The DaleksBookmark and Share

Friday, 24 March 2006 - Reviewed by Adam Kintopf

I am anything but an expert on the Hartnell years, and I'll admit I approached this story with some hesitation, having recently been (very) disappointed by the dishwater-dull 'Dalek Invasion of Earth.' But I was actually pleasantly surprised (and sometimes delighted) by 'The Daleks' – it's a stylish and moody piece of television, full of memorable moments and challenging ideas. As a product of its time, it's undeniably pokey, of course, and will seem a bit padded to the uninitiated (the 'bacon and eggs' scene, e.g., is one I could have done without). Probably its biggest problem, of course, is the abrupt conclusion, where, as in the next Dalek story, the fearsome cyborg monstrosities are ultimately defeated by three or four unarmed men rushing up to them and pushing them over. It's a serious disappointment, but it can't undo the many successes of the story, and overall 'The Daleks' is consistently entertaining, a fitting debut for the Doctor's legendary enemies. 

One of the best things the story does from the very outset is to convey Ian and Barbara's continuing shock at what has happened to them, and their doubts about whether the Doctor can actually get them home at all. William Russell and Jacqueline Hill play their anger and fear quite convincingly in the opening scenes, and truly, the series might not depict the disorienting shock of space and time travel so well again until the Ninth Doctor picks up Rose, more than forty years later. (And, as with Rose, the characters of Ian and Barbara are used as a lens through which we see not only the reality of time travel, but the strange and alien Doctor as well.)

Once the story gets going, there are many moments that stand out as genuine classics, of course. Such examples as the mutant's claw creeping out from under the blanket and the first cliffhanger with Barbara are rightly singled out by fans, but for me the most seminal moment is the exchange after the Daleks reveal their plan to wipe out the Thals. When the Doctor incredulously fumes "That's sheer murder!" and the Dalek responds: "NO – EXTERMINATION," it's a chilling moment that spins out over the course of this series – we see how clearly different the Daleks' worldview is from the Doctor's (and ours), but we also see his mind working, and understand how his first encounter with his oldest enemies helped form the righteous indignation that would guide the character through the rest of this series. As for William Hartnell's performance itself, he stumbles once or twice in Episode One, but in general he's in terrific form. The First Doctor here is a fascinating character study – he's admittedly old and tired (Susan even apologizes to Ian and Barbara for his forgetfulness), but he also shows a surprising energy, driven, it seems, by his intellectual curiosity. He's hardly a superhero, or even much of a hero at all: indeed, he's selfish and scheming when tricking the TARDIS crew into accompanying him to the mysterious city, and harsh and cold when suggesting he'll leave Ian and Barbara on Skaro, or insisting that they use the Thals as cannon fodder for the Daleks so they can escape. But, as I said, he's increasingly moral and humane too, and of course he's quite funny in such scenes as his argument with Ian in Episode One.

As for Ian, the treatment of his character is rather dated - he comes off as a bit bossy, and more than a bit sexist, when he refuses to believe either woman alone could (or should?) be trusted with the drug-retrieving mission in Episode Two, or when he sends Barbara and Susan out of the room so that the men-folk can deal with the Dalek mutant. (Gee whiz, Dad . . . .) But Barbara comes off rather better, showing imagination and independence here, and acting as a great stand-in for the viewer when wandering alone in the frightening city in Episode One. Another writer once pointed out that a 'mature' female companion like Barbara wouldn't really be seen again in this series; it's true, and it's too bad. If only you could say the same thing for Susan, whose shrieking and sobbing here provide a sad precedent for many girl companions to come . . . .

As for the non-regular characters, Mark Campbell has notably criticized the treatment of the Thals, summing up 'The Daleks' as "a questionable morality tale whereby 'ugly = bad' and 'pretty = good,'" and it is a legitimate point. In particular, the way in which Susan and the rest of the TARDIS crew instinctively trust the Thals simply because they're well-formed physically is annoying. But in all fairness, there's more to the story's philosophy than that – after all, the beauty of the Thals is less linked with their 'goodness' than with their pacifism, which it should be remembered is *criticized* by the script (however respectfully). The individual Thals are rather blandly characterized, and the overtly philosophical dialogue is occasionally heavy-handed (Terry Nation seems more interested in giving them symbolic things to *do* than believable things to *say*). Still, one has to admire the seriousness with which the theme is approached – especially in the context of a fledgling children's TV show!

And then there is the presentation of the Daleks themselves, of course. The physical travel machines work well – the image of a Dalek is one so familiar to us that it's worth reminding ourselves how strange and alien Raymond Cusick's design actually is. In a series known for passing off stuntmen in rubber masks as aliens, it's wonderful to see such a convincingly alien concept - there's absolutely nothing recognizably human about a Dalek. It's astonishing that Sydney Newman responded so poorly to such an original idea, in fact. The dilating eye is particularly disturbing (one wonders, actually, why Russell T. Davies didn't return to it with the Eccleston series), the machines glide rather quickly and smoothly, and even small touches like the Daleks passing a sheet of paper from one sucker arm to another is surprisingly impressive. 

As for their characterization, at this point, Terry Nation had not yet developed the arsenal of Dalek dialogue 'chestnuts' that he and other writers would use (and overuse) through the years ("I OBEY," "STAY WHERE YOU ARE – DO NOT MOVE," etc.); nevertheless, the Daleks make a tremendous impact in their voice and speech here. They are harsh and intimidating, certainly, in such scenes as the one where they force Susan to write her note, but rather than simply screeching slogans as they do in later stories like the overrated 'Remembrance,' these Daleks actually *think* as well, and demonstrate much personality. They are paranoid, interrupting and challenging even each other, and jittery, as when the guard Dalek orders the prisoners to move away from the sides of the door. They also show much evidence of their cunning and scientific approach, spying on their prisoners and analyzing their conversations (they are not for an instant fooled by the silly 'fight' the TARDIS crew use to disconnect their camera). Significantly, their intellects are shown to be as impenetrable as their armor – even the Doctor can't outtalk them (when he tries to stall them by telling them about the TARDIS, they are interested, but have no doubt they'll be able to comprehend its technology themselves after his death). And they are resourceful problem-solvers too, quickly burning through the blocked door, and conducting immediate experiments to determine the effects of the Thal drugs (and, just as quickly, learning how to counter them). But perhaps the most surprising thing about their characterization here is how *sad* these Daleks are – for one of the most notable things the story does is expose the Big Lie of Dalek superiority. After all, the first thing the Daleks do with the Thals' anti-radiation drugs is try to *cure* themselves, to rid themselves of their 'Dalek-ness.' It is only when the drugs fail, and they are left with no other choice, that they rationalize their compromised form, and convince themselves that their weakness is in fact the key to ultimate strength.

Just about every other aesthetic element of the story satisfies. The Dalek city is beautifully designed, and looks all the scarier and more distorted for being in black and white. The whirlpool in Episode Five is very impressive for the time, and the script does a good job of sprinkling its thematic content throughout a 'Lord of the Rings'-esque quest adventure. Finally, the seemingly intentional double entendre "Now there's a double meaning for you" is a shockingly risqué line. I gasped when I heard it . . . and I'm not easily shocked.

FILTER: - Series 1 - First Doctor - Television

The KrotonsBookmark and Share

Friday, 24 March 2006 - Reviewed by Ed Martin

Stories written by Robert Holmes that aren't classics tend to provoke one of two reactions: either vitriolic criticism disproportionate to other stories of a similar quality (such as with The Power Of Kroll), or else people come up with an excuse as to why Holmes wasn't on form. The Krotons being his first story, most of its bad points can be excused there and then for many fans – although the fact that they have to be excused in the first place logically means that the story can't be that good. However, when taken on its own terms The Krotons isn't that bad and I don't really think it's fair that it's crushed under the weight of Holmes's later work. Also, as his first story, there's no doubting that for better or worse this is an important story for Doctor Who.

So a hatch gets stuck. Big deal. Why do people complain about this and not the wobbling ladder in Warrior's Gate? Because the goof occurs in the very first shot of the story, that's why not, and so there's no mitigation at this point in the way of quality elsewhere to offset it, so it gets inflated in the mind of the viewer into something more significant than it really is. Normally I try to avoid mentioning things that are criticised into the ground elsewhere, but I believe that the opening shot to this story has come under a lot of unjustified fire. However, the opening scene in general isn't actually that great. Opening scenes are rarely the programme's strongest feature, as the setting and basic core idea must be established without actually giving anything away; with this story (and many more) we get a variation on the portentous "you mustn't go in there – you know what will happen" that you'd expect to find getting a lot of coos from a pantomime audience.

Fortunately the regulars can be relied on to rock and roll, although since this is a Patrick Troughton episode it's debatable whether I needed to point that out. The Gond city is a good model, and the Doctor's comment about architecture being suited to low gravity is the kind of trademark tiny detail that gives Holmes's work so much depth and nuance. Unfortunately Zoe spends this episode being very stupid indeed ("There's a ramp, Doctor. And a door. Is it a wall?"), which is a shame as it lets the side down a bit. However, as I said, there's very little that Troughton can't make work. The death of the student is a nicely dramatic moment that moves the episode on from the opening's characteristic staginess.

The main set of the Gonds' learning hall looks decent as, like with a lot of black and white episodes, heavy contrast in lighting obscures the details and the depth making it look less confined and studioish. Now that the plot has been revealed a little bit more things are really starting to improve, and Philip Madoc puts in a brilliant performance like in all his subsequent appearances on the show.

The rescue of Vana is another dramatic scene, although Zoe's comment of "I think I can hear something!" as a loud buzzing rumbles across the landscape still places her IQ at sea level for the episode. I normally dismiss comments about the original series being sexist, but when companions chiefly characterised as genii are written to be so dim just to give the Doctor some foil I start to think they may have a point. The Doctor complaining about the loss of an umbrella is one of my favourite moments in the story (even at this stage Holmes was a handy man with a one-liner), and his protestation of "I'm not a doctor of medicine" is the first of many contradictions about the Doctor's academic status we see throughout the show; I like to think that the nature of the Doctor's degree is open to change depending on what he finds convenient.

I have to say though that some of the guest acting is over the top and portentous, especially the custodian of the learning hall, when compared against Troughton. Perhaps this is a reason for the story's poor reputation; I'm no statistician, but I note that stories notable for poor acting rarely feature in peoples' top ten lists.

The Doctor's darkly thoughtful assessment of "self-perpetuating slavery" is wonderfully dramatic and shows how well Troughton understood and keyed into the power of understatement as opposed to the manic we're-all-going-to-die acting of the guest stars. The Kroton voices are amazing, made all the better by us not being able to see where they are coming from at this stage. Unfortunately, next episode Patrick Tull's Cockney accent lets them down a bit (come to think of it, seeing them lets them down). Even in the self-consciously progressive 21st Century regional dialects haven't made their way into monsters, and they certainly don't sound very serious in the 1960s. It's unfair, there's no doubting, but can you imagine the reaction if the Empty Child was from Birmingham? It'd get laughed at, that's what would happen, and by the people who complain that the original series is too parochial. Coomin' ta find ya Moomay!

The snake-scanner-weapon-thingy is actually quite creepy, again because of the sense of the unknown (I just can't get enough of that), and it makes for the story's best cliffhanger. With part two coming along a bit more plot can be revealed, and the idea that the Krotons are only teaching the Gonds what they can't use to rebel against their oppressors is very 1984 when you think about it. There is a very well constructed scene at the beginning of the second episode, as Zoe uses the learning machine just as the Doctor discovers what's in the underhalls so that a sense of mystery is set up as the explanation of what's down there has to be broken off partway through.

The Doctor's line of "great jumping gobstoppers" is one that I would imagine gets very different reactions from viewers, either supporting or undermining my earlier comment about Holmes and one-liners depending on how much you want to see an episode written by Enid Blyton. Although I quite like the line it's not helped by the fact that this expression of surprise refers to a piddling little dinner gong – something that the Doctor himself remarks on.

The Doctor's test is one of the story's two main comic-relief scenes; normally for my sins I get a bit sniffy about this sort of thing but it has a witty charm (not to mention great acting) that puts it far ahead of the clever-clever approach adopted in episodes like The End Of The World. The idea that the machines plant emotions in the minds of the users to make them feel valued is a great one. 

Using a chain to protect themselves from the Krotons' force field is a minor contrivance but helped by the brilliant shots of it breaking under the strain; also, the brain-scan sequence has to be one of Doctor Who's trippiest moments and I must confess I can't watch it without wanting to sing 'Tomorrow Never Knows' to myself. The Krotons' first appearance is also great (to the extent where their actual look is even more of a disappointment) with them slowly appearing in their tanks while the Doctor shows genuine concern. As I mentioned though, the Krotons look ridiculous (it's easy to see how the rumour that they were designed by a kid who won Blue Peter competition started – no disrespect to kids, but you know what I mean), and the cliffhanger to the second episode is distinctly average. It's more notable in the third episode than the second, but the Krotons seems to have gone in for some seriously natty '60s décor for the Dynatrope, with those black and white spirals on the monitor screens.

Selris's argument with Thara about attacking the Krotons is actually a very well related anti-war sentiment; when a fictional war is used it reduces war to an abstract concept meaning that ideas related to it don't date or become inappropriate with time to the extent that I think they will do in, for example, World War Three. The Krotons obsession with "procedure" makes them sound like Douglas Adams's Vogons, as a Kroton makes its way very slowly across the wasteland to the TARDIS. I have to say that the story has slowed down dramatically (it is an episode three; if I was to say that Holmes is usually quite good at them I'll be violating a point I made in my introduction about not judging the story by his future episodes, so I won't). By this stage, the "should we attack the Krotons / shouldn't we" argument is going on too long.

The HADS are a big contrivance, a bit like the pause control from The Android Invasion, which crops up once to get the TARDIS out of a tight spot and then is never seen again. However, "you can tell that the Captain is not at the helm" is another great line.

The chemistry scene is another comic relief scene although this one is based on slapstick rather than witticisms, but it still has a lot of inoffensive charm. This can be contrasted with Selris's death which seems slightly disturbing given that he's such a hapless character and that the mortality rate in this story is actually fairly low, at 33.3% not including the Krotons themselves. The Doctor and Zoe playing for time is another fun scene, and the shots of the Krotons and the Dynatrope dissolving look great.

All in all, The Krotons is a distinctly average story; average does not mean bad. Possibly the final word has to be that maybe, with far stronger stories like The Power Of The Daleks and The Web Of Fear missing from the archives, there is a certain amount of bitterness over what the BBC decided to keep.

FILTER: - Television - Second Doctor - Series 6

The Sea DevilsBookmark and Share

Friday, 24 March 2006 - Reviewed by Robert Tymec

Yet another classic example of fan nostalgia versus actual story content. 

Don't get me wrong, here, "Sea Devils" is not completely awful. It's more so a case of not being half as good (in my view, at least) as the fanboys who grew up in that era try to make it out to be. I am frequently amused by the complaints levelled at 80s Who (the era I grew up with) since so much of the problems that fans had with stories in this time period exist in equal or oftentimes greater abundance in 70s stories like the "Sea Devils". But these problems seem, for the most part, to go unnoticed by most of fandom because this is the great "uncriticizable" golden era of Doctor Who. 

First off, we'll start with what I notice most in any form of entertainment I watch: the actual story. Next to big bad Robby Holmes himself, Malcolm Hulke is my second-favourite writer for the original series. His scripts were, oftentimes, the most maturely-written three-dimensional stories the show ever produced. But here, Malcolm falls a bit short. He really gives us a pretty threadbare plotline that could barely stand up to a four episode format - forget that he's been given a six-parter! So, to try to fill the gaps, he gives us lots of captures and escapes (not something that is entirely new to the series, of course, but boy does he lay it on heavy here) and attempts at cheap thrills that look even cheaper, these days, because the story is now 30 years old. This makes my disappointment in the story all the more poignant. I expected so much more from the pen of such a great author. 

He also delivers a few really big wallops of super-shaky plotting. The most obvious one being his apparent hope that we will forget basic geography as the episodes progress. The Master is supposed to be imprisoned out on an island that seems to only be accessible by boat. Yet, everyone, by episode three, seems to be zipping back and forth to the prison via land rovers. How exactly did this happen? Did a bridge get built somewhere between episodes? Yes, bad plotting is something that can happen in Who-scripts sometimes - particularly since it is an episode-based series. But this error, to me, borders on the unforgivable. Didn't someone in production pick up on this problem? Obviously not, since there are some other wobbly plot elements littering the script - (another one being just how long the Master is able to sit around not unplugging a highly disruptive machine that is totally screwing over the Sea-Devils in episode six!) - this whole "island that is not" issue is just one of the bigger ones! 

Equally shaky are some of his characterisations. Trenchard's alliance with the Master seems completely unbelievable - even if he is supposed to be something of a fool (which gets me to wonder, right there, why the British government would put such a bumbler in charge of keeping an eye on a criminal mastermind who is so dangerous that he got his own special prison). It's barely stated as to why he is even letting the Master do what he's doing. We get some vague sense that the Master has appealed to his sense of patriotism and perhaps his desire for glory. But it almost seems more like it was just Malcolm going along with that notorious "Pertwee-era formulae". The Master always recruits someone from Earth to help him execute his plans so, this time, it's Trenchard. And we're just supposed to accept that cause that's the way the formula works. Quit looking too hard at the plot, little fanboy, just enjoy the formulae. Which is still my biggest qualm with much of what was done in the Pertwee era. 

This problem persists through most of this story. Even the Master's motivation to re-awaken the Sea Devils seems kind of inconsistent and even somewhat preposterous. If this were the more mean and twisted Ainley Master, I might be able to accept what he was up to. Because the Ainley Master had, pretty well, gone insane in his attempts to artificially extend his life. Therefore, strange, warped motivations could be somewhat acceptable. But the Master, at this stage of his life (or, more appropriately, lives), is supposed to be much more calculating and interested in supremacy rather than just "making bad things happen". Yet, suddenly, for no real reason that seems to benefit him directly, he wants to release the former masters of Earth and bring down humanity. Just doesn't seem to make sense in my view of the character's progression. If, perhaps, Hulke had taken a moment to give the Master some sort of dialogue to explain that maybe his prison term had given him a thirst for revenge on Earth or something similar to that - I might have accepted it. But we get none of that. So, instead, we're just supposed to accept the stereotypical "the Master is up to something really bad" formulae and not question things too hard. Again, very typical of this era. 

Now, I'll slow down a bit on my criticism and try to formulate some good points about this tale. 

The story is off to a very promising start. Hulke - as well as the performances of Delgado and Pertwee - all do a great job of deepening the relationship between Master and Doctor. I really liked how this played out. Except that, as I pointed out earlier, all this deliberate attempt to display the isolation the Master is facing causes the story's geography to fall apart later! 

Sadly, as I try to get through several other good points of this story - they oftentimes have a "shadow of flaw" following them too. Another great example of this would be the swordfight between the Master and the Doctor. Easily one of the best swordfights in the show's history. I get a real impression here that both Delgado and Pertwee have a considerable background in swordfighting (which most of classically-trained actors of the time would) and they really perform the duel masterfully. But, once more, if we look past the window-dressing plot element, we see a fundamental flaw. Who, in God's name, arranges several sets of sharpened swords directly outside the cell of a prisoner in a maximum security prison?! Once again, something that is set up for the execution of formulae rather than genuine plot. 

The same can also be said of one of the other famous traits of this story. That of the huge cast that it had. It was neat to see so many characters in one story but it does almost seem like, rather than develop storyline properly, the author chose to just keep introducing as many new characters as he could in hopes that getting to know them would keep us distracted from the underlying flaws of the plot. 

Okay, okay, I'll look for some genuine strengths to this story! I certainly like that we got a Pertwee story taking place during his exile where UNIT wasn't actually used to fight the menace. Yes, there was still millitairy involvement but it was nice to see that other factions of the millitairy exist in the Whoniverse besides UNIT. And how the Doctor must deal with things differently because he doesn't have the familiarity with this millitairy organisation that he does with the Brig and the boys. A neat direction to take the story in.

I also liked the concept of the Sea Devils and the way they return us to the idea Hulke first explored so beautifully in "The Silurians" of how we would all react if we suddenly realised we might have to share our planet with someone else as sentient as us. I even think he made a good choice by not getting too much into this idea again (since it had been explored quite adequately in Silurians) and focussing more on action and battle rather than debate and pontification. It sort of even gives us the sense that the Sea Devils are more of a war-like or even subservient culture and that the Silurians are the real leaders. Something we see fleshed out many years later when both species return in "Warriors of the Deep". 

I also think this is a spectacularly well-directed story, in many ways. It has some excellent battle sequences that exceeded the limitations of low-budget 70s T.V. (yes, I remember noting earlier how "cheap" the story looks in places - but now I'm trying to get validly contextual in my analysis rather than contradicting myself!). I'm even willing to admit that a couple of those action shots look pretty gosh-darned good by even modern-day standards. As well, there are some really memorable shots, in general, that I thought were highly effective. The creepy close-up of the bureaucrat's mouth as he explains that "war is hell -what's for breakfast?" being one of the best examples. 

Even the music, believe it or not, didn't annoy me much. The show was trying a different approach with the incidental music and - although it was wildly intrusive in most places - it was neat to, at least, see them try something new and different. How's that for a massively differing opinion from general fandom?! 

But then, I rather get the impression that this review, in general, is differing from the opinion of general fandomn! Sorry, worshippers of the holy Petwee, but I really don't think there's much here. Again, not completely awful - but not the "shining piece of glory" most of you claim it to be. This is made even more glaringly obvious by the fact that someone as magnificent as Malcolm Hulke should not have cranked out such a flimsy, formulae-driven piece. I almost have to wonder if some radical changes occurred after Hulke passed it on to the production team. The whole story seems to be a watered-down version of his story-telling skills with various "chills, spills and action" elements turned up intentionally. 

"Below-par" Who, in my opinion. But I get the impression I'm pretty alone in it!

FILTER: - Television - Series 9 - Third Doctor

The Green DeathBookmark and Share

Friday, 24 March 2006 - Reviewed by Shane Anderson

The Green Death' is a genuine Doctor Who classic. Aliens tend to invade Earth far too often to be believed in the Doctor Who universe (why would so many different races want to invade our one little planet?), but 'The Green Death' thankfully avoids this cliche by telling the story of the fairly mundane and earthbound problem of pollution, and then makes it interesting by adding the Doctor Who staple ingredient of monsters in the form of the giant maggots. The anti-capitalist sermonizing is heavy-handed, but the story manages to transcend that and remain a solid and entertaining chapter in the Doctor's adventures. 

The plot is sound, though I'm not sure we ever learn exactly who built BOSS (he does mention his creators without going into much detail). Global Chemicals, a presumably multinational corporation headquartered in Wales, has developed a new process for producing greater quantities of gasoline from crude oil. While more efficient, this process also creates a dangerous by-product in the form of a toxic green sludge which can't be broken down or destroyed, so it must be stored. Global's solution is to pump the sludge down into a recently disused coal mine, where it will supposedly remain buried. Out of sight, out of mind. It's never that simple of course, and in true Doctor Who fashion, there are monstrous results. The sludge mutates maggots, causing them to grow to giant proportions and evidently grow fangs and learn to jump. The sludge also begins to kill people on contact, hence the "green death™ of the title. All of this happens before the story proper begins, and then UNIT is drawn into events, initially to provide security for Global Chemicals but also to investigate the death of the miner. The bulk of the televised story is spent exploring the mystery of the mines, and then spent trying to deal with the threat from the maggots, and deal with Global Chemicals and BOSS. The story works well over six episodes, revealing first one layer of the mystery and then another. We get plenty of good material and character moments for the Doctor, the Brigadier, Benton and Yates. The trip to Metebelis 3 that has been attempted all season is finally taken by the Doctor, with both useful and funny results. Oh, and Jo Grant falls in love in a remarkably short amount of time and leaves to get married at the end of the story. 

I often discuss the characters first when I'm reviewing, but in this case I'd like to address the philosophy behind the tale, since unlike most other Doctor Who stories, here the moral not only takes center stage, but is the reason behind the story's creation. Like most sane people in the world I'm certainly pro-environment, but I get very tired of corporation-bashers who insist that large, international corporate entities do nothing but pollute the planet, use up resources and trample the little guy. It's a blatant and lazy stereotype, and we are presented with just such an unbalanced picture in this story. The approach taken is a cowardly one though, since real issues are ducked by presenting us an evil polluting corporation run not by humans, but by a megalomaniac computer, the BOSS. The only employees we see are a few upper echelon executives and about a dozen security guards, and sooner or later they all come under the mental subjugation of BOSS, leaving little room to cast the moral blame for Global Chemical's pollution at their feet. The good ones like Elgin and Fell are eventually brainwashed when they rebel against profit at all costs, and Stevens, who is the main antagonist for UNIT and the chief legman for BOSS, even he repents when his mind is cleared by the Doctor. The story seems to indict the corporate system and the capitalism that drives it as irredeemable, and sends the message that even good people like Elgin can't help but be destroyed by it. Which is of course, utter nonsense. 

One of the problems with that point of view is its one-sidedness. It's not universally true by any stretch of the imagination. Now I had initially hoped that having both moral and immoral executives in Global Chemicals was an attempt at balance, but it doesn't seem to be. We are presented with another myth: the 'back to nature = golden age' myth, embodied by our unbelievably well-educated and Nobel prize winning hippies at the Wholeweal community. The contrast between the well-groomed, well-spoken, affluent corporate executives who are nonetheless either immoral or caught up in the immoral system, and the educated but happy dropouts working for the betterment of mankind couldn't be more pronounced. It's also far removed from reality since the hippy movement was generally selfish, and based on abandoning society rather than bettering it. The reason I say that this group of hippies destroys any attempt at balance is that while there are moral and immoral characters at Global, there are no correspondingly equal immoral Wholewealers. They're all idealistic and on the right track. While lovely characters, they're just too good to be true. 

So we have evil corporation vs. good societal dropouts. This is the story setup, and it comes from a philosophical point of view I profoundly disagree with, and yet I've given the story high praise at the beginning of this review. I've gone so far as to call it a classic, and I hold to that. Despite the philosophy behind much of the story, the idea that we must take care of our environment is as true today as it was in 1973. That alone isn't enough to elevate The Green Death to the status of a classic, but add to that the fact that the story itself is solid, with plenty of scope for all the regulars, and a good amount of drama, and that goes a long way to making this story stand out from many of its peers. The plot is multi-layered. It sets up the mystery of what killed the miner, then solves that by showing us the pollutants in the mine and the maggots, which raises the question of where those came from. That question is answered, but then we are left with the question of who it is that has been talking to Stevens and compelling him to 'process' people. That question is then answered, and still we are left with the mystery of just what the computer plans and how it can be stopped. Add to that the subplot about Jo growing up and striking out on her own, and how the Doctor reacts to her imminent departure, and you have a story full of progression, questions, and twists, with some excellent character drama that fits well into the Doctor Who format. The Green Death is well-written and structured, and for that the author and production team deserve credit. 

The story makes good use of all the characters, with the UNIT regulars all receiving good roles. The Brigadier is the most prominent, and he gets the usual mixed characterization that you find at this point in the series. He's straightforward and sceptical when dealing with Stevens, yet seemingly unable to start his investigation of the mine without the Doctor. It may well be that experience has taught him that he won't find the answers on his own, but the Brigadier of 'The Invasion' and 'Spearhead from Space' is proactive, and very much his own man. The way he often dithers while waiting on the Doctor weakens his character considerably. Still, in this story Lethbridge-Stewart stands up to Stevens and a cabinet minister with dignity and diplomacy, and takes his dressing-down from the Prime Minister without looking like an idiot. He also benefits from a chance to let his hair down so to speak and get out of uniform for much of the story. The dinner at Wholeweal where he's enjoying his meal and cigar and laughing at the dinner table is a great character moment to be sure. We rarely get to see the Brigadier off-duty and enjoying himself, but it's nice to see a different side to him. And despite being duty-bound to obey orders, he inserts Mike Yates into Global Chemicals for a little corporate espionage, which is an eminently sensible action to take. This is a reasonably good story for the Brigadier. The Time Monster and The Three Doctors are perhaps his low points, and here he's on his way back up towards respectability. 

Benton doesn't play much of a role in events, but he's his usual affable self here. From his always-polite approach to Jo, to his good humor while flinging fungus to the maggots, to his rather brave leap over the maggots to rescue Cliff and Jo, he's always likeable. Captain Yates gets to remind us of UNITs occasional use of undercover surveillance by infiltrating Global Chemicals as an ersatz member of the ministry. He's very animated and cheerful here, and shows himself to be fairly capable as well. He gathers enough information to direct the Doctor to the executive elevator, and has enough courage to go back into Global for more information even when his cover is blown. 

This is of course Jo Grant's final story, and her departure is handled well in the sense that it doesn't come from nowhere during the last five minutes of the final episode. If you look back over Katy Manning's three years on the show, her character certainly grew and changed over time to be far more capable, so Jo's desire to strike out on her own is believable and well-handled. What isn't as believable is the rapid attachment to and engagement to Cliff Jones. This story can hardly take more than a few days, and yet the two of them decide to get married in such a short time? I suppose it can happen, but still... probably got divorced about that fast too. Time issues aside, her pulling away from the Doctor is well handled by both Manning and Jon Pertwee, who put in great performances in all respects. 

The Doctor is at his best here, and Pertwee seems to me to be at his most enthusiastic. He is so full of energy and life in this story, and is very enjoyable to watch. Whether gleefully organizing the diversion protest march while he breaks onto the grounds of Global Chemicals, to angrily demanding that the sealing of the mine be stopped, to his shocked _expression as he realizes that he's walked in on Cliff and Jo's romantic encounter, Pertwee gets to show a wide range of acting skills here. Of particular note is his jovial and exuberant banter with BOSS and Stevens when the useless attempt is made to brainwash him. He claims to be having a 'whale of a time' and Pertwee's acting conveys that well. His turn as both the milkman and the cleaning lady are fun as well. On the whole, this is one of his better performances. 

As an aside, I note there are complaints about the depiction of the Welsh in this story. As an American, I don't really know a lot about the apparent stereotypes that are being portrayed, so I can't really address those. Perhaps the Welsh get similar treatment to Southerners in American entertainment, who are often portrayed in popular entertainment as simpletons with exaggerated accents. In any case, from my point of view the Welsh characters in this story seem to be solid, admirable people for the short time we get to see them. The miners all seem down to earth and concerned about their fellows, and none strike me as particularly exaggerated. From my point of view, the milkman is the only one who stands out from his fellows with his accent and speech patterns. 

Special effects are pretty poor in some spots, but reasonably good everywhere else. It's hard to find fault with most Doctor Who, a low-budget show that did so well with what they had. Generally a solid effort all around, even if the CSO isn't always successful. 

A note about the DVD: as always, the picture and sound are much improved over my old VHS copy. The commentary that I've listened to so far with Barry Letts, Terrance Dicks and Katy Manning is fun and lively. Mr. Letts is surely one of the most pleasant people who ever worked on the show, and Katy Manning is quite bubbly. It's a pity Jon Pertwee isn't still with us to participate (you know he would have). The extras are interesting, particularly the special effects feature. However, the standout extra has to be the 'Global Conspiracy' feature, with a hilarious 'documentary' about the effect of the Global Chemicals debacle on the town. It's funny and it's also a far more creative way to reassemble some of the cast members than an interview would have been. 

To sum everything up: good solid story and plot, good character moments all around for the regular cast, but with a half-baked philosophy behind it. Not flawless, but yes, a classic Doctor Who adventure that has a little of everything. Well worth watching.

FILTER: - Television - Third Doctor - Series 10

Warriors of the DeepBookmark and Share

Friday, 24 March 2006 - Reviewed by Ewen Campion-Clarke

These ape primitives will die as they have lived. In a sea of their own blood.

When I first saw Warriors of the Deep, the fickle finger of fate meant I had seen all the fifth Doctor stories previous and seen Doctor Who and the Silurians. I watched it and, I admit, I cringed. No, not the Myrka - Solow! She's far more embarrassing, looking stupid, talking stupid, acting stupid. I thought when I saw her in The Time Monster, she was trying to do an Atlantean accent. Here she talks like she's got a broken jaw and is hardly wearing something that could distract from her complete lack of talent like she was armed with in her first adventure. I found her attempt to attack the Myrka shockingly believable. Embarrassing, but, yeah, Solow seems stupid enough to try picking a fist-fight with a sea dragon.Warriors is not a bad story. If this was an audio story (bar the Silurian's voices which I concede are crap), it would be highly regarded, so the plot at least is sound and that's always half the battle. The ideas in this story are very impressive. This is a future where the world could end in nuclear war, but there's no hope that an attack could be a mistake. If Sea Base 4 fires its missiles, it isn't because Karina knocked over her coffee and the whole thing's a dreadful mistake. It need a human being plugged into the computer and the Commander's permission before they can even aim their weaponry, so there's no risk of accidents. Yet, at the same time the whole crew are under the thumb of their computer who is so obtuse no one can tell until the last minute whether this is just a drill or the real thing.

The Doctor says that nothing has changed since 1984, and it's hard to disagree. In fact, it's as relevant today as it was, with security and fear of terrorism at its height and the paranoia that it won't be some hairy monster that wants to kill you as an infidel, but rather the friend you've known your whole life. Its exemplified in the scene where Maddox is ordered to strangle Karina to death, Karina who is the closest thing he's got to a girlfriend and the only person who genuinely cares for him as anything other than a glorified modem. It's a scene far more unsettling than any number of monsters firing machine guns at you, especially as you know Maddox doesn't want to do this and has no control over himself.

Of course, he does this because he's being controlled by enemy agents Neilson and Solow who are working for 'the other power bloc' and are not particularly sympathetic. Solow whines in a monotone that she's a doctor and not that good at murder, and Neilson tells her to shut up (not enough, say I), and after that they're evil villains smiling as they betray their colleagues and murder in cold blood. It would easy to say this power bloc is represented as a bunch of camp psychopaths, but the staff of Sea Base 4 aren't shown in a particularly better light. Bulic is a thug, Preston an uptight bitch and Vorshak not much better. He has no people skills, believing that telling a nervous, twitchy intruder will cooperate if told he will be treated 'with honor'. He ignores the Doctor's advice, continually threatens him with death, and is generally unpleasant. His stiff lines like 'You'll get no help from me, Silurian' come across less as bad acting, and more as good acting. Vorshak is trying to sound tough and failing completely. For all his talk of honor, he runs a base that could wipe out a million civilian population centres, plans to execute unarmed prisoners, and is happy to have people have their minds probed. When Solow tells him that Maddox needs 'rebooting' for humanitarian reasons, it's clearly meant to stir emotion in Vorshak. It fails. He shows no concern for Maddox before, during or after as anything other than a firing key.

This fits with comparing and contrasting Vorshak with Icthar, who is similarly planning to trigger mass bloodshed without a care, isn't interested in the welfare of his 'men' and is a boring conversationalist to boot. Although the Silurians and humans aren't characterized very well, they are shown to be mirror opposites to each other, and it all aides the Doctor's position, caught between two races who both think they were here first and are spoiling for a fight. The humans attack the Silurians without cause, but the Silurians keep attacking the humans knowing the 'ape primitives' can't possibly fight them. Vorshak is prepared to die to stop the missiles firing, and Icthar is prepared to die to fire them. As Turlough points out, just because the Silurians as a species are good, it doesn't change the fact the ones on Sea Base 4 are ruthless genocidal maniacs. But so are Preston and Bulic, and you can't tar humanity for their individual prejudice.Earthshock aside, the fifth Doctor's era is a quiet, calm string of adventures when more often than not it's the bad guys who die, if indeed anyone. But this story dumps the Doctor back in the Earthshock world, where monsters kill all humans, humans kill humans, and no one will listen to the weirdo in the police box. The death and destruction around the Cybermen is no longer a one-off any more. Warriors might as well have begun with the TARDIS fallen through a CVE as it lands in a season of bleak stories where good people die and the righteous don't necessarily triumph. It's like the final season of Tom Baker's Doctor, with the Time Lord finding himself in adventures better suited to his sucessor.

But while the fourth Doctor got depressed and broody, the fifth Doctor tries to swim before he sinks. Warriors of the Deep shows him at his most anarchic, aggressive and desperate so far. He sets the base's nuclear reactor to critical - just as a distraction to stop some guards. The Doctor wields guns, wrestles with guards and sets up laser canons in this story, as if the sharp edges of the fifth Doctor are being brought to the surface in this proper base under siege story. But there is also the Doctor's belief that he can sort this out without violence, that if the humans surrender bloodshed can be avoided. He's right, and it's proved when the Sea Devils do not kill Turlough and Bulic when they drop their guns (Icthar insists that as long as the humans insist on fighting, the Sea Devils will fight back - and win). Anyone complaining that the presence of hexachromite makes the plot obvious misses the point. Its so obvious it's almost a sick joke, with the Doctor being told right away he has the means to wipe out his enemies in one go. The Doctor tries to find another way, not using the gas until the last moments of the episode and even then tries to dilute it so as not to kill the invaders. The reason all the Silurians and Sea Devils die is not down to the Doctor, but because Bulic adds another entire canister to the air supply. Like in The Silurians, it's not the Doctor's methods that fail, but his faith in supporting characters. And when his good intentions have come to naught, when he has failed for a third time to make peace and this time not even saved humanity, something cracks in the Doctor, a development that I'll keep an eye on.

Tegan and Turlough are also given a good slice of the action. Tegan is curious about her future, willing to dive into the reactor tanks without a second thought, and open-minded enough to not object to saving the lives of Silurians - when the Doctor growls he's not sure why he likes humanity, it's not hard to see that Tegan (and others like her) is the answer. She cares for the Doctor, but still stays true to her character, rubbishing the Time Lord's plans and Turlough's cowardice, not to mention the priceless moment when she easily opens the door her companions have been struggling to budge for most of a scene.

Turlough also decides to knuckle down and become a companion rather than a passenger for Warriors. The Doctor openly wonders if Turlough is up to it, and the story nicely shows Turlough trying to prove it. While his instant dismissal of the Doctor being dead seems a bit rash, we see him willingly let the guards capture him in order to give Tegan a chance to escape. It's quite clear that Turlough believes the Doctor is dead, and is not happy about it. He doesn't try to sweet-talk Vorshak and the others, but is furious with them for killing his friend and seems on the point of exploding when the commander dryly speculates "the boy seems to be right". Turlough is even willing to pick up a gun, run through a base of hostiles and threaten Neilson with death in order to give Tegan and the Doctor a chance of survival. But his resolve isn't perfect, and we see when he is locked up and given a chance to think, his first thought is to head for the TARDIS and abandon the others. Ultimately, Preston shames him into going back for them, but the fact she succeeds shows that Turlough isn't beyond redemption. He can be very brave, but only if he convinces himself that he has a chance of surviving and success, and his argument that futility and nobility often get mixed up is true. Vorshak believes doing things for honor, Turlough does them because they are the right thing to do.

But all this is looking beneath the surface, something that the harsh lights and green monsters have put off other reviewers.

The easiest way to enjoy Warriors of the Deep is to look at it not as a show crippled by bad design and acting, but a perfect documentary of the plot. It's very funny that way. For example, all the humans are wearing ludicrous amounts of eye shadow and have a large V sewn onto the backs of their uniforms. Now, that's easily explained. When the Doctor says 'nothing has changed' since Tegan's time, he includes the fashion; and I find it very easy to believe that Vorshak had his initial sewn into the uniforms so that everyone on the base knows the name of the commander. Yes, it is true that the story would be more tense and gripping if the lights were turned down but be serious. This is a military base! It was built and designed for people to live and work in at the bottom of the inky depths! The architect was not going 'I know, if I leave a few light bulbs out, it'll get all gloomy and creepy if some ancient reptiles attack!' was he? And considering how gloomy the corridors are, or the how dark the control room gets during missile runs, I think the story's dark and shadowy enough.

I am of the personal belief that seeing monsters during daylight or in brightly lit room is a great move - OK, it might flag up how crap the outfits are, but on a level it makes them more frightening: these things don't just hide in the dark or only come out at night. Hiding in the light won't stop them following you and killing you. Yes, I know this doesn't excuse the Myrka, but look at it this way - yes, the Myrka looks pathetic and ridiculous. So does the duck-billed platypus, but that has a fatal sting and could kill you. The Myrka is lethal and, worse than that, looks stupid. Being killed by a Dalek or a Cybermen is bad, but being killed by the Myrka is truly horrific - imagine having 'killed by scaly pantomime horse' on your tombstone. No wonder the Silurians use them as weapons, the enemies would run a bloody mile. And on paper, it looks good with its long seaweed beard and clear Sea Devil descent. Isn't it brilliant when it comes across Solow and is totally baffled by her? Surely you can sympathize with it as it confusedly mirrors her kung-fu hand gestures as if trying to understand her? Or how it desperately repeats them as the Doctor fries its brain?

But the Myrka has nothing on the Sea Devils. In the original story, these orange (or are they green?) turtle heads in their string vests looked cool, cute and dangerous as they stormed through prisons and blew up life boats and peered into diving bells... Here, they... they... They're not as good. With those silly inflatable shoulder pads and mini-satellite dish guns, there's a definite failure of style there. But the story gives us more than enough clues to explain the Sea Devils' behavior. When Scibus explains that the Sea Devils never revived on schedule but effectively overslept, you have to wonder what this gang of turtles found so interesting as not to leave the bunker. And we see a shot of the window, beyond which is green smoke.

Did Sauvix and his Sea Devils spend the last sixty five million years sharing bongs and giggling? Watch the story and judge for yourself. The Sea Devil's expressions are frozen somewhere between "I'm shober, honest," and "Whooooooaaaaaa!" As Sauvix boasts that his warriors were revived and ready for battle, we see them barely able to stumble in a straight line. One of the Devils spends the entire attack on the Sea Base staring at the ceiling and aiming his gun at it, as if following a very interesting fly. Two more bump into each other in part four, and few can keep their heads from rolling around the place. And none of them can shoot straight! It takes five attempts before they kill the blinded Neilson who is standing right in front of them! Sauvix's wonderfully drunken "Bring forth... ..., the cutting device!" is almost as brilliant as when he stares intently at the scroll Icthar tells him 'study well'.

As a fighting force, their behavior is criminally pathetic. But if we assume the Sea Devils are all incredibly stoned and trying not giggle, their actions make perfect sense.

And this leads me to Scibus, undeniable the most effective and amusing comic relief character in Doctor Who. Forget Mickey, Duggan or that philosophical bloke from Dragonfire, Scibus deserves his own spin-off TV show for the side-splitting antics he has here. I laughed myself hoarse watching this Silurian's antics, which recalled more of Dougal McGuire in Father Ted than a Silurian officer.

Every second line of Icthar seems to be "Excellent, Scibus", which is said sarcastically, patiently, depressed and bored depending on what Scibus does - for example peering into one of those recycled Cybermen guns despite its Tarpok that's supposed to be using them.

When Icthar asks if the Sea Devil chamber is warm enough for the Silurians to enter, Scibus stares blankly at Icthar for a full three seconds, looks at the door, then back at Icthar and says in a very uncertain voice "... No?"

When Icthar tells Scibus to revive the Sea Devils, Scibus turns back to the door control then presses it, then hastily punches the other controls, clearly thinking "Oh, god it's got to be one of these buttons..."

When Icthar introduces Scibus and Tarpok as his "companions" to Sauvix, Scibus gives a little girly wave to Sauvix, the shameless flirt.

Scibus and Tarpok spend half of episode three looking like Aldo and Royce in Warrior's Gate, carrying a picnic hamper. By the end of the episode, they have mislaid in and appear to be looking for it when Sauvix bumps into them and Icthar hastily asks how the battle's going.

Scibus starts to press controls on the control panel in the last episode with a childish glee, followed by the agonizing wait as he adjusts the position of the Manipulator again and again, as if trying to get the feng shei just right.

His death scene has him make a strange gurgling noise. Which Icthar ignores. So Scibus makes it louder. Before sliding off his stool and hitting the floor. And gurgling again.

Warriors of the Deep ends up something of a rarity in Doctor Who - two completely different stories with the same plot, actors and special effects. If you watch the story, you are rewarded with one of the grimmest, coldest moral dilemma bloodbaths Doctor Who can offer. If you watch the production, you are rewarded with an Earth Reptile version of Dude, Where's My Car.

Utterly entertaining.

FILTER: - Television - Series 21 - Fifth Doctor

FrontiosBookmark and Share

Friday, 24 March 2006 - Reviewed by Ewen Campion-Clarke

The earth is hungry. It waits to eat.

The end of the planet Earth is something that Doctor Who has found itself irresistibly drawn to. In the original outline for the series, the first time we realized this police box was a time machine was when the scanner showed Earth exploding and 'Doctor Who' concluded they had traveled into the future to see this. In the revived series, RTD based a whole story around that in The End of the World. The Ark also showed what humanity was up to during this apocalypse, and both Inferno and Pyramids of Mars upped the stakes by showing the destruction of Earth happening all too soon.

There's something odd about stories set in a universe we're our home planet is no more. Maybe it's just because I live here, but I do get lonely when I experience The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Babylon 5, Blake's 7: The Logic of Empire, Titan AE or just hear that line from The Ark where a character is coldly reminded that "the Earth itself no longer exists". To know my world isn't in the sky... It's not a pleasant thought and I believe it's the reason why all fans, to an extent, were uncomfortable with the idea of Gallifrey being destroyed. Not necessarily for the planet or its inhabitants, but because the Doctor had to feel that feeling from now on. And who'd wish that on anyone?

But Frontios goes further.

All these 'end of the planet Earth' stories contradict themselves to a lesser or greater extent, but they are universally positive. The world doesn't end in Inferno or Pyramids of Mars. Humanity and Monoids get a happy ending in The Ark and the Earth is put out of its misery by an evolved humanity in The End of the World. It is put down to a rite of passage, of accepting one's end, of new hope.

Not in Frontios.

I might complain that it contradicts a good 80% of televised and untelevised Doctor Who, but it's the point. The future we see on Frontios is bleak. Humanity has not touched every star, mingled with alien races, set up an empire that will last a thousand years. Humanity is alone, the other planets are devoid of life, and Earth's civilization is described by the Time Lords as "a group of refugees".

Depressing, isn't it? Grim, bleak, doom-laden... and utterly believable.

Come on, admit it, you've looked up at the night sky and occasionally wondered if there wasn't life out there and the Earth is all there is. Frontios dares to set a story in that thought, and its braver than I am. There are not even any Earth colonies to send help, or outposts in other galaxies. The settlement on Frontios is all there is.

And its dying.

This background is what gives Frontios an edge. I could easily complain the first scene where Bragen and Range do nothing but spout exposition at each other in angry voices, or that Norna has a well-tended mullet and uses the word "chicken" as an insult when she presumably has never seen one in her life before, but it doesn't matter. Maybe those Blake's 7 helmets the orderlies wear are cursed, because they make the bleakest setting and plot I can think of in Doctor Who.

There is a problem in that the bleakness just gets a little too big - the problems are painted on too large a canvas to be comfortable. The colony ship crashes, killing most of the crew before an outbreak of plague slaughters the rest. Yet, the survivors are numerous enough to survive thirty years of asteroid storms as well as being picked off by Tractators, retrogrades and court martials. Heck, the timescale is a bit large for me. The bombardment has been going on, non-stop for thirty... years... Now, if it was three years I'd think 'what a long time'. But thirty! Plus, Frontios is said to have no wood or plant life, which makes you wonder how the humans have been cultivating food or how they could survive on Frontios even without a bunch of angry wood lice snatching their corpses. Bragen says that oft-mentioned-rarely-seen Captain Revere held the colony together on sheer personality, and the fact all the colonists seem to actually believe they're all right as long as Plantagenet is alive supports that.

Also, I began to get really irritated at the speeches of the colonists, especially when they kept saying "the people of Frontios". Now, to be honest, I think they're not the people of Frontios at all, but the immigrant of Frontios. But surely they'd say "us", wouldn't they? "Why didn't he tell the people of Frontios?" demands Norna, when "Why didn't he tell us?" would work just as well, if not better. Not to mention the abundance of descriptions of "nasty things we call Frontios".

And why is one of the main aims of this story to ditch the hatstand? What's wrong with the hatstand? It was barely noticeable, being white on white (and they bring in back in Season 24...) so why arrange it to be removed from the TARDIS? Especially when there's categorically the other one from Castrovalva to put in its place... However, it does afford some classic and memorable scenes. The Hatstand of Fatal Death, wielding by Turlough the Unhinged. A fanzine title if ever I heard one.

Onto the positive. Logopolis was about death, Castrovalva about rebirth, and Frontios is about horror. Pure and simple. Any story that has people being sucked into the ground when they're dead or ill would horrify me, but when painted against the terribly bleak view above, it reaches another level. For example, moments after Tegan realizes that Frontios has a shoot-to-kill policy and she cries "Every death increases the risk of extinction!", one of the patients drops dead. Range's little speech about corpses vanishing from graves, people disappearing and sighting of someone being sucked face-first into the ground... Are you creeped out, yet? I'm creeped out. I literally shuddered when I saw a photo of the sides of the excavating machine, and you see that while the wasted body of Revere drives it, there are four more dead bodies involved. I'm thankful that the gore in the novelization was left out. The Gravis is hideous enough without having a floating severed head doing his talking for him, and grabbing people with severed arms. Brrrrr...

And if that wasn't worse, the TARDIS crew aren't left untouched by Frontios, either. I once realized that the reason the Doctor's so damn calm when he's arrested or sentenced with death is that all he needs to do is nip back to the TARDIS and he's safe; no one can catch him. I realized that while waiting outside the principal's office of my school, deep in trouble, and by god was I envious. I could have used an escape clause like that. And that's the point of the first episode. The Doctor saunters in, acts like he owns the place, confident he can escape when necessary. But in this story, he can't.

I defy anyone, absolutely anyone to believe that the TARDIS was destroyed at that early cliffhanger. Definitely, the Doctor's 'oh dear, still, never mind' attitude suggests he knows that the ship isn't destroyed, just inaccessible - you could almost think his story about the destroyed time machine is simply dupe some hidden enemy into thinking that he does believe his ship is gone, until he starts doing the complete opposite in the final half of the story. To be honest, it's very lacklustre. When the Doctor coldly tells Tegan to 'forget the TARDIS', it's just as a reminder to viewers that police box isn't there this week, it's not the anguish that accompanies the Doctor in The Shadows of Avalon when arguably exactly the same thing happens to the Time Lord's blue box.

The regulars are very well characterized. From Tegan and Turlough's visible discomfort at the hyper Doctor in their first scene, to their final fond farewells to Frontios, the characters are just that - characters. They behave and react realistically and believably. Tegan wants to see what happens to her people, Turlough has a slight flirt with Norna and the Doctor is still capable of flicking two fingers to the Time Lords when someone's dying at his feet. In fact, I think the whole 'mustn't interfere' stuff was added to link up with The Five Doctors rather than to define the Doctor, who continues his little evolution as a more pro-active, less polite person. The bits where the Doctor plays a dangerous game of bluff with the Gravis return the manipulative Doctor of the Black Guardian trilogy, as he puts Tegan's survival over her opinion of him - look at the hurt on her face when he sneers at her for being a broken android. And who can't help but love a scene where the Doctor challenges his captor to let him help them or just shoot him now... and gets six rifles aimed straight as his chest?

The guest cast are pretty good. For a last minute replacement, the guy playing Range is very good, able to deliver witty banter with the Doctor, calm down Plantagenet, coldly advance on Tegan with a knife and laugh down his own prosecution and still be believable. Norna is rather bland to be honest, and her hair gives her a faintly elfish look her. I preferred her as Susan Q in The Happiness Patrol, to be honest. Bragen and Plantagenet are extremely irritating, posturing buffoons that Doctor Who seems designed to make the audience hate, but it's hard not to like them when you break through. We first see Plantagenet as a scared, frightened little man prone to posturing - but he genuinely cares for his people and his father, and is willing to tackle an enemy on his own, showing no fear when sucked into a giant by giant monsters. Bragen's continual growling hides a man who has survived forty years on discipline alone, no wonder he acts like that. He is suspicious of the Doctor, but judges the Time Lord on what he sees him do - when he determines in episode three to find our hero, it isn't clear if he wants the Doctor found to save the day or simply shot dead where he stands. His death, sacrificing himself to save Turlough who he ruthlessly manipulates throughout the final too episodes, is very moving - it's human spirit like that that kept Frontios from collapsing, and its that which RTD tries to celebrate every episode. Good for him.

Now, despite all this, the end of the story leaves a lot to be desired. By me, at least and it's as though huge chunks of the plot have been removed. (Actually, being the sad fan I am, I know exactly what was removed, but it isn't relevant). This is a story that needed another episode at the very least. The first two episodes concentrate on the problems of Frontios, while the second show the monsters in the tunnels below and the balance is lost for the final episode. While it's amusing to see that one wrong word from Tegan ultimately leads to Cockerill being dubbed a cult leader, the plot doesn't really go anywhere. The sight of retrogrades beating Cockerill and leaving him for dead (as well as attacking Norna for more than her food supplies...) is as grim and nasty as the story gets, but after Cockerill gets to his feet the rets simply fall into line after one sentence from their speaking member.

Cockerill taking over the colony in an hour goes against the decay into anarchy shown elsewhere, with so much widespread looting not even Bragen is prepared to shoot to kill, knowing it won't leave anyone left alive if he does. It also means the trial of Range happens during this uprising, which feels a bit stupid to me. I could understand the idea of Bragen holding public inquiries while the world crumbles around him, but it feels less like stubborness and more like the writer forgot their was a riot going on outside.

There's no resolution to this. Cockerill rallies his troops... and Norna tells him he's being silly, and Range sobs that 'Frontios is doomed!' and Norna says maybe it isn't... And that's it. The next time we see the colony, it's back to working order and everyone's the best of friends as ever they were.

The monsters this week are as horrible as they can be. The Tractors in general look a bit too clean and smooth, indeed if it weren't for that hideous clicking they make they'd be cute. In fact, they're only saved by the Gravis, the most vomit-inducing monster I can think of. For a start, it looks like it's been dipped in warm curry sauce instead of the Tractator's nice purple colour, and there are those bulging veins on its blank eyeballs and the slimy baleen in its mouth... Oh, it's disgusting. Utterly disgusting and its slimy, gurgling voice is even more nauseating. Who cares if it's got a nose or not, it's some hideous mutant anyway, and its big ears and fur between its carapace...


When Turlough's brain goes bye-bye and he's left a drooling wreck, you've got to wonder what could be so brain-twistingly horrible. If the Gravis was identical to the ordinary Tractators, you'd be unimpressed. Seeing the Gravis, you realize Turlough shows admirable self restraint. And the knowledge that there are Tractators everywhere, apparently, only kept docile by not having this revolting creature stirring them up into conquering the universe...

Frontios, despite its casual rejection of series continuity for the sake of atmosphere and badly-structured ending, is definitely a good story. The Tractators were apparently hoped to return, this time whipped into a frenzy by the Master instead of the Gravis, and to be honest, I would have watched it.

Actually, thinking about the Gravis, it strikes me we never actually SEE the Doctor and Tegan drop him off on Kolkokron. When Tegan complains they can't have the Gravis in the console room (why not? More interesting than a hatstand) I was expecting the Doctor to throw him at Kamelion as a roommate. Now there's a sitcom. But I wondered...

When the TARDIS split up what happened to Kamelion? Was he thrown into the underground depths of Frontios - and he'd have probably ended up in a different time zone, what with the TARDIS exploding and all. What would have happened if the Tractators found him? Would he have changed shape to assume a form pleasing to them?

Basically... I think the Gravis may really have been Kamelion all along.

After all, Kamelion doesn't really have free will. And if he can play a lute when in the form of King John, surely he can manipulate gravity in the form of a Tractator. He probably gave the rest of the Tractators that plan to mine Frontios, until one day the Doctor arrives and discovers the truth. Well, he can't let Plantagenet know that his people were nearly wiped out because of the Doctor's pet android lodger, can he? So, he locks Kamelion in his room with no supper and pretends that the Gravis 'is on Kolkokron', so as not to cause offence.

Well, that is what I think, anyway.

FILTER: - Television - Series 21 - Fifth Doctor