The Macra TerrorBookmark and Share

Saturday, 14 June 2003 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

Rather like ‘Galaxy 4’, ‘The Macra Terror’ is something of a forgotten gem, a well-written little story that tends to be forgotten amongst the extant stories, or the missing stories featuring classic monsters such as the Daleks and the Cybermen. Since I first got the soundtrack when it was released on cassette during the early nineties, I’ve come to appreciate it more and more, but on listening to it again as part of the series as a whole I’ve just decided that it is in fact a work of genius and a truly marvellous Doctor Who story. 

‘The Macra Terror’ has several things going for it. First of all, the basic plot is approached in a suitably novel way; the Macra have infiltrated and enslaved a human colony, but in such a way that most of the colonists are largely under the impression that the colony is perfect and that life couldn’t get any better. The entire indoctrination and propaganda subplot works to great effect from the start; when the Doctor and his friends arrive they are treated as honoured guests and invited to enjoy the holiday camp atmosphere of the colony to its fullest, offered massages, hair care, and general luxury. However, it soon becomes clear to the viewer that this warm and fuzzy surface has more sinister undercurrents; Ola mentions that anyone who breaks the colony curfew and ventures outside at night will be killed, which is rather at odds with the general air of relaxation and happiness, and the vacuous and nauseating “happy to work” broadcasts from Control become increasingly insistent and gradually more intimidating, hinting that anyone who refuses to work for the benefit of the colony as a whole (or as it transpires, the Macra) will not merely be prevented from reaping the rewards this seemingly cooperative society offers, but will actively be punished. And this is all just in episode one. It soon becomes evident of course that the colonists are being brainwashed and are indeed “happy to work” because they are effectively being drugged and hypnotized whilst they sleep every night. Even more disturbingly, some of them are vaguely aware of what is really going on, but do not resist. The Pilot seems unsurprised by the Doctor’s revelation that his quarters contain the brainwashing equipment (although he does seem to be in denial), and continually refuses to believe the Doctor, Polly or Medok’s claims about the monsters at large amongst them until he actually sees the Macra in Control in episode four. Ola is even more willing to obey Control despite being seemingly aware of the Macra from at least the beginning of episode two, since he has power within the current status quo. But they clearly know about the Macra, as the scene in which Control hysterically screams “There are no such things as Macra!” makes clear – significantly, it is only when Control denies the existence of the creatures that we even learn what they are called. The entire metaphorical sugarcoated pill of the colony’s true nature is superbly conveyed. Even in the mines, where “unhappy” colonists are literally worked to death, the supervisors and the Pilot manage to convince themselves that the workers deserve their fate. Part of the success of this story is due to the acting of the guest cast, who are uniformly excellent, especially the ever-reliable Peter Jeffrey as the Pilot, Gertan Klauber as Ola, and Terence Lodge as Medok. The Pilot and Ola work well because they show different facets of authority; both work for a totalitarian regime, but whilst the Pilot seems to genuinely care for the well-being of the colonists, and eventually rebels against Control when he discovers that giant crabs are actually in charge, Ola is instead on a power trip and enjoys his position because he gets to enforce the rules. He takes obvious malicious glee in dealing with first Medok and later the Doctor and his companions. Medok, the sole voice of dissent in the colony (at least as far as the viewer is concerned, although it is made clear that he had predecessors), is excellently portrayed and is Lodge acts with maximum intensity from the start; his cry of “have fun while you can before they crawl all over you!” manages to be genuinely disturbing rather than daft and over-the-top, and Medok maintains this frantic edge throughout. He knows perfectly well that he isn’t mad, but eventually changes from desperately trying to convince the other colonists that monsters roam at night to bitterly accepting that they don’t want to know after Ola captures him and the Doctor at the start of episode two. 

‘The Macra Terror’ also benefits from the fact that it is the only television Doctor Who story to make effective use of this TARDIS crew. For the first and last time, good use is made of both Ben and Jamie in the same story, in addition to Polly and the Doctor. Because Ben succumbs to the colony’s brainwashing, he betrays his friends for what he briefly sees as the good of the many, allowing Jamie to take over the main action role. But Ben benefits from this himself, as he finds himself torn between his indoctrinated need to obey the rules of the colony without question, and his loyalty to his friends. This comes to the fore in episode two, when he risks his life to save Polly from the Macra, but later vehemently denies the existence of such creatures, accepting the colony line that “there are no such things as Macra!” in spite of the evidence of his own eyes. Ultimately of course his true nature reasserts itself and it is Ben who finally destroys the insidious threat of the Macra. Jamie meanwhile takes over Ben’s usual role with aplomb, and is the subject of episode three’s cliffhanger as he finds himself caught between two Macra. Rather than panicking, he demonstrates his resourcefulness and courage to the greatest effect thus since ‘The Highlanders’ and determinedly tries to escape. Later, when he finds himself confronted by dancers, he quickly assesses the situation and accepts the unwittingly offered cover story of being a dancer, demonstrating his ability to think on his feet, which he hasn’t any opportunity to do until this point. Polly too is used effectively; the established pairing of her and Ben allows her to challenge her friend’s newly enforced beliefs about the colony without the antagonism that this produces in Jamie. She also gets to scream “Macra! They’re in Control!!” rather effectively at the end of episode two. But it is Troughton who really steals the show. 

For the first time since ‘The Power of the Daleks’ (in which he seemingly knew that he would encounter Daleks on Vulcan), the Second Doctor gets proactive. Armed with foreknowledge of giant clawed monsters thanks to the rather gimmicky use of the time scanner at the end of ‘The Moonbase’, the Doctor sets about searching for the hidden menace that lurks within the colony from the outset and clearly takes delight in doing so. I noted when I reviewed ‘The Highlanders’ that having been presented with the problem of rescuing his friends, he seemed to be enjoying himself, and I also get that impression from ‘The Macra Terror’. Throughout the story, he searches for the truth, but more than that he tries to encourage others to do the same. When he says “bad laws were made to be broken”, I don’t think that he’s advocating anarchy per se (as some have suggested), but rather he’s railing against blind obedience of rules and advocating independent thought. In fact he says as much to Polly whilst checking to see if he has been too late to prevent her brainwashing. The Doctor is basically at his best throughout ‘The Macra Terror’, whether he’s proudly confessing to having sabotaged the conditioning apparatus in his companions’ rooms, or deducing the formula for controlling the gas flow so well that he smugly gives himself 10 marks out of 10 only to change this score to 11 out of 10 when the Pilot is visibly stunned by his mental agility. 

Finally, the Macra themselves are monsters in the traditional Doctor Who vein. The single Macra prop looks merely okay in the main surviving photograph, but in the surviving censor clips recently recovered, it is clearly used to rather splendid effect thanks to good lighting and direction. The concept of the Macra also works well, and although Control is essentially the chief Macra (which is white according to The Television Companion) and therefore presumably the booming voice heard throughout, no Macra is ever explicitly seen to speak; this is quite effective, since whenever anyone is menaced by one of the creatures, rather than having them gloating or explaining their plans, they are a silent menace. Clearly they are intelligent (exactly how they took over the colony in the first place is unclear, although the Doctor surmises that they came to the surface of the planet and found the colony there, implying that they are native to the planet and originally dwelt underground, which would make sense given their dependence on the gas found beneath the colony), but by keeping them largely silent, their intelligence seems more alien than it perhaps would if they directly spoke to anyone. 

In summary, ‘The Macra Terror’ is, at least in my opinion, a truly underrated classic and one deserving of a much greater reputation than it currently enjoys.





The Evil of the DaleksBookmark and Share

Saturday, 14 June 2003 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

‘The Evil of the Daleks’ is a masterpiece. Based on the soundtrack and episode two alone, it vies with ‘The Power of the Daleks’ for the title of my favourite Second Doctor story and it is one of my top ten favourite Doctor Who stories of all time. The reasons for this are many.

Firstly, the characterisation is superb. Whitaker always excels at this, and here is no exception. In episode one alone, we meet four characters, three of who are not present for most of the rest of the story, but who are all satisfying characters in their own right. Bob Hall, Kennedy, and Perry all play their parts in luring the Doctor and Jamie to Waterfield’s antiques shop, but they also serve another purpose in that they allow us to learn about the character of Edward Waterfield. We know from very early on that he is working for the Daleks and is luring the Doctor into a trap, which would normally be enough to make him a villain. Instead, via conversations between Waterfield and Kennedy and Waterfield and Perry, we learn more about his true character; clearly he is under enormous stress caused in part by his current actions, and is a reluctant conspirator. This is obvious from his fraught conversation with the Dalek in the hidden room, but the feeling is enhanced by his concern for Bob Hall when Kennedy explains that he knocked him out – Waterfield is clearly not accustomed to, or comfortable with, violence. He is also slightly aggrieved when Perry tells his employer that he won’t do anything “dicey”; Perry has clearly gathered that Waterfield’s strange behaviour has more to it than he is being allowed to see, but whilst this is true, Waterfield in turn is clearly unhappy that Perry believes that he might be a criminal. Finally, at the beginning of episode two, Waterfield discovers the corpse of the exterminated Kennedy and in that moment is shown to be completely out of his depth, as he almost breaks down on the spot. This then, is the secondary function of these characters; whilst they advance the plot by getting the Doctor to Waterfield and ultimately to the Daleks, they also allow us to gain insight into Waterfield’s character. That they are so well defined as characters is testament to the writing skills of David Whitaker. In short, whilst they are to an extent padding, they never actually feel like padding, so well portrayed are they. Likewise, later in the story we have Toby and Arthur Terrall, both of whom are seemingly superfluous to the larger plot; indeed, we never do learn why exactly Terrall ordered Toby to kidnap Jamie. Closer scrutiny reveals however that they play a subtler role; Arthur Terrall is under Dalek control, but the process used is erratic. Whilst it is clearly more advanced than the technology used to create the zombie-like Robomen in ‘The Dalek Invasion of Earth’ since it allows Terrall to retain his intelligence and personality, it is unreliable, since he frequently shakes free of the Dalek influence, leaving him confused and disorientated. Toby is used to demonstrate this, by presenting Terrall with Jamie and demanding his payment, causing both Jamie and subsequently the Doctor to realize that all is not well with him. This may seem trivial, but once the Daleks’ true plans are revealed, it makes sense, since the Daleks clearly cannot reliably control humans in this manner and therefore perfect the Dalek Factor instead; once processed, Maxtible is the perfect human servant, combining the loyalty and dedication of the Robomen with the intelligence of the original human. Toby also serves another purpose, since his extermination allows us to contrast Waterfield’s earlier reaction to Kennedy’s death with Maxtible’s far more self-serving reaction…

Maxtible and Waterfield are crucial to the success of ‘The Evil of the Daleks’. Here we see two men, both working with the Daleks, but for entirely different reasons and with hugely different characters. Waterfield is motivated by a desire to have his daughter released by the Daleks, which is his sole reason for abducting the Doctor and Jamie and going along with the Daleks’ schemes. John Bailey’s performance is outstanding, making Waterfield a hugely sympathetic figure and conveying a feeling throughout that Waterfield is close to a complete breakdown, caused by concern for Victoria and guilt at his part in the deaths of Kennedy and Toby and his part in a plan that he believes will make the Daleks invincible. Bailey is so convincing that it is hard to believe that he’s actually acting at times, genuinely seeming emotionally exhausted right up until the final episode. Waterfield’s sacrifice, his own life for the Doctor’s, seems appropriate to his character. He tells Maxtible that once he has Victoria back, he will confess his part in the entire affair, including the death of Toby and is clearly seeking to redeem himself for his part in the Daleks’ plan; in saving the Doctor he finds this redemption, and as the Doctor promises to the dying man that he will take care of Victoria, he seems to also finally, find some peace. It is a surprisingly touching moment, demonstrating Whitaker’s ability to make the viewer care about supporting characters just as much as the regulars. Maxtible on the other hand (flamboyantly portrayed by Marius Goring), is a willing accomplice in the Daleks’ schemes, having been promised the secret of transforming “metal into gold!”, and therefore unimaginable wealth and power. He is motivated purely by greed, with a callous disregard for Waterfield, who clearly considers him a friend, and also his daughter and her boyfriend, the latter of whom he regards with clinical interest as Terrall suffers under Dalek control. It is inevitable that Maxtible will pay the price for his alliance with the Daleks, just as Mavic Chen did in ‘The Daleks’ Master Plan’. Despite this comparison however, Chen and Maxtible are very different characters. Chen was fully aware of the Daleks’ reputation and did not trust them in the slightest, but considered the risks of an alliance to be worthwhile, since the possible gains far outweighed them. Maxtible however, underestimates the Daleks from the start. He seems to genuinely believe, in spite of increasing evidence to the contrary, that he has entered into an arrangement with the Daleks, which they will honour. When he impatiently confronts a Dalek over their delay in honoring their side of the bargain, he finds himself physically attacked and is clearly frightened by this; immediately after the Dalek leaves however, he frantically justifies its response, obviously trying to convince himself that the Daleks simply have their own way of going about their affairs, which is different from his own, but that this doesn’t automatically mean that he cannot trust them. He is, in short, blinded by greed. Significantly, shortly after this confrontation, he sets about manipulating Terrall into obeying him, assuring him that the Daleks are confident in Maxtible’s judgement; having had his authority challenged by the Daleks, he desperately needs to assert it elsewhere and chooses Terrall because he is a vulnerable target. In addition, it was Terrall who stopped him from shooting Waterfield earlier on, at which time it was Terrall who was in a position of authority, and by reversing this Maxtible restores his self-confidence. However much he tries to convince himself that he is going to benefit from his alliance with the Daleks however, it is repeatedly made clear to him how woefully mistaken he is; the destruction of his house is the most obvious example, but once on Skaro he still tries to justify the Daleks actions, because the lure of what they offer is so strong; he impotently chastises them like naughty school children, only to have his confident façade shattered once more as he is threatened with severe consequences for failing to bring the Doctor to Skaro. Later, in the cell, he tries to convince Victoria and Kemel that he is the only person who can mediate with the Daleks in their behalf, but he is again trying to convince himself of his own importance rather than his companions. Tellingly, he also tries to convince them of the need to mollify him if they want to benefit from his supposed friendship with the Daleks; here, he seems to be finally realizing that he has made a series of terrible mistakes, and wants to ally himself with his fellow humans because he is at that point rejected by both them and the Daleks. This selfish remorse is swiftly dispelled however, when the Daleks finally offer him the secret of transforming metal into gold; once more blinded by greed, he refuses to heed the Doctor’s warnings and surrenders his humanity to the Dalek factor. 

The regulars are well served by ‘The Evil of the Daleks’, with both Troughton and Hines impressing as usual, and Deborah Watling getting a strong debut. I’ve noted that in both ‘The Macra Terror’ and ‘The Faceless Ones’, the Doctor seems to be enjoying getting involved enormously. This story is no exception, but on this occasion, he makes a serious error of judgement. During the first two episodes he is motivated by the need to recover his ship, and as he solves the clues provided by Waterfield to lure him into the trap, he gets to show off his deductive skills, easily following the trail of the TARDIS to the antique shop. This part of the story has been criticized for the fact that these clues are rather too obscure, but I don’t think this is really the case; the only leap he really has to make is finding the matches, and going to the coffee shop where they were purchased. Prior to that, he simply follows the blatantly suspect Bob Hall, and afterwards Perry meets him and tells him where to go. Having been transported back in time to 1866, he is immediately intrigued by the plight of Waterfield and Maxtible, and is clearly burning with curiosity as they begin to explain. When the Dalek actually bursts out of the cabinet however, the look on Troughton’s face is a testament to his acting talents, combing horror and even fear at having realized just who has set the trap that he calmly walked into. Having learned of what he thinks is the Daleks’ plan however, he soon settles into his previous pattern of trying to manipulate his opponents. He is obviously wary of the Daleks, gravely confirming Waterfield’s fears about how deadly they really are, but he quickly seems to become absorbed by his task of monitoring Jamie’s progress through Maxtible’s house in search of Victoria Waterfield. His irrepressible curiosity also comes to the fore once more, during a wonderfully quotable scene in which he confronts the controlled but unstable Terrall and tells him “I am not a student of human nature, I am a professor of a far wider academy of which human nature is only a part. All forms of life interest me.” More than anything however, it his manipulative streak that is most obvious, as he helps the Daleks because he strongly suspects that introducing the Human Factor into them will not have the effect that he thinks they desire. Ultimately, he is able to turn this fact to his advantage and the possible final destruction of the Daleks on Skaro, but he almost comes undone as the Emperor reveals its real plan… Whilst I’ve never seen the missing episode six, I can always imagine the smug look on the Doctor’s face as he proclaims “I’ve defeated you, I don’t care what you do to me now”, and I can always imagine his face falling as the Emperor retorts “The Human Factor showed us what the Dalek Factor is”. Ultimately, it his only his immunity to the Dalek Factor, not predicted by the Emperor, that allows him to finally defeat the Daleks. During the final episode, as the Doctor salvages victory, he is once again frantic, cajoling humanized Daleks into fighting the Emperor’s black-domed Daleks and telling them to ask the Emperor why they must obey orders. As he leaves Skaro and looks down on the carnage, the relief in his voice as he quietly mutters “the final end” is palpable. The entire story encompasses some of Troughton’s finest moments. Jamie (and indeed, Frazer Hines) meanwhile gets his own chance to shine, as he takes centre stage during episodes three to five. Inevitably, the largely action based sequences as he narrowly avoids the plethora of traps prepared by Maxtible and the Daleks don’t work as well on audio as they probably did in the original television story, but Jamie still comes across well without the visuals. His determination to save Victoria and do what he sees as the right thing regardless of the Doctor’s seeming objections emphasizes that he is not just the Doctor’s loyal companion, but a decent and heroic character in his own right; we’ve seen his bravery before when he faced two Macra in the tunnel and later boarded the Chameleon Tours aeroplane, but here he is at his bravest and most resourceful, overcoming every obstacle in his path. More than that however, we get to see other character traits as he saves and quickly befriends Kemel. In addition, his reconciliation with the Doctor in episode five cements their friendship once more, and really establishes the bond between that characterizes this Doctor/Companion relationship. Victoria also impresses; whilst she is clearly there to fill the traditional screaming female companion role, she is far braver and more resilient than a closeted Victorian upbringing might suggest. Although clearly terrified and on the edge of hysteria whilst a prisoner of the Daleks, in her very first scene she is also defiant in as much as she dares. Later, as soon as she has other human company, she seems to draw strength from it; when she, Kemel and Maxtible are imprisoned on Skaro, she focuses on her concern for Kemel rather than on her own fear, and makes her contempt for Maxtible plain, as well as continuing to show defiance to the Daleks. Because she remains a prisoner for most of the story, she gets very little else to do, but these character traits and Deborah Watling’s portrayal make Victoria instantly likeable.

Finally, there are the Daleks themselves. If they were cunning and manipulative in ‘The Power of the Daleks’, then here they are positively Machiavellian. The cliffhanger to episode six, which I’ve mentioned above, is a classic moment, made all the more memorable by the revelation of the visually impressive (judging by the photographs at least) Emperor Dalek. 

The Emperor is a creation that I’m particularly fond of, despite the fact that only appears for little more than one episode. The reason that I like it is because it provides a focal point for the Daleks’ absolute evil, a central governing mastermind sitting like a spider at the heart of the Dalek Empire. And frankly, I just think it looks and sounds great, which is why I’m glad that Big Finish have used it in their Dalek Empire stories. According to Andrew Pixley’s archive in Doctor Who Magazine issue 200, after the final battle at the very end of episode seven, the lights in its shattered casing come back on, to indicate that this may not be the final end of the Daleks, and I like to think that the Emperor, in some ways the Doctor’s ultimate enemy at this point in the series’ history, survives. The scope of the Daleks’ plan rivals that in ‘The Daleks’ Master Plan’, as they scheme to “spread the Dalek Factor through the entire history of Earth”, and achieve a total victory over humanity. They almost succeed, but in the end and thanks to the Doctor, they instead are defeated by humanity, as massed ranks of Daleks are infected with the Human Factor and civil war breaks out. Despite the unfortunate use of toy Daleks, the surviving special effects footage shows an impressively mounted and explosive climax, which is a fitting end to the last Dalek story of the nineteen-sixties. Finally, the humanized Daleks are a memorable curiosity, the incongruity of a Dalek announcing “He is my friend” and “I will not obey” leaving a lasting impression. It contrasts nicely with the Daleks announcing, “I am your servant” during ‘The Power of the Daleks’, because whereas that was said in the normal Dalek monotone, the humanized Daleks sound different due to greater vocal inflection introduced by the voice artistes to great effect. 

Overall then, ‘The Evil of the Daleks’ is deserving of the label “classic” and is a superb end to Season Four. Despite the mixed quality of the season and the poor use of the Ben, Polly and Jamie companion combination, the change in lead actor is achieved effectively, with Troughton quickly making the role his own. With a new status quo established amongst the TARDIS crew, everything is ready for Troughton’s first full season…





The Tomb of the CybermenBookmark and Share

Saturday, 14 June 2003 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

The Tomb of the Cybermen’ occupies a unique place in the affections of fandom; whilst missing, it was considered a classic, the Cybermen’s equivalent of ‘The Evil of the Daleks’ and an unqualified success. Then it was rediscovered, released on video, and whilst still regarded as a classic by many, also came under fire from others, with allegations of racism and a convoluted, illogical plot. Personally, having only seen it for the first time when it was recovered, I consider it to be an excellent story, well directed and produced and the best Cybermen television story in Doctor Who’s history. Before I sing its praises in greater detail however, I’ll address its flaws. 

Firstly, the cod American accents adopted by Clive Merrison as Jim Callum and George Roubicek as Captain Hopper are very nearly as bad as those of the Clanton brothers in ‘The Gunfighters’. I can’t really say anything in defense of this; they are thoroughly appalling. Fortunately, both actors are clearly trying very hard in every other respect of their performances, which goes some way towards compensating. Secondly, and most notoriously, there is the racist aspect. Toberman it is often noted, is the only black character, and he is a servant. In addition, Kleig and Kaftan, the other human villains, have Middle Eastern accents, whilst all the other humans are either British or American. Whilst I can’t really deny this, I remain unconvinced that either Pedler or Davis were in some way hate-mongering with this aspect of their script; during the previous two Cybermen stories, an attempt was made to show multinational cooperation in both the Snowcap base and the Moonbase, and whilst most of the actors were white, this is probably due more to the scarcity of black actors in Britain at the time than any ulterior motive on the part of the writers. The fact that Toberman is black and a servant does unfortunately stand out, but it is worth noting that he is a servant and not a slave; unless one assumes that all servants are black at the time in which ‘The Tomb of the Cybermen’ is set, this need not be interpreted as Pedler and Davis’ vision of the future. At worst, it is a sign of the times in which the story was made and whilst unfortunate, it does not distract from my overall enjoyment of the story. Likewise, Kleig and Kaftan are clearly not British, but then neither was Professor Zaroff; whilst Josef Furst’s accent stood out amongst the English accents of the actors playing the Atlanteans, allegations of racism are seldom leveled against ‘The Underwater Menace’. General Cutler’s instability in ‘The Tenth Planet’ does not generally cause fandom to suggest that Pedler and Davis were suggesting that all Americans are unstable or egomaniacal. In short, the decision to make Kleig and Kaftan accented villains in a British and American party was unwise, but I suggest that it stems from Pedler and Davis’ continuing desire to show multicultural societies in the future rather than any more sinister reasoning. Of course on the other hand, I could be wrong, and this could all just be unreasonable justification on my part of the flaws of a story that I otherwise happen to enjoy. 

In all other respects, ‘The Tomb of the Cybermen’ has aged well. The acting is generally superb, with all of the human characters far better characterised than the largely forgettable characters of ‘The Tenth Planet’ and ‘The Moonbase’. The addition of a party of traitors to the human group is largely responsible for this, and adds an extra level of danger to the plot. Kleig in particular is an excellent villain, brilliantly portrayed by George Pastell. Initially, he is merely ruthless and short-tempered, so eager to gain access to the Cybermen that he frequently lets his impatience get the better of him and has to be brought up short by Kaftan, icily portrayed by Shirley Cooklin. Just as in ‘The Daleks’ Master Plan’ Karlton occasionally appears to be guiding Mavic Chen, here Kaftan is often seen to direct the more impulsive Klieg, smoothly interceding when he argues with Professor Parry in episode one, and sternly ordering him not to raise his voice in episode two. It is Kaftan also who orders Toberman to wreck the spaceship and thus give Kleig the extra time he needs to access the tombs; when she tells Kleig that he has all the time he requires, he doesn’t know what she is talking about until Hopper enters. As the story progresses, Kleig displays other emotions; it is quickly made clear to him when he first meets the Controller that he has hugely underestimated the Cybermen and he is clearly terrified; when he emerges from the hatch in episode three he is almost on the verge of panic. It is not until Kaftan makes him aware of the potential of the Cybergun however, that he really shows his true colours; having gained some measure of the power he seeks, both over his fellow humans and over the Cybermen, he gives in to megalomania and also starts to demonstrate sadism. Ruthless and greedy though he was from the start, he is visibly corrupted by power and when a Cyberman in the tombs finally kills him, he is literally ranting like a madman. As with Chen however, his earlier doubts and fears mean that he is not just a two-dimensional lunatic, but a more fully realized character. Kaftan exhibits similar flaws, for all that she is more restrained; having been attacked once by a Cybermat, she is easily frightened by the sight of the dead creature in episode three, allowing Hopper and Callum to disarm her. Later, when she discovers what the Cybermen have done to Toberman, she panics and repeatedly fires her gun at the Controller despite the obvious lack of any effect, which results in the Controller killing her. Like her fellow Logician, she gives in to emotion under pressure and it proves to be her undoing. Even Toberman plays a important role; he is clearly very devoted to Kaftan, since his anger at her death allows him to resist the Cybermen’s conditioning, allowing him to first attack the Controller and finally seal the doors of the tombs, trapping the Cybermen within at the cost of his own life. 

The other human characters all serve fulfill their own roles adequately, with Cyril Shaps’ paranoid Viner standing out; he is characterised by his almost constant terror from the moment Hopper’s crewman dies opening the doors to the tombs, and ironically his death results from the fact that his fear of the awakening Cybermen is far greater than his fear of the gun-toting Kleig, who promptly shoots him. Of the regulars, Jamie gets very little to do, but Victoria gets a far more significant role than she did in her début story. Whilst this sadly results in a truly dire piece of acting from Watling as Victoria passes out from Kaftan’s drugged coffee, she is generally as likeable as she was in ‘The Evil of the Daleks’, and once more demonstrates resolve and courage in the face of being trapped in the revitalization chamber and later threatened by Kaftan. It is Victoria of course who saves her friends from the Cybermen by fetching help from the spaceship and persuading Hopper and Callum to open the hatch. Once more however, it is Troughton who really impresses. In addition to the charming scene in which he talks to Victoria about his family, the Doctor is memorable here for being at his most manipulative. I have noted previously how the Second Doctor likes to immerse himself in events, as typified by his refusal to leave the Moon in ‘The Moonbase’ whilst evil remains to be fought; this continues here, as he actually helps Kleig open the tombs (unbeknown to the Logician) apparently because, as he tells Jamie, he wanted to see what Klieg was up to. Curiosity is a well-established characteristic of the Doctor’s right from episode one of ‘The Mutants’ when he employs his gambit with the fluid link to force his companions to let him explore the Dalek city; by this point however, I think that his motives are not limited to satisfying his curiosity. In episode one, he tells Jamie and Victoria that leaving Telos became impossible as soon as the Cybermen were mentioned; I believe that he stays and actively helps Kleig to revive the Cybermen because he knows that they will probably succeed without him and he believes that he is the best hope they have of stopping the Cybermen once they are released. The Doctor is undoubtedly crucial to the defeat of the Cybermen; it is he who destroys the attacking Cybermats, persuades Toberman to attack the revitalized Controller, and eventually seals the tombs once more, more effectively than they originally were. 

Finally, there are the Cybermen themselves. I criticized ‘The Moonbase’ because aspects of the script and plot, coupled with the redesign of the Cybermen since ‘The Tenth Planet’, robbed them of some of their menace; here, it is fully restored. The Cybermen are actually frightening here, advancing remorselessly and with unstoppable strength towards their human victims. Their weird electronic warbling as they attack is strangely sinister, and the scenes of them striding rapidly through the tombs in pursuit of Jamie and the others in episode three are highly effective. Equally notable is the scene in which the Cybermen repeatedly punches the closed hatch from beneath, denting the massive metal lid, and reminding us just how powerful they are; the Cyber Controller’s demolition of the door of the revitalization chamber in episode four is another reminder. The scenes during episode two in which the Cybermen emerge from their tombs accompanied by their familiar and dramatic incidental theme music is one of Doctor Who’s classic moments. The Cyber Controller is an effective addition to the Cybermen’s ranks, and although not quite having the same impact as the Emperor Dalek in ‘The Evil of the Daleks’ it is nevertheless visually impressive. The Cybermats are also memorable, although they never actually seem very dangerous. The Controller’s pronouncement to the horrified Kleig that he will be “altered” and subsequent announcement that the humans will be frozen once more recaptures the horror of dehumanization represented by the Cybermen and largely glossed over during ‘The Moonbase’.

The production values of ‘The Tomb of the Cybermen’ are generally very high, with superb set designs; the tomb buildings are highly effective, especially the main room with its massive hatch and huge control panel, and also the revitalization chamber. The location filming in episode one is also effective, even if it does look suspiciously like a quarry… ‘The Tomb of the Cybermen’ succeeds admirably and is a strong start to Season Five.





The Abominable SnowmenBookmark and Share

Saturday, 14 June 2003 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

‘The Abominable Snowmen’ is a story with which I am very familiar; it was one of the earliest novelizations that I read, and I re-read it several times, and later on it was one of the first and better quality bootleg audio recordings of missing stories that I obtained. Despite this, it is a story that I have never tired of, which is all the more impressive for a six-part story. 

First of all, the setting is highly effective. The base-under-siege scenario occurs repeatedly during the Troughton era, but it is almost always used to great effect, and the Det-Sen monastery is one of the more memorable “bases” in question. The concept alone is novel, and it makes for a refreshing change to have story located on Earth in the twentieth century, but outside of England. Based on the surviving episode two, the location work is used well, with Wales doubling fairly convincingly for Tibet, albeit with slightly less snow than I might expect. The studio-bound interiors are even more impressive, and are very convincing, never really looking like sets at all. The Tibetan monks complete the picture, and are well characterised, with a range of different characters amongst them, which creates a feeling that this is a community, rather than merely a collection of stereotypes. Initially, the Monastery contrasts with the freezing and hostile wilderness outside to provide a seemingly safe haven from the marauding Yetis, but as the story progresses and it becomes clear that the real threat lurks within, it equally effectively becomes a far more sinister locale. 

The Yetis themselves are amongst the most memorable monsters of the era. Episode two makes it obvious that they look rather cute, and the story has been criticized for this, but their innocuous appearance contrasts hauntingly with the threat that they actually pose; after all, grizzly bears look rather cute, but are no less dangerous for it. The story opens with the brutal slaying of Traver’s companion on the mountainside, and later the Yetis commit further killings swiftly and efficiently; at the beginning of episode two, Jamie and Victoria watch in horror as the trapped Yeti, not yet revealed to be a robot, thrashes free of the rock fall entombing it, galvanizing them into flight. Ultimately, the viewer is never allowed to forget that they are extremely dangerous. The control spheres also are memorable, and the effect of the beeping sphere rolling along in the monastery in search of a host Yeti is well executed. In spite of this, the Yetis are silent throughout the largely missing ‘The Abominable Snowmen’, which might signpost a story that is destined to failure as an audio story. The fact that it doesn’t is due to the nature of the real monster, the insidiously evil Great Intelligence. The success of the Intelligence is due partly to the scripting by Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln, who portray it as a truly malignant force, keeping Padmasambhava alive in a ghastly cadaverous state for three centuries, whilst he toils away to create the robot Yeti. The concept of the Intelligence, a disembodied, powerful entity that can usurp the human mind is a concept that is often effective, and the particularly malevolent nature of the Intelligence emphasizes this, as it begins to spread, cancerously, across the mountain in episode five. But for all that it is well scripted, the real reason for its success as an antagonist is Wolfe Morris, whose portrayal of both the ancient and exhausted Padmasambhava and the thing possessing him is hugely impressive. During the scenes in which Padmasambhava speaks with his normal voice and begs for an end to the Intelligence’s work, he sounds like the wise and kindly man in whose benevolence the monks believe and whom the Doctor befriended three hundred years previously; when the Intelligence speaks through him and his voice changes to a sibilant hiss, his voice positively drips with evil, and even more so when the voices are combined and the Intelligence speaks to Songsten in a cold, hard version of the old master’s voice. During the final battle as the Intelligence pits itself against the Doctor whilst simultaneously controlling the Yetis and halting Victoria in her tracks, it briefly seems undefeatable, making for a dramatic climax. 

The Doctor is at his best here, with Troughton once more at the peak of his acting powers. The idea of having the story as a partial sequel to an untelevised adventure is effective. Prior adventures have been mentioned before, from Susan’s hints of visits to the French Revolution in ‘100,000 BC’, to the Doctor’s first meeting with the Toymaker, referred to in ‘The Celestial Toymaker’, but never before has the previous visit played such a role as it does here; it is not unusual for the Doctor to walk blithely into danger, but here he does so because he has visited Det-Sen before and expects a warm welcome. The change wrought upon the Monks by the Yeti attacks makes an obvious impression on him, and he seems to respond to the threat more personally than in most of his previous stories as a result. His is deeply concerned and worried when he learns what has been happening, and when he sets about uncovering the menace with the intention of defeating it, he seems to do so more intensely than before. Compare his attitude here with that in ‘The Tomb of the Cybermen’; then, he quietly watched and waited, manipulating events to see what Kleig and Kaftan were up to and patiently anticipating the inevitable clash with the Cybermen, seemingly following his usual plan of fighting evil wherever he finds it. Here however, he adopts the task of helping the Monks with fierce determination, and when he finally learns that Padmasambhava is still alive and begins to deduce the true nature of the threat that he faces, he plans to fight the Intelligence with steely resolve. When he sends the Monks away and announces that he will defeat the Intelligence and they will be able to return soon, he allows little room for doubt; he will do what he promises. Unusually too, the final battle goes almost exactly as he intends it too; Jamie and Thomni destroy the control room and thus the Yeti, whilst he occupies the Intelligence and Victoria determinedly chants the Jewel of the Lotus prayer to prevent it from taking full control of her once more. There is no Dalek Factor or reviving Cybercontroller here; the Doctor and his companions head for the inner sanctum to destroy the Yeti and defeat the Intelligence, and that is exactly what they do. 

Jamie and Victoria also benefit well from ‘The Abominable Snowmen’. Jamie is usual resourceful self, and bravely tackles the Yetis even when he knows that they are machines. It is his plan to capture a Yeti that allows the Doctor to examine one, even though it is largely luck that causes the control sphere to be dislodged, and along with Thomni he plays an important role during the climax. As in ‘The Tomb of the Cybermen’, Victoria too demonstrates her inquisitiveness and bravery, keen to follow the Yeti footprints in episode one despite Jamie’s misgivings, and eager to explore the Monastery later on. Whereas in the previous story however, she played a crucial role in rescuing her friends from the tombs of the Cybermen by alerting Hopper and Callum to their plight, here she repeatedly pays the price for becoming involved; she is terrified by the Yeti in the cave, and again by the reactivated Yeti in the Monastery, and when she sneaks into the inner sanctum she is hypnotized by the Intelligence and used as a pawn in its attempts to persuade the Doctor to leave. Whilst the Doctor is able to undo this, he makes it clear to Jamie that unless he is very careful she is in great danger of lasting damage. Overall, Victoria’s experiences here are the first sign that the novelty of travelling in the TARDIS is already beginning to wear off…

In addition to Wolfe Morris, the guest cast also performs well. Jack Watling’s gruff Travers is the most notable, initially mistrusting of the Doctor and so single minded in his quest to find the real Yetis that on first viewing he might seem destined to be meet an untimely end, as is often the case with Doctor Who’s more determined supporting characters (Lesterson springs to mind). He soon befriends the Doctor and his companions however, and proves to be a likeable character, ready to admit his previous mistakes, and brave enough to stay at the Monastery to help out despite having been frightened by the shapeless form of the Intelligence in the cave and despite being offered the chance to leave safely with the Monks. His integrity is also suitably rewarded, as he spots a real Yeti during the final scene on the mountain. The ever-reliable Norman Jones’ Khrisong is another character that initially distrusts the Doctor and is so ruthless in his determination to protect his fellow Monks that he almost seems to be a villain; like Travers, he redeems himself and places his trust in the Doctor, but unlike Travers he becomes a victim of the Intelligence, slain by the normally gentle Songsten. The Abbot is also well portrayed; most notable is his quiet assertion to the Doctor that wants to help him find the answers in episode five. Hypnotised and turned into a puppet, he commits acts of evil under the control of the Intelligence, but in that single line, as the Doctor breaks the shocked Abbot’s conditioning, we get a powerful indication that trapped inside is a good man desperate to be free of the monstrous force controlling him. Mention must also be made of Thomni; whilst Khrisong’s paranoia and fierce devotion to duty blinds him to the Doctor’s protestations of innocence in the first two episodes, it is Thomni who is prepared to listen and who finds the Ghanta hidden in the Doctor’s cell, thus convincing the Monks that the Doctor is a friend and securing his release. Later, his friendship with Victoria and the hints that he really rather likes her are quite touching, and his quiet determination to stay and help the Doctor to defend his home further distinguish the character. 

In summary, ‘The Abominable Snowmen’ is another superb Troughton story. Despite being six episodes long, it never feels padded and the novel setting and eminently recognizable monsters make it stand out in a strong season.





The Web of FearBookmark and Share

Saturday, 14 June 2003 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

I don’t, on the whole, agonize over the fact that there are missing episodes of Doctor Who. Obviously, I would prefer it if the entire series existed in the archives and on those rare occasions when an episode or even, in the case of ‘The Tomb of the Cybermen’, and entire story is recovered, but I accept that most of the missing episodes were junked, don’t exist, and probably won’t be recovered. The reason that I’m so philosophical about this is that all of the missing episodes survive as audios, which frankly I’m enormously grateful for; there are not, insofar as I am aware, audio recordings of the missing Ian Hendry Avengers episodes, or the missing episodes of Doomwatch, or the last four episodes of The Quatermass Experiment, or any of A For Andromeda or Target Luna. Bearing this in mind, I consider myself as a Doctor Who fan to be quite lucky, especially as many of the black and white stories work quite well as audio dramas. And then I listen to ‘The Web of Fear’ and become enraged. 

‘The Web of Fear’ suffers on audio more than most missing Troughton stories, because some of the atmosphere is lost. This is evident from the surviving episode one, which at least sets the scene for the remainder of the story. There are two key points at which ‘The Web of Fear’ really suffers from the lack of visuals, and these are the death of Captain Knight and the massacre of Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart’s men, the latter in particular a lengthy and dramatic sounding sequence in which the actors playing the soldiers scream horribly accompanied by an impressive and foreboding instrumental score and really make me wish I could see the attacking Yetis. Nevertheless, I am grateful that ‘The Web of Fear’ exists in some form, because it continues the high standard of Season Five. 

‘The Web of Fear’ is the quintessential base under siege story, with the base in question being the army headquarters. But this not just a base under siege story; in ‘The Abominable Snowmen’ and ‘The Ice Warriors’, the barren and icy exteriors contrasted with the seemingly safe haven provided by the Det-Sen monastery and the Ice Base to make them seem welcoming, whereas here, the base feels like a prison, a claustrophobic last bastion against the encroaching web and the marauding Yetis. The entire story has a feeling of claustrophobia thanks to its tunnel-bound setting; even when the Doctor and his friends leave headquarters, they are generally unable to leave the Underground tunnels, which are increasingly cut off by the web. It is this claustrophobia that enhances the suspense of ‘The Web of Fear’ to truly impressive levels; the humans have no way of escape, and nowhere besides the base to retreat to. By the end of episode five, even the headquarters is consumed by the web. Then there is the dwindling supporting cast, as soldiers are killed by either web or Yeti, and of course the increasing paranoia as it becomes clear that one of them is a traitor. Episode one sets the scene well; Travers’ visit to Silverstein’s collection is filled with foreboding, and this is helped by the impressive incidental score sampled from mad composer Bela Bartok (and used in the previous story, also to great effect. And The Shining too, for that matter). It becomes obvious almost immediately that the immobile Yeti is going to come to life once more and kill Silverstein, leaving only the question of when; with Travers and his daughter gone, the familiar beeping of the control sphere heralds the reawakening of the Yeti and a terrified Silverstein’s death). Incidentally, the transformation of the Yeti is rather effective and is nice touch; since the production team decided to redesign them to make them less cute, it is nice to note that they actually acknowledged this change on screen. It also serves to accentuate the Yeti’s reactivation, somehow helping to make the entire sequence both sudden and shocking. Following this, the scenes of the TARDIS entombed by the web in space are also effective, and rather sinister. This marks the only the second time that the TARDIS has been interfered with in flight, the first being ‘The Web Planet’, and it is demonstrates the power of the Intelligence. Following this, the TARDIS arrival in the Underground allows for further foreboding, as the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria find the web covered corpse of the old newspaper vendor, and the true extent of the threat to London slowly becomes apparent. 

The Yetis themselves work better here than they did in ‘The Abominable Snowmen’, which is frankly rather impressive given the effectiveness of that story. Partly this is because of the redesign, which makes them sleeker and less cuddly, but mostly it’s because they roar and most importantly because they are in the London Underground. Jon Pertwee rather famously claimed that there is nothing more frightening than coming home and finding a Yeti sitting on your toilet in Tooting Beck; clearly, the man was outrageously exaggerating since it would be far more terrifying to find for example a heavily-armed lunatic sitting on one’s toilet than a zoological curiosity, but the argument does hold that the Yeti are more effective here due to their incongruity. In addition, whilst most of this story is studio bound, the impressive recreation of the distinctive tunnels of the London Underground recaptures some of the effect of seeing the Daleks glide around London landmarks in ‘The Dalek Invasion of Earth’. ‘The Web of Fear’ is the first Doctor Who story to show such an invasion in a contemporary setting, but of course not the last (and no, I’m not including the sight of one War Machine at a time lumbering unconvincingly around London). The roar of the attacking Yetis is surprisingly effective, and is memorably punctuated by the screams of their victims on several occasions. Another reason that the Yetis seem more dangerous here is that they are seen to kill far more people than in ‘The Abominable Snowmen’, where the Intelligence seemed more concerned with frightening the Monks aware rather than slaughtering them. In addition, they are seldom inactive; in ‘The Abominable Snowmen’, Jamie and the Monks accidentally deactivated one and later on the Doctor and Jamie struggled to stop a control sphere reaching its Yeti, whereas here this is never the case after the scene in Silverstein’s collection. When the Yetis do emerge out of the darkness, they nearly always kill or capture someone. The web guns are also worth mentioning, since they give the robot Yetis an effective line of defence against explosives and also provide and effective visual image as they emerge onto the platform in episode one brandishing weapons.

The Intelligence is less effective here than in its début, due I think to the vocal talents of the actors involved. In ‘The Abominable Snowmen’, the Intelligence voice was key to its success and due entirely to Wolfe Morris’s acting skills. Here, the Intelligence uses different pawns and the effect is less impressive. Whilst I like Jack Watling as Travers, when Travers is possessed by the Intelligence he sounds more asthmatic than sinister. Jack Woolgar is better as the possessed Staff Sgt, Arnold, especially since he sounds considerably different when he’s not under the Intelligence’s control, and he does manage to sound quite chilling, but he still isn’t as good as Morris was at conveying the entity’s sheer evil. In some respects, the script doesn’t help; the revelation that the object of the Intelligence’s invasion is actually the Doctor is a good one, and is to be congratulated for making this story more than just a retread of the Intelligence’s plans in Tibet, but once it has taken Victoria hostage it starts to gloat and sound smug, which makes it seem less alien, and thus less threatening, than in its debut. Despite this, it still works well enough as a villain however. The web, presumably the equivalent of the shapeless form that it was adopting in ‘The Abominable Snowmen’, works well and the seems far more unstoppable at times than even the Yetis, as it slowly fills the tunnels, hemming the humans in and also isolating the Doctor from his TARDIS. The ending is perhaps too similar to the ending of ‘The Abominable Snowmen’, with the Intelligence defeated by having its equipment blown up, but the twist that this prevents the Doctor from defeating it utterly is quite nice. In addition, because of the higher body count in this story, there is less of a celebratory feel once the Intelligence is defeated; Padmasambhava had been kept alive like a zombie in ‘The Abominable Snowmen’, and his death gave the impression that he had found the release that he wanted, whereas here the blackened corpse of Arnold is far grimmer testimony to the misery wrought by the Intelligence. 

There are more prominent characters here than in ‘The Abominable Snowmen’, but Lincoln and Haisman prove able to cope with the challenges this presents, giving every character, no matter how minor, distinct characterisation. Jack Watling makes a welcome return as Professor Travers, now having become the living embodiment of “irascible”. His portrayal of Travers as a grumpy, eccentric scientist is endearing rather than distracting, and provides a brief but welcome moment of comic relief in episode one, when he deals with the obnoxious Chorley. Tina Packer as Travers’ daughter is an attempt to portray a strong female character and should be applauded as such; she plays the part well, and does get to deliver a withering riposte to Knight’s patronizing enquiry of “what’s a girl like you doing in a place like this?”, but ultimately she is reduced to the role of either her Father’s or the Doctor’s assistant, which rather spoils the effect. The other supporting characters all work well, which is essential given the increasing “whodunit” aspect as it becomes clear that one of them is a traitor (Chorley is an obvious red-herring, whereas Arnold always seems too reliable to possibly be the traitor, which keeps the viewer guessing nicely). Special mention must go to two other characters however: Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart and Private Evans. Lethbridge-Stewart immediately makes an impact, thanks to his commanding presence, coupled with a charisma that Courtney’s previous Doctor Who character, the grim Bret Vyon, lacked. He is particularly impressive due to his tendency to lead by example, leading his men into a battle with the Yetis, which as it happens only he survives. He is equally brave when he agrees to help Jamie find Victoria in episode five, a mission that he suspects to be both futile and potentially suicidal, but which he undertakes in preference to doing nothing. He also noticeably starts to develop a rapport with the Doctor, despite the mutual distrust caused by the knowledge that someone is betraying them to the Intelligence, and it could be either one of them. Private Evans is rather different character, in that he is portrayed as a coward. The character’s strength however is that he is a realistic coward; his plaintive suggestion that they hand over the Doctor to the Intelligence as requested rings with terrified sincerity and is motivated purely by absolute fear, something the Doctor clearly realises as he gently promises to give himself up to save them if no other alternative presents itself. It is interesting that Evans contrasts so sharply with Chorley, also terrified but thoroughly odious, and is testament to the basic fact that Evans is really rather likeable. Whereas Chorley blusters when Knight sarcastically invites him along on a mission into the tunnels, Evans is much more frank when Jamie asks him why he came back to join him and he shamefacedly admits that he couldn’t get out through the locked gates. 

Troughton is as ever at his finest here, and as in Haisman and Lincoln’s previous script, he is determined to defeat the menace threatening London as soon as he becomes aware of it. In some ways, he’s even more central to the plot than usual, since he is the Intelligence’s objective. Although he seems at times to be vaguely flattered by this, he also quickly takes responsibility for the situation, as noted agreeing to give himself up the Intelligence to save lives. His final plan to defeat the Intelligence by turning the tables on it and draining it of knowledge instead of letting it drain him is seemingly a last minute plan; whilst he is probably confident that he will think of something based on enormous past experience of tight corners, his determination to walk into danger to spare others is always commendable. The fact that his frustration at having his plan to defeat the Intelligence once and for all inadvertently sabotaged by Jamie quickly evaporates in light of the lavish praise heaped on him by his companions at the end is a typically charming moment and serves to lift the atmosphere after Lethbridge-Stewart and the others grimly discuss the death toll caused by the Yetis. Jamie is once more on form as well, having been sidelined for the latter half of ‘The Enemy of the World’. His headstrong bravery is at its most evident, as he goes off with only Evans for company to try and find the Doctor, and stands his ground as web and Yeti approach in an unsuccessful attempt to defeat the Intelligence early on by destroying a glass pyramid similar to that seen in the Det-Sen monastery. Later, as noted, his determination to try and save Victoria manages to inspire an increasingly disillusioned Lethbridge-Stewart to action. Ironically, it is this headstrong streak that foils the Doctor’s plan in episode six, as Jamie leaps into action, “rescuing” the Doctor in defiance of his instructions, which results in the Intelligence’s short term defeat but leaves it floating in space as a potential future threat. Finally, Victoria’s brief reprieve from constant terror in the previous story ends, as she is taken prisoner by the mind-controlled Travers, taunted by the Intelligence, and terrified by her Yeti guard. Here more than in any story since ‘The Evil of the Daleks’, she is surrounded by death and fear, which leads neatly into her final story. 

Overall, ‘The Web of Fear’ is yet another in a string of excellent stories, and is a highly effective use of the base-under-siege scenario.





Fury From the DeepBookmark and Share

Saturday, 14 June 2003 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

‘Fury From the Deep’ is another base-under-siege story, but is sufficiently distinctive in several key respects to stand out from its immediate predecessor. Firstly, nobody in it dies. Secondly, as noted in The Discontinuity Guide, it features a strong female authority figure in the shape of Megan Jones, which is very unusual during this era. Finally of course, it marks the departure of Victoria.

‘Fury From the Deep’ (which I think is a great title, incidentally) survives the transition to audio much better than ‘The Web of Fear’ does, thanks to the highly distinctive use of the heartbeat sound made by the weed creatures. We are sadly robbed of the sight of tides of foam filling the refinery, but the pulsing heartbeat is still effective. The weed is an unusual menace, but it works well, partly because we learn so little about it, and because even in the original serial as filmed, it was barely ever seen. Whereas the Yetis and the Ice Warriors worked because they were physically imposing menaces, the weed works because it is almost amorphous, attacking with the ubiquitous foam, and toxic gas. The actual weed creature itself vies with the Rills and Celation for the dubious honour of being Doctor Who’s most poorly visually represented monster, given that no episodes of the story survive. Happily, scant footage of it does exist, in the form of the behind the scenes effects sequence included on The Missing Years video in ‘The Ice Warriors’ boxed set, and to be fair it looks quite good, but most of the finest scenes in ‘Fury From the Deep’ seem to be those where little is seen; Van Lutyens’ horrified pronouncement that “It’s down there. In the darkness. In the pipeline. Waiting” at the end of episode one as the heartbeat grows steadily louder is chilling, and similarly his scream as he taken by the seaweed in the impeller shaft makes this another tense moment. The entire story is full of claustrophobic moments such as this, including Victoria trapped in the oxygen store, and Robson being taken over in his cabin as foam surges in through a vent; this may be another base under siege story, but on this occasion, the enemy can come and go at will and cannot be locked out. 

In addition to this effective use of the foam and heartbeat sound effect, the menace in ‘Fury From the Deep’ is also effective from another angle, which is its ability to take over humans. For one thing, this only underscores the fact that the weed cannot be locked out of the base, since it has servants inside who help it throughout the story. It is the same principle as knowing that the Great Intelligence has someone working for it in ‘The Web of Fear’, but here the viewer knows who the traitors are and this too is used to build suspense; when the Doctor and Jamie are down the impeller shaft, and Oak and Quill are left in charge of the elevator, the viewer (or listener) is instantly aware that this means trouble. And then of course, there is that surviving censor clip of the pair of them in Maggie Harris’s bedroom. Oak and Quill work because they look unthreatening, almost comical, until they open their mouths and breathe toxic gas; I don’t think the scene is quite as terrifying as some fans would have us believe, but it is grotesquely horrible. In addition, prior to them actually doing this, the sinister incidental score makes it clear that they are a threat, and this also adds to the tension as Maggie is obviously at the mercy of these two strange men whom she has let into her house. Later, as Maggie fully succumbs to the weed’s influence and meets with Robson on the beach at the end of episode three, we get another creepy moment, as she calmly walks out into the sea. By the end of the story we find out that she survived, but at that moment she seems like a zombie, robbed of all free will, calmly and without resistance walking to her death. The weed’s sensitivity to noise, as well as being a plot device to give Victoria an important role in the resolution of her final story, also adds to the overall sinister air, because it results in the weed’s victims speaking softly; unlike the malevolent sibilant hiss of the possessed Padmasambhava in ‘The Abominable Snowmen’, this has a more subtle effect. Whilst not chilling in itself, Robson’s calm voice as he tells the Doctor to join the weed at the beginning of episode six makes it sound wholly reasonable that the Doctor should submit his free will and in some ways Robson’s quiet acceptance of what has happened to him is far more disturbing than if he had been forcefully insisting that resistance is useless. Finally, the physical effect of the weed’s influence, the fronds protruding from its victims skin, also looks rather creepy, at least based on the telesnap evidence. 

One of the interesting things about the weed creatures is that we never find out much about them. We know that they have been around for some time, thanks to the Doctor’s book of naval legends, but we don’t know if they are from Earth or outer space. We also don’t know why they suddenly want to colonize. It is strongly hinted that they are not intelligent per se, but derive their intelligence from their human victims, which would explain why they were content to lurk at the bottom of the North Sea until they came into contact with the rig personnel. It is unusual to have a menace in Doctor Who about which we learn so little and could be potentially frustrating, but here it merely makes the threat more mysterious. 

The supporting cast is generally pretty good in ‘Fury From the Deep’, although only a handful of the supporting characters really stand out. The Harrises are rather wet, and the Chief and Perkins are fairly forgettable, but Robson, Van Lutyens and Megan Jones are memorably well portrayed. Robson is the first of only two examples of an unstable base commander, supposedly a recurring feature during the Troughton era. Against the advice of his staff and all common sense, he repeatedly refuses to turn off the gas because he’s afraid of ruining his reputation. As the Doctor suggests, in this regard he comes across as a rather silly man, and he’s so bad tempered that he must be a nightmare to work for. The Chief notes that under normal situations he is excellent at his job, but as Van Lutyens retorts, “these are not normal circumstances”. Nevertheless, his descent into paranoia and breakdown is rather rapid even given the circumstances and he’s obviously got a chip on his shoulder when it comes to taking advice from Harris or Van Lutyens. Since Megan Jones does not seem like the sort of person to hand out jobs to her friends if she doesn’t genuinely think they are suited to the task however, this rather suggests that he has his good points. Indeed, this is hinted at early on when to Van Lutyens’ disbelief he manages to reduce the gas pressure and avert an explosion, suggesting that he does, as he claims, know every nut and bolt of the rigs and refinery. At the end of the story, with the weed gone, he also seems far more laid back than he did at the start and seems genuinely popular with his staff. Regardless of the character’s merits, Victor Maddern acts the part very convincingly, especially during the scenes with Megan Jones when his old friend comforts the tormented controller. He’s also very good during the scenes when Robson takes Victoria hostage, and later confronts the Doctor on the rig, conveying quiet menace and avoiding going over the top.

John Abineri, fully equipped with the most convincing foreign accent in Doctor Who to date, superbly portrays Van Lutyens. The character’s frustration with the stubborn Robson and his determination to deal with the crisis both come across well, and his ill-fated investigation of the base of the impeller demonstrates that he isn’t afraid to face the threat of the weed head on. He’s essentially rather likeable, attempting to be diplomatic with Robson, but otherwise seeming to easily earn the respect of Harris, the Chief, and even the Doctor. In much the same vein, Megan Jones is portrayed as a sensible authority figure, which is rather unusual in Doctor Who, as typified by the fact that she listens to the Doctor and quickly learns to trust him. The fact that she is female is, as noted, even more unusual for this era. 

Unusually, I find that the Doctor benefits here from being able to get to the TARDIS half way through, when he examines a sample of the weed. Very often, the Doctor is separated from the TARDIS to stop him from being able to escape; the fact that he can reach it here emphasizes the fact that he doesn’t matter whether he can escape or not, because he won’t whilst people are in danger. Troughton is particularly good at conveying a feeling of quiet strength and compassion, and he’s never more striking as the Doctor than when he’s wearing a quiet frown and determining how to defeat whatever threat he’s facing. His gentle handling of Victoria’s desire to leave is also thoroughly endearing. But Troughton also portrays the other aspects of the Doctor well, for example his alarm as he and Jamie are confronted by the rising tide of foam in the impeller shaft, and his obvious glee, even on audio, at getting the chance to pilot a helicopter. Jamie gets to show a more sensitive side than usual, as he is obviously heart-broken by Victoria’s desire to leave. His touching concern for her is demonstrated earlier too, when he finds her unconscious after Oak and Quill have dragged her away. His despondency as he and the Doctor wave goodbye to her on the TARDIS scanner always makes me wonder exactly how much he likes her… 

Victoria’s departure is very well handled. Having been repeatedly frightened during her travels in the TARDIS, especially when Varga kidnapped and bullied her, and after being held hostage by a possessed Professor Travers and a Yeti, her utter weariness at being afraid is thoroughly convincing. It is signposted throughout the story, as she bemoans the fact that the TARDIS always lands in trouble, and it makes for a much smoother departure than, for example, Ben and Polly’s abrupt spur-of-the-moment decision. Appropriately, she gets an important role in her final story, as her screams are the solution to the problem of the noise-sensitive weed, which is a nice touch given that she hasn’t really been of much help to the Doctor during the past two stories. I rather like the fact that after Victoria tells the Doctor and Jamie that she is staying with the Harrises they both stay overnight to say a proper farewell. Companion departures are generally rather hurried affairs, and it’s quite nice that, for a change, one of them gets to really say goodbye. And the Doctor quietly telling Jamie that he was fond of her too carries just as much emotion as Jamie’s more obvious unhappiness. 

Overall then, ‘Fury From the Deep’ is a great monster story, and a fine departure story for Victoria. It is an effective production and a fitting end to one of Doctor Who’s finest seasons. But unfortunately, ‘The Wheel in Space’ actually ends the season…