The Ghost MonumentBookmark and Share

Sunday, 14 October 2018 - Reviewed by Matt Dennis
 The Ghost Monument: Yaz (Mandip Gill), The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker), Graham (Bradley Walsh) (Credit: BBC Studios (Coco Van Opens))

 

BBC One (United Kingdom)
Broadcast on: Sunday 14th October 2018
Running Time: 50 minutes

There are spoilers in this review - so if you haven't seen the episode yet, and want to stay in the unspoiled, please come back later.

With the major festivities of that exciting and fresh-faced first episode well and truly out of the way, it's time for Doctor Who to settle in properly and get back to business. Of course, with a new head-writer in the driving seat and a whole new production team bringing a fresh approach to the show, business, as usual, could mean pretty much anything at this point. Judging by The Ghost Monument alone, it seems to mean both entertainment and frustration.

Like with the Doctor's other recently-regenerated incarnations, this second episode crash-lands our new hero onto an alien world (in this case, literally), before setting off with the herculean task of setting a tone for the new Doctor and her companions by testing their mettle. We’ve seen it done before in episodes like The Beast Below or Smile – throw the new companions into a completely alien environment and see how they cope.

Here, the marooned time-travellers must join the surviving participants of an interstellar race to survive the hostile dead planet of Desolation. By doing so, they stand a chance of finding the Doctor's lost TARDIS. But the planet holds a secret, and enemies are lying in wait.

For the most part, the episode has its charms and isn't without incident - there are some cracking ideas here that merit further exploration. But Chris Chibnall’s script is handicapped early on by a severe lack of momentum, with the episode spending too much time merely chauffeuring the characters from point A to point B. The main monsters of the episode - the ribbon-like Remnants - only make their presence properly felt in the final few minutes, and when they do show, it's largely underwhelming.

The big reveal of the alien world being weaponised by kidnapped scientists is a solid idea, but it's only mentioned briefly towards the end and never utilised in a manner that benefits the drama. Even more jarring is how the plot suddenly hints at a connection to the Stenza, last week's human-hunting aliens, only to forget about the whole thing altogether. Clearly, this looks set to be a continuing story arc thread running through this series (which is certainly welcome), but the reference feels clumsily forced here.

Of course, whilst the main crux of the plot is merely a hodgepodge of half-baked ideas (were the random robots really necessary?), Chibnall's script does deliver in terms of sound character moments, both for the main characters and guest cast alike. Jodie Whittaker is just as watchable and captivating as she was last week – ever-evolving in her portrayal of the Doctor, here showing off a bit of the Doctor's more judgemental, authoritative tendencies, but still the delightfully mad and upbeat character we met previously.

The Ghost Monument: Epzo (Shaun Dooley), The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) (Credit: BBC Studios (Coco Van Opens))Guest stars Susan Lynch and Shaun Dooley benefit from Chibnall's script as well, each of their respective characters getting a fair portion of the drama, with some excellent insights into their pasts and their motivations for partaking in the deadly space race. Chibnall’s strength clearly lies in his ability to identify and write the relatable aspects of a character, no matter the setting/situation.

Unfortunately, the companions are not all served by the script as well as they should. Tosin Cole's Ryan continues to get the most to do, whilst Bradley Walsh again provides the episode with plenty of heart (and a few banging comedy one-liners). Better yet, the previous episode’s major tragedy isn’t forgotten, which leads to a touching scene between the two bereaved men. However, Mandip Gill’s Yasmin still remains hugely underdeveloped, and oft-times her character feels severely inconsequential to proceedings. Of course, there may be more chance for her to shine in future episodes, but at this point, there isn’t a lot here for us to go on. Three companions plus a new Doctor may be a bit too much for the show to handle. Hopefully, this concern will be proven wrong soon enough.

Of course, the big talking point of this otherwise so-so episode is the big reveal of the new TARDIS interior. We only see it for a bit, slowly teased out to us as the Doctor enters, and it’s a lot to take in when we do. A slight return to the more organic look of the Davies era set, albeit with a more crystalline aesthetic as opposed to coral, first thoughts are mainly that it looks a bit cramped around that console and the lighting doesn’t quite do its grand size justice. However, it’s interesting and visually stunning enough to warrant more screen time in the future. Yet another box ticked for this new era.

Frustrating as the main alien plot is, there's still much to admire in The Ghost Monument - the direction and cinematography are both slick and sumptuous to behold, the new Hartnell-influenced opening titles look amazing, the cast is excellent, the ideas are imaginative and Chris Chibnall clearly has a talent for creating relatable characters in extraordinary situations. But the more pedestrian pace proves the biggest detriment to an otherwise decent episode, with both the monsters and any actual incident included as if they were merely an afterthought.

Entertaining but instantly forgettable, The Ghost Monument is nowhere near terrible, but for an episode that centres around a race to the finish line, it's ironic that it chooses to crawl instead of run!





The Woman Who Fell To EarthBookmark and Share

Sunday, 7 October 2018 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
 The Woman Who Fell to Earth - The Doctor	- Jodie Whittaker (Credit: BBC Studios)
Written by Chris Chibnall
Directed by Jamie Childs

Starring: Jodie Whittaker, Tosin Cole, Mandip Khan,
Bradley Walsh, Sharon D Clarke

First broadcast 6.45pm, Sunday 7 October 2018 

I'm the Doctor - Sorting out fair play throughout the universe......

 

Writer Chris Chibnall, and Director Jamie Childs finally present to us The Woman Who Fell To Earth. It feels like it has been a long time coming (which it has). Now for the big question...was it worth the wait? Absolutely. 100%.

 

There are spoilers in this review - so if you haven't seen the episode yet, and want to stay in the unspoiled, please come back later.

 

Talking of spoilers, I must say that the new team have done EXCEPTIONALLY well at keeping key story points away from prying eyes, something which is an amazing feat in this day and age, and  is a factor that I'm sure will help this new series of Doctor Who become appointment television once more.

 

The Woman Who Fell To Earth is a story that has the theme of family solidly at its core. As the story unfolds we are first introduced to Ryan Sinclair (Tosin Cole), who at nineteen years of age is learning to ride a bike. Ryan has dyspraxia, a condition which has affected his co-ordination. The dyspraxia features in the story later on, and it is great to see the writer not being afraid at bringing something like this to the fore of the story, and to make it a positive factor for Ryan, by shaping his determination.

 

Ryan's Nan, Grace (Sharon D Clarke), and her husband of three years Graham O'Brien (Bradley Walsh) are trying to encourage Ryan in his efforts, which end with a very frustrated Ryan throwing the bike off a cliff. When Ryan tries to retrieve the bike he stumbles across some strange, glowing geometric shapes, that when touched, result in a large blue...blob suddenly appearing. Ryan calls the police and as a result we meet Yasmin Kahn (Mandip Gill).

 

From here the action moves swiftly onto a train that is under siege by an alien force. Graham and Grace are both caught up in events, urging Ryan and Yasmin to rush to help them. It is here that our new Doctor literally drops from the sky and takes complete control of the situation. Jodie Whittaker's first scenes immediately reassure the viewer that the character of the Doctor is in very safe hands.

 

 The Woman Who Fell to Earth - Ryan Sinclair - Tosin Cole (Credit: BBC Studios)What follows (for the most part) is a regeneration story that (I would say) is most comparable to The Eleventh Hour. In it we have an alien warrior on a hunt, which once the hunt is completed, will ensure his succession on his home world. It of course falls to the Doctor and her new friends to stop him, and protect the hunter's  prey.

 

Along the way we learn that the TARDIS is missing and that the Doctor can build a sonic screwdriver by combining a small piece of alien technology along with some spoons. We also learn that the Doctor will stop at nothing to protect her new friends, and even strangers. 

 

Things suddenly become very serious towards the end of the story, with the surprising, and rather shocking death of Grace. The aftermath of which is very sensitively handled. So much so in fact that I did wonder how the Doctor's new friends would be written into the next story, which is resolved quite simply by the Doctor accidentally kidnapping them all.

 

Oh - and along the way the Doctor gets her new outfit from a charity shop - which I think is quite a perfect way for her to acquire new clothes.

 

 

The story positively romps along. Chibnall obviously loves the characters that he has created. The background on the companions (there I have said it! Companions!) is quite rich. Ryan gets the most development. The story opens with him saying the line "So today, I want to talk about the greatest woman I ever met." Of course at the start of the story we immediately think that he is referring to the Doctor, but by the time we reach the end, and catch up with Ryan, we realise that he is referring to his Nan, Grace. It's a clever and beautiful piece of writing.The Woman Who Fell to Earth: Graham (Bradley Walsh), Yaz (Mandip Gill) (Credit: BBC/BBC Worldwide (Ben Blackall))

 

Graham also get's his fair share of screen time, with his character (as probably to be expected) having many of the funnier lines. His speech, at Grace's funeral is particularly moving. I did feel though that Yasmin could have been given more to do. This is something that  I am hoping  is put right in future episodes.

 

So what of the new Doctor? well, she actually drops into a scene to the beats of the Doctor Who theme (more on that later). Here we have a massively confident debut for Jodie Whittaker. For me there were two absolutely defining moments. The first was her rather beautiful description of the regeneration process. Never has regeneration, and what it does to a body and mind been summed up so perfectly and in so much detail. The second is  the crane top speech to the alien hunter, which immediately shows that she stands firmly shoulder to shoulder with any man that has gone before her. The characterisation is re-assuringly the Doctor. She is quirky, full of energy, brave, kind and absolutely outraged in the face of injustice.

 

The feel of the show is fresh, and this isn't just because we are in Sheffield, and not Cardiff. The effects are very well realised and rather beautiful, especially in the rendering of the alien's other worldly Gathering Coils, a frenetic tangle of metallic tendrils and lights. Jamie Child's direction is urgent, but at no point does anything feel rushed. 

 

The Woman Who Fell to Earth (Credit: BBC)The biggest contribution to the shows freshness is the  writing. By killing off a seemingly major character in the shows first episode, Chibnall has created a feeling of very real threat and menace, and also a plot line that should bring two of the characters closer together. In the shows closing minutes the Doctor's new friends are literally dragged into her next adventure, which in itself should create some interesting character dynamics.

 

Ah! - The theme! There's no blast of the  new theme tune at the beginning of the story. In fact there are no credits at the start of the show all. However we do get to hear the new version over the end credits. Personally I think that new composer, Segun Akinola's closing theme is the best since David Tennant departed. Don't get me wrong, I loved Murray Gold's music, but I thought the main theme had lost i's way through Smith and Capaldi's tenure. I can't wait to hear his version played over the opening credits next week. To me, Akinola's main theme reminded me of McGann's. The incidental music throughout is also very good, and different to what has come before, but this again further freshens the feel of the show.

 

The Woman Who Fell To Earth is a confident opener to this new series, and an episode that heralds an exciting new era for Doctor Who. The story made this viewer laugh, shed a tear, and kept me gripped throughout - which for me means that the show hit all the right notes. In it we find a confident, yet down to earth Doctor, surrounded by new faces both in front of and behind the camera. Personally, I can't wait to see where they all take us next.        

 

 

 

 





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 years....you 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.