Category Archives: season 11

Planet of the Spiders

So, apparently, Jon Pertwee’s final serial was supposed to conclude the Master’s story arc, but due to the death of Roger Delgado, they had to come up with a new finale. Which is a shame, firstly because he died so young, and secondly because Planet of the Spiders just isn’t very good.

Sarah Jane is remarkably chummy with Yates, considering he previously tried to erase civilisation from history!

Sarah Jane is remarkably chummy with Yates, considering he previously tried to erase civilisation from history!

Robert Sloman has gone back to his weird occult type storylines, with monks, a cult of spider-worshippers, telekinesis and chanting. Oh god, the chanting, make it stop! “Om! Om! Om!” There’s also some cringeworthy bit part performances – the police officer is awful, the colonist woman is even worse – but some of the imagery, like the spiders hanging onto people’s backs and controlling them, is effective and quite unsettling. Arachnophobes should give this a miss!

"Argh, get it off, get it off, get it off!"

“Argh, get it off, get it off, get it off!”

The conveniently useful blue crystal that the Doctor picked up from Metabelis III (The Green Death) turns out to be more important than ever, as the spiders need it to enhance their mind power and rule the Universe. Although these spiders (mutated Earth spiders from a crashed colony ship in the future) have grown and developed serious mind control abilities, the weird revelation here is that all humans have the same natural potential within them. This was written in the era when ‘ESP’ was considered a real thing, so it’s understandable, but the concept hasn’t aged well. The rules seems to arbitrarily change, too. The spiders’ energy attacks are at one point deadly, another point not, at one point deflected by certain minerals and another by innocence of mind. It’s like they’re making it up as they go. And the worst part is when the Doctor gains the ability to teleport into another room for no discernible reason. What?!

Trapped in the spider webs, waiting to be eaten.

Trapped in the spider webs, waiting to be eaten.

The plot just lumbers along unevenly. There’s far too much filler, like the car chase that turns into a flying car chase then a hovercraft chase, taking up most of an episode to do so, and ending in nothing. Conversely, the Doctor’s trip to Metabelis III is conveniently instantaneous. There’s also another instance of the Doctor being nearly killed but miraculously surviving, which is even less necessary here because of the regeneration in the final episode – why pull the same trick twice?

The Doctor confronts The Great One.

The Doctor confronts The Great One.

As usual, it’s the final moments when anything of interest happens. The Doctor bravely enters the irradiated crystal caves to confront the Great Spider, who blows itself and the mountain up (yet another explosive finish!). The abbot of the monastery turns out to be a Time Lord, in fact the Doctor’s old mentor whom he previously mentioned. He gives the Doctor some advice and also turns up at the end to give his regeneration a little push.

Sarah Jane Smith and Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart watch in astonishment as the Doctor’s appearance changes. “Here we go again...”

Sarah Jane Smith and Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart watch in astonishment as the Doctor’s appearance changes. “Here we go again…”

The transformation from Jon Pertwee to a fresh-faced Tom Baker is not as seamless or drawn out as his first regeneration, consisting instead of a disappointing cross-fade. Still, I was glad to see it happen at last!

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The Monster of Peladon

Despite a gap of fifty years since the Doctor’s last visit, The Monster of Peladon definitely suffers from “sequelitis”, as we meet some old faces in some old settings, wander through some old caves again, uncover a plot again, and generally get bored with the whole ordeal.

Sarah Jane Smith meets Alpha Centauri. So, is that its name or its home? Or both?

Sarah Jane Smith meets Alpha Centauri. So, is that its name or its home? Or both?

There’s a communication blockage, Federation forces sent in, a plot to capture the queen, and a comic relief alien with an annoying voice – it’s like watching ‘The Phantom Menace’ but without the cool jedi fights and John Williams score. Pretty bloody dull, unfortunately. I do like a bit of world-building in sci-fi, but this was of little interest – one trip to Peladon was enough for me. Additionally, many of the alien effects don’t hold up well. The Alpha Centauri costume frequently has a visible gap under its headpiece, and at several points I could definitely see the actor’s hair sticking out from under the Ice Warrior costume. I’m not normally that picky, but I was bored.

Queen Amidala of the Naboo. No, wait, I mean Queen Thalira of Peladon!

Queen Amidala of the Naboo. No, wait, I mean Queen Thalira of Peladon!

This story does turn a group of Ice Warriors back into villains, however, successfully flip-flopping expectations. Having watched ‘Cold War’ at the weekend, it’s fun to compare the new depiction of the Ice Warriors with the old ones. It’s difficult to reconcile their old appearance with the armour suit in the new series, particularly when their leader (in the slim version of the costume with the Darth Vader helmet) gets killed by a stab wound to the belly. Hmm?

The Ice Warrior's leader, Lord Helmet. There's a bulbous CGI face under there, honestly!

The Ice Warrior’s leader, Lord Helmet. There’s a bulbous CGI face under there, honestly!

Evading death this time is the Doctor, who escapes an explosion and brain damage, and is thought to be killed at least twice before miraculously revealing the opposite. I think it’s fine for the Doctor to have a lucky escape now and again, but when it happens twice in one story, it’s pushing it.

The 'monster' of Peladon is little more than smoke and mirrors, intended to cause a state of alert amongst the superstitious miners. Oh, also it kills people. Lots of people. Actually, there's quite a lot of deaths in this one.

The ‘monster’ of Peladon is little more than smoke and mirrors, intended to cause a state of alert amongst the superstitious miners. Oh, also it kills people. Lots of people. Actually, there’s quite a lot of deaths in this one.

Overall, then, this wasn’t particularly interesting, and six parts was too long to spend in a setting that outstayed its welcome already. I do hope the next story is a good one, as it would be a shame if the third Doctor’s adventures ended on a downer.

Death to the Daleks

Terry Nation returns to write this four-part story. I wasn’t expecting much from it and it didn’t deliver much either, so there’s not much to tell.

"We built this city on rock and..." well, just rock.

“We built this city on rock and…” well, just rock.

With the Tardis’ power drained, a Marine Space Corps ship’s power drained, and the Daleks’ power drained, it’s soon apparent that something on this planet is draining power. There’s a mysterious race of zealous inhabitants on the planet, protecting an equally mysterious temple. In fact, the Daleks play only a minor role in the story, serving as little more than motivation to get away more quickly.

The Daleks are powerless against the humans... for a very brief time.

The Daleks are powerless against the humans… for a very brief time.

Daleks being powerless and having to rely on others’ help could have been fascinating and dramatic, putting them in a new situation and forcing them to realise the benefits of mutual understanding and help. But that doesn’t happen here. They quickly replace their failed laser weapons with ballistic gun attachments and that’s it, they’re in charge again, ordering the natives and the marines around and threatening to destroy everything. What a wasted opportunity.

While forced to dig for a rare chemical, the natives and the Daleks are attacked by one of the city's defence mechanisms, a snake... root... thing.

While forced to dig for a rare chemical, the natives and the Daleks are attacked by one of the city’s defence mechanisms, a snake… root… thing.

On the other hand, all the things about the natives and their temple are actually interesting concepts. The temple is a giant living city, a computer that gained self-awareness many generations ago and is now worshipped as their god. The natives, Exxilons, are well-designed creatures, with stone coloured faces and bodies that resemble rocks. The last couple of episodes feature the Doctor and his new Exxilon friend trying to outwit a series of trials and tests inside the temple, while Daleks give chase. These tests a bit pathetic, however, and include the world’s most simple maze puzzle and a tiny electrified hopscotch board.

The Doctor and his Exxilon friend face the trials inside the temple.

The Doctor and his Exxilon friend face the trials inside the temple.

Ultimately, the Doctor destroys the temple’s circuitry, while the humans outside blow it up with explosives. I would have thought one would have been enough. With the remaining explosives, the Space Corp captain brings death to the Daleks (ahh!) by blowing up their ship as they try to leave.

Another explosive finish, then, but a mediocre serial overall.

Invasion of the Dinosaurs

An evacuated London, prehistoric monsters rampaging around, conspiracies, time travel, a ‘space mission’ and a mad plot to wipe out humanity and start over again… Invasion of the Dinosaurs throws everything but the kitchen sink into this six-part story, and it does so very successfully.

For no reason whatsoever, the Doctor uses a new car. What it lacks in the charm of Bessie, it makes up for in futuristic coolness. I want it.

For no reason whatsoever, the Doctor uses a new car. What it lacks in the charm of Bessie, it makes up for in futuristic coolness. I want it.

From the eerie set-up, to the first monstrous attack and through every twist of the plot, I was engaged and entertained. I honestly would not have expected Captain Yates to have been in on the conspiracy, but the UNIT side characters have never been particularly fleshed out before. The whole time-reversal concept was excellent and unexpected, the fake space mission even better. The different elements of the plot hang together really well.

Captain Yates betrays UNIT!

Captain Yates betrays UNIT!

The trouble is, frankly, the dinosaurs look awful. Yes, I know it was 1974, but I guess Jurassic Park has spoiled me, so whenever I hear a T-Rex that doesn’t sound like a cross between a lion, a cow and a foghorn, it’s just wrong. Particularly when it wobbles about like a little rubber puppet, and is voiced by someone going “rawrrr!!”. To be fair, some of the other dinos look pretty good, and they cleverly make use of a variety of techniques to integrate them into the scenes, including blue-screen compositing and miniature street sets. I would rather a story not try to outreach its technical grasp, but in this case I do appreciate the effort that went into it and it didn’t spoil the story for me.

"Raawrr, I'm a big scary dinosaur!!"

“Raawrr, I’m a big scary dinosaur!!”

Despite the wobbly dinosaurs, then, this was easily one of my favourite serials so far. One of those rare occasions where six episodes didn’t drag.

The Time Warrior

It’s been a while since we’ve had a historical episode. The middle ages are the setting for The Time Warrior, and the anachronistic arrival of a crashed Sontaran warrior threatens to contaminate history. Luckily, the Sontaran happens to snatch a few present day scientists back through time, which gets the Doctor’s attention.

Professor Rubeish helps the Doctor rescue the other kidnapped scientists.

Professor Rubeish helps the Doctor rescue the other kidnapped scientists.

Few stories lately have dealt with historical events, and even fewer with the consequences of meddling with them, so this one was interesting. Naturally, you get a load of knights saying things like “you speak in strange tongues, star warrior”, and calling the Doctor a wizard, which is fun. But it also asks serious questions like what would actually happen if medieval people had access to weapons that could kill so easily – would we be sophisticated enough as a society to handle that responsibility? The period characters are portrayed as fools, so the answer would seem to be “no”. Fortunately, the Doctor is able to destroy the Sontaran’s ship, and the explosion takes out the castle and the weapons too. Lots of stories lately seem to feature explosive endings, it’s becoming a theme!

The Doctor plans an assault on Irongron's castle.

The Doctor plans an assault on Irongron’s castle.

I’m familiar with the modern version of the Sontarans, but I was very surprised by how little they’ve changed. The head, the face, the voice and the mannerisms are all basically the same. They’re not evil, as such, just single-minded and amused by warmongering. There is only one of them in this story, but one is enough to provide a worthy foe for the Doctor and his new travelling companion.

Make-up and prosthetics may have improved in 30 years, but this Sontaran looks remarkably similar to the modern ones.

Make-up and prosthetics may have improved in 30 years, but this Sontaran looks remarkably similar to the modern ones.

Yes, Sarah Jane Smith joins the Doctor’s travels for the first time in this story. A journalist who accidentally stows away on the Tardis, she is a refreshing change from Jo, actually challenging the Doctor and, for a while, even thinking he is the villain of the piece! I already like her, so that’s a good start.

Sarah Jane Smith questions the Doctor.

Sarah Jane Smith questions the Doctor.

A couple of noteworthy mentions here. Firstly, the Doctor mentions to the Sontaran that his home planet is Gallifrey – I believe this is the first spoken reference of this name (first I’ve noticed, anyway). Secondly, this story features a brand new title sequence with a more familiar (to me) “time tunnel” graphic, and a brand new logo. It’s very nice. Same old music, though.