The Deadly AssassinBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 31 December 2003 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

'The Deadly Assassin' was apparently rather controversial amongst Doctor Who fans at one time, due to its depiction of the Time Lords as a bunch of silly old fools. It's long since undergone something of a reassessment and is now considered to be something of a classic. Whilst I consider the term classic to be overused by Doctor Who fans on occasion, in this case it is entirely warranted; 'The Deadly Assassin' is a triumph, and works extremely well, despite being rather unusual in a number of respects.

Firstly, I'll discuss the Time Lords. The Time Lords have not been seen to anywhere near the degree that they are used here at any point in the series history prior to 'The Deadly Assassin'. What little we have learned about them paints them as a powerful and technological advanced race; the first story to feature the Time Lords properly is 'The War Games', in which they are shown to be powerful and rather austere. Both the Doctor and the War Chief are clearly afraid of them and they have both the ability and ruthlessness to dematerialize the War Lord and quarantine his home planet. Time Lord technology is often hinted at rather than seen; creating a force field around a planet is no mean feat, and of course the TARDIS itself is a fantastic creation, being as it is both dimensionally transcendental and able to travel anywhere in time and space. In 'Genesis of the Daleks', the Time Lord who appears to the Doctor on Skaro smugly boasts that the Time Lords mastered the technology necessary to interrupt a transmat beam safely when "the universe was less than half its present size", again suggesting considerable technological advancements. In 'The Three Doctors', we see the Time Lords under threat for the first time, and whilst a combination of Roy Purcell's wooden acting and cheap and nasty sets rather undermine them anyway, the fact remains that it takes a being capable of destroying the entire universe in that story to seriously trouble them; significantly, he's also one of their own. Despite that story's considerable shortcomings, it also maintains the image of the Time Lords as a dignified and solemn race.

The other main characteristic of the Time Lords that we already know of is that they have adopted a policy of non-intervention in the affairs of others. They break this on numerous occasions, especially during the Third Doctor's era, when they send him to different alien worlds during his exile, including Uxarieus, Peladon and Solos. But whilst they do therefore interfere, they prefer to do so through an agent provocateur, who of course is often the Doctor; as he says in 'The Brain of Morbius', they get him to do any dirty work that they aren't prepared to touch with their "lily white Time Lord hands". In doing so, they thus further contribute to the aloof air that surrounds them at this point in the series, as they manipulate events from behind the scenes. Faced with the task of writing a story set on Gallifrey, Robert Holmes remains true to all of this, but gives it a brilliant - and rather irreverent - twist. The Time Lords seen briefly in 'The War Games' are ultimately rather dull, so here Holmes takes the amusing option of presenting the Time Lords as politicians, obsessed with ceremony and bound by procedure. The Time Lords of 'The Deadly Assassin' have the trappings of dignity seen in 'The War Games', but we see beneath the surface; the two old Time Lords in Episode One who we see getting changed into their robes are clichéd old men, hard of hearing and grumbling about the young people of today. Hugh Walters' Runcible "the fatuous" is a vain and silly man, entirely consumed by his job of presenting the Public Register Video, a job he carries out with only a modicum of competence and little charisma. 

In addition to these rather daft Time Lords we have Borusa and Chancellor Goth, both wily politicians, each intelligent and cunning and each ruthless in his own way. Holmes takes the opportunity to poke fun at politics, mainly through Borusa who gets to utter some wickedly sharp lines such as "if heroes do not exist it is necessary to invent them", and best of all, "we must adjust the truth". Goth is utterly ruthless, more than willing to assassinate the President for his own ends and equally prepared to use the Doctor as a sacrificial lamb, first by helping the Master to frame him and later by hunting him down through the dreamscape in the Matrix. But for all that these two are intelligent and cunning, renegades upstage them both; Goth is foolishly trusting of the Master and it takes the Doctor to uncover the conspiracy that the pair of them have perpetrated. The Doctor's trial showcases this brilliantly, as he sits and draws offensive caricatures of the witnesses before calmly standing up and invoking Article Seventeen, thus taking refuge in the convoluted loop holes of Gallifreyan law, which Goth is forced to accept in public. Unusually for a Robert Holmes story, a character who is essentially a policeman proves to be the Doctor's greatest ally; the plain speaking Castellan Spandrell approaches politics with cynicism and quickly realises that the Doctor is telling him the truth in Episode Two. This then, is how Holmes approaches the grandeur of the Time Lords: by revealing it to be a sham, a hollow veneer of pomp and ceremony beneath. Even the Chancellery Guards, splendid though they look, are supported by a veneer of ceremonial armour, beneath which they are shown to be incompetent, the Doctor and the Master both running rings around them.

If the Time Lords are thus portrayed however, it raises the question of how this meshes with their reputation as technologically advanced manipulators. The latter point is brilliantly accounted for by a throwaway reference to the Celestial Intervention Agency, an organisation so secretive that even the Castellan is not privy to their secrets. With this one line, Holmes is able to convincingly present us with his rather unfaltering portrait of the High Council, whilst still allowing for the interventionists seen in stories such as 'Colony in Space'. The second point is even more brilliantly realized, as it becomes clear that whilst the Time Lords are indeed possessed of incredibly advanced technology, they can't actually remember how most of it works. The Eye of Harmony, the power source for their entire society, has passed into legend to such an extent that Spandrell thinks it is a myth and that if it did once exist it doesn't any more. The tools Rassilon (mentioned for the first time in 'The Deadly Assassin') built to control the power of the Eye have been reduced to the status of mere ceremonial relics, symbols of power but with no known function. Even the potential of the Amplified Panatropic Net, used to predict the future, is not fully realized until the Master makes use of it. Co-ordinator Engin, who maintains the Matrix equipment, is in awe of it rather than understanding it; he simply cannot believe that anyone could interfere with it in the way that the Master does. Thus, we do indeed see the technology hinted at in previous Doctor Who stories, but Time Lord society has become so stagnant and apathetic that most of it has fallen into disuse. 

Another noteworthy aspect of 'The Deadly Assassin' is of course the return of the Master. Rather than simply recasting the late lamented Roger Delgado and introducing a new incarnation, Holmes and Hinchcliffe choose instead to reduce the Master to the status of a walking cadaver, hideously disfigured and both literally and physically near to death. Peter Pratt's Master is twisted in both body and mind, and whilst he's true to the character established during the Pertwee era, he's also dramatically changed, his characteristic charm literally seared away along with his distinguished, if rather devilish, looks. This corpse-like Master fits perfectly into the gothic horror of the Hinchcliffe era, alongside such memorable villains as Davros and Morbius, and with his skull-like visage and his billowing black cloak he inevitably, and strikingly, resembles the Grim Reaper. Ironically, in bringing the Master this close to death, the production team also gives his character a new lease of life. Whereas the Master of old was motivated by power and a desire to humiliate the Doctor, his motivation has now changed; he still wants revenge against his old enemy more than anything (he notes on two occasions that hatred keeps him alive), but his primary motivation now is to survive, a drive so overwhelming that he is willing to destroy both Gallifrey and the Time Lords in order to succeed. Whereas in the past the Master occasionally seemed more interested in his rivalry with the Doctor than actual victory, and could therefore often be reasoned with, his new status brings with it a desperation that makes him far more ruthless and dangerous than before. 'The Deadly Assassin' would have worked perfectly well as a final story for the Master; brought to such a state and clearly dying, the Master could quite easily have been permanently written out of the series at this point. Instead, Holmes gives him a new slant and then sends him on his way, temporarily revitalized by the Eye of Harmony and escaping in his TARDIS at the end. As a means of reintroducing an old and popular enemy, it works very well and gives a tantalizing promise of a rematch in the future. 

In terms of structure, 'The Deadly Assassin' is highly unusual. Episode Three is rightly famous, set almost entirely in the Matrix and consisting as it does of a long battle between the Doctor and Goth, with a plethora of surreal and impressive imagery and making great use of the location filming. With very little dialogue, the episode is an intense twenty-five minutes as the Doctor struggles to survive, and this means that whereas Episode Three of a four part Doctor Who story is often reserved for an explanation of the plot, here that takes place at the start of Episode Four. Episode Three is so well directed and so well paced that it never once feels padded and passes at break-neck speed, and the notorious final shot of the Doctor's head being held under water by Goth is highly effective. However, it is also worth mentioning Episode One. 'The Deadly Assassin' is unique because it is the only Doctor Who story in which the Doctor is unaccompanied by a companion, and this results in a first episode in which the Doctor is entirely on his own, desperately trying to evade capture as he strives to save the life of the President. After the equally unusual voice-over introduction with caption, this results in a fast paced and adrenaline charged episode that is just as worthy of recognition as Episode Three. 

In production terms 'The Deadly Assassin' is flawless. The green-tinted sets of the Capitol look old but dusty, reflecting the sense of stagnation prevalent in Time Lord society, and amidst this faded splendor the colourful Time Lord robes with their distinctive collars look entirely appropriate. The ominous but slightly pompous musical score also perfectly suits the story, and David Maloney's superb direction brings everything together perfectly. The acting is uniformly excellent, with Erik Chitty's doddery and absent minded but thoroughly likeable Engin forming a classic "Robert Holmes double-act" with George Pravda's caustic Spandrell (making amends for his atrocious performance as Jaeger in 'The Mutants'). The ever-reliable Bernard Horsfall is perfect as Goth, bringing the necessary dignity to the character in Episode One, but also having the physical presence to convey menace as he hunts the Doctor in the Matrix. Entirely obscured by his costume, Peter Pratt does wonders with his voice alone, bringing some of the Master's old charisma to the role but also sounding suitably ghoulish. But for me Angus Mackay as Cardinal Borusa, bringing to the role dignity, presence and dry wit, steals the show; his casual dismissal of Runcible is hilarious, but best of all is his final scene with the Doctor, as he first utters the withering line "you will never amount to anything in the universe whilst you retain your propensity for vulgar facetiousness", and then follows it up with the wry "nine out of ten", briefly hinting at real affection for his old and wayward pupil. It's a marvellous performance in a superb story and is just one of the many reasons that 'The Deadly Assassin' is a true classic.





The Face of EvilBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 31 December 2003 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

Back when I reviewed 'The War Machines', I stated that I don't like villainous supercomputers. I'm starting to wish that I hadn't made this claim, since I first discovered that BOSS works rather well in 'The Green Death', and now have to admit that Xoanon, the schizophrenic supercomputer of 'The Face of Evil' is also highly effective. Sandwiched as it is between 'The Deadly Assassin' and 'The Robots of Death', it is all too easy to underestimate Chris Boucher' debut Doctor Who story, but to do so is a mistake; 'The Face of Evil' is very, very good. 

'The Face of Evil' benefits from a relatively complex plot that works well on several levels. Firstly, it explores the consequences of the Doctor's often-hasty actions, as he returns to a planet where he once hurriedly repaired the computer of the Mordee colonization ship, making a careless mistake in the process, which has had dire consequences for the colonists and their descendents. Having left an imprint of his own mind in the newly sentient computer Xoanon, he spawned a schizoid being of enormous power, which subjugated the Mordee and split them into two groups; the technologically primitive but physically strong Sevateem, and the technologically advanced and psychic Tesh. This is revealed in stages through well paced and highly effective story telling, as the Doctor arrives and discovers the tribal Sevateem, and he (and therefore the audience) are confronted by the innocuous presence of technological relics scattered throughout both their village and their culture. The cliffhanger ending to Episode One presents the striking image of a massive stone carving of the Doctor's face, at which point the emphasis of the story shifts slightly as the Doctor attempts to remember when he last visited the planet and what he did to make such an impact. 

Presented with the consequences of his past actions, the Doctor is portrayed here with a considerable sense of urgency as he quickly accepts responsibility for the plight of the Sevateem and sets about trying to rectify his mistake. Despite characteristic flashes of humour, the Doctor is at his most intense here, as he almost impatiently tries to get the Sevateem to trust him, which he finally more or less manages when he successfully undertakes the test of the Horda. Prior to this, we see him constantly going out on a limb to befriend them, in spite of Neeva's belief that he is the Evil One, and also Calib's duplicitous nature and constant maneuvering for political power. Tom Baker rises the to the challenge magnificently, putting in one of his best performances; he seems genuinely furious when Calib tries to murder Leela with a Janis thorn, and savagely threatens to break his nose if he doesn't get up and help carry her to a handy supply of "holy relics". The Doctor is clearly appalled by Jabel's serene attitude to Leela's impending dissection, and becomes increasingly impatient during the last two episodes as he races against time to cure Xoanon. Baker also conveys well the Doctor's business-like attitude to every problem that he faces, be it Xoanon's invisible psi-tri projections, the test of the Horda, or the gun-wielding Tesh. He also superbly portrays the Doctor's angst and desperation at the end of Episode Three as he tries to explain to the utterly demented Xoanon that he wants to help it. 

In addition to all of this, 'The Face of Evil' works to a degree on a metaphorical level, possibly attempting to explore the dichotomy between science and religion. Although both the Sevateem and the Tesh worship Xoanon, the former are more overtly superstitious and bound by ritual, whereas the latter are more dependent on logic, reason, and technology. Neitehr is suggested to be better than the other; the Sevateem lead a brutal life, exiling dissenters to supposedly certain death beyond the boundary or letting them face the equally deadly test of the Horda. The Tesh, initially seemingly civilized by comparison, are no better, as their disregard for Leela's life in Episode Three demonstrates. Boucher has gained something of a reputation for decrying religion in his original Doctor Who novels, but here he seems to be attempting a more balanced view. I should lay my cards on the table at this point and say that as an atheist I've never felt any particular emptiness in my life left by the absence of religion, but a television programme broadcast at teatime on a Saturday and aimed at a family audience is arguably not the place for prompting either science or religion over the other, and so Boucher here suggests that the two need to coexist; it is not until the Sevateem and the Tesh reach an uneasy truce at the end of the story that there is a suggestion of hope for the future.

The characterisation is generally very good in 'The Face of Evil', with Calib and Neeva worthy of particular mention (I'll come to Leela in a moment). Neeva starts out as a fairly two-dimensional religious fanatic, but as his faith in Xoanon is shattered he becomes more than that, suffering a breakdown and then turning against his false god. David Garfield plays the part well, and the character becomes increasingly sympathetic as the story progresses; the scene in which the Doctor impersonates Xoanon from within the ship and orders him to lead the tribe through the mouth of idol only to hear Neeva reply "Yes… Doctor" works very well, as it shows that Neeva has finally accepted the truth that the Doctor has been offering since the start. Neeva is also the subject of a great line from the Doctor, as Leela asks what happened to him and the Doctor answers "too much, too quickly". Calib too is an excellent character, well played by Leslie Schofield. Wily and motivated entirely by politics, Calib is utterly ruthless but nevertheless not an outright villain; ultimately, he's a pragmatist, willing to sacrifice anyone who stands the way of his rise to leadership of the Sevateem, but also willing to ally himself with former enemies for the overall good of the tribe. Of all the human characters in 'The Face of Evil', the Tesh are the least sympathetic, but even they are victims of years of indoctrination by Xoanon. And Xoanon itself is not a typical Doctor Who villain, but a seriously mentally ill being, who once cured is gentle and contrite, offering the Sevateem and Tesh the opportunity to destroy it once and for all, or the chance to benefit from its vast knowledge when they suffer it to live. 

'The Face of Evil' is of course best known for the introduction of Leela. After the hugely popular Sarah Jane Smith, the production team takes the sensible step of creating a very different companion for the Doctor, in the form of the savage, tribal Leela. She works beautifully as a companion for several reasons; firstly, for all Sarah's independence and bravery, Leela is far more capable in that regard, very rarely screaming, and facing any threat fearlessly with drawn knife. Secondly, for all her lack of education, she is not stupid (it is Leela who provides the clue the Doctor needs to find a way through the barrier) and also like Jamie provides a chance for the Doctor to explain the plot without appearing patronizing or without the script becoming contrived. Additionally, she creates more of a teacher/pupil relationship with the Doctor in contrast to the more casual friendship between the Doctor and Sarah, which works very well but is also sufficiently different to be memorable. The Eliza Doolittle comparison often made in reference to 'The Talons of Weng-Chiang' is already in evidence at this point. Finally, she makes for an interesting companion because she is prepared to kill in self-defense. Aside from being something that the Doctor frowns on, which adds a certain edge to their relationship, it also on occasion shows up the Doctor's hypocrisy about this issue, which can be rather interesting. 

Production wise, the studio-bound 'The Face of Evil' looks pretty good. The costumes (which in the case of the Sevateem shown an unusual amount of flesh for Doctor Who) are highly effective, and the sets too work well. Although the trees in the jungle are obviously dressed-up lengths of plastic tubing, the fact that these scenes are shot on film aids suspension of disbelief and it manages to be rather effective. Showing Xoanon as a series of glowing walls rather than a bank of rolls of magnetic tape and clunky buttons means that it has aged far better than for example BOSS, and also allows for a chilling cliffhanger to Episode Three, as the Doctor's screaming face is seen crying "Who am I?" in a high-pitched voice. Even the Horda, arguably the token monsters, look quite effective, despite being small rubber puppets. And the effect of the invisible phantom crushing the alarm clock in Episode One is really quite impressive.

Overall, 'The Face of Evil' is a strong story and an impressive debut from Chris Boucher. The chances of any writer producing such a good story and then following it with an even better one are minimal, so it's funny how things turned out…





The Sun MakersBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 31 December 2003 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

With 'Horror of Fang Rock' and 'Image of the Fendahl' feeling like children of the Hinchcliffe era and 'The Invisible Enemy' feeling like a particularly bad case of gastrointestinitis, 'The Sun Makers' is for me the first successful attempt by Graham Williams to make his mark on Doctor Who. This being the case, it is perhaps ironic that outgoing script editor Robert Holmes scripts it, but this isn't a bad idea as he is not my favourite Doctor Who writer for nothing. Casting off the gothic horror of the previous seasons, Holmes delivers a blistering attack on taxation and pens a unique story for the program. 

'The Sun Makers' is not a subtle satire on taxation; it is a blatant parody that takes pot shots at the subject. This isn't a criticism however, as the approach works very well, delivering a witty and engaging story that is highly distinctive. From the line "perhaps everybody runs from the taxman" in Episode One, the stage is set, as the Doctor, Leela and K9 face an enemy obsessed not with military conquest but with bureaucracy, as the Collector and his cronies hold sway over an oppressed people taxed virtually to death and totally enslaved by the company via financial exploitation. The means by which the Doctor defeats the Collector is both novel and entirely appropriate to the story; whereas in previous stories his enemies have been power-crazed megalomaniacs or ancient and powerful entities, the Collector is motivated entirely by profit, and his literal liquidation after the Doctor introduces a two percent growth tax to the system is both witty and relevant. The story is also notable for the way in which the Doctor becomes involved. In prior adventures he has been confronted with an imminent and deadly threat to the world, or to humanity, or even to the entire universe. In 'The Sun Makers', he discovers a corrupt but well-established government and having been drawn into events he decides to topple it. During the last two episodes, having chosen to become involved, he quickly devises a means of fermenting rebellion, and this is quickly and efficiently implemented. Indeed, the only real obstacle in his way is Leela's impending execution, and this is dealt with relatively easily after first providing a handy cliffhanger to Episode Three. Fans of 'The Happiness Patrol' take note - that is not the only story in which the Doctor instigates large-scale societal changes in the space of less than two days. 

The script of 'The Sun Makers' is crucial to its success and is very witty. The Doctor gets some great lines, from his deadpan "I can see we're going to get along famously" remark to Mandrel as he holds a knife to the Doctor's throat, to his scene with the Collector in Episode Four. However, it is Richard Leech's pompous Gatherer Hade who gets all the best lines, from silly but topical oaths such as "By my ledger!", to his various forms of obsequious address for the Collector, including "Your enormity" and "Your sagacity". His colossal self-importance is also lampooned as he shows off his knowledge of old Earth but repeatedly gets it wrong, happily munching on raspberry leaves rather than actual raspberries and proclaiming that "There's one rotten acorn in every barrel" is an old Earth saying. The Collector is also well scripted, combining sadism with red tape; the only time he shows interest in anything other than profit is when he is gleefully anticipating Leela's steaming, with the line "This is the moment when I get a feeling of real job satisfaction". Despite the copious wit, the script also addresses the real horror of the society created and maintained by the company; mind-control through PCM, the euphemistically titled "Correction centres" (Hade tells Marn of an executive grade who survived for three years in such a centre, explaining to his astonished assistant that "He was very strong"), and public executions are disturbing concepts in themselves, and they sit side by side with the consequences of the Company's need for profit on the law-abiding citizens as represented by Cordo. Unable to pay his father's death taxes, he is driven to the point of suicide until the arrival of the Doctor changes things on Pluto. 'The Sun Makers' is occasionally criticized for its cheap sets, but these suit the mood of the story. Treating the population as a commodity, the Company minimizes expenditure on aesthetics, with even Hade's supposedly luxurious office suite looking cheap and nasty save for his mahogany desk. The Collector's abode, which is referred to as a palace, is a spartan affair, furnished solely with the computer banks that he needs to monitor his profits and set taxation levels. The drab concrete locations fit in perfectly with these barren sets.

As usual for a story penned by Robert Holmes, 'The Sun Makers' boasts excellent characterisation and the guest cast generally rises to the challenge. As noted, Richard Leech's Gatherer Hade virtually steals the show (and his ludicrous costumes works well to show him as a pompous buffoon keen to show off his wealth and status but lacking any real taste or intelligence), but Henry Woolf's gleefully sadistic Collector is also worthy of note. His diminutive stature and slightly pallid make-up make him a visually distinctive villain, and his money-orientated pattern of speech adds to this effect. His assessment of the Doctor and the Time Lords is nicely done, the Doctor described as having a history of economic subversion. Mandrel also works well; initially thoroughly unlikable, his belligerence and hard-bitten attitude are turned around half way through the story. Mandrel is clearly a product of an oppressive regime, worn down and embittered by the toll of working for the company. His initial dislike and distrust of the Doctor gives way to respect as he finally sees an opportunity to actually do something about his grievances rather than simply hiding in an old cellar. By Episode Three, he's almost likeable, fiercely insisting on giving the Doctor his full two minutes to rescue Leela, and William Simons portrays the character's rough edges very well. Blake's 7 stalwart Michael Keating gets little to do as Goudry, but Vila fans will of course know that he can play shifty characters in his sleep. Cordo is a great character; nicely played by Roy Macready, he represents the honest, law-abiding citizen finally pushed too far by the system, and his gradual transformation into revolutionary as the Doctor and Leela inspire him is an effective indicator of the changes wrought by the Doctor on Pluto. On the other hand, Adrienne Burgess puts in a cringe-worthy performance as Veet, and David Rowlands' Bisham is utterly wooden. 

The regulars are well handled by Holmes. Tom Baker seems to be enjoying himself with the script, and his increasingly comic performance comes to the fore here, hinting at things to come. I love the scene in which he fiddles with the lock on the Collector's safe before admitting that he has no idea how to crack the safe and resorts to his sonic screwdriver. It's quietly amusing without being over the top and is an example of why 'The Sun Makers' moves along at a cracking pace. Leela, a warrior from a tribal background faces perhaps her most alien situation to date in the programme, confronted not with robots, homicidal midgets, or alien viruses, but with the creaking weight of bureaucratic oppression. A natural fighter, she approaches the situation in her usual way and impresses both Mandrel and Cordo with her willingness to fight those who wrong her. Her stoic silence in the steamer is testament to the character's usually bravery, but perhaps her finest moment in the story is her realization that she is afraid for no apparent reason; once K9 explains the PCM to her, she realises that she has nothing to fear except fear itself and pragmatically ignores the sensation. Jameson also acts convincingly confused by the Collector's defeat, as the concept of a being who is defeated by loss of profit must be rather baffling for the survival-motivated Leela. Finally, there is K9. Having been sidelined for 'Image of the Fendahl', K9 finally gets a great story here, and Holmes' treatment of him as a character rather than a machine benefits the little fellow enormously. His plaintive "I'll be good" pleading with the Doctor when he wants to go for a walk is, ultimately, utterly silly, but its also so endearing that it never fails to make me smile. From this point on, K9 shines, drooping his tail antennae when chided, wagging it when he gets his own way, offering suggestions to the Doctor, and generally acting as a useful member of the TARDIS crew. John Leeson's enthusiasm helps to make the character work, and K9's frequent smugness nicely balances out the Doctor's increasing egocentricity from this point in the series. 

Overall, 'The Sun Makers' is woefully underrated and a real gem. As an example of what Graham Williams could do with the series' format, it is excellent and promises much for the future. Unfortunately, the potential shown here quickly drains away with the following story and fails to return fully until the following season...





The Ribos OperationBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 31 December 2003 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

After the rather uneven Season Fifteen, 'The Ribos Operation' signals the beginning of Graham Williams successful attempt to imbue Doctor Who with his own distinctive style. This is perhaps most obvious in the fact that the story introduces the quest for the Key to Time, a story arc encompassing the entire season, and an idea hitherto unexplored in the series. In addition, it signifies the move towards more humorous stories tenuously explored in 'The Sun Makers' and to a lesser extent in 'The Invasion of Time'. 'The Ribos Operation' works very well in this respect, combining a witty and engaging script, an increasingly eccentric performance from Tom Baker, and some superb supporting characters. 

The opening scene of 'The Ribos Operation' introduces the Key to Time storyline, and immediately sets the tone of the rest of the story and much of the remainder of the Season. Depicting near-omnipotent beings in science fiction presents difficulties, for two simple reasons. Firstly, any really powerful being should be able to do anything it wants and attempts to limit this in a plausible manner can be woefully unconvincing. Secondly, actually depicting a being of enormous power can often be challenging, especially if there are budgetary constraints, which of course there always are in Doctor Who; Kronos is a perfect example of how cheap and nasty demigods can look if poorly handled by the production team. Here, these problems are overcome by having the White Guardian simply decide to recruit the Doctor to locate the six segments of the Key to Time on his behalf, and the second is overcome by presenting the Guardian as an elderly gentleman in a wicker chair sipping from a wine glass. The Guardian's power is hinted at in subtle but effective ways; firstly, he seemingly stops the TARDIS in mid-flight with consummate ease, and perhaps more impressively, the Doctor is obviously slightly overawed by him. We have seen the Doctor sent on missions before, usually by the Time Lords; the Third Doctor was prone to indignation, whereas the Fourth has previously been shown to sulk automatically. Here, the Doctor carefully explores the possibility of refusing, before quietly agreeing, and it is rather unusual to here him call anybody "sir" without sounding sarcastic. It is a whimsical scene which nicely sets up the linking theme of Season Sixteen, and also starts to introduce the humour that will characterize the remainder of the story, as the Doctor asks what will happen to him if he refuses and the White Guardian happily replies "Nothing… nothing at all. Ever". Cyril Luckham is perfectly cast in the role of what could be argued is Doctor Who's nearest equivalent to God, radiating quite dignity and authority. 

Once the Doctor returns to the TARDIS, the humour really starts to escalate with the introduction of new companion Romanadvoratrelundar. For the first time in a considerable while, the Doctor is suddenly saddled with a new companion whom he neither invites to join him nor has time to get to know first, and his open resentment is highly entertaining. Of course, it wouldn't be anywhere near as effective if it were not for the fact that the haughty Romana, played with the perfect amount of aloofness by Mary Tamm, is also obviously distinctly unimpressed with the notorious Doctor. From the moment they meet they bicker constantly, the Doctor patronizingly announcing to the inexperienced and somewhat naïve Romana that "I'd like you to stay out of my way as much as possible and try not to get into trouble… I don't suppose you can make tea?" in addition to which, he pokes fun at her convoluted name ("I'm sorry about that, is there anything we can do?") and insists on abbreviating it whether she likes it or not. In return, Romana belittles the Doctor, smugly reminding him of his unimpressive grades at the Academy and psychoanalyzing him in the most casually insulting manner possible after first telling him that before she met him she was willing to be impressed. This mutual antagonism reaches a climax early on with the Doctor furiously telling her "You aren't going back to Gallifrey, not for a very long time I regret to say", after which the two settle down into mutual bickering. The Doctor generally scores better, deriding her lack of experience of nearly getting killed for example, but Romana gets plenty of opportunities to rib him return, especially when he condescendingly sets rules for their relationship before blundering embarrassingly into a net. 

Over the course of the story, they do begin to develop a certain mutual respect, especially after Romana's reassessment of him when he can pinpoint the coordinates indicated by the tracer off the top of his head, but nobody need fear that their budding friendship becomes too cozy too early on; at the end of Episode Four, Romana grudgingly confesses that the Doctor's switching of the Graff's thermite pack for the jethrik is "quite clever", to which the Doctor blisteringly responds "I do so hate faint praise… it was astoundingly clever". It could be argued that this move towards self-aggrandising egocentricity on the Doctor's part does not show the character at his best, but the fact remains that I find it enormously entertaining. As a consequence of Romana's introduction, K9 gets relatively little to do here, but he gets to make up for this in subsequent stories and he does make himself useful in the last two episodes. His recasting as K9 Mark II has very little impact in story terms, but does have the advantage that he's a lot less bloody noisy when he's on the move…

Inevitably, with Tom Baker playing the Doctor in an increasingly eccentric, bombastic fashion, the character starts to dominate the series even more than usual. Consequently, it is important to have supporting characters who can compete with the Doctor and a guest cast that can realize this. Holmes is a master of characterisation, and provides another memorable "double act" in the shape of Unstoffe and Garron. Nigel Plaskitt's Unstoffe works well as a foil for his companion, and also acts to a degree as the conscience of the pair, genuinely touched by the effect he has on Binro and also berating Garron for stealing the tracer from Romana, thus leaving her lost in the catacombs. He also gets an amusing scene in which he adopts and outrageous west country accent and blathers on at length about "scringe stone", to Garron's obvious alarm. However, it is Iain Cuthbertson's Garron who nearly steals the show, competing with the Doctor for the story's best lines, including "who wants everything? I'll settle for ninety percent" and, in reference to dying, "I've always said it's the last thing I want to do". Cuthbertson plays the part with relish, effortlessly switching between Garron's normal gruff tones and his far plumier vernacular when trying to con the Graff. In addition, they're both thoroughly likeable despite their criminal tendencies, and its interesting watching the Doctor and Garron together, as they seem to get on so well. 

With Garron and Unstoffe both cast as loveable rogues, it falls to Paul Seed's Graff Vynda-K to provide the story's villain. Whereas Holmes creations such as Magnus Greel, Sharaz Jek and of course, the Master, are well remembered, the Graff seems to be overlooked, which is a shame as he's another well thought out character. The Graff is utterly unlikable, a ruthless, cruel tyrant deposed by his people and brimming with murderous rage, and Seed plays the part with impressive emotion, the Graff seeming always on the verge of erupting into explosive anger. The Graff is also well motivated, his deposed status and overwhelming desire to reclaim his throne an entirely credible background. Further depth is added to his character by his loyalty to devoted henchman Sholakh (played with casual menace by Robert Keegan), an unusual trait for a Holmes villain. So great is the Graff's grief when Sholakh is killed that in his last scenes before his own death, the sounds of battles long past echo through his head to reflect his anguish. It is an memorable moment and one which Seed again plays very convincingly. 

I pointed out back when I reviewed 'Carnival of Monsters' that it is very difficult to create any sense of depth in a fictional society in Doctor Who, where time is always a constraint. Holmes rises well to this challenge in 'The Ribos Operation', creating a broader sense of Riban and galactic history through throwaway references to settlements in the North, Riban traditions, the Cyrrhenic Alliance, and some of the Graff's past campaigns. By far the most impressive example of this however, is represented by Binro, who is both a marvellous character in his own right and also a means of exploring Riban society by drawing parallels with human history. Branded a heretic and scorned by his people for suggesting that the stars in the Riban sky are not ice crystals but other suns, and that Ribos moves around its own sun, Binro is clearly inspired by Galileo, whose revolutionary ideas led to his persecution by the Catholic Church. This immediately tells the viewer about Riban culture, which is still rooted in superstition, and Garron, who tells the Graff that the Ribans have not yet developed the telescope and that they believe their world to be flat, further elaborates on this. This therefore provides background to Riban society in a simple but effective way. On a more character driven level, Binro is an engaging character persecuted and ridiculed by his own people who eventually gives his life trying to save Unstoffe, the man who revealed to him that he was right all the time. Having lived a harsh and tragic life, Binro is thus able to find peace before he dies, and it makes for a touching subplot. 

In terms of its production, 'The Ribos Operation' looks rather good. It is entirely studio bound but looks far more impressive than the last three stories of the previous season, which regardless of their other merits or lack thereof, looked decidedly cheap. The costumes and sets all look rather lavish and the only weak point is the Shrivenzale, which director George Spenton-Foster manages to keep largely off camera. My only other criticism of 'The Ribos Operation' is the Seeker, a character that looks thoroughly ridiculous and is played in a cringe-worthy fashion by Ann Tirard. Having said that, her character adds an interesting twist to Binro's subplot; with Binro's "heresy" a nod to the dichotomy between science and superstition, it is interesting that Holmes includes a character whose ability to track fugitives is given no scientific basis and seems to rely purely on some kind of divining with old bones. This isn't explored any further, but it's an odd juxtaposition. 

In summary then, 'The Ribos Operation' is an excellent, if underrated, story and a fine start to the Key to Time season.





The Pirate PlanetBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 31 December 2003 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

And so on to the late lamented Douglas Adams' first stab at Doctor Who. 'The Pirate Planet' is composed of a recipe for disaster, combining a thoroughly over the top villain with an unprecedented amount of technobabble, either of which are capable of ruining an otherwise decent story. Astonishingly then, 'The Pirate Planet' is not only largely successful, but is also my favourite story of Season Sixteen. 

When I reviewed 'The Invisible Enemy', I heavily criticized it for its abundance of ludicrous pseudo-scientific concepts that failed miserably and contributed to the story's diabolical farcical nature. 'The Pirate Planet' should in theory be just as guilty of this failing, concerning as it does a hollow, space-hopping planet capable of materializing around another planet and draining it of its resources, after which the crushed remains of these planets are placed in a trophy room by a cybernetic pirate. In truth, I'm not sure I can pinpoint why Adams' approach works for me far better than that of Baker and Martin, but my best guess is this: when lesser writers use technobabble to explain their ideas, it often feels like lazy writing; when Adams does it, it feels as though science hasn't yet discovered enough to accommodate his imagination. I absolutely love the plot of 'The Pirate Planet', not just because I like the idea of Zanak, but because of the way that Adams milks the pirate concept for all its worth. We don't just get a planet capable of plundering by force other worlds, we get a Captain on the bridge with a technological equivalent of an eye patch and a hook, we get a lethal robot parrot on his shoulder, and we even get a plank for the Doctor to walk. Adams' witty dialogue reflects this, with the Captain demanding of Mr. Fibuli at one point "Are you trying to scuttle this planet?" In addition to this, we have further concepts on display, such as the Mentiads' psychic awakening by the life force released by Zanak's target planets, and Queen Xanxia, an ancient tyrant attempting to extend her natural lifespan by keeping her body alive between two time dams whilst she uses the energy from the crushed planets to stabilize a cellular projection of herself as a new body. 

With so many absurd concepts on display, Adams unleashes some of the most ludicrous technobabble ever heard in Doctor Who, with references to macromac field integrators, synchronic feedback circuits, and magnifactoid eccentricolometers. Fortunately, 'The Pirate Planet' features two actors who rise to the challenge of delivering such gibberish in a convincing way, one of whom is Tom Baker, and the other of whom is Bruce Purchase. The Pirate Captain is a superb villain, because Purchase combines excellent delivery with comic timing, but above all brings considerable emotion to the part. It would have been so easy for to act the part of the Captain poorly, but Purchase portrays him to perfection by conveying a feeling of barely suppressed emotion throughout. The Captain is not a calm man, he is a frustrated warrior trapped in a situation he dislikes and this is reflected by his hair-trigger temper throughout. His characteristic vernacular includes such phrases as "Moons of madness!", "By the beard of the Sky-Demon!", and "Devilstorms!", all of which look silly on paper, but all of which Purchase delivers in such angry tones that they sound like entirely respectable oaths. It is suggested that much of the Captain's frequent bellowing is an act to lull Xanxia into a false sense of security so that she doesn't learn that he is planning to free himself from her clutches, but when he is in a rage it does nevertheless seem impressively authentic. The Captain displays other emotions however, and again Purchase rises to the challenge with ease. Occasionally, the Captain is wistful, such as when he is reminiscing about the Vantiliaris with Mr. Fibuli, and after Fibuli's death he seems genuinely distraught by the lost of his faithful lieutenant. There is also a moment after this when he quietly says "Yes Xanxia, finally I am ready" just before he dies when again we see another dimension to him, as long years of quiet plotting finally come to an end and he throws off his blustering persona. And then bellows, "I shall be free of you, you hag!" just before she kills him… 

The Captain is also used as a source of comedy on occasion, for example when he orders his guards to find and destroy the Doctor's counter-jamming frequency projector, only for Mr. Fibuli to quietly enquire as to whether any of the guards will actually know what a counter-jamming frequency projector looks like. Mr. Fibuli is a perfect foil for the Captain, and is played in an appropriately nervous manner by Andrew Robertson. Fibuli is the frequent targets of the Captain's casual death threats from "I'll have your bones bleached" to the comparatively friendly "Your death will be postponed". Mr. Fibuli is also used for comic effect in his scenes with the Doctor and Romana, his bumbling, absent-mindedness meaning that he's even more easily confused by the Fourth Doctor than most people are. His aforementioned death, and the effect it has on the Captain, also works well by serving to allow the audience a glimpse of his real hatred for Xanxia. The other overwhelming impression of the Captain that I get is one of an enormous, if psychotic, intellect. Mr. Fibuli again helps to demonstrate this, acting in much the same way as the traditional Doctor Who companion; whereas the Doctor explains the plot to the audience via Romana and Kimus, the Captain's explanations and instructions to Mr. Fibuli serve much the same purpose. The Captain's intelligence is thus well conveyed, as we learn that he not only rebuilt Zanak and created the Bridge, but also of his scientific achievement in creating his Trophy Room. Even the Doctor, appalled though he is by the Captain's enormous crimes, describes it as the most impressive feat of astro-gravitational engineering that he's even seen. 

With the Captain such a bombastic, memorable character, there is a danger that he might entirely steal the show, but Tom Baker proves more than capable of holding his own. The increased humour that marked his performance in 'The Ribos Operation' here continues apace, and even gets more pronounced. Fans who dislike silliness in Doctor Who probably loathe this story, but I've said before that I think the Tom Baker era is long enough to accommodate this change in style and I do rather like it. Baker's performance here is massively eccentric, but in such an all-pervasive way that it's actually quite difficulty to isolate specific examples. It's all the little touches that he brings to the role, such as when he suddenly throws his arms around Mula and Kimus and talks to them like old friends, or his double take when he realises that he has successfully picked the lock to the Bridge in Episode Two. I suspect that this approach works for me not just because it is rather amusing, but also because, much like Troughton's performance as the Second Doctor, it creates a sense of a genius hidden beneath the veneer of a clown. Admittedly, Baker is far less subtle in his clowning than Troughton was, but he has enough charisma to carry it off. Occasionally however, he shows the Doctor's more serious side; he's visibly appalled on learning that Zanak's next target is Earth, and more famously, he gets an excellent scene with the Captain in the Trophy Room, when the Captain announces that he is gratified that the Doctor appreciates his technological achievements. The classic moment of course is after the Doctor's furious "Appreciate it? Appreciate it?! You commit mass destruction and murder on a scale that's almost inconceivable and you ask me to appreciate it? Just because you happen to have made a brilliantly conceived toy out of the mummified remains of planets…", which draws the Captain's equally angry "Devilstorms, Doctor, it is not a toy!" And this in turn provokes the Doctor's "Then what's it for?!", a line into which Baker crams so much feeling that it is almost palpable, and remains one of my favourite moments from the entire run of Doctor Who on television. 

As in 'The Ribos Operation', the Doctor's interaction with new companion Romana continues to entertain. The early scenes in the TARDIS demonstrate that their relationship is still rather antagonist, as Romana teaches herself to pilot the Doctor's "capsule" and the two then engage in a brief routine of one-upmanship. Once they arrive on Zanak however, their relationship proves to be increasingly friendly, partly because they are developing a certain mutual respect, and partly because Romana increasingly seems to be enjoying herself (and likewise, Mary Tamm). Adams also makes good use of K9, who tracks the Mentiads and acts as the Doctor's anti-jamming frequency projector. He even gives him his own foe, in the shape of Polyphase Avatron, which results in a amusingly conceived but poorly executed duel between the two robot animals. 

Where 'The Pirate Planet' falls down is in some of its supporting characters. David Warwick's Kimus is passable, although he doesn't get much to do except serve as a target of expository dialogue from the Doctor. The Mentiads, whilst an interesting concept, also aren't very memorable, Pralix being the only one of note; matters are complicated by the fact that the script seems to call for the Mentiads to be fairly wooden characters, in order to tie in with the "zombie" tag that they are labeled with by the Captain. Bernard Finch tackles his few lines with some enthusiasm, but he's still fairly forgettable. Rosalind Lloyd' icy performance as the Nurse has been criticized by some, but I personally think that she serves her purpose well enough, and makes Xanxia seem suitably unpleasant. Xanxia's real significance to the story is that she is the key to the Captain's motivation both in plundering other worlds and also in creating the Trophy Room; a more memorable performance from Lloyd is scarcely necessary alongside Bruce Purchase and Tom Baker. My least favourite guest cast performances come from Ralph Michael as Balaton and Prima Townsend as Mula, a pair of performances so stilted that they always puts me in mind of the scene between "Bob" and her father from the beginning of the Blackadder II episode Bells ("Yes… I want to you become a prostitute"). Mula's "Why? Why? Why?", a bad line poorly delivered, really doesn't help. 

In production terms, 'The Pirate Planet' generally maintains the high standard of 'The Ribos Operation', although the model footage of the city is dreadful and there's some dodgy CSO on display with the Polyphase Avatron, the air cars, and worst of all, the spanner in Episode Four. This is compensated for by the excellent sets used for the interiors of the Bridge, and also the model work used to show its exterior. The Bridge's destruction at the end of Episode Four is also particularly worthy of note. The location footage, especially in the caves at the end of Episode Two, is also impressive and is used to great effect. Overall, 'The Pirate Planet' is a hugely entertaining debut from Adams and one of my favourite stories of Graham Williams' entire stint as producer.





The Stones of BloodBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 31 December 2003 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

After the outrageous lunacy of 'The Pirate Planet', 'The Stones of Blood' is something of a comedown. Initially, it almost harkens back to the Hinchcliffe era in terms of style, with a distinct gothic horror feel, but as it progresses it totally shifts its emphasis and becomes more comical, with a fairly unremarkable ending. Sadly, this results in the story feeling oddly disjointed, which is a shame since it boasts a great supporting character, unusual monsters, and one of Doctor Who's rare female villains. 

'The Stones of Blood' starts promisingly, featuring in its first two episodes human sacrifice, sinister ravens, a Celtic goddess, Hammer-esque druids, and a gothic mansion. This dark approach, a distinct change from that of the previous story is rather effective, and the script exploits these trappings by creating an air of mystery, as the Doctor and Romana investigate the stone circle and learn of the Cailleach, a mysterious woman who has owned the area for centuries. The entire production contributes to the sinister feel created, with night filming, stark location work, and of course an old mansion owned by a villain, a recurrent phenomenon in Doctor Who. The monsters of the piece, the Ogri, fit perfectly into this story, and work rather well considering that they are artificial glowing boulders on trolleys. Whilst there are far more memorable Doctor Who monsters in the series' history, the Ogri are conceptually striking, since they are in effect vampiric rocks that can neither speak nor show any kind of physical expression; all they can do is rumble remorselessly after people. This sounds daft on paper, but it is made to work on screen thanks to some nice camera work and one noteworthy scene in which two Ogri kill a couple who are camping, sucking them dry until mere skeletons remain. With an ancient goddess controlling these creatures, all of the ingredients necessary for classic Doctor Who are present; then, during Episode Three, everything changes. 

As soon as the action switches to hyperspace in Episode Three, the whole tone of 'The Stones of Blood' changes irrevocably. The introduction of the Megara amidst a brightly lit spaceship set heralds the beginning of the explanations as to why the Ogri and their mistress are on Earth, but sees all of the sinister atmosphere of the first half of the story evaporate. There is no reason why the approach adopted by the latter two episodes shouldn't work and indeed it does have a certain appeal, but it clashes horribly with what precedes it. Suddenly, the story becomes more comedic, as the script pokes fun at the rigidity of the law via the Megara and the Doctor finds himself on trial. Baker handles this material well, and the Doctor's increasingly desperate attempts to outwit the Megara are rather entertaining, but they completely lack suspense, with the previously ominous Ogri suddenly seeming very vulnerable (the Megara reduce one to a pile of sand with consummate ease) and the Cailleach, now identified as Cessair of Diplos, standing on the sidelines and becoming increasingly shrill as she tries to convince the Megara to execute the Doctor before he can prove to them who she really is. It doesn't help that Cessair appears to lack any sort of motivation whatsoever, since having stolen the Great Seal of Diplos and escaped from the Megara's ship, she has spent five millennia hanging around the area doing very little except enjoying the scenery. Given the implied power of the Great Seal (secretly the third segment of the Key to Time), it seems rather strange that she doesn't seem to exploit its power to any great extent. There are very subtle hints that she is an agent of the Black Guardian, but even so he must have promised great rewards indeed if she is prepared to hang around in one place for so long. In fact, Cessair of Diplos is a rather disappointing villain overall; her lack of motivation is doubly disappointing given the rarity of female Doctor Who villains, and the decision to paint Susan Engel silver is unfortunate, since it just makes her look like an actress painted silver rather than an alien criminal (see also 'The Power of Kroll'). Engel's performance also gets increasingly over the top as the story progresses, with the worst example being her melodramatic cackling at the end of Episode Three. 

The draining away of suspense in Episode Three (slightly halted by the deaths of the campers) is compensated for to an extent by the witty script, although unfortunately for David Fisher his story follows both 'The Ribos Operation' and 'The Pirate Planet' and so the humour inherent in 'The Stones of Blood' seems rather diluted in comparison. Nevertheless, there are some great lines, most notably from the Doctor who gets to utter the sentence "They say hyperspace is a theoretical absurdity and I've always wanted to be trapped in one of those" and generally takes the piss out of both druids and physicists in the same script. Probably the silliest the story gets is when the Doctor produces a barristers wig from his pocket during his trial, which seems to enrage some critics, but as far as I'm concerned is entirely in keeping with the increasingly humorous nature of the era. Most of the humour in 'The Stones of Blood' is less blatant, and revolves around Amelia Rumford, a marvellous character played magnificently by Beatrix Lehmann. As an eccentric academic scientist Professor Rumford is not exactly an original character, but she is so well scripted that she comes alive and makes an excellent foil for the Doctor, since she is possibly even more eccentric than he is. I particularly like her snide asides about fellow academics, especially when she alternately praises and dismisses various papers as she tries to remember who wrote them. Refreshingly for Doctor Who, she is also a scientist who is open minded from the start and is constantly fascinated by what she learns from her encounter with the Doctor, an attitude best summarized by her suggestion to an incredulous Doctor that they attempt to capture an Ogri in the name of science. 

The only other supporting characters of note are the Megara, since both Nicholas McArdle's De Vries and Elaine Ives-Cameron's Martha are adequate but forgettable. The Megara are silly but entertaining, and the special effect used to create them works rather well, looking a lot more convincing than actual models would have done. Their stuffy, prim voices are well suited to their characterisation as the personification of legal proceedings and I like the fact that the Doctor neither convinces them of his innocence nor is forgiven, forcing him to use the third segment to get rid of them at the end.

The regulars are on their usual form, with K9 in particular getting plenty to do, as he battles Ogri, instructs Professor Rumford on how to rebuild the Doctor's machine, and also gets trashed for the first time (something that K9 Mark II is increasingly prone to from this point on). This unfortunately results in a cringe worthy scene as the Doctor and Romana fret over him, and spout pseudo-scientific twaddle about circuit regeneration; it is obviously intended to demonstrate how fond of him they are, but it comes across as being far sillier than the Doctor's wig could ever be. Romana also does well out of the story, Fisher's script reminding the viewer of her relative lack of experience, as she ventures out into the English countryside in high heeled shoes, sparking off a chain of events that result in her being pushed off a cliff. Her conviction that the Doctor was responsibly given Cessair's use of illusion nicely demonstrates that she hasn't been travelling with him long enough to develop the faith in him displayed by Sarah or Leela (both of whom would have assumed that if the Doctor had tried to kill them, he would either have been under someone else's control or an imposter). This is balanced out by the fact that in general, their initially antagonistic relationship has clearly settled down by now, and that the Doctor trusts her enough to tell her about the Guardians. 

The production of 'The Stones of Blood' looks great, with the detailed sets of De Vries' house and Vivian Fay's cottage meshing perfectly with the superb location footage. Even more impressive is the fact that the stone circle, which looks highly authentic, is actually made largely out of fake boulders, since the real stones where deemed too small. The model work of the Megara's ship also looks good and nicely matches up with the sets used for the interior. These production values are valuable in a story which I feel doesn't quite work in story terms; 'The Stones of Blood' ultimately feels rather disjointed and is saddled with a mediocre villain, but nevertheless boasts many features that on the whole make it worth watching. As a debut for David Fisher it shows promise, and fortunately he gets to deliver on this promise very, very quickly…