Frontier In SpaceBookmark and Share

Sunday, 27 February 2005 - Reviewed by David Koukol

"Frontier in Space" is a high point from my favorite era of the show. While I adore the UNIT scenario, it is wonderful that the Third Doctor’s exile to Earth ended, freeing him to have adventures such as this. This story is far from perfect, but accentuates the strengths of the Time Lord’s third incarnation and casts some interesting light on this entire period in the show’s history.

Doctor Who didn’t attempt a sprawling space opera that often (only "The Dalek Master Plan" leaps to mind). There are many stories set in the future or on board space ships, but few serials present such an epic canvas which the characters are seen to cross: no "star map" of the Earth/Draconian Empires has ever been published by merchandisers, but none is needed: the script, dialogue, and production provide just enough for the viewer to visualize the rest of the landscape in the mind’s eye. Yes, there are several instances of obvious padding but even some of the repetitive escape/capture/escape/recapture sequences lend a feeling of a story happening on a vast scale.

Malcolm Hulke’s script is quite good. There are occasional moments of embarrassing dialogue (The Doctor referring to Jo as a "perishing panda" and his anecdote concerning mind probes are best forgotten; as are, indeed, the very cliche of "mind probes"), but these are rare gaffes. Far better are the sequences on the lunar penal colony (The scenes between the Doctor and the other prisoners there are full of great character moments, and the Doctor’s exchange with Cross is very memorable. "Doctor: (after Cross confiscates another prisoner’s chocolate bar): That’s stealing, you know. Cross: That’s what I’m in for ... Got a troublemaker, have we? Doctor: That’s what I’m in for." In fact, watching this serial now, it is interesting to note how it anticipates the opening episodes of Terry Nation’s Blake’s 7 in many ways.

The Draconians are a well-realized alien race: the scenes in their embassy on Earth and their home world suggest a well-thought out society, with plenty of room for further exploration. This, coupled with the excellent costume design, makes one wonder why they never featured in Doctor Who again. The Master is strangely comical in this outing: reading H.G. Wells and mocking everyone from the Doctor to the Daleks with equal scorn. It’s well played by Roger Delgado but perhaps the Master could have been written in a slightly more sinister vein. This is a minor complaint, however, and Delgado’s swan song is very entertaining, nonetheless.

The Doctor is fascinating here; this incarnation is justifiably linked to UNIT in the minds of so many people, but it is always interesting to see him operating without the organization to fall back on. It is easy to forget that, whereas UNIT depends upon the Doctor, in the UNIT stories the Doctor himself also depends on UNIT for support and/or rescue. Without them, he and Jo are refreshingly on their own, depending upon their wits and whatever allies they can find to escape and win another day. Pertwee’s Doctor is not only the stylish moral crusader, but one of the most physically active incarnations of the character, engaging in hand-to-hand combat with Earth soldiers, Draconians, and the Master, undertaking several space walks to repair and or escape from assorted space vessels, and so on throughout the tale. Storylines are obviously tailored for whatever Doctor is incumbent at the time, but it is interesting to ponder how well Doctors would have fare if placed in some of their counterpart’s serials.

As for Jo Grant... Hmmm. I am partial to Liz Shaw, myself, but Jo doesn’t come off too badly in this story. She resists the Master’s hypnotic effects and diverts attention from one of the Doctor’s escape plans (for a while, at least), proving herself far more capable than I have considered her in the past. In Episode One, she even deduces that the Daleks might be in command of the Ogrons, only to be shot down by the Doctor’s contention that Ogrons have many employers. All right, the Master was guiding the Ogrons, but the Daleks were ultimately involved as well! Perhaps it’s time for me to re-evaluate Jo Grant?

Perhaps the only disappointing feature for me is the final sequence. It provides the cliffhanger lead-in to "Planet of the Daleks" well enough, but, in a piece of poor (one might even say bizarre) editing, the Master simply disappears! He shoots the Doctor one moment, and then the Ogrons flee, leaving Jo to help the wounded Doctor into the TARDIS. In an eyeblink, the Master is nowhere to be seen! Where did he go, and why? This always puzzled me, and, coming right at the end of the story, it closes out the tale on a slightly unsatisfactory note. Nevertheless, director Paul Bernard does a fine job otherwise, and "Frontier In Space" remains, for me, one of the greatest successes of the Pertwee era.





The Ribos OperationBookmark and Share

Monday, 21 February 2005 - Reviewed by Keith Mandement

The Ribos Operation was the opening story of the sixteenth season and saw very much a final break in style and tone with the previous Tom Baker years. There has been plenty of comment about the humorous style of the latter Baker years, most of it misplaced. The humour here is as subtle and as clever as the gothic content of the Hinchcliffe years. The addition of the humour works. Season 16 as a whole works as does, for that matter, season 17.

The season was given a running theme, a story arc, which has since been replicated but never equalled. Namely the search for the Key To Time. 

The main drivers for this story are the relationships between the six main characters. Firstly there is the Graff Vynda-K and his trusty sidekick, Sholakh. These are two battle hardened veterans. From the looks of Sholakh he spent all the battles in the front line and from the looks of the Graff he spent those battles as far removed from the front line as Melchett in Blackadder Goes Forth. The Graff is a man who is bitter and has been deposed, he is driven by revenge and the desire to reclaim the Levithian crown. Sholakh, being a career soldier knows little else. His loyalty is wholehearted to the Graff. Theirs is a relationship borne in adversity. 

Another relationship borne in adversity, albeit of a different kind, is that of Garron and Unstoffe. Garron is played with a larger than life panache by veteran screen actor Iain Cuthbertson, best remembered by me in the wonderful Children of the Stones. His put upon sidekick is played by Nigel Plaskitt and actor whose two main claims to fame are being the voice of a hare on a childrens TV show and being "Malcolm" in the Vicks adverts for blocked noses in the seventies. Chosen career criminals, and portrayed as lovable rogues (Gawd bless em, they never armed anyone apart from their own) they have gone from planet to planet conning people out of their hard earned (or otherwise) goods and money. Constantly with an eye over their shoulder for the Police being on the run has forged a bond between them although I doubt either trusts each other. 

The final key relationship is the Doctor and Romana. Romana is a very different companion to any we have seen before. An equal to the Doctor, not in awe of him and very very aloof. A Time Lady version of Margot from the Good Life with The Doctor playing Tom to her Margot. 

Romana will lose, as the series evolves, she lost her aloof edge as she realised what was out there in the big old universe. However in this story Romana is at her most superior and there is some sparkling dialogue between her and the Doctor throughout the story. The Doctors annoyance at her putting a hole in the console to fit the tracer was wonderful, as was her smug superiority at the Doctor getting caught in one of the nets on the outskirts of the city.

In fact the dialogue is the best thing about this whole story. It fairly sparkles. Next to the dialogue is the superb characterisation of the main characters. The characterisation, and the motivation, of the characters is very well defined.

So the basic premise of the story, Garron and Unstoffe are trying to sell the planet Ribos to the Graff Vynda-K. They plant some documents to make it look like there are valuable mineral reserves on Ribos. The Doctor and Romana turn up and throw a spanner in the works. The story keeps going at a fairly reasonable pace, there are some interesting natives especially the seeker and, of course, Binro the Heretic played by Timothy Bateson, a man who has made his name in sitcoms as "middle class neighbour" or "Bank Manager" gives a truly sympathetic performance as a man who thinks the world is not flat and the planet revolves around its own sun in contravention of the thinking of the day. The interchanges between him and Unstoffe, hiding in the Catacombs, where Unstoffe reveals to him that he is right all along and one day people on Ribos will know he was right were truly moving. Worth a life !

Thank You Robert Holmes, for yet another superb story.





Planet of FireBookmark and Share

Monday, 21 February 2005 - Reviewed by Karl Roemer

The penultimate story of the Davison era, Planet of Fire is an fairly entertaining four part romp which wasn’t as good as it could have been. However it does execute it’s main agendas competently (the reappearance of the Master, the exits of Turlough and Kamelion, and the introduction of an new companion Peri), but it cannot be regarded as one of the highlights of the Davison era. 

The location overseas filming on Lanzarote is nice if slightly bland, although it is clearly obvious that the locations on Sarn quite clearly appear to be the same as those of Earth. 

The adventure starts off in the vein of most mid 80’s serials, with lengthy scenes inside the TARDIS, with the Doctor still distressed about the events of Resurrection of the Daleks, and Turlough being disturbed by an distress signal of Trion origin, an recurring theme throughout this story, with Turlough being forced at the near end to finally stop running from his people. 

Another recurring theme is Kamelion and the Master’s usage of the robot throughout the story as an slave. 

You don’t know why the Master is forced to use Kamelion until later on at the cliff hangar to episode three, with the big payoff as the rogue Time Lord is seen miniaturized inside an control box of his TARDIS. The interior of the Master’s TARDIS is disappointing, clearly being the same version of the Doctor’s but painted black instead of white. 

I also found the plot fairly tiring and confusing at times, the natives of Sarn appear to be shallow and rather dull people, being led by Timanov, an pompous and fanatical religious leader. 

It is also unclear whether newcomer Peri is actually in fear of her step father Howard, whom appears as one of Kamelion’s guises throughout the story. 

Nicola Bryant does make an very good debut as Peri, and her infamous Bikini scene in Part One is in context, and adds much needed drama and increases the tempo of an slow episode when she is seen to be drowning, and Turlough has to go out and rescue her, one of the first times on the series where we get to see this normally cowardly and selfish character risk his life to save another. 

Another observation for me is that in this story the 5th Doctor really lacked the strength and presence of the 3rd and 4th Doctors, and a lot of the time it is Turlough who is the commanding authoritative figure. Mark Strickson for mine puts in one of his best performances as Turlough whom finally faces up to his destiny and becomes an real leader for the first time, helping the survivors and his brother Malkolm return to Trion. 

Another performer who excelled in this story was the late Anthony Ainley, easily giving his best performance as the Master since Logopolis with an classy and menacing performance as the Kamelion-Master for most of the story, and I do agree with the sentiments that the 80’s Master looked far better in a business suit than that silly penguin outfit he was forced to wear so often. 

With all those elements taken into account, this story should have come across as exciting and fast paced, but sadly due to an number of factors, the thinness of Peter Grimwade’s script (I think it lacked enough substance to sustain it for the four episodes) and the rather drab and uninspiring direction by Peter Moffat (just compare the direction of Planet of Fire to the following story The Caves of Androzani and see what I mean !!!) and some bland acting from some of the extras (although Peter Wyngarde is superb as the fanatical Sarn elder Timanov) and the general impression I get is one of disappointment. This story had the potential to be so much better, I think too much was made of the natives of Sarn worshipping Logar and the concept of the natives worshipping technology was covered far better in Face of Evil.

It’s saving grace however is the nice and fitting departure of Turlough, and contains one of the best performances of the series of the late, great Anthony Ainley, and is an great tribute to his considerable acting talents.