The Evil of the DaleksBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 15 November 2005 - Reviewed by Adam Riggio

The first thing I think anyone who is attempting to review this story is bash your head against your desk at the prospect of having to add anything of consequence to one of Paul Clarke’s stupefyingly comprehensive reviews. So I will take an alternate track and approach it from an entirely different angle. However, I still think it’s really good.

I experienced the story from the audio soundtrack on mp3, the version narrated by Frazer Hines, who I would never have recognized since I only know his work from Doctor Who. This is why the only voice I can associate with him is that thickly overdone Scottish accent. I suspect this weirdness is shared by the rest of you whose Frazer experience is limited. Viewed in conjunction with the slide shows of the story on the BBC website, as well as an active imagination, is almost as good as bringing a VCR back to 1967 and taping the story as it was broadcast. If only TARDISes were more readily available to the Doctor Who fandom. 

As a side note, I expect most of the TARDIS travellers would ignore the salvation of the missing shows and instead a legion of horny high school fans would descend upon young Deborah Watling in whatever ways their own active imaginations could muster. But anyway . . . 

Characterization of everyone involved in this story, from the regulars and major guests (Edward Waterfield and Maxtible), to the bit players (Molly the maid, Kemel the wrestler, Perry the antiques dealer) is superb. The plot is intricate, and nothing ever feels like the filler that is almost necessary for seven episodes, simply because there are no moments without purpose. The first episode is probably most likely to be labelled filler, which I think is undeserved for the following reason.

The plot of Evil of the Daleks is a strategy game played by the Doctor and the Emperor Dalek. The Emperor aims at the destruction of humanity, and the Doctor aims at the destruction of the Daleks. These seven episodes are a game of chess with the fate of two species hanging in the balance. The suspense comes not only from watching these brilliantly portrayed characters, but from watching the different levels of this battle of wits unfold, plus the strange joy that both these master manipulators get from putting their schemes in action. 

Thinking of the plot in these terms, the Doctor’s detective work in the twentieth century is the start of the game. The Emperor has taken advantage of Waterfield and Maxtible’s time travel experiments, set up his Daleks in the mansion, and is using Waterfield as a pawn to lure the Doctor into their trap. And the Doctor waltzes into danger without even realizing it. So begins the Doctor’s manipulations of the Daleks. He learns their plan to isolate the Human Factor, but he understands what it will do to the Daleks when it is introduced. 

At the start of episode six, when the humanized Daleks first speak, the Doctor sees his plan coming to fruition. The Daleks have sown their own destruction by introducing the ability to question orders to their race. One of the first things the Doctor said when he discovered the Daleks had lured him to 1866 for the experiments was “I will not be your slave!” The Daleks treat their human captives as slaves. During the behavioural experiments on Jamie, Victoria is paraded about as bait and expected to obey without question. When Arthur Terrall, Maxtible’s prospective son-in-law, is fully enslaved to his Dalek control device, he bullies everyone around him into obeying him. He dominates by making people his slaves. And what phrase do the Daleks say more often even than “Exterminate” in this story? “You will obey.”

When Edward Waterfield comes to rescue the Doctor from the Dalek capital, crumbling in flames of civil war between the slave Daleks and the free – humanized – Daleks, the Doctor is inspiring one last group of the humanized to rebel and fight the Emperor for their lives. As the Daleks disappear down the corridor and Waterfield begs the Doctor to leave, what response does he get? “That’s all right. I’m finished.” This was his checkmate over the Emperor Dalek. 

Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor has the reputation as the grand schemer, the manipulative one for whom even his best friends are pieces in a strategy game. But Patrick Troughton here gambles with his friends’ lives just as much as McCoy did in the darkest of the New Adventures. In fact, his deviousness comes out even more in Evil of the Daleks, as we can see the plan forming from the start, then marching almost inevitably to the conclusion: the total destruction of an entire species. And what was the foundation of the Doctor’s plot? The essential part of the human spirit that questions, that will not obey. Maxtible dies at the end of the story, blown to bits with the Dalek city, but he really died when he was implanted with the Dalek Factor, when he lost his individuality. I find it quite appropriate that the Doctor defeated his greatest enemies, formless blobs in tanks indistinguishable from each other, with the spirit of rebellion. That was the spirit that motivates the Doctor from the start. 

Evil of the Daleks has wonderfully drawn characters. Its script and plot is fast-paced and engrossing even over seven episodes – three hours in one sitting. At the centre of it all, it is impossible to take your eyes (or ears) off the Doctor, so phenomenal is Troughton’s performance and so complex does his character appear here. It has a thematic depth that can be inspiring. All these factors make Evil of the Daleks one of the greatest Doctor Who stories of all time, no matter what form it may take.





The Evil of the DaleksBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 15 November 2005 - Reviewed by Andrew Farmer

As I write this there is much discussion on the new character of the ninth Doctor. My mind goes back, however, to my reaction to the first regeneration. Others have asked the question as to what the appearance of the second Doctor would have had on them had they seen it at the time, rather than with hindsight. In a word my reaction at the time was one of complete confusion.

The Tenth Planet led us to believe the Doctor was not well, but what was the change that we saw? How could a man change? I had nothing to suggest that the Doctor was not human - he was simply an old man with a time machine who knew a great deal. Today we look back on elements in the first Doctor's era and try to identify those that identify him as alien, but nothing had made me think so at the time of the regeneration. 

Ben's doubts spoke for me. Polly's acceptance of the change seemed irrational. However, if what I was watching was not the Doctor, then what the hell was I watching? The new Doctor's behaviour did not endear (though now the second Doctor remains my favourite). The Doctor simply does not behave as he did. Where was the gravitas?

My confusion remained. However, the appearance of the Daleks soon kept me hooked. Along with Ben and Polly it was the recognition of the Doctor by the Daleks themselves that confirmed for me that this must be the Doctor.

Looking back now the regeneration was genius. I do not simply mean the idea - but also its portrayal. We were not given an explanation. To have the Doctor change without any real justification was risky and, at the time, left me with questions I wanted answers to and these were denied to me. Getting a new body for one that was wearing out was not an explanation. Did my confusion detract from the story? At first, possibly, but Daleks put most things into the shade. In hindsight the lack of information increased the mystery and led us slowly on the path that led us to the War Games and the slow drip of information after that.

At this distance my memories of the Troughton era vary. However, the striking effect of the regeneration was so strong that it remains as clear as any. If the way that the regeneration was handled was meant to make an impression, it certainly worked. Who knows, if we had been given an explanation, maybe I would have accepted it easily and allowed the memories to fade. Thank goodness we weren't and they haven't!





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 Space PiratesBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 15 November 2005 - Reviewed by Shane Anderson

Conventional wisdom holds that the Space Pirates is long and dull, and an aberration in the otherwise stellar record of Doctor Who writer/script editor Robert Holmes. And for the longest time I believed that. The single surviving episode as released on the Troughton Years isn’t terribly impressive, and though I read the novel, I remembered next to nothing about it. However, in recent months I’ve come to reassess the story due to the amazingly restored survivng episode 2 on Lost in Time, and the narrated soundtrack. I’ve decided that I enjoy the Space Pirates tremendously and would love to see it recovered. 

Let’s get the weak parts of the story out of the way first. General Hermack is the weakest link, without a doubt. The character is not very credible as a general. He jumps to conlusions on very slight evidence when it comes to Milo Clancey, and he misses some blatantly obvious things about Madeline Issigri, namely her company’s use of Beta Darts and the fact that the pirates also use one. At the least, that should arouse suspicion, but it doesn’t, not even when the Space Corps chase the pirate ship, only to come on it with the disgused nosecone and turn away without the slightest questioning of the coincidence of two betas in the same area at the same time. Hermack is also badly acted with a horrible accent. “Ve’re going to be too late again!” he cries in a horrible delivery that almost made me skip the surviving episode the first time I saw it. His line “That’s why I’m a general” is also just awful. Here is where the plot largely should have been rewritten, to make the general a more realistic character. 

My only other real complaint is that the Doctor is upstaged on the action front by Milo Clancey. Clancey is a good character, but he gets way too much to do at the expense of the Doctor. Jamie and Zoe have even less of a role. It’s perhaps not essential that the Doctor have a central role in every episode, but he is the central character and should have a pivotal role in the story. At the least, the Doctor shouldn’t be upstaged by supporting characters. 

On with the good stuff. The plot holds together fairly well, and has some good ideas in it. It mixes genres in a way that possibly only Doctor Who allows, being a combination of western, space opera and pirates, with a bit of mystery thrown in as well. The idea of pirates attacking deep space beacons for salvage is carjacking on a huge scale, and the resulting financial gain for the pirates and Issigri makes for sound and believable motivation. We have criminals here not out for power, but simply out for financial gain, and it is hinted that the Issigri Mining corporation enjoys its wealth due to the pirates success rather than the worked out mines on Ta. And the space travel aspects of the script are not as tedious and drawn out as some would have you believe. There are several mentions made of extended travel time, but the story mentions it and then goes on with events, so it’s not really a drag. 

The Space Corps are the lawmen of the story, and the difficulty of tracking down and stopping the raids in the vastness of space is well conveyed. As I said earlier, General Hermack is too dense to be believable, but Major Warne comes across far better. They both play an important role in the denouement, being the only party with the raw muscle to take out Caven and his gang. They spend far too much of the story going from one place to the other and following false leads or Milo Clancey, but since there are plenty of other events taking place, it drags out the plot without slowing the story, if you see what I mean. Dense policemen allow the story to fill out its required length, while more intelligent lawmen would have ended the story at episode two perhaps. As I mentioned earlier, this is the main structural weakness of the story, that it largely depends on the stupidity of Hermack to make it's required six episode length. 

Moving on to Milo Clancey, I find that he really livens up the story. He’s by far the most colourful character, standing up to the Space Corps and the pirates with a nicely defiant attitude. He’s obviously the old prospector of the westerns, down to the way he dresses, and his accent is baffling (in other words, I have no idea what kind of accent it’s meant to be!), but he entertains rather than annoys. He is resourceful and capable, and it’s easy to accept him as a ‘law unto himself’ as Hermack puts it. He does however get a large chunk of the story that is usually reserved for the Doctor and companions, thus side-lining them to some extent. 

As for the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe, they really seem to be at the mercy of events around them in this story. They rarely get the chance to be proactive until well into episode three when they leave the Liz to search the tunnels. Arriving late in episode one, they are almost immediately set upon by Lieutenant Sorba’s soldiers, until Caven seals them into the beacon section where we see them in episode two. They really do go through a harrowing situation in part two as the oxygen slowly runs out and the Doctor’s plan backfires disastrously. Troughton, Hines and Padbury are great in this episode. Worthy of mention is Troughton’s very nice underplaying of the line “Zoe, don’t be such a pessimist”. One can easily imagine other Doctors trying to wring the humor from such a line, when the situation really doesn’t call for it. Also of note is the Doctor’s “Oh what a silly idiot I am” when he resigns himself to the fact that he’s really messed up this time. If not for Milo Clancey’s timely intervention, all three would have suffocated. 

From there it’s off to Ta. We are reminded of Zoe’s mental accuity when she works out that the course of the beacon fragments would have brought them to Ta anyway, and it’s amusing to hear her chide the Doctor for not working it out himself. The trio leave the Liz after deciding that they can’t trust Milo, which leads to the discovery of the Pirates down in the tunnels of the old mines, after which the Doctor and co. are promptly locked up. They are freed by Dom, only to be locked up again after being betrayed by Madeline Issigri. I do enjoy the fact that the villains of the piece are not all of the same mind when it comes to killing the prisoners, as Caven wants to do. Madeline is content to steal and profit from the theft, but isn’t so far gone that she’s comfortable with murder. Caven, who is a believably brutal thug, has no qualms about killing, as demonstrated by his shooting of Lt. Sorba, who survived the attack on beacon Alpha 7 only to show up and die in episode 4. This sets up friction and ultimately betrayal between Madeline and Caven, and allows us to sympathise with her, despite the fact that she’s responsible for much of what has occurred by supporting Caven in the first place and by giving him a base of operations. 

After this, Madeline’s father and Clancey’s old partner Dom Issigri, who has evidently been held prisoner by Caven for years, turns up. It’s been held up as a major plot hole that he’d be in his old study for ten years without Madeline finding out at some point, but there’s no indication that he’s been in his study that entire time, so it’s not really a problem. Caven has a suitable motivation for keeping the old man alive, which is control over Madeline should she get out of line at some point. Here the Doctor finally gets to go on the offensive and come up with the way out of the office and past the guards. Nitpicky fans of continuity like myself will hear Zoe say “what are candles?” and say “nice character moment” and then remember that she knew just what they were back in the Mind Robber. Tsk tsk.. 

The final episode has some suitably tense moments with the air running out on Clancey’s ship and the Doctor defusing the bomb set up by Caven. In the end things get tied up rather quickly, but this is hardly a fault restricted to this story. The Space Corp blow up Caven’s ship, the pirates are put out of action, and Madeline Issigri has to return to Earth to stand trial for her crimes. 

Judging by the film trims from episode one and the surviving episode two, the model work is quite good for the time. The musical score is perhaps typical 60s space opera with the soprano vocalist behind the score evoking the vast mysteriousness of space, but that suits the story just fine. The threats to the regulars seems suitably dangerous, and the plot holds up fairly well over the length of the story, though one could argue that better characterization for Hermack would have cut down the length and added some credibility to the Space corps. In short, the Space Pirates is a good story despite some flaws, and hardly deserving of the panning it often receives.





The War GamesBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 15 November 2005 - Reviewed by Ed Martin

Let’s make no mistake: The War Games is an absolute classic. It’s dramatic, exciting, and casts a real sense of scale that very effectively conveys the Doctor’s final inability to solve the problem he is faced with without sacrificing himself. However, as it’s so long (too long really if I’m honest) it takes a really hardcore fan to stick it out in one go. Also, there’s the practical reason of needing four hours to spare, which I rarely do; I’m reviewing this in two parts. Its great length certainly did it no favours on its original transmission; episode eight achieved a measly 3.5 million viewers, making it the second-lowest rated episode ever (that crown goes to episode one of Battlefield) not counting the broadcast of the pilot episode in 1991. This is a shame, as this is one of the three definite classics of season 6, and ends the second Doctor’s run and the black and white period on a spectacularly high note.

The specially designed titles, the first thing seen in this story, are a little too much to take though – anyone affected by severe strobe lights, take note. After this it begins properly in one of the most tightly directed scenes ever, in what appears to be No Mans’ Land in 1917. It is commendable of the new series to try and spice up the TARDIS materialisation / dematerialisation effect by such details as having snow falling off it in The Unquiet Dead, but for me there is very little that can beat the sight of the TARDIS appearing reflected in a muddy puddle, all in dingy monochrome 16mm film. The location scenes are brilliantly shot and edited and the barrage of fire looks brilliant, virtually matching what could be done in certain feature films of the time. The studio scenes are no less effective: the sets are as wonderful as the flawless period detail, and the lighting also deserves special mention for creating such a convincing effect of natural light in the chateau. Dudley Simpson also supplies one of his better scores, totally appropriate to the story.

One advantage of the story’s length (at least in the early stages) is that it can take its luxuriant time showing off its period setting to full effect, making the first episode brilliantly atmospheric – it’s almost a shame that this can’t just play out as an ordinary historical story. However, a sense of mystery is very effectively set up (always a benchmark of a good opening) with the inclusion of a couple of apparently random elements such as General Smythe’s viewscreen, and the amnesia of a few of the characters. The only problem is that Smythe’s mention of the “1917 zone” provides a bit too much explanation at so early a stage, even if it doesn’t immediately make sense. One notable aspect though is the aliens’ ability to hypnotise people, which is done in almost exactly the same style as the Master would a couple of seasons later; it should be mentioned here that Terrance Dicks, who wrote this with Malcolm Hulke, was the Master’s co-creator.

The regulars are on top form, as seen when they are marched before the general, although Jamie stamping on the Doctor’s foot is a slightly misjudged piece of slapstick from that great comedy duo, Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines. Hines and Wendy Padbury do well in this story, although they are not (and never were) in Troughton’s league. His performance in this story is faultless, making it especially sad that it is his final story (barring guest appearances) and also that so much of his era is missing, and it is easy to see why the team of Troughton, Hines and Padbury were so popular. The Doctor’s small and unassuming kiss goodbye to Zoe is very poignant, and presages the end of this story. The cliffhanger as well is terrific, the location shooting further emphasising David Maloney’s skill as a director: the composition of some of the shots is superb, particularly the establishing one of the firing squad.

The design of the SIDRATs is simple but effective, even if they do have a nonsensical name (Space In Dimensions Relative And Time, presumably). The sudden appearance of the Redcoat further increases the mystery, although conversely it offers an implied explanation for Smythe’s talk of zones.

The Doctor’s bluffing the prison commandant is essentially a comedy scene (nicely timed though); although the bravura performance from Troughton demonstrates why he was clearly the best actor in the role (Tom Baker was clearly playing himself, while Christopher Eccleston seems a bit self-conscious at times). When Zoe knocks the commandant unconscious Troughton does full justice to that gem of a line, “I think he’ll survive”. At this stage the premise is not too different to The Time Meddler, with anachronistic elements in a period setting. However, the final revelation is infinitely more compelling than its (still stylish) cousin. Suddenly entering the Roman zone is an unexpected and original notion, making for a nicely surprising cliffhanger.

With the third episode the incident count drops severely (and it’s going to get lower before it rises again), with lots of repetition, padded and superfluous fights, dialogue scenes more for effect than anything else, and lots of repetition. However, it’s all so well written and made that it is rarely any less watchable for it, even if it is merely killing time before the shattering conclusion. It becomes a story of ideas now, with the Doctor first voicing the notion of the world they are in being divided into different time zones. The need to go back to the chateau, even with the reasonable intention of finding a map of the world, is an example of the need for this story to go round and round to fill up its vast running time. The opening of the safe is a cool scene and well thought out, even if the explosion is predictably naff and small (the contrast between high explosives on location and fizzy sherbet in studio is always slightly jarring). The explosion goes off before the fuse has finished burning, goof fans, while Carstairs’s fooling the guard is another example of a character being bluffed – a recurring activity of this story – but it’s so tense it works fine.

Similarly the sequence in the German dug-out, while still great, is done to hold off the inevitable. It’s padding, like so much else, but it’s such wonderful padding, better than a lot of other stories’ best efforts. Also, it’s amusing to see the sonic screwdriver actually being used on a screw.

David Garfield makes his entrance as von Weich and proves himself to be skilled at putting on accents, making his surreal performance as Neeva in The Face Of Evil eight years later entirely unforgivable. Here though he is brilliant, one of those traditional villains so evil that I actually find myself hating him – a sure sign of an actor doing his job well.

The unassuming cuts between futuristic and period settings jar a bit, but then this story has the scope to fit such elements in together. The guards in their gimp suits look silly, but Edward Brayshaw as the War Chief is absolutely superb, a contender for the title of best actor of the season (although in fairness he faces strong competition from Bernard Horsfall in The Mind Robber and Kevin Stoney in The Invasion). His interior monologue, although not without precedent, is unusual and effective, giving a sense of back history and a possible link with the Doctor, further increasing the interest and the tension. Meanwhile back in the American Civil War zone the fights, although unnecessary, are well made with violence that is realistic without being gratuitous. In fact the production is so good, especially considering the number of characters and locations, that it should be noted that Derrick Sherwin was actually a good producer for the two stories he worked on in that role, even if he was working closely with Peter Bryant. Having said that the design of the future settings is perhaps slightly tacky with hanging sheets of plastic inside the SIDRATS and the groovy swirls in the alien sector.

The Doctor’s worry that there’s more going on than meets the eye is brilliantly played, as usual, and the idea of a teacher lecturing students in a BBC accent about how to hypnotise their slaves is just crazy enough to really, really work. Meanwhile Jamie is accused of spying, and his response of “not again” could be read as ironic. Also, it is interesting to note that a black actor is in the programme and not playing a mute strongman.

The scientist’s lecture gives us a sudden burst of exposition which does seem a little clunky after such a gradually-paced beginning, but it’s an interesting plot so it could be worse. This is followed by the spine tingling scene where the Doctor and the War Chief recognise each other, surely one of the highlights of the story, made even better through coming after a fairly quiet period and also because we don’t get to find out exactly how the know each other for quite some time yet.

The fifth episode is more of the same. The Doctor bluffs the scientist again, and even though it shows Troughton at his energetic best it’s still so repetitive that I’m repeating myself by talking about it. Oh well, I can only mention what’s on screen. Even given the circular nature of the scenes though, it’s still all so good, and sends Troughton out in a blaze of glory; it’s up there jostling for position with The Caves Of Androzani for the title of best final story ever.

James Bree is a rubbish actor (in fact he sounds like he’s doing a Dalek voice) and is the weak link in the guest cast – certainly he dies a death when in the same shot as Brayshaw. However, it is nice to see two villains who also happen to hate each other; this is a character dynamic seen all too rarely in the series. The major mistake though is that the Security Chief makes it fairly clear that the War Chief and the Doctor are of the same race, undermining the possibility of a dramatic revelation later on.

It is interesting seeing David Troughton in his small role as Private Moor; he does a decent job with the few lines he gets given, although his father casts one long shadow. His performance as a man caught between the two poles of authority (holding von Weich prisoner) and fear is very effective, and knocks spots off his slightly sappier one in The Curse Of Peladon.

The violence is actually surprisingly potent in its realism, with Carstairs shooting a guard in the head at close range and the Doctor hardly reacting. I’ve seen Spaghetti Westerns with comparable levels of violence, and they get 15 certificates.

When the Doctor immediately knows how to operate the controls, Zoe asks him how and his uncomfortable response of “it isn’t really very difficult” is excellent, a much subtler hint that the ghosts from his past are coming back to haunt him. If only those hints were all so well written and didn’t have James Bree spitting them out like a whiny baby the whole thing would be a lot better.

The SIDRAT crushing effect is simple and potentially dodgy, but saved through Maloney’s consistently excellent direction. The villains’ attempt to second guess the Doctor’s plan is funny, and an example of the wry, ironic humour that is much more appropriate to this story than the moments of slapstick and Michael Napier-Brown playing for laughs as Arturo Villar.

The War Lord gets a great introduction, with the camera panning down to reveal he has been standing next to the Security Chief unnoticed. Philip Madoc gives another of his four totally brilliant performances in the show, with his icy and collected portrayal of the main villain. I’d say he loses out to Brayshaw though (there aren’t many stories I can think of where Madoc wouldn’t win the best actor crown), and the scenes with the two of them together are magical. The only problem is that James ‘Brie’ Bree has to be there too, spluttering out his superior’s name in a peculiar fashion: “War --- LOOOOORRD!”

The Romans make a reappearance as the Doctor returns to the Games, and the story’s repetition is increased further by them actually splicing in footage shot for episode 2. It does lead to more brilliantly-shot footage of the 1917 zone though, so it’s not all bad; simple effects like placing the camera at interesting angles or situating it behind some dead branches make all the difference. I’d only be repeating myself further if I dwelled on the Doctor escaping from a firing squad again and in the exact same way, so I’ll gloss over it. It has to be said: The War Games is no easy story to review in such a linear way as this. However, with the château taken by the resistance, the plot really begins to crank up again now.

Another brilliant moment early on in episode 8, with the Doctor telling a load of guards brandishing guns “I’m not going to hurt you”. With regards to the Doctor and the War Chief knowing each other, the War Chief admits what the audience is aware of anyway – but it does lead to one of the most gripping scenes of the story, where they privately talk about their pasts with the Doctor managing to convey a haughty disdain for his people. In fact, the scene is so good that it makes me forget that it’s really just there to further the plot in an ordinary fashion; it also almost makes me forget I’ve seen after this story, as if I’m taking it all in for the first time. Is this the best expositionary scene ever? Could well be.

Hines does a comedy performance as the resistance leader (you’re just no kind of leader if you don’t have a limp). At least though the resistance starts to get organised, although in a goof with a capital Goo we see on the map that the 1917 and Roman zones are in fact nowhere near each other, let alone adjacent, throwing the end of episode 2 into confusion.

The Doctor’s apparent treachery is given an added edge by the knowledge that this is Troughton’s last story (put yourself in the position of a first time viewer); is this really the end? The Doctor and the War Chief are, as before, brilliant on screen together although the fact that the SIDRATs are breaking down does make me wonder what the War Chief would have done if the Doctor hadn’t arrived by chance. The episode’s first big scene with the War Lord about four minutes in has a guest cameo appearance from a monstrous boom mike shadow, a rare glitch in the production of this episode, but it’s all good stuff. The Doctor’s confrontation with the War Chief is well written and dramatic, but spoiled slightly by Troughton fluffing his lines (a rarity). Napier-Brown is a Mexican Ham Sandwich (OK so I just made that up, but I don’t have a lot to work with do I?), but at least James Bree bites the dust at last. On the downside, the wonderful Brayshaw goes the same way.

The Time Lords have so much mystique in this instalment it hurts. This is perhaps when they are at their best: we can feel their awesome power but we don’t get to see them, which has the twin effect of making that power all the more terrifying while at the same time not revealing how ill-defined they are at this stage. The echoing sound effect that heralds their arrival, coupled with Madoc’s foreboding delivery of a very simple line – “they’re coming” – increases the tension no end, and it builds up to a wonderful cliffhanger.

Now we come to the final instalment, the only real challenger to An Unearthly Child to be crowned best single episode of Doctor Who. It begins slowly though: in the studio recorded TARDIS interior the actors have to resort to slow-motion acting, which is less impressive. Also, the attempts to escape in the TARDIS smack of padding, although it is nice to see footage from missing episodes like Fury From The Deep. However, splicing in a clip from The Web Of Fear causes more confusion as it then requires an explanation for why the ship is suddenly covered in web. Bernard Horsfall, one of my favourite guest actors, provides a suitably doomy and sombre voice over, but in fact the design of Gallifrey is rather drab here (even the stepping stones across the dry ice seem a bit pointless). The Time Lords, as I said, lack depth but consequently retain their aura, and it is in some ways a shame that stories like The Deadly Assassin had to make them more realistic and less impressive as a result.

The chance of escape provides a genuine ray of hope and I half found myself wishing they would get away even though I knew they didn’t, and it makes the final end of the second Doctor doubly sad. Troughton gives a final tour de force performance in his last handful of scenes, even turning some slightly trite dialogue (the scene where he lists some of his old monsters seems a bit self-congratulatory) into something special, and is another reason why he was in my eyes the best of them all: I can’t really imagine any other actor performing that scene so well. The final goodbye with Jamie and Zoe is one of the programme’s most poignant scenes ever. The overall last scene is extremely important and very enigmatic, with Troughton spinning away with his face invisible. So ends four hours – largely of nothing, but what quality nothing! Also ends Troughton’s reign, and it’s a crying shame there isn’t more of his era to see.

The War Games achieves the impossible: to have a very padded four hours that nevertheless holds attention throughout. It’s exhausting to watch and I don’t do it often, but even though I watch it so rarely it’s still a shining classic of the Troughton era, of the black and white years, and of television science-fiction.





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Tuesday, 15 November 2005 - Reviewed by Nick Mellish

‘The War Games’- my favourite ‘Doctor Who’ story.

Out of over forty years worth of ‘Who’, this is the story which in my heart of hearts I truly believe to be better than any others. It lasts for ten episodes, it features a lot of running around, it has repetitive music, bizarre cardboard glasses and some very, very dodgy looking rubber suits: all these things are used against it, but for me they help to make it what it is: the best ‘Doctor Who’ story ever.

When I first saw it, I was eleven years old. I’d seen most stories, and those that I had not seen I knew about, aside from a handful, which included this story. One day, I was off ill from school, so as a treat my Dad let me rent out a video from the local video store- this was the one I chose since I reasoned it would take me a while to watch it.

I ended up getting through it by the end of the day; from its beginning- eerie surroundings, special sequence for the titles- I was hooked. All the characters were being well acted, all the effects were looking very nice indeed, and everyone seemed to be taking it very seriously.

The comedic aspects to come were a breath of fresh air; a nice contrast to the rather haunting nature of the story, but there is no escaping the darker aspects. This is a story about war- many wars, being fought for no real reason.

When you hear the Aliens reel off the numbers of new specimens to be taken to the War Zones, it hurts because you realise that they are replacements as so many people have been needlessly killed. Likewise, when you see Carstairs get put through the Mind Wiping process, it seems cruel and sadistic- something I shall return to later…

The length of the story makes everything seem so much bigger- the story’s scope seems to be larger than most stories, and everything has an epic quality to it; the incidental music reflects this, sounding as triumphant as the story tries to be. This is a story unafraid of trying to be big and bold, and it succeeds at being so. It is, quite simply, an epic adventure.

This is a story about raising the stakes, and raising the odds against our heroes. We’ve had base-under-siege adventures where hundreds of lives are in danger; this is a story where hundreds of lives have already been lost, and it is up to the Doctor and his group of fighters to try to save everybody, and it needs a group. The Doctor, Jamie and Zoë alone are not enough: they need help; they need the resistance, and even then the resistance are desperate to grow in number.

It is here that the story has its biggest shortcoming, in that the budget simply never allows for the Resistance to seem as large as it should, but rather than let this be a bad thing, we are presented with characters who are memorable enough to make us not mind that we do not see more extras. Who cares about the rest of the Resistance when we have characters as well rounded and loveable as Russell?

This is a story about running: the heroes run from place to place, time zone to time zone but time is running out, and you cannot keep running forever- you have to stop eventually. This is a story about stopping.

Of course, this is also the story that introduces us to the Time Lords, and despite how much I love what Robert Holmes did to them in ‘The Deadly Assassin’, I would firmly argue that they were never better than they are here because, everybody, for one night only, you can see why the Doctor fled his home planet.

The story is too big, the adventure is too over-whelming, and for once the Doctor cannot stop it- cue Time Lords.

Episode 10 of ‘The War Games’ is where ‘Doctor Who’ as a show changes forever. It starts off a tad ropey- attack of the stock footage!- but even this is fun, and more than forgivable given what is coming up. The trial of the Aliens is tense, a neat contrast from the fleeing of the Doctor we have just seen: from something so full of movement we are now presented with something so static.

This is where the parallels begin too. We have the War Lord’s trial reflected in the Doctor’s; we have the dispatch of the War Lord and the Aliens- death by dematerialisation- drawing parallels with what the Aliens themselves were doing: taking human ‘specimens’ and removing them from time forever; most horrifying of all, we have the mind wiping of Jamie and Zoë.

As mentioned earlier, when this happens before, the process horrifies us and that was when it happened to a supporting character. Now it happens to two regulars, it is too much to bear. You know something bad is going to happen- you can see it all in Patrick Troughton’s expressions; you hear that both Zoë and Jamie are safe, but it’s not enough; however it is only when the Time Lords both sentence the doctor to exile and force him to regenerate that the penny, as it were, finally drops: the Time Lords are no better than the Aliens.

The sentence imposed upon the Doctor is harsh and brutal- loss of two friends, loss of freedom and loss of identity. No wonder he fled whilst he still had the chance.

I could go on all day- there are bits I haven’t even mentioned: the absolutely terrific characters that are War Chief and the Security Chief, which are both superbly written and fantastically acted; I could mention the brilliant use of defamiliarisation- making the everyday object that is a pair of glasses seem so scary; I could go on at length about how this is the first time in ‘Doctor Who’ that you really, really care about the love lives of the supporting characters, namely Carstairs and Lady Jennifer. I could mention all this and more, but I have already gone on long enough.

‘The War Games’: my favourite ‘Doctor Who’ story for ever and ever and ever- I hope I’ve given a good enough reason for other people to love it as much as I do too….