LogopolisBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 4 May 2004 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

‘Logopolis’ sets out to achieve a great deal. It has to reintroduce the Master, finish establishing Nyssa as a new companion, introduce another new companion, and write out Tom Baker after a mammoth seven-year stint as the Doctor. With these criteria and some fascinating science fiction concepts it has all the makings of a classic, but despite all that it is a massive disappointment.

‘Logopolis’ benefits from two interesting concepts, which are the Watcher and Block Transfer Computation. The Watcher, despite being conceptually similar to Cho-je from ‘Planet of the Spiders’, adds a new spin to regeneration for the Doctor and serves as an ominous omen throughout of the Doctor’s fate at the climax. The reason I feel that the Watcher works so well is that, unlike Cho-je, he is an unformed, amorphous figure, which provides more of an air of mystery than cameos from Peter Davison throughout the story would have done. To emphasize the mystery surrounding him, he has no lines, his conversations with the Doctor, Adric and Nyssa taking place out of shot, and no explanation is offered for how he comes to be in the first place. His eventual role in the Doctor’s regeneration tells us all we really need to know about him, and for the less intelligent audience members, the production team kindly deign to bolt on a line from Nyssa (“He was the Doctor all along!”) to state the bleeding obvious. 

The idea of Block Transfer Computation, and the role of Logopolis in the scheme of the universe, is also fascinating. Despite strangely persistent fan rumours that Christopher H. Bidmead brought hard scientific concepts to Doctor Who, it’s pure pseudo science, but rather like dimensional transcendentalism it is handled in such a way that it works very well. The revelation that the Logopolitans are responsible for maintaining the integrity of the universe by forestalling entropy with their mathematics makes for a novel plot device, and the subsequent disruption of their work and the ensuing entropy field means that for his final story Baker’s Doctor gets to face a suitably awesome threat to the entire cosmos, giving a certain extra weight to the proceedings and lending a considerable sense of desperation to the final episode. Sadly, despite these two intriguing plot elements, ‘Logopolis’ is also saddled with a considerably amount of rubbish.

It is almost inconceivable that a story with as much to achieve as ‘Logopolis’ could feel padded, and yet the first two episodes are woefully dull. Very little actually happens; the Doctor and Adric spend two episodes wandering about whilst the Master lurks unseen in the background, before realizing that he’s hiding in the TARDIS and conceiving one of the stupidest plot developments in the entire series to try and get rid of him, before the Watcher eventual has a word with the Doctor and tells him to stop prevaricating and bugger off to Logopolis. The Doctor’s plan to flush out the Master is so ludicrous that it beggars belief; all it could possibly do is ruin all of the Doctor’s stuff, since the Master could just close the doors of his own TARDIS and therefore not have to worry about the fact that the supposedly colossal TARDIS interior has just drained the Thames… On top of this we have the tedious and ultimately pointless “gravity bubble” sub-plot in Episode One which goes nowhere and interests nobody, all of which adds up to padding. There is some dialogue in Episodes One and Two that introduces the concepts of Block Transfer Computation and Logopolis, but two episodes of twaddle are not justified by such a small amount of plot exposition. 

Of course, what the first two episodes of ‘Logopolis’ do achieve is to introduce Tegan. The way in which Tegan joins the TARDIS crew recalls the introduction of Ian and Barbara way back in the series’ beginning, as she stumbles on board and becomes a reluctant traveler desperate to return home. As such, her characterisation and Janet Fielding’s performance are both realistic, as Tegan, already stressed by the problems she has faced in getting to her new job on time, eventually gives in to panic when she gets lost in the TARDIS corridors, eventually bursting into tears in the Cloisters in Episode Two. In a nod to another early companion, in this case Vicki, she later discovers that the villain of the piece has murdered one of her loved ones, and as a result she gets a more convincing characterisation as she bursts into tears when the Doctor reveals Aunt Vanessa’s fate. The trouble with this is, I’m not wild about sitting through four episodes of grief stricken hysteria, and Tegan, despite being convincingly realized and well acted, rapidly becomes annoying rather than sympathetic. This only serves to heighten my negative attitude towards ‘Logopolis’, although at least by the latter half of the story Tegan’s potential as a companion starts to be realized as she demonstrates strength of character by challenging the Monitor and standing up to the Master, and proving brave and resourceful when necessary. 

The other companions are already established, and Adric is used well here again, although his impressive loyalty to and concern for the Doctor are increasingly undermined by Matthew Waterhouse’s limited supply of facial expressions. Nyssa on the other hand is largely superfluous; whilst I like the way that her quiet, gentle character contrasts with Tegan’s stroppier, boisterous nature, she does little here except remind us that the Master is a complete bastard. Unfortunately, the death of Aunt Vanessa serves this purpose more than adequately, and the fact that Nyssa’s reaction to the death of her father and the subsequent eradication of her entire world is far less well scripted than Tegan’s reaction to her Aunt’s murder, doesn’t help to make Nyssa seem especially useful to the plot. I will however defend Sarah Sutton’s oft-criticized performance; as Douglas Adams considered in The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the destruction of one’s entire planet is almost certainly too big a thing for anyone to grasp. Nevertheless, when Nyssa flatly states that the Master has killed her step-mother, her father, and wiped out her entire world, Sutton’s supposedly “wooden” performance actually conveys a great deal of suppressed emotion and is worth a mention. 

So far then, ‘Logopolis’ is not scoring particularly highly. Before I discuss the two most significant characters in the story however, I’ll just comment on the overall production and also the guest cast. Unlike ‘The Keeper of Traken’, it benefits from location work, which always benefits the series, but like its immediate predecessor, the actual studio sets look horribly cheap. Having said that, it is to the story’s credit that the sets used for Logopolis do match closely the model shot of the city, even if both look like they’re made of polystyrene (which they probably are). However, it’s churlish to criticize Doctor Who’s budgetary limitations, and the sets are adequate enough, without resorting too much to the use of CSO. The incidental score is generally rather good too, adding to the ominous atmosphere of impending doom, and the direction whilst unremarkable is solid. ‘Logopolis’ also benefits from a fine performance from John Fraser as the Monitor, who is likeable enough to make the character’s friendship with and concern for the Doctor entirely believable, and who is also capable of looking convincingly worried and angst-ridden when the story calls for it. Dolore Whiteman is rather likeable as Aunt Vanessa, and the character’s obvious closeness with Tegan adds weight to the tragedy of her murder, which is basically the character’s sole function. There aren’t really many other supporting characters of note; the policemen in Episodes One and Two are pure clichés, and the Logopolitans and Security Guards in later episodes are of course extras. 

The most memorable guest star in ‘Logopolis’ is of course Anthony Ainley as the Master. After his restrained performance as the anagrammatically unfortunate Tremas in ‘The Keeper of Traken’, here he gets to play for the first time one of the series’ most enduring villains. He’s really quite good for the most part; in Episodes Three and Four he recalls some of Roger Delgado’s charm as he manipulates Nyssa by cruelly pretending to be her father, but the callous edge he displays on occasion is a constant reminder that he is thoroughly villainous. In fact, the Master’s ruthlessness and disregard for life is emphasized here in a way that it never was during the Pertwee era, thanks largely to his murdering of Tegan’s aunt and Nyssa’s father. And yet, it isn’t just his beard and propensity to reducing people to shrunken corpses (something he only previously did in the Robert Holmes’ scripted ‘Terror of the Autons’ and ‘The Deadly Assassin’) that provides a link to the past; in Episode Four, when he and the Doctor are forced to collaborate, their ability to work together, often seen during the Pertwee era, is brought to light once again, as is the Master’s seeming need to impress the Doctor. As with the Pertwee era, the Master’s seemingly genuine grudging admiration for the Doctor is barely reciprocated; whilst the Doctor is impressed by the Master’s idea to use their TARDIS to try and halt the entropy field, his attitude to the Master is one of quiet loathing. This is significant, because it marks a turning point in their old rivalry; whereas in the past the remnants of their old friendship motivated the Doctor to visit his rival in prison (admittedly partly to get his hands on his TARDIS) and beg Kronos to spare him, by this point he seems to have had more than enough of the trail of misery and carnage that the Master has left in his wake since ‘The Deadly Assassin’. This is essential given the Master’s impact on the lives of Tegan and Nyssa, and even more so in light of the danger to the entire universe that he unleashes here. In summary, the Doctor’s slight tolerance towards the Master has long since evaporated, as will be demonstrated further during the Davison era. 

Unfortunately, for all that Ainley’s performance here is quite good, the actual story starts to erode the Master’s credibility as a villain. Renowned for going over the top, Ainley starts down that path due to the cringe worthy chuckles that denote the Master’s presence throughout the first two episodes, reducing him to the status of some malevolent auditory Cheshire Cat. The character’s credibility takes a far greater blow however at the end of the story; the Master’s plan to hold the universe to ransom is almost absurd as the Doctor’s plan to flush him out of the TARDIS. Justify the Master’s spur of the moment gambit all you want, but he still sends a message to the universe on a small hand-held tape recorder, in English. How long would it take to reach a significant number of the “peoples of the universe”? How many would actually receive it, and how many of those would pay it any heed? It’s absolute gibberish. To compound this character assassination even further, the Master becomes, during this moment, a generic nutter; he doesn’t demonstrate charm or cunning, he just grins maniacally at the camera and delivers lines that would make Joseph Furst wince whilst the Doctor looks on appalled and points out that he’s mad. The Completely Useless Encyclopedia described the Master as “nuttier than squirrel shit” and it is here that this really starts to become true. His old motivations (power, survival, and his eternal game of one-upmanship with the Doctor) will remain throughout the remainder of the series’ television run, but from ‘Logopolis’ onwards his actual plans become increasingly ludicrous. 

And finally, in many senses, there is Tom Baker. Throughout Season Eighteen I’ve praised his performance as the Doctor and ‘Logopolis’ is no exception, whatever its other faults. The funereal atmosphere often ascribed to the story is largely down to Baker, and he bows out in style. It is clear from his first meeting with the Watcher that the Doctor knows what is to come, and it is reflected in his downbeat mood throughout. The Doctor’s reaction to the Master is superbly realized; appalled by his enemy’s crimes, he exudes contempt for the Master throughout. Baker shows this superbly, the expression on his face as the Doctor and the Master shake hands being a perfect example. His solemnity when the Doctor tells Tegan of her aunt’s death is also memorable, but what really stands out about ‘Logopolis’ is the way in which the Doctor is clearly prepared to stop at nothing to save the universe, ultimately sacrificing his fourth life in the process. His final line, “It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for” marks the end of an era, as my favourite Doctor departs after a lengthy tenure that includes some of my favourite Doctor Who stories. ‘Logopolis’ is not a story worthy of being Baker’s swansong, but it has some redeeming features, and for all its faults it gives him a memorable exit as one of the most distinctive regeneration scenes transforms him into Peter Davison…





CastrovalvaBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 4 May 2004 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

'Castrovalva' has of course much in common with 'Logopolis'. For one thing it follows on directly from Baker's swansong, and for another outgoing script editor Christopher H. Bidmead also pens it. More importantly, like 'Logopolis', 'Castrovalva' boasts a great central concept, but suffers somewhat from padding in Episodes One and Two. Unlike 'Logopolis' however, the padding in 'Castrovalva' is somewhat better.

The first two episodes of 'Castrovalva' essentially serve to properly introduce the new TARDIS crewmembers, including the new Doctor. In order to do this, Bidmead effectively traps the Doctor, Tegan and Nyssa in the TARDIS and puts them in an increasingly worsening situation; the Doctor's new personality unfolds as he explores the TARDIS in search of sanctuary, and Tegan and Nyssa's characters are really allowed to develop as they are forced to cope without him whilst he recuperates. This works reasonably well overall, largely because of Peter Davison. With the daunting task of replacing Tom Baker, in the eyes of many people perhaps the definitive Doctor, John Nathan-Turner's decision to cast a very different actor in the role is, in retrospect, the only sensible thing he could have done. The twenty-nine year old Davison is certainly strikingly different to Baker in appearance, and over the course of 'Castrovalva' he rises to the challenge of making the role his own. 'Castrovalva' is often criticized for being the first debut story in which it takes the entire length of the story for the new Doctor's personality to settle down; in fact, by the time the Doctor wakes up from a night's sleep in Castrovalva in Episode Three, his personality is pretty much established, the last side effects of his regeneration being occasional dizzy spells. The characteristics of the new Doctor are thus largely evident by this point; often described (often perhaps derogatively) as "nice", he seems to take much more wonder in his surroundings than his often cynical or flippant previous incarnation, and this is made nicely highlighted in scenes such as when he delights at finding celery in Castrovalva ("Definitely civilization!") and when the young girl inadvertently makes him remember Adric. This latter scene also demonstrates one of the other key characteristics of this Doctor, which his is ability to suddenly focus on a problem with considerable intensity; despite a brief lapse in his strength at the end of Episode Three, it is his realization that Adric is missing that prompts him to concentrate on the problem of Castrovalva, and he doesn't visibly relax again after that point until Castrovalva has collapsed and he and his companions are jogging back to the TARDIS. What is also notable is Davison's ability to create an air of fierce intelligence about the Doctor that gives an impression of wisdom far beyond his years, and this I think is the basis of the feeling that the Fifth Doctor is an old man in a young man's body sometimes ascribed to Davison's performance. 

The character of the new Doctor, whilst not fully established until the story reaches Castrovalva itself, is nevertheless developed over the first two episodes; initially hugely erratic, the Doctor's personality is undefined early on, with Davison getting a chance to flex his acting skills by briefly impersonating his four predecessors. Once the Doctor enters the Zero Room, we get the first proper glimpse of his new persona, and this is scene sporadically throughout Episode Two. By placing the TARDIS in danger, Bidmead creates a situation in which the Doctor is forced to struggle against post regenerative stress, and his almost frantic concentration on reaching the TARDIS control room in a wheelchair is an early indicator of the intense focus that he is capable, as mentioned above. But despite this, he nevertheless spends most of Episodes One and Two in a considerably weakened state, and with Adric a prisoner of the Master this allows Bidmead instead to focus on Tegan and Nyssa. Following the events of 'Logopolis', it is likely that Tegan and Nyssa would be suffering considerable grief, Tegan having just lost her Aunt and Nyssa having lost, well, everything. Rather than dwelling unduly on this and risking turning the series into a soap opera, Bidmead piles crises on top of the pair of them, forcing them to cope first with the Doctor's ill health, and secondly with the TARDIS' impending doom, thus giving them something to focus on. This brings out the best in both companions, and shows how effective they can be in the absence of Adric. Thrown together by really rather strange circumstances, they quickly become a team, Nyssa's gentle, analytical nature in sharp contrast to Tegan's more hotheaded, instinctive, and ultimately more confident character. The two thus complement each other surprisingly well. This becomes evident when it is realized that Episodes One and Two contain a vast amount of expository dialogue between the pair of them, especially at the end of Episode One, but the relationship between the characters is such that it seems reasonably natural for them to be explaining the plot to each other. With Nyssa's scientific knowledge and Tegan's natural tendency to take charge of a given situation, they thus carry the first half of the story between them.

The relative merits of an actor are largely down to subjective opinion; I've never had a problem with either Janet Fielding or Sarah Sutton, but I can only agree with Matthew Waterhouse's detractors, and it is here that he really starts to grate. Waterhouse is diabolical as Adric from start to finish, his angst whilst trapped in the Master's web embarrassing to behold. He is utterly unable to successfully convey either anguish or rage, and he is cringe-worthy throughout; the scene in which he tries to convince the Master that he has switched side is woeful and it beggars belief that the Master would fall for it. Anthony Ainley meanwhile is variable here; after the destruction of the Master's credibility at the end of 'Logopolis', the character partially redeems himself here, his obsession with destroying the Doctor through the most elaborate and humiliating means entirely in keeping with the Master's past motivations. Yet Ainley is given some dreadful dialogue, mostly when talking to Adric ("I'll burn through your barrier, boy!") and although he tackles it reasonably well, he's often horribly tacky in the first two episodes, especially his ghastly pantomime cackling on the scanner screen at the end of Episode One. He is far better in the last two episodes and plays the Portreeve rather well, again demonstrating, as when he played Tremas that his shortcomings as the Master are partially due to interference from the production team. Once he unmasks in Episode Four, he's quite good, his gloating and his desperate need to see the Doctor one last time before he destroys him played with reasonable conviction and an air of suppressed frustration. His final moments in 'Castrovalva' however are simply awful, as he repeatedly bellows "My web!!!" in over the top fashion. Nevertheless, he's far better than he was in 'Logopolis', his ludicrous malevolent chuckling kept to the barest minimum.

The real strength of 'Castrovalva' is the concept of the town itself, a continuation of the idea of Block Transfer Computation first scene in the previous story. The ending to Episode Three is superb, as the Doctor, Tegan and Nyssa start to discover the truth about the "dwellings of simplicity", and the M. C. Escher inspired nature of the town is revealed by a shot through the Doctor's window. The real strength of the concept however lies in the supporting characters, as the Castrovalvans are gradually convinced of their true, artificial nature. The Castrovalvans get some great lines, most notably Derek Waring's Shardovan; his understanding of the problem with the history of Castrovalva is a key moment and the character's realization of his origins is a powerful moment, eventually summarized by the great line "You made us man of evil, but we are free!" and his ensuing sacrifice. By making Shardovan, Michael Sheard's Mergrave, and Frank Wylie's Ruther such well realized and likeable characters, Bidmead is able to increase the impact of the discovery that they have all been created by Adric and the Master. The scene in which the Doctor asks them to point out specific locations on a rough map of Castrovalva works very well, because their unsettled responses to what he is trying to show them begin to demonstrate that for all that they are fictional creations of a madman they are people in their own right. This makes the truth about Castrovalva all the more poignant. 

The direction of 'Castrovalva' plays a large part in its success. Fiona Cummings wrings an impressive amount of drama out of a rather wordy script, and the cliffhanger ending to Episode One is very dramatic despite the fact that it consists of Tegan and Nyssa explaining what is happening in raised voices whilst the Master guffaws on the scanner screen. The realization of Castrovalva's collapsing space at the end of Episode Three is decently achieved, although it does look rather dated now. Paddy Kingsland's incidental score helps considerably, enhancing the tension when required but also creating a relaxed atmosphere during the initial scenes on the planet housing Castrovalva. The costumes of the Castrovalvans also look great, be they the elaborate hunting garb of Mergrave and Ruther or the day-to-day clothing of the townspeople. Having said that, the Portreeve's hat is absurd and could be taken as far more conclusive evidence of the Master's lunacy than anything seen in 'Logopolis'. The sets used for Castrovalva are impressive, and surprisingly well lit to resemble natural light, something of a rarity during Doctor Who in the eighties. This means that the studio sets feel more in keeping with the location footage than usual, although on this occasion the location footage is perhaps not the bonus that it usually is; whilst it looks nice enough, the scenes of Tegan and Nyssa transporting the Zero Cabinet across the landscape feel like an excuse to pad out five minutes of air time and make Episode Two drag somewhat. 

In summary, 'Castrovalva' is flawed and occasionally feels like it is treading water, especially during the first half, but manages to impress nonetheless. As an introduction for the new Doctor and as a means of tying up plot threads from 'Logopolis' it works perfectly well and prepares the way for the new season.





Resurrection of the DaleksBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 4 May 2004 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

When 'Resurrection of the Daleks' was first broadcast I was six and half years old. I still remember the feeling of anticipation as I sat down with my parents on a Wednesday evening to see the Daleks in action properly for the first time. It was exciting at the time, and images of the Dalek being pushed out of the warehouse window, the Dalek mutant attacking a soldier, and Daleks spraying white foam as they died stayed with me for years. With no Target novelisation to refresh memory of the story, 'Resurrection of the Daleks' attained a rose tinted glow in my memory. And then it was released on video and the disappointment was almost crushing. My opinion now is that 'Resurrection of the Daleks' is a well-directed, visually impressive story, but is fundamentally flawed by an inconsistent plot, poor acting, and what appears to be an attempt by Eric Saward to create an "adult" feel for the series. 

The plot of 'Resurrection of the Daleks' is a mess. The idea of the Daleks needing to rescue Davros in order to cure the Movellan virus is essentially sound, but it creaks beneath the weight of a mass of other poorly developed ideas. Even the importance of Davros is inconsistently addressed; initially, the Supreme Dalek makes plain the vital importance of securing Davros' help to ensure the survival of the Dalek race, announcing at one point that "Without Davros we have no future". It is for this reason that they are prepared to humour him when he insists on staying aboard his space station prison and demands Daleks to experiment on. The problem is, this rather falls apart during Episode Four when the Supreme Dalek realises that Davros has taken control of two Daleks and decides to have him exterminated. So do they need him or not? Earlier dialogue implies that they are in danger of extinction without him, but when he unsurprisingly tries to gain power they seem to decide to cut their loses with ludicrous speed. 

Then there are the other subplots. The Daleks apparently want to invade Gallifrey, which is not an implausible motivation for them, but seems very poorly timed considering the state they are in; not only are they on the verge of extinction, they are so weakened that they are forced to employ human (or at least humanoid) mercenaries in the shape of their "Dalek Troopers". It's a bit like Hitler suddenly deciding that it would be a good idea to launch an attack on America during his last hours in the bunker before he died. It seems as though Saward suddenly decided that he needed a reason for the Daleks to want to capture the Doctor alive and added it to his script at the last minute. And mention of the Doctor's capture brings me to one of the most gaping plot holes in the script, in the unlikely form of the duplicates. 

Leaving aside the fact that my criticisms of the Daleks' intention to invade Gallifrey are equally applicable to their intention to invade Earth, the duplicates make no sense whatsoever. They are essentially clones, which have been given the thought patterns of the originals and then subjected to mind control. So why not just subject the originals to mind control? Their control techniques don't work properly anyway, so what do they gain by duplicating people? Stein's character makes this painfully obvious, since he spends several scenes in Episode One in obvious terror even when alone; Episode Four's exploitation of the fact that the duplicates are unstable explains this, but even so the cliffhanger to Episode Two just seems painfully contrived as he suddenly reveals that he's a Dalek agent. There are other problems too; the Daleks' decision to hide the Movellan virus on Earth in the past doesn't hold up to much scrutiny whether it's a lure or not. They obviously have adequate enough containment facilities to allow Davros to work on it onboard their ship (their original intention before he refuses to leave the space station), so why go to such extraordinary lengths as to hide it in an old warehouse on an alien planet in another time zone? Stein's claim that the cylinders were a lure is a flimsy excuse at best; he claims that it brought soldiers to the area so that they could be duplicated and thus guard the warehouse. But they only need to guard the warehouse because they've hidden the Movellan virus in it, and Lytton's policemen seem to be doing that perfectly well anyway once they arrive. As a lure for the Doctor, it makes even less sense, since it was the time corridor that primarily attacked his attention, and they are using that anyway to place duplicates throughout Earth's history. 

Then we have the horribly tacky appearance of the Supreme Dalek on the TARDIS scanner at the end, as though it can simply give the Doctor a 'phone call whenever it feels like it, and which seems like nothing more than a rushed attempt to tie up the loose end of the duplicates as quickly as possible. There is also the poor continuity; whilst continuity should never be more important than the story (at least insofar as established characters are not suddenly and unexpectedly given handy new abilities), it is still irritating that a story so reliant on established continuity gets it wrong. The classic example is Davros' mind control device, which he certainly didn't have in 'Destiny of the Daleks' and although it's possible that he had the chance to build it whilst he was awaiting trial on Earth, it seems very unlikely. But above all, my main criticism of 'Resurrection of the Daleks' is what I assume to be Eric Saward's attempt to make the story more "adult" by going all grim and gritty. I don't mind adult and I don't mind grim, but Saward's approach is simply to stack up the body count. It is what an adolescent might believe to be adult and it doesn't work because, as in 'Earthshock', the characters Saward kills off are not sufficiently well characterised for me to give a toss about any of them. Thus, the deaths of Mercer, Styles, Archer and his men, Galloway, the space station crew, and Lytton's troopers have no impact whatsoever. By Episode Four, the death toll has reached such proportions that Saward simply seems to be killing off characters whom he hastily introduced and can't think of anything useful to do with them. 

Weak though much of the characterisation of the supporting characters is, the acting often doesn't help. Del Henney is wooden as Archer and his duplicate, and of course he puts in a deeply embarrassing and over the top death scene. Chloe Ashcroft is little better as the strangely unlikable Professor Laird, and Les Grantham is terrible in his television debut. But by far the worst performance is by Jim Findley as Mercer, whose performance is both stilted and wooden throughout; his acting in this story revolves almost entirely around raising his voice and sounding a bit angry regardless of the situation Mercer finds himself in. Mind you, even he seems quite good in Episode One by comparison with the speaking extras; as the Daleks invade the station he tells the crew that it is every man for himself, and two extras can be heard exclaiming "Oh no!" and "Every man for himself?" in a way that sounds so bad it is almost funny. 

But for all that it might be tempting to write off 'Resurrection of the Daleks' as a load of old cobblers, it does get some things right. For one thing, it looks great; Matthew Robinson's direction is first rate and it is helped considerably by the always-welcome location work and some excellent sets that have aged surprisingly well. The emergence of the Daleks through the airlock door in Episode One is a great moment and highly memorable and the new Dalek props look far better than the tatty relics seen in 'Destiny of the Daleks'. In the same season that saw 'Warriors of the Deep', 'Resurrection of the Daleks' is also very well lit, and this creates a grim and gritty air far more effectively than Saward's insistence on mass slaughter. Malcolm Clarke's doom laden incidental score is also crucial to creating the gritty atmosphere. And despite its addition to the body count, even I must admit that the makeup used to show the crewmembers succumbing to the Daleks' lethal gas attack is very, very good. The costumes are also reasonably good, the worn uniforms of the run down and unenthusiastic space station crew contrasting nicely with the smarter militaristic uniforms of the Dalek Troopers. Unfortunately, the incredibly silly and slightly phallic helmets worn by the troopers slightly detracts from the overall effect, but this is a minor criticism. 

There are also a few good performances on display. Maurice Colbourne's Lytton is a commanding figure, and his ruthlessness means that he works well despite the fact that he is essentially a henchman, despite Saward's obvious love for the character. Former Likely Lad Rodney Bewes is very good as Stein, his performance switching from nervous and stammering coward to cold and ruthless mercenary as he tries to keep up with the eccentric characterisation he has to work with. And then there is Terry Molloy.

Molloy's performance as Davros both here and in subsequent stories is something of a bone of contention. Davros has become a ranting madman here and this annoys many fans, but his increased megalomania and his decreased stability makes sense to me considering that he has been trapped, immobile but fully conscious, for ninety years; I challenge anyone to cope with that without becoming unhinged, and Davros was insane in the first place. Molloy does shout quite a bit, but he also makes use of quite malevolence, and Davros comes across as calculating and intelligent. After David Gooderson's brave but unsuccessful attempt to impersonate Michael Wisher's unsurpassable performance, Molloy wisely elects to make the role his own, and Davros works well for it. As soon as he is released, his mind is clearly working to turn his new situation to his own advantage, and it is worth noting that until the Movellan virus attacks his chair at the end, he gets his own way throughout. True, he doesn't get to kill the Doctor, but he does regain his freedom, get access to the Movellan virus and Dalek tissue samples, and prepare an escape pod (which of course he also manages to use, as revealed in 'Revelation of the Daleks'). 

I find the Doctor's confrontation with Davros especially interesting. It has often been criticized because it makes the Doctor look racist, since he can't bring himself to kill the humanoid Davros but he can happily destroy the Daleks. This is perhaps true, but it also makes sense; the Doctor's inability to look Davros in the eye and shoot him is consistent with his character. Indeed the Doctor has often dispatched opponents through various indirect means rather than actually looking them in the eye and killing them, and we need only consider his relationship with the Master to see that his moral stance on killing is largely variable. On the other hand, his willingness to kill Daleks equally make sense; long experience has no doubt made him realize that the Daleks might be an intelligent species, but they are also exclusively hostile and destructive (and indeed he seems to regret having failed to destroy them in 'Genesis of the Daleks', as he tells Tegan that he once blew his chance to wipe them out and doesn't intend to repeat his mistake). It is no surprise to me whatsoever that the Doctor seems to consider Davros a person (however evil) but not the Daleks. 

In addition, the confrontation between them works well for Davros' character. His attempt to argue rationally with the Doctor by asserting that "the universe is at war" and that by conquering it he can bring piece picks up on his motivation from 'Genesis of the Daleks'. He seems to genuinely believe this, whereas the Master for example seems to be motivated instead by a vague desire for personal power. Davros also seems to have insight into the Doctor's personality, which is an indicator of how intelligent he is; his attempt to persuade the Doctor that he can restore compassion to the Daleks very briefly causes the Doctor to hesitate and gives Davros more time to talk. His offer of an alliance is clearly a further delaying tactic; whereas the Master has in the past genuinely sought an alliance with the Doctor ('Colony in Space') and frequently finds excuses not to kill his old enemy, Davros is clearly simply talking to preserve his life and there is little doubt that he will kill the Doctor there and then if he gets the chance (as a matter of interest, there is a deleted line on the DVD in which he says that the Doctor is not, in his own way, an unambitious man, further suggesting that whilst he dislikes the Doctor he does have some understanding of him - significantly, the Doctor waits for him to continue when he says this). By the time he finishes talking, it is clear that the moment has passed for the Doctor and that he won't pull the trigger; obviously realizing this, Davros then proceeds to express his disgust at the Doctor's lack of moral conviction. 

The problem with this scene however, is that it is virtually the only one that the Doctor does anything worth mentioning in. For the rest of the story, he wanders around the warehouse, or gets strapped to a table for an episode, and by the end he has achieved little; it is Stein who blows up the space station and the Dalek ship, Davros' ambiguous fate is unaffected by the Doctor's actions, and he certainly doesn't manage to save any lives. True, he gives Stein a lift back to the Dalek ship, which allows him to trigger the self-destruct sequence, but this is hardly impressive, and neither is his destruction of about three Daleks in the warehouse with the Movellan virus. Turlough also does little except wander around and hide from Daleks and Troopers; in fact his best scene wasn't even broadcast. An extended scene on the DVD release shows him seriously contemplating fleeing the Dalek ship even though Tegan has just pointed out the Doctor needs rescuing, and this tiny sequence captures says more about his character far better than anything that actually made it to the broadcast version does. Both Davison and Strickson put in fine performances, but both get far too little to do. As for Tegan, she spends most of her last story in bed with concussion. She gets a superb leaving scene, which makes sense both in the context of the story and the season as a whole, and Janet Fielding puts in one last great performance as Tegan tearfully bids an abrupt goodbye to her friends, conveying the feeling that she is absolutely at the end of her tether. The death of the old man on the shore of the Thames is ironically one of the few deaths that have much impact on the story, because the sheer callousness of his murder and the futility of his death obviously makes an impact on Tegan. For the longest serving companion of Peter Davison's era however, I would have hoped for so much better. 

And that sums up 'Resurrection of the Daleks'; it has so much potential, but most of it is wasted. Sadly, several years after the video release, the disappointment still hasn't gone away.





Attack of the CybermenBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 4 May 2004 - Reviewed by Sarah Tarrant

It is difficult not to come to the conclusion, in my opinion, that for all its good intentions and some fine cast members, ‘The Twin Dilemma’ was a poor start for the Doctor’s sixth incarnation and a disappointing end to one of the best seasons of the eighties. Despite this I could certainly see potential in the direction the regular team of Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant were taking the series. I can vaguely recall the excitement I felt regarding entering 1985 with the series not only returning to Saturdays (I feel the time is rather immaterial, although I suspect amongst others, fourth Doctor actor Tom Baker would probably argue the point on that) but weekly episodes extended to forty-five minutes.

Now I have to confess that the Cybermen are my all time favourite Doctor Who monster so although biased I always approach their story appearances with a detached and objective perspective. Apologies to all you Dalek fans out there but I feel that Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis’ creations are the best long term adversarial race that the Doctor has ever encountered. Through their many appearances in the series we have seen them evolve from the cloth faced figures in their first ‘The Tenth Planet’ story through to the streetwise look as featured in the rather poor ‘Silver Nemesis’ adventure but whatever they look like the overriding menace that they present remains. They must certainly have influenced the development of the obviously successful Borg race which have featured in many episodes of the various Star Trek series and of course, in my opinion, the finest spin off film from the franchise, 1996’s ‘First Contact’. It is their close association to humans, further heightened by the truly excellent, and for me most disturbing, cyber-origin Big Finish release ‘Spare Parts’ that puts this race above the Daleks. So therefore, for me at least I still have very fond memories (despite its faults) of when I watched ‘Attack of the Cybermen’ on its original transmission, purely due to the escapist adventure nature it presents. On the one hand it was obviously important to herald the new series with the return of a popular adversary however I suppose it would have probably had greater and more memorable impact if the Cybermen’s return to the series had been more of a closely guarded secret. That point aside there is much to enjoy in what is, in essence, a rather fast paced action story whose plot is mostly steeped in Cyber history. Admittedly it is a violent piece of drama (typical with much of this seasons stories), lots of character deaths and of course the eventual brutal treatment of Lyton at the hands of the Cybermen (crushing his hands till they bleed and his eventual cyber conversion) but this is truly in keeping with the true nature of this evil unfeeling lifeform.

‘Attack of the Cybermen’ opens with the mystery surrounding underground sewer tunnels located under London’s Fleet Street. We first observe two workmen (their yellow hardhats clearly indicating that they work for Thames Water) who are clearly mystified about the identification marks they find on the walls in relation to the maps they are carrying. Their presence clearly does not go unnoticed, and something, out of the darkness rushes forward and kills them.

Also showing an interest in the area, albeit for an entirely different reason is a sharp suited shady character called Lyton who pulls his Ford Granada saloon car to a halt on the side of a busy road whilst peering out towards a modern office block nearby. The plan, as he outlines to the three men travelling with him, is to commit a diamond raid (£2 million in uncut gems apparently) on said establishment. Whilst it is certainly a pleasure to have Maurice Collbourne’s former Dalek taskforce leader return one briefly wonders how much time has elapsed between this story and the previous ‘Resurrection of the Daleks’ tale. From his dialogue and character’s posture you can gain the impression that he is clearly tiring of his continued time on the Earth and he enters this story clearly with some hidden agenda of his own in which to leave. Griffiths (played by broad Yorkshire actor Brian Glover who works well primarily in conjunction with Maurice Collbourne’s character) and Russell (the former Council labourer) are clearly the criminals they appear to be although by his nervous disposition James Beckett’s Payne character is certainly less trustworthy and suspicious of the groups mysterious leader. This is, we later discover, with good reason, as having been asked to, at very short notice, obtain a large amount of explosives for the job, he leaves the group. On making a phone call from a near by call box his real identity of police officer becomes apparent from his conversation.

On his return the four men enter the sewers unaware that their presence below ground has been observed. Similar stalking techniques to that which was used by the androids used in ’Earthshock’ are employed by an equally darkened figure which leisurely takes its time and picks off Russell. The activity of knocking a wall down clearly appears to be a way for Lyton to announce their presence to not only the Cyberman sentry but also the Cyber base. With only the shaven headed Yorkshireman by his side (Payne evidently having used the Cyberman diversion to flee), Lyton shows little surprise as a wall slides back and numerous Cybermen filter out. At this point a Cyberman is apparently killed by machine gun bullets, quite unthinkable! Well my thoughts on this is that this Cyberman must be a newly converted being from the underground Cyber base and therefore his ability to withstand this form of attack had not been completed. Naturally showing no emotional sense of concern, the Cybercontroller asks how Lyton, a mere human, managed to locate their base. Much to Griffith’s surprise (illustrating how easily taken in he can be) he replies he is not from Earth and is infact from Vita 15 (Riften 5) in the star system 690 (not from Fulham as he’d previously said). It is the signal detection point in the story which is noteworthy as this two way transmission between Earth and the Cyberman’s (adopted) planet of Telos is what leads to the Doctor and Peri’s involvement in the story.

Quite wrongly the Doctor assumes that the ‘Intergalactic Distress Call’ received in the TARDIS is from a stranded friendly alien and, being the good Samaritan, he sets out to locate and rescue whatever being is sending the signal. It is only when, having encountered a seemingly lost Payne wandering the sewers coupled with running into a Cyberman patrolling the entrance of the base that the situation becomes clearer. From this point the simple mystery element of the story slowly fades, the story changes pace and begins to make references to Cyber series history. This subtle change of pace primarily as we enter the second episode is good for long term fans and should not unduly perplex the casual viewer to the series due to the comprehensive manner in which the historical ground is covered. With their eventual capture on their return to the TARDIS, the Doctor and Peri encounter Lyton and Griffiths which leads to an interesting Cyber series history conversation briefly recalling the events of William Hartnell’s ‘The Tenth Planet’ story and the planet Telos history. The reacquaintance of the Doctor and Lyton following onto their (supposed (unfilmed(?)) encounter in the previous season’s ‘Resurrection of the Daleks’ is also enjoyable as Colin Baker conveys his character’s contempt of the former Dalek mercenary, something he would later come to regret.

The cold sterile atmosphere of Telos is established straight away as we shift to watching an escape by two men from a work party that the Cybermen have assembled on the surface of the windswept, barren world. Stratton is clearly a hard embittered figure, tired of working for the Cybermen and all too aware of their master plan for the planet. His companion Bates is a timid follower who is easily lead and follows Stratton with the hope that he can deliver the long term survival and freedom from the Cybermen he desires. During his emotional conversation with his fellow escapee we learn from Stratton that the Cybermen are lining the surface of the planet with explosives which they intend to detonate once they have left with no regard for the human workforce which had been arduously working in their service. The chances of success of the Cybermen’s plan to deflect Telos in an attempt to prevent the destruction of Mondas (their home planet) rather depends on the amount of explosives used and their positioning but that doesn’t really concern the viewer. Stratton is seemingly unique amongst the assembled workers in his desire to escape before this happens. Choosing his moment the intention was to escape with two colleagues and then launch an attack on Cyber Control to attempt to capture the Cybermen’s time capsule. However as the plan goes wrong with only Bates joining him, following venting his anger on his timid follower he quickly decides on an alternate plan. Whilst enjoyable to see the brutal attack of a lone Cyberman, smashing off head of said adversary the plan of using Bates to wear the cleaned out receptacle and proceed to their target as prisoner and escort seemed ultimately flawed and smacks of further desperation. It was only their seemingly unexpected meeting up with Lyton and Griffiths that greatly improved their chances of success, something that I will touch on later.

Obviously on their arrival on Telos the seemingly legendary tombs realised for this story do not meet the splendour presented in the previous highly rated Patrick Troughton adventure ‘The Tomb of the Cybermen’ which is naturally disappointing but, due to budgetary considerations are not entirely surprising. The use of this simplistic setting does allow for the customary splitting up of the four characters to aid the progression of the plot. It therefore falls to Peri and, more importantly Lyton and Griffiths, to encounter the native Cryon lifeform. With bulbous heads, rippled glass flat unbroken collars, matching half arm/wrist adornment with long thin nails wearing white plastic jumpsuits these aliens are certainly a curious creation. On encountering them it struck me as noteworthy that this was a female race and with the Cybermen being clearly male we once again have a battle of the sexes conflict similar to the Hommiks and Seska primarily featured in the season four episode of Blakes Seven entitled ‘Power’ evidently with a similar outcome.

Having learnt that Lyton is infact working for the Cryons it is their subsequent attempts to reach Cyber Control using a Cryon created ‘safe route’ map which is one of the more interesting plot developments in the second half of this story. With Griffiths acting as bodyguard this leads to their emergence onto the surface and the memorable meeting of Stratton and Bates whom are clearly known to the Cryons. It is chilling to discover that humans like Stratton are infact Cyber rejects, beings whose Cyber conversion was not successful. The scene where Stratton removes his right glove, pulls up his sleeve revealing a metallic appendage which he then coldly and dispassionately proceeds to grip Griffith’s hand with is both most effective and memorable in conveying what he (and presumably many others) have been through at the hands of the Cybermen.

The Doctor has his own initial encounter and conversation with a Cryon, albeit an elderly one during his initial imprisonment in a cold storage room but these scenes are I find, largely forgettable. Presumably this individual, identified as Flast was played by noted comedy actress Faith Brown although such was the nature of the Cryon head gear it is impossible to detect the identity of the individual. This is similar for children’s presenter Sarah Green although their voices can give some clue to their identity.

Despite the seriousness of the plot ‘Attack of the Cybermen’ does present viewers with some lighter moments. The relationship between the Doctor and Peri has subtly evolved although Peri is still showing concerns about the Doctor’s mental state (attempting to do so much work on the TARDIS and the amusing street scene (‘I suddenly feel conspicuous’) shortly after they first land in a London scrapyard in glamorous(!) Acton). To my knowledge I believe this is the only story (apart of course from ‘Logopolis’) where the Doctor makes a serious attempt to repair the TARDIS chameleon circuit which, to a degree, is temporarily successful. I particularly liked the pipe organ coupled with the Doctor showing some musical skill, however ultimately you can’t beat the blue police box appearance which makes its welcome return at the stories conclusion. There is a surprise nod to the past with the TARDIS initially materialising at 76 Totters Lane and whilst it’s pleasing to see the Doctor’s brief reaction when he sees the sign proclaiming the address and ‘I.M.Foreman’ sign on their return to the TARDIS the location bears little resemblance to that which appeared way back in ‘An Unearthly Child’.

Although possibly weighed down with the events of ‘The Tenth Planet’ (the destruction of Mondas) and The Tombs of the Cybermen’ and a plot which undoubtedly has its faults there is much to commend in a story that stands up well with others featured in this twenty-second season. I know that its not exactly perfect and the story does falter the further it develops over its total length but viewed overall it must surely rate better than their next appearance in the series, the unsatisfactory mess that was ‘Silver Nemesis’. If the rumours are true regarding Colin Baker recording a commentary for a possible DVD release (don’t you just love these rumours?) I feel it would be a fine addition to BBC Worldwide’s growing collection of highly regarded titles representing the series and a further indication of how great an adversary the Cybermen have become.





Attack of the CybermenBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 4 May 2004 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

After the diabolical 'The Twin Dilemma', Colin Baker really needed a good, strong story to open his first full season. What he got was 'Attack of the Cybermen'. To be fair, it is better than its predecessor, since it benefits from decent direction from Matthew Robinson and generally fine acting; the sewer scenes in Episode One are especially creepy, as a mysterious figure stalks people in the dark brick-lined tunnels. The revelation that the mysterious figure is in a fact a Cyberman is an extremely exciting moment for anyone who isn't aware of the title of the story that they are watching (Okay, okay, it's a problem common to many Dalek stories, but I couldn't resist the cheap shot…). Unfortunately as the story progresses, a variety of factors conspire to betray the promise offered by the opening scenes and 'Attack of the Cybermen' swiftly degenerates to a point where it becomes one of my least favourite Doctor Who stories. 

There are things to enjoy in 'Attack of the Cybermen', but most of them are in Episode One. Maurice Colbourne is once again excellent in the role of Lytton, recapturing the air of restrained menace that he brought to the role in 'Resurrection of the Daleks'. Brain Glover is also very good as Griffiths, an underused but memorable character; he is essentially a thug, but surprisingly likeable nonetheless, and he works well as a foil for Lytton. Glover's sharp delivery of lines such as "No I'm not!" when Griffiths is accused of being allergic to nylon work to the character's benefit, as does his increasingly bad tempered but rather stoic reaction to aliens. In addition, the idea of the rejects of the Cyber conversion process is rather effective, and serves as a reminder of the most horrific aspect of the titular creatures; indeed, this aspect is illustrated throughout the story, with various luckless humans undergoing conversion, as well as Lytton. The Cybermen's crushing of his hands, often criticized for its brutality, is nevertheless an effective indication of the inhuman nature of the creatures as well as their monstrous strength. Then there is the Doctor and Peri, who as in 'The Twin Dilemma' continue to bicker incessantly. Again, whilst this is not to everyone's taste, their spiky relationship works for me, and I continue to find it entertaining. The Doctor dismisses most of Peri's cares and worries, increasing her tendency to worry, and this is reflected in her mounting bad temper throughout Episode One, typified by the sequence in which the Doctor emerges from the sewer entrance wearing the helmet of one of Lytton's policemen; Peri angrily snaps "Never do such a stupid thing again! I could have killed you!" to which the Doctor glibly replies, "I believe you", eliciting a sharp "Don't patronize me" from his companion. Baker and Bryant handle this very well, showing the tension between them but maintaining the impression that beneath it all they are still friends. I also rather like the daft sequences with the chameleon circuit, which rather than being an intrusive and alienating example of excessive continuity is if anything a timely reminder to the casual audience of why exactly the TARDIS is shaped like a police box. 

A note here on the subject of continuity; one accusation often leveled at 'Attack of the Cybermen' is that appreciation of this story depends far too much on knowledge of past stories which the casual viewer would not have. In fact, this is untrue; the main stories referenced by 'Attack of the Cybermen' are 'The Tenth Planet' (the destruction of Mondas) and 'The Tomb of the Cybermen' (the tombs on Telos and the Cyber Controller), but any information derived from those stories and relevant here is adequately reiterated. Additionally, references to I. M. Foreman and various companions are gratuitous, but unlikely to actually alienate anyone new to the series. Ironically, one of the most obvious uses of continuity in 'Attack of the Cybermen' is the return of Lytton. I say ironically, because casual viewers might indeed remember Lytton from the previous series and might therefore realize that script-editor Eric Saward completely buggers things up, since Lytton didn't actually meet the Doctor in that story. Fan revisionism has suggested an untelevised adventure to bridge the gap, but it would have to take place before 'Resurrection of the Daleks', but whilst Lytton is working as a Dalek Trooper (the Doctor claims that he was working for the Dalek taskforce the last time they met) which would be something of a contrivance and the fact remains that it is obviously a whopping great mistake. The most offensive nod to continuity is the casting of Michael Kilgarriff as the Cyber Controller. He is recast simply because he played the role nearly two decades earlier, despite not having spoken in the part and despite having been completely encased in a costume, as is also the case here. The only possible reason that I can think of for such a ludicrous piece of casting is that it allowed unofficial series advisor Ian Levine to pleasure himself at the thought of the painfully anally retentive link to the past that it represented. For the viewer, the benefits are rather lacking, as the result is of course the Fat Controller. Defenders of 'Attack of the Cybermen' have tried to claim that the Controller's copious girth is to accommodate additional processing power and data storage: if so he must literally be a smart arse. 

The main problems I have with 'Attack of the Cybermen' concern the Cybermen and the actual plot. After being restored to their former status as a credible threat in the flawed but effective 'Earthshock', here the Cybermen continue their decline back down to the depths plumbed by 'Revenge of the Cybermen'. They may not be used as mere cannon fodder as they were in 'The Five Doctors', but their effectiveness is undermined by a number of things. For one thing, the fact that they can now be killed by bullets is very disappointing; admittedly, Russell's shots are into a Cyberman's mouth, but it still adds yet another vulnerability to them. Then there is the Cyber Controller; as mentioned above, the return of Michael Kilgarriff to the role is utterly unnecessary, and the result is a Controller that lacks any of the impact it had in 'Tomb of the Cybermen'. In that story, the Controller was an imposing figure, filling the role of leader of the Cyber race and thus acting as a focal point for the creatures. Here, it looks ridiculous due to Kilgarriff's girth, and the design of its head, a nod to the enlarged cranium it displayed in its debut story, creates the impression of a balding pate. As a result, the supreme leader of the Cybermen looks like a fat, bald old man. Furthermore, it steals the limelight from David Banks' emotional but watchable Cyber Leader, and yet seems superfluous as a result of the presence of the Leader. Episode One focuses on the Leader, but as soon as events move to Telos it is discarded in favour of the Controller; I can't honestly find a logical objection to this (it is obvious that the Controller is supreme commander, with many Leaders subordinate to it), I simply get the feeling that one or the other, preferably the Leader, would have focused the story more. 

In addition to all of this, the Cybermen continue to display a ridiculous amount of emotion; Banks' can just about get away with this as the Cyber Leader, as 'Earthshock' proved, but Brian Orrell is embarrassingly bad as the shrill and vocal Cyber Lieutenant, and the Controller is little better as it bellows orders and gets angry. A particularly bad scene concerns the resolution of the cliffhanger; having decided to kill Peri, the Cyber Leader is persuaded otherwise by the horrible contrivance of the hitherto unseen TARDIS self-destruct system. This in itself smacks of bad writing, although it could be a bluff on the part of the Doctor; what really annoys me about the scene, is the fact that Cyberman, a creature supposedly of pure logic rather than, say, honour, not only gives its word but also keeps it, Peri's execution not mentioned further. The Cryons are a further sticking point; their dependence on sub-zero temperatures for survival is potentially interesting, although in practice they are almost as dull as the Vogans were back in 'Revenge of the Cybermen'. But what I object to is what they represent, as it transpires that the Cybermen are apparently unable to build their own fridges. It isn't a plot hole, it isn't even inconsistent with past stories, but it does further cheapen them. 

And then there is the plot. The Cybermen have stolen a time ship and want to crash Halley's Comet into Earth so as to prevent the destruction of Mondas. Let us charitably ignore the fact that a race dependent on logic should be able to spot the obvious paradox that would result if they succeed and instead ask, what are they actually doing in the sewers? How can this possibly aid their plan? Do they perhaps want to convert as many humans as they can before Earth is destroyed? If so, why lurk in a sewer converting the odd workman? Speaking of which, how do the Cryons communicate with Lytton when he's in the past? Ah yes, Lytton; much of the finale of 'Attack of the Cybermen' concerns the Doctor's fretting over the fact that he's misunderstood which alien race Lytton is working for purely in return for money. Lytton, a man responsible for several cold-blooded killings in 'Resurrection of the Daleks' and a couple here (oh, of course - they didn't meet in 'Resurrection of the Daleks', so he wouldn't know about those…). Why does he think that he's never misjudged anyone as badly as he did Lytton? Why does he care more about Lytton than, say, Russell? Erratic the Sixth Doctor may be, but this just seems like dodgy writing and a certain script-editor's obsession with mercenaries. 

In short, 'Attack of the Cybermen' is a mess. In addition to all of the above, we have the sudden deaths of Stratton, Bates and Griffiths, which lends credence to the theory that Saward wrote most of this because as in 'Resurrection of the Daleks' the impression is created that in the last twenty-five minutes the writer suddenly remembers that he or she needs to do something about the characters that he or she has forgotten about or can't think of anything interesting to do with. And of course to top it all off we have the crowning flatulence of the Cybermen locking the Doctor in a room filled with high explosives. Fans of this story argue that since vastial is safe at sub-zero temperatures this isn't really a problem, but if even if that was a convincing excuse for locking a notoriously resourceful prisoner up with, in effect, bombs, it should be obvious even to an imbecile that locking someone in a room full of the stuff without searching him for, say, something that might possibly be used to warm it up, is NOT EVEN REMOTELY LOGICAL!!! AARGH! It is a horrible excuse for a plot contrivance, a sloppy and unconvincing way for the Cybermen to be finished off and for the story to end with a bang, and just the worst example of why 'Attack of the Cybermen' is so bad. Fortunately however, the next story is a considerable improvement…





Vengeance on VarosBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 4 May 2004 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

After the dire 'Attack of the Cybermen', Colin Baker's first full season starts to look up with 'Vengeance on Varos', an intriguing story with generally very high production values and acting. It is often remembered for being grim and gritty, and not unfairly; 'Vengeance on Varos' is a dark story, set on a planet were executions are rife and torture is used as a form of entertainment to keep the population in its place by the corrupt government. And therein lies its enduring appeal…

'Vengeance on Varos' has often been touted as a commentary on "video nasties". If this is true, writer Philip Martin's intention was presumably to demonstrate that watching violence for entertainment is bad because it leads to an acceptance of violence, or possibly to simply make the audience question its own enjoyment of such violence were relevant. However, 'Vengeance on Varos' has never really worked for me in this respect, as it is itself so dark and (by the standards of Doctor Who) violent; the notorious acid bath scene is fairly gruesome, as are the cannibals (in principle if not execution) and the Doctor's dispatch of the Chief Officer and Quillam. But from a twenty-first century perspective, 'Vengeance on Varos' works on a whole new level; the proliferation of "reality TV", a tedious format aimed at the lowest common denominator in the audience and represented by such unimaginative and cheap dross as Big Brother and Survivor, casts the population of Varos in a whole new light. Arak and Etta are obsessed with watching the victims of the Punishment Dome as they struggle through a series of ordeals, in the hope of escaping via the safe exit. Mainly this is because the Varosians are legally required to watch the continuous broadcasts provided by their government whether they like it or not, with death the punishment for failing to do so, but it is amusingly relevant that they have to watch reality TV because there is nothing else on. Equally interesting is the voting system; allegedly, a recent poll showed that the number of young people who voted for a Big Brother final was greater than the number who voted in the general election. This may not be true, but it is alarmingly easy to believe, and the depiction of a society in 'Vengeance on Varos' that is required to vote via television is thus rather amusing. As for the fact that the story depicts a corrupt government motivated entirely by capitalism that controls its population via television, make of that what you will…

Much of the success of 'Vengeance on Varos' stems from a combination of characterisation and acting. Nabil Shaban's Sil is a memorable creation for a number of reasons. For one thing, it is rare to see such an effective non-humanoid alien in Doctor Who, and for another Sil's character, which is equally as grotesque as his appearance, also makes an impression. Sil is not the first Doctor Who villain to be motivated by profit; Morgus is a recent example, but the characters are light years apart. Whereas Morgus was a ruthless businessman, Sil is a sadistic, greedy extortionist whose volatile temper and colossal ego often prove to be his undoing. His temper tantrum in Episode Two for example endangers his plans for Varos, as he releases the Governer from his obligation to accept Sil's offer for Zeiton-7 ore. Sil also fits in perfectly with the tone of the production, since he is on one hand a thoroughly repulsive and unpleasant character, but on the other he provides a certain dark comic relief due his eccentric speech patterns. 

Two of the most significant characters in 'Vengeance on Varos' are Arak and Etta, superbly portrayed by Stephen Yardley and Sheila Reid. They are important because they represent the viewing public of Varos, the little people trapped beneath the yoke of power. Their bickering provides considerable entertainment, but their most important function is to illustrate the effect of living on Varos; Arak is ever-so-slightly rebellious, but too afraid of the repercussions of disobedience to actually do anything beyond complain, and on one occasion he even stops complaining when he realises that his partner is likely to report him for sedition in her viewer's report. When he does eventually act on his rebellious streak, voting twice and using somebody else's voting box in an attempt to get rid of the current Governer, Etta's furious response clearly worries him, and Yardley conveys purely through his facial expression that Arak is regretting his spur-of-the-moment action. Arak and Etta also get the final scene of the story, which is quite superb: freed from the shackles of tyranny, they suddenly realize that they have absolutely no idea what to do…

The other two main characters and performances of note are the Governor and the Chief Officer, played by Martin Jarvis and Forbes Collins respectively. The Governor is an interesting character because he is essential well meaning, but has been ground down by Varos to the point that he describes death as his only friend. Forced by the system into the position of Governor, he knows full well that it is a position that he will leave only by dying. His acceptance of the status quo is born out of an inability to change it; by the end of Episode Two, the influence of the Doctor and Peri finally gives him hope and he at last becomes able to rule without the control of the officer elite, and to demand of Sil what he considers to be a fair price for Varos' sole commodity. Jarvis brings an air of quiet dignity to the role, making the Governor likeable even from the start. In contrast, the Chief Officer is a brutal psychopath who enjoys the executions and tortures that take place on Varos and who is thoroughly corrupt, having made secret deals with Sil to maintain his own power. He is not remotely likeable, and Collins portrays this very well, with a quiet but convincingly cold performance.

Unfortunately, the rest of the cast is rather more variable. As young rebel Jondar Jason Connery proves that looks might run in his family but acting skills do not, and Geraldine Alexander as Areta is just as bad, both delivering their lines in a very unconvincing fashion. Owen Teale is also rather wooden as Maldak. Nicholas Chagrin hams it up as Quillam, a third-rate megalomaniac who is fairly superfluous to the plot, but the worst actor on display here is Graham Cull, who's weird performance as Bax is utterly dreadful - fortunately, the character gets little to do. 

As for the regulars, both are excellent here, with Colin Baker really having found his feet in the role. At the start of the story, when the TARDIS runs out of Zeiton-7, the erratic and moody Doctor of the past two stories remains evident, sinking into a depressed sulk and rather callously telling Peri that if they are stranded for eternity, it won't be as bad for her, because she'll grow old and die. It's the kind of selfish disregard for her feelings that characterised 'The Twin Dilemma', and as such feels perfectly in character, but it also gives way as the story progresses to a far more stable, concerned characterisation, who becomes quickly appalled by the situation on Varos and sets out to change it. After blundering about in 'Attack of the Cybermen', this thus feels like the first time that the Sixth Doctor actually settles down. What is interesting however is the hard edge that remains with him; he makes a quip when two attendants fall into the acid bath, and later rigs a lethal trap to dispatch the Chief Officer and Quillam, making an intriguing contrast to the Fifth Doctor's characterisation. I don't have a problem with this, although I do object to the fact that on arriving on Varos he is responsible for the death of a guard without any idea what is going on - an uncompromising Doctor is interesting, a Doctor with an utterly reckless disregard for life is merely alarming. Nevertheless, by the end of 'Vengeance on Varos', it is worth noting that the volatile relationship between the Doctor and Peri has settled down, and he greets her with a hug at the end; they will continue to bicker, but after the traumatic treatment she received in 'The Twin Dilemma', their friendship seems to have genuinely recovered. 

The production of 'Vengeance on Varos' is outstanding. The sets are superb, capturing perfectly the grim and gritty atmosphere of the story, and are, happily, appropriately lit. Ron Jones' direction is excellent, especially as the Doctor and his friends find themselves facing the various tricks and traps of the Punishment Dome. Most notably, the cliffhanger to Episode One is excellent, as events on screen nicely reflect the need for an episode ending, the Governor's "And cut it… now" a knowing wink to the series format. Jonathon Gibbs' excellent incidental score also benefits the story, perfectly capturing the mood. My only real criticism is the use of black actors to portray Sil's slaves; it is rare to see non-Caucasian actors in the series and as such their employment of slaves makes me rather uncomfortable. Fans often mention Toberman in 'The Tomb of the Cybermen', but he at least was a paid servant; here we get scantily clad muscular men in bondage gear that never speak, and I get no sense that they are serving Sil for the sake of money or loyalty. Nevertheless, despite this niggling criticism and few dodgy performances, 'Vengeance on Varos' is an impressive story that has aged very well, and for me is the first real high point of the Sixth Doctor's era.