The Time WarriorBookmark and Share

Sunday, 30 October 2005 - Reviewed by Ed Martin

The Time Warrior is remarkably inauspicious given that it’s actually quite important, introducing as it does Sarah Jane Smith and the Sontarans. While Sarah in retrospect came out as probably the best companion ever (once the 1970s were out she hardly faced much competition), I sometimes wonder if the Sontarans deserved to become such comparatively big monsters. I know that the only reason they did was because Barry Letts was playing it safe and brought them back for the following season, thereby opening the floodgates, but even so: they’re not bad monsters, by any means, but I can think of better monsters that deserved more appearances (Zygons anyone?). That said, this is their best story, as all but one of the others didn’t have Robert Holmes (also known by his nickname, Lord and Master) at the helm.

Immediately noticeable with this story is the new title sequence, which is fantastic; in fact, for my money it’s the best after the Hartnell original. I prefer it to the Tom Baker version that followed it closely – it’s aesthetically more daring with its broken lines and swirls, and the way the picture of Jon Pertwee zooms out only to rush forward again and become a vortex is a killer. There are no cheesy two-dimensional TARDISes here, either.

David Daker cannot fail to make an impression early on: he is over-the-top to be sure, but not in a way that disrespects the audience like Anthony Ainley’s master would do. Here his performance is loud and vibrant, but carefully and caringly matched up with the tone of the rest of the production. John J. Carney as Bloodaxe, by contrast, is completely swamped. He does his best and so I won’t tear into him, but he simply doesn’t have the energy of Daker’s manic Irongron. However, his patronising and extremely obvious and clichéd characterisation as a West Country simpleton is very annoying, arr, so it be. The set of Irongron’s castle is poor, which is a shame as when it came to period settings Doctor Who was usually on solid ground: its plastic props and painted-backdrop brickwork perhaps explaining why Sarah initially believes it to be a fairground mock-up. Still, barring comparatively short interludes in the past in Carnival Of Monsters and The Time Monster, this is the first story to really make an effort to create a period setting since The War Games in 1969 so I suppose I can forgive them being a bit rusty.

A small globe is a nice idea for a spaceship, especially two decades before Star Trek gave us the Borg Sphere (and the Borg had ripped off the Cybermen anyway). However, the design of their ships – which have since passed into canonicity – were initially conceived so that Irongron could believe it to be a star, while the only reason this monster is called a Sontaran is so that Holmes can make a cheap pun on ‘Saracen’. Bear that in mind when watching the deadly-serious The Two Doctors, which Holmes also wrote but under the thumb of Eric Saward (oh so easy an excuse for a Holmes fan, but there you are). One thing that annoys me though is fans who moan about subsequent plots involving Sontarans attempting to discover time-travel, “when they had it all the way back in the 12th Century. The answer, I’d have thought, is obvious: Linx is from the future, jackasses! I have to say that Linx is brilliant, with Kevin Lindsay’s brooding sadist portrayal stealing the acting crown from Daker; it is hard to believe that this is the same man who played the affable and somewhat effeminate Cho-je in Planet Of The Spiders. As I said, this is the Sontarans’ best story, with Holmes doing what David Whitaker did so successfully with the Daleks: keeping his monsters in the background, as part of a story rather than the be-all-and-end-all of it. Linx is so much more menacing through not being rubbed in our faces all the time.

Jumping to the future, and the Brigadier’s line of “most of their work's so secret, they don't know what they're doing themselves” is a cunning way to avoid having to give a proper explanation why all these scientists are all bundled together for kidnapping. It’s interesting to see that Pertwee is mucking about like Tom Baker did in his last few seasons, but he may be taking advantage of Holmes’s shamelessly boisterous dialogue.

Although Sarah would be brilliant, a lot of this would be down to the relationship she had with her co-stars. This has yet to develop at this point, and her one-dimensional crusading feminist characterisation sees Barry Letts’s drive to be socially responsible misfire. I was going to do the old “DON’T ASK ME TO MAKE THE COFFEE!” bit, but then she actually said that line or thereabouts (I’d forgotten), which had me lost for words. Thankfully she became much more of a realistic character under Philip Hinchcliffe. Rubeish is also a very irritating character, Holmes tastelessly mocking his lack of vision and creating a character straight out of a dated 70s sitcom. He even mentions a scientist called Dingle, for crying out loud. It surprises me as well why he and the Doctor talk abut Sarah with raised voices even though she’s only in one of those temporary cubicles.

The drama of Rubeish’s disappearance is spoiled since we have already seen what happens to the kidnapped humans, but there is a great effect as the Doctor projects an image of Linx on the stairs (look closely and you can see his feet waiting on the landing beforehand). However, as with much of the season the characterisation of UNIT is dreadful, with the grunts living up to their nicknames and shooting at passing insects and the Brigadier uttering out-of-character lines like “oh my giddy aunt!”. 

It’s actually quite effective not letting us see Sarah’s reaction to the TARDIS (doesn’t the prop look tatty here?), instead just showing her wandering around. Her acting as she is captured is excellent, and it is easy to see why she would be so popular once the writers had got the hang of her.

There is some great location shooting (always a strength of the programme), which in part makes up for the tackiness of the studio sets. We see the Sontaran make-up for the first time, and it’s fantastic, much better than it would be in later years. I know it was uncomfortable and severely restricted Lindsay’s breathing, but even so I was sad to see it go in subsequent stories. However, my copy of The Time Warrior is the extremely old BBC video release from 1989 9still in good nick, mind) where the episodes are all edited together into one feature, and it becomes very obvious that Linx only removes his helmet to set up the cliffhanger. It’s slightly strange and not very dramatically satisfying to see him take off his helmet, pose dramatically for a second, then replace his helmet and walk off.

You only get lines like “narrow-hipped vixen!” with Robert Holmes. Sarah’s comment that the castle contains “no lights or cameras” could possibly be metafiction, but really it’s just Holmes having a massive laugh at everyone else’s expense, taking his revenge when Terrance Dicks made him write a period piece against his will (in fairness he turned the tables later with Horror Of Fang Rock). Linx’s comment about human reproduction is very funny, although his genuine interest in the more violent aspects of medieval society turns him into far more than just an average ‘evil’ monster. The robot knight is quite creepy, with its zombie-like gait and distended, out-of-proportion features. The Doctor knocks Irongron’s control unit out of his hand with a crack shot from a crossbow; Russell T. Davies wants a return to the non-gun bearing Doctor. All I can say is, he has a lot of contrary evidence to make up for.

Rubeish takes the idea of time-travel in his stride, babbling like an idiot; is he Holmes’s most annoying character ever? The music here is so rare that there isn’t really a place to discuss it, so I’ll just say quickly that Dudley Simpson, having passed his near-unlistenable electronic phase, is on good form.

Amazingly, Gallifrey is casually namedropped for the first time here as if its name had been known already (another important contribution Holmes (presumably) made to the show). Pertwee’s constant fighting with extras is getting tiresome at this stage, especially as it drives his character into the ground, although it’s not as annoying as him yelling “hai!” with every stuntman that goes down.

Linx’s description of Pertwee as “a longshanked rascal with a mighty nose” is hilarious, but in fairness Holmes chose a description that could equally apply to himself. The plot here is simple without being patronising, allowing for Holmes to avoid clumsy exposition while still keeping the story going. There is a bit of padding, I should say, in part one where the Doctor doesn’t arrive in medieval England until the very end.

The siege scene is fun, being nice and simple (which is not how Holmes had wanted it; his revenge again). The location scenes are very well directed by Alan Bromly, and even in the studio the very mobile cameras are nice to see. However, his handling of action scenes does tend to fall a bit flat. The castle sentry, I should add, is appalling. 

The cliffhanger is spoiled by my clumsily-edited tape, which just shows Linx shooting the Doctor and his subsequent fall to be possibly the slowest action scene outside The Aztecs. In the fourth episode, the Doctor masquerading as Linx to fool Bloodaxe is silly and pantomimic, but by contrast Sarah’s terrified bluff to the serving woman is excellently played. However, her feminist tirade is so clumsily written that I feel the need to point it out even though I went on about it earlier. There is a poor, shaky piece of action as the Doctor swings on a chandelier, and there is a horrible boom mike shadow on Linx at the end.

Holmes’s real weakness was his penchant for anticlimaxes; his endings range from deus ex machina overload (Spearhead From Space, Pyramids Of Mars) to the too lame for words (Terror Of The Autons). This isn’t one of his worst, but writing his monsters to have inbuilt weaknesses like Power Rangers’ enemies makes me cringe a bit. The final explosion is also a bit too simple, although no one can claim it’s not within the show’s limits.

Despite not being the best-realised period piece the show ever did, this is still a great fun story. It’s no classic, but given how most non-classic Holmes scripts get unfairly ripped apart (The Krotons, The Power Of Kroll), this is a story that actually tends to get quite fairly treated – maybe because Holmes’s unwillingness to write to specifications provides his advocates with a scapegoat. I’m only giving this an average rating, which spells bad things as it’s probably the best story of the season, which wasn’t Pertwee’s best. Taken story by story though, The Time Warrior is fairly representative: it has few pretensions (OK so it’s not representative of Planet Of The Spiders), but it’s just good clean fun.





The Time WarriorBookmark and Share

Sunday, 30 October 2005 - Reviewed by Adam Kintopf

I love the Sontarans and Rutans. The idea of two alien cultures locked in unending conflict across millennia certainly resonates with many political dichotomies in our real world; those real-life dichotomies are usually sad ones, and yet an allegorical reading of the Sontaran/Rutan war is not without its humor too. Sontarans, especially, view everything they encounter *only* as it relates to their holy war – it’s a rather funny way to look at the universe, and how often in life do we see political parties going to extraordinary lengths to tie even the most neutral topics in to their agendas, and fighting as hard as they can *not* to see the other side? This becomes even funnier when we realize that never in classic ‘Doctor Who’ history did the Sontarans and Rutans actually appear onscreen together: we only ever got one side of the story, and we can’t help wondering, considering their insulated approaches to warfare, how often the two races actually met in battle at all. (Some fans have suggested that Russell T. Davies should finally have them meet in his new series, but I hope he doesn’t – I don’t want to see this amusing tradition spoiled.)

‘The Time Warrior’ introduced the Sontarans, and in the context of a refreshingly small-stakes story: Linx isn’t trying to destroy the Earth, or even to take it over – he just wants to fix his spaceship and get back to the front lines. The Sontarans’ fixation on their own private conflict makes them interesting villains in ‘Doctor Who’ history. After all, they couldn’t be further from the megalomaniacal individuals who make up the rank and file of ‘Who’ baddies – their encounters with humans in the series are usually irritating distractions, and here Linx’s annoyance with his situation is amusingly palpable throughout. Linx is humorless and impatient, and as macho as a sexless clone can be, but he is not a megalomaniac – he is simply focused on his mission. And if he can have a little sadistic fun in the process, well, where’s the harm in that? (Personally, I prefer the mask from ‘The Sontaran Experiment,’ but Kevin Lindsay is still marvelous as Linx – even if it is sometimes difficult to hear him as he shouts through his helmet!)

As for the story itself, its plot makes wonderful sense (for once), and events progress very naturally from one scene to another. Robert Holmes’s script may not be as funny as some of his others (specifically, his other [mock-] medieval story, ‘The Ribos Operation’), but it is vividly characterized, and this ‘primitive’ setting inspires the writer to great inventive heights: Irongron’s much-quoted metaphors are just a few examples of his colorful creations here. Some of the ‘medieval’ moments do tend to go a bit Renaissance Faire-y (you certainly wouldn’t accuse the cast of not having fun), but for the most part it doesn’t get in the way of our taking it all seriously. David Daker chews the scenery as Irongron, but likeably so – Holmes always had affection for small people with delusions of grandeur, and despite how hard the writer works to establish the character as a barbaric warlord, we can’t help liking him. (His repeated description of Linx as “Toad Face” gets funnier and funnier too.) Ultimately, Irongron is more like Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirate King than a real villain, and it’s almost a shame Holmes decided to kill him. Donald Pelmear’s take as Rubeish is extremely amusing too, and yet the character isn’t a mere buffoon – he is an absent-minded professor, yes, and yet he accepts the fact that he has traveled in time with a (wonderfully scientific) open mind, and of course it is he who bravely creeps up on the Sontaran and stuns him. And smaller parts like Sheila Fay’s cynical wench Meg and June Brown’s ambitious Lady Eleanor are made just as memorable as the principals.

And then, of course, there’s Sarah. For a generation of ‘Doctor Who’ viewers, Sarah Jane Smith will always be *the* companion, and her meeting with Jon Pertwee’s Doctor here can only be described as historic. The treatment of Sarah would vary from script to script over the years, but here she is everything one could want from a companion. In many ways, Sarah really steals this show – it’s isn’t hard to see why the Doctor is impressed with her, especially when she single-handedly leads a raid on Irongron’s castle! The introduction of a new assistant always presented ‘Doctor Who’s’ writers with an opportunity to reinvent the series, and here, briefly, we certainly get to see the Doctor and the TARDIS with fresh eyes – a rare treat.

A very strong story.





An Unearthly ChildBookmark and Share

Saturday, 29 October 2005 - Reviewed by Tom Prankerd

The series' opening story is, in fact, very distinctly two stories. We have the episode 'An Unearthly Child', effectively the series pilot, serving to establish Ian, Barbara and Susan. Then we have a three-part caveman story.

The first episode itself is a thing of wonder. Generally, a lot is expected of first episodes of any show, and to be fair they tend to deliver within the science-fiction genre, especially compared to their immediate successors [The Prisoner's 'Arrival', Blake's 7's 'The Way Back' and Survivors' 'The Fourth Horseman' are all towards the business end of each series' quality ratio, and even something like Star Trek - The Next Generation's 'Encounter at Farpoint' compares favourably with much of the first series of TNG]. Doctor Who's bow fails to disappoint.

It's directed imaginatively by Waris Hussein, and the steady build-up is most effective, especially as Ian and Barbara attempt to justify their curiosity about Susan to each other and themselves. Susan herself is the only bum note in the opening episode. Carole Ann Ford tends towards over-earnest stagey performance more often than not, and she's not helped by being given some silly scenes. The flashback sequences are the big problem. The idea seems to be that she's so naive and intelligent she can't help letting slip with her huge knowledge. However, it makes her look stupid as she sits in a classroom arguing that the country will have a decimal system in the future. Meaning she knows it doesn't have one now. So why is she saying it? And can you imagine even the first Doctor, arguably the most bumbling of the lot, allowing his grand-daughter to enrol in a local secondary school without telling her she wasn't to tell people about the future and the secrets of time and space?

Now, can you imagine this first Doctor doing it? This isn't the giggling, "Hmm"-ing old duffer the first Doctor that would later come along. This is a sinister, sharp-witted man. Hartnell is really having to work at his performance, and the result is an edgier and arguably more interesting Doctor. His verbal sparing with Ian and Barbara in the junkyard is an electrifying scene, as is his arrogant behaviour once they're inside the TARDIS. The episode introduces the four main characters efficiently, establishing a healthy measure of mystery in both the Doctor and Susan. One of the unusual things about the first two seasons compared to all of Doctor Who up until the Christopher Ecclestone story is that the series very much has three leads - the Doctor, Ian and Barbara. The scripts are generally split up this way too, which leads to a pair of very well-rounded characters. It helps that William Russell is a fantastic actor, regularly outshining Hartnell. Jacqueline Hill does less well, mainly through Barbara being written rather weakly, especially as Ian pretty much takes being thrown back to the stone age in a police box in his stride.

The crew dynamic is excellent, with the Doctor vaguely sinister but seemingly out of his depth, Ian definitely out of his depth but resolute and decisive, Barbara trying to back up Ian despite her inadequacies, and Susan forming a bridge between Ian and the Doctor. This dynamic basically carries the last three episodes. The plot is tedious, and the tribe of cavemen are a dull bunch. While there's a commendable stab at giving them unusual speech patterns, most of them have rather civilised English accents, just depending on missing elaborate words out of their dialogue. There seems to be a lot of the travellers being thrown into the Cave of Skulls and bemoaning their fate going on, and the likes of Kal and Za are uninteresting. The viewer is left rapidly not caring for the fate of the tribe.

If it wasn't for the near-constant arguing between the leads, this would be very uninteresting. However, the Doctor swings from arrogant to self-pitying to callous [his attempt to kill the injured caveman is shocking viewed in retrospect], with Ian battling against him. The perfomances from the regulars are excellent, though Susan isn't left with a huge amount to do but whine "Grandfather!" as the plot meanders around.

Overall, it's a mixed, unbalanced story. Aside from the first episode, the main interest is the development of the leads, and if nothing else the slight plot gives the characters plenty of space to grow. It's worth seeing, though, for a startlingly different Doctor, largely concerned with his own survival. While the sixth Doctor in Season 22, or the seventh Doctor in Seasons 25-26 were both had a different set of morals to what had gone before them, this Doctor is another, quite different Time Lord.





The Wheel In SpaceBookmark and Share

Saturday, 29 October 2005 - Reviewed by Ed Martin

The Wheel In Space is called on to achieve a lot, as the climatic story of one of the programme's best ever seasons. The Conventional Opinion of Whovians (COW) states that it fails in this respect, that it is padded out and dull. I, on the other hand, quite like it, but then I did have the benefit of seeing the existing episodes young. I bought Cybermen: The Early Years, which along with its Dalek equivalent was an excuse to release fragments from largely missing stories. I should say that I have no problem with this at all, and the Cybermen from this story, as well as the ones from The Moonbase (also provided on that tape) are indelibly burned into my head as one of the definitive versions of the monster. It took a while for me to catch up with the other episodes, which I did through a Joint Venture reconstruction; it is quite strange reviewing it then, as I am unfamiliar with 66% of it but can recite the other 33% by heart.

Most of the criticism of this story is focussed on the first two episodes, and I have to say that it is largely justified as they are horrendously padded out. I feel that this story might be better regarded if the first two episodes had been edited together; of course this would leave the season running an episode short but I feel The Web Of Fear could have stood up as a seven-parter. And if you think I'm talking idly, look at Planet Of Giants. The first thing that strikes me about episode one is that the TARDIS warning mechanism makes no sense at all, trying to tell the Doctor that the outside world is dangerous by showing pictures of a tropical paradise. Talk about reverse psychology. So what happens, the TARDIS materialises in the Emperor Dalek's throne room and the Doctor and Jamie rush out in their swimming trunks? Both sides would be as surprised as each other, probably. "Doctor, do you have your sonic screwdriver?" "Er..."

The first episode is quite atmospheric though as it trades on a sense of the unknown, something common in pre-Star Wars science fiction. Just look the titles of early sci-fi, full of the unexplained: It Came From Outer Space, The Thing From Another World, Out Of The Unknown, Them!, It: The Terror From Beyond Space and, of course, Doctor Who. The mystery here though is straight from stock as Jamie opens doors by falling on switches and suchlike. Still, it's better than its reputation.

One thing notable about this story is the way that sound effects are used very effectively as music: that chiming sound of outer space (nonsense but pleasant), the evocative buzz of the Cybermen and the bleeping of the Servo Robot. From what can be heard, the largely silent scenes featuring the robot may well have been very effective and I'd like to see them. Meanwhile, the exhaustive list of foodstuffs fed into the dispensing machine is a huge frivolity and demonstrates the padding of the episode, not to mention being a single cream bun away from Monty Python's Flying Circus. Also, the space age food-in-blocks idea was done earlier in The Tomb Of The Cybermen, and it wasn't new then. Ah, those innocent days before Rice Krispie Squares.

The rocket lurching forward is the first piece of action for a while, and it caught me quite off guard. The floating eggs scene was probably horrible (I can just imagine them wobbling about like Thunderbirds puppets), but as Bill King is a generally reliable effects technician and the meteorites in part six look superb then I'll give them the benefit of the doubt. The Time Vector Generator is interchangeable with the Sonic Screwdriver for most practical purposes, but I'll let it go.

After twenty minutes of the Doctor and Jamie eating and napping, the sudden cut to the Wheel is a not unpleasant shock. The dialogue is good, as is usually the case with David Whitaker, but as the story progresses the characterisation can come across as a little inconsistent. An immediate standout, even in a missing episode, is Dr. Gemma Corwyn, a very well written character excellently played by Anne Ridler. The sense of mystery is continued here as the Cybermat eggs morph through the hull of the station, although this is very implausible.

The second episode largely focusses on the characters. This is a euphemism for horribly padded of course, but it does make for interesting viewing (ok then, listening) in places. What is clear though is that Whitaker feels very uncomfortable writing romance between Leo Ryan and Tanya Lernov; a lot of the time he just sticks to having Eric Flynn (son of Errol and father of Jerome, so my sources tell me) put his hand on her shoulder and we're left to draw our own conclusions. The episode is very slow to begin with, but the scene where Jamie lies his way through a medical test (including making up the pseudonym 'John Smith' for the Doctor) is fascinating to hear. Zoe is a better character than Victoria, being less inclined to squeal and run behind Jamie at the first sign of rain, although Perky Padbury is a little annoying in her first outing especially when trying to portray mirth. There is a slightly obvious scene as well where Bill shows Jamie the weapons system (presumably all strangers get this) including the power array, targeting system and the best place to sabotage it.

Tanya's nose speech is an unusually bizarre piece of writing, especially since the second half of her conversation takes place in the next episode. When I first saw episode three then, I thought it was the weirdest thing I'd ever heard. There's a great cliffhanger though as the robotic hand burst through the shell of the egg, although it does raise the question of how the Cybermen tie their bootlaces with only three fingers.

Episode three is where the story really gets going, not least because Patrick Troughton's bad from his holidays and on top form. The Cybermen look fantastic, although how they got a teardrop in their mouths is beyond me. Their voices are great, a smooth droning, and we also get the joy of the truly brilliant Mark II voices courtesy of the Cyberplanner. One problem with the new costumes though is that the mouths don't move; it would seem that the production team saw the mouths that just hung open as the words streamed out as a disposable gimmick. In fact, apart from being totally amazing it also served as a visual indicator of which Cyberman was speaking and without this the Cybermen are forced to rock backwards and forwards as they speak to give the actors something to react to, which looks rather strange. The scene with the Cyberplanner is slightly crude in the exposition as the monsters explain their plan to each other, but as the dialogue is delivered through such amazing sound effects I'm happy (a shallow vindication I know, but there you are). There is some amazingly cool direction though, mixing to the face of a Cyberman just as the Doctor is talking about an unknown menace...

The Cybermats look better than on their previous outing and actually have a clearly defined purpose and means of executing it, but fundamentally they are still a very strange concept: small infiltrating robots I can accept, but the Cybermats are just odd. Kemel's terror at them seems excessive, even though it turns out to be justified; Kevork Malikyan here wins the award for the Episode's Best Screamer (and who said this show was sexist?). Although the episode does tend to tread the same ground insofar as the script goes, the Doctor's realisation of the presence of the Cybermen is still a good scene even though we already know this. Maybe it's just because Troughton is blatantly the most talented actor the play the role.

Leo's attack on Zoe seems a little unprovoked and is an example of the slightly dodgy characterisation I mentioned earlier. Flannigan rocks hard, but only in a slightly patronising drunk-Irishman kind of way.

The Cybermen's plan is complex but generally it holds water; they can't attack directly because the station would send a distress call and they can't set up their own transmitter because it would be detected. So therefore we have an example of a complicated scheme that can't really be picked at. But the cliffhanger - what's happened to their voices? "Youwa willa trya my pizza, izza ze best ona Telosa". The voices improve a bit in part four, but they only really go back to normal in part five. Part four hold up very well through being very tense, and it starts with the Doctor desperately trying to convince Jarvis of the problem. The stages of Jarvis's breakdown match the episodes: three is aggression, four is contentment, five is withdrawal and six is acceptance.

It strikes me as odd that the crew doesn't react to the fact that Laleham and Vallance are suddenly talking like they've been lobotamised, as if their personalities switch on and off regularly anyway. Zoe records data on the incoming meteorite storm on magnetic tape, which I find amusing (but hey, according to The Daleks' Master Plan it was still cutting edge in the year 4000). Jamie, in yet another example of weird characterisation, reverts back to being the ignorant 18th century traveller not knowing about sound recording.

I don't know if Peter Laird is really of oriental origin, but his accent is straight out of a cartoon. He gets a good death though, and the Cyberman putting his body in an incinerator creates a gruesome mental image. The scene where the Doctor checks for hypnotised crew is nail biting, and the surviving footage of Duggan's death shows a return to the trusty "negative" effect; which is good, as it's one of the programme's most successful effects ever.

Part five carries on as normal as the sight of the Cybermen only confirms what we already know. Zoe's growing dissatisfaction with her life is an obvious pointer towards her joining the TARDIS crew, but it's nothing clunky and it's a good effort at providing some kind of explanation for what normally is simply a simple "take me with you Doctor!" set up in the last five minutes.

Surviving footage of the fight scene in this episode shows possibly the show's wobbliest ever set, but I could listen to Flannigan yelling "you need a couple of lessons in the noble and manly arts, me bucko!" all day. The lava lamps in the oxygen room date the show badly, but no more so than the plasma ball masquerading as a time drive in Remembrance Of The Daleks.

It's back to moving pictures for the final episode and some terrific model work is on display. Even the cartoon X-Ray laser bolts look good in a retro kind of way. We do get one of the most out of character moments ever though as the Doctor advocates sacrificing Jamie and Zoe, albeit reluctantly; surely he'd look for a solution that didn't involve sacrificing anyone? Still, it's not as bad as Jon Pertwee gunning down an Ogron in cold blood in Day Of The Daleks. This is made up for by the very stylish scene immediately afterwards where the Cybermen systematically work out who is aware of their presence. The confrontation scene between the Doctor and the Cybermen is one of my favourite ever largely due to Troughton's performance: his resigned line of "I imagine you have orders to destroy me" is possibly the most iconic of his era although I must admit we have Earthshock to thank for that. Even in the face of (apparently) certain death the second Doctor was always a step ahead while appearing to be a step behind...come on, he was the best of them all!

If the Cybermen don't need air, then how does the plastic spray kill them? That's my only real beef with the climax, although the issue of whether or not Cybermen need air is one I'll return to when I review other stories featuring them. Zoe's joining scene is the usual fair - but what better end to a season can you get than the entirety of The Evil Of The Daleks?

I took the mick a bit but this really is a good story, very tense and generally well written and acted. It has the unfortunate distinction of being the penultimate Cyberman story where they actually had any credibility, and while it is slightly drawn out I always enjoy it and I'm proud to have it (or what's left of it) in my collection.





Planet of EvilBookmark and Share

Saturday, 29 October 2005 - Reviewed by Ed Martin

To be honest, it’s a bit difficult to introduce Planet Of Evil. It’s a very, very strong story but only in very standard ways, as if its formula has been taken from a textbook. I could go on about the great plot and design work while mentioning the occasional flashes of scripting and acting brilliance but, while all true, none of it is exactly unique. It’s just a bloomin’ good story, well suited to being in Doctor Who’s best season.

The jungle set on Zeta Minor has its detractors but I think it’s probably the best set the series ever had: the studio-recorded scenes are bearable (a rarity) while the film-recorded ones are terrific, an absolute triumph of lighting that actually uses shadows effectively rather than being swamped in them unintentionally. The subdued lighting obscures the fine detail making it seem even more realistic, while the addition of small details such as puddles are the icing on the cake. Amazing. It’s also helped by a good score: Dudley Simpson had got over his dire electronic phase under Barry Letts and was now producing some good material perfectly suited to the episodes themselves, here aided by Peter Howell’s augmentations. The studio interiors, by contrast, are extremely plain (season 11 style), and I notice that some of the electronic equipment in fact comes from The Ark In Space. However, I’d rather have them plain than have them extremely complicated and suffer as a result (naming no names, but it involves the Doctor strangling his companion).

The set design helps in part to create a brilliantly atmospheric introduction, in which the last survivors of the Morestran expedition are wiped out by some unseen force; the unknown has always been the most dramatic and interesting for me, and here it is only spoiled by actually seeing the victims disappear and reappear again, which doesn’t make much sense anyway.

The TARDIS scene, again a rarity in the Philip Hinchcliffe years, showcases the wonderful dynamic of Elisabeth Sladen and Tom Baker, illustrating why they were the best Doctor / companion duo; Sladen’s clumsy characterisation that held her back when she first appeared has now settled down, creating an immensely likeable and realistic character. Spotters of these things can see an enormous boom mike shadow on the wall near the beginning of the scene though (seriously, you can make out every detail of it, it’s terrible). It leads on to them entering the jungle where Sarah first experiences the monster; her acting is brilliant, such as when she says “as if my mind…left my body” in a very quiet and subdued voice, increasing the menace greatly. I’m a believer in the power of understatement, and this is a fine example. 

The spacecraft, however, comes as a real let down. The spartan sets that just about passed for the scientific base now just look boring, and the costumes are truly terrible: light cotton spacesuits with shoulder pads, open necks and flares. Morestra must be a really culturally backwards society; it’s the 380th century (or thereabouts) and they’re still living in the 1970s. The common, prosaic names of the characters implies that Morestra may be a former Earth colony, and in fact the crew are portrayed as being more multinational if their names are anything to go by than we usually see with humans (Morelli: Italian; O’Hara: Irish; De Haan: German, etc.). There is some very crude exposition here as Salamar (played dreadfully by Prentis Hancock, possibly the worst guest actor to have appeared in the programme more than twice) goes through the hierarchy of the ship to help the audience. While I’m on the subject Ewen Solon and Frederick Jaeger are the standouts among the guest cast here; suggestions that this is because they’d worked together on The Savages almost a decade earlier always seem a bit tenuous to me, but whatever the reason they are both excellent.

The shrivelled bodies left by the antimatter monster are gruesome in the extreme, even though after a while it becomes obvious that there is only one corpse prop that gets dressed up differently each time. There is a thorough explanation of the cause of death which isn’t really necessary as the mode of the killings aren’t directly relevant to the story; nevertheless it’s seriously creepy and if I’d seen this when I was very young (I didn’t, and if I’m honest it was probably for the best, I was a sensitive soul as a nipper) it would have provided some serious nightmare material.

Elisabeth Sladen’s “can’t breathe” acting is absolutely identical to other stories where she’s been cut off from oxygen (The Ark In Space, Terror Of The Zygons…do you think the production team where subtly hinting at something here? Nah), but she’s still brilliant. In fact, she’s so superior in her scenes featuring Hancock that I can’t shake the feeling she was mocking him. There’s also a nice piece of direction here where the shot of the tool she’s holding cuts to a shot of its empty place on a rack, although I notice that there seem to be some focussing problems when there are sudden movements in this episode.

Baker’s constant boggle-eyed expression is an exaggeration top his performance that I hadn’t thought had kicked in yet; it’s a shame as it’s things like that that show why he could have been the best actor to play the role yet wasn’t. The cliffhanger to the first episode is brilliant though, as the antimatter monster is revealed for the first time: it shows Hinchcliffe’s habit of finding out if special effects can be done well beforehand (surely just common sense, but you’d be amazed). Also, it utilises the image-loss effect that happens whenever something shiny is CSO’d; I always love it when what are normally problems for lesser producers and directors are integrated and used to produce great results. It strikes me as slightly odd though that the Doctor and Sarah leg it off into the jungle to let O’Hara get thrashed. Haydn Wood’s death-throes are good though, and some good direction shows the beast looming over him. The Morestran gunshots are more good effects (see how it pays to keep it simple?), although they do appear to hit Sarah as she runs off into the jungle.

The dawn sequence is amazingly atmospheric as the Doctor and Sarah hide from the monster, a scene helped by the Doctor quoting from Shakespeare (Romeo And Juliet III.v.9-10, by the way). I’d say that the film-recorded jungle scenes in this story are the best the programme ever did from a purely visual point of view. The oculoid tracker has a silly big eye but other than that it works fine as well, and I love the shots of it weaving through the vegetation.

The idea of the pool between the worlds is great (a sort of macabre version of The Magician’s Nephew), but only let down by being in fact described as a pool and it’s presented as being a simple hole. If they’d had it as that in the first place it may have been better, but I’m nitpicking so never mind. It’s also slightly patronising and lazy how the psychic Doctor has worked out the problem already so that he can talk us through it upon the presentation of some actual evidence. Sorenson provides a bit of explanation about the antimatter, a bad scene turned into a good one by his wholly ignorant foil, De Haan. Michael Wisher, by contrast, having created the most iconic character ever (after the Doctor, obviously) the previous season is here cast in the utterly thankless role of Morelli, and seems thoroughly bored. Can’t say I blame him, really.

The Doctor’s portentous revelation about the nature of the problem is very well written and performed, although the “cataclysm” idea lacks development and is only provided so as to deny the Doctor an excuse to high-tail it out of there. Also, how does Sarah know what the compression units sound like? Do they just come as standard?

Before thoughts of little spaceship mechanics indelibly lodge in my head and distract me I’ll move on and say that the cartoon starburst effect for the force field is actually quite decent if a little silly, and the cliffhanger provides Hinchcliffe with his one freeze frame per season.

The effects for the antimatter void, yet again, are great through their simplicity. Sorenson’s transformation, although similarly well visualised, has come out of nowhere and could have done with being established a bit earlier. Like I said though it looks great, and ironically blurring is used effectively to obscure his features (I’m not sure what the point of that is as we see him pretty clearly pretty soon, but even so).

Morelli being a Morestran Orthodox is more detail than we normally get with alien races (it smacks of Robert Holmes’s influence actually), even though the Morestrans like many other races are just humans by another name.

Hancock gets even worse when trying to be intense; he’s quite painful to watch and lets down the cliffhanger, which otherwise is dramatic and exciting. Episode four then kicks off on all six cylinders, even though I think it’s a mistake setting the story so much on the ship rather than the planet. The idea of an alien loose aboard the ship smacks of fun B-movie It! The Terror From Beyond Space (this was four years before Alien, don’t forget), making it the third major reference of the story, the others being Forbidden Planet and Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde. It may not be original particularly, but it’s good TV all the same. 

The Doctor’s confrontation with Sorenson is another very well written and tense scene, but Hancock gets even worse still which is hard to believe considering he started at the bottom anyway. His death comes as a blessed relief, finishing off the mortality rate (not including nameless cannon-fodder extras, as usual) at a vast 80%. Is it me, or does the special effect of Sorenson’s duplication look like the video of Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’? It does lead to some more great (and scary) effects as the multiple antimen roam the ship.

The resolution isn’t the most dramatic ever, but at least it makes sense. Sorenson survives, which is unusually merciful by this story’s standards, and leads to a charming resolution in which the ship’s two survivors are left to fly it on their own (sorry, unnecessary sarcasm. A fair point though, I think, even given that “emergency refuelling” business).

As far as a final rating goes, Planet Of Evil is a very tricky one to make a decision about. My memory of it was of a clear 5/5, but on re-viewing it’s a borderline between Very Good and Excellent; it would be the best story of a lot of other seasons but given the overall brilliance of season 13 I’m going to grit my teeth and withhold a maximum rating if only to distinguish this story from its peers. I’ll probably regret it later, though.





Pyramids of MarsBookmark and Share

Saturday, 29 October 2005 - Reviewed by Ed Martin

You have to laugh at second-generation clichés, where one cliché is used to avoid using another. For example, how many reviews of The Talons Of Weng-Chiang begin with “classic is such an overused term, but…”? Now, you could argue that I’ve just said the same thing myself in a roundabout and rather smug way, and you’d be right. I also might have just given birth to the third-generation cliché. So before I digress any further I’ll lay my cards down straight: Pyramids Of Mars is an all-time top-tier platinum-card officers’-club classic. Despite this is has its share of detractors, and maybe one day I’ll understand why. Nah, probably not.

It rocks and rolls from the very beginning, with a brilliantly atmospheric introduction in the Egyptian tomb. It’s jarring to see Bernard Archard playing an ordinary bloke as it’s at odds with what I’m used to from the rest of the story, but the idea of him stumbling into a hidden chamber only to be blasted down by an unseen something within is magic. Also of note is Ahmed, the one credited cast member who doesn’t die (and that’s only because he flees for good having uttered his one line); from here on in it’s doom and gloom all the way with a massive 87.5% mortality rate.

The opening TARDIS scene is one of many from this story that had a particular effect on me in my youth, for reasons that will shortly become clear. The dialogue between the regulars is up to Robert Holmes’s usual high standard (apart from the Prince Albert joke which I never laughed at, ever) with the Doctor going through a mid-life crisis moment when suddenly all gives way to one of Doctor Who’s top three scariest moments ever: a transparent, disembodied nightmare-face materialises on the wall of the TARDIS. My word, I had nightmares for weeks and weeks when I was small, and I still feel a bit nervous every time I know the scene is coming up.

It’s a nice idea for once that the TARDIS should arrive too early for once rather than too late, especially because it leads to one of the most successful studio recreations of period detail there ever were. The shot of the sarcophagus in the mirror reminds us that Paddy Russell is at the wheel; a fearsome lady by all accounts but a superb director, so fair enough.

One notable thing about this story is how perfectly it’s constructed, with the first episode building up the premise in layers in order to make sense later. Here then we have unexplained missing professors, walking mummies, and so forth. Collins’s death makes good use of the unseen, with something emerging from a sarcophagus (can you guess what it is yet?). Namin shifting the weightless polystyrene sarcophagus lid looks just like it does every time anyone ever tries to make weightless polystyrene seem heavy, but such trivialities are forgotten with the first sight of one of the mummies: slow, silent, lumbering but unstoppable killers, which look just amazing.

The sight of blood on Warlock’s hand is a funny thing: common in Hinchcliffe (Terror Of The Zygons and The Brain Of Morbius to name two examples just from this season) but rare elsewhere. Perhaps that’s why I can’t make my mind up about whether it’s jarring or not. I’ll admit it though, the first episode does contain too much running about in the woods. That said it is one of the most effective uses of location ever with the mummies looking amazing as they stalk between the trees, and Dudley Simpson scores it with some of his best ever work.

Now we meet the late Michael Sheard putting in a bumbling but sympathetic performance as Laurence Scarman, and the dialogue between him and the Doctor over the marconiscope is priceless. “Beware Sutekh” provides us with the next layer of the plot; those who criticise the “glacial pace” of the original series (step forward Radio Times, turncoat that y’are) should be silenced by this expertly constructed yet deliberately slow-paced story.

I’ve always thought that the space / time vortex effect looks like a load of flying smarties, but it’s actually a pretty good effect for the time and in this instance it leads to one of the most terrifying cliffhangers of them all. The black-clad figure, whose footsteps cause the floor to smoulder, striding forward to kill his loyal servant…and some people don’t like this.

With the intro over part two starts telling us how all the pieces fit together, and so begins the most exposition-heavy episode that concerns itself about mummies building rockets and power sources on Mars. It’s well written and a great concept though, so you’ll not here complaints from me. I also get some ironic humour from the idea of Egyptian aliens being worshipped as gods – maybe the new series got its giant budget from Stargate’s royalty payments.

The Doctor getting caught in the vortex is a very contrived way of getting the TARDIS key to Sutekh (and yet the Doctor has a spare, handily) and lacks explanation apart from that “parallax coil” jive which is no help to anyone. However, the following scene of the mummy being caught in the badger trap in the dawn light is as atmospheric a moment as the series has ever made. This is followed by the deflector shield, leading to a brilliant effect as Clements throws a stick at it. Clements is really just a means of showcasing Sutekh’s power, and this simple task is performed very well indeed. After this comes another great moment: the death of Warlock is chilling in the extreme, featuring a brilliant performance from Bernard Archard.

The priest-hole scene shows up the limitations of the time as all characters have to stay facing the camera rather than each other. However, Marcus’s comment that “there are other humans within these walls” is a brilliant bit of wordplay that I’d never noticed before and the sight of him getting shot in the back only for the bullet to come hurtling out again is one of the show’s defining moments. 

Laurence sees inside the TARDIS – now he has to die. The return to 1980 is a wonderful moment (and freaky to people watching this in 1975), and puts some thought into Sarah’s question which is often asked about time travel.

The swirls as Sutekh communicates with Scarman are much more effective than the Tunnel of Smarties; this is our fist experience of Gabriel Woolf’s virtuoso vocal performance as Sutekh. The casting is perfect; and to think Hinchcliffe wanted to use a ranting “bwa-ha-ha” type.

Clements’s death is shocking in the extreme; how did this story ever get a U certificate? The cliffhanger lingers a bit too long though, with everyone holding their poses for the sting. This requires a bit of judicial editing for the reprise in part three, and thankfully it gets it.

Well, we know the plot now, so the goodies spring into action. The Doctor’s dismantling of the generator loop is a very tense scene with some good interplay between the Doctor and Sarah – but then, you have to spice up sonic screwdriver scenes somehow (SSSS…er, isn’t that taking alliteration a little too far?). The scene in Clements’s shed is fun amidst the seriousness, as Laurence’s death is unbearably intense (I had to skip forward through this when I was young). The Doctor’s reaction is an enlightening bit of characterisation and shows the regulars at the top of their game. The only thing that makes me wonder is the fact that Laurence’s body is still rocking in his chair when the Doctor walks in so Marcus could only have left seconds earlier, and yet nobody saw him.

Sarah’s missed a vocation as a costumer because her dressing up of the Doctor is flawless, rendering the covering line of “it doesn’t have to be perfect” redundant. She’s also a crack shot with a rifle, for some reason. This kind of contrivance I have a problem with. It’s a nice twist though to have Sutekh’s original plan failing at the end of part three; there’s no better way to pad a story up to length.

The Doctor’s confrontation with Sutekh is one of the show’s best ever scenes, as the two talk together almost as equals even though the Doctor remains firmly in the villain’s power. It’s let down by the sight of the TARDIS key wobbling about on a piece of string, but raised again with the possessed Doctor – will he make it?

Handily, Horus has filled the Pyramid of Mars with an oxygen atmosphere. I always liked the travel through the pyramid (I have a particular soft spot for The Crystal Maze), and the logic puzzle scene with Sarah trapped is fantastic – people still ask that riddle as if there isn’t an easy answer. However, the roll-back-and-mix effects are slightly crude in this story. Scarman’s final death is another spooky moment.

As Sutekh has apparently one the scene is set for a seriously dramatic showdown, but unfortunately endings was where Holmes’s genius often tended to falter a bit, as here he presents some naff deus ex machina worthy of Russell T. Davies himself: the Doctor grabs a random bit of machinery from the TARDIS and confines Sutekh to the Tunnel of Smarties forevermore. At least he won’t go hungry, and it leads to a great final shot of the priory burning down.

The disappointing ending is not enough to knock this story down of its pedestal. Always a defining episode of the show, despite naysayers I’m confident it will always be a favourite. It’ll certainly always be a favourite of mine – what more is there to say?