Mawdryn UndeadBookmark and Share

Thursday, 22 January 2004 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

Unfairly remembered for buggering up UNIT dating, 'Mawdryn Undead' is really a rather good story. It has a very atypical plot for Doctor Who, which makes rare use of the fact that the series can exploit time travel as a plot device. In addition to this, after committing the heinous sin of scripting 'Time-Flight' Peter Grimwade proves surprisingly successful at juggling an old enemy, an old friend, and a new companion. 

Firstly, the principle plot concerns Mawdryn, an unfortunate scientist who along with his companions once stole technology from the Time Lords in an attempt to emulate them. Having accidentally condemned themselves to an eternity of perpetual regeneration and mutation, they now seek to find a way of committing suicide, a difficult task for a group of immortals. This plot is used very well for a number of reasons; for one thing, it makes a refreshing change for a story to focus on an opponent of sorts for the Doctor who is not out to gain power, but who wants help to die. Perhaps wisely, the script side steps the moral issues of euthanasia by emphasizing the ghastly state of Mawdryn's existence, which further means that whilst he is suffering as a consequence of his own past actions, he is not an unsympathetic character. He clearly bears no malice towards the Doctor or his companions; he is motivated purely by his desperate search for help. David Collings, one of Doctor Who's finest occasional guest actors, conveys this beautifully, making Mawdryn seem desperate and pathetic, but never frightening, and also eliciting sympathy. The scenes in which he masquerades as the Doctor make for interesting viewing, and Tegan and Nyssa's uncertainty about him is made believable in part by some rather impressive burnt skin makeup. He clearly doesn't look that much like Peter Davison even then, but this gruesome makeup does make it easier to believe that they could mistake him for their friend. Mention of the Doctor brings up another notable element of the Mawdryn plotline, which is the Fifth Doctor's reaction to events. His initial refusal to help Mawdryn is interesting because whilst it's perfectly understandable given the cost, he clearly finds it enormously painful to reject Mawdryn's plea for aid. Even when asked to sacrifice his own life (or rather, future lives) to help someone whose predicament is entirely their own fault, he still finds it hard to turn them away. Davison brings out this facet of the Doctor's personality magnificently, and the Doctor's sympathy for Mawdryn when he first meets him speaks volumes about his character. When he finally agrees to sacrifice his future incarnations to save Tegan and Nyssa, it sums up this most compassionate of Doctors, as he visible struggles with the enormity of the situation that he is facing and still decides to put the lives of his friends before his own. There's also a certain irony inherent in his scenes with Mawdryn; Mawdryn is a thief who stole Gallifreyan technology and thus created his eternal torment. It's easy to condemn him for this and point out, as the Doctor does, that sometimes people need to accept the consequences of their own actions. The irony is that the Doctor also stole Gallifreyan technology, in the form of the TARDIS, and if he hadn't, he would probably have never met Mawdryn. 

The second main plot thread concerns new companion Turlough, a companion totally unlike any seen before. Mark Strickson makes an immediate impression in the role, as Turlough proves initially to be selfish, bullying, cruel, and arrogant, as his scenes with Ibbotson attest. As if these unsavoury qualities were not unusual enough in a companion, he soon makes a deal with the Black Guardian to kill the Doctor, and spends the remainder of the story alternating between trying to kill or manipulate the Doctor and trying to weasel out of his agreement. As soon as he agrees to commit murder, he becomes arguably the single untrustworthiest companion to join the TARDIS crew, and as such he's a great character. The Doctor's quick acceptance of his new acquaintance means that he is soon treating Turlough like a trusted friend, which adds an extra edge to proceedings, as Turlough repeatedly turns to the Guardian for instructions. Whilst Turlough will remain in thrall to the Black Guardian for two more stories however, he begins his slow redemption early on; after his initial attempt to kill the Doctor, he realises that the Time Lord is not the creature of evil that his Guardian claimed, and his general dislike of violence soon means that he's looking for less drastic ways to satisfy the Guardian. Strickson is great in the role, playing the arrogant bully with ease in Episode One, and then switching to increasingly panic-stricken coward as he realises that he has (almost literally) made a deal with the devil. His joining of the TARDIS crew at the end holds great promise, as he proves adept at lying and deceit and calmly shakes hands with the Doctor; indeed, it is worth noting that however frantic Turlough gets about his predicament, he always manages to present a calm façade to the TARDIS crew. It's also interesting that Turlough's first appearance in the series involves attempted murder motivated by a selfish desire to escape his exile; lest we forget, in his first televised story, a certain Time Lord also intended to kill a man with a rock in an attempt to get back to his TARDIS…

The return of the Black Guardian is rather poorly explained given that he last appeared some years previously in the final scenes of the Key to Time season, but his presence does add an extra dimension to an already multi-layered story, without making it seem too cluttered. The lurking menace of the Guardian works well in conjunction with the use of his new pawn Turlough, and his quiet manipulation of events from behind the scenes is well handled. Despite inexplicably wearing a dead bird on his head, Valentine Dyall's utterly malevolent performance is superb, and he is one of only a few actors who can get away with uttering lines such as "In the name of all that is evil!" without sounding over the top. The Guardian's constant torment of Turlough makes for some great moments, his ability to appear to Turlough anywhere "waking or sleeping" emphasizing the nightmarish situation in which Turlough has placed himself. 

The other old face to reappear in 'Mawdryn Undead' is the Brigadier. Whilst the production teams' original plan to bring back Ian Chesterton might have made more sense in light of the school setting, Courtney recaptures his old role with tremendous ease and the Brigadier is very well used. The idea of two temporal aspects of the Brigadier means that the plot makes good use of him, rather than just treating him as a gratuitous guest appearance, and makes for a satisfying addition to the already busy proceedings. Courtney brings to the role an air of dignity that draws on the Brigadier's characterisation in Season Seven, rather than the increasingly ludicrous buffoon that he became under Barry Letts' tenure as producer, and this is partly why he works so well here. Courtney also manages to make Lethbridge-Stewart seem vulnerable whilst maintaining his old character, and his performance in Episode Two as the Doctor tries to discover the cause of his breakdown six years previously is quite touching. The flashback scene as the Brigadier's memory is restored is rather gratuitous but nevertheless strangely satisfying, as the fan in me gets to see clips of old stories; more importantly, the entire scene serves as a reminder of just how strong a friendship developed between the Doctor and the Brigadier. I also hugely appreciate the fact that 'Mawdryn Undead' exploits the two time zone plotline, which is crucial to tying all the disparate elements of the story together in the final scene; with the Black Guardian having stacked the laws of probability against the Doctor, the coincidence of the two Briagdiers touching hands at exactly the right millisecond seems appropriate rather than contrived. 

Of the regular cast, I've mentioned Davison already. Given the number of elements vying for screen time already in 'Mawdryn Undead', Sarah Sutton and Janet Fielding get relatively little to do, but when they are used, Grimwade uses them well. By keeping them largely together their different personalities can be exploited; thus, they get to meet Mawdryn and the Brigadier as a pair, which means that Tegan's automatic distrust of Mawdryn contrasts with Nyssa's natural desire to help those in need, and at the same time Nyssa's scientific background is well used throughout the script. Her ability to chip in when the Doctor is spouting explanations results in three way conversations between the TARDIS crew members which makes it seem less obvious that Doctor is explaining the plot to the audience through his companions. 

The production of 'Mawdryn Undead' is generally quite impressive; Peter Moffatt's direction is competent if unspectacular, but the location filming greatly benefits the story. The sets too are rather good; those for the school interior nicely match the exterior, and those used for Mawdryn's sets capture the cold grandeur suggested by the script. This contributes to an air of eeriness on board the ship that works particularly well in Episode One, and the incidental score helps. Paddy Kingsland's score is effective throughout, except for some silly music when Turlough is driving the Brigadier's car at the start of Episode One. The costumes used for the mutants are very effective, although exactly how Mawdryn obtains an outfit identical to those of his brethren having been carried into the TARDIS in charred rags is a question left unanswered… My only real criticism of 'Mawdryn Undead' is the propensity for technobabble, with talk of warp ellipses and Mawdryn's constant mutation little more than gibberish. The most obvious example if when Tegan and Nyssa become infected; the nature of their infection is very obviously glossed over, with even the Doctor explaining that he doesn't know why he and the Brigadier are immune. Poor explanations mean less technobabble, which is fine, but the fact that travel in the TARDIS seems to affect them differently to Mawdryn once they are infected remains niggling plot hole. But this is a trivial criticism; on the whole, 'Mawdryn Undead' is a rewarding story and one that is deserving of far greater appreciation than it usually gets.

FILTER: - Television - Series 20 - Fifth Doctor

EnlightenmentBookmark and Share

Thursday, 22 January 2004 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

The final story in the Black Guardian trilogy, 'Enlightenment' is very good. The concept of a race in space is not that original, but the idea of having the ships involved be replicas of sea ships from different periods of Earth history is inspired and makes for a memorable story. With the unusual nature of the aliens responsible for the race also central to the plot, the overall result is a story that feels like it's trying to be something special, and largely succeeding. 

The concept of the Eternals' need for Ephemeral minds to relieve the boredom of eternity means that writer Barbara Clegg is able to build a story around what is essentially a yacht race in space without it seeming contrived, but it is also an interesting idea in it own right. The Eternals' are memorable not just because they use sailing ships in space, but also because of the way they interact with the regulars. Marriner is the most obvious example; Christopher Brown's performance is initially deeply sinister, his obsession with Tegan seeming utterly predatory. During Episode One, and prior to the revelation of the Eternals' true nature, his intense interest in her seems sexual; his claims that he wants to please her rather than hurt her are not reassuring, they are horribly unsettling. Once the nature of the Eternals becomes clear Marriner's true motivation is revealed, but the disturbing parallels remain; in Episode Two he drugs her and then searches through her mind telepathically - it could easily be argued that this is a form of rape, and Tegan certainly considers it a kind of violation. Interestingly however, as the story progresses, Marriner's relationship with Tegan changes; she remains wary of him throughout, but it becomes clear that he really won't hurt her, and it is particularly interesting that the Doctor trusts him to look after her whilst he goes to rescue Turlough on board the Buccaneer. The effect of all of this isn't that Marriner is especially likeable by the end of 'Enlightenment', but instead that he ceases to be sinister and instead becomes rather pathetic, like a slightly frightening but harmless celebrity stalker who sends endless love letters to his or her idol. 

Christopher Brown's Marriner however is not the only Eternal of note. Keith Barron's performance as Striker is very effective, because he brings an impassive air to the role that makes it easy to believe that Striker is utterly inhuman. Striker acts almost as a spokesman for the Eternals, since he is used to reveal their nature to the Doctor and thus to the audience, and it proves a good choice. Barron's flat, almost disinterested, tone of voice conveys the nature of the Eternals beautifully; they are arrogant, but it is an arrogance born simply out of what they see as their natural superiority; they can control matter and they will endure forever. Their casual acceptance of the deaths of those Ephemerals killed by Wrack's destruction of her competitors is not the lack of concern for others demonstrated by, for example, the Master, but is instead born out of an inability to understand the importance of what to them is such a miniscule span of life. Barron brings this across extremely well, in addition to which he also creates a sense of boredom in Striker that emphasizes the fact that the race is merely a short diversion for him. 

Then there is Captain Wrack, played with considerable gusto by Lynda Baron. Baron's performance is almost over the top, but she gets away with it for the most part because as an Eternal who draws on Ephemeral minds to give herself shape and purpose, the portrayal of Wrack as a clichéd pirate captain is entirely appropriate. The decision to make Wrack female also helps; female villains are rare in Doctor Who, and this means that although Wrack is something of a cackling megalomaniac, she feels sufficiently different from the norm to be interesting. Having said that, the cliffhanger to Episode Three, when Wrack breaks the fourth wall and looks into camera, slightly undermines the proceedings, especially when Wrack rolls her eyes and then cackles; for some reason, by looking into camera Baron makes herself seem too over the top, rather than just enough. Nevertheless, Wrack works well as a one-dimensional villain whose very nature limits the potential for complex motivation. Whilst I'm on the subject of villainous Eternals, I should get mention of Mansell out of the way; possibly the worst actor ever to appear in Doctor Who, third-rate pop singer and recent participant in the vacuous "reality" TV show Reborn in the USA, Leee John is so bad that it is phenomenal. It is almost inconceivable that he ever got cast; his stilted, self-conscious, and just plain bad performance is the only real weakness of 'Enlightenment'. Mansell is not prominent enough to really spoil the story, but even so every other performance is so much better than his that it makes it noticeably cringe worthy. Even the actors playing the sailors in Episode One, who get very few lines, manage to show John up.

The regulars are all very well used in 'Enlightenment'. Peter Davison gets one of his finest moments in the role as the Doctor argues passionately with Striker, enraged by the parasitic nature of the Eternals and seeming genuinely angry. Perhaps more interesting however, is his relationship with Turlough; the Doctor is noticeably rather tense around Turlough for the first two episodes, but this changes after his panic-stricken suicide attempt at the end of Episode Two. What is particularly interesting is that it is never explained whether or not the Doctor realises that his new companion has been working for the Black Guardian for some time. There are hints; he doesn't trust Turlough to await further messages from the White Guardian, and he doesn't seem remotely surprised when Turlough's contract with the Guardian is discussed at the end of the story. Indeed all he says about it is that he believes Turlough when he says that he never wanted the agreement in the first place. The finale of the Black Guardian storyline is very well handled and Strickson puts in a fine performance throughout; it is clear now that he will not kill the Doctor, with this ultimately resulting in him throwing himself overboard because he won't obey the Guardian. Even more interesting is the scene in which Turlough is trapped in Wrack's power room with the vacuum shield switched off - he stops asking the Black Guardian for help, and instead screams out for the Doctor. The final scene with the Guardians is very well staged, Turlough staring at the diamond and weighing up power and fortune against the Doctor's life; his final rejection of the Black Guardian completes his slow redemption. It is interesting to watch the Doctor during this scene as he simply stands quietly and waits for Turlough's decision; his calm attitude suggests that he already knows what Turlough's choice will be. 

As I've already noted, Tegan too is used well in 'Enlightenment', as she is forced to deal with Marriner's stifling attention. Janet Fielding alternates between anger and vulnerability very well, and shows Tegan forced to deal with an unusual and frightening situation very well. She also conveys Tegan's gradual realization that Marriner isn't actually going to hurt her rather well, as the script calls for her to start arguing with him about the Eternals' use of Ephemerals for entertainment and about the fact that her thoughts are private. It is this gradual acceptance that Marriner won't harm her that allows Tegan to enjoy getting dressed up for Wrack's reception and after two episodes of being frightened, exploited, or seasick, it's nice to see Tegan smile. Her relationship with Turlough is also complete by the end of 'Enlightenment'; she still seems to consider him unreliable, but they have reached a point where they can travel together in the TARDIS, and the chess scene at the start of the story shows that their cooperation during 'Terminus' has resulted in a tentative friendship. 

The Guardians are well used in 'Enlightenment', nicely rounding off the Black Guardian trilogy. The return of Cyril Luckham to the role of the White Guardian, now complete with dead pigeon, nicely rounds off the trilogy by reintroducing the Black Guardian's opposite number. It is rather fine to see both Luckham and Dyall together in the final scene, as the two Guardians discuss the race; in keeping with the idea that the Guardians maintain the balance of the universe, there is no feeling of actual enmity between them. Instead, the Guardians are portrayed as opponents in a game of universal chess, their argument about light and dark, order and chaos, taking the form of a political discussion between two wily old men. Both Luckham and Dyall bring great dignity to their roles, but at the same time Dyall recaptures the malevolence of his role, whilst Luckham brings an air of calm benevolence to the White Guardian. Turlough's choice, and the fact that flames consume the Black Guardian, brings a satisfying air of closure to the storyline that started in 'Mawdryn Undead'. Despite the White Guardian's warning that the Black Guardian will return, this marks his final appearance in the television series (and he hasn't appeared in any novels or audio adventures set after 'Enlightenment') and it stands as a satisfying end to the battle of wits between the Doctor and one of the series' most unusual villains. 

In addition to all this great acting, plotting and scripting, 'Enlightenment' looks great too. The sets are very well realised and capture the period feel of the appropriate ships very well. The model work generally looks very good, although the rescue of Turlough in a big net looks poor due to the perspective being wrong. Fiona Cumming does a great job of directing, creating striking visual imagery throughout especially during Wrack's attempt to destroy Striker's ship. My only slight criticisms of the production are the silly neon sign proclaiming that the vacuum shield is off, and Malcolm Clarke's intrusive incidental score. Clarke's score is particularly irritating during Wrack's party, at which point it sounds like what it is - a feeble attempt to recreate music from the appropriate period using an electronic synthesizer. But this a minor complaint and overall 'Enlightenment' stands up as a fine Doctor Who story and one of the highlights of Season Twenty.

FILTER: - Television - Series 20 - Fifth Doctor

EnlightenmentBookmark and Share

Thursday, 22 January 2004 - Reviewed by Sarah Tarrant

I suppose ever since it was originally broadcast towards the end of the twentieth anniversary season I’ve been rather taken with the enchanting and imaginative tale of ‘Enlightenment’.

With the establishing TARDIS shots concluded we have the Doctor and Turlough exploring the darkened recesses of what they soon realise is the hold of a sailing ship which does rather echo the opening scenes of ‘Carnival of Monsters’. Thankfully this shipboard mystery steers another path with our duo moving onward and upward to encounter the boisterous, down-to-earth crew. Decked out in appropriate Edwardian sailors outfits their good heated banter is temporarily cut short by the strangers arrival. However following some relatively simple persuasion, the Doctor and Turlough are soon accepted as merely members of the crew, they even consider the Doctor to be the ship’s cook! The ease of their acceptance is in no small part due to a lack of money on the part of all the men the Doctor and Turlough encounter in the cramped living quarters. Whilst Turlough, typically for his character is more content to remain the Doctor is later escorted to meet the Captain by one of his junior officers.

Turlough’s decision is all the more understandable when the Doctor, and later Tegan, meet Captain Striker and his senior officers in the state room for what appears to be a light meal, something that is, apparently appreciated greatly by the Doctor. At first the cold emotionless state of the SS Shadow’s officers could merely be attributed to the responsibilities that their respective positions demand. It is however the interaction between the Doctor and Striker (played with an excellent cool detached demeanour by Keith Barron) as well as the Tegan and Marriner exchanges which helps us gain the clearest insight into these alien beings, now identified as Eternals. In episode two during an impressive emotionally heated exchange the Doctor learns from Striker much including that the Eternals are feeding on the minds of living beings to allow them to exist. Whilst Striker is able to suitably restrain his interest in the minds of the three travellers it is clearly more evident in the scenes with Marriner and Tegan. We, like Tegan, could assume this was merely romantic infatuation on the part of the ship’s First Mate but when confronted Marriner’s reply is that he does not know the emotion of love, he is merely seeking existence from Tegan. I find their relationship similar to a cat playing with a mouse, the cat enjoying its captive prey, the mouse longing to be free from the constant attention. With, as the Doctor discovers, heightened emotional states causing a barrier Marriner further attempts to calm his ‘prey’ by furnishing some quarters with familiar items taken from both Tegan’s room on the TARDIS and home in Brisbane. A cursory glance around the room reveals, we observe, a silver framed picture of her Aunt Vanessa, airline stewardess uniform plus the skirt/costume featured in the ‘Black Orchid’ story. When he escorts her there after she experiences a feeling of sea sickness Marriner tires to ply her with the suspicious ‘tot of rum’ more commonly given to the crew prior to their donning wetsuits and helmets prior to scaling the ship’s rigging.

It is Tegan’s discovery, on her first tentative venture from the TARDIS, of those wetsuits hanging up in a corridor near to stairs ascending to the deck that leads up to the memorable climatic ending of the first episode. With the Doctor, Tegan and Turlough in attendance in the ship’s wheelhouse Striker orders the activation of a viewing port by use of a series of buttons located under a wooden cover. First Tegan’s exclamation of ‘Electronics on an Edwardian sailing yacht’ and then to see that the vessel is actually not navigating a course through an ocean but is infact sailing with other vessels through space! Classic cliffhanger stuff!

Having established the general atmosphere of life on the SS Shadow we then gain another perspective on the race following Turlough’s apparent suicide attempt at the conclusion of the second episode. The space-suited boy is taken aboard the seventeenth century Spanish pirate ship, the Buccaneer where he encounters the scheming Captain Wrack (played with enthusiastic gusto by Lynda Barron). Now it has been said that as an Eternal Wrack shows far too much emotion when compared to the stoic Striker. I take the view that the minds of her crew contain far stronger emotions for her to feed off plus, of course, she is acting on behalf of the Black Guardian which might have affected her. I am also aware that criticism has been levelled towards singer and Imagination (80’s pop group (not really my type of music but I’m sure they had their fans in their day)) frontman Leee John for his portrayal of Wrack’s assistant Mansell. Whilst I’d admit he is not noted for possessing acting skills the part is such that it allows some allowance for his inexperience and his scenes and lines are fairly limited. As a seventeenth century Spanish pirate I personally feel he meets the requirements in a physical if, possibly not verbal sense.

As if the persuasive powers of Marriner were not enough Tegan is soon hypnotised by Wrack during their invited visit to the Buccaneer. Once again I recognised a similarity between this and the apparent ease with which the Master had hypnotised Jo Grant (‘Terror of the Autons’). It is understandable that Tegan would be the most susceptible of the three TARDIS crew as I believe she represents the audiences closest link to humanity. Whilst both Striker and Wrack are able to reach both the Doctor and Turlough’s minds their wills are not so susceptible to the Eternals control as the Australian stewardess.

I think it’s worth glossing over the Doctor’s desperate attempt to smash Tegan’s tiara containing the focusing jewel that Wrack had placed in it during her hypnotised state. Although it is inexcusable that he did not pick up the entire sheepskin rug rather than vainly claw at the pieces with Marriner and Tegan. I also feel its better to also forget the scenes in the grid room’s ion chamber and Turlough vainly attempting to pull away from the centre of the grid.

I do, however, appreciate the period detail in the ships and costumes, most notably those for Lynda Barron and the flowing feminine gown for Janet Fielding. The incidental music particularly in Wrack’s state room when officers, the Doctor, Tegan and Marriner were enjoying Wrack’s hospitality, was very pleasant adding to the stories appeal. Also I find it rather amusing that when the main cast members don the shiny black wetsuits and blobby red helmets of the second/third episode cross over they rather closely resemble, possibly unintentionally, some form of ant.

During this review I most managed to avoid commenting on the Guardian trilogy to which this is the concluding part. My reason for this is that I find it rather secondary to the main dynamic of the story although I do recognise its importance especially for Mark Strickson’s character. Although changing allegiances during ‘the race’ from Striker to Wrack he ultimately realises that this Captain is merely an instrument of the Black Guardian and she does not offer a way to break the contract he has with him. The contract, (of killing the Doctor in exchange for his freedom from Earth exile) was rather forced on him and it was a welcome character development that through his relationship with the Doctor, this was finally dissolved at the conclusion of the story. Whilst I grudgingly accept the enjoyment on offer in Mawdryn Undead, I do find very little to enjoy in the subsequent middle story of the trilogy. Apart from the guest cast the story of Terminus I fins is extremely slow and uninvolving. If it were not for the appearances of Andrew Burt (a regular cast member of the 70’s BBC naval drama series ‘Warship’ (the jovial Navigating Officer Paul Peak) and Lisa Goddard (her four appearances as small time criminal Phillipa Vale in the sleepy but surprisingly still popular ‘Bergerac’ series were the only must see episodes IMO) I’d probably wouldn’t bother with this story.

I find that the main plot of the race rather overshadows the return appearances of both Valentine Dyall and Cyril Luckham reprising their roles as the ‘all powerful’ Black and White Guardians. Having said that Valentine certainly gives a convincing portrayal of a cackling evil entity during his scenes persecuting Mark Strickson’s Turlough. Strickson himself rises to the challenge his character initially provides admirably, Turlough is clearly a tortured sole throughout all stories in the trilogy.

Maybe this is merely my opinion but I thought I’d just throw in that you could almost call this a story for the ladies (writer, director, leading cast member and now reviewer) but don’t let that prejudice your opinion of this story. Apart from that personal observation I would say that ‘Enlightenment’ is worthy of re-examination and maybe more people will realise what a neglected jewel it is nestled in the later stages of the twentieth season.

FILTER: - Television - Series 20 - Fifth Doctor

The Two DoctorsBookmark and Share

Thursday, 22 January 2004 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

'The Two Doctors' provokes a fairly lukewarm response from many fans, for a variety of reasons including the relatively high level of gore and violence on display. Given that Robert Holmes is by far my favourite Doctor Who writer, I must concede that it is rather disappointing; nevertheless, despite many flaws, it has much to offer and is arguably the best multi-Doctor story of the entire television series. 

There are several problems with 'The Two Doctors'. The most obvious is a rather gaping plot hole, which is the fact that the Sixth Doctor has no memory of the events taking place, despite the fact that he meets his Second incarnation here. This is arguably a problem with both 'The Three Doctors' and 'The Five Doctors', but is less obvious in those stories. In the former, the Time Lords deliberately cause the first three Doctors to meet, and the casual reviewer is reminded at the end of that story that they are capable of blocking memories (a fact first established in 'The War Games') as they restore the Doctor's memory of how to operate the TARDIS at the end. 'The Five Doctors' is less blatant, but the line "Old Rassilon is very clever" covers a multitude of sins. Here, there is no explanation at all for why the Sixth Doctor does not remember these events; whilst I can quite happily sit back and espouse the virtues of the "Season 6B theory" (which also, incidentally, explains the continuity problems for which this story is notorious amongst fans), the casual viewer should not have to resort to complex theories in order to explain the plot. The reason provided for the Doctors meeting each other is that the Sixth Doctor feels the trauma suffered by his past self, but this provides yet another logistical nightmare; unless the off-screen interference of the Time Lords in sending the Second Doctor to visit Dastari causes a change in the Doctor's timeline, it is akin to me feeling the trauma of some childhood injury, and if some change to the Doctor's timeline has occurred it raises the question of why only the Sixth Doctor goes in search of his past self. Neither explanation is at all logical. 

But despite this, I maintain that 'The Two Doctors' is the best multi-Doctor story of the television series, for the simple reason that the Doctor essentially bumps into himself on his travels. This isn't implausible for a time traveler, and I find the concept far more appealing than multiple Doctors being plucked out of time deliberately in order to combat some threat. Furthermore, of the three multi-Doctor stories in which he appears, 'The Two Doctors' boasts Patrick Troughton's best performance. He still doesn't quite recapture the fierce intelligence, compassion and whimsy that he brought to the role during his own era, but he's a lot better than the caricature of 'The Three Doctors' and 'The Five Doctors'. He also works well with Colin Baker, the pair complementing each other nicely without the rather contrived on-screen bickering that twice previously has characterised Troughton's appearances with Jon Pertwee. The Second and Sixth Doctors do bicker, but it feels far more natural and casual than that between the Second and Third Doctors. In addition, both Troughton and Baker seem to be enjoying themselves; Troughton is clearly pleased to be back in the role as a one off, and Baker has by now settled down somewhat in the role. Actually, it might be fairer to say that script-editor Eric Saward has allowed the Sixth Doctor to settle down. He's still egotistical, arrogant and temperamental, and he still argues with Peri a lot, but he's far less belligerent than in his first two stories, maintaining the more commanding and likeable persona of 'Vengeance on Varos' and 'The Mark of the Rani'.

'The Two Doctors' however, has other flaws. I haven't mentioned the forty-five minute episode format thus far, but it has a major limitation; with more time to fill before the first cliffhanger, the writers tend to prevaricate somewhat, with the Doctor taking a good twenty-five minutes or so to get involved in the action. 'Attack of the Cybermen' committed far worse crimes, 'Vengeance on Varos' made use of its grotesque supporting characters to distract from this problem, and 'The Mark of the Rani' avoided it altogether, but Episode One of 'The Two Doctors' does rather drag. After the Sontarans attack the station, we see little of the Second Doctor until the following episode, and the Sixth spends a great deal of time wandering about and achieving little. Whilst he tracks his former self to Space Station Chimera, he doesn't really find out what is going on until Episode Two, once he finds and calms Jamie. Meanwhile, he and Peri face some mediocre traps provided by the station computer, and then clamber about in a cheap and nasty jungle-gym set until the cliffhanger. 

Another problem of 'The Two Doctors' is the famously flat direction from the often-pedestrian Peter Moffatt. The ill judged long-shot revelation of the Sontarans has been well discussed, but the whole production is directed with very little flair. The overseas location filming is a waste of time and money, since little of Seville is actually seen on screen, creating the impression that the production team just fancied a holiday at the license payers' expense. Peter Howell's incidental score at least is very effective, but the overall quality of the production is highly variable; the Sontarans look absolutely dreadful, which is appalling considering how good Linx looked some twelve years earlier. Here, the Sontaran masks are rubbery and poorly fitted to the actors, and it doesn't help that Clinton Greyn's largely vocal performance as Stike is unconvincing and melodramatic. Greyn is not the only actor lacking; Lawrence Payne is terribly wooden as Dastari, despite far more successful performances in the series during the past, as Johnny Ringo in 'The Gunfighters' and as Morix in 'The Leisure Hive'. It perhaps doesn't help that Holmes' skill at characterisation deserts him on this specific occasion, since Dastari's motivation is highly unconvincing. From an old friend of the Doctor, he switches to an immoral excuser of his greatest creation's atrocities, failing to bat an eyelid at the slaughter of his colleagues on board Chimera. He equally unconvincingly sees the folly of his actions when he witnesses Chessene giving in to her Androgum nature and licking the Doctor's blood. Perhaps Dastari is just mad; this might explain why he leaves the keys stupidly near to the two Doctors after he chains them up in Episode Three… Finally, Jacqueline Pearce is unremarkable as Chessene; she basically delivers the same performance she usually gives as Servalan in Blake's 7, but without the flirting. Whilst Holmes' use of a female principle villain is long overdue, it doesn't help that Chessene is by far the least interesting villain of the piece; like Servalan, she is ruthless, intelligent and utterly untrustworthy, but unlike Servalan she lacks character. Fortunately however, there is another villain present in 'The Two Doctors' who more than compensates…

Shockeye is a great villain. Whilst Holmes' skill at characterisation deserts him for Dastari, it serves him well in the case of John Stratton's cuisine obsessed villain. Shockeye is so memorable because he has an unusual but consistent and interesting motivation; his all-consuming interest in food makes him extremely dangerous to everybody else, especially humans, or as he calls them "tellurians". Typically for Holmes, Androgum culture is well thought out, making Shockeye and by extension all of his species except for the augmented Chessene a detailed alien race, rather than merely a monster. The Androgum philosophy that "the gratification of pleasure is the sole motive for action" tells the viewer a great deal about them and clearly motivates Shockeye (and their clan system, with names such as the Quancine Grig and the Franzine Grig, is further attention to detail). References to blood ties, and other cultural traditions such as tasting the raw flesh of any animal they eat before starting to cook it provide a wealth of information without the need for crass expository dialogue. The fawning Shockeye is especially effective thanks to John Stratton's performance; he captures not only Shockeye's insatiable appetite for food, but also his obsequiousness and most importantly the fact that the character is extremely dangerous. It is this latter character trait that provides most of the controversy surrounding 'The Two Doctors'. Many fans in my opinion exaggerate out of all proportion the scene in which he bites a chunk out of rat, but then I just find it amusing. Perhaps more valid a criticism is that the murder of Oscar is rather too brutal a scene for a series once more broadcast in its traditional Saturday teatime slot, as the camera lingers on Oscar's staring corpse for far longer than it needs to. On the other hand, from my perspective as an adult watching the story on video, it works because after the highly entertaining scenes in which the semi-Androgum Second Doctor and Shockeye gorge themselves on a vast amount of food it suddenly reminds us that Shockeye can and will kill without compunction. His pursuit of Peri at the end of Episode Two is highly disturbing, because rather than fawning over her as Sharaz Jek did (itself rendered effectively disturbing), his desire for her is perhaps even more horrific, as he intends to butcher and eat her. All of which brings me to Shockeye's death, and the Sixth Doctor's use of cyanide to dispatch his foe; I have no problem with it whatsoever. The wounded limping Doctor is being hunted by a physically stronger being that is both able and determined to kill him and he deals with him using the only weapon that he has to hand; the Doctor improvising to bring about the defeat or demise of his opponent is not new to Doctor Who by this time. 

The Sontarans' also benefit from their creator's touch, even if they are poorly acted and presented on screen. Holmes' once more imbues them with a sense of brutal honour, Stike fretting about not being able to stand shoulder to shoulder with his men in battle due to the delays caused by Chessene. He vows that "When I die it will be with my comrades at the front", bemoans his need to rely on civilians, and general demonstrates the brutal cunning and resourcefulness that the Sontarans possess at their best. Failed thespian, moth collector and temporary restaurant manager Oscar Botcherby, who is very well written but sadly underused, also exemplifies Holmes' skill at characterisation. The sheer number of characters already vying for time in the story means that Oscar is sidelined until his unfortunate demise, although Holmes succeeds in making him likeable enough that his death really has an impact. James Saxon is perfect in the role, and had the character had more to do and more screen time, I can't help thinking that he might be as fondly remembered as such Holmes' creations as Jago and Litefoot. 

The regulars are generally well served by the script. I've already discussed the Doctors, but Peri gets plenty to do with surprisingly little whining, as she is called upon to visit the villa, resulting in her near-consumption by Shockeye. Jamie is also used well, Frazer Hines falling back into his old role with consummate ease. The briefly black-and-white scene at the very beginning of the story perfectly captures the old relationship between the Second Doctor and Jamie, and Holmes further builds upon this by allowing him to bond with the Sixth Doctor and Peri too. There is also plenty of gentle wit, including Jamie's obvious hope for a farewell kiss from Anita; disappointed, he makes sure that he gets one from Peri at the end. The Sixth Doctor's complaining about himself also works quite well, and there is also a superb moment when Oscar mistakes him for a policeman. He tells the Doctor, "I can see by your raiment that you are plain clothes division", prompting the Doctor to look down at his garish clothing in puzzlement... Overall then, 'The Two Doctors' is not the classic that it could have been, but it is far better than some fans suggest.

FILTER: - Television - Sixth Doctor - Series 22

TimelashBookmark and Share

Thursday, 22 January 2004 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

It wouldn't be very original of me to point out that 'Timelash' is an anagram of "lame shit", but I'm going to do it anyway. 'Timelash' is not merely bad; it is so very, very bad that I can't help wondering if writer Glen McCoy was taking the piss. Certainly Eric Saward must have been when he commissioned it. 

So is there anything good at all about 'Timelash'? Erm… well Robert Ashby is admirably restrained as the Borad, and delivers a coldly malevolent performance, which is something of a minor miracle considering the dross that he has to work with. And Colin Baker is as entertaining as ever as the Doctor, especially when he's displaying his exasperation with Herbert. Oh, and the incidental score by Liz Parker is quite good. I also like the much-derided Karfelon androids, whose purple faces, jerky movements and high-pitched voices manage to be quite eerie. And that's about it. 

Anyway, lets be brutally honest; the plot of 'Timelash' stinks. I say plot, but the festering morass of tedious and unbelievable events on offer barely qualifies. The basics of the plot are that the Borad, a nutter, rules the planet Karfel with a grip of iron, randomly turning off the power to hospitals and such like when the fancy takes him. His androids allow him to enforce his will. His eventual aim is to wipe out everything on Karfel aside from himself and the Morloxes, large reptilian monsters one of which he became fused with whilst experimenting with technobabble. Sorry, Mustakozene 80. His intention is to provoke the neighbouring Sock-Puppets into launching a Bendalypse warhead at Karfel in order to achieve this genocidal aim, after which he will repopulate the planet by shagging Peri, whom he intends to similarly transform into a mutant such as himself. The first obvious flaw in this boring and flimsy plot is that two people cannot repopulate a planet, which raises the question of why he doesn't just transform other Karfelons into half-Morlox mutants. Furthermore, he shows no inclination to take a mate from the native population at any point, so it is rather fortunate that the Doctor unexpectedly arrives with Peri in tow at an opportune moment. He clearly hasn't thought this through, and obviously neither has Glen McCoy. He also doesn't seem to have any sort of plan for dealing with the Bandril invasion force that will presumably arrive after they deliver their rocket, in order to harvest the grain that they desperately need. 

In case it hasn't become clear already, the characterisation of the Borad is horrendously bad. He's simply "Mad" in a generic way that makes even the Master's most loony plans seem well-thought out and sensibly motivated. He sits in a chair in a dark room with one big hand (leave it…) and sort of gloats at how evil he is. Oh, and he also clones himself in case anyone actually makes it to his inner sanctum and happens to have a means of dealing with his time weapon, a reasonably convincing special effect that ages people to death. Where the real Borad actually lurks in case he needs to make an unexpected dramatic appearance to make up unused plot time is not disclosed. Indeed, the sudden "resurrection" of the Borad with the crass revelation that the Borad killed previously was a clone is so incredibly bad that I can barely find adequate words to be sufficiently sarcastic about it. It would be the apex of the mountain of shite that is 'Timelash', were it not for the Doctor's unexplained trick with the TARDIS to deflect the Bandril's missile. There is a throwaway line in Episode One about the TARDIS being indestructible for the benefit of casual viewers, but given that the Doctor throws Peri out of the TARDIS because he thinks he's going to die, this isn't very convincing. All we actually get by way of explanation is a line to Peri, which amounts to "I'll explain later" and thus probably provided inspiration for 'The Curse of Fatal Death'. 

As though all of this codswallop were not bad enough, 'Timelash' also has the audacity to be immensely dull. There is considerable padding in Episode One, perhaps best summed up by the embarrassing scene in which the Doctor straps himself and Peri to the TARDIS console. There is also an incredibly tedious scene in which the Doctor arses about inside the Timelash in search of Kontron crystals, which might be slightly more exciting than it actually is if he wasn't surrounded by tinsel. It doesn't help that there is no sense of danger, given that the script gives the impression that Karfel is a planet of about a dozen people, all of whom live in the same small citadel. 

Then there are the characters. 'Timelash' is the only story in which I find Peri to be genuinely annoying, as she moans at the slightest provocation. The initial bickering scene in the TARDIS is actually quite good, as she accuses the Doctor of "aimless wandering", and he responds with indignation; her desire to stay when he offers to take her home is a reminder that however much they argue they remain friends, but this is pretty much the only decent piece of characterisation in the entire story. And whilst I'm on the subject of the Doctor and Peri, it's fortunate that he's had the albums out, since her ability to recognise Jo Grant saves her life. This is so contrived that it speaks for itself and therefore obviates the need for me to use the word "cack". 

Of the supporting characters, only two stand out aside from the Borad, and neither in a good way. Herbert is so irritating that I find myself happily imaging him being dismembered and eaten by a Morlox in order to occupy myself during the ninety minutes of my life that watching 'Timelash' obliterates, and he's clearly only present so that McCoy can nick ideas from H. G. Wells and then try to create the idea that he's being clever. Herbert is also used as an opportunity for some appalling vacuous wit in Episode Two, as he blathers on about dying heroically. David Chandler's performance is noteworthy only for the fact that it makes me want to punch him. Equally dreadful is Paul Darrow as Maylin Tekker. Much as I like Darrow's performance as Avon in Blake's 7, he is incredibly bad here as he hams it up allegedly in revenge for Colin Baker's over-the-top performance as Bayban the Butcher in the rather poor Blake's 7 episode 'City at the Edge of the World'. Given what he is given to work with, I can sympathize with his desire to muck about; Tekker is just as badly characterised as the Borad, and seems to be evil simply because he can. He smirks a lot and says nasty things and has no character motivation whatsoever beyond this. 

'Timelash' also suffers from a script that rivals 'The Twin Dilemma' for atrocious dialogue. Gems on offer include "Avaunt thee, foul fanged fiend!", "microcephalic apostate!", "He's dangling on the edge of oblivion!", and "Soon our planet will rule this corner of the universe with the power of a giant ocean!". The Bandrils, apparently popular with fandom in what I fervently hope is a sort of knowing post-modern ironic way, look like what they are; sock-puppets. They are also supposedly peaceful, although their solution to ending the Borad's refusal to send them grain is to commit genocide. I know they're desperate, but it seems a bit extreme… 

In summary, 'Timelash' is indeed, lame shit. And that's my final word on the matter.

FILTER: - Television - Series 22 - Sixth Doctor

Ghost LightBookmark and Share

Sunday, 18 January 2004 - Reviewed by Bob Brodman

Before I start this essay I should warn you that I am a biologist, damn it, not a movie critic. But I also love Scifi movies and television and Doctor Who in particular. Ghost Light is noted as being the penultimate story of the TV series, tackling evolution, and for being so creepy. However reviews are often mixed, especially in discussion about the complexity of the plot and the topic of evolution. I agree with most of the reviews that the story has an effectively creepy atmosphere, great lines, and enough twists and turns to well sustain interest in the three-part story. But what I offer is a biology professor’s view could illuminate something about how evolution is used in this story.

Evolution is usually presented in one of several ways in scifi & fantasy. The first is to rehash the monkey trial with a dialog between hip scientists and old earth creationists. This is seen in some versions of the Lost World but is best used in the dramatization of “Inherit the Wind”. This is done effectively in Ghost Light with the conservative 19th Century character of Rev. Mathews. 

The next way evolution is portrayed is as a weird form of metamorphosis. Pokemon, Altered States and the Outer Limits episode the Sixth Finger are notable examples. While Doctor Who already covered this in the Mutants, Ghost Light uses the metamorphosis of the aliens and discussion of everyone constantly adapting. Josiah even goes as far as causing poor old Rev. Mathews to evolve (or de-evolve) into a more primitive kind of primate. While this devise works well for cinema, it is not the way that evolution actually occurs. Evolution is genetic and occurs between generations. It is all about sex and not “survival of the fittest” as most people misunderstand.

The third way that evolution is portrayed is to suggest an extra-terrestrial origin or cause in the evolution of humans. 2001: A Space Odyssey, Quatermass and the Pit are notable examples. The Image of Fendahl is a clear example in Doctor Who and so perhaps is Earthshock. Although extra-terrestrials are not implicated in the evolution of our species directly in Ghost Light, the fact that they could cause the good reverend to change make it possible.

Thus far nothing is unique and nothing is complex in this story. But Ghost Light also presents a new way to use evolution as a scifi vehicle. The alien crew has the job of cataloging all of Earth’s species. However Light discovers that in the time that it takes to finish the task, life evolves into new species so the process has to be continually repeated. Tired of this endless pursuit, he plans to end all life on Earth so that his catalog will be forever and correct. This is a really interesting concept. But is it complex? Some reviewers seem to think not and say that the plot is implausible because life couldn’t evolve that fast. A recent study showed that river spawning salmon that were released into a lake in the 1930s had adapted and evolved into a new species by the 1990’s. It turns out that evolution can occur in as little as just a few generations.

In two and half centuries thousands of naturalists and scientists have named and described over a million species of plants, animals and microbes. New species are still being discovered every day and in recent years many of these require using DNA technology to distinguish forms as separate species. A totally new species of whale was recently discovered this way. The rate of discovering new species suggests that there are at least 5 million species alive today and perhaps as many as 50-100 million species. The majority of organisms are types of primitive microbes that live under the ocean floor and deep underground in places that life was not known to exist until the last 25 years. Plus it often takes scientists a year or two to identify, describe and catalog a new species. So the task of cataloging every species on the planet is quite enormous. If we use the conservative figure of 5 million species and assume that Light and his small crew could identify, describe and catalog and average of one species in a single day (an extraordinary feat), then it would take them more than 13,000 years to complete the task. This is plenty of time for new species to evolve and create the endless cycle portrayed in Ghost Light. 

Overall Ghost Light is a good piece of science fiction and ranks among the better Doctor Who adventures. I rate it much higher because of the scifi new concept that it makes. Three and a half stars out of four.

FILTER: - Television - Series 26 - Seventh Doctor