The Enemy of the WorldBookmark and Share

Saturday, 9 December 2006 - Reviewed by Finn Clark

Call me crazy if you like, but The Enemy of the World is the story for which I most want to see recovered episodes. The Web of Fear, Marco Polo... pshaw. They're good, yes, but we know what we're missing. We can hear the audios. We can make reconstructions. The Enemy of the World, on the other hand, has Troughton as Salamander. You have no idea how excited I was about this.

You see, I sometimes find Troughton sinister even when he's not trying to be. Everyone knows that he's adorable, but even when he was playing the Doctor I've occasionally shivered at an expression flitting across that craggy face. The idea of seeing him play a villain was simply delicious. I've just visited the Internet Movie Database to check his filmography and I've discovered that he played a bodysnatcher in Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974) and Christopher Lee's daytime protector Klove in Scars of Dracula (1970). They will get bought. From The Enemy of the World I expected greatness and I wasn't disappointed. He's playing the Godfather! Seriously. Apart from the silly South American accent, he's doing a note-perfect Corleone four years before Francis Ford Coppola could get in on the act. You could put this performance alongside Robert de Niro and Joe Pesci in a Martin Scorcese film and no one would blink an eyelid... okay, you'd flap your ears a few times, but I'm coming to that.

The accents. Oh my sainted aunt, the accents. The Enemy of the World is bad accent hell and if Doctor Who ever got worse than this then I don't want to know. I swear it took me a good couple of minutes to realise that the cook Griffin was meant to be Australian. It's no coincidence that most of the good performances come from actors who aren't trying to do a voice. Troughton gets away with it, but he's the exception. Even a decent actor labouring with an accent can become wooden and unconvincing, so it shouldn't be surprising that the results here are, um, mixed. The actor's performance for me ruined a lovely character in Griffin, for instance.

However in fairness I should mention Fariah, who manages to be a strong and convincing black character only three stories after Tomb of the Cybermen. I'm sure it helps that the character wasn't written as coloured. The actress is good, too. Her name's Carmen Munroe and apparently these days she's a grand theatrical dame who's played Mother Courage to great acclaim. (Thanks for the information to Jim Smith.)

In other respects this is also an interesting story. Obviously done on the cheap of course, but it's a monsterless thriller in Season Five that's somehow attracted the ridiculous tag of being like James Bond. Salamander would make a great Bond villain, but that's as far as it goes. The Enemy of the World isn't a string of action set-pieces, but a surprisingly mature tale of intrigue and double-dealing in the corridors of power. It's written by David Whitaker, remember? Basically it's a historical. The century is its only point of difference from any of Hartnell's period pieces, except that it has guns and helicopters instead of swords and horses.

Let me run through a list of ingredients. A rich and interesting cast, driven by more complex motivations than you'd get in (cough, hack) a Bond movie? Check. No monsters? Check. Power struggles between different factions? Check. Note that in all other sixties stories, the 21st century was a time of Star Trek- like global government and international harmony... but here David Whitaker's recreating the court of Richard the Lionheart or the Borgia popes, so suddenly for one story everything gets murky and sinister. The Doctor's companions suddenly having to infiltrate the enemy's camp in assumed roles? Gotcha.

The most interesting thing about this comparison is that people haven't twigged. It's a completely normal historical (and a good one), but being a 21st century Troughton story everyone expects monsters and ray guns. Even today, somehow that ludicrous James Bond label has stuck because people can't see past the trappings. It's interesting to note that unlike other SF stories which either have a definite date or don't worry about such things at all, David Whitaker intended The Enemy of the World to be set fifty years in the future. In 1968 it was set in 2018. When the Target novelisation came out in 1980 its date moved to 2030. Like Alan Moore's V For Vendetta, this story uses its near-future setting as an analogue for a historical one, close enough to our own time to feel familiar, but remote enough for us to accept jackbooted thugs in what's clearly becoming a fascist dystopia.

There were ten historicals in the show's first three seasons. Then Gerry Davis and Innes Lloyd arrived and after a couple of examples early in Season Four, the genre disappeared completely from Doctor Who... except for this one, smuggled into Season Five.

It's not easy to define the historical genre in Doctor Who. The distinction between a historical and a pseudo-historical is an odd one, but I think it's real and the crucial difference is no monsters. A pseudo-historical (e.g. The Visitation) uses its historical era as a backdrop for a straightforward tale of Doctor versus aliens, whereas a true historical finds all the drama it needs in the era and its characters. Thus we can say things like "The Caves of Androzani is a historical in SF clothes" and get an interesting insight into the story.

The Enemy of the World has the usual problems associated with being a six -parter, but it's terrific. Apart from anything else it's an excuse to watch Troughton in two roles, which will give you a fresh appreciation of his performance as the Doctor. Sorely underrated, if only because for forty years it seems that people have had a hard time recognising it for what it is.





The Tomb of the CybermenBookmark and Share

Sunday, 19 February 2006 - Reviewed by Scott Moore

Perhaps because it is be regarded by many fans as a Doctor Who classic, I was disappointed by 'The Tomb of the Cybermen'. A fine performance from Patrick Troughton, an interesting basic plot idea, and the excellent realisation of the cybermen themselves are let down by a flawed script and just a little too much (yes, even for Doctor Who!) poor acting from the supporting cast.

The basic premise of the story is sound enough and the setting of the "tomb" allowed plenty of scope for the BBC designers to create an atmospheric set. However, the script suffers from three main failings: clunky plot devices, crude characterisation and poor attention to detail. The worst of the plot devices is the use of the sabotaged spacecraft to force the characters to remain in the tomb throughout the story. The idea of sabotage is perfectly reasonable, but the fact that the archaeological team are banned from the spacecraft for the duration of repairs (despite an escalating rate of fatalities) stretches the audience's credulity too far. It is not easy to separate the poor characterisation from the poor acting, but the character of Captain Hopper is little more than a cardboard cutout (indeed, his only raison d'etre seems to be to support the above-mentioned plot device), while poor Toberman seems to have been plucked from among the ranks of Cleopatra's slaves (in the Cecil B. DeMille film). As for the problem of attention to detail, this manifests itself right at the beginning of the first episode. We are led to believe that Professor Parry heads up an archaeological expedition at some point in the future, yet his team's methods would shame even a Victorian grave robber; they use explosives to expose the entrance to the tomb and once inside the only hint that they are making any attempt to catalogue their discovery is Viner taking down a few notes.

The quality of the acting is mixed, to say the least. Aubrey Richards is credible as Parry and Shirley Cooklin is suitably villainous (despite her character being burdened by the silly name of Kaftan). However, Cyril Shaps is over-the-top as Viner while George Pastell's initially promising Klieg eventually borders on the pantomimesque. Given the lines he is saddled with, George Roubicek can perhaps be forgiven for playing a spaghetti western cowboy. I can't yet compare Frazer Hines and Deborah Watling's performances here to their other stories. They both do a reasonable enough job of portraying the standard-issue young companion, but their characters are devoid of any convincing background. At no point does Jamie seem like an 18th century highlander, while Victoria's accent is too "BBC" and she is remarkably handy with a pistol for a sheltered young woman from Victorian England. Of course, Patrick Troughton's performance carries the story and almost justifies on its own watching 'The Tomb of the Cyberman'.

The rest of that justification are the cybermen. Given the limitations of time and budget inherent in 1960's Doctor Who, the designers and the director have done a convincing job of portraying the cybermen and injecting both them and their tomb with an air of menace. The scene where they emerge from their hibernation is justifiably iconic. The only point when the representation utterly fails are the close-up shots of the cybermats, which are truly hilarious. But then, every Doctor Who story requires such a comic low-budget production moment!





The Ice WarriorsBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 15 November 2005 - Reviewed by Ed Martin

To an extent The Ice Warriors is Doctor Who done very much by-the-book, and if it wasn’t for its legacy of introducing one of the show’s biggest and most iconic monsters outside top-level ones such as Daleks and Cybermen then I’m not convinced that it would be remembered particularly. Indeed, it is rarely seen as being one of the defining moments of its season, which contains such heavyweights as The Tomb Of The Cybermen and The Web Of Fear, even though it is the story with the most material existing outside of Tomb. As such The Ice Warriors is a good, solidly entertaining tale, but contains little that elevates it to greatness.

The first thing that strikes me immediately is the bespoke titles. They are good, helped by a suitably atmospheric score for them (although, as I mentioned in my review of The Keys Of Marinus, there is the old cliché of having a woman wailing “ooooooeeeeooee” like a banshee whenever there’s a hint of snow in the air). At this stage I quite like them: ask me again in six episodes time and I might want to kick the screen in. On the whole though the music is pretty good, with Dudley Simpson providing a score that, while distinctive, is totally appropriate to the story.

In design terms this story is very good, with the sophisticated scientific base being set in an old manor house being an extremely innovative idea, making for some pleasing and atmospheric sets outside of the main control room itself. The computer looks good, although computers are often the items that date 1960s stories the most. Roy Skelton provides a decent voice, although it is sometimes difficult to hear what he is actually saying. It’s not important most of the time though, sticking to reeling off a load of facts and figures; the cast use it here to set up the plot by namedropping the ioniser at every opportunity. Funniest of all though are the fashions, which are decidedly sike-ay-delic despite the story being set in the year 3000. Not that I’m complaining or anything, but the idea that in a thousand years time the women scientists would be going round in miniskirts and beehive hairdos never fails to raise a smile. At this rate they’ll still be in 21st Century fashions in the year 200 000.

The landing of that TARDIS is quite annoying, not because of the supposed goof of it landing on its side and dematerialising upright – it’s only seen at the beginning and at the end, anything could have happened to it – but because of that good-time comedy troupe of Patrick Troughton, Frazer Hines and Deborah Watling mucking about pretending they’re treading on each other’s hands and similar silliness. The frequent references to The Abominable Snowmen seem strange to me for no very good reason given that nobody has really seen very much of it these days (obviously), and referencing a much better story (Snowmen being one of my favourite Troughtons) just makes me wish I was able to watch that instead (no disrespect to this story).

The regulars stroll into the main control room (as you do) and sort out the broken computer, in my favourite scene in the story. Okay so it’s scientific nonsense but the average viewer in 1967 might not have known that and it showcases the Guv’nor in all his manic splendour. There’s a lot of technobabble present but it’s not there to provide some naff plot resolution: the scene is a character piece, and it shows the beginnings of a very interesting idea of the scientists being over-reliant on their technology in the face of advancing nature, especially given that their technology caused the new ice age to begin in the first place. The vibro-chair is another very late 60s concept, and I must admit to a raised eyebrow or two. Lastly this scene shows how great an actor Peter Barkworth is as Clent, the slightly pompous leader who is fundamentally a good egg but who’s reliance on computers comes across as slightly unhealthy sometimes. On the subject of the guest cast Peter Sallis is equally good as the cynical but compassionate Penley, although Angus Lennie camps it up a bit as Storr. His anti-science characterisation is all well and good but it does get taken a little too far when he starts refusing medical aid; Penley is the superior character, both in terms of writing and acting.

The concept of people finding an alien trapped in ice is certainly not new, but is one of those stock concepts that’ll remain cool forever and ever. The avalanche is brilliantly executed, with stock footage mixed seamlessly in with studio action (not possible, I hear you say? In any other story I’d agree) through quick and assured editing; it’s the kind of scene that reminds me that Derek Martinus was the director on this story.

Victoria’s horror at the thought of being evacuated to Africa is a great nod to the Anglo-centric world view of a certain breed upper-class Victorians, although in my more cynical moments I’d say that social commentary works best on societies not a century out of date, which could make it seem simply like Brian Hayles was having a pop at Africa. Fortunately I’m not in a cynical mood today so the line is good.

The forty-five second scene is a great way of providing exposition, where the Doctor has to explain the backstory of the episode without hesitation, repetition or deviation. It does make for a surprisingly exciting way to deliver the plot, and it seems very knowing of Hayles to put such a twist on the exposition in such a way that earns the episode serious points. The episode is well written in general with the dialogue always listenable and diverting, although Victoria’s line of “I still don’t understand” is irritating and shows her up as the exposition-cipher she is in this story that almost undoes all that I’ve just said. The picture Clent paints of the eternal winter is stunning though, although I half expect a lone violin to start playing when he says the incredibly cheesy line of “and then, one year, there was no spring…”

The computer’s role of calculating the ionisation programme at a snail’s pace shows up the general lack of understanding their was of computers at that time. Is it me, or is Miss Garrett’s pious speech of “all decisions, all actions, must conform to the common good” a commentary on Communism? Normally I wouldn’t read so much into it but the Doctor’s look of utter disgust when she says the line makes me wonder.

There is a direct sexual connotation between Jamie and Victoria here when Jamie suggests she might like to dress up in the female scientists’ uniforms; some would say this episode has a lot to answer for, not least female scientists. Meanwhile, behind them, the ice is melting. The cliffhanger is pretty good but had been waving a flag on the horizon ever since the warrior was found earlier on.

I’ve got this episode on The Ice Warriors Collection box-set that the BBC released back in 1998 meaning that for their reconstruction of the missing episodes all fifty minutes are condensed down into just fifteen. That’s why I’m ignoring it completely and whacking on the audio CD – although I’ll just say that all that “engineer reports power failure” guff that precedes the reconstruction as a caption is annoying and condescending; I’d much rather a caption came up saying “so anyway, we screwed up back in the ‘70s, so…”

Anyway, on with episode two, which begins with the Doctor portentously announcing that the creature’s helmet has electronic connections, which would be great if we hadn’t seen Varga clomping around in all his glory already (Okay, so I had to imagine it, but run with me. It’s not my fault it’s missing.). The music that accompanies Varga is really quite strange, a romantic theme from Simpson that seems to imply we should be feeling sympathetic for this poor little reptile-monster that’s holding Victoria hostage. It’s not a bad score exactly, it just sounds like Simpson was working on the wrong programme. All this is in the background while Varga graphically explains how his gun will “burst your brain with noise” to Victoria. Delightful.

This episode does highlight why the Ice Warriors are so well regarded even though they only appeared in four stories, the last of which was in 1974: I know they look and sound fantastic but that has to be weighed against the fact that they’re probably the slowest, most ungainly creation the series made up to that point. Also, the concept of green men from Mars is a very dated and clichéd one. All this points to the Warriors not being so well regarded in modern times: they work so well though because Hayles is so careful not to portray them as simple lurching brutes that do nothing but go on about how they’re going to take over the world, etcetera. Varga is an intelligent and rational being, albeit completely ruthless and cold-hearted, and this is a major factor in their success. It was lost, I think, on the sequel The Seeds Of Death but taken to great heights in The Curse Of Peladon. 

Barkworth continues to shine as Clent, with his driven nature steadily increasing into a fixation with rigidity and conformity that suggests to me that Hayles might have been giving faint praise to the burgeoning counterculture scene (or maybe I’m just reading too much in again). Clent’s obsession is made slightly less obtuse by the Doctor’s diatribe on individualism: this is a well-written piece, telling everyone what they need to know without being patronising and is a good example of the series being accessible to the entire spectrum of its audience. When the Doctor talks to Penley he appears to take a strong moral stance for the human race – sounding like Pertwee’s Doctor – and I’m not sure how this relates to the very black-and-white morals of the second Doctor, who usually subscribed to the simple philosophy that Evil Must Be Destroyed, which is all very well until he starts blasting the human base with the Warriors’ sonic cannon (in a couple of episodes time) even though there’s a considerable risk of killing everyone. Oh, and Penley talks about “the parting of the ways”. I just thought I’d mention it.

Episode three kicks off along much the same lines, with Clent showing a human side over Arden’s guilt that contrasts (in a good way) with his aforementioned obsession with formulaic logical perfection. However, maybe it’s the lack of visuals, but the story does seem to be slowing down quite considerably. For example, more than eight and a half minutes in the other Ice Warriors are still being released despite that being the cliffhanger to the previous episode; Clent is still going on about the risks of using the ioniser on the alien ship; people are still trying to persuade Penley to rejoin the scientists. Nevertheless, the dialogue remains well-written and listenable, and as much character-driven as plot.

Arden’s killing is a deeply jolting scene in audio format, given Brian Hodgson’s spectacular sound effects work and Victoria’s screams; she can be annoying, I’m not going to deny that, but her histrionics do occasionally have a place. The rest of the episode is more of the same, with the cliffhanger being fine in a low-key way. I know I just repeated myself there, but if they can do it then so can I.

With episode four we are again privileged with moving pictures (and lots of boom mike shadows as a consequence) and so this is the first time we can see that the Warrior’s mouths aren’t in synch with their speech. It’s not really a problem though as it gives them a surreal alien quality (worse is the fact that you can see the actor’s mouths in the close-ups; this worked for the Cybermen but they were meant to have people trapped inside them) and in any case with all this talk of missing episodes Sod’s law will hopefully find the episodes and render this review out of date.

Clent pressurising Victoria to tell him about the engines of the Warriors’ ship is a good scene as it deals with the fact that Victoria has been transplanted into a completely unknown time. It is followed by the H2O scene (you’ll know it if you’ve seen it) which shows the Doctor at his very coolest. This is naturally followed by the Doctor ordering some ammonium sulphide to use against the Warriors; this is only a minor contrivance though, and works quite well.

The chase scene with Victoria and Turoc the Ice Warrior is a well shot and directed scene, and Varga’s grief at his comrade’s death sets him far above other monsters. In fact many of the deaths in this story are poignant (for example Storr’s, if only as his character is so pathetic) and the surprisingly high mortality rate of 69.2% comes from the fact that the Warriors are so fleshed out as characters, as usually I don’t count underling monsters and other generic cannon fodder.

The set up of the story is interesting: both parties are effectively in a position of weakness and need to know each other’s capabilities. At this stage that is an unusual and original plot, but overall the story drags it out too far. The cliffhanger is good and exciting, although on the whole this has been a very padded episode. What I’ve said about it has been positive, but there hasn’t really been that much to say as there’s been so little development since previous instalments. 

The film set of the forest is very good, with more quality direction from Derek Martinus. However, the live bear that they hired could have been better used, as more of an effort to make it look less like stock footage might have helped.

The Doctor’s confrontation with the Warriors is good and dramatic, and parallels one between Clent and Miss Garret over the ioniser. However, this is the reason why the episode falls down: they were discussing the risks of using the ioniser back in the third episode. As both the monsters and the heroes spend most of their time in a position of stalemate, I wonder if six episodes were really necessary; if this was a four parter then I might not be making these complaints. They are quite major complaints however, as despite many good points this story has moved at a crushingly slow rate since the second episode. Again, the confrontation with Penley goes over the problem yet again, telling us nothing new. What was an interesting set up is now becoming tiresome.

The bluff scene with Zondal is fun, but Victoria’s false crying gets on the nerves very fast and the Doctor’s theatrical nose-blowing sound effect is silly. It does lead to probably the best cliffhanger of the story though, and it is very interesting to see how Zondal is presented as a much more sadistic and bloodthirsty character than his superior.

Walters’s diatribe against the machines is great, as Clent’s horror at the idea of his idealistic technocratic utopia being undermined (the computer is almost deified) blossoms into full-blown hysteria, providing that character’s catharsis. Please don’t send that in to the Pseuds’ Corner section of Private Eye.

The Doctor’s mucking about with the sonic cannon is something of a contrivance: it isn’t bad in itself as it is convincing and well-explained (after all, science-fiction has to have science-fiction stuff in it at some point), but Victoria’s exposition-feed dialogue threatens to push the scene over the edge. The resolution is the expected one: in fact it’s so formulaic that I can’t really think of anything intelligent to say about it. However, the final reconciliation between Clent and Penley is an excellent scene.

After a very strong beginning The Ice Warriors goes downhill, meaning that I can only really give it an average rating (it falls just short of being above average). It’s problem is that it is badly overlong, and would have worked much better with two less episodes. The two factions spend most of the story going over the plot again and again and arguing amongst themselves, and the only character with any real initiative (the Doctor) is stuck on the Warrior’s spacecraft for much of the second half; even Penley doesn’t really do anything practical. This is a real shame, as the story does have many good points: the characterisation is excellent and the monsters are absolutely wonderful.





The Wheel In SpaceBookmark and Share

Saturday, 29 October 2005 - Reviewed by Ed Martin

The Wheel In Space is called on to achieve a lot, as the climatic story of one of the programme's best ever seasons. The Conventional Opinion of Whovians (COW) states that it fails in this respect, that it is padded out and dull. I, on the other hand, quite like it, but then I did have the benefit of seeing the existing episodes young. I bought Cybermen: The Early Years, which along with its Dalek equivalent was an excuse to release fragments from largely missing stories. I should say that I have no problem with this at all, and the Cybermen from this story, as well as the ones from The Moonbase (also provided on that tape) are indelibly burned into my head as one of the definitive versions of the monster. It took a while for me to catch up with the other episodes, which I did through a Joint Venture reconstruction; it is quite strange reviewing it then, as I am unfamiliar with 66% of it but can recite the other 33% by heart.

Most of the criticism of this story is focussed on the first two episodes, and I have to say that it is largely justified as they are horrendously padded out. I feel that this story might be better regarded if the first two episodes had been edited together; of course this would leave the season running an episode short but I feel The Web Of Fear could have stood up as a seven-parter. And if you think I'm talking idly, look at Planet Of Giants. The first thing that strikes me about episode one is that the TARDIS warning mechanism makes no sense at all, trying to tell the Doctor that the outside world is dangerous by showing pictures of a tropical paradise. Talk about reverse psychology. So what happens, the TARDIS materialises in the Emperor Dalek's throne room and the Doctor and Jamie rush out in their swimming trunks? Both sides would be as surprised as each other, probably. "Doctor, do you have your sonic screwdriver?" "Er..."

The first episode is quite atmospheric though as it trades on a sense of the unknown, something common in pre-Star Wars science fiction. Just look the titles of early sci-fi, full of the unexplained: It Came From Outer Space, The Thing From Another World, Out Of The Unknown, Them!, It: The Terror From Beyond Space and, of course, Doctor Who. The mystery here though is straight from stock as Jamie opens doors by falling on switches and suchlike. Still, it's better than its reputation.

One thing notable about this story is the way that sound effects are used very effectively as music: that chiming sound of outer space (nonsense but pleasant), the evocative buzz of the Cybermen and the bleeping of the Servo Robot. From what can be heard, the largely silent scenes featuring the robot may well have been very effective and I'd like to see them. Meanwhile, the exhaustive list of foodstuffs fed into the dispensing machine is a huge frivolity and demonstrates the padding of the episode, not to mention being a single cream bun away from Monty Python's Flying Circus. Also, the space age food-in-blocks idea was done earlier in The Tomb Of The Cybermen, and it wasn't new then. Ah, those innocent days before Rice Krispie Squares.

The rocket lurching forward is the first piece of action for a while, and it caught me quite off guard. The floating eggs scene was probably horrible (I can just imagine them wobbling about like Thunderbirds puppets), but as Bill King is a generally reliable effects technician and the meteorites in part six look superb then I'll give them the benefit of the doubt. The Time Vector Generator is interchangeable with the Sonic Screwdriver for most practical purposes, but I'll let it go.

After twenty minutes of the Doctor and Jamie eating and napping, the sudden cut to the Wheel is a not unpleasant shock. The dialogue is good, as is usually the case with David Whitaker, but as the story progresses the characterisation can come across as a little inconsistent. An immediate standout, even in a missing episode, is Dr. Gemma Corwyn, a very well written character excellently played by Anne Ridler. The sense of mystery is continued here as the Cybermat eggs morph through the hull of the station, although this is very implausible.

The second episode largely focusses on the characters. This is a euphemism for horribly padded of course, but it does make for interesting viewing (ok then, listening) in places. What is clear though is that Whitaker feels very uncomfortable writing romance between Leo Ryan and Tanya Lernov; a lot of the time he just sticks to having Eric Flynn (son of Errol and father of Jerome, so my sources tell me) put his hand on her shoulder and we're left to draw our own conclusions. The episode is very slow to begin with, but the scene where Jamie lies his way through a medical test (including making up the pseudonym 'John Smith' for the Doctor) is fascinating to hear. Zoe is a better character than Victoria, being less inclined to squeal and run behind Jamie at the first sign of rain, although Perky Padbury is a little annoying in her first outing especially when trying to portray mirth. There is a slightly obvious scene as well where Bill shows Jamie the weapons system (presumably all strangers get this) including the power array, targeting system and the best place to sabotage it.

Tanya's nose speech is an unusually bizarre piece of writing, especially since the second half of her conversation takes place in the next episode. When I first saw episode three then, I thought it was the weirdest thing I'd ever heard. There's a great cliffhanger though as the robotic hand burst through the shell of the egg, although it does raise the question of how the Cybermen tie their bootlaces with only three fingers.

Episode three is where the story really gets going, not least because Patrick Troughton's bad from his holidays and on top form. The Cybermen look fantastic, although how they got a teardrop in their mouths is beyond me. Their voices are great, a smooth droning, and we also get the joy of the truly brilliant Mark II voices courtesy of the Cyberplanner. One problem with the new costumes though is that the mouths don't move; it would seem that the production team saw the mouths that just hung open as the words streamed out as a disposable gimmick. In fact, apart from being totally amazing it also served as a visual indicator of which Cyberman was speaking and without this the Cybermen are forced to rock backwards and forwards as they speak to give the actors something to react to, which looks rather strange. The scene with the Cyberplanner is slightly crude in the exposition as the monsters explain their plan to each other, but as the dialogue is delivered through such amazing sound effects I'm happy (a shallow vindication I know, but there you are). There is some amazingly cool direction though, mixing to the face of a Cyberman just as the Doctor is talking about an unknown menace...

The Cybermats look better than on their previous outing and actually have a clearly defined purpose and means of executing it, but fundamentally they are still a very strange concept: small infiltrating robots I can accept, but the Cybermats are just odd. Kemel's terror at them seems excessive, even though it turns out to be justified; Kevork Malikyan here wins the award for the Episode's Best Screamer (and who said this show was sexist?). Although the episode does tend to tread the same ground insofar as the script goes, the Doctor's realisation of the presence of the Cybermen is still a good scene even though we already know this. Maybe it's just because Troughton is blatantly the most talented actor the play the role.

Leo's attack on Zoe seems a little unprovoked and is an example of the slightly dodgy characterisation I mentioned earlier. Flannigan rocks hard, but only in a slightly patronising drunk-Irishman kind of way.

The Cybermen's plan is complex but generally it holds water; they can't attack directly because the station would send a distress call and they can't set up their own transmitter because it would be detected. So therefore we have an example of a complicated scheme that can't really be picked at. But the cliffhanger - what's happened to their voices? "Youwa willa trya my pizza, izza ze best ona Telosa". The voices improve a bit in part four, but they only really go back to normal in part five. Part four hold up very well through being very tense, and it starts with the Doctor desperately trying to convince Jarvis of the problem. The stages of Jarvis's breakdown match the episodes: three is aggression, four is contentment, five is withdrawal and six is acceptance.

It strikes me as odd that the crew doesn't react to the fact that Laleham and Vallance are suddenly talking like they've been lobotamised, as if their personalities switch on and off regularly anyway. Zoe records data on the incoming meteorite storm on magnetic tape, which I find amusing (but hey, according to The Daleks' Master Plan it was still cutting edge in the year 4000). Jamie, in yet another example of weird characterisation, reverts back to being the ignorant 18th century traveller not knowing about sound recording.

I don't know if Peter Laird is really of oriental origin, but his accent is straight out of a cartoon. He gets a good death though, and the Cyberman putting his body in an incinerator creates a gruesome mental image. The scene where the Doctor checks for hypnotised crew is nail biting, and the surviving footage of Duggan's death shows a return to the trusty "negative" effect; which is good, as it's one of the programme's most successful effects ever.

Part five carries on as normal as the sight of the Cybermen only confirms what we already know. Zoe's growing dissatisfaction with her life is an obvious pointer towards her joining the TARDIS crew, but it's nothing clunky and it's a good effort at providing some kind of explanation for what normally is simply a simple "take me with you Doctor!" set up in the last five minutes.

Surviving footage of the fight scene in this episode shows possibly the show's wobbliest ever set, but I could listen to Flannigan yelling "you need a couple of lessons in the noble and manly arts, me bucko!" all day. The lava lamps in the oxygen room date the show badly, but no more so than the plasma ball masquerading as a time drive in Remembrance Of The Daleks.

It's back to moving pictures for the final episode and some terrific model work is on display. Even the cartoon X-Ray laser bolts look good in a retro kind of way. We do get one of the most out of character moments ever though as the Doctor advocates sacrificing Jamie and Zoe, albeit reluctantly; surely he'd look for a solution that didn't involve sacrificing anyone? Still, it's not as bad as Jon Pertwee gunning down an Ogron in cold blood in Day Of The Daleks. This is made up for by the very stylish scene immediately afterwards where the Cybermen systematically work out who is aware of their presence. The confrontation scene between the Doctor and the Cybermen is one of my favourite ever largely due to Troughton's performance: his resigned line of "I imagine you have orders to destroy me" is possibly the most iconic of his era although I must admit we have Earthshock to thank for that. Even in the face of (apparently) certain death the second Doctor was always a step ahead while appearing to be a step behind...come on, he was the best of them all!

If the Cybermen don't need air, then how does the plastic spray kill them? That's my only real beef with the climax, although the issue of whether or not Cybermen need air is one I'll return to when I review other stories featuring them. Zoe's joining scene is the usual fair - but what better end to a season can you get than the entirety of The Evil Of The Daleks?

I took the mick a bit but this really is a good story, very tense and generally well written and acted. It has the unfortunate distinction of being the penultimate Cyberman story where they actually had any credibility, and while it is slightly drawn out I always enjoy it and I'm proud to have it (or what's left of it) in my collection.





The Tomb of the CybermenBookmark and Share

Sunday, 4 January 2004 - Reviewed by Jim Fanning

It has to be said, Patrick Troughton was the best actor to play the Doctor. Not my favourite (that's Tom Baker), but when Tom got a average script, he just hammed it up. The Tomb of the Cybermen, with it's maze of contradictions, caricatures, silliness and slight racism is not a masterpiece of writing, and is only saved by the Trout's masterful performance. He never seems in the least bit tired by the clichés he is presented with.

Actually, that's maybe a harsh assessment of the script (by Pedler and Davis, for what it's worth), as they succeed in holding our attention despite the limited array of locations. And they probably wrote better for the Cybermen than anyone else. The metal giants aren't plotting to blow up the Earth here, they're doing what they do best (or worst, depending on your stance)- converting hapless humans into new recruits for their fearsome army. 

They are brilliantly executed on screen too. As much as I like the Cybermen in Earthshock, it's hard to believe they are emotionless, unlike the ones who appear here. Costume design plays it's part, but the hollow, electronic tones used for their voices are most successful at doing this. The CyberMats are OK too, I suppose, even if they don't transcend the fact that they are essentially a marketing opportunity.

Performance-wise we have a very mixed story. The worst turns are from Shirley Cooklin, who is nothing more than a panto dame twenty years early for the Sylvester McCoy era, and George Roubicek, not bothering in a part he probably acknowledged was 1-D. But when Patrick Troughton is the Doctor, you tend to focus less on those around him. The high point of his performance here is the scene where he recalls his family. When reviewing Tomb, almost everyone mentions it, and who am I to break with tradition? New companion Victoria isn't that great but Deborah Watling is at least better looking than *shudders* Jamie. The rest of the cast seem to have been recruited from Bond films. There are four of the blighters, by my count...

Earthshock is still the best Cybermen story, as Tomb, despite promise, lacks that story's brilliant direction. But it comes so agonisingly close, thanks to Mr Troughton.





The Ice WarriorsBookmark and Share

Friday, 4 July 2003 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

‘The Ice Warriors’ is a story with which I am surprisingly unfamiliar, due purely to its archive status; whilst I obtained bootleg recordings of many missing episodes some years ago, including most of Season Five, I only had audio recordings of the two missing episodes of ‘The Ice Warriors’ and only saw the surviving episodes when they were released on video fairly recently. I’d read the novelisation a couple of times in the past, but however good some of them are they are rarely an adequate substitute. This may be why I love ‘The Ice Warriors’ so much; it was unseen Troughton and having reached it during my ongoing series-watching odyssey, I was watching it for only the second time. In terms of availability, it rivals ‘The Tomb of the Cybermen’ for my affections, since two-thirds of it are happily in existence in their original form, allowing us an all-too infrequent chance to experience Troughton’s performance as the Doctor complete with facial expressions. More importantly, in terms of plot, acting and production, it more than holds its own.

‘The Ice Warriors’ benefits from excellent production values. The snow-bound sets are extremely convincing and seldom look artificial, unlike the similar sets in ‘The Tenth Planet’; the ice cliffs and the various blocks that fall whenever the glacier advances manage to avoid looking like polystyrene. The scenes in which Penley hauls Jamie across the ice are well done and look like they are actually shot outside; the footage of the Bear helps to create this illusion. The Ice Base also looks effective, probably because it has been built within a converted mansion, and the BBC have always been good at period set pieces; in addition, the juxtaposition of the advanced technology of the ioniser controls and the wood-paneled wall is rather memorable. The only slightly disappointing set is the interior of the Ice Warrior spaceship, which is minimalist to the point of being dull although I probably wouldn’t have noticed so much if it weren’t for the recent impressive sets of the Dalek city on Skaro (‘The Evil of the Daleks’) and the Cybertombs on Telos (‘The Tomb of the Cybermen’). Such are the bizarre side effects of watching the series in broadcast order… The costumes of the guest cast are also effective; I’ll discuss the Warriors themselves below, but it’s worth mentioning that the futuristic costumes worn by the base personnel, although clearly products of the sixties, manage not to look absurd, which is of course not always the case with humans from the future in the series. In addition, Penley and Storr look authentically scruffy. I also feel that the unusual opening sequences of each episode are of note.

The chilling unearthly wailing of the incidental score over shots of icy tundra nicely sets the tone at the start of each episode. 

The Ice Warriors themselves are hugely impressive. The costumes are distinctive and memorable, and the use of large actors coupled with this makes them physically imposing. I gather that Brian Hayles’s description of them in his script was vaguely similar to that of the Cybermen, but the decision to make them reptilian instead was a good one. Their bulbous armoured torsos, clamp-like hands and the copious tufts of hair at their joints combine to achieve a great visual effect. The fact that they are essentially armour plated also avoids the need for entirely flexible rubber costumes for the actors, which seldom look entirely convincing, since they tend to obviously crease at the joints. The Warriors also look and sound convincingly alien and this is helped considerably by the make-up around the actors mouths; Terrance Dicks’ stock description for Ice Warrior mouths in his novelisations of ‘The Seeds of Death’ and ‘The Monster of Peladon’ is “lipless slit”, and here it is certainly true. In close up, Varga’s mouth has no definition, it is simply a lopsided gash in his face, which is strangely disturbing and makes him seem truly non-human. 

In terms of characterisation, the Ice Warriors are made sufficiently distinct, despite the fact that only Varga and Zondall have many lines. It has become common to criticize Season Five for using the same basic “base-under-siege” plotline, and whilst this is to an extent true, it is also slightly unfair. So far this season, ‘The Abominable Snowmen’ is one such story whilst ‘The Tomb of the Cybermen’ is not really. I’ll discuss the recurrence of this plot type again when I get to other such stories, but for now I simply want to contrast ‘The Ice Warriors’ with its immediate predecessor. In ‘The Abominable Snowmen’, the base in question is Det-Sen monastery. It is indeed under siege from a powerful threat that is already establishing itself outside by the time the Doctor arrives, is motivated entirely by a desire for conquest, and secretly lurks within the base itself. In ‘The Ice Warriors’, the base is the Ice Base (the name is a real giveaway), and it is under siege, but primarily from the glacier. The Ice Warriors themselves have very different motivations from the Great Intelligence, and it is this that, for me, makes this story distinct, rather than just another base-under-siege story. The Ice Warriors are desperate; their ship is trapped in ice and needs power, there are only a handful of them, and they need to survive. True, Varga talks of conquering Earth if returning to Mars is not a viable option, but his immediate priority is to save his warriors and his ship. Only once, in episode five, do they actually attack the base, and this is in an attempt to obtain mercury isotopes for their reactor. For the most part, the threat they represent to the base is the danger of their reactor exploding if the ioniser is used at full strength, and the threat of the glaciers if the ioniser is consequently not used. It is worth noting of course, that although survival is the motivation, they are hardly sympathetic, and it is this more than their appearance that casts them as “monsters”. Varga is not only ruthless, but also a bully; he seems to take grim satisfaction in picking on Victoria especially, and his brutal, out-of-hand slaying of Storr is utterly callous. Storr presents no threat to the Ice Warriors; he is merely of no use to them. Zondall is even worse than his leader, and is positively sadistic, most notably when he tells Victoria that she will have cause to cry when Varga returns. This then, is why I think that the Ice Warriors work so well as monsters in this story; they look great, they have a logical motivation, and they are decidedly villainous. 

The Ice Warriors are not the sole reason for the success of this story however; the rest of the guest cast is uniformly excellent. Worthy of particular note are Peter Barkworth as Clent, and Peter Sallis as Penley. Clent is a superb character and very well acted. Another criticism of the Troughton era is that it is filled with unstable base commanders; in fact, I can only think of two and they are Robson (‘Fury From the Deep’) and Jarvis Bennett (‘The Wheel in Space’). Hobson (‘The Moonbase’) hardly qualifies as unstable, and neither I submit, does Clent. It is established in episode one that he hasn’t slept for nearly two days, and throughout the story he is placed under tremendous strain, the entire safety of human civilization literally in his hands, since the success of the ionization programme overall depends on every single base. Moreover, the only solutions which either the Doctor or Penley can come up with (and which eventually work) contradict the orders of World Control, who he is let us remember supposed to obey. In fact, the worst that Clent does is near the verge of panic in episode six; aside from that he is tense and irritable, but understandably so. In addition, he listens to reason; although he finds dealing with Penley especially difficult, he is won over by the Doctor’s arguments several times and it is worth noting that in episode five he realises, despite the objections of Miss Garrett, that the computer cannot help them with the situation they face. Ultimately, he allows Penley to use the ioniser at full strength in episode six, take the risk of destroying them all, and ultimately save the base from both the Ice Warriors and the glacier. He’s proud, arrogant, stubborn and bad-tempered, and spends the entire story under enormous stress, but I don’t agree that he’s unstable. And his finest moment is when he apologizes to Penley at the end. 

Peter Sallis puts in an impressive performance as Penley. He is of course crucial to the story because he represents the rebellious side of human nature; he is basically a decent human being and an excellent scientist, but he abandons the Ice Base because when he can no longer cope with the authority and regulations represented by Clent. He is also a likeable and sympathetic character, having formed a friendship with the otherwise scientist-hating Storr and also easily befriending both Jamie and the Doctor, the latter of whom is in many ways a kindred spirit. He is motivated largely by conscience; he helps Jamie because he is wounded, despite Storr’s protestations at bringing a stranger back to the cave, and he helps against the Ice Warriors because he has seen that they are killers. This presents him with a problem; by abandoning the base, which is in desperate need of his expertise, he not only leaves the base personnel at the mercy of the glaciers, but also threatens the entire world programme. Even when Miss Garrett tries to convince him to return to the base by reminding him of this, his aversion to Clent’s authority prevents him from agreeing, although his suggestion that the Doctor should use his notes on the Omega Factor allows him to solve all the problems of actually running the ioniser. Eventually, he is drawn into the plight of the base and plays a key role in the story’s denouement; which Clent and Miss Garrett unable to make a decision in the absence of advice from the computer, it is Penley who makes it for them, takes a risk and activates the ioniser, melting the glaciers and destroying the Ice Warriors. 

It is occasionally suggested that ‘The Ice Warriors’ carries an anti-science message; it doesn’t. It does admittedly promote a cautionary attitude; the current ice age has been caused by the use of science to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and humanity is dependent on science to try and reverse the process. But what Hayles’ primary message is that of the importance of individuality, and thus it is the disaffected Penley who is portrayed as the most sympathetic character, refusing to blindly obey rules and regulations and determined not to be governed by machines. Nevertheless, Penley remains a scientist. The Doctor is also used to warn of the dangers of being enslaved by computers, as in episode one when Miss Garrett tells him that the base is computer controlled and he relies “well, never mind”. However, one character alone makes it plain that this message is distinct from an unspecific anti-science message, and this character is Storr. Storr is a complete technophobe and he is not presented in a flattering light; his attitude to science manifests itself as an almost superstitious fear and in short Hayles’ portrays him as a fool. He strides confidently to his death, because he knows that the Ice Warriors killed Arden, a scientist, and therefore assumes that they are against scientists, even though he knows that they are extra-terrestrial and have a spaceship, a product of scientific technology. 

Finally, the regulars are as always on fine form. Jamie fulfills the same role as he usually does, but as usual he does it well. The scene at the end of episode one when he slyly asks Victoria if she could imagine herself in one of the base personnel’s skin-tight apparently PVC uniforms suggests that even if she can’t he can, and is an amusing bit of character interaction. For much of the story he is usual brave and resourceful self, although his temporary paralysis results in him being largely sidelined during the latter half of the story. Troughton as always really steals the show, and displays marvellous range; with so much of ‘The Ice Warriors’ surviving, we are lucky enough to be able to see the look on his face when Varga depressurizes the airlock at the end of episode four, when he struggles unsuccessfully to unstopper the vial of ammonium sulphides in episode five, and at numerous other times, which inevitably serves to enhance the Second Doctor’s considerable charm, strong enough anyway to survive on audio alone. And then there’s Victoria. I noted when I reviewed ‘The Abominable Snowmen’ that it gave the first hint that the novelty of travelling in the TARDIS was starting to wear off, and this continues here. Victoria is her usual excited and inquisitive self when the TARDIS materialises in episode one, and she also demonstrates her bravery again, as even Varga admits when she uses his communicator to contact the base, but she spends three episodes here absolutely terrified. Taken hostage and bullied by Varga and later trapped by the grip of a dead warrior in an unstable icy tunnel, she is constantly on the verge of tears, frightened for her own safety and also wracked with anguish over Jamie’s possible death. When the Doctor joins her at the ship, she clearly draws a great deal of strength and comfort from him, recovers quickly and helps him overcome Zondall and thus defeat Varga, but it is nevertheless interesting to take heed of the increased strain that her travels with the Doctor and Jamie place her under…

In summary then, ‘The Ice Warriors’ continues to maintain the high quality of Season Five and provides an impressive introduction for one the series’ most popular monsters.