Category Archives: fourth doctor

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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[The Fourth Doctor: Summary + Best Episodes]

The arrival of Tom Baker seemed to bring with it a change of tone – not for the first time. Since the character was more jovial (compared to the stern Pertwee version), the stories developed a humour to them as well. When coupled with dark themes, this gave some of the stories a distinctive style of their own. It added wit and charm to darkness and horror, and handled it all with confidence. I’ve watched this show gradually transform from melodramatic stage drama to rather ambitious TV sci-fi that pushed the envelope in many ways. Some serials, like The Deadly Assassin, made bold changes to shake up the format, and it’s been an interesting journey to work through them.

This era of Doctor Who is widely regarded by fans as the definitive era, the golden years, and I can see why. Certainly, seasons 13 and 14 represent a high point of quality and consistency. There are a few missteps along the way, and towards the end things start getting a bit stale, but nevertheless, this is the most consistent run of good stories so far.

Along the way has been a collection of companions who have perhaps been overshadowed next to the Doctor. Sarah Jane Smith was witness to the Doctor’s transformation from Three to Four but her potential was never fully realised. Romana was an attempt to match the Doctor’s intellect, but she was never developed much as a character herself (before or after her change of appearance). Leela was my favourite, being so out of touch with the world(s) around her, and providing a primal energy and resourcefulness that complimented the Doctor nicely. Her departure was weakly handled.

But before I agonise over my favourite serials, there is the matter of the Doctor himself.

Thoughts on the Fourth Doctor

What can I say about Tom Baker as Doctor Who that hasn’t been said countless times before? All I can add, as an outsider (coming from modern era first), is that I see exactly from where Eccleston, Tennant and Smith draw their inspiration. He IS the Doctor, the yardstick by which others will always be judged. Tom Baker portrays the Doctor as an eccentric alien, but maintains an air of humanity and compassion. He always gives the impression that he has a universe of thoughts running through his mind, evidenced by his absent-mindedness and in the way he changes his mind or contradicts himself and others at the drop of a hat.

He is able to be preoccupied by the smallest of things, like his scarf or jellybabies, even while the fate of the universe hangs in the balance. The way he faces down death with a smile, mockery and an undercurrent of threat, is just masterful. Such is the Doctor’s strong presence, that he is even able to assert his authority in any given situation, pretending to be somebody else or simply dodging the questions and taking charge, without the need for the ‘psychic paper’ McGuffin of later series.

If I have any complaints about Tom Baker’s version of the Doctor, it would simply be that some of his mannerisms start to wear thin. After seven years of TV (crammed into four months), that is understandable. Admittedly, offering jellybabies to people remained as funny to me as ever, but his contradictory plans, low mumbling punctuated with shouts of “come on” in the last couple of seasons did start to grate. The way he would escape death so often could weaken the sense of threat and drama. Also, on occasion, his character became a little too detached and inhuman, but this was a rarity.

On the whole, Tom Baker has been superb, so much so that even the poor stories are brought to life by his performance. He has effortlessly topped my list of Doctors, so my order of preference right now looks like this:

Tom Baker > Patrick Troughton > Jon Pertwee > William Hartnell

Episode Highlights

Picking out the cream of the crop of Tom Baker stories has been difficult. Not only do I have to choose from seven seasons of stories, more than any other Doctor, but there are just so many that are almost impossible to separate without being a bit ruthless. It would be easier for me to list the bad ones, or certainly quicker, or to pick twenty-odd serials that I thought were good enough to mention. Alas, I am imposing a limit of seven, which seems fair, so inevitably, some good ones slip through the net. A shame, as I enjoyed The Android Invasion and The Pirate Planet, for instance, but they won’t get a mention. Oh, hang on, they just did!

The Sontaran Experiment (2 parts)
A low-key tale of Sontaran wickedness and Time Lord cunning. Gripping sci-fi done on a tiny budget.

Pyramids of Mars (4 parts)
A change of scenery and an imposing villain add a lot to this well-written four-parter.

The Deadly Assassin (4 parts)
This mystery story changes to a darker tone, brings back an old villain and explores the Time Lords home world.

The Robots of Death (4 parts)
A “Who-dunnit” with robots, thought-provoking themes and a cast of likable characters.

The Sun Makers (4 parts)
An Orwellian nightmare pushed to farcical extremes, it is nevertheless very modern and watchable.

City of Death (4 parts)
A jaunty contemporary style makes this a lighthearted adventure in Paris and beyond.

The Leisure Hive (4 parts)
A solid story is backed up by the best studio direction and audio work I’ve encountered in this series so far.

Logopolis

The second law of thermodynamics states that entropy will always increase within isolated systems. Doctor Who states that the Universe reached the point of total breakdown some time ago, and it’s only thanks to the race of Logopolitans opening up the Universe to outside pockets of spacetime using the computational power of their minds, that we’re all still here to talk about it. Now, I’ve been a fan of sci-fi since my teens, but I must confess, I’ve never known a TV show to tackle such big ideas on such a regular basis. Granted, it makes mistakes and it’s often a bit silly, but I applaud the effort.

That neon logo is so outrageous it could get arrested by the Logopolice. (Sorry.)

That neon logo is so outrageous it could get arrested by the Logopolice. (Sorry.)

It’s also remarkable how it portrays these Universe-shattering events through a lens of the ordinary. This serial does look a bit cheaply made, in part due to half of it being set on Earth, on the side of a road, inside the Tardis, or in an alien facility that just happens to have been modelled on an exact duplicate of a radio telescope control room on Earth. But, for what it’s worth, I enjoyed the down-to-Earth nature of it and felt it was a fitting conclusion to the season. In particular, visiting the site of one of the last blue police boxes in the country in 1981 feels appropriate.

A nice model of the Logopolis landscape.

A nice model of the Logopolis landscape.

It’s also amusing how such a big event type story has such innocent beginnings, as the Doctor only intends to take his Tardis for a spruce-up, having spent much of the first episode talking to Adric about entropy, the chameleon circuit and police boxes. The Master preempts his plans by disguising his Tardis as another police box, leading to another brilliant Tardis-inside-Tardis sequence, and in the process picking up another stowaway in Tegan, the aussie air-stewardess.

The Doctor forms a temporary alliance with the Master, as portrayed by Anthony Ainley. Hints of Roger Delgado, but much more subdued.

The Doctor forms a temporary alliance with the Master, as portrayed by Anthony Ainley. Hints of Roger Delgado, but much more subdued.

With Nyssa returning from Traken, we have an excess of companions now. They don’t play much of a part in this story and feel superfluous, but I guess the foundations are being laid for the new Doctor’s stories.

Of the three companions, Tegan is potentially the most interesting, or at least the most human (literally), although her introduction slows the early pace of the story.

Of the three companions, Tegan is potentially the most interesting, or at least the most human (literally), although her introduction slows the early pace of the story.

Speaking of the new Doctor, this is of course Tom Baker’s final serial. While I will shortly lay down some thoughts on his epic run of seven seasons, for now I will say that his exit was dignified and without theatrics. Interestingly, he knew it was coming. So did I, of course, but the presence of the ‘Watcher’ was an unexpected twist on the regeneration process. Admittedly, I did twig early on that he was probably a future incarnation of the Doctor, but I expected a scooby-doo “mask reveal” scene, not what actually turned out to be a sort of ghostly extra life that absorbed into him. Thinking about it, that doesn’t really make much sense.

The actual regeneration sequence is elaborate, going from Tom Baker's face to a mask, to a made-up face and finally to a smiling Peter Davison.

The actual regeneration sequence is elaborate, going from Tom Baker’s face to a mask, to a made-up face and finally to a smiling Peter Davison.

And won’t somebody please think of the entropy? Did the giant satellite dish fix the Universe? Will Logopolis rebuild itself? Is it necessary any more? Don’t get me wrong, if there is a place for Universe-ending storylines, a season finale is probably it – but please don’t set up something that you can’t resolve before the time’s up. Then again, maybe the new fresh-faced fifth Doctor will clean up the Master’s mess. Here’s hoping!

The Keeper of Traken

With the E-Space ‘trilogy’ behind me, I am now very much aware that I am coming to the end of an era, as I watch the last of Tom Baker’s episodes as the Doctor. I figure things are going to end for him one way or another on Gallifrey, but before they get there, there is first an urgent matter to deal with on a peaceful little planet, whose leader (Keeper) is coming to the end of his life and reign.

The power of the Traken empire and its 'source' is implied early on, as the eldery Keeper is able to appear within the Tardis to ask the Doctor for help.

The power of the Traken empire and its ‘source’ is implied early on, as the eldery Keeper is able to appear within the Tardis to ask the Doctor for help.

This story could have been pretty boring, consisting as it does of a woman talking to a statue for much of it. But then the unmistakable sound of another Tardis materialising transforms it into an intriguing reunion between the Doctor and an old nemesis. The Master hasn’t been seen since his appearance in The Deadly Assassin, and I totally didn’t expect him to turn up again here. It’s funny how dropping an old face into a story can make all the difference, rather than cooking up a brand new villain, the all-powerful ‘source’ being an ideal goal for his huge ambition, as he seeks a way to escape death yet again.

The Master attempts to steal the Doctor's body. Freaky.

The Master attempts to steal the Doctor’s body. Freaky.

Unlike his previous appearance, the Master’s face is a little more human here, albeit disfigured and burned, so he is able to have some decent banter with the Doctor without having to talk through a mask. I guess it’s a shame that it doesn’t last very long, as with Adric’s help, the source is disrupted and the Master’s power is lost, but I was pleased that he assumes a new body at the end and escapes. As a symbol of relentless determination across time and space, the Master is undoubtedly one of the best adversaries in this series. Using him sparingly like this, and without announcement, works very well.

The statue design is kind of cool, I suppose.

The statue design is kind of cool, I suppose.

Otherwise, yeah, the story was okay. Nothing special, a bit too much po-faced ritual, melodrama and blandness. If it wasn’t for the Master turning up, I would have been pretty bored. Tom Baker’s Doctor continues to elevate everything to a pleasingly watchable level, and Adric actually did something useful this time.

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.