Doctor Who: Regeneration (UK - DVD R2)
"Here we go again", think The Wilson Bros as they review this large set...
Regeneration - it's a word that means many things to many people, but to Doctor Who fans, it means the transition from one incarnation of The Doctor to another. Though the term regeneration wasn't coined until Jon Pertwee changed into Tom Baker, the concept started back in the mid sixties, when an increasingly ill William Hartnell departed the show and a way had to be figured out how to continue the show with the same character, but with a different actor. The transition was successful and paved the way for the show to continue on without needing to worry about how long the leading man was going to stay on.
Presented here for the very first time on DVD are all of the Doctor Who stories that depict everyone's favourite Time Lord regenerating from one appearance to another - from the initial transition from Hartnell into Patrick Troughton (making it's DVD debut), through to David Tennant into Matt Smith, they come packaged in an elaborate coffee-table-like book to mark the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who.
Note: For this review, we will be marking the stories in two ways: one is a rating for the story, and the other will be a rating for the regeneration.
THE TENTH PLANET: The year is 1986 and the TARDIS materialises in the South Pole; The Doctor (William Hartnell), Ben (Michael Craze) and Polly (Anneke Wills) soon discover that things are amiss at the Snowcap base, which is supervising the Zeus IV space mission. A new planet is discovered in the solar system, uncannily Earth-like in appearance, and an emotionless enemy, part organic, part machine, begin to attack the base as their ruthless plans for Earth begin to unfold...
The year was 1966 and things were about to change for Doctor Who; although the introduction of two young companions had freshened the show, the failing health of the leading man was causing problems not only for the actor himself, but also for the production. Change was afoot, and this change would set up the a system to allow Doctor Who to continue indefinitely.
There is no getting around it, William Hartnell was looking increasingly frail by this story; he was written out episode three because he was too ill to work, which is unfortunate, as this was his last story and he is absent for a quarter of it. Though he looks undeniably frail at times (especially when looking at the remaining clips of the last episode) and the fluffed lines were symptomatic of his worsening arterosclorosis, there are still moments when Hartnell dazzles us with his powerful delivery; Hartnell's mannerisms were still first-rate during this final story, where you can see his thought processes at work whilst he is in the foreground, taken in everything that is happening and his eyes darting back and forth as he determines what to do and how to do it - it's wonderful to watch. Like a well-maintained navel, Hartnell is fluff-free during the first episode and gets to deliver a belter of a repost when asked "if he can be more specific" about the increasingly bleak situation that the population of the base (and Earth for that matter) - "yes, I'm afraid I can" replies Hartnell, in a triumph of ominous understatement, both in writing and delivery. There is a moment during episode two where Hartnell tries to convince General Cutler that there are visitors from another planet at large, and Cutler duly scoffs at him, the look that Hartnell - in the foreground - has a look that screams "oh well, I tried to tell him..." It's easy to poke fun at Hartnell's shortcomings (these were mainly due to illness, rather than age), but he was very much underrated as an actor during his later years.
If we're talking about stumbling over lines, then the biggest culprit has to be Michael Craze, who trips over his dialogue so often that you would have thought someone had tied his shoelaces together - the best one has to be when he describes the Cybermen's home world as "grotty plonet Mandos". Despite these verbal bear-traps, Craze demonstrates that he was a great companion - there is a scene in episode four where he deduces that the Cybermen have a weakness, despite a scientist scoffing at his ingenious deductive reasoning. It's a pity that so little of his time on Doctor Who survives in the archives.
Poor old Anneke Wills really doesn't have much to do in this story, apart from screaming now and again and going to make coffee whilst the men do all the problem-solving - truly a case of Polly put the kettle on.
Robert Beatty is suitably grizzled as General Cutler; Beatty was one of those Canadian-born actors who settled in Britain and for a period of three decades, seem to be the go-to people for portraying Americans on film and television. Though Americans and Canadians would have little trouble picking out (or should that be "oot"?) a Canadian masquerading as an American, most UK ears will merely register it as a US accent. Beatty is good in the role, being the perfectly authority figure for the very antiauthoritarian First Doctor to lock horns with. There is an amusing scene during the first episode where Cutler looks at The Doctor dismissively and barks "I don't like your face and I don't like your hair!"; this is almost certainly a reflection on the fact that young people were growing their hair long at that point and despite The Doctor's age, he was very much against authority - well, that and it could have been an in-joke about Hartnell's wig. Cutler has an untimely departure at the beginning of episode four and his gruff demeanour is sorely missed, but allows the story to concentrate on the real antagonists during the final act - the Cybermen.
As well as having the distinction of serving as the template for the "base under siege" storyline that dominated the Troughton era that was waiting in the wings, The Tenth Planet also sees a group of people made up of different nationalities all working for a common goal in a confined area, which echoes Troughton's first Cybermen story, The Moonbase. There's a couple of Americans, an Australian (you would have thought that Bill Kerr would have played him, as he had pretty much cornered the market at the time) and an Italian, amongst others. The actor playing the Italian doesn't have the most convincing accent, merely applying vaguely Mediterranean tones, sticking an "a" suffix to words now and again, along with exclaiming "mamma mia!" every so often.
Director Derek Martinus (who was something of an old-hand on Doctor Who by this point) manages to make the most of the limited budget and resources at his disposal; the scenes aboard the Zeus IV spacecraft are surprisingly effective; despite the not particularly convincing interior, there's something about the way these scenes are filmed that present an eerily calm atmosphere to them and really help to sell the illusion that the two people in the ship (played by Alan White and Earl Cameron) are really in space. There is a nice use of a moving camera, providing what is essentially a tracking shot that culminates in the TARDIS materialising in the middle of a blizzard in the South Pole; it would have been easier to just lock-off the camera and have a static shot, but Martinus takes a more inventive approach and his efforts pay off and bring a cinematic freshness to the shot which helps to establish a unique, other-worldly atmosphere, despite being on Earth. The reveal of the Cyberman at the end of episode two is an iconic moment that is made even more exciting by having the camera pan up from the Cyberman's hand to his face, rather than just cutting to his visage. Speaking of the scenes set out in the bleak wilderness, the shot of the disguised Cybermen walking off and having the hand of one of the freshly-deceased humans sticking out of the snow is wonderfully effective.
Speaking of the Cybermen, the most kindly description that can be applied to the design of them in this story is "basic"; another description of their design is that it looks like they got dressed up out of the kitchen drawer (or the shed, looking at the lamps on their heads). There IS something to their design, though as they look more like part-man, part machine being and their black, empty pools for eyes and a mouth that opens wide to have a disembodied voice come out, then almost snap shut afterwards (when the guys in the suits can get the synchronisation correct, of course). What IS a problem is the silly voices that they have, are mainly supplied by Roy Skelton; Skelton is a fine voice actor, but the lilting, almost sing-songy tones they are afflicted with sound silly and are reminiscent of Zippy from Rainbow (later voiced by Skelton) - there is a scene during episode four where numerous Cybermen are talking at once and it sounds like they are on football terraces.
There is an interestingly downbeat cyclical note in this story, where William Hartnell is wearing the same coat, scarf and astrakhan hat that he wore in his first story, An Unearthly Child. Whilst it makes sense that he would want to wrap up warm in such a freezing, inhospitable environment, it also seems to suggest that Hartnell wanted to go out the same way he came in, in much the same way that Eric Morcambe always used to be seen wearing a brown Mac, flat cap and carrying shopping bags at the end of an episode of Morcambe and Wise.
The last couple of scenes with William Hartnell have a sense of eeriness to them, as you can see that The Doctor really isn't well and he cryptically says something to Ben and Polly before heading off into the TARDIS and falling over shortly afterward; it's easy to imagine that young viewers at the time must have been scared when they watched it, as the concept of regeneration hadn't been mentioned then, let alone stuck in the public consciousness like it is today and Toyah Wilcox said it best in Thirty Years in the TARDIS, when she said "in my eyes, he was dying". In our opinion, the original regeneration (or "renewal", as it basically was then) is the best and you have to take your hat off to whoever decided to make use of a fault in the gallery that caused the image to white-out...
As most of you will know, episode four of The Tenth Planet went AWOL from the BBC archives sometime in the seventies and it is the only episode where the exact nature of its disappearance cannot be traced. As with all other missing Doctor Who episodes, dedicated fans recorded the soundtracks for posterity and they have since become invaluable for reconstructions and, as is the case here, for animating the missing episodes. As this is quite possibly the most single-most sought-after episode out of the lot, what's the animation like - especially after so many people were under-whelmed with the previous efforts on The Reign of Terror?
We are pleased to reveal that though the animation is in the same style as the aforementioned Reign of Terror, it has been toned down considerably, and the results are much closer to how the episode would have looked (ignoring one or two instances of JJ Abrams-like reflections and/or lens flare) and the fact that the work is less "showy" than last time, it means that the viewer is not distracted and will be able to enjoy it more. The representations of the actors are great, with Anneke Wills looking particularly scrummy and Hartnell doesn't look as "glassy-eyed" as he did in The Reign of Terror. There is some nice rotoscoping of the surviving clips and we are pleased to report that the regeneration scene is faithfully replicated in animation form. In short, we are VERY pleased with the work that has been put into that - if we were to put this in politician's speak "mistakes have been made, lessons have been learnt and we are now taking a more robust approach in future".
Story Rating: 8
Regeneration Rating: 10 - The original and still the best; this would certainly have had audiences stratching their heads and wondering what the hell just happened.
THE WAR GAMES: The year is 1917 — the Doctor, Jamie and Zoë materialise in the middle of No Man’s Land in Europe and are immediately captured by the Germans. They are also almost immediately rescued by British forces and taken back to base. The trio are hauled before the sinister General Smythe and are accused of espionage, with the Doctor being sentenced to death by firing squad.
As the story unfolds, it becomes apparent that there are insidious forces at work and that soldiers from different periods in human history have been taken out of time and forced to fight. The discovery of another time and space vehicle around that is remarkably similar to the TARDIS indicates that the Doctor’s own people could be behind this grand game of playing soldiers.
The epic length of The War Games came about because two stories had fallen through (a six-parter and a four-parter) and a new story was required to fill the void. New boy Terrance Dicks decided that he wasn’t able to do the job by himself, so he drafted in Malcolm Hulke and they ended up coming up with an expansive, sprawling story in record time.
Troughton’s wife had decided that it was time that he left the show (actually, there are several purported reasons why he left after three years—fear of typecasting was another one) and it was around the time of the filming of The Invasion that he felt that he should leave at the end of the present season. This happened to coincide nicely with the fact that Fraser Hines’ agent had also been telling him to move into movies and so it was decided that they, along with Wendy Padbury—despite the producers trying to persuade her to stay on for season seven—would all leave at the end of the final story in the season.
Despite the fact that this was the last adventure for the trio, Troughton, Hines and Padbury gave the same level of performance, professionalism and enthusiasm that they had always given. Hines is given a little more to do than usual, allowing him to assume a more heroic position in the latter half of the story; his attempt to impress a Mexican revolutionary in episode by trying (unconvincingly to put on a macho swagger) in episode eight is most amusing.
The expansive supporting cast are impressive for this big send off:
Edward Brayshaw, known to a generation of kids as the cantankerous and henpecked Harold Meaker in Rentaghost, is impressive as the War Chief; with his tall stature, stylised hairdo and matching facial topiary, he really cuts a distinctive (if somewhat campy) figure, giving a grand, theatrical vocal delivery and moving in a manner usually reserved for the stage or the catwalk (if you will allow us to slip into nerd mode for a moment, Brayshaw used the same stylised way of moving when he played a robotic version of Harold in an episode of Rentaghost who happened to be programmed for modelling...).
We have long thought that the more hatred that a villain generates in the viewer, the more successful the actor is at his job; Noel Coleman as General Smythe succeeds magnificently in this respect, as he inspires hatred almost from the moment he appears onscreen. Coleman infuses Smythe with an almost reptilian sense of revulsion, but manages to tiptoe carefully around falling into pantomime villain territory by injecting a sense of realism from time-to-time. When Smythe puts on his all-important hypnotising spectacles, he brings a grand, theatrical timbre to his voice that really sells in influencing power of his glasses.
Philip Madoc (who would later achieve iconic Who status as Solon in The Brain of Morbius) is great as the War Lord, giving a naturalistic performance that contrasts nicely with Brayshaw's grand, theatrical performance and has many subtle nuances that flesh out what could a have been a run-of-the-mill ‘baddie’.
Along with the villains, there are a couple of heroic characters introduced; these characters almost become companions in their own right, due to the sheer length of the story (much like Sarah Kingdom in the epic twelve-part William Hartnell story, The Daleks’ Masterplan)…
Jane Sherwin (who was the wife of producer Derrick Sherwin) is very good as Lady Buckingham—a nurse who is one of the few people to actually believe that the Doctor, Jamie and Zoë aren’t spies—fleshing out the already strong character and making it into a very memorable one.
David Savile as Lieutenant Carstairs is equally as impressive, giving a complex performance to a character that is bound by duty and honour, but is forced to question everything he believes in when it becomes apparent that his commanding officer, General Smythe is not what he appears to be.
There are also nice turns from the supporting cast including Tony McEwan as a Redcoat who initially tries to kill Jaime (for being a Highlander), but is eventually persuaded to join forces with Jamie and fight for their freedom. It’s also good to see future Love Thy Neighbour and Eastenders star Rudolph Walker as Harper, a soldier in the American Civil War. He turns in a sympathetic performance, but one could only imagine what would have happened if they had cast Jack Smethurst as one of his opposite numbers…
David Maloney was called upon to direct The War Games; Maloney had previously directed The Krotons (which was written by Bob Holmes — funny how two of the best people on the classic series worked on such a duff early story…) and he was really able to cut loose with the location sequences on Troughton’s final story; the camerawork is inventive and the opening sequence in No Man’s Land really conveys the horror and bleakness of the Great War (despite the fact that it was shot on a rubbish tip in Brighton) and the sequences where our heroes encounter Roman soldiers are also impressive, as Maloney obviously had to be creative in his shooting because of the limited number of soldiers available. Maloney makes use of the fact that editing on film allowed for much greater flexibility than on tape and the results are film sequences that contain a lot of movement and quick cutting, giving an almost cinematic feel to the filmed material.
The War Games is essentially two stories; a nine-parter involving warriors from different periods in Earth’s history and the one-off story involves the Doctor being put on trial by his own people. There is a sense that things are moving very quickly toward a climax during part eight (the montage of all the control sections of the different time zones makes for great viewing) and for the unwary viewer, there is a sense of befuddlement as to what is going to take place in the final episode.
This story introduces the audience to the first proper look at the Time Lords (OK, so we’ve seen Susan and The Meddling Monk, but this was the first real gander at them as a race); the depiction of them here is of an aloof group of individuals who talk in a very pretentious, haughty manner and exist also almost ethereal beings. This take on them continued into The Three Doctors, but was eventually blown out of the water when Robert Holmes penned The Deadly Assassin. Whilst the initial depiction was an interesting one, the eventual humanisation of the Time Lords was a wise move, as it allowed them to become far more interesting.
Some fans have always complained that the ten-part story is too long and that it is over-padded and drags somewhat. Our feeling on watching the remastered edition for DVD is that it moves along briskly and that it is also highly entertaining. We have always firmly believed that Doctor Who was episodic for a very good reason, and that multiple episodes should have a break of at least twenty-four hours between them, but when it came to watching The War Games on DVD, we found ourselves watching the first four instalments in one go, as the story was so compelling and the performances so engrossing.
If we were to criticise the story in any way, we would pick upon the pretty shameful way that Jamie and Zoë leave the series. It's one thing to have companions leave the Doctor, but to have almost all the memories of the extraordinary adventures he has taken them on erased is another matter entirely. Granted, Zoë probably lived a good life back in her own time, but it's a fairly safe bet that Jamie probably wouldn't have lived past the age of thirty in the time period to which he was returned. New-Who producer Russell T Davies was a Troughton fan and must have been influenced by what happens to the Doctor's two companions, as he wiped the memory of Donna Noble at the end of the fourth series.
Casual fans will think that The War Games contains more than a little padding, but this can be overlooked because it was the final story for such a great Doctor and two of the best companions. Fans of Troughton just won’t want it to end.
Story rating: 8
Regeneration rating: 3 - You don't actually get to see the transition; the sight of Troughton making faces as he vanishes into the ether is not particularly satisfying.
PLANET OF THE SPIDERS: Planet of the Spiders sees disgraced former UNIT captain Mike Yates (Richard Franklin) tries to penetrate a dark, mysterious circle, and stumbles upon sinister goings-on of a cult behind the closed doors of a spiritual retreat. Discretely recruiting Sarah-Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) to help him expose the truth behind the seemingly normal Buddhist retreat at which he’s has been recuperating, just as event begin to escalate.
Fairly soon, it dawns upon The Doctor (Jon Pertwee) that the crystal he appropriated from the planet of Metabelis III is being targeted by the spiders (referred to locally as the Eight-Legs) that inhabit that planet, using the cultists and the gem as a inter-dimensional passageway between worlds. With events becoming evermore critical, The Doctor eventually realises that he might have to take on the arch Eight-Legs herself, The Great One, and make the ultimate sacrifice in order to save the universe...
Pertwee’s final season, season 11, was certainly something of a mixed-bag, with good stories such as The Time Warrior (which saw the introduction of the Sontarons) and Death To The Daleks interwoven with plodders like Invasion of the Dinosaurs (an interesting idea torpedoed by over-length, laughable effects and a superfluous sub-plot about pseudo-Scientologist nutters) and The Monster of Peladon (the perfect example how reusing props and costumes to save a few quid isn’t necessarily a good idea).
Planet of the Spiders had the production code ZZZ, and there are few Doctor Who serials more deserving of that particular code, as it is a six-parter snooze-a-thon, something that could have easily been told in four-parts and would have been far more entertaining. Structurally, it is similar to The Time Monster, with much of it taking place on present-day Earth and then switching to somewhere else entirely for most of the second half. The first half of the story is more interesting, as the use of location footage, rather than a dull, studio-bound alien world, has more of a sense of excitement about it, rather than use of Colour Separation Overkill... sorry, Overlay.
Planet of the Spiders features the dullest regeneration to date on Doctor Who (Colin Baker’s one may have been a fudge-job because of his understandable reluctance to participate in it, but at least they attempted something innovative) – just having Tom Baker lying in exactly the same position and then quickly dissolving between the two is remarkably unimaginative. We should point out that some fans have posted their own enhanced versions of this regeneration and that some of the results are most impressive.
Barry Letts’ Buddhist beliefs take centre-stage in this story, with the whole thing centring around the strange goings-on that the disgraced former Captain Yates discovers at a Buddhist retreat in the West Country. What is a little puzzling is that it seems to show such Buddhist groups as being the centre for something sinister, as the one seen here is depicted as a cult. Even when the leader of such cults, which hide behind legitimate established religions to conceal their own agendas, are depicted as rogue lunatics or just plain evil, they can still do a fair amount of damage to the religion they have been hiding behind. Letts was one of those directors who didn't like to stay in up in the gallery, as he liked to be on the studio floor when things whenever possible, but you have to wonder if he was directing part of this story whilst standing on a soapbox. Speaking of which, there is a scene where The Doctor tells Sarah-Jane about some more of his pivotal moments as a young person, and says that when he looked in to the crystal, he saw the face of his old teacher - it's quite likely that in a past incarnation, he bore a remarkable resemblance to Barry Letts...
What is also quite a major strike against this story is the decision to cast an occidental actor as an oriental character. The same thing would be done a few years later in the otherwise wonderful The Talons of Weng Chiang, but this would be fairly more successful that what was in Planet of the Spiders. Actor Kevin Lindsay had previously played Sontaron Linx in The Time Warrior (and would also appear as Styre in The Sontaron Experiment shortly before his premature death in 1975), and here he plays Cho Je, a Buddhist monk who is hiding a great secret. Lindsay is a good actor, but all of the make-up and acting prowess in the world can do little to disguise the fact that he clearly ISN'T Asian and that he's only a couple of rungs up on what we like to call (inspired by the infamous Benny Hill character) the "Sirry Pirrock" scale. At the time, there was seemingly a scarcity of Asian actors working in the UK, but there must have been at least one who was competent enough to portray Cho Je and give him the necessary gravitas that was lacking due to having a white actor playing the role.
There's no getting around it - Planet of the Spiders is a bloated, over-padded story, which was pretty much in keeping with many of the stories from Pertwee's tenure. Though the main motivation to have longer stories was due to budgetary constraints (i.e. longer stories would mean fewer stories in a season and less new props and costumes to shell out on), much of episode two of this story sees Jon Pertwee embark on a chase that practically runs for the whole of the episode and has him pursue his quarry on land, water and air. This stuff must have cost a packet to stage and must have only been granted as a thank-you to Pertwee, as it was his final story and he had a love of various forms of motorised transport, including Bessie, a gyrocopter, the Whomobile and a speedboat. With the ante continually being upped by the various vehicles, you expect a Yellow Submarine to break up through the concrete road and join in the pursuit. The Whomobile has all the grace of movement on the road as a Thundersley Invacar, and sports a circular aerial which looks uncannily like the antenna on an old portable TV we used to have, right down to the block at the bottom containing a connector, but it‘s still a pretty cool beast, even when used just for the sake of it. OK, so the whole chase is gratuitous and doesn't serve the story in any way whatsoever, but you have to hand it to Pertwee for taking a much greater part in events than many other of the other actors who have played The Doctor would have agreed to. What is seen in this episode is almost pornography for petrol-heads, who will doubtlessly be having a quick two-stroke whilst watching it...
The cliff-hanger to episode four is one of the weakest that we can recall in Doctor Who history (well, apart from a certain one in Dragonfire), with The Doctor entering the chamber where Sarah-Jane is being held prisoner, raising her hopes of rescue, only to have them dashed when she realises that her would-be rescuer is himself captive; this works on paper and would have made for a good, maybe even great, episode closer but the previous scene had clearly showed that The Doctor had been outnumbered by adversaries and that no amount of Venusian Aikido would have gotten him out of it. This could have been remedied by cutting slightly early and making it not so obvious that it was a hopeless situation, particularly Pertwee's line that acknowledges defeat. Such retro-editing doesn't help matters and that ineffective cliffhanger will always remain so, and must be judged accordingly.
Pertwee seems more relaxed in this story; perhaps it was because he knew that he was about to leave the show and was less proprietorial about the role, seeing as he was about to hand it over to a little-known Liverpudlian actor. Out of all of the actors to play the role, none seemed to be more possessive of the part than Pertwee and certainly showed on-screen - lets' not forget that Pertwee released the single "I Am The Doctor", though there are probably quite a few people still trying forget this. A warmth and a sense of charm (maybe he was able to persuade Barry Letts to write some in for him) seems to emanate from Pertwee that feels more genuine and less "actorly" than in much of the other stories during his time on Doctor Who. It also goes without saying that this story sees Pertwee's barnet at it's most bouffant. Certainly one of our favourite Pertwee moments comes on his first scene, where he and Courtney are sitting though an awful, low-grade comedian at a club, with an excellent air of indignation practically hurled at such club entertainers of the seventies.
The late Nicholas Courtney is also very good in this and seeing him and Pertwee playing their characters in a social setting is lovely, with the two of them having a rapport that is also absent from previous stories; the relationship they have is not too dissimilar to that of Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant at the start of the Trial of a Time Lord season, where time has moved on and they are friends, rather than Doctor and companion. The rapport between Courtney and Pertwee is wonderful during the scenes in episode one where they are in the theatre waiting for the psychic to appear on stage. Tom Baker may have been the superior actor, but Pertwee paired up much better with Courtney, as the Third Doctor and the Brig were brittle in personality and always trying to push each other's buttons. Naturally, Courtney is still required to do his blustery shtick in this story, but he does it so well that you'd miss it if he didn't do it. Speaking of Mr C - isn't the Brig's hair a bit too shaggy for an military officer in this one? More on that below, but it's nice to hear the name “Doris” casually mentioned, as this particular acquaintance would later turn up in the Sylvester McCoy story Battlefield as the Brig's good lady wife. With The Doctor about to regenerate, there is a moment when the Brig exclaims "good grief!", which is Pertwee's second most popular phrase after "reverse the polarity of the neutron flow" - maybe The Doctor had a premonition that he was about to move onto his next incarnation and mentally bequeathed one of this catchphrases to The Brig.
Elisabeth Sladen also gets a chance to shine in Planet of the Spiders, whilst wearing what could be viewed as one of her signature garments (the Andy Pandy outfit from The Hand of Fear would be THE definitive costume), the stripy top that looks good with a spider on the back of it; whilst we’re talking about appearances, Sarah-Jane Smith has thankfully allowed her hair to grow out a bit, losing the "I'm a card-carrying, right-on, bra-burning feminist" look that she had when she first signed on. Sladen seems to be more of the investigative journalist in the first couple of episodes, being invited to snoop around the retreat to good effect. The on-screen chemistry that she shares with Richard Franklin is most pleasing, as they seem to bounce off each other very nicely and makes it all the more convincing that Yates is trying to redeem himself for that whole betraying UNIT incident a few stories back.
This was Richard Franklin's last "proper" appearance in Doctor Who; though he would turn up again for a cameo in The Five Doctors, Yates was merely an illusion to trick The Doctor and even though he took part in the Children In Need story Dimensions In Time, most Doctor Who fans would probably prefer to pretend that it never happened. Franklin's Yates in this story is a different animal to his previous portrayal; the noble officer from the UNIT family is long-gone and he is no longer the traitor he turned out to be in Invasion of the Dinosaurs - the Yates here is more level-headed, but still something of a broken man who is seemingly searching for redemption.
Of the guest cast, John Kane really shines as Tommy, who starts out as a kind of prototype Benny, but rather than being a handyman at the Crossroads motel, he is a handyman (of sorts) at the Buddhist retreat. Unlike Benny, he doesn't vanish after climbing a ladder, but he is exposed to the mysterious powers of the Metabelis III crystal and before you can say The Lawnmower Man, he finds his intelligence vastly increased. A combination of great writing and an enchanting performance from Kane (who's method acting got him into a bit of an embarrassing situation - see the special features for more about this), that make the character one of the most overtly sympathetic in Doctor Who history. The scene where Tommy begins to properly appreciate literature and the change in his response to such things is simply wonderful. The only issue we have is that the usage to which his new-found abilities are put toward the end of the story just aren't played up enough - he has the ability to be immune to the blue lightning/lasers that the spider-affected members of the retreat fire at him (they decide to chant in unison to get more power - they were probably looking for more "ohms"); ultimately, it feels as though Barry Letts (or co-author Robert Sloman) watched a late-night screening of the Edward D Wood film, Bride of the Monster and saw Bela Lugosi turn into a bullet-proof atomic superman and thought "hmm, that gives me an idea..."
John Dearth is suitably slimy as would-be super-villain Lupton, who happens to be just another in the long, sad line of megalomaniacal characters who crave power so badly that they are prepared to ally themselves with any old passing ruthless race in order to use them as muscle to get what they desire (not to mention thinking that they can hoodwink them once their objectives have been reached); Lupton joins Mavic Chen, Tobias Vaughn and many others in that league of misguided madmen, with Dearth playing the character for all it's worth, though during the last couple of episodes when Lupton sees himself trying to bargain with the Eight-Legs (as the spiders are known on Metabelis III), he looks as though he has had a few and seems as though he is about to put his arm around one of the spiders and say "you're my bestest mate, you are".
Gareth Hunt puts in a good performance as Arak, showing more depth that you would expect from a man who frequently played glib or smug characters (or making a certain hand gesture in those eighties coffee ads that many thought was an appropriate description for Hunt himself), but here is outfitted with a West Country accent - as are all of the human inhabitants of Metabelis III - and he makes a good fist of trying to act seriously whilst sporting facial hair and shaggy mop which answers that eternal question of “How do you turn Gambit from The New Avengers into Jason King?“
Something that is touched upon in the first episode is the idea that having psychic abilities is not so much a blessing, but more of a curse. One has to wonder if Barry Letts (or co-writer Robert Sloman) had a gay subtext in mind when writing the script, as it seems to play out in a similar manner to that of the Bryan Singer directed X-Men films, where having mutant powers was a thinly-veiled metaphor for being gay. The clairvoyant Professor Herbert Clegg (Cyril Shaps) trumpets his psychic abilities professionally, but when questioned privately by The Doctor and the Brigadier, he insists that his abilities aren't real, but eventually cracks and confirms - almost with a sense of shame - that he has extraordinarily strong psychic powers. If Letts or Sloman actually had this in mind when writing, then it was an exceptionally bold move for a family show, especially given the era in which it was filmed, when homosexuality had been decriminalised, but homophobia and social stigma attached to it were still rife.
If we were to delve even deeper into metaphorical waters, then one could interpret the concept of the spider on the back as being representative of a penis; something that talks to you and only the person it is attached to can hear it and constantly tells you to do things against your will and you almost invariably obey it's orders despite how much your conscious mind objects. To journey even further into the ridiculous, the crystal can be viewed as a vagina, being something that the spiders pursue in a determined, relentless manner and will grant the successful questor greater knowledge and understanding. Perhaps this analogy says more about us than anything else, but we thought we'd throw it in anyway. If you wish to be critical of the having spiders as adversaries, then this notion is rather subjective, as although fear of the eight-legged monsters is common, arachnophobia is not a universal phenomenon. At the risk of sounding flippant, along with the Menoptra, this is possibly the only adversary for The Doctor and his companions which could easily be killed by the careful application of a can of Raid.
When viewing this story with the benefit of hindsight, there is a sense of it being the end of an era, not just with the departure of Jon Pertwee, but also because this was the beginning of the end of the UNIT family, as it would be gradually be moved into the background by incoming producer Philip Hinchcliffe before going out with a whimper in The Android Invasion. The UNIT family played a significant part in the success of the Pertwee era, and even when The Doctor had been given his freedom to roam the galaxy once more, there were still stories that brought him back to his favourite blue-green planet to help UNIT defeat some menacing unearthly force.
It would have been nice to have had the option to view Planet of the Spiders with some CGI footage; the prospect of having some of the spiders replaced with computer-generated ones was a most pleasing one, but sadly this isn't possible here. The spider shots are pretty inconsistent, with some of the more static shots being pretty good, even if they look like the puppet ants from The Young Ones ( "Did you know that humans can actually build bridges?"), and have the appearance of being nailed to the platforms on which they are standing, and look like they are desperately trying to free themselves from their impalement. Some of the shots where the spiders move via CSO are pretty toe-curling, as the legs are continually winking in and out of existence in an orange blur, which distract from the storytelling, or at least shatter any kind of suspension of disbelief that had been created.
There is the odd nod to events of the day, with the a few references to popular culture cleverly worked into the dialogue, with the most notable being when Pertwee asks the psychic Professor Clegg if he feels up to bending a few spoons, obviously a nod to Uri Geller and his famed ability to bend spoons as the world marvelled. This reflection of the times extends to a primary plot element, as the concept of gurus and Asian spirituality was all the rage during the sixties and early seventies, but given a typically Doctor Who twist by meditation being used as a conduit for invading forces.
As touched upon a couple of times above, many of the cast sport hairstyles which come as a bit of a shock when going back to watch Pertwee’s final bow as The Doctor, and how just the title character himself. Richard Franklin has a shaggier mop than before, Elizabeth Sladen still has her overgrown flapper “do” which was tamed during her time with Tom Baker, and Nick Courtney possesses curiously long hair for an man of his rank, and give the time Planet of the Spiders was made, he was seriously in danger of beating himself up.
Trivia fans will note the mentioning of future companion Harry Sullivan, which served as an interesting way of easing in a new character by establishing him (albeit in a very minor way) before the new actor to play The Doctor slips into the role.
Story rating: 5
Regeneration rating: 4 - The Buddhist claptrap and the simplistic dissolve between Pertwee and Baker detract from the moment, but Nick Courtney's "here we go again" line perks things up right at the end.
LOGOPOLIS: Escaping from Traken with their lives after confronting his old nemesis, The Master, The Doctor (Tom Baker) and Adric (Matthew Waterhouse) arrive on Earth and discover that things aren't as they should be. Picking up another companion in the form of brash airline stewardess Tegan Jovenka (Janet Fielding), the TARDIS crew soon realise that The Master has taken a new form and has plans that could spell certain doom for then entire universe...
Tom Baker's swansong came during a final season that could best be described as "apathetic", with a lethargic Baker (who looked like death without regeneration was looming over him), science-heavy story concepts (encouraged by script-editor and computer enthusiast Christopher H Bidmead) and a general feeling that things were stuck in a rut. The heavy emphasis on scientific concepts would play an integral part of the storyline in Baker's final story and would also test the audience's patience during what should have been a rousing adventure to send off the longest-serving Doctor at that point (and probably ever, to be honest).
There are a couple of interesting scientific concepts on display in this story, with a variation on infinite regression/progression, featuring a TARDIS-within-a-TARDIS-within-a-TARDIS, etc, and the other is that of the existence of the universe being dependent upon black transfer calculations transmitted orally. The former is interesting and allows for a degree of tension and intrigue, as The Doctor makes his way deeper and deeper into seemingly never-ending copies of the TARDIS; the latter of the concepts is deadly dull and about as exciting as picking out dirt and sock-related fluff from under your toenails. Bidmead's insistence that such lofty scientific theories could actually translate into engrossing television was fairly misplaced and ultimately was more in appropriate for giving Open University students a thrill and three o'clock in the morning.
The first couple of episodes have a fair amount of location filming in them and it really helps elevate the first half of the story, with some familiar (and mundane) places seen in day-to-day existence, such as a motorway, being given an intriguing twist to them by having The Doctor, Adric and the TARDIS in view. When the action switches to Logopolis, things become studio-bound and even though the sets are fairly well done, there is a sense of claustrophobia that creeps in and the sense of wonder intrigue that was present in the first two episodes seems to dissipate. Luckily, toward the end of the last instalment, things switch back to Earth and The Fourth Doctor is able to meet his fate at the Pharos Project Space Telescope.
Tom Baker's performance in this story is a curious one; his final season was marked by a disconcerting lack of interest in engaging with the material or his co-stars to any determinable degree. This was not the jovial, carefree Doctor from his first couple of seasons, nor the OTT Doctor from his penultimate one - the Doctor that inhabited season 18 was somewhat withdrawn and melancholic, almost a reflection of the fact that Baker was about to leave the best gig of his career. This was not helped by Baker apparently being very ill around the time the location filming on Logopolis took place, giving him a pale and drawn look that noticeably aged him.
Matthew Waterhouse is still Matthew Waterhouse, trying to make the best of the fairly limited thespian skills he had at his disposal. Thought their time together was pretty short, it's difficult to deny that there was a little bit of chemistry between Waterhouse and Baker, as a certain master and eager student feeling existed between them, which was not really continued when Peter Davison took over and Adric seemed to drift into "insufferable pain in the arse" territory.
Much like Fraser Hines in some of the early Patrick Troughton stories, Sarah Sutton's Nyssa had been unexpectedly bumped from being a one-off character to a full-time companion and had to be shoehorned into subsequent scripts that were Nyssa-free. Sutton is good at what she does here, but doesn't get to do much because of the last-minute decision to keep her on. Still, at least she doesn't get to be put into a coma to write her out of much of the story - hold on... that would happen later in Kinda. Oh well, at least she didn't have to periodically rouse herself from her comatose condition to exclaim "the Phantom Piper!"
What really brings a breath of fresh air is the arrival of Australian air-hostess Tegan Jovanka, in the form of Janet Fielding; Fielding's naturally brassy nature filtered through nicely into the character she portrayed on-screen, as Tegan more than most represented the viewer in the role of the companion. Tegan was cynical, loud-mouthed, opinionated and at times truly bewildered by the events going on around her - a stark contrast to pretty much any other companion that had been on the show up until that point. Others would constantly ask "what is it, Doctor?", but Tegan would be one to wearily ask "WHY is it happening, Doctor?" and this set her apart from the others and really endeared herself to some of the more cynically-minded members of the audience.
And then, there's Anthony Ainley. If you've ever read/heard/seen interviews with him, Mr Ainley had a wonderfully dry and self-deprecating sense of humour, but in terms of playing such an iconic character as The Master, then he fell well short of most of his predecessors in the role. Ainley's black velvet-clad Master was more of a pantomime villain, rather than the cold, cunning and dry-witted fiend that Roger Delgado so memorably portrayed.
The concept of The Watcher was one that was interesting at the time and still holds a great deal of appeal viewing it from a more detached perspective, as seeing a ghostly figure in the distance trying to subtly guide characters through their predicament is exciting, especially if you are unaware as to the identity of The Watcher and what role he has to play in the unfolding events. When you see the final appearance of The Watcher, as he dissolves into the dying body of The Fourth Doctor, it all makes sense and you eventually appreciate that they were trying to do something different with this regeneration, rather than just another “here we go again” situation.
Ultimately, Logopolis is a story based on concepts that provides little in the way of genuine drama; some of the ideas and situations are intriguing, but most will just look upon this story as merely being "the boring one where Tom Baker leaves at the end".
Story rating: 4
Regeneration rating: 9 - we had to knock off a point for possibly planting the seed for New-Who that made them write so many stories where The Doctor had to scale a tall structure to rid the world of an alien menace, but the revelation of the true identity of The Watcher and the way the regeneration is handled is fabulous.
THE CAVES OF ANDROZANI: Fresh from getting rid of Turlough, The Doctor (Peter Davison) and Peri (Nicola Bryant) materialise on the planet of Androzani Minor - where they are soon poisoned by Spectrox, an organic substance that is fatal unless treated fairly quickly. As if a terminal case of spectrox toxaemia wasn't bad enough, the time-travelling pair find themselves caught up in a war between two powerful figures - Morgus (John Normington), a ruthless businessman and Sharaz Jek, his disfigured former business partner who has vowed to see Morgus dead for betraying him. The source of this conflict: to control supply of Spectrox, refined from a deadly poison into the most cherished substance in the galaxy, one which can extend life and hold back time. Jek isn’t interested in money or power: he wants vengeance.
To this end, Jek has manufactured his own army of androids to be the main force behind his insidious revolution, allying himself with Stoltz, leader of a band of gun-runners - supplying him with the weapons needed to pull off the coup. Inadvertently walking into the middle of the power struggle - as the seeds of revolution are being sewn by the workers against the rich and powerful corporate heads - the Doctor and Peri are captured by the arms-smugglers. The news is grim as the orders come through from the iron-fisted Morgus: execution by firing squad. As the guns are loaded, Jeks’ androids and the Federation forces are on collision-course, with the fate of warm flesh against cold steel only a heartbeat away. The Doctor might not win this time around…
Writer Robert Holmes had amassed an impressive track record when it came to writing Doctor Who, and was approached to write a script that would end with the regeneration of The Doctor. Holmes had been bummed out not long before when it came to the 20th anniversary story, which he envisioned as The Six Doctors, so was enthusiastic about penning a story which would see out the title character. Whilst he was not so jazzed about the job itself, he turned in work which inadvertently became the standard for most following episodes to be judged by, most falling far short.
That The Caves of Androzani is generally regarded as being one of the best stories ever produced for Doctor Who, and warrants little argument from us. The show gets right what most other ones - to varying degrees - got wrong, be it writing or execution. It's tightly-paced, tense, well-acted and has two wonderful actors, John Normington and Christopher Gable for antagonists, breathing appropriate life into what was already perfectly written on the page. You’ll hear many tales on audio commentaries of other Doctor Who tales which bemoan: where they didn’t have time or budget to do things properly; where they didn’t achieve their ultimate objective; but this is not the case with this pitch-perfect example of what could be done with efficiency and dedication...
...but sadly, the story also has a crappy monster that was shoe-horned into the script. It could have been better designed, and most certainly better shot, but even still it appears to serve little point in the story - other than to provide moments of menace that weren't necessary (in a script that was well-written and dramatic anyway). Still, they needed to get a bit more use out of that Bernie St. John costume, which Rentaghost spent so little money on.
OK, it was almost churlish to bring that one up, but it clears the way for all of which is good. To that end, morality tales have always been part-and-parcel of Doctor Who, but The Caves of Androzani isn’t merely a tale of searing revenge against an unjust, corrupt system, it explores the theme of trust in the ranks, both in the military and the corporate world. Whilst battling Jek’s androids, General Chellak has his complete trust in his second-in-command, giving him top-secret information and battle-plans - blissfully unaware that his right-hand-man is a duplicate who is reporting to the enemy. Though this confirms what anyone distrustful of the military knew anyway, The Caves of Androzani delivers a couple of knockdown blows when two untouchable bigwigs get stabbed in the back by those above suspicion.
The script is rich in subtext, and with the above treachery in mind, one of the best examples comes in the allusion to Stockholm Syndrome - demonstrated by the extended captivity of Salateen, Chellak’s second-in-command. Although loyal and dedicated enough to have risen through the ranks in the military, his confinement by Jek has left him almost sycophantically eager to please his captor, behaving like a puppy on the end of lead. He even wills The Doctor and Peri’s departure so he will be the only plaything for the scarred villain! Anyone with a familiarity with the Patty Hearst/Tania incidents will get even more out this this particular subplot.
The way Spectrox is craved by the masses to hold back the ravages of time is even more relevant today than it was back then, serving as topical satire for the Botox craze which still shows no sighs of abating. The similar-sounding substance achieves almost the same thing, but when Spectrox is misused, it can cause death; when Botox goes wrong, the poor sod can end up allegedly looking like Leslie Ash. Which fate is worse is still the source of some debate.
Robert Holmes drew upon the rich source of inspiration that fared so well during the early Tom Baker years and looked at the gothic horrors, in particular Phantom of the Opera, upon which to base some of story. Sharez Jek is essentially the titular Phantom - a tragic, disfigured character who is lonely and obsessively drawn to a beautiful young woman that stray across his path. The tragic aspect is off-set by the sheer hatred that he has for his former business parter, and both actors grab their characters by the hands and play them for all they're worth. Christopher Gable has an underlying smoothness to him, but the disfiguring accident allows Gable to give Jek a rough side that contrasts, yet also compliments each aspect wonderfully; Jon Normington is thoroughly slimy and yet has a similar smoothness that is not too far removed from Sharaz Jek, but they are diametrically opposed, yet they need each other in their twisted, symbiotic relationship.
Peter Davison still gives the thing his all, in spite of it being his final story, especially during the climactic moments when he appears not to be entirely sure if he is going to regenerate or not. Though Davison only appeared with Nicola Bryant in two stories - almost ships that passed in the night - it was more than apparent that the two of them shared a pleasing chemistry; Peri would come to be regarded as Colin Baker's definitive companion, but Davison's short stint with her is not without its merits - as the sense of determination that The Doctor has whilst trying to save his companion's life is wonderful to watch. Take note that they achieved all this without the melodramatics which plague Nu-Who in these situations, nor the need to go on a thirty minute tour of characters and locations featured during the actor's tenure.
There is a sincerity and unity among the cast, with none of the minor characters left looking bored in the background as they watch the stars deliver their lines. Many other occasions during the run of the show have seen the Special Envoy of the Royal House of the Hob-Nobites metaphorically scratching their arse with nothing to do, but not this time around. A combination of casting seasoned thespians who know how to keep their characters alive (a good example being Psychomania's Roy Holder, a quality actor in a smaller role, but always working on set) and watertight writing, choosing not to create extraneous characters just for the sake of it whilst delegating the dialogue equally among those populating the script.
Something that rightly strikes you is the production design, which came with more imagination that you would expect to find, and all achieved on the same budget, proving that it wasn’t the money which held the look of some stories back. A perfect example comes in the form of Morgus’ office, which sits at the top of a huge skyscraper, looking out onto Androzani Minor’s surface and other buildings. Sure, we know that they have employed a cyclorama and the vista is merely the results of an artists’ brush, but it’s is set up and filmed in a way which keeps the focus away from its shortcomings whilst still holding your attention. You really do buy that you are in the penthouse of a powerful industrialist, and it all adds little ticks in boxes to make The Caves of Androzani one of the very best.
With Phantom of the Opera being reflected in the story, you can’t help but expect the classic “reveal” being mirrored also, and you certainly won’t find yourself left wanting by it. The image of Lon Chaney’s unmasking is one of the indelible images in the history of cinema, but The Caves of Androzani manages to be just as powerful, and all by the reaction of the cast than through pure shock. When Jek’s mask is torn from his face, Nicola Bryant’s scream is absolutely terrific, defying the urge to go pure RADA and come up with a shriek of psychological fear rather than end-of-episode acting. It’s damn effective. Writer Holmes had a leather-masked villain unmasked in a similar manner in the previous decade in Tom Baker's The Talons of Weng Chiang.
The resolution of episode one's aforementioned cliffhanger is one hell of a cheat, where it is revealed that The Doctor and Peri executed at the end of the episode aren't actually them, but rather androids hastily constructed by Sharez Jek. However, it all makes sense in relation to the rest of the story, so it doesn’t sting as much and you don’t feel as dirty as you might after being... well, you know. Repeating viewing of The Caves of Androzani make this cliffhanger easier to swallow, and sure, it sticks in the throat the first time, but it’s not as bad as instances in the Superman/ King of the Rocket Men/ Flash Gordon serials, so let’s be thankful for that!
Aside from the crappy monster, the only misstep in the whole production has to be the rather awkward way in which Peri manages to doom both herself and the Doctor, by stepping in Androzani’s deadly sticky substance of death. We are rather enamoured of this particular story (as are numerous others...) and we would see it as being the ultimate example of “dumb-arse assistant syndrome”, where the perilous events of the story are triggered by the thoughtlessness of a companion. Peri literally puts her foot in it, leading to the poisoning of both her and the Doctor, necessitating the various twists and turns of the story, ultimately leading the heroic death of everyone’s favourite Time Lord. Given that this was Bryant’s second tale, she can be forgiven for so easily coming a cropper and dragging The Doctor down with her. As Benny Hill used to say: “Sirry pirrock!”
While it might not sound much of a way to die, and you might even go so far as to say that Davison goes out like a punk, the very fact that Peri causes their “deaths” in such a thoughtless way enables The Doctor to go on a Hero’s quest to save her life. He knows full well that he is doomed, and could have just laid down and let the regeneration do its work, but no. He staves off the change to try and thwart Earthly mortality, embarking on a brave adventure to the cave below and retrieve the milk of the Queen Bat, and with only enough for one dose, he makes the ultimate sacrifice. Going out like a pussy? Certainly not!
The regeneration scene at the end of the final episode is memorable, with Davison pulling out all of the dramatic stops - it's a pity that the attention of many viewers was not drawn to Davison acting his socks off in a poignant end to his fifth incarnation, but to the fact that Nicola Bryant was leaning over him in a low-cut top. The regeneration sequence mirrors that of Tom Baker's one, where there are flashbacks of characters relating to that particular Doctor, and all of the companions filmed specially-shot cameos for Davison's send off, along with Anthony Ainley, and - most bafflingly of all - Gerald Flood (Kamelion). When a surprisingly svelte Colin Baker rises from the floor, he immediately starts as he means to go on, with his first words being typically brash and smart-arsed.
The Caves of Androzani is top-drawer Doctor Who, and proof that the Wet-Vet shouldn’t have listened to Pat Troughton and quit after three years, as there was clearly more left in him; much as Sylvester McCoy’s darker persona was coming into its own before the show was axed.
Story rating: 10
Regeneration rating: 8 - It might come across as a rehash of the last one (complete with clips of previous companions and enemies), but it's nicely handled and Colin first couple of sentences are the stuff that great Who is made of.
TIME AND THE RANI: The TARDIS is under attack and the Doctor is unconscious on the floor; in walks a certain redheaded adversary and orders her minion to pick up the Time Lord; when he does so, it is revealed that the Doctor has been injured and regenerates. The Rani has a dastardly scheme up her elegantly-tailored sleeve and The Doctor will form an integral part of her plans...
Doctor Who was in crisis—viewing figures were down during the Trial of a Time Lord season. Michael Grade wanted to pull the plug on the show after Colin Baker's first season, but the death sentence was quickly reduced to eighteen months following an outcry from fans and several national newspapers.
Considering that viewers had been falling away from the show, it was surprising that Doctor Who wasn't down-Graded at that moment, but the show was given one more chance. The only problem was that it was to have a fresh start, and that meant that Colin Baker was going to be given some awfully bad news. Baker's plans to slowly reveal layers of the Doctor's personality were scattered to the four winds when he got the boot (but the character was eventually fleshed-out as part of the so-called ‘Cartmel Masterplan’), and in stepped a Shakespearean actor to give Doctor Who one final attempt to win back audiences.
Colin Baker's exit was the most undignified write-out since Ed Wood said the words: "I’ve had a great idea about how to go on without Lugosi…" The regeneration was something of a cheat—McCoy was dressed in Baker's outfit (which was far too big for him) and wore a curly blonde wig, so when he was turned over, optical effects could be added to obscure McCoys face, and the wig was whipped off in a dissolve and hey presto! One reasonably successful attempt at a regeneration without the participation of the outgoing actor.
We admit that we're big fans of Colin Baker and weren't surprised that the Big Man told the Beeb what they could go and do with themselves when asked to participate with the handover. Baker was originally offered a handful of episodes into this season as a way of making the transition to the new actor go more smoothly, but it's understandable why he turned the offer down.
More so than any other actor to play the Doctor, McCoy had the hardest time trying to make the character his own and also battled the hardest to change the character into something that he wanted it to be. The press gave Mr. Kent-Smith a hard time - we still have an old newspaper cutting from the Daily Mirror somewhere that has the headline "Doc's too diddy to duff-up Daleks" and the article went on to call him a "pint-sized pratt, which didn't exactly do much to endear him to the public. Oh, and we also have the clipping featuring the scathing comments from a certain TV critic, who plumbed new depths of homophobia when he wrote that McCoy probably spends his time "munching on muesli and wondering which shade of pink to paint the TARDIS". Charming.
Sylvester McCoy was brought on-board to give the show a lighter touch and that was precisely what he did initially, with McCoy throwing in various little tricks and pratfalls that he had learnt during his days as part of The Ken Campbell Roadshow along with having his Doctor constantly mixing his metaphors. McCoy was merely following orders and it would take more than a year before the Seventh Doctor become a darker and more mysterious being, the sort of character that McCoy had envisioned in the first place.
There are those who would argue that Time and the Rani suffers from that most exclusive of problems, the New Doctor Syndrome; fans generally agree that most of the stories that feature a newly-regenerated Doctor aren't very good, because the incoming actor spends much of his first story incapacitated or manic in some way (this was nearly fatal for Colin Baker's stint on the show, which saw him trying to strangle his companion and got him off on the wrong foot with the viewing public). Writers Pip and Jane Baker have taken much flak over the years for their contribution to Doctor Who; whilst none of their scripts have been toe-curlingly awful, their stuff seems to be workman-like and mediocre, with it being poorly-realised during the production stage.
"This is idiotic" — a fitting choice of words from the Rani, finding herself not only shoehorned into another story in spite of never really being that popular, but when confronted by a full-pelt Sylvester McCoy, the context of it all seems perfect. The Rani’s plan to kidnap the greatest minds in the galaxy is an interesting one, but surely not an idea perceived as "dangerous" by JNT, as there was little chance he would find the form of Kate O’Mara adding him to her collection.
The Rani’s plan to get the Doctor to repair her machine isn’t all that scientific, only a marginal step up from getting someone so drunk on absinthe that they think they are having sex with someone else. Well, either that or getting a poor sap to write cheques whilst smashed out of their minds.
Kate O'Mara's performance is campy to say the least—she struts around and gives the sort of over-the-top performance usually reserved for panto season, but she gives an admirable sense of conviction to the role that helps a little to sell the concept of a vengeful female Time Lord. We sheepishly admit that seeing O'Mara dressed up in Mel's clothing and acting like her in order to fool the freshly-regenerated Doctor stirs something in the trouser area. The interplay between the ‘Mel’ Rani and McCoy has much more chemistry between them than Slyv and Langford, and is a pity they couldn’t have found some way for O’Mara to stay stuck in that persona for the rest of series.
There is something rather endearing about the shots of McCoy looking befuddled, trying to make sense of all going on around him in light of the regeneration, and something which was absent from the bullish arrogance of Colin Baker. Obviously this is sharply contrasted by the great deal of clowning involved, but there were hints of the depth to come later.
It brought a smile to our lips when the very Scottish McCoy asked "where are we, by the way?", and a little more of his original accent slipped out with the last part of the line. McCoy has always been proud of his Scottish heritage, but one has to wonder if the general negative perception of Sylv and Doctor Who at that period forced Russell T Davies to have David Tennant speak with a Mockney accent.
Sylv brings his music-hall comedy training to the fore at every opportunity, and none is more prominent than a tight turning along a corridor, where he skids round on one foot before haring off, but he overdoes it, making it more obviously slapstick than it needed to be. For an example of how to do it right, watch Gunnar Hansen pull off the same move when chasing Marilyn Burns by the gas station in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Here it’s too broad, and he looks like something from Baggy Pants and the Nit-Wits. Google it, kids. And adults. Or just any of the majority who have no idea what the Hell it is.
We - like most fans - had a real problem with the deadly traps on the surface of Lakertya, which prove to be deadly to day-players, but grant those with their names at the top of the credits with a stroke of luck which doesn’t see them blown to smithereens. The principle of it is just about credible, where the bubble needs to smash into rock to trigger to the explosive, but you just can’t buy that something so lethal can be tamed so easily. We remember cringing with embarrassment at the time when the shots of pink balls of energy continuing what looked like people spinning round-and-round on office chairs appeared—however, from a more mature perspective, you can appreciate what they wanted to achieve and were quite successful at it.
It’s no secret that the Baker’s original script called for the planet Lakertya to be a lush, beautiful environment, which propelled its inhabitants into a state of lethargy. When transferring it to a quarry instead, not only did it make the complacency of the indigenous race patently ridiculous, but it left a number of lines and concepts in the script utterly redundant. Why else would the Doctor be concerned with using biodegradable products when fixing the Rani’s machine if he were not trying to preserve the beauty of the planet?
There is a consistently pleasing production design to the whole thing, from little touches like the flat-table computer screens (with alien language readouts) to the more obvious things like the Rani’s fortress embedded into rock face.
The design of the Tetraps was always a contentious one, particularly when it comes to the faces. OK, there are creatures in nature which have the amazing ability of wraparound vision, but it isn’t achieved by sticking extra eyes all around the head! Combine this with the cartoonish ‘animatronic’ head stuck on it, possessing all the flexibility and lip-synching properties of wrought-iron and it can only induce sniggers. There is at least one shot of a Tetrap prowling a dimly-lit environment all seen in long-shot, and because the head is plunged in darkness, the costume looks pretty effective. It’s just a shame that almost every other instance of it in front of a camera looks so damned silly. Oh, and the voices sound rather similar to the humorous ones given to the Silurians in Warriors of the Deep.
Story rating: 3
Regeneration rating: 1 - Oh dear. You can appreciate just WHY Colin told The Beeb to piss off, but to have poor old Sylv trying to pass himself off as Colin by putting on his clothes and donning a curly blonde Irish is ludicrous.
DOCTOR WHO - THE MOVIE: After the Daleks’ trial and subsequent execution of arch-nemesis The Master, his remains are ordered to be returned to Gallifrey. Taking him back in the TARDIS, a mysterious fault develops and the ship hurtles towards Earth on the eve of the new millennium, where a gun-toting gang shoot The Doctor dead. Both Timelords gain new bodies, and The Master triggers off a series of events which threaten to destroy the world at the stroke of midnight. Will he be able to stop the catastrophic events from happening? Will he be able to resist the comely charms of his new companion Dr Grace Holloway? Will he still have his inexhaustible supply of Jelly Babies? As the clock ticks down to disaster, there can only be one Master...
We all remember waiting for the VHS release, waiting for the golden day where our favourite Time Lord was back and armed with a budget to blow open the doors of the imagination. The place was here. The time was now... but then the bastards at the BBFC delayed the release date by a week in order to cut the guts out of it. The official reason was that “irrelevant violence” was “unacceptable” for anything under a 15-certificate, but everyone with a brain their head knew that this all came about because of the Dunblane Massacre only a matter of days before. Seven days agonising waiting later, we had our Doctor back, but would he be back for good?
Let’s get certain things out of the way to start with. There are hoards of fervent fans who despise the Paul McGann TV movie, and there are numerous credible reasons for them to do so. There are certain elements of the script which fly in the face of both the original show and logic, promptly cutting the wires on your suspension of disbelief. These will be addressed later on, but production-wise, it broke new ground in just about every way possible, giving it a slick look which was needed to drag it into the arena of American television. Many of the fans hated the latter as much as the former, but we felt that it was necessary to have a 30 year old British show become relevant for the audience intended, and have no problem with it.
While it fared better over here, the viewing figures of the BBC1 screening being hit by a combination of apathy (due to its American leanings and bad word-of-mouth) and the fact that it was having a near-simultaneous release on video, which would be the preferred medium for the fans, so they get to keep it rather than letting it disappear into the ether - like so many Patrick Troughton stories we could mention. Success in the UK alone was not going to save it.
Opening the story with Sylvester McCoy in possibly the best rendering of the console rooms was a very smart move, bringing the familiar to those who craved continuity. Resplendent in gothic, Jules Verne-inspired technology and wooden panelling, the footing was just right. But then Slyv stepped out and was promptly shot in the middle of the shortest turf-war ever to grace the screen. They could have started out like the première Nu-Who episode Rose, with the new Doctor merely appearing without any direct continuity, serving both Masters. Those in the know putting two-and-two together and assuming that McGann had just regenerated into Eccleston, but they chose to have more respect than that.
A scientist of appropriate stature once wrote that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, and for every birth, some say there has to be a death. Sure enough, Doctor Who: The Movie saw the demise of not one, or two but three Time Lords. Aside from the ones written into the screenplay, Jon Pertwee died a week before it was broadcast in the UK, leading to a dedication to him.
Time has been kind to Doctor Who: The Movie, and much of its new found acceptance comes from Nu-Who, which has given audiences the same characters and stories presented in a nice, slick package, which is precisely what Paul McGann’s sole outing intended to deliver fourteen years ago. Sure, the San Francisco 1999 setting doesn’t entirely convince, but this is nothing to do with the concept, just another victim like many other movies where they try to substitute Canada for America. There are exciting chases, moments of tremendous peril, the odd shot of religious symbolism and some very appealing performances, all filmed with an eye for detail and a firm grasp on aesthetics. Even to this day, Doctor Who: The Movie might not have been bettered in the production stakes.
Despite numerous failed attempts by the Daleks, the Cybermen and various incarnations of The Master, it was a huge, fat disgusting amorphous blob which managed to kill The Doctor this time around: Roseanne. Yep, when Doctor Who: The Movie went out in America, it was unwisely screened during the crucial, ruthless May sweep-weeks, the time when every show on the air wheels out the most extreme, audience-grabbing stories and/or cliff-hangers to boost ratings to keep them on the air. It was playing directly against the pivotal Heart and Soul episode where John Goodman’s Dan Connor has a heart attack, keeping fans guessing if the bitter feud between the show's two stars had resulted in one being permanently written out. Consequently, Doctor Who: The Movie didn’t really stand a chance in the US, where it only managed about half of the audience-share needed for the project to be commissioned for a series. By the time it was finally aired in the UK, word had (accurately) gotten out that there was going to be no further trans-Atlantic adventures for the Time Lord.
There is little point doing a blow-by-blow dissection of McGann‘s singular outing, as most reading this will have seen it some time ago, and will have their own unshakable opinion one way or another. It’s probably more productive to take a look at what went right and what didn’t quite hit the mark - or failed miserably, depending who you ask. Suffice to say, that for those who bemoan that Steven Spielberg dropping out of the project, doomed it to under-funded mediocrity, just remember that his name plastered all over SeaQuest DSV didn’t save it from drowning a humiliating death.
There has been so much coverage of the torturous writing and production processes, which are also detailed in one of the superb featurettes included herein, that you could spend far too much time chasing your own tail examining it. Suffice to say that for all those concerned with the elements of the things which got up their nose, they pale next to the travesty it could have been. Phil Leekley’s original script saw The Doctor looking for his father (Ulysses!?!) and was so close to ripping off the Indiana Jones series that it caused the much-touted co-producer Steven Spielberg to pull out, concerned that they were merely exploiting his name on the project. Gene Roddenberry always joked that he was keeping a puppy in reserve to appease execs if they wanted Star Trek to broaden its appeal, and it’s with horror that you discover that The Doctor came very close to having a canine companion in the form of a bulldog named Winston. This might be one of the few times the constant redrafting of an original script performed the final film a service.
What is there to say about Paul McGann which hasn’t been voiced in either print or various internet forums over the years? Here has never been a more out-of-the-box perfect incarnation of the character. All of the others took (and continue to take) a period of time before finding their optimum performance, but McGann was note-perfect from the very beginning. Granted, he only had about 90 minutes to make his mark in a manner which keep him on for the prospective series, but he is wonderfully charming and charismatic that his departure remains one of the biggest shames in the whole history of the Whoniverse. We might even venture that his take on the role is the most immediately accessible, with an almost naïve quality that even smoothes over some of the more noticeable problems in the script.
When it comes to companions, we get a two-for-one sale, by way of Grace Holloway (Daphne Ashbrook) and Chang Lee (Yee Jee Tso), with the latter taking on the tricky task of the male assistant - one which usually ends in the character being either utterly hated or merely tolerable. Grace is used as the way-in for the prospective audience of newcomers, filling both the traditional role of asking questions on behalf of the befuddled, and being the everyman (or woman) with a wacky edge to make her the right balance of charming and desirable. OK, the romantic aspect really didn’t go down too well, but they only kissed; it wasn't as though The Doctor waved his nob around in front of her - in the hope of polishing her tonsils, now was it? Even Bill Hartnell still had enough lead in his pencil when he found himself the object of female attraction in The Aztecs, and Time Lords musts propagate somehow.
Chang Lee, on the other hand, seems to have come about purely for the sake of furthering the story. Given the way The Master is able to manipulate him with little use of his legendary powers of mind-control, he’s a pretty gullible kid. Whenever The Master is able to get a major part of his plan into action, Chang Lee is usually the key - literally. Sure, he’s a nice enough guy and as loyal as a puppy, but all he really gets to do aside from dodging bullets is to get around holes in the story or expedite plot points when incidents need to be resolved. In the end, trans-Atlantic TV demands that ethnic actors get fair representation, and having an Asian teenager for a secondary companion was one of the easiest ways to fulfil the quota. We’d have liked to have seen Grace Holloway played by a black actress, rather than going for the more obvious, Caucasian choice.
Eric Roberts copped a lot of flack at the time, and continues to do so for his portrayal of The Master, but this really needs putting into context. There is nothing actually wrong with how he plays it, it is merely case that Roberts was the wrong choice in almost every other respect. Given appropriate material, he is sensational, really coming to life when playing low-life scumbags (did you ever see Star 80? Just brilliant!) but he didn’t fit the bill with this one. He brought an ego the size of an aircraft hanger to the project, and threw his weight around in every key area, rejecting the planned costume in favour of donning a tiresome leather jacket, and is fair to say that his attitude to the project won him few friends on the set. Once Anthony Ainley took over from Roger Delgado, The Master was more a panto villain anyway, and John Simm brought an unwelcome air of smugness to the character, but we have to say that Roberts didn’t do too badly. It’s just a pity about the accent...
There was much gnashing of teeth when it came to The Doctor being involved in a motorcycle chase, which was deemed frightfully out of character for the programme. Such comments were either made by “media commentators” whose job it is to make uninformed statements to fill column-inches, or by ardent fans who seemed to conveniently forget the past. OK, that sequence in particular is shot a little more slickly than the UK is used to, aping American productions, but had Who fans simply forgotten that it was fellow Doctor Who: The Movie actor Sylvester McCoy went on a mad dash through the countryside on a motorbike in Delta and the Bannermen? Well, a lot of folks had tried to blot that story out, which is another matter entirely, but in the years since, David Tennant wheeled around on a moped at the start of The Idiots’ Lantern and Pertwee rode or drove almost anything he could get his mitts on during Planet of the Spiders, so it might be time to close the lid on this gripe.
A mixture of good and bad was the regeneration, using morphing technology to give us a new doctor in modern fashion. While McGann is spectacular wandering the corridors of the hospital in utter confusion, screaming: “Who am I???" at the top of his lungs, it’s Sylv who muddies the water of this one. He was obviously told to make faces for the transitional shot, aiding the merge between the two actors, but McCoy goes overboard, to the point of absurdity. He looks rather like the character Faceache from popular UK comic Buster, and former readers can’t help but think of the appropriate “scrunge” sound effect when watching Sylv do his stuff.
Speaking of early on in the movie, there are conflicting reports as to why the voices of the Daleks sound rather odd, and we are at a loss as to which one is right. Numerous sources say that the original recording was a dead-on recreation of the metallic tone from the original series, but were altered through a fear that viewers would not be able to understand them. The ironic thing is that it isn’t easy to hear what they are saying in the finished film, but this information is agreed by a number of reliable people. What we heard - and this was at the time - was in an interview with someone working at the editing/mixing stage, and admitted that his approximation of a Dalek voice was wrong, leaving it far too late to do anything about.
Aside from the most obvious of things, that being The Doctor becoming romantically involved with an assistant, there are other bits of blatant discontinuity which can’t be mere swept under the carpet. Rather niggling is that the all important Eye of Harmony, the primary power-source of the planet Gallifrey, is located inside the TARDIS, rather than on the planet itself, contradicting the original series by changing its location. This relocation was made purely for convenience in the writing, allowing The Master to try and cheat death one more time whilst keeping the action in a familiar environment, and one assumes that it helped keep the budget down by not having to go off-world. We’re just about OK with this, as you can look at the one onboard the TARDIS as either an intergalactic extension cable or a form of wireless router to power the ship, although Nu-Who’s destruction of the Time Lords’ home world damages that theory, aside from Boom Town, anyway. There are numerous fan-theories out there, with one of the weakest being that The Doctor happened to be transporting the Eye of Harmony at that time. Yeah, OK. In the end, it really doesn’t harm the movie that much.
Which is more than can be said for the major sticking-point. Well, we know that The Doctor likes an “’orrible brew” like tea, isn’t averse to a game of cricket, and partakes in numerous other British activities, but to have the revelation that he is half human almost spits in the face of the fans. It doesn’t matter if you sweeten the pill with a humorous delivery (“on my mothers’ side“) the effect is just the same. Once again, this is strictly for convenience in writing a secular story, allowing both The Doctor and Chang Lee to open the Eye of Harmony whilst keeping The Master out, and in a position where he has to gain control of a minion to gain access. If you read through the reams of changes made to the script on the run up to production, you can really appreciate writer Mathew Jacobs’ efforts to keep as many ties to the show as possible, with some really dumb elements wisely discarded, but the half-human plot-strand was one which proved to be insurmountable. Books and other spin-offs have either chosen to explore this area, building on the mythos whilst embracing it as more colour to the character, but numerous PR offensives have been launched to explain it, with the most palatable being that The Doctor used the Chameleon Arch, altering his cells to keep The Master off his trail. Regardless, it still sticks in our collective craw.
Another of the compromises made to allow the show to be picked up across the Atlantic was peopling it with various kinds of American stereotypes, with some more obvious than others. The one which grates the most has to be that of the rotund hospital worker who loads his pants when the freshly regenerated Doctor rises from the slab in front of him. It’s as though the “funny, fat nerd” box was ticked when writing and subsequently casting the role; you can bet that if it were shot today, he would come complete with an underachieving, slovenly demeanour, elevating him to God-like status to certain viewers.
Finally in the bashing-stakes (we promise) is that the grim fate of two certain characters is altered by The Doctor, not just as it is about to happen, but he alters the flow of time to prevent it from occurring in the first place. We all remember as Nyssa begged him to go back and stop Adric from dying aboard the Freighter, where the angry and heartbroken Doctor plainly told her that it can’t be done. This was always an absolute in the Whoniverse, otherwise they could have brought back any character who happened to come a cropper. This is seen as the beginning of what rankles a lot of fans about Nu-Who, where death is almost an obstacle which gets in the way - one which provides exciting, dramatic spectacle but can be cured quite easily. This was the one problem we had with The Doctor Dances, The Long Game and more annoyingly in Planet of the Dead. Remember the good old days when dead was dead? More on this later...
Story rating: 9
Regeneration rating: 8 - Whilst Sylv might have had the indignity of being shot dead by a bunch of young hoodlums, the Frankensteinian analogy with death and resurrection was pretty well handled.
BAD WOLF: Leaving the now free and single Mickey back in the 21st century, The Doctor, Rose and Captain Jack find themselves back on Satellite Five - they are all involuntary performers in various reality television programmes. Where the key factor on these shows is the voting off of fellow team members, here be given the thumbs down from your peers means elimination, in the most literal sense.
The Doctor breaks out of his reality hell and sets about trying to fathom out just why Satellite Five has gone down this barbaric route, only about a century after seemingly putting everything right. Rose is seemingly killed on her reality TV stint, this could not be further from the truth, as she is actually being held hostage by certain mortal enemies of The Doctor, who are far from extinct, and are poised to begin interstellar war once more with a massive fleet of ships in orbit of Satellite Five.
Early on in the production of the first series of New-Who, producer Russell T Davis hinted that he was going to satirise Big Brother, as he has a fascination with the show (doing nothing to dispel a popular theory that Big Brother only appeals to gay men and dull women) and has publicly said that the incident in the first series with "Nasty" Nick Bateman doing underhanded things was drama at its best - riiiight…
So, what is there in here to have reality TV fans foaming at the zip? Well, there are futuristic robotic incarnations of Tranny, sorry, Trinny and Susanna giving Captain Jack what could be described as an extreme makeover (actor John Barrowman's arse was originally supposed to be seen on screen during this episode, but the Beeb wouldn't allow it). You have The Doctor realising that the version of Big Brother he has landed in is not quite so fantastic when housemates are nominated for a more permanent form of eviction & Rose finds herself facing a robotic version of Anne Robinson that is arguably more lifelike than the real thing (did they programme this one to pronounce the word 'thousand' without a 't' on the end of it?) We can't help but think that this episode was merely a way of getting people who wouldn't ordinarily touch Doctor Who (or science fiction in general for that matter) with a bargepole, by way of pop-culture references
When we watched the trailer for this episode, we saw the pop-culture references and just thought "boy, that's NOT going to date quickly, isn't it?" The original Doctor Who series never did throw itself into anything too indicative of the times (a near miss when the Beatles couldn't clear their schedules for The Chase not withstanding) but this is just too much of a mediocre thing. Given the alarming resurgence in everything eighties from those now in positions of media power, it really wouldn't come as a surprise if an episode was set in the New Romantics era, literally taking a step backwards from the almost tasteful look at the decade in Father's Day. This episode was that it will become dated remarkably quickly - considering the nosedive that Big Brother has taken in the last couple of years, we have to wonder just how long it will continue to be on the air, even on Channel 5; The Weakest Link in the US took a nosedive after a couple of seasons. Speaking of such things, it's remarkable that Trinny & Susanna are still in the public eye the future of What Not To Wear was on shaky ground in the early 21st century, so it's a fairly safe bet that it won't be on the air in the year 200100. Their increasingly desperate (but very lucrative) TV commercial whoredom saw Trinny & Susannah burn themselves in a rather short space of time.
It is interesting that a strong supporting character is introduced in the shape of Lynda (with a "y") and there is noticeable chemistry between her and The Doctor. We can't help but think that Russell T Davies was hedging his bets and grooming the character to be a back-up companion in case Billie Piper heard other projects calling and did what has come to be known as "doing an Eccleston"…
Seeing as on the "coming soon" trail at the end of Boom Town, it showed that the Daleks were coming back to the show, the mystery of what happens at the end of the episode was not exactly going to be a headscratcher. However, The Doctor does a Billy Jack and announces his plan to get Rose back from under the Daleks' very eyestalks…
We weren't all that enamoured of Bad Wolf to be perfectly honest - we despise reality television and didn't really see that much satire in it, other than having robotic versions of varying degrees of televisual celebrity. The redeeming quality to this episode is the cliffhanger, which is written and executed in a way that will have even the most marginal of viewer eager to see the resolution of The Doctor's dire predicament.
THE PARTING OF THE WAYS: Following on from the bold declaration made at the end of Boom Town, The Doctor tries to make good on his intention to rescue Rose from the clutches of the Daleks. It always has been a problem as far as trying to top a climactic cliffhanger is concerned - no matter what happens in the second part of a two-part story, it never seems to be able to reach the same level of excitement and anticipation that is generated by the end of the first part. The Parting of the Ways tries it hardest to trump what has gone before, but despite presenting apparent death and destruction on a large scale, it still can't quite match the sheer power of the end of Bad Wolf.
There is much to enjoy here - we are introduced to the Emperor Dalek (a concept that was first introduced back in Patrick Troughton's Power of the Daleks) and we see The Doctor pit his wits against him, as the fate of humanity and eventually the entire universe rests on his shoulders. The Emperor and all of the Daleks under his control have been driven mad, and it makes for an interesting experience watching Daleks that are not bound by their logical, methodical thinking, and are instead madder than a container of lacerated serpents.
Rose eventually finds her way into the TARDIS, where she finds a holographic message from The Doctor, telling her that he is facing certain death and that she will be sent back to Earth. When Rose returns to the present day, she finds that the final piece of the Bad Wolf puzzle is staring her in the face and subtle mystery that had been growing in strength with each episode is finally revealed. Viewers had spotted the Bad Wolf references - some were obvious, with the graffiti on the TARDIS in Aliens of London being the easiest to spot and some were very esoteric, but they were present, and fans were all guessing as to what the words "Bad Wolf" actually meant. When Rose discovers the puzzle, she enlists the help of her mother and Mickey to help her access the mystical power of the TARDIS and allow her to return to Satellite Five and rescue The Doctor.
If we had to be a little on the cynical side about the new series of Doctor Who as a whole, we would draw attention to that way that too few people are killed in it. We are certainly not suggesting that David Tennant comes brandishing a machine gun next year, but there was always an element of uncertainty about the mortality of the peripheral characters. When the Doctor proclaimed "just for once, everybody lives" at the end of The Doctor Dances, it seemed a bit of a cop-out when so many had perished to great dramatic effect over the course of the two-part story. The same thing happened with Father's Day: loads of deaths, but everything is returned to how it should be by the closing credits. Yes, a few have died during the run, but death plays a much bigger part in real life than many would care to reflect. When John Nathan Turner realised that the show had become a bit too safe during the dying days of Tom Baker, they decided to kill off a companion in an attempt to inject some doubt into the proceedings - let us not forget the wholesale slaughter that occurs in Peter Davison's Resurrection Of The Daleks…
There is apparent wholesale death and destruction here, but the whole thing is possibly negated by but the resolution of the story, which shows one main character being resurrected, but whether or not this means that everyone else follows suit is left unanswered. The battle scenes are impressive, showing the human aspect of a war where one side is vastly superior and the other side is facing extermination (no pun intended), but it is the very fact that in the end the sacrifices and emotions you see in the characters are all possibly pointless.
The regeneration scene was something that everyone was expecting - though the Beeb had done a reasonable job of trying to keep a lid on the footage leaking. There was too much ceremony with the regeneration, as RTD felt it necessary to explain the concept of regeneration to Rose, though in actuality, he was explaining the process to an audience who had never seen the original series. When William Hartnell became Patrick Troughton in the middle of a series with little-or-no explanation beforehand, audiences were genuinely stunned at such an audacious move, but this occurred at a time when there were only three television channels at the time, so the words "like it or lump it" were probably in the minds of the Powers-That-Be.
Christopher Eccleston's portrayal of The Doctor was frustrating - there is no doubt that he is a gifted actor, but in Doctor Who, he was not reigned in enough to allow him to concentrate on the drama, preferring to be OTT and descending into comedy in moments where a more dramatic approach would have been appropriate. Eccleston at times mirrored the more unrestrained and unyielding direction that Tom Baker drifted into when he became more powerful than the director and producers of the show. When Eccleston was on top form, he was a joy to watch, continuing the same kind of brooding gravitas that his predecessors had brought to the series. It was a shame that he spent too much his time grinning and pulling faces as though he were wearing a braffin.
Story rating: 7
Regeneration rating: 8 - Though Eccleston has that Christ-like pose which seems to cement The Doctor as a Christ-like figure, the lead-up to the regeneration is dramatic without being as melodramatically fan-wanky as, say...
THE END OF TIME: Christmas came to Doctor Who once again in 2009, with all the certainty of The Radio Times sporting a festive cover, and like that much-loved publication, this time it was to be a double issue for the Feast of Stephen - but the subscription was about to be cancelled for someone in particular. Please note that this review is not intended as a thorough dissection of the entire story, rather a look at some aspects which tipped the balance of the show one way for the other on the scales of enjoyment.
Brooding over the loss of his mouthiest assistant, The Doctor finds himself without a companion and lacking a sense of purpose. Wilfred Mott (Bernard Cribbins) has been seeing pieces of the forbidden past, and recovering such memories is enough to trigger recollections in Donna Noble, but blissfully unaware that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, he occupy his time trying to find The Doctor, even roping in fellow senior citizens to uncover the “legend of the blue box“. Billionaire Joshua Naismith has gotten his hands on the Immortality Gate, and plans to use it for selfish purposes, intent on resurrecting the one person who can repair it.
Meanwhile, the Ood are experiencing dreams of The Master returning , signifying the end of time itself, and through the ancient, mystical Time Lord power of the flashback, The Doctor shows them just who his mortal enemy is and how the last story with him ended. Before you know it, The Master’s wife has supplied interested parties with genetic material -the kind which requires neither a spatula nor the cry of “I just want a shower” - and The Doctor’s Moriarty is back in business once again, insanely hungry for food… and anything else which will satiate his appetite. His plans include a pretty novel way to restart the Time Lords here on Earth, but more senior members of the ancient race have bigger ideas. It’s just a pity that the obscure prophecies of Gallifrey don’t seem to mention that Romana certainly survived the Time-War….
Anyway, The Master is brought back in a manner which the latter Hammer Dracula films might have balked at, where his genetic imprint from the lips of his wife is taken and used to reconstitute him. Most cosmetics companies can’t even live up to their promise of a 24 hour lipstick, let alone traces of saliva staying put for God knows how long. Going back to this part of the story and the feminine presence during it, there is something about the women Nu-Who depict in positions of power, where they often have an air of smugness combined with superiority, and there are a couple of prime examples to be found here. It’s a fine line when writing strong female characters, as it’s all too easy to make them come across as utter bitches, even though they are not intended to be that way.
The sight of The Master on wasteland/dump dressed like a chav and suddenly gaining superhuman powers is either bizarre or galling, depending on just how cherished your memories of the original characters are. It must have been his Darth-Vader-esque funeral pyre which bestowed on him such Sith-like powers, including the ability to project lightning from his fingers to wake up the under-tens, should all that atmospheric writing stuff be putting them to sleep. Add to that an organic version of Tony Stark’s repulsor technology and you can practically see the merchandising possibilities creating themselves, and all because the reboot of a classic villain was so ill-conceived from the start that attempts to try and change it just made the situation so much worse. If the location of - essentially - a quarry was any attempt at either satire or a comment on the nature of the original series is open to debate, but to use it on Nu-Who as an Earthly location really just looks like just like it is.
Naismith’s grand plan for the Immortality Gate,” a piece of technology he’s acquired from the fall of Torchwood which allows cellular regeneration, from which he hopes to keep his beloved daughter alive from the ravages of both age and death. Naturally, the Master wants it for even bigger things, and won’t let a puny human’s almost twisted affection for his own daughter stand in the way of getting the Time Lords back into circulation. As Naismith, David Harewood seems to come from the very same “fart-under-the-nose” school of facial-expressions from which Don Warrington graduated with honours, but to us, letting John Simm into the Immortality Gate would be disastrous for the entire world, not only because everyone across the globe being made into The Master, but an entire planet of Simm’s overacting could generate enough energy to split the very Earth apart.
Having said that, one little glimmer of what Simm might have done with the role should a firmer hand and less flashy influence been at play comes with the line: “The human race was always your favourite, Doctor…” as he gives a much more subdued delivery, one where you can easily imagine Roger Delgado saying it, with the inflection put into the name of his adversary the same. Along the same lines, the sight of and entire block of flats entirely occupied by Simm is at first disconcerting, but then bigger questions begin to generate themselves in your mind. Is the Master’s plan some form of restoring the white race to even the lowliest of boroughs, where Arian supremacy is the way towards an idealised future? It even crosses the mind that the image might even be a comment of the amount of inbreeding on council estates. Or was it just something cool and a bit creepy to have?
With Tennant about to cash in his chips being no secret, it eternally bugs us that Nu-Who has always had too much telegraphing of impending death, feeling the need to cast prophecies about any members of the cast who happen to be leaving, as though the splashing of said news across the tabloids isn’t enough to key everyone in. It wouldn’t be so bad if death was a finality in the Nu-Whoniverse, but they die only to live again, particularly when ratings are needed. Remember the old days where if a companion was killed, the fucker stayed dead? OK, so Peri was an exception, but it really has gotten to the point where we hope that Rose Tyler gets shot with a 50-cal gun, nuked with a Thunderbolt missile, stuffed into a box of salt, doused in petrol, burned and the ashes banished to the furthest confines of E-Space. That’ll fuck her.
Speaking of endings, we all know that the Doctor has gone out like a punk before, usually when the lead actor gets fucked over by the powers-that-be, but this one really takes the biscuit. Be it dropping a hot cup of tea on your Chinese rug, pissing into the fridge or falling asleep with a fag in their hand and burning your sofa, old people really can’t help doing stupid things which really piss you off, and having Cribbins wandering into the chamber threatening to flood with a lethal dose of radiation is deeply annoying. We assume that he had drank too much milky tea and thought it was a handy port-a-cabin to relieve himself in. Before you can say “Wrath of Khan”, a beloved sci-fi character is doomed to die before being reborn - well, not before he gets to wander off on a self-congratulating tour of Tennant’s time on the show of almost pornographic proportions.
The amount of time and pretension spent around said regeneration is directly proportionate to the love the production has for itself and all it has done. Here the Ood sing the Doctor to his death, and whilst we were always disappointed that Matt Smith wasn’t heralded by a chorus of Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep, the emotion being forced onto the audience is almost at gunpoint - “You WILL feel sad and curiously elated…” and your senses almost rebel at such pressure to emote. Music plays a major part is getting the tear ducts to do their thing, and you wonder if every instrument in Murray Gold’s orchestra had a Post-It note stuck to it reading “Piu Forte”. The great Geoff Love would have taken an entirely different approach, we’re sure.
It‘s always a privilege to have a guest actor of genuine stature in Doctor Who, and the inclusion of Timothy Dalton as Rassilon even trumps the mighty Michael Gough for the honour of top guest-thesp. From the moment he reads out the opening monologue, you know that his presence in the show is really something awesome for the Christmas special - no giant Cybermen or gimmicky snowmen, this is an actor delivering a mesmerising performance in enviable tones. Be it an advert for Brains Faggots - “In a rich, West-country sauce,” a turncoat Nazi - “I want that rocket, Eddie” or Rassilon giving us a potted history of Gallifrey, Dalton really does deliver the goods with real panache. The fact that we played a couple of his henchmen in Hot Fuzz in no way influences our opinion, of course…
It dawned on us that we had forgotten just how much the tenth Doctor overplayed it in the latter part of his Tennant-cy. With material including his deflowering of the Virgin Queen shoved in front of him, it becomes almost understandable how he succumbed to the temptation to really play it to the back row. Combating such exuberance is some really nice interplay between Tennant and Cribbins as they sit watching the world from above the atmosphere, crystallising the Doctor’s feelings towards humanity, and just why he has such affection for them. It’s one of the most honest pieces from Tennant in his entire run, presumably due to his realisation that the most fortuitous times of his career was coming to an end. As further evidenced later on, they have a dynamite chemistry together, pondering the nature of death and war in a mature fashion, something which might be suicide for the youngest of viewers, but provides the best moments for those old enough to appreciate the raw nature of the sentiment.
We’re probably reading far too much into this, but the Wilf’s band of Silver surfers, out locate Gallifrey’s finest, is almost like the old guard of fans trying to find The Doctor in the midst of the all the modernism heaped upon the character. Whimsy aside, with too many cups of weak tea inside them on a rather bouncy bus, this group of senior-citizen sleuths would fast become golden surfers if not careful. It brought a smile to our collective lips to see June Whitfield and Hi-De-Hi’s Barrie Howard as one of said motley crew of pensions, as we remember seeing him as The Narrator in a production of The Rocky Horror Show at The Marlowe Theatre in 1993, where we batted out every audience partic-i-pation line in the book. Mr Howard really wasn’t happy at us shouting out the “describe your balls” prompt, dutifully replying with the appropriate “heavy, black and pendulous” response, directly shooting us the most baleful look he could muster, whilst eliciting howls of laughter from the audience. Ah, memories…
Some aspects of The End of Time really grated, and none more so than the most obvious rip-off of them all. We all know that JJ Abrams’ main gambit for his Star Trek reboot was to make it “…more like Star Wars”, but there is no doubt that they tried a little of the same thing with Tennant‘s final outing, where they shamelessly rip off the beloved “gun-port” sequence for George Lucas‘ seminal opus. Christ, even Glen A Larson would have trouble trying to defend a charge of similarities between them! If you want plain old errors, then there must be something going in with the temporal balance in the universe, as little ripples seem to be affecting things. Witness when Donna’s mother opens a saucy Christmas card, braying like a castrated donkey at the sight of a buff Santa - this same card is seen a good twenty minutes earlier, leading us to suspect that time itself starting to come apart, with little occurrences leading to bigger events later on. Either that, or there was a sale on at the local branch of the Card Factory, and the woman herself was just too pissed to realise the same card was on her kitchen counter earlier on.
Obviously there is an unmistakable urge to bring all things to an end, but to do it with one particular thing is really irritating. “Allonsy” was just a crap, contrived catchphrase when it was conceived, and the reverential use of it this time round just comes across as self-congratulating for something not worthy of such praise, like buying a toddler an choc-ice because they didn’t set fire to the cat. Ditto with the piece near the end where a fed-up looking John Barrowman is given the name of a hot piece of boy-tail opposite him, which just happens to be “Alonzo”. Did you see what they did there? Jesus, even Morbius would have seen the mechanics of that one way in advance.
With death at the forefront of the writing, the goal was clearly to give Tennant the biggest send-off they could concoct, even if certain laws of physics, biology and the writer’s bible are blatantly ignored for the sake of exciting spectacle. Having the Doctor jump out of a spaceship in mid-flight through a glass roof, and easily surviving it pushes the credibility line far too much, even in the arena of science-fiction. Jesus, a much smaller fall was enough to kill off Tom Baker at the end of Logopolis, and lets not forget that it was crashing thorough a roof of similar material which left poor old Emu without a hand to stick up his Khyber.
We’re probably walking into a digital bear trap on this one, but to criticise Murray Gold’s music has become a form of blasphemy in certain quarters of the internet, but many of the accusations thrown in his direction are validated here. Whilst trying to make the score both new and exciting, there are times where certain themes are a little out of place, almost as though a conscious pastiche of 1940s adventure movies, without the verve John Williams employed for the Indiana Jones series. We all know that kids respond to archetypes, but there is a certain smugness which wasn’t there during Christopher Eccelston’s tenure, and read further on for how this intersects with the climax to the story.
There is certainly enough to balance out what either annoys or doesn’t work, this time around. For instance, this really is a show which helps to cement the position of the denizens of Gallifrey, including a deeply impressive shot of the Time Lords at the finale of the first part, where only a thespian of Dalton’s calibre can deliver a block of dialogue with such utter conviction that you ignore the huge wad of spittle he ejects mid-speech. We also get to see plausible evidence that the Time Lords could be an absolute bunch of bastards, living right up to the famous speech make by Colin Baker during his trial. Visually, the production design of Gallifrey and the effects employed to achieve it all are really quite spectacular, even if a one particular area bears an uncanny resemblance to the senate chambers in the Star Wars prequels. Whilst there are those all too quick to “tut” that it jars with what has been seen before, it’s something we all had to swallow ever since Sylvester McCoy sat eating jelly babies in his souped-up version of the TARDIS back in 1996.
They also go out of their way to give credence to the sound of the Master’s tormenting drums, making it part of the storyline. All because of a song which Russell T Davies presumably heard in a club somewhere. Should the show have been made fifteen years earlier, we would have presumably been bombarded with lines of dialogue like: “Don’t you see, Doctor, the evil that dwells within me has no limits” - cue the Earth under attack to the sounds of 2-Unlimited. The rewriting of… sorry, further explanation of the “drums” being a coded signal in the sound of a Time Lords’ heartbeat is actually quite clever, and further makes the rest of Rassilon’s lot to be a bunch of ruthless, amoral bastards to have The Master’s entire existence be to retrospectively preserve their race. You really have to love the use of putting the TARDIS “one second out of synch” to keep it from being discovered. This would have buggered up many stories from the original run had it been thought up then…
There is stuff stuck right between the two extremes of opinion, and as we’re pretty confident that anyone reading which would be more than familiar with the outcome of the story, so it’s probably OK of us to say that the conclusion is a bit of mixed-emotion generator. For all of the irritation through the writing/characterisation/performance of The Master, the right decision was made to have him partially redeem himself at the end through stopping the plans of the Time Lords, echoing the uneasy alliances of stories past. The problem is that it’s all rather similar to tales firmly embedded in the public consciousness, with memories of Saruman and Wormtongue or Vader and Palpatine bring triggered by The Master personally killing Rassilon.
The End of Time was big, bold, flashy and featured an incarnation of The Master which they didn’t know what to do with. That it went from broad laughs to high-level emotion in a manner which would make a Bi-Polar Disorder sufferer take issue with it pretty much encapsulates Tennant’s run on the show, so it can be argued that it was a fitting swansong for the Tenth Doctor. As a story, it has some pretty impressive ideas, as well as some still being itemised by the police, but once Tennant has cut out all of the gags and gets down to channelling emotion, it gives us a tantalising glimpse of how stratospheric he and his tenure could have been. Dalton is tremendous, Simm is Simm and who would have thought that Bernard Cribbins could have brought so many lumps to the throat to a generation raised on The Wombles? We might have some problems with it, but to have the Time Lords feature as prominently as they do and in a story of this scale, it’s pretty impressive.
Story rating: 7
Regeneration rating: 6 - Cutting out the melodramatic masturbatory lap-of-honour before finally happening, not to mention that it's the same basic regeneration as last time, it's not bad.
THE TENTH PLANET: The three surviving episodes weren't in that great shape (we consulted with one of the guys at the Doctor Who Restoration Team, who confirmed this) and whilst the results are much better than the VHS release, there are going to be some fans who will be disappointed by what is presented here. The VIDFire process has been applied and every effort has been made to remove visual debris and various imperfections; image detail is marginally lower than what we have seen in some recent sixties stories, but it's not ghastly by any stretch of the imagination. The animated episode four is, not surprisingly, flawless.
THE WAR GAMES: The British Film Institute held the film recording negatives of all ten episodes and they were all in excellent condition—given that they had great quality materials to work with, the results are arguably the best seen so far. The videotaped studio material is wonderfully clean and sharp, almost looking as though you were watching its initial broadcast—the blacks are really solid and the level of detail in general is wonderful. Obviously the film sequences don’t look as good, but they’re still pretty impressive.
PLANET OF THE SPIDERS: Much of the studio footage was shot in dark locations, so the video footage was going to be grainy anyway, but there just seems to be something preventing it from shining as magnificently as others from the same period on DVD. There has certainly been restoration work carried out and the upswing in quality is noticeable, but this is one of the few times where we have been a little disappointed with the results of the Restoration Team's efforts.
LOGOPOLIS: This seems to be the same transfer from the original DVD release and looks about as good as it can; a considerable amount of the first two episodes was shot on film, but the original elements were not available to the Restoration Team. They have done the best they can and the results are pretty good, with the studio footage faring best.
CAVES OF ANDROZANI: We're assuming that this transfer is taken from the Revisitations set, as it looks cleaner and sharper than the original release, particularly with the location footage, which was shot on film - the colours are most impressive and there is just seems more vibrant that on last release. Not much could really be done to improve the studio material, which was shot on videotape, but this is not a criticism, as it looked great to begin with.
TIME AND THE RANI: The usual magic has been performed by the Restoration Team and the results are as great as you would imagine from a Doctor Who story of this particular vintage; colours are pretty strong and the image is clean. There are issues that arise from the limitations of the technology of the time (the fact that by this point, the production had switched over to the vastly inferior ½” videotape), but this is arguably the best Time and the Rani has looked and will ever look.
DOCTOR WHO - THE MOVIE: This seems to be the same transfer from the Revisitations set, meaning we get a full-frame presentation. This isn’t a bad thing per se, as it was intended to be broadcast in this manner, and given all of the efforts the restoration guys put in to make the movie look as good as it does, it still looks acceptably clean.
BAD WOLF/THE PARTING OF THE WAYS & THE END OF TIME: The two tales looks really rather nice, with bold colours, pleasing black-levels and some degree of sharpness, whilst not being artificially so. If there is one little niggle, it’s that there is some compression problems, where banding is noticeable, but this is to be expected when squeezing over three and a half hours onto one disc. There are no real complaints to be had, and you’ll be getting a decent presentation of these significant stories.
THE TENTH PLANET: The first three episodes sound fine, but seeing as the audio for the missing fourth episode has been pieced together from the existing fan-generated audio recordings, there are moments when fidelity and clarity in general varies considerably.
THE WAR GAMES: Obviously the Restoration Team has worked their audio sweetening magic on the audio for this story and it sounds a treat.
PLANET OF THE SPIDERS: Nothing to complain about, as usual - the mono Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack is perfectly fine, with Dudley Simpson's music score being particularly pleasing to the ears.
LOGOPOLIS: No problems here, as dialogue is as clear and discernable and Paddy Kingsland's incidental music is presented here in a manner that will please it's small amount of fans.
THE CAVES OF ANDROZANI: Not much to report here - the audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 and sounds fine to our ears. Dialogue is clear and Roger Limb's incidental music sounds perfectly pleasant on the ear (though there are many who would dispute our observation, but we are not here to slag off Limb's contribution to Doctor Who).
TIME AND THE RANI: This was originally presented in mono and that is faithfully reproduced here, but with the customary clean-up job and the end result probably has more clarity and definition than most people heard when it was originally broadcast.
DOCTOR WHO - THE MOVIE: Once you have gotten over abject disappointment that they haven’t mixed it into a discrete 5.1 digital soundtrack, you’ll be able to enjoy the generally strong 2.0 version included here. It decodes into surround rather well, with the sound of the needle of The Doctor’s gramophone getting stuck bouncing into the rear speakers - just as we remember it doing so all those years ago. It’s a good enough experience, if a little bit of a bummer that they didn’t lavish a bit more time on it.
BAD WOLF/THE PARTING OF THE WAYS & THE END OF TIME: The Nu-Who stories with a Dolby Digital 5.1 track, and whilst there was a dip in the quality of the remixes during Nu-Who, Bad Wolf, The Parting of the Ways and The End of Time come from the decent ends of the spectrum, with rich, full-bodies soundtracks containing oodles of spot-effects from the rear channels and ball-busting bass. Just take a listen to the line: “They survived through me…” for a combination of all the aforementioned things which these mixes do best. If you haven’t experienced them in 5.1 before, you and damn-well in for a treat.
Not a Gallifreyan sausage. Unless you count the elaborate hardback coffee-table-style book this set comes in as any kind of valid extra. We can't comment upon it, as we just had plain review discs - we're sure it's very nice.
This set would make for a nice primer to get Nu-Who fans into Classic Who during this golden anniversary year. For long-time fans such as ourselves, we already have all (or most of) the stories included in this set - there are some who would say that the inclusion of The Tenth Planet here is a cynical way of getting die-hard fans to part with even more of their hard-earned cash. There probably is some veracity to this argument, but there will be a special edition of The Tenth Planet released in November and will be presumably stuffed to the gills with cool extras.
For what it is, it's not bad and the packaging will look cool on a shelf. What a pity that they couldn't have waited a few more months and included Matt Smith's regeneration in this set, too...
Review by Wilson Bros
Suitable only for persons of 12 years and over
Release Date: 23rd June 2013
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Easter Egg: No
Director: Derek Martinus, David Maloney, Barry Letts, Peter Grimwade, Graeme Harper, Andrew Morgan, Geoffrey Sax, Euros Lyn
Cast: William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, Paul McGann, Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, Matt Smith
Length: 1055 minutes
Follow our updates
OTHER INTERESTING STUFF
WolfCop US - BD RA Digging Up The Marrow US - BD RA Big Eyes US - BD RA Long Weekend US - BD RA Night Train Murders, The UK - BD
Bruce Boxleitner Interview: Area 51 DVD | BD Ricky Gervais Part One DVD Eddie Schmidt DVD Van Duyl Gerben DVD Mark Rance DVD
WolfCop US - BD RA Digging Up The Marrow US - BD RA District 9 US - BD Dragonball Evolution: Z Edition US - BD RA Big Eyes US - BD RA