The Green DeathBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 2 September 2003 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

It's a while since I last watched 'The Green Death', but I remember thinking that it wasn't very good. Consequently, watching it again proved to be a pleasant surprise (especially after the execrable 'Planet of the Daleks'), since I thoroughly enjoyed it. 

The basic plot of 'The Green Death' concerns the dangers of pollution, and in some ways harkens back to the glory days of Season Seven, with the earthbound menaces of 'Doctor Who and the Silurians' and 'Inferno'. Global Chemicals is a big, ruthless corporation promising a cheaper supply of petrol by using a new chemical process, but which is causing particularly dangerous pollution as a by-product. Opposing them are the members of Professor Jones' Wholeweal community, basically eco-activists who are on the verge of being hippies. Caught in the middle of this are the local miners, three of whom get killed off by the pollution in the mine, and UNIT, who are ordered to provide security for Global Chemicals despite the Brigadier's entirely justified distrust of Stevens. This is a reasonably sound premise in itself, but it succeeds beyond that due to some intelligent characterisation and decent acting. It would have been very easy to just portray the employees of Global Chemicals as faceless corporate drones, but instead Sloman and Letts give them some character; Elgin rebels against Stevens when he learns that his superior is refusing to lend cutting equipment to UNIT because he doesn't want the mine to be investigated further. All Elgin cares about is that lives are at stake, and he holds this in greater importance than the profits of his company. Fell likewise overcomes his programming to save the Doctor and Jo when they are trapped in the pipe, for much the same reasons. Even one of the guards shows a human side, asking "Doris" the cleaning lady how her husband is. We also have the Wholeweal community members, who could easily have been portrayed as stereotypical hippies or indeed some kind of lunatic fringe, but who are instead shown to be a community of intelligent scientists; Professor Jones of course, is even a Nobel prize winner. 

'The Green Death' also benefits from two effective villains. When I reviewed 'The War Machines', I mentioned that I dislike megalomaniac computers as villains. Whilst this is still true, I find that BOSS works quite well, primarily because he's charismatic and thus quite unlike most evil computers in science fiction, including WOTAN. He is bombastic, chatty and rather amusing, especially when he hums Wagnerian ditties as Stevens prepares the final stages of his plan to take over the world (or at least parts of it). I do find it slightly annoying that the Doctor is able to confuse him with a simple logical conundrum, which is an unfortunately clichéd stock method for foxing naughty computers, and which BOSS should in any case realize is a transparent trick if he's really been programmed to be irrational. What I also like about BOSS is his interaction with Stevens, whom he does genuinely seem to consider a friend, and whom he constantly teases and taunts. The irony of course is that Stevens has less of a sense of humour that his transistorized accomplice. Stevens himself is superbly portrayed by Jerome Willis, who imbues the character with an air of icy menace, but who also shows the character's human side. Ruthless and dedicated though he is, Stevens seems to genuinely believe that what he is doing is right, until his very last scene, and like BOSS he seems to value his friendship with the computer. Consequently, their final scene works very well, as Stevens is convinced that what he is doing is wrong and destroys BOSS. However, this is not simply played as Stevens destroying a machine, it is rather a case of him killing his best friend, and it is for this reason that Stevens remains behind to die with it. BOSS's pitiful cries of "It hurts" and Stevens's tears as they die together make it a poignant moment, even if their plan was rather Machiavellian. 

The main iconic image from 'The Green Death' that everyone remembers is of course the maggots. The interesting thing about the maggots is that they do not directly form part of BOSS's plans and he and Stevens are as keen to get rid of them as everybody else, since their very existence proves that the accusations leveled against Global Chemicals's new process are absolutely true. Consequently, the maggots are in a sense token monsters, since the danger of the pollution could have been shown solely by the deadly green slime that gives the story the name. However, the maggots work because they emphasize this point and in effect act as a more monstrous embodiment of pollution than the slime alone, which probably had more of an impact on a traditional Saturday teatime Doctor Who audience. For the most part, the maggots work well in close-up, when the stuffed-condom maggots are used, with their gaping mouths. Unfortunately however, this is not the only way in which they are depicted, and the other ways in which they are realized are rather variable. Long shots of static maggot mock-ups don't hide the fact that they don't wriggle, but even less successful is the use of CSO to superimpose various actors against a shot of normal sized live maggots in green food colouring. Even worse is the giant fly in Episode Six, which criminally manages to be far less convincing than the one seen almost a decade earlier in 'Planet of Giants'. I usually don't complain about dodgy effects, but it irks me when they get progressively *worse* over time, and I remain convinced that better camera work and editing could have reduced the need for CSO maggots. My other criticism is that the maggots' resistance to, well, anything, stretches things a bit by Episode Five; I don't care how big they are, chitin is neither bullet-proof or fire proof!

As I'm on the subject, I'll just mention the overall production. Generally 'The Green Death' is rather well directed, and great use is made of location filming. The sets all work well, especially the mines, which are quite convincing. Particularly note worthy is the sequence in Episode One, when the action cuts repeatedly back and forth between the Brigadier in Stevens's office, and Professor Jones and Jo in the Nuthutch (with occasionally switches to the Doctor on Metebelis 3). This is highly effective in establishing the basic plot, as both parties discuss Global Chemicals' new process, Stevens praising it, and the Professor criticizing it. And since I've brought it up, Metebelis 3 looks suitably alien, due to it being (as far as I can tell) shot on film, and lit with blue lighting. However, I personally consider this story to suffer more from bad CSO than any other Doctor Who story. It isn't just the amount used, but rather the fact that it stands out more than usual. I'm not sure why this is, but it looks terrible, enhancing the infamous "wobbly line" effect, and making bits of whatever is being imposed vanish, most notably the edges of the advancing maggot at the end of Episode Three. 

At this point, I feel I must mention the Welsh. It's frankly astonishing that the BBC managed to get away with this as much as they did, for never have a seen such ludicrous stereotyping. To appreciate how astonishing this is, image any other ethnic group instead of the Welsh being this badly stereotyped, and cringe. They are nearly all miners, they all say Boyo and Blodwyn, and the milkman is called "Jones-the-milk". Even on a visit to Maesteg, in the heart of Mid-Glamorgan, I've never witnessed such things! Mind you, Talfryn Thomas as Dai Evans puts in rather a good performance; he actually gives the impression that lives are at stake at the start of Episode Two, as he and the Doctor struggle to stop the plummeting lift. 

The regulars are generally very good here. Pertwee is at the top his form throughout, especially when the Doctor is dealing with Jo's impending departure. He also makes the Metebelis 3 scenes work well, and I personally find them highly amusing; after repeated mentions of the planet, as soon as he arrives he is attacked by a tentacle, and then beset by snakes and giant birds, before legging it back to the TARDIS as various objects clatter off the door behind him including spears. It's quite silly, but it's also funny, and Pertwee makes it work. His heartfelt "I'll talk to anyone" when he gets back and answers the 'phone nicely emphasizes his relief to be back. He also uses his knack for righteous anger very well when dealing with both Stevens and BOSS, without slipping into the pious pomposity of 'Planet of the Daleks'. Having said that, points are deducted for his ridiculous drag-act, particularly his stupid female voice impression. The Brigadier, previously reduced to the status of an imbecile, here makes something of a comeback. His smooth, diplomatic attitude when dealing Stevens recalls the commanding figure of Season Seven, and he even manages to keep his dignity when silenced by the Prime Minister. In addition, he gets on well with the Wholeweal community, proving as he used to do that he's not just some kind of clichéd military idiot but an intelligent man who is quite willing to listen to other people's points of view with an open mind even if he is duty-bound by his job. Even Yates isn't bad here; I still dislike Richard Franklin's portrayal immensely, but his role as a spy at least gives the character something useful to do and his usual inappropriate cheekiness is mercifully restrained. Although during the scene in which the disguised Doctor writes "Get rid of him" on the window, Yates continues to gawp idiotically until the guard almost spots the message and the Doctor, a trivial but thoroughly irritating matter. 

Finally, there is of course Jo. She's come a long way from the dumb blonde of 'Terror of the Autons', and by this point is a great character in her own right. The seeds of her departure are sown right from the start, as she shuns a trip to Metebelis 3 in favour of a visit to Professor Jones, champion of a cause that she is currently interested in, and as she does so the Doctor sadly reflects "the fledgling flies the coop". Her growing attachment to Professor Jones, and his reciprocated feelings, are gradually built up, making it obvious that she is going to be staying with him not only to the audience, but also to the Doctor; his childish hijacking of the Professor at the end of Episode Three so that he and Jo can't be alone together shows just how much the Doctor is affected by the realization of her imminent departure. After this immature lapse however, he sadly comes to accept it, and watches them grow closer until the end of the story, as she and the Professor get engaged. His final scene with Jo, as he gives her the Metebelis crystal, is very poignant, and had far more of an effect on me for watching the series in order that it ever did watching the story at random. The Doctor's quiet departure in Bessie is a moving end to a strong final story for Jo.





Invasion of the DinosaursBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 2 September 2003 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

As yet unreleased on video or DVD and notorious for its poor dinosaur effect, 'Invasion of the Dinosaurs' is largely overlooked. Frankly it doesn't deserve to be; dinosaurs aside, it is rather good, boasting an interesting plot, good characterisation, and, most incredibly of all, a decent performance from Richard Franklin as Mike Yates. 

First of all however, let's get the Dinosaurs out of the way. I've said many times that I don't judge Doctor Who on its effects, and this story is no exception, but due the infamy of the Dinosaur effects used here I should at least mention them. In fact they aren't all equally bad; the pterodactyl is quite effective, simply because it is a full-sized mechanical prop rather than a small rubber toy. Of the actual models, the brontosaurus and the stegosaurus aren't too bad, although they are a bit static. Nevertheless, their proportions look about right and careful direction manages to make the best out of them. I wouldn't say they look any worse that the Dinosaur in 'Doctor Who and the Silurians'. The triceratops is rather ropier, but again, Paddy Russell manages to make the best of it by keeping it in shadow and behind a pile of rubble, thus disguising the poor quality of the prop. However, even the most careful direction can't disguise the fact that the tyrannosaurus is absolutely crap. It is the classic rubber dinosaur, slightly disproportioned, with a duck-billed mouth, and listing constantly to one side. If this was Monty Python, the cliff-hanger to Episode One would not be the rubber Tyrannosaurus appearing in front of the Doctor and Sarah, it would be the arrival of the giant toddler whop owns it… It really is a cheap and nasty prop, and looks bad every time it appears. To add insult to injury, at the start of Episode Three, as Mike fires his revolver at it, Richard Franklin is stood next to a completely immobile and equally unconvincing giant plastic tyrannosaurus leg in a feeble attempt to show that he's stood underneath the monster. They really shouldn't have bothered. 

Fortunately, although the Dinosaurs are mentioned in the story title, they are peripheral to the main plot and Malcolm Hulke wisely keeps their involvement to a minimum, and in most other aspects, 'Invasion of the Dinosaurs' succeeds admirably. For starters, Episode One (titled simply 'Invasion') is startlingly effective, reminding me just how weird a deserted city, especially one like London, seems. It's highly effective and very intriguing, as the Doctor and Sarah wander the streets of London searching for anyone to tell them what is happening, encountering looters, a temporally displaced and utterly terrified peasant, and a screeching pterodactyl, before being arrested by the army. The army's refusal to believe that the Doctor is UNIT's scientific advisor is a sneaky but effective use of padding, something which Hulke is very good at; the Doctor's problems with the army last until half-way through Episode Two, before the Brigadier turns up to vouch for him. As with 'The Sea Devils' and 'Frontier in Space', Hulke's last two stories, there are examples of this sort of padding throughout the story, and as in those two stories, Hulke's knack for characterisation and dialogue manages to make this padding interesting. However, the real masterstroke of 'Invasion of the Dinosaurs' comes at the end of Episode Three; just as the novelty of the Dinosaurs is wearing off, the viewer gets the first glimpse of just what is really going on, with a suitably bizarre twist. 

The villains of 'Invasion of the Dinosaurs' contribute significantly to the story's success. The plot attempts to make them seem sympathetic; Grover genuinely wants Sarah to understand why he is trying to return Earth to its "Golden Age", for example, and Grover, Finch, and Butler are motivated by a real sense that what they are doing is for the best. Noel Johnson is excels at conveying this, seemingly disturbed by the measures he feels he is constantly forced to take, but taking them anyway; in Episodes Five and Six, when he pleads with the People, he does almost seem to be agonized by the situation. Finch and Butler get less opportunity to demonstrate any such motivation, but John Bennett and Martin Jarvis nevertheless make the most of their roles, and despite his apparent intention to shoot the Doctor, Finch is given a certain air of nobility by Bennett's performance. Despite their belief that what they are doing is right however, Grover and his associates are of course characterised by a ruthless intent, which is to effectively wipe out millions of people. They are almost a cult, dedicated to some nebulous cause and willing to go to any ends to achieve it; the script successfully highlights the hypocrisy inherent in their intentions; Sarah argues with Grover that he is about to commit mass-murder, and that his so-called "Golden Age" would thus be based on a foundation of genocide. The uncomfortable Grover firmly states that it isn't murder, as these people simply will never have existed; clearly this is intended to convince him rather than Sarah. A more disturbing example of the hypocrisy inherent in these people is actually seen in the "ship"; the People are unaware of Grover's true intentions and believe that they are leaving the filth and social degradation of Earth behind them to instead find a new home. Consequently, they are not knowingly participating in the mass-murder of Earth's population, which makes Ruth's intention to "destroy" Sarah rather chilling. Ruth's brave new world is threatened by Sarah's dissent, so her solution is murder. The inherent issue of course, being what sort of "Golden Age" could possibly be built on the summary execution of people who don't agree with the majority opinion. In addition to this, even her less terminal solution to the Sarah problem is disturbing, amounting as it does to brainwashing. Interestingly, there is one key villain who does not fit this pattern: Professor Whitaker. Whitaker is not remotely sympathetic and shows absolutely no interest in Grover's cause. Instead Peter Miles' icy performance suggests a man whose sole motivation is personal achievement; having been dismissed by his peers for his theories on time travel, he is concerned only with proving his abilities. A clue to this, which also demonstrates his arrogance, comes during Episode Two, when Mike describes the Doctor as the most brilliant scientist on Earth; Whitaker's response suggests just who he thinks is the world's greatest scientist. 

And then there's Mike. I've made no secret of the fact that I can't stand either the character of Mike Yates, or Richard Franklin's performance. Here however, he almost redeems his past appearance, as Yates is revealed as the traitor inside UNIT. Given this unusual and unexpected character development, Franklin puts in a restrained, troubled performance as Yates struggles with his conscience, torn between the lure of Operation Golden Age and his guilt at betraying his friends, especially the Doctor, who he clearly respects enormously. Unlike the other conspirators, Yates seems confused, a victim of Grover's propaganda, but convinced by it nonetheless to the extent that he is willing to be party to the eradication of the vast majority of mankind, even showing willingness to sacrifice himself for the cause if necessary. Equally guilty of the crime of being party to near-genocide, Yates is obviously more tortured by his conscience than Grover, Finch or Butler, and is painfully aware of the hypocrisy of the operation, even going so far as to tell Butler and Whitaker that he won't allow the Doctor to be harmed because if they resort to such levels, they are no better than the society that they intend to replace. Ultimately, Yates' participation in Operation Golden Age is unforgivable, but his past involvement with the Doctor and UNIT gives him the chance to redeem himself, as he is given extended sick leave rather than facing a court-martial like Finch does. 

The other two regular members of UNIT shine here, the Brigadier once more on form in particular. His defiance of General Finch even before he knows that the General is a traitor, is motivated largely by his faith in the Doctor. Even though the Doctor is unsure of the Brigadier's reliability briefly in Episode Five (after the Doctor is arrested when Whitaker frames him), the viewer is not; his carefully measured response makes it clear that he is highly suspicious of the circumstances. Benton too does very well out of the script, his faith in the Doctor even more obvious especially when he allows the Doctor to overpower him and escape; clearly, he never once doubts the Time Lord.

The Doctor is well written here, immediately posing a threat to the success of Operation Golden Age from the moment he meets up with Lethbridge-Stewart, whereas prior to this the conspirators have been successfully keeping UNIT distracted. His rapid conclusion that the dinosaurs are merely a means to clear central London prompts the conspirators to take steps, Yates being ordered to sabotage the Doctor's stun gun. This tips the balance of events, causing them to reveal their hand, take the first steps towards blowing Mike's cover and ultimately be defeated. Sarah too plays a key role and gets to show off her investigative skills, discovering Whitaker's involvement, locating Grover's hidden base, and revealing the truth to the People. In summary, 'Invasion of the Dinosaurs' is a well-crafted, interesting story, which is thoroughly underrated and worthy or reappraisal.





Nightmare of EdenBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 2 September 2003 - Reviewed by Douglas Westwood

What should or could have been a promising story was let down by a combination of things. After the okayish Destiny of the Daleks and the brilliant City of Death, I felt let down somewhat by the revelation that the Creature in Of The Pit was actually a good-natured monster - I like monsters to be monsters. And then there was the Nightmare of Eden.

What most let it down was the downright comic way the mandrels were dealt with in part 4, reduced to shaggy dogs following a tin whistle. The humour in the show had by now really reached a ridiculous level, and I felt that sending up the mandrels was really sending up the show itself. The mandrels themselves looked quite cool, I thought. Okay, they had flares but also wonderful green glowing eyes and corrugated shells for mouths, and at least their claws looked quite fierce. The problem was making the audience laugh at what had been up till that point a serious sci-fi show, by demeaning not only the monsters but the Doctor himself. 'My arms my legs, my everything,' indeed! Tom Baker's character had sunk to previously un plummeted depths with the sheer over the topness of his performance in the cet machine and his hamming it up was cringe-inducing. Oh, Doctor! I like a little humour and odd quip, sure, but this pudding was so over -egged it was more egg then pudding. In fact, I once heard that Tom Baker once wanted the cybermen to do Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers type dancing and to use that idea in a show. Is it possible to even imagine anyone taking dr who seriously after that, and I wonder how much of the mandrel's swan song was his idea.

The two customs men, Fisk and Costa, were made a bit more ludicrous than they should have been. Captain Rigg was excellent throughout but after he was shot down like a dog in part 3, crazed on vraxoin, nobody seemed to care about him afterwards. He was a good man who met a thoroughly undeserved end and all Romana felt was relief once he'd been shot. I dunno. Someone should have cared!

The Doctor's famous contempt scene towards Trist at the end didn't work - okay he was a drug dealer but he thought he was a goody, protecting endangered animals and suchlike, and he didn't even shoot anyone! Well, apart from Stott and can anyone blame him for that? I just felt that other foes that the fourth doctor had dealt with were far more deserving of the rough edge of his tongue, and as for his gall in using such (for the doctor) shocking contempt so soon after his clowning around scene, just beggared belief.These two very different aspects of the doctor should not even have been in the same story, let alone the same episode. I know drugs are evil, man, and the doctor is a role model, but still.

So basically, what started out as a very promising story in my opinion fell a little flat. Take out a little contempt, and a great deal of Michael Barrymore-type showing off from the Doctor and do something else with the mandrels and it would all have been better. But it would not have been the Nightmare of Eden.





Spearhead From SpaceBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 2 September 2003 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

As début stories go, ‘Spearhead From Space’ is one of the best and far better than Jon Pertwee could ever have hoped for. This is only partially because it was recorded entirely on film; whilst this undoubtedly benefits the production by giving it a unique slick appearance, it is not enough to rescue a mediocre story. Coupled with fine acting, superb direction and a marvellous script, however, it helps to make ‘Spearhead From Space’ a true classic.

Firstly, the new Doctor has to be mentioned. Pertwee makes an impressive Doctor, debonair, charming and immediately commanding. During the first two episodes, he is given little opportunity to make an impression, since the Doctor is suffering somewhat form his regeneration and spends most of the time bed-ridden and unconscious. Even here though, Pertwee makes the most of the script and is immediately charismatic enough to maintain viewer interest. His performance really starts to shine in the latter half of episode two, as the Doctor awakens and makes his escape from the hospital, gaining a new costume on the way. By the time he reaches UNIT HQ in London, his performance hits the pattern that he will stick to throughout his era, occasionally waspish (note his treatment of the speechless guard whom he demands take him to Lethbridge-Stewart), often charming (his first meeting with Liz), and commanding, but above all likeable. For all that he is far more intimidating than Troughton was, he is still very much the Doctor. His rueful performance on leaving the smoking TARDIS and shamefacedly admitting to the Brigadier that he tricked Liz into stealing the TARDIS key so that he could escape shows the Doctor’s vulnerable, almost human side, which shines through the rest of his persona, even when he is irritable and bad-tempered. In this respect, he recalls Hartnell more than Troughton, but also establishes the Third Doctor as a distinct character in his own right as a rather dashing man of action; he leads the raid on Auto Plastics during episode four, heading for a meeting with Channing with Liz whilst the UNIT troops remain outside, despite the danger. The final scene, as the Doctor agrees to remain with UNIT whilst he tries to repair his TARDIS and escape from his exile, sets the pattern for the rest of the season, and of course most of the Pertwee era. And it is also worth noting that for all his desire to escape Earth, once he realises the true threat posed by the Nestenes, he focuses his entire attention on defeating them. 

The other regular cast members of Season Seven also make an impression here. Lethbridge-Stewart is of course a familiar figure, and Nicholas Courtney falls back into his role with great aplomb. The Brigadier seen here is intelligent, commanding, and also diplomatic; despite his military rigidity, which will later be used as a source of fun, he is not portrayed as some hard-nosed stereotypical soldier, but rather a trustworthy and eminently likeable authority figure who listens to those around him and smoothly deals with the cynical Liz Shaw, the terrified Ransome with his seemingly ridiculous story of killer manikins, and later the Doctor. In fact the Brigadier is admirably broad-minded (understandably so after the events of ‘The Web of Fear’ and ‘The Invasion’) and quickly accepts the idea that this tall, debonair, white-haired stranger is the same man as the small, scruffy dark-haired man whom he encountered previously. He also takes Ransome and the Doctor’s theories about the Nestene energy unit seriously, and this plays an important role in defeating the menace he is facing. His relationship with the new Doctor is also quickly established; there is mutual respect between them and the impression of a budding friendship carefully disguised by occasional banter. The Brigadier is clearly prepared to humour his old friend in episode four by agreeing to his various demands in exchange for his help, indicating just how much he values the Doctor’s help. His relationship with Liz Shaw, and her relationship with the Doctor, are also cemented here. Initially, Liz is the voice of cynicism; the rational scientist confronted with the unusual and alien and forced to come to terms with it. To her credit, she does not try to fly in the face of evidence and having been forced to accept that an alien invasion is underway, she pitches in to help, gradually gaining respect for both the Brigadier and the Doctor. Whilst Zoe was highly intelligent and open minded, Liz combines both of these attributes with considerably more maturity, which gives a rather more grown-up feeling to the regular cast and enhances the more adult feeling of Season Seven compared with Season Six. She is able to talk to the Doctor on a more equal footing than many of her predecessors and yet is sufficiently unknowledgeable about the unique problems faced by UNIT that she still provides somebody for the Doctor to explain things to, and thus to the audience. 

After six seasons of stories in which the Doctor can travel anywhere in time and space, the concept of restricting him to Earth during a specific period of time is potentially limiting. Robert Holmes quickly dispels any such fears by establishing the new template for the series with an impressive and memorable threat. The Nestenes are truly alien, a disembodied and utterly malevolent alien intelligence in the mould of the threats from The Quatermass Experiment and Quatermass II. Despite the merciful brief appearance of the unconvincing Nestene monster at the end of episode four, this allows for an alien invasion of Earth that doesn’t resort to rubber monster costumes, and further adds to the adult feel of the new season. The Autons are extremely sinister and creepy monsters and still look great thirty years on. ‘Spearhead From Space’ contains some of the most sinister sequences in the series’ history, including the Auton coming to life behind Ransome at the end of episode two, the Auton advancing remorselessly towards the terrified Mrs. Seely in episode three, and most notably of all, the classic sequence in episode four as shop window dummies come eerily to life, break out of the shop windows, and silently slaughter members of the public. These sequences capture the same sort of impression as those of the Cybermen marching through London in ‘The Invasion’ and earlier the Daleks in ‘The Dalek Invasion of Earth’. Suddenly, the threat faced by the Doctor is on Earth in the present and it makes it all the more frightening. Suddenly, the benefits of the Doctor’s exile become clear. The Autons are simply terrifying, more so even than the Cybermen because whilst they are also remorseless, seemingly unstoppable, and bulletproof, they are also silent. 

So much adds to the success of ‘Spearhead From Space’. The use of colour is an obvious difference, and adds to the slick new look of this film-only story. The incidental music is suitably chilling, and enhances the menace of the Autons. The location work is gorgeous, especially the quaint interior of Ashbridge Cottage Hospital, and of course that shower. The direction is exemplary, with an impressive shot in episode one of the Brigadier and Captain Munro walking towards camera along a corridor. In comparison with modern television programmes it seems almost pointless to mention this, but it signifies such a technical advance compared with the previous Season that in the context of the series it really stands out. Most of all however, ‘Spearhead From Space’ benefits from acting and characterisation. Hugh Burden is almost as sinister as the Autons as Channing, looking remarkably cadaverous and ghastly. Most of his best acting is with his eyes alone; witness the way that they widen with excitement as he orders the “total destruction” of first Ransome and then later Hibbert. There is also some very impressive “Frightened” acting on display; as Ransome, Derek Smee looks genuinely terrified as he gibbers and dribbles tea in Munro’s tent, and Betty Bowden as Meg Seely looks equally frightened as the bullet-proof Auton advances on her in episode three. Then there is John Woodnutt’s tortured Hibbert, Neil Wilson’s shifty Sam Seely who unwittingly holds up the Nestenes’ invasion plans by hoarding the swarm leader to make a quick profit, Antony Webb’s perplexed Doctor Henderson, baffled by the Doctor’s alien physiology but determined to help his patient… the list goes on. 

I could make a couple of criticisms of ‘Spearhead From Space’. The switch from the model shot of the TARDIS materializing to location footage of the Doctor emerging and collapsing is so obvious that it’s painful, and the Nestene monster at the end is crap, but these are such minor criticisms that they vanish under the weight of the story’s good points. Finally, there is the ending, as the Doctor defeats the Nestenes. Yes, it is a deus ex machina ending, the Doctor cobbling together a contraption to defeat the invaders, and it could have been better, but crucially it entirely depends on the Doctor. Without his machine, the Auton invasion would probably have succeeded. Frankly, that exonerates it in my eyes, serving to establish the Doctor’s importance in UNIT’s operation. ‘Spearhead From Space’ shows us the new direction for Doctor Who and it shows it to us with tremendous style.





Colony In SpaceBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 2 September 2003 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

‘Colony in Space’ is generally regarded as the low point of Season Eight, but not by me. Whilst I do have criticisms of the story, I consider its good points to outweigh its bad ones, and although it is perhaps padded I don’t find it particularly dull as some fans seem to. 

I basically have three criticisms of ‘Colony in Space’. The first is the immediate revelation of the Master’s involvement in the first scene of episode one. Admittedly, given that he has appeared in every story of the season so far, it would be more of a surprise if he didn’t appear, but as the story stands he doesn’t turn up until episode four. Unfortunately, the Time Lords’ discussion in the very first scene make it clear that he is going to put in an appearance at some point, resulting in three episodes of waiting for him to arrive rather than enjoying the events leading up to that point. To add insult to injury, there is a pointless appearance by the Brigadier in which he discusses the Master with the Doctor and Jo. 

My second criticism is slightly more obscure, and it involves the Doctor’s attitude to the colony. From the moment that he meets Ashe, he encourages the colonists to fight to save the colony, first against the harsh conditions on the planet and later against IMC. Fair enough, but at no point does he even raise the issue of the colonists’ right to have landed on an inhabited planet without the permission of the indigent population. He takes an interest in the Primitives true, and it is made clear that the colonists generally get on well with them, but I still get a nagging feeling that the Doctor should care more about this issue.

Finally, there is the problem of Norton. He turns up mysteriously from a hitherto unsuspected colony at a time when things are going especially badly for the colonists, and just before IMC arrive, and continuously encourages them to leave Uxarieus. And they never suspect him! Even when the Doctor warns Winton to be wary of Norton, his warning goes unheeded, as a result of which Norton’s last act is ruin the colonists’ ambush in episode four. He’s so clearly suspicious that it beggars belief that none of the colonists seem to suspect him at all. 

Anyway, on to the good stuff. I’m a sucker for ancient races, super weapons and mysterious powerful alien races, so the doomsday weapon plotline immediately biases me in favour of ‘Colony in Space’. Although we learn very little about the Uxarians, their city is well realized, and they generally look quite good, especially the bloated, misshapen faces of the Primitives, the weird appearance of the Priests, and the horribly withered looking Guardian. We learn enough to tantalize me at least, and the revelation about the Crab Nebula is enough to convince the viewer that it would be an extremely bad idea for the Master to have access to the Doomsday Weapon. 

The Colonists versus IMC is hardly original, but again works quite well. This is due largely to Malcolm Hulke’s skill at characterisation; whilst not up to the standards of that in ‘Doctor Who and the Silurians’, it is still sufficient to grab interest. Representing IMC, we have Caldwell, Captain Dent, and Morgan. Caldwell, excellently portrayed by Bernard Kay in his fourth Doctor Who role, is simply a miner who wants to do his job, doesn’t want to see anyone get hurt, and eventually gives in to his conscience despite Dent’s bullying. In stark contrast we have Morgan (an unfortunately wooden performance from Tony Caunter), a sadistic thug who is basically in it for the violence. Finally there is Dent, who unlike Morgan is motivated not by vicious glee, but by profit. I rather like Morris Perry’s performance as Dent, although his hair rivals Bill Filer’s for silliest of the season. Dent is cold, calculating and ruthless, but lacks the sadism of his underling. True, after repeated setbacks by the colonists, he develops a desire for revenge, but he retains an air of icy impassivity throughout. This is effective in itself, but doubly so when contrasted with the bombastic charm of the main villain…

The colonists are represented primarily by Winton and Ashe. John Ringham is incapable of crap acting, and gives a solid performance as Ashe, who is idealistic almost to the point of stupidity, but has a touching naivety that gives the character the air of a kicked puppy throughout. Ashe is a man whose dreams and faith in mankind’s better nature are soundly thrashed throughout, until he eventually sacrifices himself heroically to save the colony that he loved so much. Every cloud has a silver lining though; his death spares him from having to listen to his daughter, as played by Helen Worth, an actress whose voice could shatter glass. Then again, as one of only two female colonists we actually get to see, she probably has plenty to be shrill about. Winton is far more pragmatic than Ashe and is competently portrayed by Nicholas Pennell, although I find the character’s impact is lessened by a moustache that puts me in mind of Swedish porn films. 

What really makes ‘Colony in Space’ stand out in my mind are the Doctor and the Master. Firstly, the Doctor alone is worth the price of admission; the change in his demeanour once he steps out the TARDIS onto an alien world for the first time since ‘The War Games’ (probably – there is a time and a place to discuss the Season 6B theory and this isn’t it) is noticeable and worth pointing out to Jon Pertwee’s detractors. The Doctor has been increasingly bad-tempered since the start of the season and his sheer delight at being able to step out onto another world is charming. There is a wonderful scene between the Doctor and Jo, who is understandably nervous at the thought of being on an alien planet for the first time, in which he explains how much it means to him to be able to visit other times and places. Whereas in other, Earthbound, stories the Doctor might have snapped at Jo or been generally short-tempered, here he is bubbling with infectious enthusiasm as the pair of them stand before the open TARDIS doors. It is a marvellous moment as his exile is briefly relaxed by Time Lord decree (the first time we get to see their manipulative side) and it is also crucial to Jo’s acceptance of what the TARDIS really represents; despite her anxiety, he convinces her to explore and she quickly befriends colonists and stands up to IMC thugs as well as she would have done on Earth.

As in the previous three stories, the relationship between the Master and the Doctor is particularly interesting. I’ve noted before that the Master keeps allowing himself to be easily distracted from killing the Doctor and often seems to almost want his approval, whereas the Doctor is far less tolerant of his foe. Here, this trend reaches its peak, as the Master offers the Doctor a half-share in the universe in one of my favourites scenes of the season in episode six. Significantly, there seem to be no strings; the Master has the upper hand and holds the Doctor at gunpoint. He simply does not need to bargain with the Doctor and therefore his offer is clearly genuine. Suddenly, what was suggested in the previous stories is laid bare here; for all their enmity, the Master really does want the Doctor’s approval and even, perhaps, his friendship. The Doctor on the other hand does not return the sentiment, as he makes clear by exasperatedly explaining that he only wants to see the universe, not rule it. The look of sheer fury that crosses the Master’s face at that moment smacks of disappointment and speaks volumes about just how highly he secretly regards the Doctor. It almost suggests that everything he’s done since ‘Terror of the Autons’ is attention seeking more than anything else; he might want power, but he wants the Doctor’s respect far more. 

That pretty much sums up ‘Colony in Space’. I have one or two minor criticisms that I didn’t mention above, but these are very trivial; Jo’s surprise that the TARDIS can move is one, since this story follows ‘The Claws of Axos’. Another is the fact that the Master took several security precautions after the Doctor stole his dematerialization circuit in ‘Terror of the Autons’. So why didn’t fit a lock with a metabolism detector like the one the Doctor’s TARDIS has in ‘Spearhead From Space’? The Doctor could probably break in anyway, since the Master broke into his TARDIS in ‘The Claws of Axos’, but it might slow him down a bit. Overall, ‘Colony in Space’ is generally regarded to be a bit of a turkey, but I really like it. This is almost ironic, given that the following story is often considered to be a true classic and the highlight of the Pertwee years, but for me is the Pertwee era’s equivalent of a steaming pile of horse manure.





Carnival Of MonstersBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 2 September 2003 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

After two fairly dire stories, 'Carnival of Monsters' is a welcome reprieve. It is well acted, well scripted, extremely amusing, and boasts great monsters. 

The plot of 'Carnival of Monsters' is suitably ingenious, engaging the viewer by presenting two seemingly unrelated scenarios, one of the Doctor and Jo arriving on board the S. S. Bernice, and the other of Vorg and his assistant Shirna arriving on the bureaucracy-choked world of Inter Minor. Gradually of course, the truth unfolds about exactly where the TARDIS has materialized and where the S. S. Bernice actually is; with this mystery solved, Holmes then introduces further sub-plots, namely the Drashigs and Kalik's schemes to usurp his brother's rule of Inter Minor. Because of the way in which Holmes structures the story, this gradually shifting emphasis throughout the story means that rather a lot seems to happen, making for an immensely satisfying four episodes. Enjoyable though the plot is however, it is the actual script that makes it come alive, as it showcases Holmes' talent for characterisation. 

All of the characters in 'Carnival of Monsters' are distinctive, the result of the excellent script combined with uniformly superb acting from the guest cast. The three principle characters on board the ship - Tenniel Evans' Major Daly, Ian Marter's John Andrews, and Jenny McCraken's Claire Daly - are well acted, and this helps to make them memorable. The script defines them in broad strokes, a necessity given that their situation results in a limited repertoire of lines. Daly is a stereotypical colonial type, worrying about etiquette on one hand (he is keen to offer the Doctor and Jo his hospitality when they first meet), whilst making sweeping and distasteful racial slurs about his plantation workers. Likewise, Andrews is a clichéd square-jawed naval officer, devoted to his ship and bravely facing the threat of plesiosaurs and drashigs alike with stern resolve. He boxes, of course, adhering strictly to Marquis of Queensbury rules. And then there is Jenny, who looks pretty on the arm of her gallant soldier, who stands bravely in front of her when danger threatens. Despite being written as such clichés, all three characters are brought alive by the actors playing them. This enhances the beauty of these characters, which is that they are on display for the entertainment of others; they are pure stereotypes, beloved by filmmakers of a certain era, and they are present in Vorg's Miniscope as examples of what Tellurians are like. 

In contrast to these deliberate ciphers, we are presented with the characters on Inter Minor. Vorg and Shirna are great characters, again very well acted by Leslie Dwyer and Cheryl Hall. Holmes seems to have a talent for creating rather shifty but generally likeable individuals, and Vorg in particular is a classic example. Desperate to try and justify the cost of his visit to Inter Minor, he generally tries (rather poorly) to con his way into the tribunal's good books, mainly by trying to confuse them or simply by lying. Particularly entertaining is his offering of a note signed by the Great Zarb, who it transpires is a wrestler and not President Zarb of Inter Minor. In this respect, Vorg is best summed up at the end, as he plays "find the lady" with Pletrac. But again, there is more to Vorg than first meets the eye; despite his often cowardly banter and frequent protestations about putting his hand into the Miniscope whilst the Drashig are loose inside, when they eventually escape from the machine, it is Vorg who leaps into action with the eradicator and dispatches them. On the other hand, whilst he is generally rather likeable at first glance, he is also both childish and selfish; realizing that the Drashigs might escape, his first instinct is to abandon the 'scope and sneak off the planet, leaving the Minorians to them. In addition, he displays no concern whatsoever for his "livestock", even in episode four; at best he is indifferent to both the Doctor's survival and his success. It is here that Shirna comes in, since she acts to a degree as his conscience, persuading him to save the Doctor and Jo at the start of episode three, and also convincing to actually bother pulling the phase two switch in episode four, thus saving them a second time. She is also notably more honest with the tribunal than Vorg. Basically, this interaction makes Vorg and Shirna the first example of the so-called "Holmes double-act" in my opinion; together, they work far better than either of them would alone. Vorg is both funnier and superficially a more interesting character than Shirna, but Shirna appeals to his better nature in such a way that he becomes more likeable than he perhaps deserves. Their most amusing moment, in my opinion, is when Vorg tells Shirna to touch a wire, and then when she gets a shock nods wisely and notes that it must be the live terminal. 

The Inter Minorians are equally interesting. Firstly, it is worth noting that Holmes has a real knack of giving the impression of a larger scale than is seen on screen when he uses an alien setting. To draw a comparison with a later studio-bound alien world in Doctor Who, consider briefly Atrios from 'The Armageddon Factor'. For all the impression we get of Atrios, it might as well be a country at war with its neighbour rather than a planet. It is a classic example of an alien planet represented by one or two small sets, with a cast of characters who might as well be on Earth. There is nothing to convince the viewer in that story that the action is actually taking place on an alien planet, save for mentions of spacecraft. In fairness to that story, this is a problem prevalent in science fiction; consider any alien planet from fiction and then start thinking about the sheer number of countries, religions, ideologies, cultures and environments on Earth and of course it becomes clear that it is virtually impossible to even begin to approach such complexity in a larger story, especially in four twenty-five minute episodes of a television show. The point of all this is that Holmes is better than any other Doctor Who scriptwriter that I can think of at managing to actually give us something of an impression of a larger world. For the sake of simplicity, it is implied that Inter Minor, as with most worlds in the series, has a single ruler whose government is in charge of the entire planet, which is of course a far cry from our current situation on Earth, but we do at least get tantalizing snippets of detail. The Functionaries serve no other purpose but to demonstrate some degree of social complexity on Inter Minor; they are very clearly second-class citizens, and they are apparently starting to rebel. We learn that Zarb has only recently opened up the planet to alien visitors, and that his new, liberal approach is at odds with the views of the more right wing citizens, including Kalik. Even this is not clear cut; however liberal Kalik considers his brother to be, he favours capitol punishment for treason, and there are vague hints that his definition of traitor includes anyone who vocally disagree with him. In short, Holmes' gives us hints of social and political unrest, which makes Inter Minor considerably more than just a studio set with a gun and peepshow in it. 

Individually, the Minorians all work very well. Peter Halliday and Michael Wisher in particular are two of Doctor Who's most reliable occasional actors, and Terence Lodge stands up well next to them as Orum. As the devious Kalik, Wisher is excellent, playing the part in a very Machiavellian manner with frequent smug looks and superior sneers, but never going over the top. Kalik's ruthlessness becomes more and more evident as the story progresses, beginning with him criticizing Zarb's policies to Pletrac and Orum, to the sudden calculating look on his face when he learns of the Drashigs' legendary reputation, and eventually his plan to allow the Drashigs out of the 'scope to satisfy his naked ambition. The fact that he consequently gets eaten immediately on doing so is thus enormously satisfying. Orum is basically Kalik's henchman, easily led and happy to follow Kalik's orders. Lodge brilliantly portrays him as a sniveling, odious figure lacking both the wit and the courage to seek power on his own, but happy to bask in Kalik's intended glory. Finally, Peter Halliday is excellent as the fussy Pletrac, who is honest and even well-meaning, but who is utterly constrained by bureaucracy and obsessed with protocol, a fact that Kalik exploits several times. 

The regulars return to form here, Jo proving useful as she again shows off her escapology skills, and generally coming across as more than just a dumb assistant. This story nicely demonstrates the genuine affection between Jo and the Doctor, chiefly through numerous minor lines dialogue and through the rapport between Katy Manning and Jon Pertwee. Having been on autopilot for the last three stories, Pertwee really seems to be enjoying himself here, possibly happy to be faced with an intelligent and interesting script. Particularly enjoyable is they way in which the Doctor pretty much dismisses the tribunal once he escapes from the 'scope, both by threatening them with official reprisals for allowing a Miniscope to operate on their planet, and generally fobbing them off. Given that much of the Inter Minor subplot has been driven by Vorg's problems with the tribunal, this does wonders for the Doctor's air of authority, which had been watered down in recent stories. 

The Drashigs are great monsters. It's actually quite unusual for Doctor Who monsters to be such literal monsters rather than alien races (hostile or otherwise), but the unintelligent, insatiable Drashigs are real monsters in the mold of dragons or other mythical beasts. They look very effective, despite being puppets, with very convincing teeth and genuinely chilling roars. The Drashigs highlight another worthy aspect of 'Carnival of Monsters', which is Barry Letts' direction. I criticized his over-enthusiastic use of CSO when I reviewed 'Terror of the Autons', but here he uses it more sparingly. CSO from this era is always noticeable, which is simply a limitation of the technology of the time, but when used well it is far less intrusive; even when the Drashigs are loose on Inter Minor, the CSO is passable, and by cutting quickly between model and CSO shots, Letts manages to use it effectively. The location work both on the ship and in the marshes also works very well. 

In summary, 'Carnival of Monsters' is a true gem and in my opinion one of the highlights of the Pertwee era.