The Keys of MarinusBookmark and Share

Sunday, 30 September 2007 - Reviewed by Eddy Wolverson

No one can argue with the sheer brilliance of the Daleks. Considering their immense success, one can’t blame their creator Terry Nation for reusing them time and again – often, as Terrance Dicks famously pointed out, in exactly the same type of story. “The Keys of Marinus”, however, is a very rare example of a Dalek-free Nation serial. Whilst I’m a huge fan of the pepper pots from Skaro, I have to say that at present I actually rate this story higher than the original Dalek serial. Admittedly, I’ve seen “The Daleks” far too many times to be able to enjoy it very much anymore, but even so “The Keys of Marinus” is a much faster and more varied serial than Nation’s first.

While “The Daleks” played a couple of tried and tested sci-fi / fantasy gimmicks superbly (the post-apocalyptic society, the bug-eyed monster etc.), “The Keys of Marinus” takes on another time-honoured format – the quest. A machine called the Conscience rules Marinus. In essence, it gets inside people’s heads and stops them committing crime. Artiban, the Keeper of the Conscience, manipulates the TARDIS crew into helping him collect the keys that make the Conscience function. Using watch-shaped dials to travel about the planet, the six episodes of this serial see our travellers voyage to every corner of the planet Marinus in a Lord of the Rings style fantasy adventure. As I mentioned, this makes for a wonderfully fast-paced, imaginative and enthralling adventure, but on the other hand it must have broken the bank to produce! As all six episodes have a different alien setting, new sets will have had to have been designed and produced weekly. This takes its toll at times, for example, when we have some very poorly realised ‘giant brains’ ruling the city of Morphoton, but generally speaking the production team managed to pull off another minor miracle producing this rather lavish six-parter with the time and money that they had. In the third episode, Darius’s jungle is very well realised – particularly the idol. The fourth episode’s ice-bound wilderness is far less visually impressive, and even in terms of the story its probably the worst episode of the six - a fact highlighted by the absence of the show’s leading man for the second week in a row! William Hartnell’s return in the fifth episode, “Sentence of Death,” is well worth the wait though as he takes the task upon himself of defending Ian against a murder charge. The Doctor makes one hell of a advocate!

I think the thing I found most refreshing about “The Keys of Marinus” though is its sheer ambition. Marinus is presented as a planet like Earth, inhabited not just by one culture or even two but by a massive melting pot of humanoids, giant brains, frozen Knights, killer jungles and bureaucrats! Seas of acid, sands of glass… sheer poetry! The story’s scope certainly has to be respected. Moreover, it is one of a handful of Hartnell serials that truly deserves the individual episode titles as each episode is literally its own self-contained little story, and can be either enjoyed as such or as part of the larger ‘quest’ story arc. We even have two makeshift companions along for the journey, Altos (Robin Phillips) and the lovely Sabetha (Katharine Schofield) who inject just that extra little bit of something we need now that after four stories we are getting quite comfortable with the regulars, who incidentally are all in fine form. I have to give Nation credit for the story’s quite shocking climax too – especially with older serials I can normally tell exactly what is going to happen next but “The Keys of Marinus” really surprised me. It’s also a very satisfying ending – after watching the first episode I did think that ‘mind control’ wouldn’t be the Doctor’s ideal solution to crime…

FILTER: - Series 1 - First Doctor - Television

The Keys of MarinusBookmark and Share

Sunday, 30 September 2007 - Reviewed by Shane Anderson

"The Keys of Marinus" presents us with a classic story that almost matches the new series format all by itself. By which I mean that you have a number of individually titled, self-contained episodes that are part of a larger story, and the episodes barely have time to scratch the surface of the characters and background presented to us before they are over and rush us along to the next situation. 

Okay, I'm exaggerating a bit admittedly, but it is true that what we are presented with on Marinus is a series of brief vignettes of life on this planet which we never get to see in great detail. A number of reviewers have remarked on the fact that it's rare to get a sci-fi planet that isn't one monolithic culture, and that it's refreshing to see a departure from that with Marinus which features different climates and different cultures. I agree, it is a nice change, though nothing we see on Marinus seems terribly alien, apart from some weirdness with the plants, and of course the brain creatures. Almost any of the locales could be on Earth rather than an alien planet, with the exception of the acid sea, but the variety is still appreciated. 

If I were putting the eight stories that make up Doctor Who's first season in order of first to last place, "The Keys of Marinus" would be second from last, just ahead of "The Sensorites" and just barely behind "The Edge of Destruction". I say that because the other stories are quite good rather than because Marinus is deficient. True, it has some cliches and plot issues, but on the whole it's a good solid, entertaining story of the quest variety. Every one of the regulars gets something to do, though Ian and Barbara are most prominently featured of course. 

The framing sequence that sets up the quest and introduces us to the conscience machine that pacifies the population ought to be more interesting than it ultimately is. The idea of thought control and loss of free will versus peace and a lack of violence should raise questions about trading freedom for safety, but the idea is never really explored. Arbitan, who is willing to curtail free will in order to pacify Marinus, is perfectly in character to deny the Doctor and companions the choice to exercise their free will in refusing to help him recover the keys. He comes across as desperate and rather sympathetic though, despite his actions. Incidentally, the scene where the Doctor is angry about being blackmailed into searching for the keys, then suddenly cheers up and becomes complimentary when he examines the travel dial is pretty amusing, and indicative of what make the Doctor happy - cool high tech toys! So off they go to retrieve said keys, while Arbitan is murdered by one of the Voord. 

The Voord are people in wetsuits, with weird headpieces. At least the fact that they look like wetsuits is because they actually are, though it seems as though the Voord would abandon them once they reached dry land. The one man submarine looks good, and the idea of acid seeping in and dissolving the one Voord who is killed crossing the sea is pretty horrible if you think about it. Most acid just burns, which would be bad enough. This stuff destroys Susan's shoe and dissolves people to nothing... nasty. 

The various locales are all nicely presented, and we don't stay long enough for them to become boring, with the possible exception of the trial in Millenius. The brain creatures are creepy things, being brains with eye stalks and weird voices. Barbara's point of view where she can see the true state of the city is a nice idea, though as always it's easy to tell when one of the regulars is thought-controlled, because they just don't respond as they normally would. 

Altos and Sabitha are picked up at this point in the story. It's enjoyable that once again the TARDIS crew make friends and allies on their trip across Marinus, so they're not so alone in their quest. Altos is pretty creepy while under mind-control, but becomes quite dependable company when freed. The same is true of Sabitha, whom Susan befriends. 

The jungle setting reminds me in retrospect of the Krynoid and its control of plant life, although there is of course an entirely different explanation for the hostile plants. The spikes that descend on Barbara wobble alarmingly, but grin and suspend your disbelief and just enjoy it. The snowy plains are genuinely chilling in their sense of isolation and danger. That episode is well portrayed by all involved, and it's only let down by the narrow (and probably very shallow) crevasse in the ice caves. A good jump would clear it! Vasor's unstated intentions towards Barbara are certainly disturbing. I did get a laugh out of the title "The Snows of Terror". : Ooooh, scary snow! 

Up to this point the story has moved along at a brisk pace, but things slow down with the murder mystery in the city of Millenius, where the Doctor finally comes back into the picture. It's a compliment to the other regulars that the Doctor isn't missed much during the middle episodes of the story, so good are Ian, Barbara and Susan. But the Doctor's return is welcome, as is his relatively new sense of loyalty to his companions, and his attempts to defend Ian. The trial scenes are typical courtroom drama, but the nodding judges who never speak are pretty funny. The situation is solved with an old cliche (the murderer is tricked into a slip of the tongue) which is a shame, but we move on from here back to the pyramid and the confrontation with the Voord. 

One thing that "The Keys of Marinus" does well is convey a sense of a time and distance having been covered. Like Marco Polo, you get the feeling that the characters have spent days or weeks in their journey all over Marinus, though in story terms it's probably less than a week. In the end, though I've enjoyed the story I'm ready for it to end and ready to move on to the next adventure. The story contains some unexplored ideas and cliches, but is saved in many ways by the ever-likeable regular cast, and is carried along by the sense of adventure. 7 out of 10.

FILTER: - Series 1 - First Doctor - Television

The Hand Of FearBookmark and Share

Sunday, 30 September 2007 - Reviewed by Ed Martin

Any story to which the names of Philip Hinchcliffe or Robert Holmes are attached had better be good, or my word, they get torn apart. The Hand Of Fear is up against some seriously stiff competition and is easily the worst story of season fourteen, but it’s quite a sweet story in its own right. It feels like a real throwback to the Jon Pertwee era, and indeed it could have sat pretty as the best story of Pertwee’s final season – but it has to be said that coming immediately before The Deadly Assassin does no favours for what is a decent but decidedly average tale.

What’s immediately striking is the cheapness of the production, almost as if Barry Letts had returned as producer; this isn’t the sort of thing I dwell on normally but Hinchcliffe was usually such an effective and efficient producer that such bland, boring sets, harsh lighting and silly videotaped model shots seem very out of place. With Roy Skelton hamming it up off screen, Bob Baker and Dave Martin writing and Letts-stalwart Lennie Mayne directing, the overall anachronistic effect is really quite disturbing. But there is another, more relevant downside to this prologue, in that it provides the explanation for a mystery that has yet to be introduced. Just think how much more enigmatic the titular hand would be if this scene never existed, and we knew nothing about it at all.

16mm-recorded location shooting gives us a brief respite from the cheapness, and I actually like the scenes in the quarry – although it’s hard not to snarl at the constant “this time it’s really a quarry, tee hee” banality from some corners. Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen have a wonderfully comfortable, breezy relationship with each other (didn’t they always?), and Sarah being buried under the rubble caused by the superb explosion is much more affecting for the viewer than it would have been had it been the third Doctor and Jo Grant. The stone hand she finds is a wonderful prop and very spooky, just lying there, although to reiterate the scene would be vastly improved without that earlier prologue which is in effect an instant spoiler.

Baker and Martin, as writers, aren’t that good at structuring a story and providing a coherent plot and as such nothing they wrote for the show was particularly amazing (indeed the following season’s Underworld comes perilously close to being an all-time nadir). However, they do seem to have a talent for easy-going and naturalistic dialogue here and therefore The Hand Of Fear is peppered with likeable characters who feel more like real people than is customary for Doctor Who. Directors’ habits of reusing actors are always fairly obvious and it’s hard to watch Rex Robinson and not think of him as “the bloke from The Three Doctors and The Monster Of Peladon,” but he puts in a charming performance and manages to rekindle some of the dampened mystery by his conversation with the Doctor about the hand. With this, not to mention the possessed Sarah up and about stealing the hand, I have to say that part one is a lot of fun. There’s no depth or subtext of any kind for me to get my teeth into, but it pushes the right buttons. 

Sladen puts in a terrific performance as a woman possessed, eschewing the standard zombie-like clichés in favour of someone twitching and skittish, as if she’s being piloted by someone unused to the controls as it were, and her lilting, erratic speech is really quite creepy. The scenes in Nunton power plant (Baker and Martin reinforcing the Pertwee references by ripping of their own idea, Nunton being only one letter out from the plant from their earlier The Claws Of Axos) are terribly padded and rather dull after a while, but the cliffhanger to part one is an absolute killer as the hand starts to move.

Unfortunately the second episode begins by undoing much of that cliffhanger’s good work, with the emergency meltdown sequence removing the tension a bit more with every long-winded minute. The Doctor claiming he can survive temperatures of 200 degrees “if I’m quick” is silly and is an early example of the kind of superpowered Doctor who can spirit his way through spinning blades. It raises the question of how his clothes survive intact, but I suppose we must be thankful for these small mercies.

There’s still a lot of padding, with much running up and down stairs at the power station. I don’t know quite what the logic was behind the use of the fish-eye lens and its surrealism doesn’t quite come off, unless the idea was that the tension should increase in direct proportion to Tom Baker’s nose expanding to twice the size. Dr Carter’s death is a superb stunt and very well edited, although on a mildly amusing note his body ends up looking like it’s dancing to ‘Night Fever’.

Professor Watson phoning his family is a nice attempt at injecting some poignancy but it comes across as rather crude in a “kiss the children for me” way, although his inability to tell his wife that anything is wrong is a far more effective and telling moment.

The Doctor bursting through the vent (like he’s been posted, according to Baker on the DVD commentary) is one of my favourite moments in the story: Doctor Who was rightly never an action-adventure series but occasionally someone like Tom Baker with immense physical presence could successfully pull off those dynamic little scenes, although the fact that he doesn’t make a perfect landing adds to his credibility by not portraying him as an expert gymnast. Thus Sarah is rescued, and brought before Professor Watson: the line of “I think we’d all like an explanation” is about as crude as feed lines come, although it does remind us that there is a really brilliant, if not particularly original, idea at the heart of this story.

The CSO’d hand looks better than average, with less tell-tale fringing and an effort made to make it actually cast a shadow. Still though, despite many good moments, I can feel this story’s promise of a high rating slipping away. Like many average stories, The Hand Of Fear is in essence very good but it loses crucial points by being poorly paced and structured, denting its ability to tell a coherent story. Hence yet more superfluous scenes in the plant, and repetition abounds as the hand gets locked up, let out, captured, etc, etc…

Episode three at least gets off to a more dynamic start as Eldrad begins to regenerate in earnest, and the possessed Driscoll casually strolling into the core (“probably vaporised,” as the Doctor says) is really quite disturbing. The missile strike is exciting but improbable, but well presented with fairly unobtrusive stock footage. Eldrad’s final emergence is very well done, with a superb costume and an enigmatic performance from Judith Paris.

The scene where the Doctor and Sarah exchange “I worry about you” lines is genuinely sweet, and far more effective than the new series’s bludgeon. It’s followed by the great first exchange with Eldrad, and it’s also good to see a kind of mini-conclusion for Watson. Suddenly the episode is picking up again. It doesn’t last long though, as the sudden wave of technobabble in the TARDIS makes it feel a bit Trekky all of a sudden. The cheapo Kastrian set looks a bit better with the lights turned down, but even that doesn’t last long either. The cliffhanger though is genuinely shocking, a product of some excellent videotape editing.

Thankfully the lower levels of Kastria are slightly less bland than the surface, and the Doctor’s moody suggestion that Eldrad’s story is not adding up adds a small but welcome dose of extra mystery.

Eldrad’s apparent death is another effective moment as the viewer doesn’t realise just how sympathetic she is until this point. She’s replaced by Stephen Thorne, who resorts to his usual generic acting technique of SHOUTING VERY LOUD – it just about worked in The Daemons, but this is his second encore at this point (third if you count the handful of lines he had in Frontier In Space) and it’s beginning to wear a bit thin. How did he ever get the gig narrating The Fred Dibnah Story? His costume is quite good, a sort of small mountain, but unfortunately it’s all too obviously falling apart. At least he gets some motivation through, and it’s a nice twist to have him fooling the Doctor and Sarah all along – and it’s a bone-chilling thought, a race submitting to their own destruction willingly through fear of a tyrant. It’s a good job that Paris was doing this though, as Thorne doesn’t deal with that kind of subtlety. Unfortunately, his death is rushed and clumsy – watching him step over a scarf and get CSO’d down an abyss is just about the least inspiring thing I’ve seen for months.

Now we come to the story’s acknowledged highlight: Sarah’s departure. It’s certainly the best departure of any companion, with some real though added, unlike many. Which is better: Rose’s “I wub oo Docta, sniff, snivel” at the end of Doomsday, or the Doctor’s quite understated “until we meet again, Sarah” from this? I know which one I’ll pick. It ends well, with Sarah’s happiness at being home about to tip into rampant hysteria, and with that magic glimpse at the sky.

The Hand Of Fear is a pleasant and enjoyable story that could, and should, have been far more. It doesn’t let down the quality of the season in general, grants Sarah a good leaving scene and has some great ideas of its own…but it’s just not quite Hinchcliffe.

FILTER: - Television - Fourth Doctor - Series 14

The Happiness PatrolBookmark and Share

Sunday, 30 September 2007 - Reviewed by Robert Tymec

There are some Doctor Who stories that are good. There are some Doctor Who stories that are great. And there are some Doctor Who stories that are sheer works of art. 

"The Happiness Patrol", in my books, falls under that "sheer work of art" category. 

It is, without a doubt, the "King" of all the "oddball stories". Because of this, there is an entire side of fandomn that maligns it to no end. They get upset by the fact that the show is making its sets and costumes intentionally cheesy. Or that certain premises are silly on purpose. As opposed to most of the stories of the last twenty four years where all kinds of silly things happened both visually and in the script but we, as fans, were expected to take them seriously!

I suppose if the three episodes were nothing but sheer "campiness" than I would have to agree with the side of fandomn that maligns it. But there's lots of serious content thrown in too. And a wackload of allegory regarding Margeret Thatcher and gay rights and suchlike that re-assures me, as a fan, that this isn't just Doctor Who "taking the piss out of itself". This is Doctor Who trying, once more, to keep iteslf fresh by exploring new ways to tell a story. I know some fans will never be able to appreciate what the show was trying to do in the eighties. It seems to me that said fans really just wanted bog-standard Tom Baker stories to be told over and over week after week. But I, for one, am glad that 'ole JNT commissioned stories like this and will always applaud him for his boldness as he tried to not just keep the series alive but also give it artisitic merit. And Happiness Patrol is a gem in his "producerial crown" when it comes to artistic integrity. 

We begin the story (after an introduction to the characters that comprise the title, of course) with just the vaguest of continuity references. The Doctor and Ace arrive in the TARDIS whilst discussing dinosaurs. This dialogue seems intentional in a few ways. Firstly, it's the 25th anniversary so maybe they're trying to give, at least, a vague reference to the show's past before things get underway. But it also seems to me that it's perhaps thrown in for a deeper statement. This is going to be an extremely wierd and somewhat unique Doctor Who story and perhaps the continuity is added to tell us, the viewer, that this is still Doctor Who. That, as bizarre as the story might be, it ties in with all that we've seen before. It's still all about the Doctor and his companion(s) getting into trouble. 

One of the very nice "edges" to this story is that our latest TARDIS crew is getting into this trouble intentionally. Once more, the Seventh Doctor's "cosmic chess player" image is being developped as he goes to Terra Alpha on purpose. This isn't a dictator regime that he's stumbled into by accident as he has so often in the past. This time, he's arrived to very specifically clean up the social mess the planet has turned into. And the way it keeps getting emphasised that he intends to do it all "tonight" just makes the story all the more stylish. And this latest incarnation of the Doctor all the more powerful. Even a bit scary. Especially after what we've seen him do to the Daleks only a story beforehand! 

The villains of Doctor Who, I've often felt, are as important as the the hero. That if they're not handled properly by the production team, then the Doctor really can't "shine" against them as he locks horns with them. Our villains in Happiness Patrol are some of the best the show has ever come up with. We have, of course, as a principal villain, the very Thatcheresque Helen A. Not so much an evil woman as she is twisted. And because of this, there's a bit of pathos going on in her. As she weeps in that gorgeous final shot of her we not only delight in her "just desserts" but we also feel a bit bad for her. Because, in the end, she was a rotten woman, yes. But it's as plain as the nose on your face that she was rotten because she was as nutty as squirrel crap. And rather than make us detached from her insanity - we're able to actually feel a bit sorry for her instead. Some very sensitive portrayal going on here in our main villain.

As a sidenote, I am always impressed by how well the McCoy era delivered its "villainesses". It showed a very upward trend in the way the series was trying to portray females. Not only did we now have a very capable female companion, but we also had a whole set of female characters that could be as deadly as the many male villains that have populated the "Whoniverse". And Helen A is easilly one of the best of all the villainesses. Morgaine would give her a nice "run for her money" next season, but Helen A still holds a nice place in my memory as the best Who villainess of both the McCoy era and the series, in general.

With all that said, the Kandyman still steals the show here. He just completely drips with stylishness and coolness. The fact that he looks so ridiculous and is built on an equally ridiculous premise just makes him all the cooler. His sadism and petulance are so well-crafted that every minute that he's on screen is just a thorough delight to watch. Even more impressive that he's used as economically as he is. He could've easilly had a half-dozen more scenes and no one, I think, would've complained. But, in the end, he's a secondary villain and is therefore kept under the appropriate reigns. This fight is really about the Doctor and Helen A and the Kandyman is just a pawn in the game. But what a fun pawn he is! I still cannot surpress my cackle every time I watch him flip a coin to decide whether he should kill the Doctor or Ace first. Particularly as he delivers his "That would be telling" line! 

But the best aspect of this whole story is the Doctor himself. McCoy has mastered the role by this point. Providing a perfect balance between quirky mannerisms and raw power. He's taken those qualities that Troughton and Tom Baker distilled into the character of the Doctor "playing the fool" until the most crucial moment of the story and brought them to their ultimate fruition. Particularly in this tale. This little man with his silly outfit and brolly topples a regime in the course of one night. This is what Doctor Who is all about. The idea that no matter how weak and ineffectual something might seem, it can make as big a difference in the greater scheme of things as the people who seem like the real "power players". And no one embodies that sentiment better than McCoy's portrayal of the Doctor. He is as worthy of the role as any other actor before or after him. And it almost pains me sometimes how underappreciated he can be just because the show was in such a turbulent time.

Although every scene in this story looks absolutely gorgeous (and I mean that, as much some folks love to slag off on Chris Clough's directorial skills), there are two scenes that stand out even more prominently. The first being the "snipers in the balcony" scene where McCoy disarms his opponents with words rather than force. And the second being the final confrontation with the Doctor and Helen A. In this final confrontation, the real point of the story gets stated once and for all. That life is about balance. That, inevitably, the good must come with the bad and that neither can exist without the other. "Two sides, one coin" is delivered so well that it gives just the slightest of chills. And the fact that it's accompanied with a neat little sleight of hand truly makes this a "Seventh Doctor moment". A unique way for McCoy to put his signature on the role.

Yes, the last scene of the story is almost a bit superfluous but it is a nice little afterthought. I can remember reading that Clough wanted to end the story with Helen A crying over Fifi's corpse and that JNT requested a final scene be added. And considering we get just a bit more great dialogue like "There can be no other colours without the blues", I think it was worth throwing that in. And as the TARDIS gets its last little brush from its new paint job and the Doctor pronounces "Happiness will prevail", I find myself completely in awe of the fact that the show could deliver two amazingly good stories in a row. 

This is Who at its best. As strong as anything you can dig up from the series' so-called "golden era". And though Happiness Patrol gets overshadowed by the incredibly awesome "Remembrance of the Daleks", what we've really been given is two classic tales back-to-back. And, in the case of Happiness Patrol, it didn't have to bring back an old monster to help with its impact. It did it all completely on its own merits. 

How sad that some people miss the whole point of this story because they can't get over the campiness....

FILTER: - Television - Seventh Doctor - Series 25

Planet of EvilBookmark and Share

Sunday, 30 September 2007 - Reviewed by Robert Tymec

Not exactly painfully mediocre - but not exactly great either. 

This pretty well sums up "Planet of Evil" in my book. It's a solid little Tom Baker tale with an interesting monster, a bit of an overused premise and a lot of fun on a spaceship and jungle set! It serves up a nice adventure but it really doesn't stand out much in anyway. Which, when you think about it, is the case with quite a bit of the Tom Baker era. Yes, he has some of the best stories the series ever saw, but when it's not one of those classic stories, we get some pretty "paint-by-numbers" storytelling going on. Though "Planet Of Evil" exemplifies this idea quite heavilly, I'd still say it's a bit better than a lot of the other more bland Who stories of this era.

The jungle set is, of course, one of the most memorable aspects of this story. I won't go on about it too much because lots of you already have. But it certainly looks gorgeous and shooting it on film makes it look even better. By contrast, the spaceship interior looks like it was cobbled together by multiple other spaceship interiors used over the years on the show. There definitely seems a lot of "Ark In Space" and "The Mutants" stuff in there. Which just gives the story even more of a "been there done that" kind-of-feel. Not only are certain elements of the script re-hashed - but so are certain elements of the set!

Which is the biggest problem this story suffers. The "scientist meddling with powers he shouldn't be meddling with" concept has been so overdone by this point in the show's history that it seems almost laughable that the Doctor is being so dramatic about it all. You'd think he'd be so tired of arguing with stupid scientists by this point that he would just club them over the head - stop whatever project it is they're working on - and head back to the TARDIS by the end of episode two! But, instead, we get the usual runaround where the Doctor pleads endlessly with Sorensen to abandon his research whilst dealing with various plot complications created by other members of the supporting cast. It's all pretty "pantomime", really. Even though the Doctor's quote about a "scientist's ultimate responsibility" is very well-delivered. 

By the same token, there are some elements to this story that make it a bit "fresh" too. The use of the TARDIS in this story was quite unusual for this era. Usually, the TARDIS serves as merely a way to get the main characters to the story location. The fact that it's instrumental in saving the day is a bit unusual. Which is a nice touch. 

I also enjoyed the way the millitairy team is presented. The concept of a Captain and a Senior Officer is sort of a neat one which kind of makes sense in some ways but would also be a breeding ground for power struggles (which is, inevitably, what happens by episode four!). I also quite liked the burly crewmember whose name presently eludes me. A nice little bit of comic relief in a tale that tried desperately to take itself seriously all the time (even though, as always, we get some pretty laughable-looking effects that become even more laughable because it's all trying to be so dramatically intense).

A third nice strongpoint to this tale is the way we see that the Doctor is "not without influence" because of his status as a Time Lord. It's a neat sort of concept that lends a deeper image of power to his origins. Anyone else falling into that pit just plain dies. But the Doctor, because of who he is, is able to communicate with the anti-matter monster and reach a resolution to the plot. And the actual sequences in the void are very surreal and well-achieved. Another point many of you have made so I won't go into it more than I have to. 

Now, we come to the performances of the supporting cast. We have, quite noticeably, the notorious Prentis Hancock back on the scene. Sorry to sound so catty, but who the hell told this guy he could act?! So wooden and yet trying so desperately to be dramatic. It all looks quite dreadful. In harsh contrast, the casting of Sorenson was a great move. He is played to perfection, giving us all the right emotions at all the right times. Watching the actual scenes where Salamar and Sorenson are playing off of each other are almost like having a plate of filet mignon and human fecal matter placed in front of you and being told to eat it! 

Ew. That was a gross mental image.

Anyway, moving on to some other performers. I loved Tom Baker's work in this story. This is all way before he went so zany with the part and I really enjoyed just how serious he could be sometimes. Particularly in this story. It's almost as if the removal of the scarf in episode two is symbolic. He recognises that it is a bit of a silly piece of costuming and ditches it so he can get really dramatic for the final two episodes. 

And now, another harsh contrast. One that I'm sure a lot of you will take great issue with. I'm sorry folks, but I was never quite sure what was the big fuss about Lis Sladen. Her character with Pertwee, though a bit "choppy" in places, was far more interesting. By the time we get to second season Tom Baker (as we are in this story) she has become such a blatant plot cypher that I really find her to be practically characterless. She's still not quite as dumb as Jo Grant, but boy can she stumble around, get into trouble and then get rescued! Or, on a rare occassion or two, she can actually be able useful and help the Doctor. In Planet of Evil, she displays this mediocrity of character in great abundance. I don't blame the actress too much - moreso the poor scipt-writing. This is frequently the case with the Doctor Who when the protagonist is travelling with just a single female character from the twentieth century. She's used to serve the plot rather than given a lot of interesting nuances to her personality. Only with latter-day examples like Ace and Rose has this problem been solved. Whereas poor old Sarah Jane, to me, seems about as cut-and-paste as the female companion can be in this story. 

Wow, it was tough writing that last paragraph knowing how much some of you will be offended by my heresy. But now, let's move on:

My only other big bone of contention with this story is that it really does lose steam in episode three. The tribute to Jeckell and Hyde, though nice in some ways, is blatant padding. A desperate attempt on the writer's behalf to introduce a subplot virtually out of nowhere that will fill the episode and get us to part four. It's a pity the show was so dedicated to evenly-numbered stories during this era. Part three could have easilly been chopped out and we could have been given a nice tight three-parter that might have moved up the callibre of this story quite significantly. Just think of how enjoyable stories like "Happiness Patrol", "Survival" and "Ghost Light" were in the late 80s because they didn't force themselves' to just "put in time" til they got to that fourth episode. Sadly, no such luck here. Instead, the story gets slowed to a bit of a snail's pace until it can be brought back up to steam for a nice climax in the final episode.

Still, overall, I'd rather put this story more in a positive light than a negative one. There are a lot of strongpoints here with a few negative aspects that drag it down a bit. It's a good solid story with a nice sense of adventure to it. Very dramatic and intense and much of that drama is used very effectively. Better than most of the "blandness" some of the Tom Baker era suffered.

FILTER: - Television - Series 13 - Fourth Doctor