The Ice WarriorsBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 15 November 2005 - Reviewed by Ed Martin

To an extent The Ice Warriors is Doctor Who done very much by-the-book, and if it wasn’t for its legacy of introducing one of the show’s biggest and most iconic monsters outside top-level ones such as Daleks and Cybermen then I’m not convinced that it would be remembered particularly. Indeed, it is rarely seen as being one of the defining moments of its season, which contains such heavyweights as The Tomb Of The Cybermen and The Web Of Fear, even though it is the story with the most material existing outside of Tomb. As such The Ice Warriors is a good, solidly entertaining tale, but contains little that elevates it to greatness.

The first thing that strikes me immediately is the bespoke titles. They are good, helped by a suitably atmospheric score for them (although, as I mentioned in my review of The Keys Of Marinus, there is the old cliché of having a woman wailing “ooooooeeeeooee” like a banshee whenever there’s a hint of snow in the air). At this stage I quite like them: ask me again in six episodes time and I might want to kick the screen in. On the whole though the music is pretty good, with Dudley Simpson providing a score that, while distinctive, is totally appropriate to the story.

In design terms this story is very good, with the sophisticated scientific base being set in an old manor house being an extremely innovative idea, making for some pleasing and atmospheric sets outside of the main control room itself. The computer looks good, although computers are often the items that date 1960s stories the most. Roy Skelton provides a decent voice, although it is sometimes difficult to hear what he is actually saying. It’s not important most of the time though, sticking to reeling off a load of facts and figures; the cast use it here to set up the plot by namedropping the ioniser at every opportunity. Funniest of all though are the fashions, which are decidedly sike-ay-delic despite the story being set in the year 3000. Not that I’m complaining or anything, but the idea that in a thousand years time the women scientists would be going round in miniskirts and beehive hairdos never fails to raise a smile. At this rate they’ll still be in 21st Century fashions in the year 200 000.

The landing of that TARDIS is quite annoying, not because of the supposed goof of it landing on its side and dematerialising upright – it’s only seen at the beginning and at the end, anything could have happened to it – but because of that good-time comedy troupe of Patrick Troughton, Frazer Hines and Deborah Watling mucking about pretending they’re treading on each other’s hands and similar silliness. The frequent references to The Abominable Snowmen seem strange to me for no very good reason given that nobody has really seen very much of it these days (obviously), and referencing a much better story (Snowmen being one of my favourite Troughtons) just makes me wish I was able to watch that instead (no disrespect to this story).

The regulars stroll into the main control room (as you do) and sort out the broken computer, in my favourite scene in the story. Okay so it’s scientific nonsense but the average viewer in 1967 might not have known that and it showcases the Guv’nor in all his manic splendour. There’s a lot of technobabble present but it’s not there to provide some naff plot resolution: the scene is a character piece, and it shows the beginnings of a very interesting idea of the scientists being over-reliant on their technology in the face of advancing nature, especially given that their technology caused the new ice age to begin in the first place. The vibro-chair is another very late 60s concept, and I must admit to a raised eyebrow or two. Lastly this scene shows how great an actor Peter Barkworth is as Clent, the slightly pompous leader who is fundamentally a good egg but who’s reliance on computers comes across as slightly unhealthy sometimes. On the subject of the guest cast Peter Sallis is equally good as the cynical but compassionate Penley, although Angus Lennie camps it up a bit as Storr. His anti-science characterisation is all well and good but it does get taken a little too far when he starts refusing medical aid; Penley is the superior character, both in terms of writing and acting.

The concept of people finding an alien trapped in ice is certainly not new, but is one of those stock concepts that’ll remain cool forever and ever. The avalanche is brilliantly executed, with stock footage mixed seamlessly in with studio action (not possible, I hear you say? In any other story I’d agree) through quick and assured editing; it’s the kind of scene that reminds me that Derek Martinus was the director on this story.

Victoria’s horror at the thought of being evacuated to Africa is a great nod to the Anglo-centric world view of a certain breed upper-class Victorians, although in my more cynical moments I’d say that social commentary works best on societies not a century out of date, which could make it seem simply like Brian Hayles was having a pop at Africa. Fortunately I’m not in a cynical mood today so the line is good.

The forty-five second scene is a great way of providing exposition, where the Doctor has to explain the backstory of the episode without hesitation, repetition or deviation. It does make for a surprisingly exciting way to deliver the plot, and it seems very knowing of Hayles to put such a twist on the exposition in such a way that earns the episode serious points. The episode is well written in general with the dialogue always listenable and diverting, although Victoria’s line of “I still don’t understand” is irritating and shows her up as the exposition-cipher she is in this story that almost undoes all that I’ve just said. The picture Clent paints of the eternal winter is stunning though, although I half expect a lone violin to start playing when he says the incredibly cheesy line of “and then, one year, there was no spring…”

The computer’s role of calculating the ionisation programme at a snail’s pace shows up the general lack of understanding their was of computers at that time. Is it me, or is Miss Garrett’s pious speech of “all decisions, all actions, must conform to the common good” a commentary on Communism? Normally I wouldn’t read so much into it but the Doctor’s look of utter disgust when she says the line makes me wonder.

There is a direct sexual connotation between Jamie and Victoria here when Jamie suggests she might like to dress up in the female scientists’ uniforms; some would say this episode has a lot to answer for, not least female scientists. Meanwhile, behind them, the ice is melting. The cliffhanger is pretty good but had been waving a flag on the horizon ever since the warrior was found earlier on.

I’ve got this episode on The Ice Warriors Collection box-set that the BBC released back in 1998 meaning that for their reconstruction of the missing episodes all fifty minutes are condensed down into just fifteen. That’s why I’m ignoring it completely and whacking on the audio CD – although I’ll just say that all that “engineer reports power failure” guff that precedes the reconstruction as a caption is annoying and condescending; I’d much rather a caption came up saying “so anyway, we screwed up back in the ‘70s, so…”

Anyway, on with episode two, which begins with the Doctor portentously announcing that the creature’s helmet has electronic connections, which would be great if we hadn’t seen Varga clomping around in all his glory already (Okay, so I had to imagine it, but run with me. It’s not my fault it’s missing.). The music that accompanies Varga is really quite strange, a romantic theme from Simpson that seems to imply we should be feeling sympathetic for this poor little reptile-monster that’s holding Victoria hostage. It’s not a bad score exactly, it just sounds like Simpson was working on the wrong programme. All this is in the background while Varga graphically explains how his gun will “burst your brain with noise” to Victoria. Delightful.

This episode does highlight why the Ice Warriors are so well regarded even though they only appeared in four stories, the last of which was in 1974: I know they look and sound fantastic but that has to be weighed against the fact that they’re probably the slowest, most ungainly creation the series made up to that point. Also, the concept of green men from Mars is a very dated and clichéd one. All this points to the Warriors not being so well regarded in modern times: they work so well though because Hayles is so careful not to portray them as simple lurching brutes that do nothing but go on about how they’re going to take over the world, etcetera. Varga is an intelligent and rational being, albeit completely ruthless and cold-hearted, and this is a major factor in their success. It was lost, I think, on the sequel The Seeds Of Death but taken to great heights in The Curse Of Peladon. 

Barkworth continues to shine as Clent, with his driven nature steadily increasing into a fixation with rigidity and conformity that suggests to me that Hayles might have been giving faint praise to the burgeoning counterculture scene (or maybe I’m just reading too much in again). Clent’s obsession is made slightly less obtuse by the Doctor’s diatribe on individualism: this is a well-written piece, telling everyone what they need to know without being patronising and is a good example of the series being accessible to the entire spectrum of its audience. When the Doctor talks to Penley he appears to take a strong moral stance for the human race – sounding like Pertwee’s Doctor – and I’m not sure how this relates to the very black-and-white morals of the second Doctor, who usually subscribed to the simple philosophy that Evil Must Be Destroyed, which is all very well until he starts blasting the human base with the Warriors’ sonic cannon (in a couple of episodes time) even though there’s a considerable risk of killing everyone. Oh, and Penley talks about “the parting of the ways”. I just thought I’d mention it.

Episode three kicks off along much the same lines, with Clent showing a human side over Arden’s guilt that contrasts (in a good way) with his aforementioned obsession with formulaic logical perfection. However, maybe it’s the lack of visuals, but the story does seem to be slowing down quite considerably. For example, more than eight and a half minutes in the other Ice Warriors are still being released despite that being the cliffhanger to the previous episode; Clent is still going on about the risks of using the ioniser on the alien ship; people are still trying to persuade Penley to rejoin the scientists. Nevertheless, the dialogue remains well-written and listenable, and as much character-driven as plot.

Arden’s killing is a deeply jolting scene in audio format, given Brian Hodgson’s spectacular sound effects work and Victoria’s screams; she can be annoying, I’m not going to deny that, but her histrionics do occasionally have a place. The rest of the episode is more of the same, with the cliffhanger being fine in a low-key way. I know I just repeated myself there, but if they can do it then so can I.

With episode four we are again privileged with moving pictures (and lots of boom mike shadows as a consequence) and so this is the first time we can see that the Warrior’s mouths aren’t in synch with their speech. It’s not really a problem though as it gives them a surreal alien quality (worse is the fact that you can see the actor’s mouths in the close-ups; this worked for the Cybermen but they were meant to have people trapped inside them) and in any case with all this talk of missing episodes Sod’s law will hopefully find the episodes and render this review out of date.

Clent pressurising Victoria to tell him about the engines of the Warriors’ ship is a good scene as it deals with the fact that Victoria has been transplanted into a completely unknown time. It is followed by the H2O scene (you’ll know it if you’ve seen it) which shows the Doctor at his very coolest. This is naturally followed by the Doctor ordering some ammonium sulphide to use against the Warriors; this is only a minor contrivance though, and works quite well.

The chase scene with Victoria and Turoc the Ice Warrior is a well shot and directed scene, and Varga’s grief at his comrade’s death sets him far above other monsters. In fact many of the deaths in this story are poignant (for example Storr’s, if only as his character is so pathetic) and the surprisingly high mortality rate of 69.2% comes from the fact that the Warriors are so fleshed out as characters, as usually I don’t count underling monsters and other generic cannon fodder.

The set up of the story is interesting: both parties are effectively in a position of weakness and need to know each other’s capabilities. At this stage that is an unusual and original plot, but overall the story drags it out too far. The cliffhanger is good and exciting, although on the whole this has been a very padded episode. What I’ve said about it has been positive, but there hasn’t really been that much to say as there’s been so little development since previous instalments. 

The film set of the forest is very good, with more quality direction from Derek Martinus. However, the live bear that they hired could have been better used, as more of an effort to make it look less like stock footage might have helped.

The Doctor’s confrontation with the Warriors is good and dramatic, and parallels one between Clent and Miss Garret over the ioniser. However, this is the reason why the episode falls down: they were discussing the risks of using the ioniser back in the third episode. As both the monsters and the heroes spend most of their time in a position of stalemate, I wonder if six episodes were really necessary; if this was a four parter then I might not be making these complaints. They are quite major complaints however, as despite many good points this story has moved at a crushingly slow rate since the second episode. Again, the confrontation with Penley goes over the problem yet again, telling us nothing new. What was an interesting set up is now becoming tiresome.

The bluff scene with Zondal is fun, but Victoria’s false crying gets on the nerves very fast and the Doctor’s theatrical nose-blowing sound effect is silly. It does lead to probably the best cliffhanger of the story though, and it is very interesting to see how Zondal is presented as a much more sadistic and bloodthirsty character than his superior.

Walters’s diatribe against the machines is great, as Clent’s horror at the idea of his idealistic technocratic utopia being undermined (the computer is almost deified) blossoms into full-blown hysteria, providing that character’s catharsis. Please don’t send that in to the Pseuds’ Corner section of Private Eye.

The Doctor’s mucking about with the sonic cannon is something of a contrivance: it isn’t bad in itself as it is convincing and well-explained (after all, science-fiction has to have science-fiction stuff in it at some point), but Victoria’s exposition-feed dialogue threatens to push the scene over the edge. The resolution is the expected one: in fact it’s so formulaic that I can’t really think of anything intelligent to say about it. However, the final reconciliation between Clent and Penley is an excellent scene.

After a very strong beginning The Ice Warriors goes downhill, meaning that I can only really give it an average rating (it falls just short of being above average). It’s problem is that it is badly overlong, and would have worked much better with two less episodes. The two factions spend most of the story going over the plot again and again and arguing amongst themselves, and the only character with any real initiative (the Doctor) is stuck on the Warrior’s spacecraft for much of the second half; even Penley doesn’t really do anything practical. This is a real shame, as the story does have many good points: the characterisation is excellent and the monsters are absolutely wonderful.





The Space PiratesBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 15 November 2005 - Reviewed by Shane Anderson

Conventional wisdom holds that the Space Pirates is long and dull, and an aberration in the otherwise stellar record of Doctor Who writer/script editor Robert Holmes. And for the longest time I believed that. The single surviving episode as released on the Troughton Years isn’t terribly impressive, and though I read the novel, I remembered next to nothing about it. However, in recent months I’ve come to reassess the story due to the amazingly restored survivng episode 2 on Lost in Time, and the narrated soundtrack. I’ve decided that I enjoy the Space Pirates tremendously and would love to see it recovered. 

Let’s get the weak parts of the story out of the way first. General Hermack is the weakest link, without a doubt. The character is not very credible as a general. He jumps to conlusions on very slight evidence when it comes to Milo Clancey, and he misses some blatantly obvious things about Madeline Issigri, namely her company’s use of Beta Darts and the fact that the pirates also use one. At the least, that should arouse suspicion, but it doesn’t, not even when the Space Corps chase the pirate ship, only to come on it with the disgused nosecone and turn away without the slightest questioning of the coincidence of two betas in the same area at the same time. Hermack is also badly acted with a horrible accent. “Ve’re going to be too late again!” he cries in a horrible delivery that almost made me skip the surviving episode the first time I saw it. His line “That’s why I’m a general” is also just awful. Here is where the plot largely should have been rewritten, to make the general a more realistic character. 

My only other real complaint is that the Doctor is upstaged on the action front by Milo Clancey. Clancey is a good character, but he gets way too much to do at the expense of the Doctor. Jamie and Zoe have even less of a role. It’s perhaps not essential that the Doctor have a central role in every episode, but he is the central character and should have a pivotal role in the story. At the least, the Doctor shouldn’t be upstaged by supporting characters. 

On with the good stuff. The plot holds together fairly well, and has some good ideas in it. It mixes genres in a way that possibly only Doctor Who allows, being a combination of western, space opera and pirates, with a bit of mystery thrown in as well. The idea of pirates attacking deep space beacons for salvage is carjacking on a huge scale, and the resulting financial gain for the pirates and Issigri makes for sound and believable motivation. We have criminals here not out for power, but simply out for financial gain, and it is hinted that the Issigri Mining corporation enjoys its wealth due to the pirates success rather than the worked out mines on Ta. And the space travel aspects of the script are not as tedious and drawn out as some would have you believe. There are several mentions made of extended travel time, but the story mentions it and then goes on with events, so it’s not really a drag. 

The Space Corps are the lawmen of the story, and the difficulty of tracking down and stopping the raids in the vastness of space is well conveyed. As I said earlier, General Hermack is too dense to be believable, but Major Warne comes across far better. They both play an important role in the denouement, being the only party with the raw muscle to take out Caven and his gang. They spend far too much of the story going from one place to the other and following false leads or Milo Clancey, but since there are plenty of other events taking place, it drags out the plot without slowing the story, if you see what I mean. Dense policemen allow the story to fill out its required length, while more intelligent lawmen would have ended the story at episode two perhaps. As I mentioned earlier, this is the main structural weakness of the story, that it largely depends on the stupidity of Hermack to make it's required six episode length. 

Moving on to Milo Clancey, I find that he really livens up the story. He’s by far the most colourful character, standing up to the Space Corps and the pirates with a nicely defiant attitude. He’s obviously the old prospector of the westerns, down to the way he dresses, and his accent is baffling (in other words, I have no idea what kind of accent it’s meant to be!), but he entertains rather than annoys. He is resourceful and capable, and it’s easy to accept him as a ‘law unto himself’ as Hermack puts it. He does however get a large chunk of the story that is usually reserved for the Doctor and companions, thus side-lining them to some extent. 

As for the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe, they really seem to be at the mercy of events around them in this story. They rarely get the chance to be proactive until well into episode three when they leave the Liz to search the tunnels. Arriving late in episode one, they are almost immediately set upon by Lieutenant Sorba’s soldiers, until Caven seals them into the beacon section where we see them in episode two. They really do go through a harrowing situation in part two as the oxygen slowly runs out and the Doctor’s plan backfires disastrously. Troughton, Hines and Padbury are great in this episode. Worthy of mention is Troughton’s very nice underplaying of the line “Zoe, don’t be such a pessimist”. One can easily imagine other Doctors trying to wring the humor from such a line, when the situation really doesn’t call for it. Also of note is the Doctor’s “Oh what a silly idiot I am” when he resigns himself to the fact that he’s really messed up this time. If not for Milo Clancey’s timely intervention, all three would have suffocated. 

From there it’s off to Ta. We are reminded of Zoe’s mental accuity when she works out that the course of the beacon fragments would have brought them to Ta anyway, and it’s amusing to hear her chide the Doctor for not working it out himself. The trio leave the Liz after deciding that they can’t trust Milo, which leads to the discovery of the Pirates down in the tunnels of the old mines, after which the Doctor and co. are promptly locked up. They are freed by Dom, only to be locked up again after being betrayed by Madeline Issigri. I do enjoy the fact that the villains of the piece are not all of the same mind when it comes to killing the prisoners, as Caven wants to do. Madeline is content to steal and profit from the theft, but isn’t so far gone that she’s comfortable with murder. Caven, who is a believably brutal thug, has no qualms about killing, as demonstrated by his shooting of Lt. Sorba, who survived the attack on beacon Alpha 7 only to show up and die in episode 4. This sets up friction and ultimately betrayal between Madeline and Caven, and allows us to sympathise with her, despite the fact that she’s responsible for much of what has occurred by supporting Caven in the first place and by giving him a base of operations. 

After this, Madeline’s father and Clancey’s old partner Dom Issigri, who has evidently been held prisoner by Caven for years, turns up. It’s been held up as a major plot hole that he’d be in his old study for ten years without Madeline finding out at some point, but there’s no indication that he’s been in his study that entire time, so it’s not really a problem. Caven has a suitable motivation for keeping the old man alive, which is control over Madeline should she get out of line at some point. Here the Doctor finally gets to go on the offensive and come up with the way out of the office and past the guards. Nitpicky fans of continuity like myself will hear Zoe say “what are candles?” and say “nice character moment” and then remember that she knew just what they were back in the Mind Robber. Tsk tsk.. 

The final episode has some suitably tense moments with the air running out on Clancey’s ship and the Doctor defusing the bomb set up by Caven. In the end things get tied up rather quickly, but this is hardly a fault restricted to this story. The Space Corp blow up Caven’s ship, the pirates are put out of action, and Madeline Issigri has to return to Earth to stand trial for her crimes. 

Judging by the film trims from episode one and the surviving episode two, the model work is quite good for the time. The musical score is perhaps typical 60s space opera with the soprano vocalist behind the score evoking the vast mysteriousness of space, but that suits the story just fine. The threats to the regulars seems suitably dangerous, and the plot holds up fairly well over the length of the story, though one could argue that better characterization for Hermack would have cut down the length and added some credibility to the Space corps. In short, the Space Pirates is a good story despite some flaws, and hardly deserving of the panning it often receives.





The War GamesBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 15 November 2005 - Reviewed by Ed Martin

Let’s make no mistake: The War Games is an absolute classic. It’s dramatic, exciting, and casts a real sense of scale that very effectively conveys the Doctor’s final inability to solve the problem he is faced with without sacrificing himself. However, as it’s so long (too long really if I’m honest) it takes a really hardcore fan to stick it out in one go. Also, there’s the practical reason of needing four hours to spare, which I rarely do; I’m reviewing this in two parts. Its great length certainly did it no favours on its original transmission; episode eight achieved a measly 3.5 million viewers, making it the second-lowest rated episode ever (that crown goes to episode one of Battlefield) not counting the broadcast of the pilot episode in 1991. This is a shame, as this is one of the three definite classics of season 6, and ends the second Doctor’s run and the black and white period on a spectacularly high note.

The specially designed titles, the first thing seen in this story, are a little too much to take though – anyone affected by severe strobe lights, take note. After this it begins properly in one of the most tightly directed scenes ever, in what appears to be No Mans’ Land in 1917. It is commendable of the new series to try and spice up the TARDIS materialisation / dematerialisation effect by such details as having snow falling off it in The Unquiet Dead, but for me there is very little that can beat the sight of the TARDIS appearing reflected in a muddy puddle, all in dingy monochrome 16mm film. The location scenes are brilliantly shot and edited and the barrage of fire looks brilliant, virtually matching what could be done in certain feature films of the time. The studio scenes are no less effective: the sets are as wonderful as the flawless period detail, and the lighting also deserves special mention for creating such a convincing effect of natural light in the chateau. Dudley Simpson also supplies one of his better scores, totally appropriate to the story.

One advantage of the story’s length (at least in the early stages) is that it can take its luxuriant time showing off its period setting to full effect, making the first episode brilliantly atmospheric – it’s almost a shame that this can’t just play out as an ordinary historical story. However, a sense of mystery is very effectively set up (always a benchmark of a good opening) with the inclusion of a couple of apparently random elements such as General Smythe’s viewscreen, and the amnesia of a few of the characters. The only problem is that Smythe’s mention of the “1917 zone” provides a bit too much explanation at so early a stage, even if it doesn’t immediately make sense. One notable aspect though is the aliens’ ability to hypnotise people, which is done in almost exactly the same style as the Master would a couple of seasons later; it should be mentioned here that Terrance Dicks, who wrote this with Malcolm Hulke, was the Master’s co-creator.

The regulars are on top form, as seen when they are marched before the general, although Jamie stamping on the Doctor’s foot is a slightly misjudged piece of slapstick from that great comedy duo, Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines. Hines and Wendy Padbury do well in this story, although they are not (and never were) in Troughton’s league. His performance in this story is faultless, making it especially sad that it is his final story (barring guest appearances) and also that so much of his era is missing, and it is easy to see why the team of Troughton, Hines and Padbury were so popular. The Doctor’s small and unassuming kiss goodbye to Zoe is very poignant, and presages the end of this story. The cliffhanger as well is terrific, the location shooting further emphasising David Maloney’s skill as a director: the composition of some of the shots is superb, particularly the establishing one of the firing squad.

The design of the SIDRATs is simple but effective, even if they do have a nonsensical name (Space In Dimensions Relative And Time, presumably). The sudden appearance of the Redcoat further increases the mystery, although conversely it offers an implied explanation for Smythe’s talk of zones.

The Doctor’s bluffing the prison commandant is essentially a comedy scene (nicely timed though); although the bravura performance from Troughton demonstrates why he was clearly the best actor in the role (Tom Baker was clearly playing himself, while Christopher Eccleston seems a bit self-conscious at times). When Zoe knocks the commandant unconscious Troughton does full justice to that gem of a line, “I think he’ll survive”. At this stage the premise is not too different to The Time Meddler, with anachronistic elements in a period setting. However, the final revelation is infinitely more compelling than its (still stylish) cousin. Suddenly entering the Roman zone is an unexpected and original notion, making for a nicely surprising cliffhanger.

With the third episode the incident count drops severely (and it’s going to get lower before it rises again), with lots of repetition, padded and superfluous fights, dialogue scenes more for effect than anything else, and lots of repetition. However, it’s all so well written and made that it is rarely any less watchable for it, even if it is merely killing time before the shattering conclusion. It becomes a story of ideas now, with the Doctor first voicing the notion of the world they are in being divided into different time zones. The need to go back to the chateau, even with the reasonable intention of finding a map of the world, is an example of the need for this story to go round and round to fill up its vast running time. The opening of the safe is a cool scene and well thought out, even if the explosion is predictably naff and small (the contrast between high explosives on location and fizzy sherbet in studio is always slightly jarring). The explosion goes off before the fuse has finished burning, goof fans, while Carstairs’s fooling the guard is another example of a character being bluffed – a recurring activity of this story – but it’s so tense it works fine.

Similarly the sequence in the German dug-out, while still great, is done to hold off the inevitable. It’s padding, like so much else, but it’s such wonderful padding, better than a lot of other stories’ best efforts. Also, it’s amusing to see the sonic screwdriver actually being used on a screw.

David Garfield makes his entrance as von Weich and proves himself to be skilled at putting on accents, making his surreal performance as Neeva in The Face Of Evil eight years later entirely unforgivable. Here though he is brilliant, one of those traditional villains so evil that I actually find myself hating him – a sure sign of an actor doing his job well.

The unassuming cuts between futuristic and period settings jar a bit, but then this story has the scope to fit such elements in together. The guards in their gimp suits look silly, but Edward Brayshaw as the War Chief is absolutely superb, a contender for the title of best actor of the season (although in fairness he faces strong competition from Bernard Horsfall in The Mind Robber and Kevin Stoney in The Invasion). His interior monologue, although not without precedent, is unusual and effective, giving a sense of back history and a possible link with the Doctor, further increasing the interest and the tension. Meanwhile back in the American Civil War zone the fights, although unnecessary, are well made with violence that is realistic without being gratuitous. In fact the production is so good, especially considering the number of characters and locations, that it should be noted that Derrick Sherwin was actually a good producer for the two stories he worked on in that role, even if he was working closely with Peter Bryant. Having said that the design of the future settings is perhaps slightly tacky with hanging sheets of plastic inside the SIDRATS and the groovy swirls in the alien sector.

The Doctor’s worry that there’s more going on than meets the eye is brilliantly played, as usual, and the idea of a teacher lecturing students in a BBC accent about how to hypnotise their slaves is just crazy enough to really, really work. Meanwhile Jamie is accused of spying, and his response of “not again” could be read as ironic. Also, it is interesting to note that a black actor is in the programme and not playing a mute strongman.

The scientist’s lecture gives us a sudden burst of exposition which does seem a little clunky after such a gradually-paced beginning, but it’s an interesting plot so it could be worse. This is followed by the spine tingling scene where the Doctor and the War Chief recognise each other, surely one of the highlights of the story, made even better through coming after a fairly quiet period and also because we don’t get to find out exactly how the know each other for quite some time yet.

The fifth episode is more of the same. The Doctor bluffs the scientist again, and even though it shows Troughton at his energetic best it’s still so repetitive that I’m repeating myself by talking about it. Oh well, I can only mention what’s on screen. Even given the circular nature of the scenes though, it’s still all so good, and sends Troughton out in a blaze of glory; it’s up there jostling for position with The Caves Of Androzani for the title of best final story ever.

James Bree is a rubbish actor (in fact he sounds like he’s doing a Dalek voice) and is the weak link in the guest cast – certainly he dies a death when in the same shot as Brayshaw. However, it is nice to see two villains who also happen to hate each other; this is a character dynamic seen all too rarely in the series. The major mistake though is that the Security Chief makes it fairly clear that the War Chief and the Doctor are of the same race, undermining the possibility of a dramatic revelation later on.

It is interesting seeing David Troughton in his small role as Private Moor; he does a decent job with the few lines he gets given, although his father casts one long shadow. His performance as a man caught between the two poles of authority (holding von Weich prisoner) and fear is very effective, and knocks spots off his slightly sappier one in The Curse Of Peladon.

The violence is actually surprisingly potent in its realism, with Carstairs shooting a guard in the head at close range and the Doctor hardly reacting. I’ve seen Spaghetti Westerns with comparable levels of violence, and they get 15 certificates.

When the Doctor immediately knows how to operate the controls, Zoe asks him how and his uncomfortable response of “it isn’t really very difficult” is excellent, a much subtler hint that the ghosts from his past are coming back to haunt him. If only those hints were all so well written and didn’t have James Bree spitting them out like a whiny baby the whole thing would be a lot better.

The SIDRAT crushing effect is simple and potentially dodgy, but saved through Maloney’s consistently excellent direction. The villains’ attempt to second guess the Doctor’s plan is funny, and an example of the wry, ironic humour that is much more appropriate to this story than the moments of slapstick and Michael Napier-Brown playing for laughs as Arturo Villar.

The War Lord gets a great introduction, with the camera panning down to reveal he has been standing next to the Security Chief unnoticed. Philip Madoc gives another of his four totally brilliant performances in the show, with his icy and collected portrayal of the main villain. I’d say he loses out to Brayshaw though (there aren’t many stories I can think of where Madoc wouldn’t win the best actor crown), and the scenes with the two of them together are magical. The only problem is that James ‘Brie’ Bree has to be there too, spluttering out his superior’s name in a peculiar fashion: “War --- LOOOOORRD!”

The Romans make a reappearance as the Doctor returns to the Games, and the story’s repetition is increased further by them actually splicing in footage shot for episode 2. It does lead to more brilliantly-shot footage of the 1917 zone though, so it’s not all bad; simple effects like placing the camera at interesting angles or situating it behind some dead branches make all the difference. I’d only be repeating myself further if I dwelled on the Doctor escaping from a firing squad again and in the exact same way, so I’ll gloss over it. It has to be said: The War Games is no easy story to review in such a linear way as this. However, with the château taken by the resistance, the plot really begins to crank up again now.

Another brilliant moment early on in episode 8, with the Doctor telling a load of guards brandishing guns “I’m not going to hurt you”. With regards to the Doctor and the War Chief knowing each other, the War Chief admits what the audience is aware of anyway – but it does lead to one of the most gripping scenes of the story, where they privately talk about their pasts with the Doctor managing to convey a haughty disdain for his people. In fact, the scene is so good that it makes me forget that it’s really just there to further the plot in an ordinary fashion; it also almost makes me forget I’ve seen after this story, as if I’m taking it all in for the first time. Is this the best expositionary scene ever? Could well be.

Hines does a comedy performance as the resistance leader (you’re just no kind of leader if you don’t have a limp). At least though the resistance starts to get organised, although in a goof with a capital Goo we see on the map that the 1917 and Roman zones are in fact nowhere near each other, let alone adjacent, throwing the end of episode 2 into confusion.

The Doctor’s apparent treachery is given an added edge by the knowledge that this is Troughton’s last story (put yourself in the position of a first time viewer); is this really the end? The Doctor and the War Chief are, as before, brilliant on screen together although the fact that the SIDRATs are breaking down does make me wonder what the War Chief would have done if the Doctor hadn’t arrived by chance. The episode’s first big scene with the War Lord about four minutes in has a guest cameo appearance from a monstrous boom mike shadow, a rare glitch in the production of this episode, but it’s all good stuff. The Doctor’s confrontation with the War Chief is well written and dramatic, but spoiled slightly by Troughton fluffing his lines (a rarity). Napier-Brown is a Mexican Ham Sandwich (OK so I just made that up, but I don’t have a lot to work with do I?), but at least James Bree bites the dust at last. On the downside, the wonderful Brayshaw goes the same way.

The Time Lords have so much mystique in this instalment it hurts. This is perhaps when they are at their best: we can feel their awesome power but we don’t get to see them, which has the twin effect of making that power all the more terrifying while at the same time not revealing how ill-defined they are at this stage. The echoing sound effect that heralds their arrival, coupled with Madoc’s foreboding delivery of a very simple line – “they’re coming” – increases the tension no end, and it builds up to a wonderful cliffhanger.

Now we come to the final instalment, the only real challenger to An Unearthly Child to be crowned best single episode of Doctor Who. It begins slowly though: in the studio recorded TARDIS interior the actors have to resort to slow-motion acting, which is less impressive. Also, the attempts to escape in the TARDIS smack of padding, although it is nice to see footage from missing episodes like Fury From The Deep. However, splicing in a clip from The Web Of Fear causes more confusion as it then requires an explanation for why the ship is suddenly covered in web. Bernard Horsfall, one of my favourite guest actors, provides a suitably doomy and sombre voice over, but in fact the design of Gallifrey is rather drab here (even the stepping stones across the dry ice seem a bit pointless). The Time Lords, as I said, lack depth but consequently retain their aura, and it is in some ways a shame that stories like The Deadly Assassin had to make them more realistic and less impressive as a result.

The chance of escape provides a genuine ray of hope and I half found myself wishing they would get away even though I knew they didn’t, and it makes the final end of the second Doctor doubly sad. Troughton gives a final tour de force performance in his last handful of scenes, even turning some slightly trite dialogue (the scene where he lists some of his old monsters seems a bit self-congratulatory) into something special, and is another reason why he was in my eyes the best of them all: I can’t really imagine any other actor performing that scene so well. The final goodbye with Jamie and Zoe is one of the programme’s most poignant scenes ever. The overall last scene is extremely important and very enigmatic, with Troughton spinning away with his face invisible. So ends four hours – largely of nothing, but what quality nothing! Also ends Troughton’s reign, and it’s a crying shame there isn’t more of his era to see.

The War Games achieves the impossible: to have a very padded four hours that nevertheless holds attention throughout. It’s exhausting to watch and I don’t do it often, but even though I watch it so rarely it’s still a shining classic of the Troughton era, of the black and white years, and of television science-fiction.





The DmonsBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 15 November 2005 - Reviewed by Ed Martin

Episodes suddenly becoming widely available after a long period are liable to see their reputations alter quite drastically, sometimes in a positive way (The Gunfighters) and other times in a negative way (The Web Planet). Usually after a few years people get used to them being around and they settle down into a more deserving place in polls, for better or worse. Time and time again this has happened – but with The Daemons things have stalled a bit because despite it being released on video in 1993 many fans have never got over the initial demystification and go around roasting it. It has never found its fair place between the two camps of its original reputation and its subsequent fall from grace; in fact, it has developed a reputation for not being able to live up to its reputation, which is unfortunate. More so than any other story then, it is important for me in this review to be objective and to judge this episode by its own standards; I have tried to ignore its contextual place in fan circles, which I feel has become hopelessly distorted.

It certainly begins well enough, with a brilliantly atmospheric beginning showing a man walking a dog over a graveyard on a dark rainy night (a form of suicide in this kind of thing), while Doctor Who’s most prolific director Christopher Barry cutting in shots of requisite spooky animals such as owls, rats and cats. This might sound a bit derivative but really these are simply stock elements that have been used and re-used over and over, and always will be; the Harry Potter novels wouldn’t have such a fan base if people worried about that sort of thing. This is the first of many location scenes in this story, giving it the genuinely good, non-tacky look that is so rare in a Barry Letts production.

Miss Hawthorne is a good character, but it is not until later that she gets a chance to shine as in the first episode Damaris Hayman is completely eclipsed by Robin Wentworth, who gives a brilliant and hilarious performance as the curmudgeonly Professor Horner. Other characters are not so good though: the Doctor is about as pompous and as patronising as he has ever been, which is one area of the critics’ argument I must confess to agreeing with, which can be seen from the start when he condescends Jo horrendously for not knowing about his remote control unit for Bessie (in terms of technology, this story rips of James Bond to the extent of splicing in actual footage and passing it off as its own). On the subject of Jo, then Katy Manning’s cutesy-girly persona is grating and doesn’t help matters at all. UNIT come off better, with Courtney, Levene and Franklin generally playing it straight against some quite silly lines: Nicholas Courtney even manages to sound authoritative when saying lines like “we’ve got no idea what you’re talking about, Doctor”. And since this is the end of season eight, is anyone honestly surprised to see the Master?

The locals are straight out of Straw Dogs and The League Of Gentlemen, but this is a good mysterious opener as it’s reliance on familiar imagery allows explanations to be withheld, heightening the atmosphere.

As for the BBC Three reference is funny in the light of subsequent developments in thirty years time but in the episode itself it’s an in joke, which passes muster though for not being too outlandish (I could hardly call it unrealistic). What makes it funnier though is that an archaeological dig is in fact more likely to be shown on BBC Four. The part where the reporter Alastair Fergus asks the professor to clarify his point “for the viewers” is a nice way of justifying the exposition, which borders on metafiction. I don’t mind metafiction when it’s done as subtly as this; it’s the “she’s read a website on the Doctor and she’s a girl?” from Rose and the awful “and now for our new science-fictions series, Doc-” from Remembrance Of The Daleks that are so annoying. The reference to the Doctor’s wig is also funny in a tightrope-walking kind of way that veers just the right side of self-referentiality, as clever witty humour can be very effective in serious episodes when used unobtrusively.

The set of the cavern is very impressive (and brilliantly filmed; this is one of Christopher Barry’s best episodes in terms of his skill as a director), but it does show up Barry Letts’s habit of spending money on one episode and the expense of others, John Nathan-Turner style. Still, it works well for this episode especially in scenes like when Bok comes to life, and the cliffhanger is a knockout. Following this Yates and Benton seeing Jo on television seems nicely non-contrived, which makes sense considering that in terms of the construction of the narrative it was the real reason the film crew were present in episode one.

The policeman’s death and the aerial sighting of the hoof prints makes for a very effective build up for Azal, and there is some great footage of the Brigadier’s helicopter (which amusing has G-UNIT printed on the front, like it’s part of a rapper’s entourage. Oh man, this review’s going to be dated in a couple of year’s time). The always-likeable John Levene gets a chance to shine, and his special effects-free incapacitation on the mandala is actually very impressive. Garvin’s death is visually stunning and also ties in well with getting the Doctor out of his coma, although this means he starts talking about the devil in a way sure to offend religious types.

We get are first good look a Bok, and to be honest he looks a bit mime-artisty although Brian Hodgson’s sound effects for him are excellent. The idea of a shrinking spaceship is interesting, but it does give rise to the question of why not just build a tiny spaceship in the first place? Because you might need a MASSIVE spaceship one day, that’s why!

Letts’s and Sloman’s script takes a controversial tone by calling the devil “mythical” and stating that Stephen Thorne in stockings is “far more real”, especially given Letts’s efforts not to be offensive. If I sound like I’m upset by this then I’m not, I can just see when people are undermining their own efforts. The much-derided “with horns” scene is also poor, because it presents yet another example of an annoying, boorish Doctor and also because it’s so crude on the expositionary front, with Jo asking the Doctor to repeat himself in plain language. The Daemons have been influencing humans for centuries, along with the Fendahl, Fenric, the Osirans and even the Daleks according to the new series; convenient how they all got what they wanted out of this conflict of interests. Yates’s popular line of summing up is good though, and he comes off much better than the Doctor.

Nicholas Courtney seems embarrassed at saying the “spare lemon” line, as he should be. The heat barrier, although a bit pointless, is amazingly cool and well realised even though the technobabble starts to reach critical mass as the Doctor starts giving instructions on how to build a fiddly machine (truly this is a Jon Pertwee episode) that can overcome it. The whole sequence of the helicopter’s hijacking is terrific, arguably one of the best action scenes in Doctor Who during the 1970s, and is it me or is it a North By Northwest parody? 

This is quite an exposition-heavy episode and a slight downturn (but only slight), and it shows the importance of the Master that he gets the cliffhanger.

The fourth episode begins with Azal’s legs: the CSO is actually quite good, but Stephen Thorne’s tights are a bit too obvious. In his four appearances in Doctor Who Thorne is best remembered for shouting, and it must be said that he relies on his voice a bit too much. Still, any criticisms levelled at him are easily outdone by later actors such as Terry Molloy. Meanwhile, Yates and Jo hide in plain sight behind a bit of railing, which is always annoying. 

The soot on Osgood’s face is a bit heavy on the slapstick, and the Morris dancer’s look uneasy. Benton being attacked by one and then rescued by Miss Hawthorne does not help is credibility. He redeems himself though in the scene where he shoots at objects to help the Doctor fake magic powers, which is just brilliant.

The final CSO when Azal is seen in full is less effective; although not bad in itself, the usual problem of a lack of environmental interaction presents itself and Thorne never really looks like he is actually in the cavern. The scientific nature of the Daemons’ power comes as a bit of a disappointment, although it is appropriate and even perhaps necessary to this programme.

This episode is padded out a little at the beginning, with some dialogue and action scenes that, while watchable and by no means bad, aren’t strictly necessary. Courtney’s “chap with wings” line has become a bit blunted by my overexposure to it, although there’s nothing wrong with it in itself, and Bok’s destruction and subsequent reconstruction is very good. The episode picks up again when the Doctor meets Azal, where the Daemon comes across as an extremely interesting character: a monster that cannot be called either good or evil. The moral dimension Letts brought to the series (and later took to an extreme) make an early appearance here, and is used well. I also have to agree with the story’s detractors in that the ending is very annoying and contrived, although hardly worse than the Doctor’s original plan of using his fictional machine to sap Azal’s power.

The Master is caught and, in another almost metafictional scene, is booed by the locals. Thankfully it’s Roger Delgado playing the part; if it has been Anthony Ainley it would have been unbearable. The last scene is corny, but more than made up for by the last few lines of the Brigadier and Yates going off for a pint, and the Doctor’s admission that “there is magic in the world after all”.

There’s a lot to criticise here (particularly in the later episodes) but also a lot to praise, and most of the criticisms are of fairly minor points. This isn’t the classic it could have been (mostly because the series’s lead character is so dislikeable), but it certainly doesn’t deserve to be trashed into the ground. It makes an above-average end to a fairly run-of-the-mill season, and I feel it should be recognised for it; unfortunately, after the initial demystification that happened twelve years ago, it has failed to reclaim the place it deserves in fan circles.





Day of the DaleksBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 15 November 2005 - Reviewed by Ed Martin

I find it quite surprising that it took a show about time travel nine years to present a story that used it as something other than a means of establishing setting; Day Of The Daleks is consequently a groundbreaking story within the programme, if not in science-fiction in general. It’s also, lest we forget, the first appearance of the Daleks for five years. If this wasn’t enough, it also succumbs to the myth that season openers should be big and bold and epic (I’d dispute that as there are plenty of worse season-openers than this, but this story and The Time Warrior get a lot of flak for it so I thought I’d mention it). As you can imagine then, Day Of The Daleks has a lot on its shoulders. While it’s a decent enough story in itself, I can’t really hide a sense of low-key disappointment. It could have been worse – but also better.

Starting from the beginning, the introductory scene is all fairly standard stuff. The obviousness of the set up is staggering, but not exactly bad and the old routines of the window mysteriously open have a certain charm simply through their sheer innocence. Dudley Simpson, who was at his very worst under Barry Letts, here provides a decent score (although a bit too loud in places, particularly here). The only problem with the scene is the guerrilla dress worn by the soldier; if he’d been in rags (which could have worked in the context of a devastating invasion) he would have worked much more effectively as a “ghost”.

Moving swiftly on to the regulars, it makes a very refreshing change (after seeing some of the later Pertwees) to see an intelligent, authoritative Brigadier whom Nicholas Courtney obviously relishes playing. The TARDIS scene (or console scene in any rate – how did he get it through the outer doors again?) is whimsy at first, but basically good, if only because the ‘future selves’ bit is really quite imaginative and ambitious for the time, even if the special effects require a bright yellow wall outside. Katy Manning makes for a less than impressive companion at this stage though, as even in her more intelligent stories she was still the most air-headed companion of them all (even Mel was proactive at times). Some find her wide-eyed earnestness endearing; I can appreciate that, but I just find her irritating now. Maybe I’m too familiar with her. All the stock feed lines (“I don’t understand” / “What’s happening”) are reeled out one by one in this scene, and the reference to Colony In Space lacks elegance. When the Brigadier arrives the scene turns into a massive expositionary vehicle; I tend not to have too much of a problem with this kind of thing as even the crudest plot-reveals can sometimes get by if that plot is good enough, but here it does feel like a definite overdose.

The Ogrons make their first appearance here; I feel from their cameo in the following season’s Carnival Of Monsters and then their larger appearance in that story’s following Frontier In Space that they were intended to become bigger monsters than was actually the case, but I quite like them. Conceptually a monster that is too stupid to be really ambitious but is instead content to bumble around and work for someone else is really quite original, and the make-up is excellent. The only problem are the voices, as the actors’ slurred speech is a very grating attempt to sound stupid, although it’s nowhere near as bad as the Robomen in The Dalek Invasion Of Earth. The further appearance of a guerrilla fighting this one further enhances the sense of mystery.

Wilfred Carter just sounds bored as Sir Reginald Styles, although his character description as an arrogant blowhard provides a convenient get-out. The location shooting is also a bit naff, which is extremely rare, although the weather doesn’t look like it was anything special and the location itself is a bit boring. Director Paul Bernard does the best with what he’s given, and there are some sporadic directorial touches throughout the story that are really quite impressive.

The disintegrator gun being reduced deliberately and obviously to a ray-gun for the purposes of explanation is extremely patronising to the audience. The special effect of it firing is good though. The explanation of the time-travel device is also peculiar: it is extremely inauspicious, which strikes me as odd as Louis Marks has held off revealing that the guerrillas have come from the future up to this point. I also find the Doctor’s condescending line of “top of the class, Jo” to be annoying, a throwback to his thoroughly dislikeable persona in The Daemons. In fact, didn’t he say that very line in The Daemons?

The female technician played by Deborah Brayshaw is absolutely dreadful. I know season nine isn’t notable for showcasing rivals for Laurence Olivier, but this really takes the biscuit. She sounds like a zombie, but then if I was playing a character who nobody could be bothered to give a name to I wonder how much enthusiasm I’d be able to muster either. The Dalek comes as a sudden shock (especially to those who were expecting not to see them until the cliffhanger), but the voices are terrible. The problem is not in terms of the modulation effect like in Revelation Of The Daleks, but that neither Oliver Gilbert nor Peter Messaline have the passion to play them, and in no other story has their monotones been so drawn out.

The Doctor raiding Styles’s cellar is a cool scene; Benton is his likeable self as always, although Mike Yates is uncharacteristically nasty here. The Doctor’s absent-minded karate on Shura is cheesy though; in fact all three of the guerrillas are a bit hammy, with probably Jimmy Winston as Shura coming off best. The set up for this story is very interesting, a sort of reverse Terminator: here the heroes are coming back to assassinate a villain with evil cyborgs in pursuit, rather than the hero coming back to protect a saviour with an evil cyborg in pursuit. However, Jo still asks too many questions, and wouldn’t the guerrillas know what Styles looked like in the first place?

Aubrey Woods as the Controller is deceptively good: he seems like a plank at first but portrays quite a multi-faceted character, eventually double-crossing just about everyone and turning from hero to villain and back again several times. I can’t think of another character who does that. His interrogation of Jo is very well written and subtle, which is good considering how crude some of the exposition has been up to now.

What we have now is possibly one of Doctor Who’s worst-ever scenes though, where the Doctor guns down an Ogron in cold-blood. What happened to peace? What happened to the Doctor not using a gun? In fact, what happened to the Doctor? It isn’t even necessary at all as the other Ogron is gunned down by UNIT troops anyway; it’s simply a complete betrayal of the entire show for no good reason: and the Doctor will refuse to commit murder later in the story. Presumably he’s made his weekly quota by that stage.

This is a slow episode on the whole; in fact, I’m now halfway through the story without mentioning any of the cliffhangers really. Maybe it’s because I’m watching an old edited-into-one version of the story from 1986 which makes them much less notable. Maybe it’s because we haven’t actually been told anything new of significance for twenty-five minutes. This cliffhanger in the tunnels is daft though: the Doctor has never been less surprised to see a Dalek. I feel like I’m blowing hot and cold about this story, but then again that’s exactly what the story does itself.

The portrayal of the Dalek-subjugated 22nd Century is nowhere near as effective as in The Dalek Invasion Of Earth as, run down though it is, a car park cannot be passed of as a labour camp. Even if it is a grotty 1970s concrete affair – I mean, the parking spaces are visible in many of the shots (maybe for those silly motor-trikes that everyone seems to be zooming around on in the 22nd Century).

The line of “Doctor? Did you say Doctor?” is silly as verbal double-takes are hardly very Daleky, and even if it was Shakespeare the inept delivery of the line wouldn’t be able to do it justice. The direction is still above average, but the story is still turning into a bland run-around. The plot elements have been revealed too early, so now all that’s left is to kill time before the (admittedly good) finale. 

However, I do like the juxtaposition between the forced labour and the fruit that the Controller offers Jo, which makes for an understated commentary on political pretence that seems even more relevant today. The Doctor’s interrogation is also good, as the veiled threat to the family of the factory manager makes up for any visual flaws in the story’s sketching in of the Dalek invasion. The following confrontation with the Controller is also good and dramatic, but is fundamentally only going over the same ground as before.

The motorised getaway vehicle is a contrivance that makes for a gratuitous and pointless action scene as the Doctor gets captured anyway, leading to the cliffhanger – it’s the best of the story, but nothing much in itself.

The final episode begins with the Daleks saying that they have invaded Earth “again”; as the original invasion hasn’t happened in this timeline this shows up a plot hole, which is something that affects this story quite badly.

The Controllers motivations are also well realised, as his subtle shift in attitude as the Doctor saves his life is wonderful to watch. This leads up to a good ending, with the realisation that the guerrillas have been time-looped all along. Here is where Marks makes a right pig’s-ear of the paradox plot, as there are several questions that cannot be answered easily: how did it get started in the first place? Also, if the timeline is altered so the war never happened, Shura wouldn’t come back in time and…argh! My head hurts.

From a purely dramatic point of view though, the revelation is brilliant, and the Controller granting the Doctor his freedom at the cost of his own life is a very poignant moment.

The final battle is well shot, but it is here that the lack of Dalek props becomes really noticeable; the real problem lies in the fact that one of the Daleks is a different colour so there are only two Daleks that can be passed off convincingly as making up the numbers. The final scene where the Doctor warns Styles not to let the conference fail is very good and atmospheric.

This story has one major ambition in its time paradox, but this is not realised well as a four parter. The Daleks need not be in it at all, and in fact if it was just an ordinary alien race I might like this story more. As it is, this story is no turkey and I’ll give it an average rating, but it’s simply not as good as it really needs to be given its undeniable and unavoidable importance.





Frontier In SpaceBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 15 November 2005 - Reviewed by Ed Martin

Frontier In Space has the dubious distinction of being the only serial of Doctor Who that my sister has watched all the way through, and that was only because she was too ill to move. She passionately hated it, finding it boring, but it's actually a pretty decent story and probably second only to The Green Death in the programme's tenth season. However, it does tend to go round in circles a bit: I can tell you that over the course of the six episodes one or more characters gets incarcerated in a prison cell no less than seventeen times, including the lunar penal colony. Still, over-the-top lazy writer's devices are what the Jon Pertwee era is all about (more on that when we get to Planet Of The Spiders).

The first thing notable about this episode is the superb quality of the special effects, which is not something you can say very often about a Barry Letts production. This is particularly evident in the model shots of spacecraft flying about which, although looking slightly Thunderbirds-esque at times, certainly pass muster. As well as this though there is very little CSO present in this episode, being used only to create the television footage in the President's office. This is good, as the quality of the CSO is one of the most consistently poor aspects of Letts's time as producer. This may sound like I'm setting Letts up for a rough ride during the course of my reviews (for future reference, this is my first Pertwee review). Wait and see.

The opening scene with the freighter crew is obviously designed to set the story, but even though it lays on the exposition very thick it gets by by following the first rule of plot development: the characters actually have a reason to be talking to each other. There they are, two crewmembers of an unarmed ship that as far as they know could be attacked at any moment - why shouldn't they discuss the threat? The first scene with the Doctor and Jo shows Pertwee arguably not trying, stroking his lip and scratching his neck less than a minute after emerging from the TARDIS. However, Jo's characterisation improved considerably over her tenure (in inverse proportion to UNIT's) and so she's much less annoying here than she used to be, although the thought of a Katy Manning DVD commentary still fills me with horror. The pulsing spacecraft fills the episode with a sense of mystery - something common then but rare now in these days when everything has to be jammed into a forty-five minute space - which is always a good start.

Dudley Simpson's electronic score is very intrusive; Simpson often produced good work when using conventional instruments (which do feature in this story), but his output when using squeaky early-1970s synthesisers was rarely up to much. Still, there have been worse scores for the show, both by him and others.

The story is set in the 26th century, but I could have sworn it was 1973. More to the point, 1973's idea of what the 26th century would look like, viz, the fashions of 1973 but in spandex, perspex and a lot of other things ending in ex (I've watched Dalek a lot recently). The location work is well shot but the buildings they chose look so 1970s that the effect is spoiled, with what looks like a concrete leisure centre doubling as Earth control. It's like watching Doctor Who done on the set of Get Carter. Pertwee was right though when he said that the Draconians were great looking aliens, even though their 'honourable foe' characterisation seems slightly dated now having been done a billion times in Star Trek. It has to be said that Peter Birrel looks like he's struggling under his make up and his acting is very stagy; he is eclipsed in his scenes by Karol Hagar, playing his secretary. Louis Mahoney as the newscaster presents a largely successful attempt to show a wider universe (half 1984 and half The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy) beyond the confines of the serial's sets and locations, once you get over the shock of seeing a non-Caucasian in 1970s Doctor Who.

Back in space, the Doctor and Jo are locked up (a state in which they spend most of the episode). The mystery of the attacking Draconians is explained early on, which is rare, but done to set up a conspiracy storyline rather than a mystery. However, showing the Ogrons before the dramatic reveal as they burst through the airlock door does spoil the effect a bit, as well as making it fairly predicable that the Daleks are going to turn up at some point (it was stated by Vorg in only the previous story Carnival Of Monsters that the Ogrons worked for the Daleks). That said it is a nice twist to see them again and they are excellently designed monsters, looking like a cross between an ape and Little Red Riding Hood's gran. Also, their mercenary status and idiot characterisation make them more original than the usual "resistance is useless" job.

Episode two has a long reprise which is followed by the Doctor and Jo getting locked up; an appropriate beginning for an episode that goes nowhere. However, there is some funny dialogue to introduce the concept of a mind probe, although the "pink horse with yellow spots on" sounds like an insult from Arnold Rimmer. The argument between the Draconians and the humans ends as it began, with stalemate, and their refusal to believe the Doctor means that the third party storyline takes ages to get going. By the time of episode three not much has changed, but the dialogue is well written and just about hold sup across the serials' six episodes, saving the story from feeling overlong.

The mind probe looks like a little pork pie on a dish, but it's a great scene and it showcases the excellently characterised General Williams, who completely blots out what he doesn't want to hear even in the face of overwhelming evidence. Pertwee's face is a picture as the probe blows up, although shouldn't it take his brain with it?

The Doctor's relocation to the lunar penal colony is a good trick for preventing the story faltering along its length; changing the setting keeps the story fresh. Events are moved on further by the introduction of the Master, supposedly revealing himself to be the aforementioned third party. Having these plot points paced gradually over the story helps the plot no end as it means that we don't get one or two scenes of "what's happening Doctor?" hackery, and it also means that viewers at the time weren't required to remember everything that had happened six weeks previously. Having said that, the "only politicals get the moon" scene is not exactly subtle.

Professor Dale is very well acted by Harold Goldblatt. He reminds me sometimes of a less irritable version of William Hartnell's Doctor; in fact, he even performs a tribute to Hartnell by fluffing a line. On the subject of acting I should say that Roger Delgado is terrific in what turned out tragically to be his last appearance, especially as he had ended his last performance in The Time Monster hamming it up in a manner worthy of Anthony Ainley: the scenes where he confronts Jo for the first time and later when he blackmails the prison governor into relinquishing the Doctor are a joy to watch.

Episode four ties with episode two in seeing someone locked up the most times, with five counts of a character being shut in a cell. I should note that a boom mike shadow appears in the first cell-scene in this episode, and doesn't the Doctor say that he lost his sonic screwdriver in the penal colony? This would explain the new-look screwdriver from season eleven onwards. Glaring stock footage of the moon landing is used for when the Master's ship takes off but the model work generally is, as always in this story, excellent. Also, the Master reading War Of The Worlds is a nice touch, the kind of subtle self-referentiality that Russell T. Davies can never get the hang of. The spacewalk scene shows some very dodgy science but is visually impressive, although the Doctor does appear to swing about when supposed to be floating in the void - almost as if he's suspended on wires. He pulls out his oxygen pipe, but conveniently it only starts to propel him when he's pointing it in the right direction.

On my video episode five has the alternative Delaware arrangement of the theme music, so this seems an appropriate time to talk about it: it's awful, and it shows Barry Lett's thoughtlessness that he ever truly believed anything would ever top the original version - a mistake made by John Nathan-Turner ten years later, who when trying to make the show as modern as possible failed to realise that modern doesn't stay modern forever. It's hard to believe that the two versions of the music were actually made by the same person, which just goes to show what can happen when too much equipment is available; Delia Derbyshire really had to work to make the original, and that makes it what it is. The first time I heard the Delaware version, I thought I'd been slipped something.

The Draconian court is seen for the first time this episode, and obvious parallels are drawn up between the two camps: Draconia has the warmongering prince and the moderate emperor, while Earth has the aggressive General Williams and the rational president. The legend of the Doctor is a very Terry Nation style piece of work, and in fact one that would be repeated by Nation in the very next story. The raid by the Ogrons on the stolen ship is simple but effective, although the Doctor fires a gun without any qualm at all which is something very hard to equate with his character. I suppose something about the Ogrons brings out his violent side.

The Ogron planet is revealed, and it's a quarry. There are many clichés about Doctor Who, and the one hardest to defend against is that quarries were used left, right and centre to provide alien planets. It has to be said though that most of the time (like now) the script did call for a barren wasteland, with the exception of The Three Doctors which just showed the production team not trying in the locations department. The final episode is largely set here, and there is some nice continuity as monsters from the last season are paraded before Jo. Back on Earth, the American calling for war when the audience knows it is unjustified may be a commentary on Vietnam, or maybe that's just me getting too analytical.

Typical of an episode set in a quarry, the visuals pall slightly in this episode: there are obvious wires in the spacewalk scene, and the Ogron eater looks like a soiled mattress. Is it me, or is the Doctor's scanner the same prop that was later used in The Mark Of The Rani? There is a well staged action scene though, that leads to the big reveal the Daleks are the masterminds behind the whole plot (in deference to this I have hidden a "bad wolf" reference in this review. Try and find it, conspiracy lovers!). Pertwee seems very unconcerned that his least favourite monsters have returned, and like I said earlier the presence of the Ogrons makes it less of a surprise than it could and should have been. Their voices are excellent: very smooth, but also totally electronic and tinny (although I prefer the harshness of the early Daleks and now the new series too). Also, Michael Wisher is an excellent voice artist, falling behind only Nicholas Briggs and the grand daddy of them all, Peter Hawkins; he's leagues ahead of Roy Skelton. However, the actors have trouble moving the props even on the smooth studio floors.

This all leads to an unusual cliffhanger ending leading directly into the next story, Planet Of The Daleks, but due to the tacky production and Terry Nation's derivative script the season's twelve-part centrepiece was less effective than it deserved to be: it's certainly nowhere near the quality of The Daleks' Master Plan, for which Frontier In Space and Planet Of The Daleks were conceived to rival. Still, this first half is sprawling, slow paced but also intelligent, mature and enjoyable and stands up as one of the better stories of Pertwee's last two seasons.