The MoonbaseBookmark and Share

Friday, 15 December 2006 - Reviewed by Ed Martin

Despite being the first of several rip-offs of The Tenth Planet, The Moonbase is dynamic fun from a consistently high-quality period of the show’s history. It is a glimpse of Troughton before he injected the humour into his characters, and is one of the few stories featuring Ben and Polly that have any notable amount left in the archives. That, and it sees the Cybermen at the peak of their design. While it has its critics, it’s essential viewing.

The handy thing about having a decent amount of material left is that it becomes quite easy to visualise the missing stuff in my head. The turbulence in the TARDIS at the beginning is particularly easy to see, since it’s the kind of thing that’s been done several times elsewhere – but then this is a Pedler / Davis story, and nobody milked successful ideas quite like them. Like many opening scenes this one is slightly stiff, although even without visuals it’s plainly obvious that Troughton is at his menacing best and out-acting everyone in the room. It’s as if only he knows how to play the scene properly.

The film-recorded lunar surface looks brilliant (although it’s hardly a complex set) as does the model work of the moonbase itself; however, call me a cynic but those comedy sound-effects do not bode well for how the scene may have played out. As it is, it just sounds as if they’re being attacked by a giant Clanger moving in slow-motion. It is helped though, as is the story in general, by some excellent stock music. The audio-only episode is helped a great deal by the ambient sounds of the moonbase; the whine of the Gravitron and the peaceful breathing sound of the sick-bay (which you can first hear in The Keys Of Marinus, trivia fans!), which serve to spoon ambience onto the story.

While I mention the Gravitron: it’s a seriously pulpy idea I grant you, but simplicity doesn’t have to be a bad thing as long as the episode doesn’t try to be complex in other departments that then clash with it. This episode makes no claim to be particularly groundbreaking: it removes all unnecessary material in favour of tension and action. I wouldn’t like it if the programme was like this all the time, but every so often it’s great.

The actors sound appropriately worn out by the problems they are facing; their complete lack of horror when one of their members is struck down by the virus is disconcerting to the viewer, who is not so familiar with what is happening at this stage. The revelation that something is monitoring the humans sets up a nice bit o’ mystery for me; people who read my reviews will be sick of hearing me go on about mystery, but it’s what I love the most about the early stages of episodes. Hobson dismisses what he sees as fantasy; he is well played by Patrick Barr who manages to make him a practical and sceptical man without being pompous or narrow-minded. 

The first scene in the sickroom is charming, as Poly is a much underrated companion. The Doctor noting the importance of Jamie’s beliefs is a good moment of characterisation, helped by the fact that it’s just a quick sentence rather than a great soliloquy about All Getting Along. In general, the dialogue in this story is very naturalistic, although in the second half the Cybermen’s comes across as simply functional.

The scene in the food store falls a bit flat, tension-by-numbers. You can feel Mark Heath waiting a set number of seconds before jumping and crying “who’s there?”; the effect is that you think “this is tense” without actually feeling it. However, the simple but dramatic special effect of the Cyberman weapon firing may have helped.

The time-cycle sequence in the sickbay is a nice idea (adding to the realism), but is let down by the Doctor explaining it exhaustively; the exposition is probably the main failing of the story. It’s a natural enough inclusion in the script, but it goes into so much unnecessary detail that it just ends up patronising the audience. However, like most of the episode’s problems it has a mitigating moment right alongside it, in this case the Doctor quizzing Polly about whether she’s making fun of him. However, Evans’s cry of “the silver hand!” spoils things a bit; it tries too hard to be enigmatic and come across as merely an unlikely thing to scream out (why just the hands?), which dents the episode’s realistic feel for a moment.

Polly’s scream as she sees something, and the subsequent tension, is made all the more effective by the ever-peaceful sound of the sickbay; this episode works extremely well on audio. The cliffhanger, assuming it’s the same as the reprise (sometimes they were re-recorded), would be great.

The fact that we can see the second episode properly doesn’t dent its atmosphere, as happened to some when Day Of Armageddon was found. This is a very tense episode, focussing on the mystery virus; the Cybermen add to the tension by only appearing fleetingly, and not having any lines. They look so good here that it’s difficult to believe that there are only three serials separating this from The Tenth Planet.

The Doctor’s much-quoted “some corners of the universe” speech is brilliantly delivered by Troughton, but does express a rather simplistic moral code; this is something given to him by Pedler and Davis, as the line that best sums that attitude up (“evil must be destrooooooooyed!”) comes from their next story The Tomb Of The Cybermen.

The Doctor claims to have received a medical degree from Lister in 1888; the Doctor’s changing qualifications have been controversial, but I explain them by feeling that the Doctor, when pressed, just tells whatever story is convenient to him. After all, it is his supposed medical qualification that is keeping him on the moonbase.

The long scene of trying to get the Gravitron under control is let down by excess technobabble, although Denis McCarthy does a good job as controller Rinberg, a laconic politician with no idea of the reality of the situation. I shouldn’t be churlish, but a big tickertape computer is funny in a story set in 2070 (almost as funny as Terry Nation writing in a tape recorder in a story set in the year 4000). The sight of the Doctor going round stealing specimens is priceless, as is his later scene of bluffing Hobson into giving him more time.

The Cybermen, although amazingly dramatic when they’re not speaking, do spoil the mystery a bit (“Who’s responsible for this virus? What, them? Oh, alright then”). The killing of the spacewalkers could have been much better; the shadows falling over them have the makings of a great shot, but it’s cut away to some very crudely edited “action”. Also, isn’t putting the virus in the sugar leaving things to chance a bit, plot wise? You could pass it off as the Cybermen not fully understanding human custom, but even so it seems a bit of an unlikely scheme for these perfectly logical creatures. The scene where the Doctor realises that a Cybermen is in the room with them is amazingly tense, but the sight of a huge pair of boots sticking out from under a sheet is unintentionally funny. One thing I want to know: how do the Cybermen tie their bootlaces with only three fingers?

Their voices, though, are amazing; probably the programme’s best ever sound effect after the TARDIS. Peter Hawkins suffered for it, but nothing that came afterwards could compare to the inhuman drone that you here in this story. The best part of it is that it has no human element at all; later voices had a tendency to sound like someone talking into a modulator. However, its lack of emotion contrasts with some of their dialogue, particularly the baffling “clever, clever, clever”.

The pacing of the third episode is a bit crude with Jamie making a miraculous recovery right at the start of it. Polly explaining about the nail-varnish remover is another example of the plot being explained to the extent that it sounds childish. This contrasts with the thought that the Cybermen can manipulate their victims’ nervous systems and pilot them around by remote control, which is a very adult, horrific concept when you think about it.

The Doctor’s internal monologue is interesting for its novelty value, although I suspect it sounds better than it may have looked. The Cybermen’s different-weakness-each-time cliché begins here, and it would have been less obvious if their previous weakness to radiation hadn’t been mentioned.

The companions get to play Macho Man and Girly Girl witch each other for a bit; gender stereotypes seem to be a prerogative of the Pedler / Davis team, as it wouldn’t be until the David Whitaker-written The Wheel In Space that a woman appeared in a position of authority in a Cyberman story. I suspect that Davis is more to blame for this – in Revenge Of The Cybermen, for example, Sarah is the only female character.

I can imagine that the action scenes may have looked fairly good if Morris Barry’s work on The Tomb Of The Cybermen is anything to judge by; he’s not bad when it comes to spectacle, and the scenes with Benoit on the moon’s surface (film-recorded, don’t forget) could well have been fantastic. The third episode has another impressive cliffhanger, at least in concept.

The fourth episode sees a brief recap of the plot, showing a fairly crude grasp of the episodic format; this is worrying since Gerry Davis was script editor at the time. The sight of the saucers on the moon’s surface is not impressive, which is a shame as the visuals in this story are on the whole quite accomplished.

Is it me or is the Cyberman that operates the control box shorter than the rest? Alan Rowe is impressive in his limited role as a zombie, and the very realistic sound effect of him clubbing Sam to death is a rare moment of violence in Doctor Who that genuinely makes me wince – ironic in a story with a mortality rate of just 33.3%. Marching zombies seem a bit out of place in this episode, although they are well presented. However, it’s unlikely that nobody would notice Evans sneak through the control room, and when he gets to the ante-chamber he puts his hat on backwards.

The deflected rocket is a horrible idea, a slow and inevitable death; it contrasts with the more lightweight aspects of the story. “You’ll never get inside” – “We are inside already” is a cool exchange, followed by the brilliantly shot sequence where the dome is punctured; the Cyberman’s bazooka is also a high-quality special effect. However, the movement of the Gravitron to deal with the Cybermen is drawn out and slow, a moment of padding right when there should be a dramatic conclusion – which eventually consists of the Cybermen drifting away doing little dances, which is a shame. The time-scanner, right at the end, is a cheap excuse for a cliffhanger but it’s so minor I won’t complain about it much.

Despite slowing down in the second half The Moonbase is a strong, exciting story that shows the Cybermen at their best in design terms if not in writing. It is a worthy Cyberman episode, bettering any colour episode featuring them, and does not let the Troughton era down.





The Faceless OnesBookmark and Share

Friday, 15 December 2006 - Reviewed by Eddy Wolverson

“The Faceless Ones” is, in my opinion, one of the strongest stories of the Patrick Troughton era. Sadly, with four of the six episodes missing, this serial is one that is often overlooked by fandom. In the last few years, the release of the existing episodes commercially (initially as part of “The Reign of Terror” box set on VHS, and then more recently on the Lost in Time DVD) as well as the release of the complete story’s soundtrack from the BBC Radio Collection, has helped the story become more widely known. Even so, it still lacks the lofty profile that other ‘missing stories’ like “Marco Polo,” “The Evil of the Daleks” and the Yeti stories enjoy, despite “The Faceless Ones” being every bit as good.

Doing my usual trick of watching the existing episodes and then cobbling together a primitive telesnap reconstruction on the PC (using the soundtracks of the missing episodes narrated by Frazer Hines in conjunction with the telesnaps from the BBC website) I was able to get a good visual feel for the story - a story way ahead of its time in terms of visual effects. Judging by the telesnaps, the ‘switchblade’ Chameleon Tours plane looks superb, as do the RAF sequences. Moreover, right from the word go, “The Faceless Ones” is a captivating story, at every turn doing exactly what Doctor Who does best. I mean, what better start could you have than the TARDIS materialising on the runway of Gatwick Airport, right in the path of an incoming jet?

For me, the story of “The Faceless Ones” works beautifully on two fronts. First off, the ‘Doctor Who’ part of the plot is brilliant. Like a lot of the best stories, it borrows from a lot of classic horror movies. The Chameleons with their blank, inhuman faces are absolutely chilling in themselves, but combined with the fact that they steal people’s identities they are even more disturbing, as is the sheer scale of their plan – 50,000 abductions! As the story progresses though, the writers allow the Chameleons to win our sympathy somewhat; their entire race lost their identities and faces in a planetary disaster and are dying out. Hulke is particularly good at creating alien menaces that the audience can sympathise with, and even understand. Would we not do the same in their position? It’s a recurring theme in Hulke’s Doctor Who stories, but it isn’t one that ever gets old.

Of course, the Chameleons having stolen the identities of many airport personnel, this results in a textbook ‘who can we trust’ scenario, with the Doctor put in the familiar position of having to try and convince the powers that be of the Chameleon threat. This brings me to the second aspect of why I like this story so much – the characters. Malcolm Hulke has a knack for creating very real, very sympathetic characters, but along with co-writer David Ellis he excels himself here, creating not only very believable supporting characters but also very amusing ones. The script sparkles – the first few episodes in particular are electric; the scenes between the Doctor and the Commandant (brought to life wonderfully by Colin Gordon) had me in stitches. The second Doctor is always good at playing the fool and lulling his enemies into a false sense of security, but at times in “The Faceless Ones” the innocent look on his face as he takes the Commandant’s sarcasm perfectly literally is wonderful to watch; hilarious stuff. It’s also very rewarding to watch, as in the first episode the Commandant wants the Doctor locked up for being completely mad, and by the end of episode six he trusts him implicitly to save the world. Fantastic!

Another thing that really makes this serial stand above many of its contempories is its setting. I don’t know exactly how expensive this story was to make, but on screen it certainly looks like it had more than its fair share of the season’s budget. The extensive location shoot at Gatwick really gives the story a unique sense of atmosphere and even in the studio-bound indoor scenes, aircraft noises etc. have been added to the soundtrack to really hammer home the location. Moreover, in shifting the action to a space station in the last couple of episodes the story really sustains itself well. There aren’t many six-parters than manage to hold the viewers’ attention throughout, but this is one of them.

The only real criticism I have of “The Faceless Ones” is how the companions are handled. Any story where two companions go missing for nearly four episodes is almost bound to suffer, though in fairness due to both Michael Craze and Anneke Wills leaving the show having their absence in the middle of the story with a brief ‘goodbye’ cameo at the end is preferable to Dodo’s inauspicious exit in “The War Machines” – “oh Doctor, Dodo says bye” – and also Ben and Polly’s disappearance does give a sense of urgency to the Doctor and Jamie’s search. I just can’t work out how they got Polly’s hair back to normal after “The Macra Terror”…?

In the absence of Ben and Polly, Ellis and Hulke come up with a makeshift companion in Samantha Briggs (played by Pauline Collins, of “Tooth and Claw” fame), who from watching the serial looked like a dead-cert replacement for Ben and Polly. Sam is a feisty young scouse girl who takes a definite shine to Jamie. There’s a lovely chemistry between that I thought would bode well for future stories – they even have a quick snog as Jamie picks her pockets and steals her plane ticket! For some reason though, Sam lost out to Victoria (who is introduced in the next story) so we’ll never know what might have been. Instead, we have a quick, understated goodbye to Ben and Polly, and then the Doctor and Jamie are off in pursuit of the stolen TARDIS, leading us into possibly the most highly-regarded story of Doctor Who’s monochrome era…





The Time MonsterBookmark and Share

Friday, 15 December 2006 - Reviewed by Sarah Tarrant

In a ninth season proliferated by such memorable monstrous creations as the Daleks (‘Day of the Daleks’), Ice Warriors (‘Curse of Peladon’ which also added with lesser threatening impact Aggedor and Alpha Centauri to the list), Sea Devils (‘The Sea Devils’) and Mutts (‘The Mutants’) one could be forgiven for denigrating the closing story entitled ‘The Time Monster’ for arguably not offering up another memorable alien foe to live on in the viewing public’s collective memories. I personally would like to offer up my support of this particular story which despite running to almost two and half hours always manages to enchant and delight me whenever I return to watch it making it an entirely pleasant complete viewing experience where its six episodes pass by relatively quickly.

Right from the opening scenes with the Doctor waking up from a nightmare vision of the Master succeeding in some diabolical scheme involving a trident shaped crystal you are immediately aware that our hero’s arch enemy will be the main protagonist of this particular story. Whilst Jo (wearing another groovy seventies outfit (grey short skirted dress and knee length high heeled bright yellow boots)) mentions about recent volcanic action on the island of Thera I take a moment to glance around the light airy lab surroundings and ponder if it might be in a similar waterfront building to that which was used during ‘Terror of the Autons’. Returning to Jo’s volcano newspaper article and the Doctor’s subsequent supposition that it might be linked to some scheme involving both the Master and Atlantis this is indeed prophetic reasoning despite the inconclusive verbal input from both Captain Yates and the Brigadier.

Nestling in the English countryside we find in the grand period setting of the Newton Institute the instantly recognisable features of the soberly dressed Master involved in highly scientific and undoubtedly costly research. So as to avoid detection whist at the Institute he goes by the Latin Professor nodeplume of Thascales, which to anyone with a classical education would have realised translates to Master. With the intention of making him the intellectual superior most viewers don’t gain a favourable opinion of his two assistants however when you have scientists of the calibre of both the Master and the Doctor you really don’t want humans to either equal or even outshine them thereby upsetting the balance between reality and fantasy. Having said that I personally feel that although undoubtedly ‘out of her depth’ regarding the Professor’s experiments Wanda Moore’s seemingly resolute and determined character of Doctor Ruth Ingram acquitted herself commendably, if not entirely memorably during her scenes in the Institute lab. The same really can’t be said regarding her colleague Stuart Hyde (played by Ian Collier) whom, with possibly the worst line of the story (‘May God bless the good ship women’s lib and all who sail in her’) is really, for the most part only on hand to offer comic relief to this story. The main scientific aspect of the story has the amusing acronym of TOM-TIT but it’s actual meaning, that of Transmission of Matter Through Interstitial Time is a fascinating concept rendered believable through clever camera trickery and convincing performances by the Master and his colleagues whilst manipulating their experimental equipment. Of all people it is Sergeant Benton whom grasps the concept of TOM-TIT and through a child like amusing but essentially accurate way infers that with the equipment the Professor and his team have found a way to move an object ‘through the gap between now and now’. Unfortunately there are advanced and reduced time side effects to the procedure as both Stuart (whom ages to a wrinkled old man) and Sergeant Benton (reverts to a naked baby leading to the humorous ‘reverting to normal size and age’ sequence at the stories conclusion) discover. Using the equipment also apparently causes time dilation in the immediate vicinity of the Institute building as experienced by a window cleaner, the Brigadier and a platoon of UNIT troops to name a few whom are frozen in time as a result. Time is very much on the Doctor’s mind and, in keeping with this third incarnation’s predilection for speed his modifications to his yellow roadster, charmingly called ‘Bessie’ now feature a ‘super drive’ device, pulling said lever dramatically (and it has to be said, rather comically) increases this vintage motorcar to unbelievable speeds particularly when journeying towards the Newton Institute. Having established through his time sensor device that the Institute is the origin of the disturbances in the time field the Doctor is anxious to put an end as soon as possible to any further effects generated from the scientific activities occurring at the rural research facility.

With the use of the TIM-TIT equipment, the Master acquires the powerful multifaceted trident crystal from the fabled city of Atlantis. Through this haloed jewel he gains control of the feared time eating creature Kronos whom appears in the Institute lab as a brilliant white-attired humanoid figured entity with a vast feathered wingspan. In my opinion, with sparing use here and there towards the end of Atlantis itself this alien life form is effective albeit in a rather blurred brief fashion. As we have seen so many times before Roger Delgado’s Master seeks out those weak willed individuals whom hold a position of authority and in ‘The Time Monster’ actor John Wyse renders a timid easily led character in Newton Institute director, Doctor Charles Percival whom is a rather short lived cast member ultimately devoured by the initially uncontrollable Kronos. Now not only does the TOM-TIT apparatus transport the entire crystal structure from Atlantis to the Institute but surprisingly the Master also gains a new weak willed servant in the form of the wide eyed High Priest Krasis (Donald Eccles). Now presumably by drawing power from the crystal the Master is able to draw other people and objects from the past to combat the advancing UNIT forces. On the one hand you have the Master clearly enjoying showing off to his new and rather backward lackey and on the other you gotta feel sorry for poor old Captain Yates out there in the rural countryside where he and his armed forces are faced with a myriad of increasingly dangerous obstructions to their route. First up he faces a knight in full armour, whom on horseback raises his lance and charges towards them forcing the convoy off the road to let the medieval figure pass. Personally I found this highly amusing as indeed were the detachment of Roundhead soldiers whose armoury and experience were clearly no match for the modern armed forces of UNIT. Far more serious however is the Master bringing forth a World War II flying bomb which indeed made for a very tense and exciting episode cliffhanger ending.

We then have the brief rather intriguing premise of an interconnection of the Doctor and the Master’s TARDIS the Doctor speaking backwards (which we now know is nothing of the kind!) and Kronos devouring the Doctor. However as this happened in his TARDIS, the Doctor, as a Time Lord existed as an ethereal being, his voice and that of his other thoughts being heard by Jo (and the viewers) before his assistant pulled the ‘fast return’ lever on the console to bring him back.

Although briefly seen whilst the Master is attempting to obtain the crystal it is the last two episodes of ‘The Time Monster’ that are firmly located in the confines of Atlantis. Now even on the meagre budgets available to the production team in 1972 you cannot expect miracles from a studio bound set especially for a story which concludes the five story ninth season of the show. In fact many a fan will I’m sure too easily denigrate the recreation of Atlantis when compared with the perceived reality of the mythical city. Admittedly the starkness and simplicity of the surroundings feel to be in direct contrast to the location and studio work of the ‘present day’ Newton Institute. However for me it is the period specific performances on offer that aid the effective shift in location in this stories closing stages. No more so is this apparent than with Ingrid Pitt’s majestic regal performance as Galleia, Queen of Atlantis. Here we clearly have a ruler steeped in power and influence who does not suffer fools gladly and you almost get the feeling that Roger Delgado has to significantly raise his performance in scenes with Pitt making them feel rather atypical for Doctor Who. George Cormack endearingly portrays the wise white haired elderly King Dalios, a figure whom takes great amusement in rebuffing the Master’s attempts at mind control. In amongst the Master’s plotting in Atlantis we have the inexplicable sequence of the Doctor acting as a ‘Spanish matador’ when faced with the mythical Minotaur beast in passageways under the city. Admittedly it’s difficult to support this clear bit of script padding, no matter how pleasing it may appear. However continuity-wise it links nicely with the Doctor’s ability to subdue Aggedor in the citadel of Peladon with similar skill earlier this season. Again echoing a similar dungeon scene (to be found in Sir Reginald Styles house (‘Day of the Daleks’) we again find the Doctor and Jo imprisoned, this time leading to a rather endearing conversation about how the Doctor learnt the secret of life from a hermit whom lived close to the house where he grew up. Lastly Jo’s trip to Atlantis finds her getting rather pally with Galleia’s handmaiden Lakis (Susan Penhaligon) and acquiring a rather opulent Atlantean gown and ringletted hairstyle leading to the Brigadier’s incredulous comment on seeing her when she returns to the Newton Institute at the end of the story.

Jon Pertwee as the charismatic third incarnation is always a joy to watch however his performance in this story in my opinion seems a tad muted compared with other entries during his tenure as the Doctor. For me his most memorable scene in this story would have to be his constructing a ‘time-flow analogue’ device from a Moroccan burgundy bottle, spoons, forks, corks, key rings, tea leaves and a mug much to the incredulous observations of Stuart, Ruth, Sergeant Benton and Jo. I certainly struggle to recall anything particularly memorable regarding Katy Manning’s scatterbrained but well-meaning character apart from her elaborate Atlantean gown which she gains in the stories latter stages. From the surroundings of the Newton Institute, travelling in his TARDIS through to the time he spends in Atlantis, Roger Delgado renders his usual distinguished scheming portrayal of the Master, each performance cherished all the more due to his untimely death in 1973. Of the remaining cast although the UNIT regulars (the Brigadier, Sergeant Benton, Captain Yates) contribute admirably to the continued ‘family’ feel of the series only the aforementioned Ingrid Pitt and George Cormack are of particular note their characters adding a level of believability and charm to the ruling structure of mythical Atlantis.

In the final analysis I view ‘The Time Monster’ very much an ensemble piece in which each member of the leading cast contributes their own element to the overall feel of an enjoyable, engaging story which although not worthy of classic status is certainly not deserving of its perceived lack lustre reputation. I personally am able to overlook this stories shortcomings (the Master on his knees at the end pleading for his life and some of the truly cringe worthy lines expressed early on between Ruth and Stuart) and just ‘sit back and enjoy the ride’ as the Doctor attempts to foil another devilish and ingenious scheme of the cool, calculating Master.





City of DeathBookmark and Share

Friday, 15 December 2006 - Reviewed by Ed Martin

I put off reviewing this story for a while, as I feel so strongly about it it’s difficult to say if I could be objective enough to do it justice. I first saw this story in about 1992, when I was eight. Even at that tender age, I could tell that there was something about this story that set it apart from others, even if I couldn’t necessarily articulate why at the time. Almost a decade and a half later, having got me some learnin’, I feel like I might be able to explain why City Of Death is my candidate for that ever-shifting title: Best Episode Ever.

The opening scene looks rather ordinary at first; although the atmospheric music helps there’s a definite studio-set-and-painted-backdrop to the prehistoric landscape, although Michael Hayes’s classy direction sees a smooth pan to the brilliant model of the Jagaroth ship that makes up for it. Immediately the viewer is thrown into a mystery – all we can gather is that these aliens are in trouble. Who are they? Where are they? Why are they in danger? Why is their future in the hands of a single pilot? We don’t know, and it's a long time before we find out. This story pushes the limits of what the audience would find acceptable in storytelling terms – and by sailing so close to the wind, Doctor Who has never been so successful. To cap it all there’s the marvellous special effect of the ship exploding, followed by one of the series most distinctive pieces of direction: a slow fade from the burning wreckage to the flowers on the Eiffel Tower.

The story of how this story was written is well known, but despite the hectic production Douglas Adams’s style is as distinctive as ever, and the slight self-consciousness of the dialogue is eased through by the breezy naturalism of Tom Baker and Lalla Ward. Their conversation is whimsical but always intelligent – the story never patronises the viewer, the jokes never seem gratuitous, and despite talking about their travels the episode never veers into metafictional smugness. The scene on the Tower is just two intellectual equals riffing off each other, which gets round my usual complaint of opening TARDIS scenes where the characters have nothing to say to each other before the plot gets going.

One criticism often levelled at this episode is the number of location scenes that pad out the episodes. I think they’re forgivable given the hurried nature of the scripts, but I think they help the story as much as anything by adding to its sense of easy-going stylishness. Hayes directs them beautifully, keeping shots interesting by filming through leaves for example, and they’re elevated to greatness by the programme’s best ever music score, a lilting, freefalling orchestral piece from Dudley Simpson – nine out of ten of his scores were terrible, but that tenth was a humdinger. Funny though how all the best stories have great music (The Invasion being another example). It makes me wonder if they’re slipping in subliminal messages.

This leaps straight into the laboratory scene with Julian Glover and David Graham. The episode is made out of a jumble of elements, and it’s not immediately clear what the connection between them is; as I said, the story pushes the limits of what’s acceptable to an audience. Graham is theatrical without being really cheesy, and Julian Glover is fantastic as a villain with proper motivations, who doesn’t just want to wipe out a race or take over a planet for its own sake; his suaveness masks his desperation just as his skin masks his true identity (oh, get me). What always makes me laugh though are the banks of computers, with their tape reels that start spinning, stop, and then reverse. It’s an element of the story that hasn’t stood the test of time so well, but in general the set design of this story is extremely good. I love Scarlioni’s casual order to sell a Gutenberg Bible – it’s the kind of line that requires Adams’s total fearlessness to work.

And now, the cafe scene. Much as I like the Doctor’s very in-character skimming of the book (I refuse to use the word “Doctorish”), it’s getting to the point now where I want something to happen, enjoyable as the whimsy is. Fortunately the first time slip occurs and keeps things interesting, with a very simple but effective scene. The only confusing element is the artist, who was apparently a product of David Fisher’s original idea and has little relevance to the final product. It’s still an enigmatic moment, and I can forgive the hurried script editing.

Romana’s complaints about the Mona Lisa I think are pitch-perfect, although I can appreciate why they’re not to everybody’s tastes. I’m not a fan of jokey Doctor Who, but all the humour in this story is strictly in context and for a purpose, which in retrospect is something that maybe should have made clearer earlier in the episode. It’s difficult not to notice Pat Gorman, one of the show’s most-used extras) hanging around in the background (although nothing tops The Monster Of Peladon, where his character gets shot and then a few scenes later he’s back playing a different extra).

Duggan, like Kerensky, is a collage character made up of stock elements of the detective cliché; this is the point of the story, since these are put into stark contrast with the more serious themes that surface later. This story does for clichéd characters what Philip Hinchcliffe did for horror. The alien bracelet stolen from the Countess is another nice dose of mystery, putting the Doctor’s behaviour into context – he isn’t just larking about. It warms my heart to see the Doctor order drinks (water, naturally) with such authority while at gunpoint. His excuse to Duggan that “we’ve only just landed on Earth” is one of my all time favourite quotations, and one I use a lot when small children accusingly tell me that everyone on Earth’s heard of some footballer or other.

The cliffhanger to part one is sensational, although a bit contrived since the only reason Scarlioni takes his mask off is to provide the episode ending. What’s notable though is that this is the first time we see that the opening scene has any relevance whatsoever, although we still don’t know exactly what; if this revelation has been left any later it wouldn’t have worked, but as it is it’s a great twist. I’m willing to overlook how Scaroth fits inside the skin – if the explanation involves him farting like an old farmer then frankly I can live with the dramatic licence. 

Catherine Schell gives a good performance in what is not one of the programme’s more empowering roles; that is the point though, and Schell effectively portrays a character blind to just how powerless she really is. Tom Baker overacts in his first scene with her, but again it’s not gratuitous and the Countess sees right through him. The Doctor’s line of “you’re a beautiful woman, probably” is again perfectly in character and Hermann’s reference to the Doctor’s “boring conversation” could seem like Adams poking fun at himself.

Locked in the cell the Doctor becomes suddenly serious, and we realise what he’s been doing; a quick recap of the plot so far shows us how unobtrusive the exposition has been up to this point. The famous chicken scene is fun (even if it did lead to the strangest DVD special feature of all time), and is validated by the sight of the Jagaroth at the end; all the story’s whimsy requires that kind of serious moment to justify it, and without exception it gets it. Kerensky is a sympathetic, pitiable character – a genuine philanthropist whose genius and good nature is misused. Ironically, he calls Scarlioni the philanthropist.

The old hidden-room schtick is well-worn but serviceable, with only Duggan smashing the wall annoying – polystyrene blocks (“make it look heavy, guys”) are one of my pet hates in this show. The six genuine Mona Lisas present a dazzlingly original set up, and I think what made the episode so unique to me as a child – this is a villain not only with a proper motivation but with thought gone into the logistics of his plan, and it’s a far more original than the standard “take over the planet / get the doomsday weapon / blow up the universe” fare.

It’s odd seeing Scarlioni demonstrate how the bracelet works since we never get to see it in action. Like the knocking out of the Countess, it might be something that was a leftover from the hasty writing process.

The Renaissance is represented by a single set, but it works well and the cliffhanger is a knockout – we go into the credits desperate to learn the answer to the mystery, and to cap it all it’s a well directed shot too. There are nice parallels between the scenes set in 1979 and 1505, showing that despite the odd wobble the story is really very tightly structured. However, in the third episode the exposition cranks up a bit, which jars considering how subtle it’s been up to now. Then again, when the plot’s as interesting as this I’m happy to listen to it be explained.

Perhaps the Polaroid is too indulgent, as it always jars to see modern technology used to defeat the villains in a historical setting. The Doctor writing “this is a fake” under the canvases of the future Mona Lisas, however, is one of the show’s best ever ideas. “The centuries that divide me shall be undone” – now that’s a cool line, and the Doctor’s seriousness towards it makes it seem all the more portentous.

I feel sorry for Kerensky when he realises the true nature of his work – he corrects “what we have been working on” to “what I have been working on” as he realises that the Count has been planning something totally different. Glover meanwhile becomes less controlled and more desperate – his performance is excellent.

Romana and Duggan have been in the cafe all night – what does the owner think when they come in in the morning, since Duggan has clearly broken in? And why do the gendarmes let the Doctor into the Louvre so quickly? The cliffhanger to part three is another good one, although more functional this time as it feels like a reason to write out a character whose usefulness is over.

Episode four contains more exposition, effectively breaking up these necessary scenes without confusing the viewer by withholding essential information. It’s a nice idea having the Doctor copy out the first draft of Hamlet (it harks back to Pertwee’s namedropping), although by this stage the point of these character moments has been made. He shows the Countess how little she really matters, making even her a sympathetic character.

The confrontation with the Count is a devastating scene, with Tom Baker on superb form with some seriously intense dialogue. This is followed by the killing of the Countess; despite the story having a mortality rate of over 44%, they are all the more shocking for occurring all (apart from Kerensky) in the final episode. There is a real sense of what’s a stake, although the story does need to make more of exactly how the ship taking off will affect the human race. Duggan breaks out of the cell so easily that there’s almost no point to it.

The famous John Cleese / Eleanor Bron cameo borders on smug, but it gets away with it because not only is it genuinely funny but it’s accurate too – believe me, this is how those people really talk. Really.

The last confrontation with Scaroth is decent, with more great dialogue, although his final defeat is a bit too quick; the very last scene, however, is just sublime with its “what is art” discussion, long shot of the Doctor and Romana running away, and another beautiful piece of music leading into the credits.

The mark of a classic is the extent to which its flaws can be ignored, and this is never easier than with City Of Death. Nothing anyone has ever made is perfect (the Mona Lisa, for example, no eyebrows), but with its plot, dialogue, characters and design City Of Death is as close as makes no difference.





The Faceless OnesBookmark and Share

Friday, 15 December 2006 - Reviewed by Finn Clark

Rightly overlooked. The Faceless Ones has points of interest, but as with The War Machines most of its good qualities are in the execution rather than the story. Admittedly I quite enjoyed the two surviving episodes, but reading the scripts almost sent me to sleep. It's thin even by the standards of six-parters and doesn't realise the potential of its ideas.

One problem is its use of the companions. Innes Lloyd wanted rid of Ben and Polly, so had them written out after two episodes here even though Michael Craze and Anneke Wills were still contracted to get paid through to Evil of the Daleks. That I don't mind. The Doctor, Jamie and their latest bit of skirt is a better team than Troughton's four-man TARDIS crew, even though I like the characters. Evil of the Daleks is certainly better for not having to make room for Ben and Polly. Nevertheless it's odd to see them simply disappear, not to mention a wasted opportunity. Make them evil! Creep out the audience! That's the whole point of Invasion of the Body Snatchers stories. You can't trust anyone, even your friends. However here the Gatwick staff are impersonal and officious from the beginning, so it makes less difference to see them get turned into Chameleons.

Admittedly there's thematic mileage in this. The 1978 and 1993 remakes of the 1956 film of Invasion of the Body Snatchers both dropped the original's "cosy small-town America" for a more impersonal setting, where you might almost think you were surrounded by pod people to start with. In 1978 they went for the big city (San Francisco), then in 1993 they went the whole hog by choosing a military base in Alabama. Nevertheless somehow I don't think the Doctor Who production office in 1967 were thinking it through that deeply. Having Ben and Polly duplicated isn't being treated as a story opportunity, but simply as a plot device to write them out in favour of the Doctor, Jamie and Samantha.

The latter's good, by the way. Pauline Collins is best known these days for a distinguished fifty-year acting career including Shirley Valentine and (for Doctor Who fans) Queen Victoria in Tooth and Claw. In 1967 Innes Lloyd asked her to become a regular, but she declined. It's a shame. She'd have been fun, with a Wendy Padbury-like cuteness. She's blatantly the Temporary Companion, chirpily tagging along with Jamie and the Doctor like a prototype Zoe or Victoria.

In fairness Ben and Polly pop back in part six for a rather good (but pre -filmed) leaving scene. That was a nice surprise. Nevertheless I wonder what the contemporary audience must have thought, not knowing everything in advance as we do now. If it's disconcerting for us, it must have been downright bewildering in 1967.

However the production is better than its scripts. It's an odd fish... contemporary to 1967 and so to modern eyes practically a historical. What's more, it has lots of locations and a good sense of place. You get a feel for Gatwick Airport and its petty officialdom that probably hasn't changed an iota since the sixties. All this background is vital, since it gives the Chameleons something to subvert when they start taking over. They work really well. They're sinister, albeit not technically evil. They're merely cold, ruthless and arrogant, in particular being confident in their superior intelligence to the point of stupidity. The production definitely gains atmosphere and verisimilitude for not being set on some cardboard-corridor alien planet. I like the whistling music too.

There are some nice performances. For all you Time and the Rani fans out there, this is the other Doctor Who story to bring together the lovely Wanda Ventham (also in Image of the Fendahl) with Donald Pickering (also in The Keys of Marinus).

I found it odd to see Troughton's Doctor so keen to run to the authorities, but maybe it's his experiences here that put him off doing so in the future. In fairness they find him exasperating too. It's also nice to see for once the Doctor letting the bad guys live! Overall, this story isn't worthless but it's an overstretched runaround that would have been infinitely better as a four-parter. Episode four in particular is just episode three cut-and-pasted with a slightly different sinister revelation at the cliffhanger. I can't even praise it for not being a Troughton base-under-siege story since 'twas only Season Five that went overboard with that particular formula. Personally I'd describe The Faceless Ones as the anti-matter twin of The Wheel in Space. The latter is an overstretched six-parter that really suffers from not being complete, since it has a David Whitaker script with a strong sense of structure and escalation even if it's as slow as molasses. On the other hand this story benefits from not being complete. There are things I like about its surviving episodes, but the sum of its parts is definitely greater than its whole.





The KrotonsBookmark and Share

Friday, 15 December 2006 - Reviewed by Eddy Wolverson

Robert Holmes’ début script for Doctor Who is an intriguing and claustrophobic story with some wonderful alien monsters – it’s a textbook Pat Troughton story! Homes’ story is centred around a group of crystalline-based life forms called Krotons who keep the native populace of Gonds in what the Doctor calls “…self-perpetuating slavery.” The Krotons live inside a machine where they rest in suspended animation, and each year the two most intelligent Gonds are taken into this machine where the Krotons feed off their mental energy and then kill them...

The Krotons themselves are wonderfully realised; their simple, building block like structure is very memorable, and their strangely shaped heads conjure up imagery of medieval knights. The only real flaw in their design are the rather feeble pincer-like hands and weapons which must have looked dated even in 1969 – very Flash Gordon! I particularly like how Holmes makes a big deal of the Krotons not being carbon-based creatures; it sets them up as being completely different to Humans (or Gonds), especially when they speak of “exhausting” as opposed to dying. Best of all though, one of them has a very distinctive brummie accent! It makes a wonderful (and quite comical) change from the screeching tones of the Daleks or the almost unintelligible Cybermen voices that were used in the last story.

However good the Krotons themselves are, the parts of “The Krotons” that I enjoy the most are the humorous scenes – particularly the ones between Zoe and the Doctor. Patrick Troughton and Wendy Padbury really steal the show! For example, there is a brilliant scene where Zoe takes the ‘Teaching Machine Test’ and gets the highest score ever. To prevent her from being taken into the Krotons’ machine alone, the Doctor decides that he too should take the test, but completely screws it up! There is a hilarious moment when Zoe looks shocked at how badly the Doctor is doing and says something like “I can’t understand it. The Doctor’s almost as clever as I am.” She says it so matter-of-factly it’s brilliant – there’s nothing like confidence!

“The Krotons” marks the first appearance of the HADS – the TARDIS’s “Hostile Action Displacement System” – which is a useful little device, but it’s dramatic impact in the story is rather wasted. The ‘destruction’ of the TARDIS would have made an excellent cliffhanger, but instead it is used in the middle of an episode and it is only a few seconds before the Doctor reveals that it is safe and sound.

There are some other elements in this story that I think work really well. The cliffhanger ending to episode 3 is very good indeed; the Doctor is caught under some heavy rocks falling from the roof and it transfers onto screen very well. God bless jabolite! Moreover, the Gonds are for the most part an impressive bunch of characters, though for some reason Philip Madoc’s rebellious Eelek reminds me of Anthony Stewart Head’s character in Big Finish’s “Excelis” trilogy when they are poles apart! I think it must be the voice…

“The Krotons” is a clever and amusing story from a man who goes on to become one of Doctor Who’s most respected writers. At just four episodes (the shortest story of the season), it is a refreshingly short and concise story that entertains throughout. It may not be the best of Robert Holmes’ prolific contributions to the series, but it is certainly a long way from his worst.