The DaleksBookmark and Share

Sunday, 24 October 2004 - Reviewed by Graham Roberts

The Daleks is a very important story in the history of the programme. Not only does it introduce the Daleks – it saves the series as well. The boost the Daleks gave to the ratings ensured Doctor Who would last longer than thirteen episodes, giving Verity Lambert and David Whitaker further opportunities to show their bosses and the audience what they could do with the programme.

It is a good introductory story for the Daleks. They are on their own planet (something that will not occur again until The Evil of the Daleks) and the story reveals some of their history, particularly their relationship with the Thals. Their aggressive philosophy is revealed in many different ways, e.g. when they announce they will change the environment rather than themselves in order to survive, and the line “Every problem has a solution” has a narrow minded determination about it that even upsets the Doctor. Their callousness and cunning are also very clearly shown, e.g. initially planning to withhold the drugs from the crew and then changing their minds for their own ends, failing to be fooled by the crew breaking the camera and adapting their murderous strategy (from dropping a neutron bomb to releasing radiation from their nuclear reactor) when they realise Daleks need radiation to survive.

They also have a couple of attributes never seen in the series again. The way they speak is not so loud or monotone as they will later become. Their rather fast flat way of speaking is chilling for they are dismissing the Thals and the crew’s lives so casually, e.g. the line “Then they must die” is more disturbing than if it was uttered in a loud fanatical way. Their contracting lenses are also very effective – the sense of a living being inside is clearly felt, especially when one Dalek starts to die when the Thals’ drugs are administered. This is also a unique story for it is the very first time the Doctor encounters them – there is a classic moment when the Doctor is first interrogated by them in their control room on his knees. Hartnell conveys puzzlement, fear, anger and panic in this scene – very good acting, the danger increased by the Doctor’s failing health due to radiation sickness and the fact that he really doesn’t know what he’s dealing with yet (and he believes the Daleks when they tell him the Thals are mutations).

There are some other classic moments in this story as well. The Daleks’ ambush is a clear sign of racism in action and is more dramatic because it occurs after Temmosus’ humane and hopeful speech. Christopher Barry also directs it well – it slowly builds up, Ian very worried, and the shot of the Daleks deliberately hiding works very well. The final shot of Temmosus dead combined with the incidental music shows the tragedy that has just occurred. Ian is very good here – he tries to save the Thals and understands the Daleks completely – they have a “dislike for the unlike” and will never be successfully reasoned with. Another great moment is when the crew act as an effective team for the first time in the series in their cell – all help to disable the Dalek and the audience sees for the first time a glimpse of the “creature” inside the casing. The Doctor and Ian’s faces express more than words when the top of the Dalek is lifted.

The Thals themselves are not quite as successful. Alydon and Ganatus are passable, but Dyoni and Antodus are rather embarrassing. They work best as Terry Nation’s expression of the limits of pacifism – when faced with fascism (the Daleks) they must fight or perish. Barbara and the Doctor’s decision here to simply use them to retrieve the fluid link is rather worrying but again Ian shines and shows it is a matter of conscience and morality as well as practicalities. The subsequent journey through the swamp and the mountains has a touch of Jules Verne about it and makes the last three episodes quite entertaining (The Ordeal having the first literal cliffhanger in the series!). However Barbara lets the side down a bit – when she tries to help Ganatus she loses her grip on the rope and she is rather stupid attempting to go round the rock face backwards. Her “romance” with Ganatus simply doesn't work and the line “She’s just a child!” to Ian about Susan may be caring but just sounds patronising.

Pace wise the story is rather slow in places, especially with Susan’s long trip to the TARDIS and back, but it picks up in the second half. The climax is disappointing (Kristas pushing a Dalek into a console) but is preceded by some good scenes, especially the Doctor’s lines “That’s sheer murder!” and “This senseless, evil killing!” His remarks at the end that he never gives advice are rather odd though – surely he gives more advice than anyone and follows this line by giving advice!

The Doctor’s character is still a little cold. He happily fools the others about needing mercury though Hartnell does this so well that I am rather on his side. The “Hmms!” that he later utters so much are also not that evident here, proof surely that Hartnell used these mutters intentionally. His character is still acerbic and this comes to the foreground in the next story…

FILTER: - Series 1 - First Doctor - Television

TV MovieBookmark and Share

Sunday, 24 October 2004 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

Seven years after Doctor Who finally came to an end on BBC television, the phoenix seemed set to rise from the flames with co-production between the BBC and the American company Universal Television. Rumours abounded that this was to be a pilot for a new series (although by the time it was transmitted this already seemed unlikely) and the promise of a bright new start delighted legions of fans. With Sylvester McCoy returning to the role of the Seventh Doctor for a regeneration scene and Paul McGann cast as the Eighth Doctor, the TV movie, entitled simply ‘Doctor Who’ promised a great deal. Unfortunately, it didn’t deliver on this promise…

Eight years on, ‘Doctor Who’ stands as something of an oddity. It never developed into a fully-fledged series, and with a new BBC series just around the corner, it’s easier to look at in perspective as a one-off that led to a whole new direction for theDoctor Who novel ranges and a starting point for Big Finish’s Eighth Doctor audios, rather than bemoaning the fact that that it could have been a last, wasted opportunity for a new series. Given this, how then does it stand up as a Doctor Who story in its own right? Well, actually it’s mostly a right load of old bollocks. It does a few things right and it can be entertaining if the viewer is in the right mood, but its saddled with a nonsensical plot and a crap villain, and if Russell T. Davies wants a tip on how to make the new series appeal to a new generation of viewers, all he needs to do is look at ‘Doctor Who’ and think, “yeah, I’d better not do anything like that”. I’ll come to what I like about it shortly, but first I’ll discuss what I consider to be its plethora of flaws. Just one point however: some fans feel that ‘Doctor Who’ doesn’t feel like “proper” Doctor Who. If this is the case, given that it features a horribly over the top actor hamming up the role of the Master and a nonsensical plot that makes no real sense in the final analysis, then neither is ‘Time-Flight’.

‘Doctor Who’ does not start well. It seems logical to me that the best way to introduce the central character and the concepts of the series to a new audience is to introduce the Doctor, explain who he is and what the TARDIS is gradually, and allow the plot to unfold at the same time. As opposed to, say, starting with a garbled pre-credits sequence, which prattles of Daleks, Skaro, and the Master with bugger all explanation as to who or what any of these are. The inclusion of the Daleks is gratuitous and pointless, especially since they aren’t actually seen and they sound like Smurfs. To be fair, the Master is described as the Doctor’s “old enemy” in the voice over, but no explanation is given as to how he can survive death in the form of a snake made out of snot, possess badly-acted ambulance drivers, and allow them to immobilize their opponents with acid and what looks like semen, whilst also controlling the minds of other people using a special effect nicked wholesale from The X-Files. New viewers must have been baffled by this, although to be fair so too are established fans. The established fans have the opportunity, in retrospect, to find a half-arsed explanation for all of these things in the pages of Terrance Dicks’ ‘The Eight Doctors’, but unfortunately in order to find out what that explanation is, they would have to actually read ‘The Eight Doctors’, which is about as much fun as sitting on a toilet seat made out of barbed wire. Or, for that matter, reading Terrance Dicks’ ‘Warmonger’. 

Things do not improve. Any new viewers who haven’t already switched off, are treated to twenty minutes or so of Sylvester McCoy putting in a restrained and dignified performance but having to contend with dodgy expository dialogue that includes waking up on an operating table and explaining to a confused surgeon that he has two hearts and that surgery will therefore kill him. What is especially annoying about this is that it’s completely unnecessary; a more confident writer would have let the x-ray of the Doctor’s chest speak for itself, rather than explaining what it means three times. Fortunately, things get better once McCoy regenerates into McGann. The amnesia suffered by the Eighth Doctor immediately following his regeneration is a contrivance and amnesia has become something of a contentious issue for many Doctor Who fans who read the BBC Eighth Doctor novel range, but it is well utilized here, as the Doctor rediscovers his past with both Grace and the audience. In retrospect, he story might have been better served if it had opened with the Eighth Doctor wandering San Francisco as an amnesiac and gradually revealing his past with a regeneration in flashback (I am, I must admit, glad that McCoy was given the opportunity to return to the role to see off the Seventh Doctor in style, I just have issues with the effect that it had on the story).

Given the way in which the story unfolds, the interest of new viewers might have been grabbed by the plot. Unfortunately, the plot is bollocks. With the budget apparently unable to stretch to more than two monsters, executive producer Philip Segal instead opts to pit the Doctor against his old arch-enemy the Master, an idea that might have worked were it not hamstrung by a ludicrous plot and a denouement that, as Doctor Who novel author Lance Parkin once put it, amounts to two men shouting at each other in a cupboard. The plot, such as it is, is as follows; the Master having cheated death in ways that are none of the viewers’ damn business, possesses a convenient human as a temporary body whilst he sets about trying to steal the Doctor’s. To do this, he needs the Eye of Harmony, an enormous stone scrotum that is a key component of the Doctor’s TARDIS, which will apparently steal the Doctor’s soul if he looks into it for too long, leaving his body an empty vessel. An unfortunate side effect of this is that the Earth will be “turned inside out” and sucked through the Eye of Harmony, a process that involves glass becoming soft and pliable and the Doctor losing twenty pounds in weight. In order to prevent this, the Doctor must close the Eye of Harmony before it’s too late, which requires him to steal a beryllium chip from an atomic clock and wire it into the TARDIS, except that he does it too late in order to save the world. As a result, once he has defeated the Master, he has to use the TARDIS to rewind time until before he arrived, which somehow negates the events of the last forty-eight hours without negating either his regeneration or his battle with the Master, and also just happens to resurrect a couple of unfortunately deceased supporting characters. It’s absolute tripe. It hinges on so many contrivances and coincidences that I can’t help wondering if writer Matthew Jacobs is taking the piss. There just happens to be a beryllium clock close to hand. Grace, a human surgeon whom the Doctor has known for less than two days works out how to rewire the TARDIS and make it dematerialize. Sheer poppycock.

Having potentially alienated and/or confused any new viewers, the production team seeks to charm existing fans with nods to the past. There are numerous continuity references, including a glimpse of the Fourth Doctor’s scarf, the cloister bell, and the sonic screwdriver, none of which are intrusive and which appeal to the fan in me, but are unlikely to confuse new viewers. Bizarrely however, there is some weird buggering around with continuity, some of which is pointless but ultimately irrelevant (the Eye of Harmony is recognizable to anyone who has seen ‘The Deadly Assassin’ but is now inside the TARDIS, for example, a fact that prompted Lance Parkin to include an explanation in ‘Cold Fusion’), some of which is incredibly irritating. What is interesting about this is that much of it seems to be a patronizing attempt to appeal to American viewers. The Doctor kissing Grace doesn’t especially bother me, as it seems more like a tactile expression of jubilation than the Doctor trying to get his end away, but I can’t help suspecting that it’s an attempt to appeal to Star Trek fans who are used to Captain Kirk shagging anything that isn’t nailed down. Likewise, the Chameleon Circuit is referred to as a Cloaking Device, which again isn’t really important or problematic in story terms, but seems to imply that the target audience is composed of cretins unable to infer anything from the word “chameleon”. What is really annoying however, is the half-human revelation. After twenty-six years of the Doctor being an alien in the television series, the production team have decided that he’s actually half-human on his “mother’s side”. Now this could be justified given the right plot; it might, for example, explain the Doctor’s obsession with Earth and his fondness for humans. But it isn’t; instead, the only purpose it serves within the plot is so that the Master can use a human to open a Time Lord energy source at the heart of a Time Lord craft, because they have similar retinal patterns to the Doctor. This is in itself gibberish, but more to the point it creates the impression that the production team feel the need to give the Doctor a closer link to Earth than mere fondness in order to create a hero that their target audience can really believe in. Because he’s, like, one of us and not a foreigner. I mean alien, of course. 

What the plot of ‘Doctor Who’ does have is subtext. Except that it’s so unsubtle and overt that it barely qualifies as subtext at all. ‘Doctor Who’ has themes of life, death and resurrection, from the Doctor’s regeneration, the Master’s return from the dead as an animated cadaver, and Grace and Chang Lee’s literal resurrection. It’s nice to know that Jacobs was at least putting a modicum of thought into this, but the contrast between the reborn Doctor and the unborn Master would have sufficed; instead, we get the inexplicable use of the TARDIS to cure death in supporting characters and some woefully unsubtle imagery which includes the regeneration scene intercut with mortuary attendant Pete watching Frankenstein, and references to Christ include Grace stating, “Somehow I don’t think the Second Coming is going to happen here” when the Doctor vanishes from the morgue, and the Master sort-of crucifying him in the TARDIS whilst making him wear a crown of thorns. I don’t object to subtext by any means, but the pudding is so over-egged here, that it just feels crass. Grace’s motivation for becoming a doctor is a further example and arguably the most successful; the Doctor deduces, “You dreamt you could hold back death”, and as a result it is, ultimately, the fact that she accidentally killed him and that he came back to life that makes her trust him. 

‘Doctor Who’ also suffers from some poor characterisation and acting. Firstly, there is mortuary attendant Pete, an utterly facile character intended to provide comic relief but merely irritating instead. Admittedly, actor William Sasko couldn’t have done a great deal with lines as cringe worthy and witless as “We’ve got a nice autopsy booked for you, followed by a sauna”, but his delivery of “What, you think he might have gone to a better hospital?!” alone is enough to make confirm that his abilities as an actor aren’t exactly cramped by the dialogue. Then there’s Chang Lee. By this point, I’ve also reviewed the Big Finish audios ‘Real Time’ and ‘Excelis Decays’ and I’ve been fairly disparaging about Yee Jee Tso’s acting in both of those stories. Here, he’s not too bad, but his character is a bog standard smart-arse street punk who gets some reasonably good lines on occasion, but basically exists for one reason and one reason only; if it seems unlikely that the Master might adopt a companion, then consider that he spends a great deal of time explaining his plans, and therefore the plot, to Chang Lee and therefore the audience. Chang Lee essentially fulfills the same purpose as Grace, but comes across worse because aside from anything else he’s just thick; it takes a great deal to convince him that the Master is lying and it isn’t in fact the Doctor that is the homicidal body snatcher. He also gets some very bad dialogue, most notably “The guy from the ambulance? Bruce, don’t scare me like that”. In spite of all this, Lee gets a few good moments (such as his amusing if predictable reaction to entering the TARDIS for the first time) and some good lines and Yee Jee Tso does fairly well, especially when the Master scares Lee, which happens on several occasions. Which brings me neatly to the villain of the piece…

The Master is awful. This is a combination of two factors, one of which is the scripted dialogue, one of which is Eric Roberts. Even during the worst excesses of his performance, Anthony Ainley was always entertaining, whereas Roberts is merely atrocious. Impressively, he manages to be both wooden and hammy at the same time, camping up the role to previously unseen levels and generally making an arse of himself. The script does not help; a vacuous attempt at wit that badly misfires and undermines the entire story with such sphincter-clenching bad dialogue as “My name is not honey… Master will do”, “The Asian child”, “Genghis Khan… that was him”, and “Lee is the son I never had”. In fact the funniest line that the Master gets here is, “We must get to the Doctor before he finds a clock”, which I suspect is actually meant to be taken seriously. Then there is the “You’re sick” “Thank you” exchange which reinforces the fact that the Master here is even more of a pantomime villain than usual, which is a shame because in the final analysis the Master is obsessed with survival, power and humiliating the Doctor, which is perfectly true to his past motivation. Their old relationship also holds true in the scene in which the Doctor, despite all that the Master has done, offers him his hand as he is sucked into the Eye of Harmony. As the script stands, a decent actor might have been able to salvage the part or extracted some genuine wit from scenes such as the one in which the Master corrects Grace’s grammar. Unfortunately, Roberts instead relies on extravagant hand gestures, and a smirk that makes him look as though he’s touching cloth, all of which is epitomized by the ludicrous scene in which the Master changes into a fetishistic dressing gown and groans, “I always dress for the occasion”. 

Despite all this dross, there are things that I like about ‘Doctor Who’. For one thing, as I noted above, although I have issues with the way it was handled, I’m glad that Sylvester McCoy was able to reprise the role of the Seventh Doctor for a proper send-off. McCoy gives a restrained, dignified performance and gets some great scenes. His obvious foreboding over the presence of the Master’s remains in the TARDIS is well conveyed, for example. His final appearance, as the Seventh Doctor “dies” on the operating table is extremely well done, the initial calm as Grace prepares to operate giving way to rising drama as the Doctor wakes up and tries to resist her ministrations and ultimately goes into cardiac arrest, before expiring, all of which is impressively reflected by Puccini’s music as it rises into a crescendo and then tails off. 

Then there is Paul McGann. Whatever the many deficiencies of ‘Doctor Who’, I’m very keen on McGann’s performance as the Eighth Doctor. In some ways, the script is written to provide a set of criteria associated with the Doctor; he is for example, obviously eccentric, and the production reflects this with a costume that is notably Edwardian in feel. It’s essentially an identi-kit Doctor, but it works, thanks to some great scenes and thanks largely to the actor. McGann brings tremendous enthusiasm to the role, conveying joy, warmth and anger with equal aplomb. The Doctor’s confusion when he exits the morgue is obvious and due purely to McGann’s facial acting, and he packs great emotion into the line “What is this?!” as he pulls the broken probe out of his chest. Once the Doctor becomes more relaxed, even before he fully regains his memories, McGann quickly makes him both compelling and commanding with equal measure and the moment when he tells Grace “You’re tired of like but afraid of dying” is strangely captivating. He’s also immensely likeable, such as when he tells Grace “hearts – plural” whilst grinning cheekily. The obligatory name-dropping (“I was with Puccini when he died”) is delivered with a mixture of joy and melancholy and it immediately creates the impression of a Doctor who cares. And whilst everybody cites it as a great moment, the “Yes! These shoes! They fit perfectly!” is an oddly defining moment for the Eighth Doctor. The flashes of foresight are also an interesting, if slightly pretentious touch, as the Doctor advises Gareth to answer a certain question on his mid-term exams and later tells Chang Lee to take a holiday away from San Francisco next year. My favourite McGann scene here however is when the Doctor holds himself hostage using a policeman’s gun, which instantly seems perfectly in character, but isn’t something we’ve seen before in the series. 

I also rather like ersatz companion Dr. Grace Holloway. Daphne Ashbrook plays the part very well, despite some scenes in which Grace does little save fulfill the traditional companion role and ask stupid questions. Her growing friendship with the Doctor works nicely, heightening my suspicion that ‘Doctor Who’ would have worked much better if it had opened with Grace meeting the newly regenerated Eighth Doctor with everything else revealed in flashback, as she would have worked perfectly well as a means of viewer identification. Her desire to hold back death is of course supposed to be a defining character trait and part of the overblown subtext, although this largely fails since it is only ever the Doctor who mentions it and when she actually returns from the dead she glibly dismisses the experience as nothing to worry about. Nevertheless, she’s likeable enough and her easy acceptance of the dimensionally transcendental TARDIS interior is an amusing subversion of audience expectations. 

Finally, there is the production; ‘Doctor Who’ looks great. As director, Geoffrey Sax is partly to blame for the lack of subtlety regarding the resurrection subtext, but for the most part he does a great job. The first shot of McCoy in a warped mirror, the introduction of Grace weeping at the opera and the aerial shots of San Francisco all give a polish to the production that can’t hope to compensate for the shortcomings of the script and some of the acting, but do make them more tolerable. He also handles the car chase well, which is an unusual feature for a Doctor Who television story, but works rather well. The sets are also very impressive, especially the new TARDIS interior, which combines the feel of Heath Robinson and Jules Verne. On the other hand, the incidental score is pompous, brash and intrusive. 

Despite decent ratings in the UK, ‘Doctor Who’ never led to a series. Nevertheless, it had an impact on Doctor Who. BBC Worldwide reclaimed the license to publish original Doctor Who novels from Virgin Publishing, with mixed results, and the Eighth Doctor’s adventures continued in print. Despite this it seemed unlikely that Paul McGann would reprise the role of the Eighth Doctor, until Big Finish announced that they had secured his services, and a whole new series of adventures was announced...

FILTER: - Television - Eighth Doctor

Time and the RaniBookmark and Share

Sunday, 24 October 2004 - Reviewed by John Anderson

Just when you think the Colin Baker era has been put out of its misery, up turns Time and the Rani. I can only imagine that these season 23 scripts got stuck in heavy traffic on their way to Wood Lane because for the life of me I can't think how else this brave new start got commissioned. Time and the Rani sits bestride seasons 23 and 24 much the same way Robot does in seasons 11 and 12; a tale that is a comfortable reminder of the old regime whilst also pointing to the future. But this is 1987 rather than 1975 and the last thing that the audience needs is to be reminded of the previous era. Nor is this a hint of things to come; Pip and Jane's scripts represent the final throw of the dice for a storytelling style that's binned before Cartmel even has a chance to utter the word 'Masterplan.'

Time and the Rani needs Colin Baker, not because he would have improved this serial any but because the Sylvester McCoy era does not deserve to begin here. Rightly or wrongly, the tabloid press is a good barometer of public opinion and this one serial gives the whole era a silly, lightweight label that is unfair on both the series and its lead actor in particular. I would contest that Sylv is not a bad actor during Time and the Rani, but he is saddled with some horrendous Pip and Jane inspired dialogue that he does his level best to wrestle with. Importantly, Sylv is trying to make his Doctor likeable and he succeeds. Freed from the constraints of alien-ness that had blighted the character for over two years the seventh Doctor is a much-needed breath of fresh air. The bad bits come from script rather than actor and as for the costume change bit at the end of part one - it wasn't big and it wasn't clever back in Robot and it's not bigger nor cleverer here.

The bad bits don't end here though, oh no. The Rani's disguise as Mel is a truly awful idea in concept and execution, while part four descends into a typical mix of silly science and technobabble that is the trademark of a Pip and Jane script. Bonnie Langford remains startlingly miscast and never seems comfortable playing against this alien backdrop. Tellingly, aside from JNT's continuing presence in the producer's chair, Bonnie and Pip and Jane are the only survivors from the previous season and are the three worst things about Time and the Rani.

Despite all this Time and the Rani remains watchable. It has an energy and sense of fun long since sacrificed at the altar of Saward, and breezes along at a fair old pace. The effects work is as good as it got for the series, and unlike the previous season you can see where the money was spent - up on the screen where it counts. The Tetraps look good, a high standard of monster design that would remain in place right till the end of the series' life, while the bubble traps surely represent a more effective, but less spectacular use of the series' effects budget.

Like a football manager who's team is on a bad run of form, Time and the Rani is indicative of the mythical corner being turned, of lessons being learned and results slowly improving. Doctor Who had got as bad as it was going to get the year before; the fight back started here.

FILTER: - Television - Series 24 - Seventh Doctor

Paradise TowersBookmark and Share

Sunday, 24 October 2004 - Reviewed by John Anderson

Doctor Who is dead! Long live Doctor Who!

Cartmel's influence can be felt here in a stylistic shift every bit as severe as the Robot/Ark in Space change 12 years before. Then, of course, Bob Holmes knew exactly the direction in which he wanted to take the programme, here Cartmel can do naught but betray his uncertainty. However, the inconsistent tone of Paradise Towers can perhaps be attributed to director rather than script editor. The criticism aimed at the cannibalism of The Two Doctors and Revelation coupled with the "more humour, less violence" directive picked up by Mallett from working on Mysterious Planet the year before leaves director and script at odds from which the serial never recovers.

The script itself is a blackly comic urban thriller, a template that would serve the programme well for its final three years. However, black comedy is a very fragile and complex genre; every time the script aims for this target it is undermined by Mallet's reliance on slapstick.

It's sometimes hard to believe that this is the same director who two years later would pull an excellent performance out of Nicholas Parsons; here every performance is slightly off-key and no one can claim to have put in a good shift. In ninety minutes of television, only two scenes play out as the script intended; Sylvester's escape from the Caretakers and Tilda and Tabby's capture of Mel at the close of part two.

In Sylv's escape from the Caretakers we see the first seeds being sewn of the seventh Doctor's character proper. Subconsciously or not, Sylvester has taken Terrance Dick's "never cruel nor cowardly" edict to heart; acid baths and cyanide traps are a million miles away from this incarnation. His subversion of the Rule Book is the first in a long line of character moments that will eventually encompass talking Kane to death, befuddling Light and refusing to fight the Master. And that's just three I can think of on the hoof.

Then at the close of part two, Mallett hits the perfect note despite himself. For the most part Bonnie Langford is just as uncomfortable here as she was in Time and the Rani, but surrounded by old ladies and scones and tea and knitting she momentarily finds something she can respond to. So when the whole scene takes a turn for the absurd, Bonnie's overplaying is exactly what the script demands.

These two scenes apart the rest of the serial veers wildly between average of absolutely awful. No review of Paradise Towers would be complete without reference to Richard Briers, the man solely responsible for changing the consensus opinion of the serial from "not very good" to "awful." Somebody make him stop. Please. Say what you want about Hale and Pace and Ken Dodd, Richard Briers is the only actor amongst this august quartet and his is the most buttock clenchingly awful performance of the season, nay the era. Like Kate O'Mara's impersonation of Mel just a few weeks before it overshadows the entire serial. It's no wonder that contemporary commentators were already penning the series' obituary.

Richard Briers apart, Paradise Towers does continue Cartmel's steep learning curve. Being the first serial since Vengeance on Varos not to feature any continuity references is ordinarily not cause to celebrate, but this is damning the serial with faint praise. The very ethos of the programme has changed from the turgid navel gazing of season 22; from Paradise Towers onwards Doctor Who is looking forward rather than gazing wistfully behind.

FILTER: - Television - Series 24 - Seventh Doctor

Delta and the Bannermen.Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 24 October 2004 - Reviewed by John Anderson

The ratings for your last season were a disaster - what do you do? WHAT DO YOU DO? Do you look at the pattern of the 1980s, where from a strictly ratings perspective your two 25 minute Saturday afternoon seasons (18 and 23) have proven to be the least successful of the of the decade? Do you reflect on the fact that the two episodes per week format has been the biggest ratings draw of the last six seasons?

Or do you stick with the weekly half hour serial format that has patently died a slow and lingering death?

By the mid-80s audiences had proved reluctant to stick with a serial for the three weeks it takes to reach the conclusion. The Davison seasons overcame this to an extent because part four was broadcast just over a week after part one, whilst during season 22 that deficit was reduced to a single week. Heaven knows what was going through JNT's mind when he agreed to a fourteen week serial...

What I'm getting at is this; having been forced to regress to a format that should have long since been abandoned, through accident or design Cartmel comes up with the best compromise he can, the three-parter. It would be unfair to saddle the three-parters with the generalisation that they were simply four parters with the crap episode taken out (that's part three, by the way), but they are certainly a natural step on the path to self-contained 45-minute episodes that would become genre television's stock and trade in the 90s.

In their most simple terms, Cartmel has reduced the formula thus: episode 1, exploration; episode 2, investigation; episode 3, resolution. The episode 3 exposition instalment that has bogged down Doctor Who plots since time began is removed and the resolution is now only 14 days away, rather than 14 weeks.

In short, I think three-parters were a good idea.

And so on to Delta itself. It's fab. I am totally unashamed to admit that I love it to bits. It feels like the first story to be made exclusively for my generation (by my generation, I mean people who weren't about in the 70s), which probably explains why anyone over a certain age hates it.

A group of rock and roll loving aliens go on a trip to Disneyland in a spaceship that looks like a bus, crash in to a satellite and find themselves in a holiday camp in Wales in 1959. There they meet Burton, who deadpans the line, "You are not the Happy Hearts Holiday Club from Bolton, but instead are spacemen in fear of an attack from some other spacemen?" in a way that Leslie Nielsen couldn't have bettered. Thereafter he wanders through the story like Captain Mainwaring on acid, facing the bad guys with an enthusiasm that seems almost improper for a tale about genocide.

You couldn't make it up, well... er... yes you could, evidently.

After eight weeks of toil Sylv is getting a grip on where he wants to take the character. He dances uncomfortably with Ray, confronts Gavrok, rides a motorcycle, hugs a stratocaster and talks about love in a way than none of his predecessors could have done. Then he hatches a plan to defeat the bad guys with honey; he's a joy. Bonnie is still as stilted as usual, but she seems on firmer footing back on earth with (regular?) human beings to interact with.

As for the guest cast, Ken Dodd is Ken Dodd and doesn't bring shame on his profession in the way Richard Briers did a week before; Don Henderson is Don Henderson - I've never seen Z Cars but from what I've seen of him in other things, here he plays the same gruff character he'd been playing for the previous thirty years. Stubby Kaye is Stubby Kaye; actually, can you see a pattern developing here? By the same token I can only assume that David Kinder and Belinda Mayne are as bland in real life as they are on screen.

But the two who really steal the show are Richard Davies and Hugh Lloyd. Davies I mentioned before, he's possibly my favourite character in the whole thing. There's only been two characters in the whole series that I wish had joined the TARDIS crew; the wonderful D84 is the other. Hugh Lloyd as Goronwy adds a wonderfully magical edge to every scene he's in, and provides all of the exposition. In fact, sometimes I wonder if 'Goronwy' is welsh for 'Basil.' For example, when he's talking about the Queen bee secreting hormones into food to create a mate, he's not really talking about bees... or perhaps I'm just reading too much into it.

Either way, I love this tale of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll to bits. Really. Oh, and if Malcolm's Mum could put the cheque in the post, that'd be great.

FILTER: - Series 24 - Seventh Doctor - Television

The Mind of EvilBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 13 October 2004 - Reviewed by Joe Ford

This is one of the last of three throwbacks to season seven (the other two being The Sea Devils and Invasion of the Dinosaurs) and in my book it is the most successful in capturing what was so gripping about that first year for Pertwee. For a start it is filmed and performed with total conviction, you never doubt any of the material because it is treated in such a serious and dramatic fashion. It is blessed with a fantastic budget, which allows for some breathless action sequences. And it contains a genuine threat and one that that manages to scare effectively without resorting to rubber masks and messy deaths. Oh yes this is a powerful story all right. 

There is one scene in Mind of Evil that guts me every time I watch it. It takes place at the end of episode three; the Doctor is re-captured by the Master is tied into the Keller machine by Mailer. It is a combination of the imagery and the ideas. The Keller machine has already been demonstrated as a mock electric chair torture device and seeing the Doctor manhandled by such a thug with a bloody great shotgun is terrifying. The clinical setting and the Master’s casual enjoyment of the situation added to Dudley Simpson’s forceful musical score combines to create a truly chilling moment and one that sticks in the mind. 

I have always been a firm believer that the ‘real’ world has no place in Doctor Who (my disgusted reaction to rape/abortion/bestiality in Warlock) or if it must be involved it should be used only as a backdrop to highlight the fantastical elements. In my book Doctor Who is escapist fiction and helps provide a release from the terrors of the real world. Watching it is like hugging a comfy blanket when you are ill. Who wants to be reminded about terrorists/rapists/incest, the sick underbelly of society that festers out of control? Not me. But then a story like The Mind of Evil comes along which deals with nuclear weapons, prison riots and evils of the mind and it reminds me that the real world can be utilised effectively, it can push terrors to the surface that we would like to forget about. It is great television, scary and thoughtful and it almost makes you ache to think what other dramatic stories there are to be told in the hellish land we live in. Doctor Who with little imagination sounds a dire prospect but when illicit elements can be used this well I am willing to forgive. 

There is a hell of a lot of gunplay in the story, the action quota being much higher than your average Doctor Who. Given the era it is set in you can be sure that the stunts will be successful and several sequences, the raid on the missile and the attack on the prison are breathtaking. Doctor Who violence never feels that real to me but this, criminals and soldgiers gunning each other down, strangling, punching, shooting at point blank range, it is painfully realistic. UNIT is still being treated as a vicious organisation, gone is the “we don’t actually arrest people” from The Invasion and now they are taking control of deadly missiles, protecting peace conferences and killing anybody that prevents them upholding the Queens peace. They scare me frankly, despite idiots like Henderson and Yates (both seem right nancy boys) because they have the right to take lives if necessary. Even Lethbridge Stewart takes a few of them out, posing as a provisions driver and storming into the prison grounds, he shoots somebody right in the chest on top of a building. I get that this is kill or be killed but it is still frightening. 

Brr…that damn Keller room, could they have designed it any scarier? It’s like some high tech dentist room, cold white tiles everywhere. When Barnham is strapped to the chair and the camera zooms down from above as the machine throbs into life you cannot fail to see the death penalty similarities. The Keller machine itself is a brilliant idea, an evil intelligence that feeds on the evils of mind and uses your fears against you…now there is a chance to get inside your characters head and see what makes them tick. During one of several heart racing attacks by the machine the Doctor is confronted by the parallel world he saw destroyed last year in Inferno and it is touching to see it stills play heavy on his mind. Even better is the Master’s fear, a truly surreal moment where the Doctor appears as some laughing phantom, taunting the Master and suggesting his deep fear of losing to his foe. Once the machine becomes mobile it really takes on a life of its own, eating up brains aplenty and turning the screen a horrible crackly white colour that, combined with the victim’s deathly screams makes quite an impact. Maybe it was a mistake to make the machine so phallic looking but the ideas are what count and the performances, especially Jon Pertwee’s make the thing far more frightening than it really deserves to be. 

Ahh yes Pertwee, the least impressive actor of the lot you say? I say rubbish and watch this story as an example of what he was capable of. His turn as the terrified Doctor is unforgettable, for the usually arrogant and insulting Time Lord to be so helpless and petrified and yet still maintain his dignity was not an easy job but Pertwee is superb, his achingly tired, almost drugged reaction to the Master’s abuse is haunting. To know that one of his hearts stopped suddenly makes the threat very real, even the Doctor cannot fight against this monster and it will never stop coming. I realise Pertwee enjoyed playing the dashing dilettante and he certainly impresses in his action sequences in other stories but this is his star turn, showing the Doctor at his all time weakest and yet still managing to fight. When he says, “How on Earth am I going to stop (the machine) now?” you know that things are bad. 

The story even compromises the Master who made his debut in the previous story as a intergalactic showman, deadly certainly but with a knowing smile that informs us he will always be beaten in the end. Here there are no such pretences and when he infiltrates the prison with bombs and guns to release the inmates all that cuddly villainy drops away. Suddenly he is torturing the Doctor in the most perverse manner and stealing missiles to fire at a peace conference. In these post 9/11 days his plans seem more terrifying than ever, this may be elaborate fiction but there are some shocking reminders of some of the worst atrocities humanity has seen. There is a sinister edge to the Master in this story that we never saw very often (The Deadly Assassin, the end of the Keeper of Traken, Survival) but should have been exploited far more. Brought to such a deadly serious level the Master is quite the gripping villain, one you never doubt when he threatens, “I’ll put a bullet through both your hearts”. 

If all people can rant on about is the co-incidence of the Keller machine and the Thunderbolt being dealt with in the same story then we should consider ourselves lucky. Come on Doctor Who thrives on bloody co-incidences like this all the time! The only trouble I have with the plotting is the repetitive nature of some of the events; the cliffhangers do feel very samey when there were some ripe moments to choose from (driving off with the missile for one!). But even these faults can be looked on as strengths when you realise how much more striking each machine attack is to the last, the way the familiar events build in tension ensure that the climax is very potent indeed. 

Timothy Coome is a much-undervalued director and his work here maintains his flawless track record that began with the equally impressive Silurians. He manages to capture a scene as vividly as possible and create an atmosphere of terror as good as any of the celebrated Who directors. Touches like the cage rattling inmates during each Keller process, the ‘phantom’ Doctor looming over the Master, the close up of the bubbling creature with Summers disgusted reaction in the background, prove he is milking the story for every nightmare. He somehow manages to make the machine disappearing from a room the most alarming of moments, some fast zooms, drunken angles and fades he convinces the machine is bloody well pissed off and wants out! He handles the action with a nice touch of realism, laying off on the music so we can hear the men screaming their last screams. 

This sort of thing would have put me off ever watching the show again when I was a kid so I can only imagine what the youth of then had to say. How Terror of the Autons managed to escape the 70’s as the biggest scare fest when this shocker was nestled next door is beyond me. 

It remains one of my favourite Pertwee’s to this day mainly due to its clinical realism and unflattering glimpse at the real world. There is a remarkably polished feel about the show aided by the fact that it only exists in black and white helps immeasurably (no gaudy colours to get in the way of the scares!). I cannot reconcile how this is compared to James Bond as not one of those camp classics comes close to capturing the cold flavour of this story, yes they both enjoy plenty of action but in terms of atmosphere and terror the Mind of Evil wins hands down.

FILTER: - Television - Third Doctor - Series 8