Category Archives: K-9

The Five Doctors

Following on from the 20th season is this remarkable anniversary special, originally broadcast to celebrate the show’s 20th year on the air. To replicate the original experience, I would have preferred to have seen the originally broadcast version, but circumstances led me unwittingly to the special edition released much later, with some of the visual and audio effects updated, so I can only comment on this version.

The Doctors meet!

The Doctors meet!

Much like The Three Doctors, the story is little more than an excuse to get the previous incarnations of the Doctor together, plucked out of time and placed inside an elaborate ancient war game. It’s a shame that Tom Baker decided to opt out and that William Hartnell was no longer alive, as this special really ought to be called “The three and a Half Doctors (plus friends)”, but that’s not as catchy. Nevertheless, it’s a delight to see Patrick Troughton (does that man not age?!), and Jon Pertwee back again, while Richard Hurndall takes over as the first Doctor, and some previously unseen footage from Shada is used to explain the fourth Doctor’s absence. Clever!

Trapped within a maze of mirrors, the first Doctor and his granddaughter Susan are reunited. How's that non-existent pocket of 22nd century post Dalek-invaded Earth been keeping you, Sue?

Trapped within a maze of mirrors, the first Doctor and his granddaughter Susan are reunited. How’s that non-existent pocket of 22nd century post Dalek-invaded Earth been keeping you, Sue?

Despite the absentees, The Five Doctors is a glorious celebration of the show’s history, using every available cast member, reference and villain it can reasonably squeeze into its 100 minute runtime. I genuinely had no idea that a 20-year older Carole Ann Ford would return to play Susan, nor the cameos by Jamie, Zoe, Liz and Yates. And that’s on top of a bright yellow Bessie, Lethbridge-Stewart, The Master, Yetis, Cybermen and a Dalek all running around the battlefield (there’s even time to reverse the polarity of the neutron flow!). It’s a smorgasbord of nostalgia, a who’s who of Who, and it’s quite amazing that it all works so well.

Turlough doesn't have much to do in this story, but Tegan accompanies the first Doctor into the tower, while Susan remains in the Tardis.

Turlough doesn’t have much to do in this story, but Tegan accompanies the first Doctor into the tower, while Susan remains in the Tardis.

Essentially, the story splits and jumps back and forth to follow each Doctor and a companion as they each take a different route up to the tower of Rassilon. This allows them some breathing space (as well as time to reminisce with old friends), but it does make the story a little scattershot, never settling in one place for very long, until a satisfying culmination towards the end. The lack of arbitrarily dramatic cliffhangers is a blessing; this is just one epic feature without cuts.

Sarah Jane is still Sarah Jane, panicked and often hyperventilating. The third Doctor is still the third Doctor, determined and confident. I swear he cops a feel of her boob at one point.

Sarah Jane is still Sarah Jane, panicked and often hyperventilating. The third Doctor is still the third Doctor, determined and confident. I swear he cops a feel of her boob at one point.

The fifth Doctor is the anchoring point, but he spends much of the story on Gallifrey, outside of the Death Zone, where he uncovers the President’s secret plans for immortality. Yes, sadly, there is corruption on Gallifrey yet again. This is becoming an embarrassing cliché and I can’t blame the Doctor for not wanting to stick around as President. He does get a brief moment to meet his past selves, which is nicely done. You can get a good sense of how the different versions of the Doctor vary. Davison is definitely the least eccentric of the bunch, a normal and level-headed type by comparison. Pertwee and Troughton play their roles much as they ever did, despite the years in between, and Richard Hurndall does a reasonable job of approximating some of Hartnell’s performance, although it would have been more authentic if he’d fluffed his lines a few times and ended all his sentences with “hmm?”.

Lord President Borusa gets more than he bargained for when Rassilon grants him immortality.

Lord President Borusa gets more than he bargained for when Rassilon grants him immortality.

The Five Doctors is hardly a masterpiece of imagination, then, but it’s nevertheless well made and a lovely tribute to the history of the show. The sort of silly-but-fun “why the hell not” exercise I can easily get behind. As it’s a one-off special, the budget would appear to have allowed for better production and visuals. One scene in particular is genuinely great, as a robot ninja busts up a legion of cybermen, teleporting around and lobbing arrows at them, causing them to explode and fall to pieces, arms and heads everywhere. Earlier, a rogue Dalek shoots itself in a hall of mirrors and within its exploded remains is its rarely-sighted grotesque embryo. Marvelous!

Total carnage.  I bet Hideo Kojima was a fan

Total carnage. I bet Hideo Kojima was a fan.

Sometimes logic has to fly out of the window, though. For instance, the second Doctor tricks the illusion of Jamie and Zoe by recalling that they shouldn’t know who he is, since their memories were wiped when they were returned to their time zones. But by the same reasoning, how would the Doctor have remembered that, as it happened almost immediately prior to his regeneration and exile on Earth. He would have had to have been pulled from the past moments before this, but there’s no indication this is the case when he turns up to visit the Brigadier. Similarly, why exactly is K-9 with Sarah Jane? Mk.I was left on Gallifrey with Leela and Mk.II was left with Romana (in a black-and-white photograph). I suppose it doesn’t matter, really; some questions are best left unanswered for the sake of a bit of fun, and this was a lot of fun. Job done.

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Warriors’ Gate

I don’t think I’ve ever been quite so confused watching Doctor Who before. After three parts, I still had no idea what was actually going on. Lion-faced people, a magic mirror, fragments of a castle in a contracting universe, robotic suits of armour, something about “time winds”, a crew of layabouts in a ship made from something that seems like it should be important but on top of everything else the story is throwing at me, just washes over me in a haze of “buh?”

All that remains of the Tharil's castle, in the void. I guess. To be honest, I have no idea.

All that remains of the Tharil’s castle, in the void. I guess. To be honest, I have no idea.

It’s only in part four that things start to make sense. The lion-faced people are time-sensitive beings who are abused by traders as slaves to pilot their ships through the time streams. They live in the space between dimensions, a sort of no-man’s land. They were apparently a bit nasty in the past, keeping human slaves themselves. The stuff with the mirror? No idea. The best I can say is that it looked pretty cool. Some of the direction is very nicely staged, particularly the slow tracking shot through the ship at the start (someone was a fan of Alien, I take it?). There’s an otherworldly vibe about the whole thing, eerie sounds, a sense of mystery, and the story at least tries to be a bit cerebral, teasing you with time effects. Unfortunately, I don’t think it makes any sense. What was the bit with the coin toss all about? Something about 50/50 chances? What does it even mean? What? WHAT?!!

It's the Firefly class ship Serenity... no, wait.

It’s the Firefly class ship Serenity… no, wait.

Admittedly, it probably is a story that benefits from repeat viewings, but that is beyond the scope of this project; each episode gets one chance, and with Warriors’ Gate, that chance was spent with me scratching my head and failing to follow what was happening. I can’t even imagine what it must have been like to watch it in four weekly instalments back in 1980. Baffling, I’d guess. For me, it was just boring.

Lane and Royce provide some bumbling humour.

Lane and Royce provide some bumbling humour.

So, Romana is staying behind with K-9. Given she didn’t want to return to Gallifrey, that’s understandable, but the nature of her departure is very spur-of-the-moment and strange. No stranger than anything else that happens, mind you. I suppose I grew to like Romana, but I maintain she has been a non-entity, little more than a mirror for the Doctor, or a mentor for K-9, with little character development of her own. She could have been a role model for Adric, but now that’s not going to happen. And K-9? Well, if he doesn’t come back as another incarnation (Mk.3, anyone?) then I will miss that little metal dog. As for E-Space? I’m glad to see the back of it.

Romana and K-9 leave with Biroc to help them free the slaves or something. Also they're in a black-and-white photo for some reason.

Romana and K-9 leave with Biroc to help them free the slaves or something. Also they’re in a black-and-white photo for some reason.

State of Decay

I dislike it when alien cultures are portrayed as Ye Olde Earthe, but in the case of State of Decay, at least there is an attempt to justify it. Having been pulled into e-space thousands of years ago by an ancient giant vampire, three human astronauts have become immortal, lords over a village of peasants, their rocket ship towering above them all. Denying knowledge and science under penalty of death, a small group of rebels learns in secret, and then the Doctor arrives to help things along.

The Earth ship, Hydrax, now a castle, symbol of power... and mighty projectile weapon.

The Earth ship, Hydrax, now a castle, symbol of power… and mighty projectile weapon.

There’s a real danger with doing a horror story like this that it will end up being corny. Unfortunately, I think State of Decay suffers in that respect. The vampire lords look and act in a stereotypical vampire fashion, with pale-faced stares and the power to hypnotise mortals. There’s ritual sacrifice yet again (yawn), the imagery is gothic and clichéd, with rubbish-looking bats swooping about. The subplot with the villagers is pretty boring, and newcomer Adric’s part in the story feels like it was written in as an afterthought (and it probably was). At this point, Adric is basically pointless – an irritating character who does nothing of any use. By contrast, Romana and the Doctor’s scenes play out naturally and they have developed a rapport. It’s a shame Romana is caught and has to play the damsel role at the end, but the story is one big cliché anyway.

"Oooh, ve're wampires! I vant to suck your blood!"

“Oooh, ve’re wampires! I vant to suck your blood!”

But the resolution is wonderfully ridiculous, as the Doctor uses the old rocket ship as a gigantic stake through the heart. Some of the imagery is also quite dark, with tubes of blood feeding the vampire, bodies drained of all life, and finally the vampire lords decaying and falling to the floor in a pile of dust. I liked that.

The Great One rises from his slumber. Remarkable timing, I must say.

The Great One rises from his slumber. Remarkable timing, I must say.

There’s also an attempt to fit a fantastic legend into the story, of how all vampire tales are based on these creatures, which the Time Lords battled many ages ago, destroying them with mighty “bow ships”, until the last of its kind disappeared, never to be seen again (until now). It’s just a story, admittedly, but it sets off the imagination. It’s probably for the best, then, that we don’t get a good glimpse of the creature itself. Just a (rubbish-looking) image on a scanner screen and then a giant hand rising from the ground.

The rebels use Ceefax to identify the Hydrax crew.

The rebels use Ceefax to identify the Hydrax crew.

Both this serial and the last have dealt with very similar themes: civilisations that have stagnated or regressed; names that have been changed beyond recognition; or purposes lost to time. Perhaps this is a feature of e-space, but if so, I feel there is more that can be done with it than a vampire story. I’m hoping for something a bit better next. Oh, and drop that kid Adric back home as soon as possible, thanks. Or just leave him anywhere. Or kick him into space. You know, whatever’s quickest.

"Hello, I'm Adric. I'm going to eat your food, complain about things and then fail to rescue to Romana."

“Hello, I’m Adric. I’m going to eat your food, complain about things and then fail to rescue to Romana.”

Full Circle

The silly humour of the past couple of seasons seems to have virtually disappeared now, as this next story goes full circle (as it were!) back to its darker sci-fi roots. Tom Baker is still a delight and still makes the odd witty quip, but it almost seems like he’s a beacon of light in a story that features horrible marshmen killing people, spiders jumping onto people’s faces and even K-9 being beheaded!

The marshmen emerge from the misty swamp. Brrr!!

The marshmen emerge from the misty swamp. Brrr!!

Indeed, there is some imagery in Full Circle that would have scared the wits out of kids watching this back in the eighties, such as the sequence where those marshmen rise from the misty swamp waters at the end of part one, eerily reminiscent of a scene from The Sea Devils. The marshmen are a somewhat more frightening prospect, however, with their pig-like grunts and stretched skin. Up close, however, they do just appear to be men in crude rubber suits.

A lot of this serial was filmed outdoors, lending it a natural style.

A lot of this serial was filmed outdoors, lending it a natural style.

Some more things I liked about Full Circle. Firstly, the concept of descendents of a civilisation carrying out ongoing repairs of their ship, unaware of what they’re really doing – that has definite hints of The Face of Evil to it, only these people aren’t savages, just epic procrastinators. Secondly, the holy books being called the System Files, it has a modern computing feel to it. Is it a coincidence that one of the characters is called “Login” (log in)? Was that even a known term back in 1980 or am I reading too much into it? Thirdly, there is some actual character development for Romana! Well, I say “development” – at best, she’s sad for a little while as she expresses her desire to not return to Gallifrey, which gives us the first hints of her motivations. Fourthly, some of the music in this story is really nice; there’s a flute like motif that plays every so often, with hints of the theme tune to it. It’s sort of synthy but tranquil. Lastly, I suppose the twist about what the marshmen really are is kind of clever. It’s always more interesting when monsters aren’t just monsters.

A possessed Romana opens the airlock to let the marshmen inside.

A possessed Romana opens the airlock to let the marshmen inside.

But there are a few things I felt were a bit disappointing. At the start of the story, the Doctor and Romana are en route to Gallifrey. When the accident happens, I almost expected them to have arrived in the past, with the natives being pre-civilisation Gallifreyans, in some sort of Genesis of the Time Lords type story, and then I was let down when it wasn’t. I also feel that the cycle of the spiders, marshmen and the natives could have been explored better. Why, for instance, would spider bites brainwash the natives (and Romana) into obeying them? The spiders were hidden inside the river fruit, which could have been a cool twist where they are routinely let inside the starliner and start turning all the people into marshmen, starting a new cycle that way or something. It didn’t quite happen like that.

Just what the Tardis needs, another know-it-all wunderkind!

Just what the Tardis needs, another know-it-all wunderkind!

Finally, I really didn’t take to any of the youngsters. Adric in particular is a bit of an annoying character who serves no real purpose, and it would appear that he’s sticking around, while the Tardis is still trapped in the exo-space dimension. Still, anything that freshens up the dynamic of the show is fine with me.

Meglos

An alien cactus on a desert planet disguises itself as the Doctor and tries to steal a dodecahedron from a neighbouring planet and blow it up. I mean, what?! It’s the sort of ‘out-there’ idea that Doctor Who throws at you every now and again. It’s great to watch Tom Baker play the role of the bad guy as well, particularly all made up with spikes sticking out of his face and hands, and there are some pretty good visuals too (including some impressive motion controlled ‘bluescreen’), but beyond that the story is a let down.

The Earthling struggles to break free from the CactusDoctor.

The Earthling struggles to break free from the CactusDoctor.

It’s not terrible or boring or anything, but there are a few too many clichés, like another crew of idiotic bandits, or K-9 blasting open another door with his laser, or the chanting religious cult performing a sacrificial ceremony (again!). The story plays with the idea of a culture that wants to study this great power source that it relies on, with a subset who wish to simply worship it as a god, and the tensions that spring up between the two, but there’s little exploration of the themes of faith versus reasoning. In fact, very little is learned about the dodecahedron at all, other than it is very old, very powerful and can be used as a weapon of mass destruction. The priestess dies in an attack, so she never has to live in a world where her god does not exist.

The time loop sequence in the Tardis was amusing for a while but went on for too long, and the solution makes basically no sense.

The time loop sequence in the Tardis was amusing for a while but went on for too long, and the solution makes basically no sense.

Lots of little things like that are glossed over quickly. The jungle planet of Tigella is one minute lethal to its inhabitants, and in the last two minutes it’s suddenly a rich source of all their needs and everything will be fine! And the time loop that Meglos was able to create in the Tardis… erm, how? Is he the last of a race of time-travelling cacti or his knowledge of temporal engineering specific to him? The poor Earthling whose body he inhabits, where the hell did he come from (well, Earth, obviously)? And so on, and so forth.

The Doppledoctor takes an oath to the god Ti.

The Doppledoctor takes an oath to the god Ti.

A noteworthy bit of casting is Jacqueline Hill as the priestess Lexa, who previously played one of the first companions Barbara from way back in the beginning. Going from a rational teacher to a zealous cultist is certainly a change from one extreme to another, but it was nice to see her again.

The Leisure Hive

Oh, hello 1980s! I saw you there, peeking around the corner. Nice of you to finally drop by. What’s that you’ve got there? A wicked new spaced out title sequence with cool synthy music and electronic guitar riffs? How thoughtful! Come right this way, you’ll fit in perfectly around here.

The leisure complex, protected from the toxic atmosphere outside. The desolate image gels wonderfully with the soundtrack.

The leisure complex, protected from the toxic atmosphere outside. The desolate image gels wonderfully with the soundtrack.

Season 18 gets off to a terrific start, but how much of that is down to its fresh new audio-visual style? It’s not just the synthy soundtrack (reminding me of Blade Runner), but improvements on direction, composition, camera movements and so on. The Leisure Hive is about as good looking as a studio-shot Doctor Who serial has ever looked so far. Wikipedia tells me the director was Lovett Bickford, but it also tells me he didn’t direct any more after this. What a pity.

Pangol admires his new army.

Pangol admires his new army.

The plot is as science-fictiony as it gets, hinging on the temporal properties of tachyons and the need to rejuvenate the dying Argolin race. There’s a tragic history, a nuclear war, ongoing racial discomfort, a supposed ‘monster’ who turns out to be no such thing, a power struggle, a cloning machine, time-reversal and rapid aging. It’s full of neat imagery – the Doctor being pulled limb from limb as part of a trick is as memorable a cliffhanger as they come, I’m sure – and his transformation into an elderly man is very well performed. The disguised Foamasi sub-plot was a bit ‘Scooby-Doo ending’, but I’ll give it a pass. The ‘silly’ humour is mostly absent here. The tone is more serious, and I think it suits.

An elderly Doctor talks to one of the Foamasi.

An elderly Doctor talks to one of the Foamasi.

The Black Guardian from two seasons back also gets name-dropped, and with the ‘randomiser circuit’ removed from the Tardis, the implication is that they’ll be running into him again in future. Although I can’t see that having a practical effect on the situations the Tardis finds itself in, if their adventures are as interesting as this one is, I’ll be very happy with that.

The Doctor falls apart. An enduring image!

The Doctor falls apart. An enduring image!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to try to get that awesome new synthy theme tune out of my head. “Wooeeewooooo, dun-dun-dun-dun-dun…”

Shada (Not Televised)

I wasn’t sure whether to cover Shada, the cancelled sixth serial of season 17. Unlike the reconstructions from the sixties, Shada was never actually finished, and has to date never been aired on TV. However, rather than worry that it would make the events of the story irrelevant and not expected to exist within established continuity, instead I thought “well, why not?” and watched it anyway. Approximately 50%-60% of the serial was made, and an older Tom Baker narrates the events that occur inbetween.

Romana, K-9 and Parsons are trapped in a prison cell - one of the few scenes aboard the ship that were finished.

Romana, K-9 and Parsons are trapped in a prison cell – one of the few scenes aboard the ship that were finished.

Shada actually explores the Time Lords’ history and lore. I have no idea if any of this is revisited in future stories, but Shada is the name of their prison planet, which was purposely hidden from official records by one of the former inmates, who went into hiding on Earth as a professor at Cambridge. When a maniac with a god complex goes looking for this professor and the prison planet, the Doctor and Romana get caught up in a plot to take control of every mind in the Universe!

Skagra, looking for information on Earth.

Skagra, looking for information on Earth.

Due to the nature of TV production, the existing scenes are all from the same locations, so watching this now can lead to visual fatigue. As much fun as it is listening to Tom Baker talk, he does whizz through his descriptions of the missing scenes all too quickly. Some animation or artwork of these scenes would have helped to break up the repetition. Still, it’s interesting to see where production stopped back then. There’s a fair bit of outdoor location shooting, some interiors of the spaceship were shot, and the rest is from the professor’s room (which it turns out is another Tardis). Sadly, there is very little existing footage of the villain, Skagra, or his monsters, the Krargs.

So, apparently Doctor Who did the "invisible ship lands in the park" thing years before Star Trek IV (and later copied by Red Dwarf).

So, apparently Doctor Who did the “invisible ship lands in the park” thing years before Star Trek IV (and later copied by Red Dwarf).

While watching Shada is a frustratingly incomplete experience, overall I was glad to see it. It hasn’t got the same level of silly humour as Douglas Adams’ other episodes (although it does have some), but it still touches on some big concepts and has some fun with the universe and characters. This would have been a pretty good season finale.