Monthly Archives: September 2013

[The Fifth Doctor: Summary + Best Episodes]

Davison’s run of episodes is the shortest so far. Even though he had three seasons plus a special (roughly what Hartnell and Troughton both had), each season has been shorter since the show went to colour, which means, in terms of episodes, Davison’s time on the show feels remarkably short-lived!

Not much has really changed since the latter half of Tom Baker’s stories. The show still flirts with science, mythology, humour and darkness. There are still scary monsters, disturbing imagery and a fair dose of silliness. There are still over-the-top villains, good and bad theatrical performances and action scenes that range from competent to absolutely dreadful. Peter Davison takes on a more action-heavy role, but it hasn’t really changed very much overall.

The show has begun to indulge in its own history a bit more, but this was in part due to the anniversary year. Season 20 and the anniversary special contain a lot of fun throwbacks and some good stories too. Season 21 is rather poor until it picks up at the end. Overall, the range of stories in these three seasons is quite mixed, with some more lighthearted adventures than usual sprinkled throughout.

The Doctor’s companions don’t change much over his shorter run. He almost always has a group, as that seems to be how he works best. Tegan is with him for almost the entire time (having joined shortly before his regeneration, and left shortly before the next one!). Nyssa and Adric are bland and awful respectively. The arrival of Turlough is intriguing and he becomes very entertaining and over-the-top. Kamelion might as well have not been there at all, appearing all but twice. And Peri has only really just settled in, but she makes quite an entrance. Then there’s the younger model, the new Doctor himself…

Thoughts on the Fifth Doctor

If Tom Baker was your mad uncle, Peter Davison is your favourite school teacher. On the whole, he’s a friendly type, but if you step out of line, he will not hesitate to scold you for it. The fifth Doctor is very much an adventurer, with all the same curiosities inherited from his previous incarnations, but with the energy of youth within him too, who wants nothing more than to share the wonders of the universe with his “students”.

He’s wise beyond his years, naturally, but at times he is pushed to physical violence and aggression. I think it’s fair to say that Davison has had a mixed time as the Doctor, but when he’s written well, he can really pull off a good range. As he’s often written into situations where he is virtually powerless, he does handle desperation and panic well. He’s not an eccentric like Baker or Troughton’s versions, but he has some funny lines or quirks. More than once he’s done that thing where he tosses a coin to choose a direction, but tosses it again anyway to get the outcome he wanted.

Mostly, Davison’s Doctor is just a “nice guy”. It’s difficult to dislike him, but at the same time, it’s tough to say that he has a strong personality either. Coming after Baker, the worst you could say is that he’s a little bit bland. However, he is never a detestable bore or anything less than likeable, so that leaves my order of preference looking something like the below (feel free to disagree, naturally):

Tom Baker > Patrick Troughton > Peter Davison > Jon Pertwee > William Hartnell

Episode Highlights

I haven’t had too much trouble picking out my favourite Davison serials. There aren’t as many to choose from and the good ones are fairly easy to pick out. That said, there are some stories that had potential that was squandered by poor plotting or bad production (such as Earthshock). Likewise, there are those that are glossy and well-made but make very little sense (like Resurrection of the Daleks). My list favours originality, style and good fun. Naturally, I’m open to discussion and I always reserve the right to completely change my mind. Here are my picks:

The Visitation (4 parts)
A standard historical alien invasion, accompanied by a loveable rogue highwayman. Good fun!

Mawdryn Undead (4 parts)
A clever use of time travel, some excellently grotesque creatures and the return of the Brigadier.

Enlightenment (4 parts)
Nicely wraps up the Black Guardian Trilogy and provides a big sci-fi idea in a unique setting.

The Five Doctors (1 special)
Is it cheating to include this? A smorgasbord of nostalgia, the best bits of Doctor Who join forces for a fun romp.

Planet of Fire (4 parts)
Character drama comes through as Turlough leaves and Peri joins. A good story and nicely filmed.

The Caves of Androzani (4 parts)
This dark and sophisticated story pushes Peter Davison to his best performance.

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The Caves of Androzani

It’s been a while since Robert Holmes wrote a Doctor Who script; it’s almost like he’d been saving this one up. It’s an uncharacteristically sophisticated story, mature and quite dark, dealing with themes of corporate corruption, terrorism, betrayal, greed, violence and sacrifice.

The unnecessary monster. Seriously, what was the point of this thing?

The unnecessary monster. Seriously, what was the point of this thing?

That being the case, the silly-looking man-in-a-rubber-suit monster is rather perfunctory. The story doesn’t need the added threat of a creature when the various sides are already ruthlessly butchering each other. Caves of Androzani doesn’t pull any punches; it’s violent when it needs to be, and its large cast of characters are largely dead by the end. If anything, the story is a little too complicated – with everyone backstabbing each other, it took me a while to work out what was going on!

Morgus "witnesses" the president's death in an unfortunate lift "accident".

Morgus “witnesses” the president’s death in an unfortunate lift “accident”.

At the heart of the story is Sharaz Jek, who is using his supply of spectrox drug to seek revenge on the man who left him horribly scarred. It would have been more effective if we never got to see his face, just the reaction to it – no amount of makeup can match one’s imagination, after all. Jek is quite a dramatic character, very intense and threatening but, like all good villains, he has a tender side, and seems to develop affection towards Peri, although I’m not quite sure why; did I miss something?

In these tenderer moments, he's like a clown in bondage gear. Now there's a chilling thought.

In these tenderer moments, he’s like a clown in bondage gear. Now there’s a chilling thought.

Caves of Androzani is also well made, with some interesting camera angles. I suspect some of it must have been shot handheld to get the dramatic close-ups and awkward angles that you don’t usually see in a video production. The androids’ thermal vision is also a good-looking visual effect, and the Doctor’s two visible hearts a nice touch of detail. Another nice detail is that we finally learn what the Doctor’s piece of celery is for! Poison detection, Gallifrey style. It didn’t save him from the spectrox spores, though.

The stand-out moment for me is during the ship's descent towards Androzani Minor. Davison's Doctor is desperate, panic-stricken and clearly over his head, but pulls off a miraculous turnaround.

The stand-out moment for me is during the ship’s descent towards Androzani Minor. Davison’s Doctor is desperate, panic-stricken and clearly over his head, but pulls off a miraculous turnaround.

This was a very good ending for the fifth Doctor, and a thorough test bed for his best qualities to shine through. It’s a shame that this version comes to an end, but I will have some more to say on the fifth Doctor’s character and adventures shortly.

Moments before "death", the Doctor remembers his former companions. You just can't get rid of that kid Adric, can you?

Moments before “death”, the Doctor remembers his former companions. You just can’t get rid of that kid Adric, can you?

Planet of Fire

As Peter Davison’s era comes to an end, changes are afoot. Gone is Tegan, and in her place arrives Peri, an American student. Kamelion finally reveals he’s been hiding in the Tardis cupboard for the past four serials but his story comes to an end as he is destroyed by necessity. Finally, Turlough leaves us to return to his own people, after meeting his long-lost brother and finally revealing why he was exiled.

The Master redirects the Doctor's Tardis using his link with Kamelion.

The Master redirects the Doctor’s Tardis using his link with Kamelion.

This may be a story about a doomed volcanic planet and the Master’s attempt to mislead a god-fearing tribe of primitives in his ongoing attempt to gain immortality, but nevertheless, character drama features more strongly here than it usually does. There are some nice moments with Turlough and the Doctor, particularly when the Doctor tells him their friendship will be over if he is withholding important information. The large amount of on-location filming also lends a more natural (less staged) style to the events. It’d be nice to see the whole show shot on film, but I know that wasn’t the style at the time.

Turlough reveals the marking on his arm and what it means.

Turlough reveals the marking on his arm and what it means.

Peri’s story naturally begins on Earth, as she expresses boredom to her stepfather and wants to get away and travel. I think it’s good to have a more international cast of characters (even if her accent isn’t entirely convincing). Of course, it also helps that she looks good in a bikini. Conversely, Turlough should never wear shorts. Ever.

Rescued from drowning, Turlough brings Peri back to the Tardis to recover.

Rescued from drowning, Turlough brings Peri back to the Tardis to recover.

There wasn’t much I didn’t like about Planet of Fire. In an otherwise disappointing season so far, this stands out as pretty good. A relatively straightforward story with some good twists, nicely handled themes of faith and science, actual character development with the main cast and a shake-up to keep things fresh for a while.

The Doctor has a difficult time in siding with the 'unbelievers', almost getting them burned alive.

The Doctor has a difficult time in siding with the ‘unbelievers’, almost getting them burned alive.

I also liked the reveal of the Master’s true predicament at the end of part 3, and he was a pleasure to watch throughout. His fiery demise was… unexpected. How can he possibly return from that?!

Ow, ow, ow, oww!!!

Ow, ow, ow, oww!!!

Resurrection of the Daleks

It’s time to wheel out the pepper pots again, as the Daleks return from the brink of annihilation to retrieve their creator Davros, after losing horribly in their war with the Movellans. How the Daleks ever managed to survive before Davros was retconned into their genesis, I will never know!

The Supreme Dalek observes events through its crystal ball.

The Supreme Dalek observes events through its crystal ball.

Resurrection of the Daleks has a rather complicated plot, particularly by the standards of most Dalek episodes. Although the Daleks free Davros from his space prison, they are not under his command and want to merely use him to find a cure for their deadly virus. Likewise, Davros is unhappy with the Daleks and wants to create a new breed. But the Daleks are also after the Doctor, having snagged him into a time tunnel and pulled him to 1980s Earth, which is also where they’re keeping the virus samples and from where they’re taking humans and then cloning them and brainwashing the clones to use as slaves, and hope to create a clone of the Doctor to invade Gallifrey and kill the Time Lord high council [breathe], all the while Davros tries to reprogram his Daleks to obey him instead. Ambitious bunch, aren’t they?

There are lots of meaningless deaths in this story, the most memorable of which is when one of the fake-policemen shoots some poor sod on the beach.

There are lots of meaningless deaths in this story, the most memorable of which is when one of the fake-policemen shoots some poor sod on the beach.

With all the twists and double-crossings, even between Daleks, it’s hard to know what’s going on at any one time or what anybody’s motivation is. Many of the ideas aren’t expanded upon. The Daleks creating genetic duplicates of humans and brainwashing them could be a huge deal, but they’re basically just slaves or “Dalek agents” to do their dirty work for them. The briefest of concern over a possible invasion at the end is just shrugged off with “oh, don’t worry, the clones are unstable”. Riiiight.

A brainwashed clone of Stien attaches the Doctor to the mind scanner. His performance is poor, even after we learn of his true nature.

A brainwashed clone of Stien attaches the Doctor to the mind scanner. His performance is poor, even after we learn of his true nature.

Davros is Davros, of course, and as over-the-top as ever, but is becoming a generic babbling villain now, with repetitive prose. The Doctor, however, seems to have developed a more ruthless side to him, since he has no qualms with killing the Dalek mutants, nor Davros himself. Who says the Doctor doesn’t use guns? Ultimately, Davros is left to die on the spaceship as it explodes due to the conveniently named “self destruct room”, but is this really the end of him? I can’t believe it. Besides, the Daleks have time travel; they’ll find a way back. I do hope next time it’s a more straightforward adventure. Sometimes less is more.

The Doctor finally confronts Davros in a dramatic conclusion.

The Doctor finally confronts Davros in a dramatic conclusion.

This story sees Tegan finally decide to give up the stressful life of adventuring and stay behind on Earth, not unlike several others before her. It’s not the first time she’s considered leaving the Tardis behind, but this time it is for good. A reluctant companion from the offset, Tegan was caught up in the adventure by accident, but stuck around for a surprisingly long time considering how much she complained about everything. Her departure is a reminder to me that Davison’s tenure is almost up. It’s strange, it feels like it’s barely started.

Frontios

I didn’t really think the Tardis was destroyed at the end of part 1 – let’s be honest, that’s never going to happen – but if such a thing were to occur, it would have to be in a far more interesting story than this, and in a manner far less mundane than being caught in a meteor shower.

The Doctor looks good in glasses; he should wear them more often.

The Doctor looks good in glasses; he should wear them more often.

Gravity is the theme here, and a race of Tractators are using it against a crashed Earth colony to smash its people with meteorites, drag them underground, and eventually turn the planet itself into a mobile home. For some reason that is never explained, the colony leaders want to control the flow of information and keep this whole underground business hush-hush amongst the colonists. Predictably, the Doctor and company are accused of being the aggressors, there’s a power struggle amongst the colonists, and frankly by this point I was bored.

I like how the Doctor saves Tegan by pretending she's a robot slave. Speaking of robots, what has happened to Kamelion since he joined the crew?

I like how the Doctor saves Tegan by pretending she’s a robot slave. Speaking of robots, what has happened to Kamelion since he joined the crew?

There are a few things that kept my interest. Turlough recalling his ancestral memories (what?) about the Tractators, leading to a superb piece of overacting. I like Turlough; it’s as if he knows he isn’t going to be in the show very long so he overdoes everything. He’s never dull, I’ll give him that. There’s also some funny business with a hatstand, which apparently the colonists have never seen before and they think it’s a gun or something.

Get back or I'll shoot you... with hats.

Get back or I’ll shoot you… with hats.

There is definitely potential in this idea, but it’s so blandly presented. The direction is poor, particularly where any action is involved, and the Tractators are just your typical silly-looking rubber suit monsters. The odd bit of gruesome imagery, such as the corpse of Captain Revere controlling the mining machine, goes some way to make this memorable, but nothing else resonates. A mediocre effort overall.

The Awakening

The Awakening is another two-part story and, as such, presents a comparatively lean adventure. Nevertheless, as a story of an advanced alien probe spawning a devil-like creature, feeding off of “psychic energy” (Doctor Who sure does love its psychic energies), opening a rift into the 17th century and brainwashing a village of war reenactors, it is by no means small, but it does have to rely on a lot of clumsy exposition to push things along.

The face of the Malus is quite excellent.

The face of the Malus is quite excellent.

It’s all a bit wishy-washy, really, with giant faces, psychic projections and ghostly apparitions thrown into a melting pot of bizarre happenings. The imagery and implications are quite dark, admittedly, and the brainwashed Hutchinson is an entertainingly mad villain, but I found it unbelievable how the whole village just went along with his progressively weirder requests. There is an uneasy atmosphere to the proceedings, where you’re not quite sure how serious everybody is being, whether the threats are real or all part of the game.

It isn't shown, but this guy totally gets his head cut off... right?

It isn’t shown, but this guy totally gets his head cut off… right?

I think they could have played up the “are we in the past?” angle a bit more, or played into the “mysterious happenings in a quiet village” theme, where everyone is acting strangely. Maybe a longer story would have done that, but then again, there is something to be said of a story that doesn’t drag for the sake of it. There’s sadly not much time to develop Tegan’s character or her relationship with her grandfather, which turns him into just a plot device and a reason for Tegan to go wandering off. Oh well.

Warriors of the Deep

Whenever I hear the word “Silurians”, I can’t help but hear it in Jon Pertwee’s posh lispy voice. It’s been a long time since they or their Sea Devil cousins appeared in Doctor Who, in two fairly poor serials, and now they’ve teamed up for round three.

The Sea Devils look like samurai. With ray guns. They are awful shots, though.

The Sea Devils look like samurai. With ray guns. They are awful shots, though.

Although the rubber suits are better, the story sadly isn’t. A group of surviving Silurians has awoken an army of hibernating Sea Devils and plans to attack an underwater base and use it to push the Earth into a nuclear war, wiping out the “primitive” ape life and reclaiming the surface for their own kind. As ever, this comes down to a clash of opposing sides, Silurians versus humans, and, despite the Doctor’s reservations, always results in one side snuffing it. I just don’t think the Silurians and the Sea Devils are interesting foes. There could be a good story to tell, but this is just your typical monsters/aliens attack story.

The inevitable end, but the Doctor doesn't like being forced to kill.

The inevitable end, but the Doctor doesn’t like being forced to kill.

It’s not even particularly well done. Yes, the costumes are a lot better (particularly the Sea Devils – their military armour is a massive improvement over their awful chain mail), but there’s still that very cheesy “man in a rubber suit” effect that dates it so badly. The Myrka is even worse. Ambitious though it may be to have a giant quadrupedal lizard roaming the halls of a sea base, it just looks so bad; it’s like an oversized pantomime horse. The shootouts are cramped and badly staged, the laser effects weak and ineffective, and when Dr. Solow fights the Myrka, I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry – she does some sort of judo kick slash interpretive dance in front of it, before it zaps her. It’s so hilariously bad, in fact, that I’m going to link to a clip of it.

"Roaarr!"

“Roaarr!”

On the plus side, the actual sets are well made, with a clean white aesthetic and one room even features a pool! Some of the miniature model work is nice, but you don’t see much of it. The computer stuff is in a dated 8-bit retro style, but the concept of a human/computer interface is at least nicely sci-fi-y, although it amounts to nothing in the end.

The sea base control room.

The sea base control room.

As for the Doctor, I think he’s developed an edgier personality, or the writers just wanted an excuse for him to have more fights. He gut-elbows and face-kicks a couple of the security guards before threatening to blow up their reactor “to keep them busy”. Granted, it’s arguably self defence, but it’s a bit more vicious than his usual routine, and let’s ignore the fact that he’s just infiltrated a secure military facility and shouldn’t be there anyway. I blame the new haircut.