Cyber reinforcements accidentally kill themselves rather than the Doctor doing the deed.

4) The Cryons. Giving the Cybermen a foe other than humanity is always a good idea... and it couldn't be any worse than the Vogans in Revenge of the Cybermen... I mean, the Daleks get Thals, Mechanoids, Movellans and their own creator PLUS the Doctor and humanity to deal with. The Cryons look very creepy, almost like the ghosts of aliens (which ties in with them somehow surviving) and they have distinct personalities - albeit not very nice ones. They can even use the Cybermen's credo with irony. I like the way they're tactile and like to run their hands along each other, and thus visibly have to restrain themselves around Peri due to her body temperature. But the trouble is for an all-female race... why do they all have moustaches? And how can they survive in the presence of humanoids who continually raise the temperature? And just how have they been able to wipe out the Cybermen? How do they survive the destruction of Cyber Control?

5) Conversion. At last! Somebody remembers that the Cybermen can turn you into Cybermen! It's wierd, but watch their televised stories... it never happens! The closest comes in Tomb of the Cybermen, where Toberman gets a metal arm. And that's it. It's not even a background threat in The Moonbase, Wheel in Space, Revenge of the Cybermen, Earthshock or The Five Doctors. But the trouble is that the Cybermen still need to remind themselves not to kill people in order to increase their numbers (which is blatantly contradicted when one of the sewer workers is killed and later seen in a conversion booth). And the fact there are countless of Strattons and Bateses who didn't go through the conversion process... So you've got better arms and legs? So what! You can still feel, breathe, taste and do the nasty, stop complaining! Actually, these last two points are edging more towards negatives rather than positives...

6) The novelization. Truly, Eric Saward is a genius in this field. He manages to do the whole story without any real changes and yet improves it immensely. This is a good book, people. It still has the massive flaws but the characterization is improved, the violence turned down and the deaths don't seem so meaningless. The carnage at the end suddenly looks like there might be a happy ending. And the Doctor's annoyance at Lytton is a vent for his own guilt at not protecting Russell. There's also a beautiful scene at the beginning when Peri confronts the Doctor about his regeneration and threatens to leave unless her demands are met and... the Doctor agrees unconditionally, not even waiting to hear them and sending the TARDIS to a holiday destination, so delighted is he to be with her. A single paragraph makes the death of Griffiths somehow uplifting - his dying thought is the happy one that he didn't die alone and forgotten but killed by cyborg aliens on another planet while stealing a time machine with two millions' worth of diamonds in his back pocket! However, the fact is this changes are so minor... why the hell weren't they in the original?!

So, weighing up the facts... Sorry. Attack of the Cybermen is rubbish, littered with enough diamonds to make this fact all the more depressing. It could have been brilliant





The Twin DilemmaBookmark and Share

Sunday, 5 March 2006 - Reviewed by Ewen Campion-Clarke

I'm falling to pieces! I don't even have any clothes sense...

Lots of 'bad' stories are often just mediocre, but seem worse due to being directly after brilliant stories. Revenge of the Cybermen isn't so bad, but when you've just seen Genesis of the Daleks? The Long Game after Dalek? Pretty much every Season 17 story after City of Death? Lets face it, no story could have started up after The Caves of Androzani and not suffered.

I, however, was fortunate to see this on video without having seen the masterpiece beforehand.

It ultimately dulled the pain, but it didn't help. I wish I was a funky rebel Who fan, able to hold up the most pathetic of stories and scream it's genius, but sometimes the majority are right. Not always, but when The Twin Dilemma ended up the least-liked official Doctor Who story, it was not by bad luck.The Twin Dilemma is bad. And worse, it's important. It's the first story of a new Doctor. It needs to be good, or at least, entertaining. And it fails. Anyone who has seen the new Children in Need special (which I insist on calling Afterlife), you can see the whole point of this story - the Doctor's regeneration is going wrong just when he needs to get his companion to accept him - done far better in seven minutes.

It gives me no pleasure to say it's a stinker.

In a way, the troubled background of the story (Anthony Stevens collapsed while writing it and his typewriter blew up, forcing Eric Saward to take over at the last minute) means it's got a better excuse for being crap than Resurrection of the Daleks which had plenty of time to have its wrinkled smoothed out only for the writer to simply make even bigger problems. However, the gloss to Resurrection means a first viewing leaves you bouncing with exploded Daleks and a massive death toll. It may not survive anything other than a cursory viewing, but Resurrection still beats Twin.

OK, the problems with Twin are if not obvious then at least very noticeable.

First off the scene where the Doctor strangles Peri. Now, on the one hand, it sets up one of the theme of the stories - the newly regenerated Doctor isn't so much mad, he has no self control. He sees a course of action and continually exaggerates it until it gets silly. Even his attack on Peri is justified in the plot. Here is a woman he risked total death to save and... she doesn't even thank him. She calls him old, ugly, rude and insults his fashion sense but expects him to applaud hers. Can you honestly blame the Doctor for being annoyed at Peri? But then it starts. The paranoia - Peri got the Doctor killed, Peri's not sorry, Peri's rude to him, was it all a plot? Is Peri some kind of saboteur trying to kill the Doctor? Is he going to let her get him killed again? Can he risk her killing anyone else? No, he's got to kill her now!

Of course, it's ridiculous and stupid. But that's the horror of the regeneration crisis, the Doctor can't help himself. When he realizes how dangerous he can be, he comes up with a simple and effective plan - put himself out of harm's way until he's settled down. Except he gets carried away: he's becoming a hermit, thriving on desolation, chanting in Latin and requiring eternal atonement! No wonder the production team wanted this idea for a regeneration story, it's brilliant - a Doctor going rogue, trying to stop himself screw up everything and somehow helpless...

And like so many brilliant ideas, Twin buries them under gastropod slime.

Like the gastropods themselves. This is the series that, twelve episodes previously showed the most horrific and stomach-churning insectoid grubs imaginable in the Gravis and his Tractators. I'm shocked that Doctor Who's cash-strapped ingenuity didn't step in and re-use them - not only were the monsters already made and shown to the public, there's not much difference between these slugs wanting to move planets and these grubs wanting to move planets. It would have been very interesting to see the blunt, coarse Sixth Doctor up against an enemy the Fifth Doctor defeated by never having an angry word with. Instead, we get the wittily-named Gastropods.

And they are rubbish.

We only see Mestor do anything, but apparently there are two other slugs waddling around, not even noticing that there's a huge blue box marked POLICE blocking their empty corridors. Mestor looks crap too - fat, cross-eyed and morbidly obese. Its embarassing to see him wobbling on his throne waving his paws on either side of his dumbfounded face. And why is there a frog outfit on a pole beside his throne? Why does he fancy Peri? Why is he supposed to be scarier because he is "half humanoid half slug" a phrase the Doctor trots out over and over again? Why does he have these mental powers? Why does Mestor go all the way to Azmael's room for a quick Q & A he could have done via telepathy, especially when he could have sent a vision of himself like he does to Titan 3? Why is he apparently determined to blow himself up? Just... why, full stop?

And the most painful thing is that Mestor could have been terrifying. Yes, even with that costume. His origins seem to be less oversized garden pest, more Skagra from Shada, who was determined to become a God by making his mind and personality spread like a disease, washing across civilization. We get a tantalizing glimpse of this, with Drak dropping dead and Azmael being possessed. There are a few moments when Noma implies that its not him talking, but Mestor when he euphemistically says that he does what Mestor 'would have wished' and he 'too, has duties' - but its all undone when it turns out Noma was genuinely working on his own bat. The suggestion that anyone might just turn out to be possessed by Mestor would be great thriller material, as well as explaining why the hell anyone puts up with this ranting, rude megalomaniac. It could also explain why no one realizes this last, desperate plan is so obviously doomed to failure and no one notices - because Mestor is blocking their thoughts.

A creature whose mental powers can control an entire planet would surely be calm, disarmingly polite... a bit like Noma... but Mestor shouts things like "Never argue with me again!" and goes to all the trouble of zapping workers to death instead of the cheaper bullet-in-the-back-of-the-head. It's not embarrassing when the Doctor denounces Mestor as crap, because he is. It's embarrassing because a story that is meant to establish that the Doctor is more cunning and cleverer than his opponent sets him up against an incredibly stupid slug. That looks stupid. And fancies Earth women.The Twin Dilemma also crystallizes the part of the Sixth Doctor's era I hate. Not the continuity, the companions, the costume or Colin Baker, but the no unity of action. It happens again and again. This story encompasses Earth, Titan 3 and Joconda and only the last one is in any way relevant to the plot - and we don't get there to episode three, where the plot finally starts. The first scene of the story should be (an unseen) Mestor ruthlessly executing the thief (in front of assembled masses to prevent further rebellion), not Rom and Re playing backgammon. We don't even see the regeneration sequence again, and it's far more important to the plot than it was in Robot and it was repeated then as well.

Why does the story stop at Titan 3 anyway? Why not have the Doctor simply mis-steer the TARDIS straight to Joconda and have him mistake its raped landscape mistaken for the quarry he was aiming for? Why do we abandon Earth after the worst episode - we never get to see Rom and Re meeting up with their parents, for Elanor and her boss be glad to see Hugo's alive and well. And if we're not going to see them undergo the whole 'growth over the adventure', why the hell include them in the first place?

In fact, the twins themselves baffle me. What on Earth inspired anyone to have a story where identical twin geniuses are kidnapped? It would make more sense for Azmael to be stealing some nifty computer designed for it - hell, I bet I wasn't the only one expecting the twins to be revealed in episode four to be badly-programmed androids (and would explain why we never see their mother). The twins are like Adric clones - something Saward flags up in his novelization - where you would expect something more like Chloe and Radcliffe from The League of Gentlemen. They should be creepy, speaking in unison, ideally freakier than their kidnappers. But they're not even as interesting and need to wear different colours in order to be told apart (colours also inexplicably mirrored in the pens they use, their backgammon set, their home computers and the ones the Jocondans helpfully provide).

Come to think of it, why have their memories removed? In prose, I might get that, having a novel hinge on these twins trying to remember where they are, where they came from and to be revealed at the conclusion. But we already know. And the amnesia does nothing to stop the twins asking awkward questions, causing trouble and whinging. Remove those circles and does the plot change? No! Hell, I don't even care they've been kidnapped, because their first scenes show them to be arrogant, emotionless, smug, gormless and rude. When they're kidnapped my sympathies are for Professor Sylvest when he gets home, not for dumb and dumber. Why is their "game of equations" so dangerous anyway? Looks like a dull computer game to me. And if its so dangerous, why on Earth allow the twins access to the computer to use it anyway?

Azmael doesn't grab me either. Why does he insist on calling himself Professor Edgeworth? If he had established this identity on Earth in order to infiltrate the twins' room, I could buy it, but he just teleports in and teleports out again. The character is written a bit like the Doctor in Caves of Androzani, a tired Time Lord desperate to save the day any cost. Part of me wishes it wasn't Azmael but Maxil involved, ironically regenerated into Peter Davison. You could believe him when he tells the twins either they help him or they die, and you can see him grimly setting the base on Titan 3 to explode because he honestly can't risk the Doctor interfering. Maurice Denham does a wonderfully tired old man, even though he does resemble that big-headed monster from an Original Star Trek episode (I do love his sad "I can if I have to" as he uses his mind power to freeze the twins in mid-stance).

Colin Baker's first full story. And he's far from perfect. I've met the man, he's a lovely human being and Big Finish have proved both he and the Sixth Doctor got a short rift. Here... he's intermitent. Sometime he's acutely embrassing (though not as embarassing as Peri's sobbing at the end of part two - the only time Doctor Who makes me want to hide behind the sofa), but I don't look at these moments and think 'Colin, you're crap!' I think Colin is deliberately acting badly, for the moments to show that the Doctor isn't thinking straight. Watch the bit where the Doctor makes a ludicrously overblown and passionate speech that just because there's a minor mystery to be solved the whole universe is about to fall about and only HE and PERI can POSSIBLY stop it, only for Peri to meekly ask "How?" and the Doctor blows out his cheeks, shrugs and changes the subject. That's brilliant, that is, fantastic.

However I can only really appreciate it because I know it's the latter that speaks of natural Colin Baker than the former. The Doctor is given countless stupid things to say, but knowing its awful doesn't stop it being awful. Just as good as the moments when you're not sure if he's having a fit or not: when the Doctor goes on about how old and useless he is, it's said with rising hysteria rather than self-pity; when the Doctor calmly and reasonably insists he and Peri leave the TARDIS to face, if not certain death, then a horrible, harsh life; and when he suddenly starts baiting Mestor. The moment where the Doctor's wandering mindset causes him to deride existence as boring and laughing hysterically is wince-inducing, but the moment were he goes Hannibal Lector on Peri/Piri is definitely scary.

But it happens in the first episode! That's what's wrong with it, not the act but it's timing!

Imagine it happening not just after the Doctor's finished changing, but instead happens towards episode three. The universe is in danger, the Doctor needs to get in action but we can see his thought processes have got muddled, he's moving off topic, getting enthusiastic, and now he thinks Peri is the danger to him and she can't reason with him and the Doctor attacks her - bang! Cliffhanger! And it's made all the more poignant because we know, like Maddox in Warriors of the Deep, the Doctor doesn't want this to happen...

The whole relationship between Peri and the Doctor is skewed. She starts off by treating him with open contempt and when she finally realizes the Doctor is not in the best of moods to be taunted with, she instantly becomes meek before finally snapping. Yet, this happens in the first episode! If you're going to have an emotional arc to the four episodes, it shouldn't be over in part one and then get repeated. I admit, Peri's tirades against the Doctor are brilliant (her taken-aback shout of "I'm not letting a manic-depressive paranoid personality like YOU tell me what to do!" is killingly funny), but they are not consistant. Peri has as many mood swings as the Doctor, being quiet and contemplative while tending Hugo to blubbing at the thought the Doctor's dead to giving the impression she'd want to do the deed herself. Peri was timid around the Fifth Doctor (did she have a crush on him?), and it would have been more effective if that had stayed until the end of the story where she finally snaps and earns the new Doctor's respect. The bit where he marvels she still cares about him is a case in point - he should be touched, not baffled!

The suit, also, is another thing I'd do differently. Actually, I don't hate it (my biggest issue is that it's a bugger to draw), but it is a massive problem. The Twin Dilemma might look like the cash-starved end-of-season four-parter it is, but it's doing better than The Caves of Androzani (where spy cameras are studio cameras, personal computers remote controls and laser guns replaced by machine guns with sparks added in post-production). The reason Twin looks worse is because its decked out in awful greens, purples, silvers, blues and browns. And why? Because of that coat! There's a whole chunk of The Sixth Doctor Handbook explaining that due to the way TV works, brighter colours cause others to fade out so everything in The Twin Dilemma had to look so gaudy otherwise they would litterally wash out by the coat. As Eric Saward notes in his novelzation, all the colours clash and don't add up to anything - a bit like the story itself. It would also, in my humble opinion, have been better had the Doctor not chosen the bloody outfit in the first place but rather grabbed the first thing to hand because the TARDIS was out of control and needed something to wear. Four episodes go by and the only person who thinks the Doctor looks stupid in the coat is Peri - hardly the evidence needed to show the Sixth Doctor is 'totally tasteless', is it?

The problems are shared by the plot. Anthony Stevens seems to have been making it up as he goes along and Eric Saward is constantly building up elements only to end up ignoring them. Mestor wants no link between Joconda and the twins' kidnapping... but he has the power to wipe out entire space fleets by just thinking it! Mestor tells Azmael to reveal what he knows in the belief learning the mission will be benevolent will convince the twins to cooperate - which begs the question why he didn't do this from the beginning, and maybe just write a letter to the twins asking for the answer on the back of a postcard? If Mestor is so powerful, why doesn't he slam the planets into the sun instead of going through the charade? And why is his plan's aim appear to be to increase his species but not himself when every other scene shows him to be an arrogant megalomaniac? What are the 'consequences' the twins foresee about the planet juggling, because it clearly isn't the one the Doctor twigs to? Why does Noma, clearly a smart cookie along the lines of Lytton, honestly believe Mestor is benevolent? If the Gastropods eat everything and food is running out... why don't they just eat the Jocondons? Why does Azmael have a couple of handy 'anti-Gastropod' juice hanging around and never used it? Just how and why did Mestor have the X3773 captured, and why doesn't he change the number plate if he doesn't want it traced? How come he can communicate with Azmael, but Azmael needs a pager to talk back to him? And why oh why does Hugo pull a gun on the Doctor and threaten to kill him if he becomes unstable when he's never seen the Doctor unstable? As far as Lang knows, the Doctor's just a prima donna!

The last scene doesn't work. I wish it did. The Doctor's line ("And whatever else happens, I am the Doctor - whether you like it... or not.") is delivered firmly but not angrilly, and the smile between him and Peri makes the story end on a happy note. But there's no resolution - otherwise we wouldn't have most of Season 22 where the Doctor and Peri are arguing all the bloody time. The line is given such heavy emphasis you wonder if the Doctor was originally supposed to say the same thing in episode one, only this time Peri actually believes him.

Oh, and the cliffhangers... Not good. Not good at all. I can forgive episode one as we see the Doctor's face (just in time for it to be blown off), but Peri's strange snorting sobs are off-putting. The extremely long lingering shots on Colin Baker's face for the other two are bad. Really bad. Especially the final one, where the Doctor is clearly staring straight at camera and looking gormless - and not at all like the genuine smile he was giving to Peri seconds earlier. You would have thought someone would have noticed and done something... And the music is terrible - bar the scene where Azmael detects the TARDIS following his ship and, not recognizing it, wonders what it might be as a militaristic version of the theme tune plays.The Twin Dilemma just doesn't work. And that's not just bad, it's a tragedy. Because new Doctor stories are the only stories in Doctor Who that HAVE to work. There are crap Dalek stories, Cybermen stories, companions can have bad arrivals and worse departures, and even regeneration stories have been known to below par. But a story introducing a new Doctor just can't afford to go wrong, and The Twin Dilemma hits the ground burning - there are good elements but the don't gel and we're left with a bad start to the Sixth Doctor, a terrible continuation of The Caves of Androzani and lacklustre end to Season 21. Eric Saward easily improved the whole story for his novelization, which proves that Twin was one rewrite short of greatness. JNT was not perfect, but fighting to keep the half-thought-out The Twin Dilemma in Season 21 rather than finish it in Season 22 was the only big mistake he'd made since taking the reigns.

If there's a story Big Finish are going to replace in the canon, don't let it be Shada, let it be this.





Warriors of the DeepBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 15 November 2005 - Reviewed by Tom Prankerd

'Warriors of the Deep' is one of Peter Davison's more maligned Doctor Who stories. The opener for his final season featured the return of two related sets of 1970s Pertwee villains - the erroneously named Silurians, and the so-called Sea Devils. This was probably something of a counterpoint to fan criticism of Season 20, which had a rather low monster count.

Like several stories of this era, there are a few problems with 'Warriors' from a continuity point of view, and like those others, it's surprising that the production team seem so vested in continuity, but so prone to errors. These would be a little more permissible if adhering to previous stories was detrimental to the script... However, in this case the Silurians know themselves by this incorrect name [they would seem to date from the Eocene era] and the Sea Devils call themselves by the nickname given to them by a mad sailor in their eponymous debut serial. This is rather irritating, and could probably have been written around - perhaps an explanation along the lines of both names being inaccurate, but commonly used due to declassified UNIT documents or something? Whether you buy that or not, the creatures certainly shouldn't refer to themselves by these names.

One continuity problem I don't particularly see is the assumption that Icthar is the scientist from Season 7's 'The Silurians'. As if the fact he sounds and looks totally different isn't enough, there's nothing explicit to say he is. There's nothing to say the third or fourth Doctors hadn't had an encounter with the 'Silurians' off-screen, and met Icthar then. Right from the start, Doctor Who features references to adventures not seen in the show - 'The Invasion', 'The Face of Evil', 'Timelash' and 'Battlefield' feature explicit use of adventures not seen on screen. So really I see no problem with the idea of a "Missing Adventure" featuring, a 'Silurian' triad containing Icthar and the third or fourth Doctors. Aside from these minor aberrations, which are really more a concern for fans watching as a part of a larger continuity, there's only one other problem with Johnny Byrne's script. It really was a little optimistic to imagine the realisation of the Myrka coming off, but more of that in a bit. Aside from this, the script is wonderful. The Seabase crew are all nicely defined characters, Icthar is both sympathetic and hard-headed at the same time, and the Doctor is frankly superb. The plot's nicely done, and though the Hexachromite gas is something of a plot device, it's nicely used - it's not as simple as just using this weapon, there are lots of moral issues involved.

The cast are splendid. Davison's performance through Season 21 was superb - it wasn't really bad for his first two series, but he finds an extra gear for his swansong year. He's on top form out of the box here, desperately trying to mediate between the 'Silurians' and the humans until the very last minute, really transmitting the emotion and urgency of the script, and I don't think there's been a more fitting final scene to a story than the Doctor, looking at all the dead bodies on the Seabase bridge. "There should have been another way." And Davison nails it perfectly. For the other regulars, well, Tegan and Turlough don't get the best of the script. Turlough for one is effectively another member of the Seabase crew, though Strickson's still hugely watchable. Tegan more sort of gets in the way, though Janet Fielding makes the best of a bad deal - something both characters had to be content with too often. The guest cast are generally terrific, with Tom Adams excelling as Vorshak and Ian McCulloch compelling as Nilson, while Norman Comer gets a respectable amount of nuances though the 'Silurian' costume. Only Ingrid Pitt, predictably wooden as Dr. Solow, and Nitza Saul as Karina really let it down.

The biggest problem, however, is the direction. While the Myrka is a pathetic monster [never moreso than when knocking over a set of obviously foam doors], most of the story's problems come from Pennant Roberts. I remember him doing an interview in Doctor Who Magazine where he blamed everyone under the sun for the serial's shortcomings - perhaps he should have looked a bit closer to home. The set design for the Seabase is more than adequate, insofar as the series' budget could ever hope to capture the look of an expensive military facility, while the redesigned costumes for both sets of monsters are pretty decent - it strikes me as rather hypocritical that some fans can accept Cybermen who don't have balaclavas as being an improvement, and yet giving the 'Silurians'/'Sea Devils' laser-proof armour that prevents the Seabase crew from just gunning them down is terrible. The Seabase crew's costumes are also respectable, though the mass amounts of eyeshade could have been safely omitted. However, Roberts inexplicably decided to shoot everything inside the Seabase in a million-watt light. The Seabase should have been dank and claustrophobic - not necessarily some rundown armpit of the world, but certainly not like something out of a music video. This exacerbates the problems of the Myrka - shot in shadows, it's shortcomings needn't have been half as obvious. Roberts was also responsible for the casting of Pitt [in the original script, the character was male], and really should have realised how utterly ludicrous Solow attempting to drop-kick the Myrka would look. In other places, his direction is simply tepid.

Overall, I do rather like this story. Overambition isn't the worst fault in a script, and a good story can shine through something like the Myrka. Combined with Davison, this ensures the pace keeps up, and 'Warriors of the Deep' certainly can't be described as boring. Despite myriad other failings, Roberts does imbue a decent amount of suspense - some of the missile runs are nail-biting, while the Doctor's stance, not taking the side of the humans, but that of peace, does keep the viewer guessing as to the precise outcome.

Certainly not recommended to fans who don't like Davison, and a little too unintentionally comical to consider showing to non-fan friends, but forewarned of the sheer awfulness of the Myrka, this is basically a rewarding story, with some superb scenes and machinations going on to distract from the shortcomings. Even the brightness of the base doesn't seem as bad once you're immersed in the storyline. "Warriors of the Deep" holds in common with several underrated Who stories, in that a few negative elements have been allowed to mask many good points for far too long.