DragonfireBookmark and Share

Saturday, 4 September 2004 - Reviewed by Steve Oliver

The Doctor meets an old friend, defeats a cold hearted psychopath and acquires a new assistant in a solid if unspectacular space adventure romp. ‘Dragonfire’ is most notable for two reasons. Firstly, for being the story in which the Doctor says goodbye (and good riddance?) to Mel, and secondly for introducing his new assistant, the ‘street-wise’ Ace.

The adventure begins when the TARDIS lands on Iceworld, an ‘intergalactic trading post’ from which the Doctor has been receiving a signal. Once there he meets up with Sabelom Glitz and a young waitress originally from twentieth-century earth called Ace. Glitz, having recently sold his entire crew to cover a gambling debt, has in his possession a map which he says will lead to treasure, and so he and the Doctor set off to uncover the mysteries of Iceworld. Unbeknownst to them they are being tracked by Kane, ruler of Iceworld, through a device hidden in the map. What starts out as a promising quest style adventure is spoilt somewhat by poor production design and sloppy plotting. 

And poor production design is where we shall begin. The most obvious thing one can say about this serial is how cheap the sets look. Indeed, the various locations around Iceworld in which the main characters travel through are pathetic, a garish example of bad production design. This, coupled with a very poorly realised dragon creature, looking rather too cuddly and never anything but a person in a big monster suit, almost completely ruin what could have been an enjoyable Doctor Who story. Now, some may argue that if you watch Doctor Who and consider yourself a fan, then you shouldn’t be bothered by the production design of a famously low-budget sci-fi show. I would argue that there are many examples of good production design running through the series history, ‘Ghostlight’, for example, looked a million dollars. 

Also going against this story is a plot which at times doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. For example, we are told that Kane has been imprisoned on Iceworld for three thousand years, and yet when it actually comes to the business of escaping it all seems rather easy. I should also point out at this juncture that ‘Dragonfire’ is full of padding, with lots of things happening that are more or less inconsequential to the plot. These include Glitz trotting off to recapture the Nosferatu and the failed assassination attempt on Kane by Kracauer and Belazs, and don’t get me started on the pointless sequences with the little girl and her teddy. The majority of Doctor Who stories are filled out with scenes that really shouldn’t be there, but when the main plot needs more explanation, these little diversions become ever more annoying. 

Whilst I’m dealing with the weaker aspects of the story, what the hell was that cliff hanger to episode one all about? Not only does it make NO SENSE WHATSOEVER, it is also slightly depressing in that it gives the impression the production team of the time were not too fussed about the show. It’s like they looked at the script and said, ‘OK chaps, this makes no sense, but let’s carry on regardless and make ourselves look like complete arses.’ At the end of episode one there was in fact a perfect place for a cliff hanger, when the dragon confronts Ace and Mel. The whole thing smacks of sloppiness. 

‘Dragonfire’ is saved by a wonderfully over the top performance from Edward Peel as Kane and solid performances from the rest of the cast. Peel delivers his lines really believing in what his character is saying, which is unusual in this era of the shows history when a lot of the supporting actors seemed to be playing it for laughs (Briers and Dodd, I’m looking at you). In fact, all of the main cast give good performances (Langford excluded), with McCoy beginning to get to grips with the role of the Doctor, playing it much straighter than before. TV newcomer Sophie Aldred, who plays Ace, begins her Doctor Who career in a less than convincing manner, although she would improve immeasurably through the next two seasons. I don’t think her early poor showing is entirely her own fault, as her dialogue is awkward and clunky. Streetwise teenagers at the time never said ‘Wicked’ or ‘Brill’. She is at least an improvement over Langford, who here demonstrates why fans hate her so much. Glitz, who returns after previously featuring during the Colin Baker era, is well portrayed by Tony Selby as a Del-Trotter style wheeler-dealer and small time crook. Although entertaining, it’s difficult to see what he actually contributes to the story. It would appear that he was included as a mechanism for Mel to leave the company of the Doctor and the series and for that, he will forever have my thanks. 

Performances apart, ‘Dragonfire’ also manages to clamber up the rungs of respectability with a classic Doctor Who moment when the Doctor, attempting to distract a guard with philosophical babblings, discovers that not all nameless henchmen are dumb heavies. Also worthy of mention is the excellent special effect at the end of episode three when Kane, exposed to sunlight, melts in an extremely effective and surprisingly horrific manner. I must also mention the incidental music, which is atmospheric without being too intrusive, and nowhere near as bad as what we got for the majority of the McCoy era. 

One of the big problems in reviewing ‘Dragonfire’ is that season twenty-four in general marked a different approach to making eighties Doctor Who. For the first time in a long while the show appeared to be aiming for the kids TV audience. Now, the rights and wrongs of this approach have been debated many times before and there is little new to say on this issue, but it does mean that season-twenty four stories have to be viewed in the context of what the show was trying to do at the time. Yes, it is gaudy, childish and at times very silly, but it is also a lot of fun. Compared with classic stories of earlier eras ‘Dragonfire’ will always come off worse, but then the two are incomparable to any real extent because season twenty-four was so different to everything that had gone before. 

In closing, view ‘Dragonfire’ as an entertaining and at times silly piece of entertainment and you’d be hard pressed not to enjoy yourself. Yes, it’s flawed, but is not as bad as some would have you believe.

FILTER: - Television - Series 24 - Seventh Doctor

Time and the RaniBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 4 May 2004 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

The transition from the Sixth to Seventh Doctor feels more jarring when watching the series in sequence than it ever did on television; with no year long gap, the sudden and ignominious departure of Colin Baker means that for the first time a Doctor leaves without a proper regeneration story. Despite the circumstances surrounding Baker’s departure however, the fact remains that his replacement provided the opportunity to usher in a bold new era with a new actor in the title role. Whilst John Nathan-Turner remains as producer, Eric Saward’s replacement with new script-editor Andrew Cartmel also provided the opportunity for a fresh new start, as a new talent arises to make its mark on the series. New Doctor, new script-editor; and a right load of old wank is the result in the shape of ‘Time and the Rani’.

‘Time and the Rani’ does not start well. Since Colin Baker refused to return for a regeneration scene following his sacking, Nathan-Turner unwisely decides to take the ludicrous measure of having Sylvester McCoy lying on the TARDIS floor at the start in Baker’s costume and a wig that makes the Taran Beast from ‘The Androids of Tara’ look convincing. In a staggering display of directorial incompetence, when McCoy rolls over a garish special effect is used to bathe his face in golden light and thus try and disguise the fact that he is wearing a stupid wig. The result is a man with a golden face wearing a stupid wig. To add insult to injury, the best explanation that we get for the regeneration is that the Doctor, who has previously been forced to regenerate due to radiation poisoning, a fall from a great height and spectrox toxaemia is suddenly susceptible to slight blows to the head. Makes you realize how lucky he is not to have regenerated before, given the number of times he’s been knocked out by blows to the head, although I suppose that at least would have made the series end many years earlier and perhaps spared us this drivel. A wiser director would have simply had McCoy lying on the floor in Baker’s costume having already regenerated off camera, but instead we are graced with a sequence that is about as welcome as a turd in a water tank.

I should lay my cards on the table and this point and say that I think Sylverster McCoy is the weakest actor to have played the Doctor in the television series to date; notoriously for example, he has trouble conveying certain emotions convincingly (more on that in future reviews). He does however, have an energy and charisma that I find works tremendously well, and as his era progresses and he settles into the role, he becomes, for the most part, a highly effective Doctor. Unfortunately, however, he is faced with several problems here, the main one being that Pip and Jane Baker were told sod all about how the character was going to be played, and therefore improvised. Improvisation by the Bakers seemingly takes the form of mixed metaphors, one of the few distinguishing features of the Seventh Doctor that is displayed here, and one that only lasts for this story on television. In all fairness, some of them are quite funny; I especially like “A bad workman always blames his fools”, and “Where there’s a will…” “…there’s a beneficiary!”, but the endless string of such uninspired examples as “Absence makes the nose grow longer”, “Here’s a turn-up for the cook”, “There’s none so deaf as those who clutch at straws”, “A bull in a barber-shop” and “Fit as a trombone” quickly become profoundly irritating. Nor does it inspire confidence that McCoy’s first lines when he wakes up in the Rani’s laboratory are delivered in an incredibly over the top manner, and are immediately followed by an unconvincing pratfall.

McCoy however can hardly be blamed for some of his shortcomings here. Were I to assemble the finest actors in the history of theatre, film and television, I doubt very much that even they would be able to cope with the script provided here. Had fate been kinder, the production would, on receiving the Bakers’ scripts, not only have burnt them, they would have sent someone round to the Bakers’ house to impound their typewriter and subsequently taken out a court injunction to prevent them from ever working on the series again (which, mercifully, they never did). As I’ve noted in the past, both ‘The Mark of the Rani and Terror of the Vervoids’ pleasantly surprised me this time around, but by ‘Time and the Rani’ Pip and Jane seem to have decided to take the piss and given free reign to their worst excesses. Some of the most awful lines in the series’ history abound, with many of them falling to Kate O’Mara to deliver; “All you need understand is that these specimens are geniuses”, “Have you managed to procure the means to repair your laboratory equipment?”, “What monstrous experiment are you dabbling in now?”, “Killer insects! Come on Doctor!”, and most painfully of all “I have the loyhargil! Nothing can stop me now!” are just some of the lines that nobody in real life would ever say and that nobody in fiction can get away with.

Then there’s the plot. I say plot, but I really mean cack. The Rani worked in ‘The Mark of the Rani’ because she existed to lampoon the relationship between the Doctor and the Master; here, she is relegated to the status of a female Master, with a ludicrous and unnecessarily complex plan, which she kindly explains in Episode Four so that the Doctor can work out how to defeat her. Stupidity abounds; how does the Rani casually patch the scanner into Urak’s view? Why don’t the Lakertyans piss off out of the Centre of Leisure since it’s got a big ball of killer insects in it and move away? The Rani’s operation does, after all, seem to be confined to one small quarry (and a round of applause for that hoary old cliché, the planet of about a dozen people). Mention of the Lakertyans brings me to the production itself, in terms of acting, sets and direction. There are times when director Andrew Morgan seems to be polishing a turd; despite obviously being filmed in a quarry of some kind, the location filming works well, as does the model work and some of the sets. The realization of the bubble traps is quite good, and provides an effective cliffhanger to Episode One, and although they have their detractors, I rather like the Tetrap costumes even if the forked tongues are a mistake. Then at other times, Morgan proves that you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear; the interior of the Rani’s TARDIS looks like an afterthought and makes one wish for the impressive set used in ‘The Mark of the Rani’. It also regresses Doctor Who’s effects back to the Letts era, with CSO woefully evident. And when the Rani’s giant rubber brain comes up with the formula for loyhargil, the word “LOYHARGIL” flashes on a BBC micro just to add a bit of subtlety.

Then there are the alien races, ill served both by script and direction (although, incredibly, none of the guest cast are noticeably bad here). The Tetraps have four eyes, granting them a three-hundred and sixty degree view, which is a nice idea but utterly wasted as they turn their heads when looking for things and people manage to sneak up on them. They are obviously based on vampire bats, which is another nice idea, and I do like the fact that the Rani’s callousness proves her undoing, as Urak realises that he is dispensable and promptly orders his Tetraps into her TARDIS and takes her captive at the end. As for the Lakertyans, they come off less well. Mark Greenstreet is quite good as Ikona, as are Donald Pickering as Beaus and Wanda Ventham as Faroon, but sadly make-up artist Lesley Rawstorne unwisely chooses to make them look like rejects from a New Romantics group. Beaus and Faroon’s grief over Sarn’s death is a nice (if incredibly surprising) attempt to show the emotional impact of the Rani’s callousness on others, but then at the end Ikona pours away the antidote to the insect venom, which is meant to be noble and courageous, but is instead so utterly stupid that had he done it earlier, the Doctor might have been forgiven for thinking “Sod ‘em, then” and buggering off without bothering to stop the Rani. Oh and the Lakertyans strange way of running, with arms held stiffly behind them, is an admirable attempt to convey a sense of something alien, but which nonetheless makes them look like they’ve had something forcibly inserted into them, or possibly just have haemorrhoids. I was also going to criticize the fact that Beaus is badly stunned by a very gentle fall, but as that sort of thing can even make Time Lords regenerate, I suppose it’s fair enough.

So far, so bad. But there is one last vomit stain to blight the bed sheets of entertainment, and that stain is Keff McCulloch. It is a truism that an opinion cannot, by definition, be wrong, and I should point out that some people like Keff’s work. Keff himself for example. Possibly. And yet, in this case, I am prepared to go out on a limb and say to these people, “NO! You’re QUITE, QUITE mistaken!” For Keff McCulloch is not just the worst composer of incidental music to have worked on Doctor Who, he’s also possibly the worst composer of incidental music to have worked. This man knows no restraint; from the start of Episode One, he perpetrates a brash and inappropriate score that is so intrusive it makes open heart surgery seem like a scratch. Sinister scores accompany scenes in which nothing sinister happens, and keyboards pound merrily away in the background like Emerson, Lake and Palmer on crack. The background music used in the Centre of Leisure is the epitome of bad, a plinkety-plonkety knob-rash of music subverting any tension that might otherwise exist. So diabolical is this man’s music in fact that I can’t bear to write about it any further. Until I get to ‘Paradise Towers’ of course, at which point I’ll continue to whinge about it.

So in the midst of all this effluence, is there anything at all good about ‘Time and the Rani’? Mercifully, there is. For one thing, whilst McCoy’s dodgy performance in Episode One seems like a very bad sign, he gradually starts to settle in to the role as the story progresses. There are scattered examples of this throughout; when the Rani, disguised as Mel, offers him a drugged glass of water, he despondently replies “Oh I don’t want it, you drink it, leave me alone” and he really sounds like he means it, as though the line arose naturally during filming. Blighted though he is with a script that lacks characterisation for the Doctor and provides him with lines like “I want all mirrors removed from the TARDIS henceforth!”, he still manages to convey, at several points, both the charm and authority associated with the Doctor. The scene in which the Doctor tells Mel about Strange Matter is a sign of how good McCoy can be, as the Doctor enters lecturer mode and he makes it seem entirely natural, rather than a performance. It is the first time that the Doctor settles down after his regeneration and enforced amnesia, and it feels as though McCoy has settled down too. It helps too that for all that I’ve criticized them, Pip and Jane Baker captures the Doctor’s ego perfectly, as tries on a new costume and announces, “[it] lacks my natural humility”. In fact, the wardrobe scene is one of my favourites of the story; its daft, but it stays just the right side silly and when the Doctor tries on the Fourth Doctor’s clothes he shakes his head an remarks “Old hat”, a rare example here of a genuinely amusing pun. I also find it rather amusing that in Episode Four, after the Rani has connected the Doctor to the brain, his constant stream of garbled metaphors and bad puns induces schizophrenia in the brain; suddenly, the verbal diarrhoea that the Baker’s have scripted serves a purpose and almost makes it seems as though they knew what they were doing.

Bonnie Langford is also passable here; I’ve never had any issues with her acting, and her success or lack thereof in her Doctor Who tends to wax and wane with Mel’s characterisation. Mel is OK here; her faith in the Doctor both old and new is unshakeable, and she works well with McCoy. The scenes in which she meets the new Doctor and they have to convince each other of their identities is tiresome, although I do like the bit when the Doctor criticizes her wig and pulls Mel’s hair. Mel also gets a nice character moment, as she seems genuinely upset by Sarn’s death and Ikona’s accusations. My main criticism is that Langford is given far too much screaming to do; she’s ear piercing to the point that I’m tempted to mute the television.

And finally, there is the Rani. Some ham is cringe-worthy and some is entertaining, and for me at least, Kate O’Mara’s is the latter. Apparently deciding that her only sensible course of action is to go over the top, O’Mara seems to enjoy herself enormously as the Rani, and she plays against McCoy rather well. I’m loath to admit it, but although the Rani’s impersonation of Mel in Episodes One and Two is incredibly silly, I do find it quite amusing. For all her supposed lack of emotion, she clearly can’t resist winding the newly regenerated Doctor up, as he bemoans his new appearance and she innocently asks him, “You mean you’re going to look like this permanently?” And she obviously enjoys slapping him in the TARDIS wardrobe in Episode One.

So it’s a start. It isn’t a very good one, and for the most part, ‘Time and the Rani’ is astonishingly bad. McCoy however shows promise and if nothing else, that bodes well for the rest of the season.

FILTER: - Television - Series 24 - Seventh Doctor

Paradise TowersBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 4 May 2004 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

After the diabolical ‘Time and the Rani’, ‘Paradise Towers’ sees a considerable increase in the quality of scripts, as Stephen Wyatt delivers a dystopian tale of a society in decay. As such, ‘Paradise Towers’ is in some ways more disappointing than its immediate predecessor, as a combination of poor production and bad acting several dents its credibility.

The premise of ‘Paradise Towers’ is highly effective. The concept of a luxury apartment building that has degenerated into barbarism and savagery with residents who have turned to cannibalism and warring gangs of teenagers is a sound one, as is the addition to the mix of the Caretakers, whose response to the situation is to cling obsessively to outdated and pedantic rules in an attempt to cope with their disintegrating world. Wyatt exploits this premise in various ways; the degenerative language used by the Kangs is vaguely reminiscent of the “Nadsat” of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, and clearly some thought has gone into the dialogue. Kang vernacular includes such phrases as “Cowardly cutlet”, “Carrydors”, “Brain quarters”, “Taken to the cleaners” and “How you do”, and although the older characters use such terms as “Rezzies” and “Wall-scrawlers”, the fact that for the most part they speak normally demonstrates the impact of a lack of education and any obvious parental figures on the younger generation. It is also relatively unusual to see gangs composed entirely of girls, but whether their reluctance to actually “make unalive” (a reluctance sadly not shared by real life gang culture) is meant as a slightly sexist attempt to show a gentle feminine nature or merely a constraint of Doctor Who’s traditional target audience is unclear. The Kangs’ names further hint at the state of their lives, including as they do Bin Liner and Fire Escape; it is possible that these are nicknames gained on joining a particular gang, but it also raises the possibility that they were abandoned at such a young age that any real names they once had are long forgotten, and this would be consistent with their seeming lack of education.

The activities of the Rezzies are also rather interesting. On the one hand, they maintain the cosiness of their past lives, knitting table cloths and keeping neat and tidy flats that contrast sharply with the grimy, dilapidated corridors, whilst on the other hand they have resorted to murdering and eating Kangs. What is interesting about this is that is clearly a situation brought about not by an inherent evil in their nature, but by sheer desperation, and their desire to cling on to a semblance of normality throws this dark pastime into stark relief. The Caretakers too are well scripted; their adherence to the rule book boarders on the absurd, and clearly exacerbates the division between the groups within the Towers that the Doctor strives so hard to overcome. Like the Rezzies, they are obviously attempting to cling on to some semblance of normality: the Deputy Chief Caretakers’ moaning about the graffiti in the corridors is an example of him dwelling on what is in the larger scheme of things an utterly trivial issue. Rather than trying to reach out to the disaffected youth within the Towers, they prefer to punish them, although since they never actually manage to capture any Kangs during the course of the story, the question of what they would actually do to them is never made clear. Ironically of course, this fragmenting of society is precisely what the Chief Caretaker exploits as he feeds morsels to his “pet”; since the Kangs have nobody they can report the disappearances to, they are not highlighted, and likewise the disappearance of Caretakers can easily be dealt with by careful manipulation of the rule book. It is significant that when the Cleaners take two Rezzies however, it is reported and the Chief is forced to address the issue, albeit by bribing Maddy with the chance to move into a larger apartment; the Rezzies, clinging on their semblance of normality, clearly feel that the Caretakers should deal with such issues.

The addition to the plot of Kroagnon is also potentially interesting. The presence of a threat that is hostile to everyone within Paradise Towers forces the residents to unite against the common threat, offering hope for the future as a result. It is also worth noting that whilst Kroagnon is on one hand a typical megalomaniac, his motivation is novel; an obsessive architect whose opinion of his work is so great that he doesn’t want it to spoiled by tenants is one that has not previously appeared in the series. It gradually becomes clear that Kroagnon’s legacy has contributed to the dire state of the Towers, albeit as a minor aside rather than the main cause; the presence of the robotic crab in the swimming pool prompts the Doctor to note that this is how the Towers would have been had Kroagnon had his way: “a killer in every corner”. The script even gives a knowing wink to the clichés of the Doctor Who format: there is scene in which Mel hopes that the lift won’t malfunction, only for the lights to start flashing on and off and for the gears to stall. When Pex asks her what she said, she repeats her worry, and the lift grinds to a halt. It could easily be a very silly moment, but the script handles it in such a way that there is a knowing irony to the scene.

‘Paradise Towers’ also works well because it is the first story in which Sylvester McCoy really shines as the Doctor. During the early TARDIS scenes, he looks on glumly as Mel looks forward to a holiday, and complains, “That’s the trouble with young people today – no sense of adventure”, a line which McCoy delivers with an impressive air of weariness. It is also rather interesting just how much the Doctor perks up when he finds the Towers in a state of obvious neglect, which does rather highlight just how much he thrives on the misfortune of others; it is a slightly disturbing aspect of the Doctor’s character, and one that McCoy (and the script) suddenly emphasizes. McCoy suddenly seems to have settled into the role, and it clearly shows; the Doctor’s doffing of his hat at the advancing Cleaner as the lift doors close is a supremely confident moment. McCoy is conveys a sense of authority with ease when he confronts the Chief Caretaker and snaps that since the Chief is going to kill him anyway, so he might as well listen to him first. He delivers the line in such a way that death threats seem like a minor inconvenience to the Doctor, which of course they often are. His subsequent contemptuous dismissal of the Deputy is another case in point, as the Deputy pleads with him for no further tricks with the rulebook, only to be told in no uncertain terms that the Doctor has far more important things to worry about than him. Suddenly, the Seventh Doctor is a man who can quickly set his mind to defeating monsters, but who can also charm his way into the Kangs’ affections. McCoy’s Doctor switches moods in an instant here, and his apology to Mel for making her jump in Episode Four sounds just as sincere as his contempt for the Deputy an episode earlier. Mention of the rule book brings me to the Doctor’s initial escape from the Caretakers, as he exploits their blind obedience to rules, and persuades his captors to close their eyes and walk away form him so that he can sneak out of the door; the Deputy eventually realises that “rules should always make sense”, but he’s so used to blind obedience that it takes him too long to realize this. Unfortunately, where McCoy’s acting does fall down is at the climax, as the Doctor has to confront Kroagnon sooner than he expected and is forced to improvise; he immediately resorts to the sort of pratfall clowning that marred his first scenes in ‘Time and the Rani’, the Doctor’s bluster and anger sounding purely like lines learnt hurriedly by an actor, rather than words flowing natural from the mouth of a character. For the most part though, McCoy is very good here, and it shows him starting to cement his portrayal of the Doctor.

Despite all of this clever scripting and a generally decent performance from the lead actor however, ‘Paradise Towers’ is nearly ruined by almost everything else. Firstly, this story highlights the reasons why some many fans detest Mel; presumably, the character’s failings here are a result of the otherwise impressive scripts, but she is utterly cloying. Langford is fine; she isn’t noticeable better or worse than usual, and she is good at conveying Mel’s usual optimism, which prompts her to look for the best in people and get upset when she’s disappointed by them. Unfortunately, this largely manifests here in such a way that she just seems mad; in the midst of a tower block filled with lunatics, having been attacked by murderous old ladies and chased by robotic cleaning machines, she decides to strip to her swimming costume and go for a dip. It doesn’t help that Mel is paired for much of the story with Pex, an utterly clichéd character who is a coward given the chance to redeem himself at the very end in a suitably noble sacrifice. Wyatt scripts this stereotype in such a way that he could work (Pex’s delight in Episode Three when he realises that he has actually saved somebody for the first time is rather touching), but the miscast Howard Cooke delivers his lines in such a stilted fashion that the character is thoroughly unconvincing, and his attempts to lie to Kroagnon in Episode Four are deeply embarrassing.

There is a worrying amount of dodgy acting on display here; the Rezzies and the Kangs are adequate if unspectacular, but the Caretakers do nothing for the story’s credibility. It doesn’t really help that costume designer Janet Tharby makes them look (as The Discontinuity Guide puts it) like rejects from the Village People (the Kangs incidentally, also look ludicrous), but this was no excuse to have them salute by putting their hands under their noses in mock-Hitler fashion. Just in case we don’t get the message, the Chief Caretaker actually has a Hitler-style moustache. But to get back to the actual performances, whilst Clive Merrison is at times all right as a petty man with petty powers, he often crosses the line into ham, delivering certain lines in strange nasal falsetto that sounds incredibly strange. This pales into insignificance compared to Richard Briars; defenders of ‘Paradise Towers’ like to point out that Briars is a Shakespearean actor. This is true, but then so is Brian Blessed, but he was still bloody terribly in ‘Mindwarp’. Briars sends his performance as far over the top as is possible, managing to ham it up even over a walkie-talkie in Episode One. For the rest of the first three episodes he confuses psychopath with imbecile and thereby destroys the believability of one the story’s main villains. By Episode Four, he gets even worse; having briefly redeemed himself by conveying terror even through the ham as the Chief is dragged screaming towards Kroagnon (and the Chief’s fate is, on paper at least, quite disturbing), he emerges from a cloud of dry ice in the final episode as a gurning zombie, lurching around as though drunk. Which he perhaps was. Anyone who has read Stephen Wyatt’s novelisation of ‘Paradise Towers’ will know that he imagined Kroagnon in the Chief’s body as a ghastly animated cadaver with a sinister deathly voice, rather than a silver faced tosser who roles his eyes at every opportunity and delivers his lines like he’s gargling

FILTER: - Television - Series 24 - Seventh Doctor

Delta and the BannermenBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 4 May 2004 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

Perhaps more so than any other era of Doctor Who, the McCoy era splits fandom down the middle, and arguably no single story is as divisive as ‘Delta and the Bannermen’. Notorious for featuring comedian Ken Dodd, whom some fans see as the worst excess of John Nathan-Turner’s obsession with casting people from the world of light entertainment, ‘Delta and the Bannermen’ combines green babies, the Welsh, bees and rock and roll; it is also, if the viewer is in the right mood, really quite good fun.

There is a great sense of joy de vivre in ‘Delta and the Bannermen’. Partly, this is because the story doesn’t take itself too seriously, presenting us as it does with toll booths for time travellers, and aliens who holiday in locations such as America during the rock ‘n’ roll nineteen fifties, but who get stranded in Wales by accident. We have a pair of inept American secret service agents who are looking for a lost satellite and briefly mistake Gavrok’s ship for it, since they don’t actually know what a satellite looks like, and we have a bounty hunter whose death reduces him to nothing but a pair of blue suede shoes. This is all very tongue in cheek, and the breaking of the usual conventions of Doctor Who by the fact that everyone seems able to travel in time (The Bannermen and the Navarinos) adds further to the feeling that writer Malcolm Kohll is quite simply doing his best to have fun and not worrying unduly about how atypical his story actually feels as a result. This is a story in which an old man seemingly communicates with his bees and in which a young man who eats Chimeron food turns into an alien prince. It almost has a fairy tale quality to it in places. There is also the fact that the Navarinos go on holiday in time and space in an old bus, which on one level adds greatly to the spirit of things, and on another may be a wry nod to the limitations of the series budget; the BBC might not be able to knock together a convincing spaceship, but an old bus is no problem.

Another great strength of ‘Delta and the Bannermen’ is the character interaction. Refreshingly, this is a story in which nearly everybody the Doctor and Mel meet save for the Bannermen themselves gives their utmost to try and help Delta. What is particularly interesting is the love triangle between Delta, Billy and Ray; confounding audience expectations, this leads not to the jealously and betrayal that one might expect in Doctor Who, but instead follows a different route. Ray response to seeing Billy with Delta is to cry, and the Doctor comforts her. It would trivialize such an issue to say that she gets over it, but she manages to deal with it and continues to help Delta and Billy, and at the end, whilst she loses the man she loves, she does at least get his Vincent. Which isn’t exactly a happy ending as such, but it is a relatively positive outcome. Equally, Delta benefits; with the Bannermen destroyed and Billy transformed into a Chimeron, it is suggested that she can repopulate her planet (incidentally, I’d normally dismiss this as bollocks, but Kohll hints throughout at the insect like nature of the Chimerons, suggesting that one colossal bout of sex later, a green Welshman and his girlfriend might well repopulate a planet. Which is actually quite a scary thought). As for what Billy gets, well his motivation is obvious, but however much he may be driven by lust, he still risks life, limb and humanity to be with Delta.

Of course, Billy and Ray aren’t the only people who help Delta. The bemused agents Hawk and Weismuller, played with perfect bewilderment by Morgan Deare and Stubby Kaye, respectively, also pitch in to help after the Doctor and Ray remove the bonds the Bannermen put them in, with Weismuller getting his revenge at the end as he ties the Bannermen up. Hugh Lloyd’s slightly mysterious Goronwy happily allows the Bannermen to shoot his house to pieces as they wander into the Doctor’s trap, and sits patiently reading a book as he waits for the Bannermen to be defeated as they attack the camp. Richard Davies’ stoic Burton also provides considerable help simply because he thinks it’s the right thing to do, in the process saving Mel’s life. Burton is actually one of the greatest characters in the story, a cheerfully determined man whose response to seeing inside the TARDIS is to ask to go for a spin, his earlier skepticism about aliens quickly forgotten. A scene in Episode Three perhaps best sums up his character, when he swipes at the air with an old sword and steadfastly prepares for the arrival of heavily harmed nutters. Even camp attendant Vinnie wants to stay and help “Major” Burton, who sends him away for his own safety.

Ultimately, all of this characterisation works so well, because the cast give it their all. In particular, Sara Griffiths is great as Ray, who in retrospect I wish had stayed on as replacement for Mel, instead of the replacement that we actually got (much, much more on that in later reviews…). Ray bonds well with the Doctor, and this results in some great moments not only for Griffiths, but also for McCoy. There are some nice scenes in Episode One, as the Doctor is forced not to deal with alien aggressors, but with a heartbroken teenager and tries his best despite his obvious discomfort. When Billy sings to Delta, and this hurts Ray, she dances with the Doctor instead, who looks decidedly uncomfortable, but obliges anyway. He later comforts her, again awkwardly, with the great malapropism “there’s many a slap twixt the cup and the lap”, which is rather more amusing than virtually all of his malapropisms from ‘Time and the Rani’. In those moments, McCoy’s performance finally seems absolutely perfect for the first time in Season Twenty-Four.

Indeed, McCoy is very good here. When the Doctor sits hugging Billy’s Stratocaster, he gloomily notes, “love has never been known for its rationality” and McCoy makes him sound genuinely melancholy about this, as though hinting at things in the Time Lord’s past that we’ve simply never seen before. Equally, McCoy does well with his lines at the end of Episode Two, as Gavrok sits and gnaws at his meat and the Doctor stands and threatens Gavrok with the legal consequences of his actions. McCoy delivers his lines with an air of massive contempt, which works very well, and whilst he is notorious for his inability to portray anger properly, he manages to get real fury into his “Life? What do you know about life?” line. The script helps him enormously of course; this is story in which a rather proactive Doctor single handedly saves the Navarino bus via the TARDIS and later replaces Murray’s Quarb crystal twice. He sets out to save Delta from the Bannermen as soon as he realises that they are in trouble, and defeats his enemy with bees and honey. Bonnie Langford too does well here, in possibly her best Doctor Who television story; she’s far less cloying than in ‘Paradise Towers’, and like McCoy genuinely seems to be having fun. As usual, Mel’s instinct is to help people, and it is this that allows her to gain Delta’s trust. But Langford also gets to portray shock and horror as Gavrok destroys the Nostalgia Tours bus and its passengers, and she conveys it very well.

Whilst I’m on the subject of acting and characterisation, it is worth noting that the much-maligned Ken Dodd is actually OK here, although admittedly he is just playing himself. Nonetheless, this is pretty much the only Doctor Who story in which he wouldn’t actually seem out of place, and whilst I wouldn’t describe his casting as inspired, it by no means deserves the controversy that it has gained. Don Henderson on the other hand is very well cast. The Discontinuity Guide asks the question “But who told Don Henderson to play it so straight?” which I feel slightly misses the point. ‘Delta and the Bannermen’ works in large part because despite the sense of fun it also features some serious issues. The biggest flaw in the story is that we don’t know why the Bannermen, and Gavrok in particular, want the Chimerons dead; we never learn if they are mercenaries, soldiers, or criminals on the run. But despite this shortcoming, Gavrok works as a villain because he is presented as a real threat. Whatever his motivation, he wants Delta dead and has no qualms about killing anyone who gets in his way; he shoots the Tollmaster in the back, he slaughters the Navarinos because he thinks Delta is on the bus, and above all he has proved himself willing to commit genocide. The point of all of this is that were Henderson to send the part up, the whole feel of the story might so easily cross the line into farce. A real threat is needed to give the other characters something to pull together against, and Gavrok provides it, even cutting off the Doctor’s escape route by booby-trapping the TARDIS. Were ‘Delta and the Bannermen’ possessed of a villainous performance as over the top as Kate O’Mara’s in ‘Time and the Rani’ or Richard Briers’ in ‘Paradise Towers’, it simply wouldn’t work. And in keeping with the spirit of the story, it feels entirely appropriate that Gavrok is ultimately hoist by his own petard.

Overall then, ‘Delta and the Bannermen’ is, for me at least, far better than its reputation suggests. It benefits a lot from the extensive location filming, as Doctor Who usually does when it can be bothered to climb out a quarry, and the peaceful Welsh scenery surrounding Shangri La looks fantastic. It’s also nice to hear some real rock n’ roll on the soundtrack, although it is rather less nice to hear Keff McCulloch. This is arguably his best score for the series up until this point, but please understand that choosing Keff McCulloch’s best incidental score for Doctor Who is rather like choosing the least smelly turd. Unpleasantly, he ropes in his girlfriend’s ghastly group to give us the saccharine cack “Here’s to the Future”. McCulloch aside though, the only other real let down of the production is the two lacklustre explosions and frankly they just aren’t enough to spoil the fun.

Next: the final audio interlude before ‘Survival’, as I nip over to the BF board for ‘The Fires of Vulcan’, then back here for the rest of the McCoy television stories!

FILTER: - Series 24 - Seventh Doctor - Television

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Sunday, 14 March 2004 - Reviewed by Sarah Tarrant

With a new series about a 1940’s circus entitled ‘Carnivale’ currently airing in America at present, consistently gaining favourable ratings and reviews now seemed like a good opportunity prior to this series eventual arrival here in the UK some time in 2004 to re-evaluate a story possibly similar to a slight degree in style that was used to close out the twenty-fifth anniversary season.

After all these years this modestly titled story still has the same magical atmosphere conveyed by the characters, costumes, plot and incidental music that captivated me when it was originally transmitted. This might be surprising that it succeeds so well in its objective to entertain when you remember that the recording of this story was disrupted due to an asbestos scare at the BBC TV Centre resulting in the use of tents being erected in the Centre’s car park. Despite this, rather than detract from the production, I felt that the use of tents further added to the magic of the Circus interior.

It stars off harmlessly enough with the invitation to visit the Psychic Circus on the planet Segonax. The light hearted appeal of this tourist attraction conveyed by the ‘junk mail advertisement’ transmitted onto the TARDIS console screen by the little robotic device clearly wins over the Doctor. In particular he expresses an interest in entering the Circus talent contest though thankfully we are not treated, once again, to his spoon playing as featured in the largely forgettable (apart from enjoyable establishing seventh Doctor persona and costume change scenes) ‘Time and the Rani’. However, as is so often the case the reality is quite unlike the glossy advertising, something similar to the enjoyable ‘Paradise Towers’ story. Instead of lush green countryside they find on arrival that Segonax is an arid dustbowl.

Although, as we later discover there is a malevolent entity at work deep below where the Psychic Circus has pitched its tents I find that the stories characters can effectively be broken down into three distinct groups. The first group of three characters are clearly under the control of the entity of which appears to be, from what we learn during the story, the remaining members of the original eight people who initially ran the Circus presumably prior to their arrival on Segonax.

The towering figure of Ian Riddington’s Chief Clown decked out in silver fabriced clowns outfit, neck and wrist frills topped off with pointed hat is clearly the main protagonist of the story. Even in the early scenes with his clown finery covered by undertakers coat and hat, riding in the old fashioned hearse (equipped with the latest scanning equipment) the prevalent ghostly white face flecked with the occasional black brush strokes and traditional clown’s red lips convey a sense of cruel intent. It is therefore understandable that Ace finds clowns creepy if they are all like this person! Although this Chief Clown character conveys a public friendly, laughing persona, his real evil personality and objectives are never far from the surface. This is never more evident when he later temporarily halts Ace’s attempt to leave the Circus arena, hungry to know where she found the circular spiral patterned earring pinned to her jacket.

Ricco Ross’s Ringmaster character is a streetwise American (possibly with a New York accent) who puts in an entertaining rap act into his introducing acts. The third key member of the Circus team, Morgana (played by Deborah Manship) is clothed as a typical circus gypsy, telling fortunes through crystal ball readings and tarot cards in addition to supposedly selling tickets. Although they seem to have fairly equal status in the running of the circus it is clear that the Chief Clown sees himself superior to the these other two, especially bearing in mind that he is in charge of the Circus’s contingent of robot Clowns.

Our second group includes the rebellious young couple whom we see at the start of the story, frantically running across the barren sandy landscape of Segonax. Bellboy and Flowerchild are heading towards an ancient disused bus located some distance from the Psychic Circus. With it decked out in hippy graffiti it is puzzling to wonder about the history of this vehicle and why it is so far away from the site of the Circus. We later hear about former colleagues Peacepipe and Juniper Berry who had some connection to the Circus but had died under mysterious circumstances presumably in the Circus ring. As to why both Bellboy and Flowerchild had discovered what was going on and made the decision to escape that is something we can only guess at. It also becomes clear that each member of the Circus staff has a specific skill, for Bellboy this is being a skilled robotic engineer. Clearly his absence from the Circus cannot be tolerated hence the pursuit instigated by the Chief Clown utilising Flowerchild’s yellow and blue coloured kites which all bear a menacing eye motif in the centre. This symbol crops up throughout the story, in Morgana’s crystal ball, the artefact guarded by the robotic conductor at the bus and at the bottom of a deep well located under the site of the Circus.

On Bellboy’s eventual capture and return to the ring we learn that he has some resistance to whatever evil pervades the Circus ring which no doubt must have come as a frustratingly unexpected annoyance to the resident trio. Having remained resilient to the effects of the force in the ring he is taken away and tied up whilst they consider what next to do with the wayward, but clearly essential, robotic engineer.

The scenes where Bellboy (played well by Christopher Guard) is a nervous prisoner interacting with Ace are extremely memorable. The first scene opens with Ace, having been captured by the Chief Clown, being thrown into the darkened environment filled with many inert robotic clown figures in various states of dress. Then, suddenly they slowly start to move threateningly towards her. The tension of the scene is sustained for the sufficient amount of time before finally dissipated just as they are closing in for the kill by Bellboy. This leads to the conversation she has with the nervous robot maker which fills in most of the background to the Circus. Also memorable is the later scene where Bellboy, realising there is no escape and finding he has no alternative, sets his own creations on himself. As he dies by their hands the cruel upward tilt of the hand combined with a sick smile further enforces the Chief Clown’s cold unfeeling personality.

The third member of this rebel group, had however not been as fortunate in his attempts to escape. Now reduced to little more than a gibbering idiot the aptly named Deadbeat conveys the aspect of a drugged 60’s hippy fit only for sweeping up the Circus. We later learn that the malevolent force had, finding him to be the most dangerous of those working at the Circus, wiped his memory, stored it on an eye component and rather than destroy it had elected to store it on the bus, stationing a robotic conductor there to guard it. It is puzzling why they did not simply destroy this and leave him mindless but the reasoning behind this is something more to ponder over. Maybe this component had other latent powers and was constructed of a material impervious to attack. Regaining this persons memory and his real identity (an impressive character transformation for actor Chris Jury), that of Kingpin (possibly once the Circus manager) his role in relationship to the eye component was a key element in defeating the evil entity of the story.

The third group are the visiting tourists and they are certainly an interesting bunch with some having colourful backgrounds. This however cannot be attributed to the loud uncouth figure of ‘Nord the Vandal’. Wearing a helmet with large bat wings sitting astride a noisy three wheel yellow coloured motorbike equipped with Viking horns he portrays the archetypical ‘Hells Angel’ figure. Whilst, as we later discover, possessing great strength, his intelligence does not rate that highly. Gian Sammarco’s inclusion as an annoying fresh faced clean cut ‘Whizkid’ character could possibly be detrimental to the story as most casual viewers seem to, inaccurately, attribute most ardent Doctor Who fans to fit this persona. However in the context of the story it seems suitable as the Psychic Circus had gained quite a favourable reputation up to this point. Additionally his inclusion was fairly brief and there is possibly a sense of satisfaction to viewers when he later meets his end in the circus ring.

The pairing of intergalactic explorer Captain Cook and his travelling companion, the mysterious Mags were the most welcome characters from this story. Noted actor T.P. McKenna makes a welcome appearance as the well travelled figure decked out in pith helmet, khaki shirt and shorts who seems, in my opinion, to have an almost unhealthy addiction to drinking tea. As a ‘crushing bore’, relating tales of his many and varied explorations he also has a keen interest in his own survival over all others. His companion Mags (played by comedy actress Jessica Martin) has a much more checked and mysterious past. Appearing humanoid in appearance, her long black hair contains faint streaks of green and, wearing a black vamp-type outfit, she appears ill at ease, which later we find, is with good reason. Exposure to the moonlight causes her to transform into an uncontrollable snarling beast complete with claws and fangs. Most notably this is used by the Captain as a way of attacking the Doctor later in the story. Apparently, for some reason, the Captain rescued Mags from the planet Volpana where she was about to be shot, with a silver bullet, by the locals.

When the Doctor and Ace do eventually make their way up to the Circus (a classic establishing shot of the large dark blue and red tented structure set against a light coloured empty sky broken only by a large giant ringed planet) they find only three individuals in the stalls sitting around the main circus ring. These figures, masquerading as a typical family group (Mother, Father and Child) are infact manifestations of the evil that is controlling the circus.

Having, as it were, eventually got to the bottom of things in the fourth episode, through an imaginative temporal corridor the Doctor emerges into a sandy covered ring. As he gets to his feet, turning away from the high walled surround, he looks up and proclaims without any sense of surprise ‘The Gods of Ragnarok’ on seeing the three stone figures seated in a raised area similar to that which might be found in a Roman arena to house the ruling classes who watched Gladiatorial combat. It is here that these beings instruct him to entertain them, to which he replies ‘You ain’t seen nothing yet’ which seemed, I felt, rather reminiscent of the slightly overweight American comic W.C. Fields. Now Sylvester McCoy, the consummate entertainer, seems well suited to performing the magic tricks that blend seamlessly from one to the other. It brings to mind his brief crooning in this season’s earlier, fairly average ‘Happiness Patrol’ story. With a casual manner he drifts through seemingly simple rope tricks, rope into circular container, candle lit by second hand, sets light to circular pan, places lid to extinguish fire, opens again to find snake, turns snake into umbrella before using said umbrella to shield himself from the rain instigated by the Ragnarok Gods.

There is one character who does not fit into the three distinct groups whom I haven’t mentioned yet but her brief performance although welcome is not central to the plot. As a wandering native Stallslady well known comedy actress Peggy Mount conveys the locals resentment of the Circus admirably. Her contempt for the Circus people and any tourists planning to visit the attraction is conveyed well. Even the Doctor has a tough challenge on his hands in pacifying her distain towards himself and Ace despite some of the amount of clearly foul produce which she is attempting to sell from the back of her horse pulled stall.

Another classic moment of the story that I recall is when, with the Ragnarok Gods ultimately defeated and the Circus about to blow up, McCoy calmly and resolutely walks away from the explosion. The manner of his measured departure from the scene coupled with his use of his question mark umbrella as a walking stick is certainly reminiscent of William Hartnell which can only be in McCoy and the series’ favour at a time when the shows future was far from certain. Obviously each actor who comes takes the part of the Doctor brings something to the part as well as drawing on previous incarnations. Although I agree with something ‘the Brigadier’ said (‘Splendid fellows, all of them’) with Sylvester you can certainly see a closer similarity to the late, great, Patrick Troughton without whose impressive relaunch of the series in 1966 would have meant the series might have concluded way back then.

It certainly seems that the Circus is gaining a resurgence of interest at the moment. I’ve already made a passing mention to the ‘Carnivale’ series currently airing at the moment, but let us not forget pop/rock group Debbie Harry’s Blonde featured a circus in their rather bizarre video for their recent song ‘Good Boys’. Personally the Circus is not really my entertainment taste, the cruelty to animals aspect I guess but of course there are ‘animal free’ circus but it all seems a rather low tec form of entertainment in this twenty-first century. Having said that ‘The Greatest Show In The Galaxy’ is an entertaining spin on this form of live entertainment with an alien planet/lifeform twist which certainly works in its favour. At the core of this story is an engaging plot told well and I can certainly heartily recommend it for anyone looking for an enjoyable form of escapist cult television entertainment.

FILTER: - Television - Series 24 - Seventh Doctor

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Sunday, 14 March 2004 - Reviewed by John Anderson

There is a temptation that when an award is subject to a public vote, to proclaim the result a reflection of popular opinion. This is of course not entirely true; as the old saying goes there are lies, damn lies and statistics. What the so-called public vote represents is the opinions of the people who chose to take part, and is therefore subject to the agendas and prejudices of the sample pool. And that's before you even get into the sticky problem of all the "don't knows/don't cares/go aways" that such samples are subject to.

So when the DWAS and DWM used to have seasonal polls to find the most popular story of a season, the poll might have been on a much smaller scale but the same principle applies. Now, for better or worse, Doctor Who fans are remarkably conservative in their tastes, we always (and I mean ALWAYS) err on the side of caution. So back in the heady days of early 1988, what should find itself coming out top?


Apparently Dragonfire achieves the rare distinction among its season 24 brethren of being the most like 'traditional' Doctor Who. I'll quote Tim Munro from his review in DWB No. 51, dated January 1988 (which the Howe/Stammers/Walker triumvirate loved too; they used it in the Television Companion): "It was the only story which came anywhere near to recapturing the unique atmosphere of 'real' Doctor Who." Ok, so he says "real" rather than "traditional," but it's still a great quotation. Especially good is the way our man Tim hijacks the expression "real Doctor Who" and uses it to mean whatever he wants it to mean. It would be facetious of me to say "real Doctor Who, as opposed the imaginary kind that you've been watching for the last eleven weeks," but playing on such a nebulous concept as "real," or my preferred "traditional" smacks of sloppy, tabloid journalism. What he really means is "the Doctor Who I used to watch when I was young and the Yeti were ten feet tall and it was SOOOO scary and everybody at school didn't laugh at me for being such a saddo."

Anyway, since when did being "traditional" warrant celebration? Dragonfire is traditional in the sense that it has the "it's the last serial of the season and oh my God we've run out of money what are we going to do?" look of cheapness about it. Overall, season 24 looks a lot more expensive than season 23 did (space station excepted), but of the four serials from this year, Dragonfire suffers the most from poor design. It is something of a cliché to wheel out the old "BBC are great at costume drama" chestnut but if Cartmel learnt anything from this season, it was that the designers of the day liked to keep things real. A decaying tower block has a real world connection, as does the 1950s, but obviously ice caves and spaceships are still a bridge too far for BBC design teams circa 1987.

You would think that if your sets are shoddy that you'd want to hide the damn things as much as possible, ergo, turn the lights off. A little bit of suspense can go a long way, just ask Chris Carter; Mulder and Scully spent most of season two of The X-Files pottering about in the dark; you begin to wonder if the pair of them are nocturnal. As a consequence every single ice cave scene in Dragonfire has no sense of space whatsoever. People wander around what is supposed to be underground, cramped, unlit, naturally formed, poorly ventilated and freezing cold ice caves as if they've walked into the post office. Sylv is the only member of the cast to remember this, but as he is the ONLY one his slipping comes across as a piece of misjudged slapstick.

So much of Dragonfire comes across as misjudged. The newfound confidence that was on show in Delta has been retarded and the series is back on the uneven ground it occupied during Paradise Towers. Nowhere is this more apparent than THAT cliffhanger. I can't decide whether Chris Clough betrays a lack of faith in the material or simply cannot give a toss. If the latter is true then the man should never have been allowed to work on the show again, but - having read the revealing interview with Eric Saward in DWM recently - on set in 1987 there were probably a hundred good reasons for it at the time. It's just a shame that none are readily apparent.

A slew of good ideas are undermined by this slapdash approach, the Alien-influenced biomechanoid dragon just one. I always appreciate Doctor Who's efforts to punch above its weight and so tend to be more forgiving when high concept ideas fall a little flat. Yes, the dragon is a man in a rubber suit, but Graeme Harper had just such an unwieldy creature in Androzani and got away with it. Just.

It may seem like I've belatedly joined the queue of season 24 bashers after giving the three preceding serials a relatively easy ride but that's not the case. Taken in a wider perspective the last serial of season 24 is much better than the first and although I personally prefer Delta, Dragonfire still feels like part of an uphill trend. Plus points are Sylvester's increasing melancholy, particularly in Mel's leaving scene - Mel's leaving of course being a big plus in its own right, if I feel so inclined to return to my previous facetiousness - is a helpful reminder that yes, this is the same character who will declare war on the evils of the universe for the next two seasons.

Ace, despite some clunky dialogue, proves to be a good addition to the programme. She is conceivably the first pro-active companion since the second Romana and her ability to carry her own sub-plots is a blessing that will only become apparent in the future. Paired with Mel for a lot of the action gives you the chance to directly compare the two; of Mel, Ray and Ace I still think the production team made the right decision.

Tony Selby remains tremendously watchable. He never hits the heights of the Holmes inspired wit that he's given in part thirteen of Trial, but he's playing the part with just the right amount of tongue-in-cheek bravado that the furry dice in the cockpit of the Nesferatu seem perfectly in character. I can also justify his inclusion in the narrative in the wider scope of the programme at the time. With time becoming a premium in the three parters, it becomes essential to get through the establishing scenes with expediency. One of the ways of doing this was to have the characters already know eachother and the vast majority of the three parters follow this pattern. Witness it is Ace's friends who are abducted in Survival, Lady Peinforte has met the Doctor before; more so in the three parters than the fours, the history of the two leads is a driving force behind the narrative as much as the plots of the respective antagonists.

It's easy to say that this is very much a transitional story between the froth of Delta and the introspection of Remembrance but that is lazy and quite frankly bollocks. Dragonfire is the last time we see the Doctor crashing round the universe, finding injustice and then fighting the good fight. From here on, the Doctor has a plan. He goes on the offensive. Doctor Who is never quite the same again.

FILTER: - Television - Series 24 - Seventh Doctor