Planet of the SpidersBookmark and Share

Saturday, 21 April 2007 - Reviewed by Robert Tymec

There are several elements to this story that not only make it great - but even make it a bit beautiful: 

The first and most obvious one is the character of Tommy. Although we're never told why a person with special needs is allowed to roam freely about a monastery (and, from an extremely budhist point-of-view, it's almost sort of nice that it's never explained), his involvement in this story is crucial to its noteworthiness. As a viewer, I grew attached to Tommy in ways that I never have before in a Doctor Who story and, for that matter, never have since. I like him quite a bit already even before the Blue Crystal changes him, but as I journey with him after the change I, pretty well, fall in love with his character. So that when he finally dives in the way of the blast of mental energy in the basement, my fear for his safety caused me to produce an audible yelp. Amusingly enough, others who have watched this story with me had a similar reaction to that moment. Which just goes to show, really. 

Another really downright fantastic element of this story is K'anpo/Cho-je. At last, we meet this mysterious mentor of the Doctor's. Even though we only ever heard of him for the first time a season or two ago - we were immediately fascinated with him. And it's almost a bit sad that he does get referenced one or two more times in the series, but we never do actually see him again. Still, the meeting they have near the end of the story is completely worth stopping the whole plot for. It's a magnificiently scripted and performed scene. And the ultra-cool regeneration that follows as K'anpo morphs into Cho-je almost "steals the the thunder" of the Doctor's regeneration. 

Almost, but not quite. 

The strongest, most powerful, element of this story is the demise of the Third Doctor. Written in a way that is still quite grandiose (after all, Pertwee did carry the role for five years and deserved a noteworthy swansong) without being quite so intentional about it as "Logopolis" was. The grandness, in fact, is executed in what I feel is the "right" kind of way: through some really strong characterisation. The Doctor, because of the nature of his character, is frequently a "constant" in his stories. With little or no real sense of growth to him. But the journey he takes in this tale leaves him a changed man by its conclusion. And not just in a literal sense. And though there have been other stories where the Doctor had brief "snippets" of character growth (ie: the little moment in "Ressurection of the Daleks" after Tegan leaves where he feels he "must mend his ways") - this story really makes the Doctor's character growth its most pivotal point. And this is what really causes the whole story to shine. So that, as he collapses to the floor of the UNIT lab and bids his adieu - I am truly touched by his departure. It is, in my opinion, some of the most compelling drama of the Pertwee era. Thus making it the best note for the lead actor to leave on.

As has been discussed in other reviews, Planet Of Spiders has some very "clunky" moments to it too. If there's any evidence that the show was getting too dominated by Pertwee's personality, it's the chase scene. Purely a twenty-minute throwaway that becomes difficult to watch after seven minutes or so. It does almost seem like they're just completely indulging Pertwee's love of strange vehicles. But it does have, at least, some fun little comical moments to it involving the police officer and the sleeping bum. And even the Whomobile flying is kind of a neat twist. Even as fake as it may have looked. So, as bothersome as the chase sequence might have been, in some ways, it's still not as bad as all that.

I'm probably more bothered by the apparent "woodeness" of the cast of villagers on Metebellis Three. Wow, there's just some really bad acting going on in some of those scenes. Most cringeworthy of them all is the woman who played the mother. I'm sure she was cast because she was related to the right person. No one could have been impressed with her as an actress! The fact that she really painfully flubs one of her lines just makes matters worse. Easilly, one of the worst performances ever done in a Who-story - and there have been some bad ones over the years! But, if given the choice of going back in time and being able to alter only one facet of this story - it would be the re-casting of this character before it would be taking out of the chase scene. 

There are probably a few more weaknesses to this story but the strengths, I feel, definitely outweigh them to the point of making them painfully irrelevant, for the most part. The story shows some very strong continuity with the way it wraps up a few important ongoing threads that have been weaving through the series. One of particular noteworthiness was the final progression of Mike Yates. Ever since "Green Death", the series seemed to be doing some interesting things to him. Which I felt was a great move. Compared to the Brig and Benton, Mike was painfully bland in most of his stories. To take him through the journey they did was a nice touch. 

Another really nice touch was the fact that, although the story celebrates many of the quintessential aspects of Pertwee's era, it also strays from it in other vital ways. Thus giving the whole thing a bit of a "Caves Of Androzani" kind of feel. Like that story, things happen in Planet of Spiders that don't normally happen in the Third Doctor's tenure. And that aspect, in itself, makes the story all the more enjoyable. Particularly to someone who found much of this era just a tad too formulaic for his liking. 

So, the final verdict is that the story does have its fair share of flaws. But it also "transcends" (you can't help but use that word in a story about Budhism) a lot of the restrictions the series imposed upon itself at the time. And that, more than anything, is what makes Pertwee's farewell both memorable and even a bit beautiful. A very deftly-crafted sentimentalism that could have been easily messed up in less-capable hands.

Invasion of the DinosaursBookmark and Share

Thursday, 14 December 2006 - Reviewed by Michael Hickerson

When faced with the dilemma of either syndicating only five parts of Invasion of the Dinosaurs or leaving it out of the syndication package entirely, for years the BBC decided to just skip part one and show the five remaining episode. I'm not sure which this speaks volumes about more--the BBC's desire to make as much money as possible off Who sales and dump the first episode or the Pertwee era itself in which you can leave out an entire episode of a story and still not lose the audience. I do imagine had this been a four-part story, this would be a bit more of a dilemma, but maybe not really. 

It speaks volumes of the story telling of the era when you've got two stories that can skip an entire episode in the syndication package for years on end and the audience can still follow what's going on. It's a bit more obvious in Planet of the Daleks when the Doctor jumps from being held prisoner by the Daleks to suddenly roaming around free. But here with Invasion of the Dinosaurs, we can easily skip the first 25 minutes of this adventure and not be any better or worse off. Sure, you miss an episode that's right out the Hartnell years--full of a mystery situation and atmosphere, but in terms of the overall impact on the story, you miss part one and you're not going to be hurting too much. We know that dinosaurs are appearing and that London has been evacuated--something that is summed up by the dialogue early in episode two. 

Now imagine missing an episode of anything in the JN-T miss one episode and you're lost. You may never quite recover and figure out what's going on.

It's not intended to be a criticism so much as an observation about the era from which this story came. It was full of six-parters and a lot of them were padded like an over-stuffed couch. 

Such is the case with Invasion of the Dinosaurs.

It's not that it's a bad story concept, per se. It certainly fits in with the overall theme of the Pertwee era that humanity is its own worst enemy. The big problem with Invasion of the Dinosaurs is that we know all the players and the situation by the end of episode three and the start of episode four, but it takes another three episodes before it all comes to any kind of resolution. Invasion of the Dinosaurs is a story that's very repetitive--from the recycling of the Doctor in danger from a rampaging T. Rex for three cliffhangers to the fact that Sarah wanders on and off the alleged space craft for what seems like forever in the final two episodes. 

It's interesting to see Invasion of Dinosaurs as sort of sequel to The Green Death. It follows a similar theme of taking care of the environment, though this time instead of fighting those who choose to destroy it, the Doctor and company fight against those who take protecting the environment a bit too far. It's full of the shades of gray villains that made most of Malcolm Hulke's other Pertwee era stories work so well, though I will admit the characters are under-realized. Compare what we find out about General Finch and Minister Grover to the hints we find out about characters in the Silurians and it pales by comparison. And that may be part of the problem--in The Silurians or Frontier in Space or even The Sea Devils we could work up some sympathy or understanding of why people were taking the actions they did. Here we just get some scientists who want to roll back time and create a new Golden Age. We're never sure what their motive is or why they even appeal to their followers so. Why does Mike Yates suddenly turn on UNIT and his friends as he does here? Its' a nice twist but not one that is particularly motivated by anything. 

I'll give Hulke some credit--he does at least try to connect the dots a bit in his novelization of the story, which I read long before I saw this one on screen.

Which may have been a problem. When you read about raging dinosaur battles on the printed page, the only budget is your imagination. On screen from the 70s, it's a bit more limited. With the budget of Doctor Who, it's very limited, though you've got to give them credit for at least trying. In a day and age when we see such dynamic effects as Jurassic Park, this story pales by comparison. But then again, it's not about the special effects--it's about the stories. 

And that's where Dinosaurs lets us down the most. Visually, it is what it is. I will admit I laugh a bit at the dinosaurs who can't move three inches and are obviously badly done model shots. But if you have a good story, you can redeem a lot of visual faults. And sadly, Invasion of the Dinosaurs isn't a good story. It starts out well, but it's a diminishing returns kind of thing. The longer it goes on, the less story there is, until the final episode when it should be full of suspense and drama as the Doctor works to stop the Golden Age plan and instead it's just your standard ho-hum, I guess the Doctor will save everyone cause that's what happens on the show. Again, part of is this there are few, if any, surprises to the final three or so episodes since we, the audience, know all the players and their roles in the drama unfolding by episode three. 

And don't even get me started on the protracted chase that pads out episode five....

It's a shame really. Malcolm Hulke wrote some great stories in his time. But he ended his Who writing career on a downnote with this one. But then again, even Robert Holmes had the occasional lackluster story as well. 

But he got chances again in the 80s. Sadly, Hulke did not. It's too bad..he deserved to go out on a higher note than this one.

Planet of the SpidersBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 15 November 2005 - Reviewed by Adam Kintopf

People’s impressions of ‘Planet of the Spiders’ seem largely to be dominated by the chase scene in Episode Two, universally (and perhaps somewhat kindly) described as ‘indulgent.’ So, I might as well start with that. There’s no two ways about it, the chase is truly absurd – I mean, Bessie/mini-copter following Whomobile, then Whomobile following mini-copter, then *hovercraft* following *speedboat*? It’s harmless enough, it’s true - even fun if you’ve had a drink or two beforehand. But its sheer goofiness *does* damage the obvious work the production team put into the quiet, rather ominous setup in Episode One.

However, if the story as a whole is undeniably uneven, there’s still much to like about it. The setup, with its mysterious cult operating out of a country house in rural England, is the stuff of classic Pertwee Who. The Tibetan commune is by turns both appealing and eerie, with Lupton’s leading of the chants authentically hypnotic and rather frightening. When the action moves to Metebelis Three, it does look a bit cheap, it’s true, but the planet’s fakey blue skies have a lovely, very ‘seventies fantasy’ quality to them. (The look of the planet reminds me a bit of a Boston album cover.) Some Doctor Who fans, even old ones, complain about the studio-bound limitation of the classic series, and yet I’ve said before that, to me, the theatricality of these productions adds an enjoyable aesthetic that mere realism can’t match. 

And the planet’s ‘Eight Legs’-dominated culture is extremely well defined. A knowledge of Barry Letts’s interest in Buddhism, and his use of it in the earthbound parts of this story, help us to understand his vision of the spiders as the antithesis of the Buddhists’ ‘pure’ Eastern philosophy. The spiders are power-hungry, petty, and obsessed with social rank – and by allying with them, Lupton shows himself to be not just a villain, but a bad *Buddhist* (which is probably worse, in Letts’s book). The individual spider characters are memorable and distinctive – quite a feat, considering they’re identical, expressionless puppets. Of course most of the credit for that must go to the actresses who provide their voices – their vocal timbres are all similar enough to suggest the same species, and yet all three capture their different characters remarkably well.

The ‘Two Legs,’ as many have pointed out, don’t work as well, but they’re more functional than embarrassing. They serve mainly to illustrate the horror of the spider regime, and they actually do that quite effectively. One writer has said that the only thing that makes the Daleks scary is how frightened Doctor Who’s *characters* are of them, and the same principle applies here – when the villagers scramble in fear at the approach of the Queen, we believe in the spiders’ power, simple as that. Many U.K. fans, including ‘The Discontinuity Guide,’ have also criticized the production team for its use of regional accents with these humans. I can understand this annoyance, but as an American, I hear *all* accents on Doctor Who as ‘regional,’ so it didn’t trouble me tremendously. I would even go so far as to say that it annoys me how British fans seem perfectly willing to overlook the English accents in French and Italian locations for ‘City of Death,’ for example, while whining about West-Country ones here. (A much bigger problem is the UNIT haircuts - belief in the ‘militariness’ of this organization has never been so suspended – but that’s another story.)

As for the other characters, Tommy is of course a bit of an embarrassment – an ‘Of Mice and Men’ cliché who doesn’t really seem to fit all that well into this fictional world – but to be fair John Kane plays him with good taste, for the most part. John Dearth sinks his teeth into the ambitious Lupton with much success, and he really sells the scenes with ‘his’ spider, not an easy task for any actor. And the hapless Professor Clegg is used rather cruelly by the script, but he remains probably the most touching figure of the entire story. (Shades of Pigbin Josh.)

When we come to the ‘good’ Buddhists, George Cormack is thoroughly charming as K’Anpo – and yet, the character doesn’t quite work. He’s so obviously there just to set up the Doctor’s regeneration that he never quite engages with the story, or resonates as a full-blooded character of his own. A knowledge of Barry Letts’s personal obsession with Buddhism doesn’t necessarily help our appreciation of Cho-Je, who seems to be scripted entirely from fortune cookies, and Kevin Lindsay’s rather twee performance (speaking of accents, just what exactly is *that* supposed to be?) doesn’t either. Furthermore, it seems odd that a Time Lord would use a projected regeneration for such banal purposes – what does Cho-je actually *do* around the compound anyway? Answer the phone? Catch up on the paperwork? 

Sarah and Yates, on the other hand, are rather well used in this story. I know that Mike Yates is one of the less popular Doctor Who companions, and yet I must say that Richard Franklin’s performance grew on me as I revisited these stories, and I actually quite liked him in this one (flares and all). 

Finally, there is the matter of the Doctor’s regeneration, which is much praised by fans, but which actually seemed a little abrupt to me. To his credit, Jon Pertwee doesn’t ham it up in the least, but his ultimate change seems a little rushed, especially coming on the heels of such much ‘big’ adventure and exposition. But I suppose a fan could read this as a semi-conscious tribute to Third Doctor endings on the whole, which so often had the UNIT family suddenly having a nice laugh about it all. The Pertwee era always had a fundamental safety and innocence to it; in fact, ‘Planet of the Spiders’ is in many ways representative of the age. It’s overstuffed, slightly clunky, a little too loud, a little too long, but pretty watchable nevertheless. Jon Pertwee gets a gadgety chase, a staged fight, and yet somehow keeps his dignity anyway – he is the Doctor. And while these things sometimes make his stories seem a bit shallow compared to others, there’s much to be said for a ‘pure fun’ approach to Doctor Who . . . and I suppose anyone who fell in love with the show as a child would admit that this not always such a bad thing. 

Is it?

The Time WarriorBookmark and Share

Sunday, 30 October 2005 - Reviewed by Adam Kintopf

I love the Sontarans and Rutans. The idea of two alien cultures locked in unending conflict across millennia certainly resonates with many political dichotomies in our real world; those real-life dichotomies are usually sad ones, and yet an allegorical reading of the Sontaran/Rutan war is not without its humor too. Sontarans, especially, view everything they encounter *only* as it relates to their holy war – it’s a rather funny way to look at the universe, and how often in life do we see political parties going to extraordinary lengths to tie even the most neutral topics in to their agendas, and fighting as hard as they can *not* to see the other side? This becomes even funnier when we realize that never in classic ‘Doctor Who’ history did the Sontarans and Rutans actually appear onscreen together: we only ever got one side of the story, and we can’t help wondering, considering their insulated approaches to warfare, how often the two races actually met in battle at all. (Some fans have suggested that Russell T. Davies should finally have them meet in his new series, but I hope he doesn’t – I don’t want to see this amusing tradition spoiled.)

‘The Time Warrior’ introduced the Sontarans, and in the context of a refreshingly small-stakes story: Linx isn’t trying to destroy the Earth, or even to take it over – he just wants to fix his spaceship and get back to the front lines. The Sontarans’ fixation on their own private conflict makes them interesting villains in ‘Doctor Who’ history. After all, they couldn’t be further from the megalomaniacal individuals who make up the rank and file of ‘Who’ baddies – their encounters with humans in the series are usually irritating distractions, and here Linx’s annoyance with his situation is amusingly palpable throughout. Linx is humorless and impatient, and as macho as a sexless clone can be, but he is not a megalomaniac – he is simply focused on his mission. And if he can have a little sadistic fun in the process, well, where’s the harm in that? (Personally, I prefer the mask from ‘The Sontaran Experiment,’ but Kevin Lindsay is still marvelous as Linx – even if it is sometimes difficult to hear him as he shouts through his helmet!)

As for the story itself, its plot makes wonderful sense (for once), and events progress very naturally from one scene to another. Robert Holmes’s script may not be as funny as some of his others (specifically, his other [mock-] medieval story, ‘The Ribos Operation’), but it is vividly characterized, and this ‘primitive’ setting inspires the writer to great inventive heights: Irongron’s much-quoted metaphors are just a few examples of his colorful creations here. Some of the ‘medieval’ moments do tend to go a bit Renaissance Faire-y (you certainly wouldn’t accuse the cast of not having fun), but for the most part it doesn’t get in the way of our taking it all seriously. David Daker chews the scenery as Irongron, but likeably so – Holmes always had affection for small people with delusions of grandeur, and despite how hard the writer works to establish the character as a barbaric warlord, we can’t help liking him. (His repeated description of Linx as “Toad Face” gets funnier and funnier too.) Ultimately, Irongron is more like Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirate King than a real villain, and it’s almost a shame Holmes decided to kill him. Donald Pelmear’s take as Rubeish is extremely amusing too, and yet the character isn’t a mere buffoon – he is an absent-minded professor, yes, and yet he accepts the fact that he has traveled in time with a (wonderfully scientific) open mind, and of course it is he who bravely creeps up on the Sontaran and stuns him. And smaller parts like Sheila Fay’s cynical wench Meg and June Brown’s ambitious Lady Eleanor are made just as memorable as the principals.

And then, of course, there’s Sarah. For a generation of ‘Doctor Who’ viewers, Sarah Jane Smith will always be *the* companion, and her meeting with Jon Pertwee’s Doctor here can only be described as historic. The treatment of Sarah would vary from script to script over the years, but here she is everything one could want from a companion. In many ways, Sarah really steals this show – it’s isn’t hard to see why the Doctor is impressed with her, especially when she single-handedly leads a raid on Irongron’s castle! The introduction of a new assistant always presented ‘Doctor Who’s’ writers with an opportunity to reinvent the series, and here, briefly, we certainly get to see the Doctor and the TARDIS with fresh eyes – a rare treat.

A very strong story.

The Time WarriorBookmark and Share

Sunday, 30 October 2005 - Reviewed by Ed Martin

The Time Warrior is remarkably inauspicious given that it’s actually quite important, introducing as it does Sarah Jane Smith and the Sontarans. While Sarah in retrospect came out as probably the best companion ever (once the 1970s were out she hardly faced much competition), I sometimes wonder if the Sontarans deserved to become such comparatively big monsters. I know that the only reason they did was because Barry Letts was playing it safe and brought them back for the following season, thereby opening the floodgates, but even so: they’re not bad monsters, by any means, but I can think of better monsters that deserved more appearances (Zygons anyone?). That said, this is their best story, as all but one of the others didn’t have Robert Holmes (also known by his nickname, Lord and Master) at the helm.

Immediately noticeable with this story is the new title sequence, which is fantastic; in fact, for my money it’s the best after the Hartnell original. I prefer it to the Tom Baker version that followed it closely – it’s aesthetically more daring with its broken lines and swirls, and the way the picture of Jon Pertwee zooms out only to rush forward again and become a vortex is a killer. There are no cheesy two-dimensional TARDISes here, either.

David Daker cannot fail to make an impression early on: he is over-the-top to be sure, but not in a way that disrespects the audience like Anthony Ainley’s master would do. Here his performance is loud and vibrant, but carefully and caringly matched up with the tone of the rest of the production. John J. Carney as Bloodaxe, by contrast, is completely swamped. He does his best and so I won’t tear into him, but he simply doesn’t have the energy of Daker’s manic Irongron. However, his patronising and extremely obvious and clichéd characterisation as a West Country simpleton is very annoying, arr, so it be. The set of Irongron’s castle is poor, which is a shame as when it came to period settings Doctor Who was usually on solid ground: its plastic props and painted-backdrop brickwork perhaps explaining why Sarah initially believes it to be a fairground mock-up. Still, barring comparatively short interludes in the past in Carnival Of Monsters and The Time Monster, this is the first story to really make an effort to create a period setting since The War Games in 1969 so I suppose I can forgive them being a bit rusty.

A small globe is a nice idea for a spaceship, especially two decades before Star Trek gave us the Borg Sphere (and the Borg had ripped off the Cybermen anyway). However, the design of their ships – which have since passed into canonicity – were initially conceived so that Irongron could believe it to be a star, while the only reason this monster is called a Sontaran is so that Holmes can make a cheap pun on ‘Saracen’. Bear that in mind when watching the deadly-serious The Two Doctors, which Holmes also wrote but under the thumb of Eric Saward (oh so easy an excuse for a Holmes fan, but there you are). One thing that annoys me though is fans who moan about subsequent plots involving Sontarans attempting to discover time-travel, “when they had it all the way back in the 12th Century. The answer, I’d have thought, is obvious: Linx is from the future, jackasses! I have to say that Linx is brilliant, with Kevin Lindsay’s brooding sadist portrayal stealing the acting crown from Daker; it is hard to believe that this is the same man who played the affable and somewhat effeminate Cho-je in Planet Of The Spiders. As I said, this is the Sontarans’ best story, with Holmes doing what David Whitaker did so successfully with the Daleks: keeping his monsters in the background, as part of a story rather than the be-all-and-end-all of it. Linx is so much more menacing through not being rubbed in our faces all the time.

Jumping to the future, and the Brigadier’s line of “most of their work's so secret, they don't know what they're doing themselves” is a cunning way to avoid having to give a proper explanation why all these scientists are all bundled together for kidnapping. It’s interesting to see that Pertwee is mucking about like Tom Baker did in his last few seasons, but he may be taking advantage of Holmes’s shamelessly boisterous dialogue.

Although Sarah would be brilliant, a lot of this would be down to the relationship she had with her co-stars. This has yet to develop at this point, and her one-dimensional crusading feminist characterisation sees Barry Letts’s drive to be socially responsible misfire. I was going to do the old “DON’T ASK ME TO MAKE THE COFFEE!” bit, but then she actually said that line or thereabouts (I’d forgotten), which had me lost for words. Thankfully she became much more of a realistic character under Philip Hinchcliffe. Rubeish is also a very irritating character, Holmes tastelessly mocking his lack of vision and creating a character straight out of a dated 70s sitcom. He even mentions a scientist called Dingle, for crying out loud. It surprises me as well why he and the Doctor talk abut Sarah with raised voices even though she’s only in one of those temporary cubicles.

The drama of Rubeish’s disappearance is spoiled since we have already seen what happens to the kidnapped humans, but there is a great effect as the Doctor projects an image of Linx on the stairs (look closely and you can see his feet waiting on the landing beforehand). However, as with much of the season the characterisation of UNIT is dreadful, with the grunts living up to their nicknames and shooting at passing insects and the Brigadier uttering out-of-character lines like “oh my giddy aunt!”. 

It’s actually quite effective not letting us see Sarah’s reaction to the TARDIS (doesn’t the prop look tatty here?), instead just showing her wandering around. Her acting as she is captured is excellent, and it is easy to see why she would be so popular once the writers had got the hang of her.

There is some great location shooting (always a strength of the programme), which in part makes up for the tackiness of the studio sets. We see the Sontaran make-up for the first time, and it’s fantastic, much better than it would be in later years. I know it was uncomfortable and severely restricted Lindsay’s breathing, but even so I was sad to see it go in subsequent stories. However, my copy of The Time Warrior is the extremely old BBC video release from 1989 9still in good nick, mind) where the episodes are all edited together into one feature, and it becomes very obvious that Linx only removes his helmet to set up the cliffhanger. It’s slightly strange and not very dramatically satisfying to see him take off his helmet, pose dramatically for a second, then replace his helmet and walk off.

You only get lines like “narrow-hipped vixen!” with Robert Holmes. Sarah’s comment that the castle contains “no lights or cameras” could possibly be metafiction, but really it’s just Holmes having a massive laugh at everyone else’s expense, taking his revenge when Terrance Dicks made him write a period piece against his will (in fairness he turned the tables later with Horror Of Fang Rock). Linx’s comment about human reproduction is very funny, although his genuine interest in the more violent aspects of medieval society turns him into far more than just an average ‘evil’ monster. The robot knight is quite creepy, with its zombie-like gait and distended, out-of-proportion features. The Doctor knocks Irongron’s control unit out of his hand with a crack shot from a crossbow; Russell T. Davies wants a return to the non-gun bearing Doctor. All I can say is, he has a lot of contrary evidence to make up for.

Rubeish takes the idea of time-travel in his stride, babbling like an idiot; is he Holmes’s most annoying character ever? The music here is so rare that there isn’t really a place to discuss it, so I’ll just say quickly that Dudley Simpson, having passed his near-unlistenable electronic phase, is on good form.

Amazingly, Gallifrey is casually namedropped for the first time here as if its name had been known already (another important contribution Holmes (presumably) made to the show). Pertwee’s constant fighting with extras is getting tiresome at this stage, especially as it drives his character into the ground, although it’s not as annoying as him yelling “hai!” with every stuntman that goes down.

Linx’s description of Pertwee as “a longshanked rascal with a mighty nose” is hilarious, but in fairness Holmes chose a description that could equally apply to himself. The plot here is simple without being patronising, allowing for Holmes to avoid clumsy exposition while still keeping the story going. There is a bit of padding, I should say, in part one where the Doctor doesn’t arrive in medieval England until the very end.

The siege scene is fun, being nice and simple (which is not how Holmes had wanted it; his revenge again). The location scenes are very well directed by Alan Bromly, and even in the studio the very mobile cameras are nice to see. However, his handling of action scenes does tend to fall a bit flat. The castle sentry, I should add, is appalling. 

The cliffhanger is spoiled by my clumsily-edited tape, which just shows Linx shooting the Doctor and his subsequent fall to be possibly the slowest action scene outside The Aztecs. In the fourth episode, the Doctor masquerading as Linx to fool Bloodaxe is silly and pantomimic, but by contrast Sarah’s terrified bluff to the serving woman is excellently played. However, her feminist tirade is so clumsily written that I feel the need to point it out even though I went on about it earlier. There is a poor, shaky piece of action as the Doctor swings on a chandelier, and there is a horrible boom mike shadow on Linx at the end.

Holmes’s real weakness was his penchant for anticlimaxes; his endings range from deus ex machina overload (Spearhead From Space, Pyramids Of Mars) to the too lame for words (Terror Of The Autons). This isn’t one of his worst, but writing his monsters to have inbuilt weaknesses like Power Rangers’ enemies makes me cringe a bit. The final explosion is also a bit too simple, although no one can claim it’s not within the show’s limits.

Despite not being the best-realised period piece the show ever did, this is still a great fun story. It’s no classic, but given how most non-classic Holmes scripts get unfairly ripped apart (The Krotons, The Power Of Kroll), this is a story that actually tends to get quite fairly treated – maybe because Holmes’s unwillingness to write to specifications provides his advocates with a scapegoat. I’m only giving this an average rating, which spells bad things as it’s probably the best story of the season, which wasn’t Pertwee’s best. Taken story by story though, The Time Warrior is fairly representative: it has few pretensions (OK so it’s not representative of Planet Of The Spiders), but it’s just good clean fun.

Death to the DaleksBookmark and Share

Saturday, 29 October 2005 - Reviewed by Adam Kintopf

‘Death to the Daleks’ hasn’t got the best reputation. ‘The Discontinuity Guide’ pans it outright, and in ‘Pocket Essentials’ Mark Campbell damns it with faint praise, saying, “There really is little to say about this story, except that it is rather dull.” Add to these ominous opinions the knowledge that the Daleks were shoehorned into this story at the last minute, in a blatant ratings ploy, and we really can’t approach it with much hope.

It is quite surprising, then, that ‘Death to the Daleks’ turns out to be one of the best ever Dalek stories, and also one of the most entertaining stories from the Pertwee years. Terry Nation’s script, while unambitious, is straightforward and economical, and its various character groupings (space marines, Daleks, Exxilons, mutants) are well-characterized and effectively played off each other. But the real star of the show, unusually for ‘Doctor Who,’ is the direction. Michael Briant keeps this story moving at a brisk pace, and keeps the CSO, so often overused in the Pertwee days, to a merciful minimum. (I’ll take a 1970s wobbly-set story over a 1970s psychedelic-FX one any day.) Of course there are still inventive visual ideas – the ‘Dalek’s-eye view’ camera angle, while obviously thrown together on the cheap, is still effective, especially when the Daleks are under attack – and Briant may be the *only* ‘Doctor Who’ director to successfully elicit a kind of sly comedy from the Daleks. I love the black humor when the Daleks test out their new pellet guns on the Exxilons; the Exxilons may die instantly, and in hideous pain, but it’s still not quite good enough for the Daleks, who coldly comment, “PRIMITIVE WEAPONS, MODERATELY EFFICIENT.” And when the Dalek is destroyed by the ‘root’ at the lake, the reactions of the Daleks on the beach may be wordless, but they are as expressive as any depiction of the creatures in series history. (The thought expressed seems to be something along the lines of “HOLY SHIT!!! DID YOU SEE THAT???” A masterful accomplishment!)

Of this story, ‘The Discontinuity Guide’ says that “there really doesn’t seem any reason to have the Daleks in it at all.” I must respectfully but forcefully disagree; in fact, I would argue the success of the story absolutely hinges on their inclusion. Certainly, the Doctor would still have been able to destroy the ancient Exxilon city without them, but it should be pointed out that the Daleks are actually the ones who overcome the mysterious power drain, well before he makes it out of the city (albeit through brute force rather than intelligence). And not only do they make the Doctor’s adventures in the mazelike city somewhat redundant, they also *rescue* him on several occasions, however accidentally! Indeed, the Daleks here are (unusually) shown to be masters of their environment; despite having no weapons or bargaining power, they immediately take control of their situation, conning the humans, negotiating with the Exxilons to ensure exclusive rights to the parrinium, and of course developing new guns in extremely short order. They are presented as scheming and intelligent, scientific in their methods and ruthless in the extreme. And they are even made almost, *almost* sympathetic – there’s a kind of horrifying pathos when the unarmed Dalek charges the group of Exxilons shrieking “EXTERMINATE!”; it’s pitifully obvious that it’s the only thing the big bully knows how to do. And the ‘I HAVE FAILED! – SELF-DESTRUCT!” scene, while often ridiculed by fans, seems completely in character here – the Daleks, despite their reputation for rational behavior in the program’s later years, are extremely emotional creatures, psychotic and driven by a totally *irrational* hatred for the world and sense of their own superiority. Is it any wonder that one should have a nervous breakdown upon failure?

Aesthetically, the physical Dalek machines are good here too. The new paint job looks nice, and they seem to move faster and more fluidly here than they do in many later stories. The unusual decision to keep them in near-constant motion – moving back and forth as if to generate electricity through friction, and swiveling their eyestalks restlessly – makes them seem dangerous and alive, and not nearly as static and tank-like as they have so often appeared in the series. (If only the production team didn’t have to use that damned dummy casing in Episode One . . . but I suppose you can’t have everything.) They speak faster, too, and Michael Wisher’s voice characterizations, while they may not match the rawness and sheer power of Roy Skelton’s, project a cold intelligence and impatience that Skelton usually cannot match. (I remember reading someone describe the Dalek voices in this story as ‘bitchy,’ and they really are – Wisher’s “YOUR ADVICE IS NOT REQUIRED!” and the five-times-repeated “YOU WILL OBEY!” make it easy to see how frustrating and exhausting cooperating with Daleks would be.)

Some of the major faults pointed out by this story’s detractors also seem to me to be severely exaggerated. The Earth marines are frequently targeted for bad acting, but I fail to see how they’re much worse than the bulk of DW supporting casts over the series’ history, and I would go so far as to say Duncan Lamont is excellent, completely believable as the amoral (rather than evil) Galloway. And I’ll even go out on a limb and say that I think Carey Blyton’s saxophone score works beautifully. I’ll say up front that I’m not a huge fan of typical ‘Doctor Who’ music; Dudley Simpson’s scores are sometimes very effective, true, but they’re also sometimes so understated and tuneless that there might as well not be any music at all. Blyton’s ‘Death to the Daleks’ score is different – the music almost takes on the role of the storyteller. Yes, the tootling ‘Dalek March’ is a (major) misstep, but overall the music does everything an incidental score should – building tension in the suspense scenes, and setting the ethereal tone in the ones involving the giant city. (And the muttering, howling Exxilon chorus in the sacrifice scenes is simply terrifying.)

As for the other elements, both the regulars come off well (especially Lis Sladen), and Arnold Yarrow’s Bellal is a truly wonderful little figure, kind of a better fleshed out take on Wester, the friendly alien from the previous Dalek story. The gravel-pit locations for once work perfectly, giving the impression of a blasted landscape perfectly matched with the ruined civilization described in the script. Perhaps the weakest element is the ‘intelligence’ tests the Doctor and Bellal face in the city, which really are so elementary as to be obnoxious. But all in all ‘Death to the Daleks’ is a fine story, much better than is commonly thought.