I may not have seen any of these old Doctor Who episodes, but it’s hard to miss how popular Tom Baker is. Many consider him the “Definitive Doctor”, the one to beat. I am very much looking forward to seeing how he pans out over the next few seasons.
My initial impression is that he is a bit mad! Dressing up as a clown, skipping, offering people sweets, grinning with that wide-eyed expression that says both “I’m having a laugh” and “don’t mess with me”. But at this point, it’s hard to judge him because all new regenerations are a bit mad at first, they take time to settle in, get into a rhythm, adjust to their new character. For now, it seems as though he has transformed from an old man into a child, in much the same way as he did when he went from Hartnell to Troughton. It’s a positive change, if you ask me. After all, there’s no point being grown-up if you can’t be childish sometimes!
This story is not a space epic but a more down-to-earth adventure. The threat is from a local group who have built a deadly robot and stolen an advanced military weapon and nuclear launch codes. A perfect warm-up for the new Doctor, then. It’s your typical monster story, except the monster is an indestructible robot with a conscience, and a design straight out of a B-movie. It’s fairly good, but when it introduces the idea of living metal and the robot becomes enormous, it stretches believability a bit (okay, a lot). There’s also the coincidence problem again, as Sarah Jane just happens to visit a scientific group called Think Tank, who just happen to be the ones behind the robot. The plotting is too convenient.
There’s a lot new to enjoy here. The new Doctor, of course, and an even better title sequence – but also former writer Robert Holmes now on script editor duties, which bodes very well for the series going forwards. There’s also a new companion, UNIT’s medical officer Harry Sullivan, who appears to be joining the Doctor on his travels, which should make for more interesting stories. Finally, the biggest change in this serial is a visual one, as all of the outdoor shooting was done on videotape for the first time. While it loses the cinematic feel of celluloid, it does create a smoother, cleaner and more consistent look, and integrates better with the ambitious special effects sequences in part 4. Once I got over the “home video” look, I found it quite easy on the eyes.
So, all in all, a thumbs up. The story wasn’t anything special, but it looked good and was the right length. Moreover, Tom Baker is entertaining in all of his scenes, gets some great lines, and is such a refreshing change from Pertwee. He has an energy and enthusiasm that carries his scenes well, and I’m eager to see more.