Category Archives: season 20

The King’s Demons

Every time the Master turns up now, I’m caught completely off-guard, though it’s good to know 1980s TV makeup, a wig and a bad French accent are all it takes to pull off a disguise. This time, he’s in 13th Century England with a chameleonic robot disguised as King John, attempting to stop the signing of the Magna Carta, which would obviously be very bad for the future of civilisation. By astonishing luck, the Doctor’s Tardis arrives in time to stop him. Phew!

The Doctor and the Master have a sword fight... not for the first time.

The Doctor and the Master have a sword fight… not for the first time.

There’s not much more to say about this one. It’s kind of fun to see period characters reacting to futuristic incursions as though they’re magical, and the writing is more olde worlde style than they usually bother with, which is something. With only two parts, it’s a shorter story than most, and quite a breezy way to wrap up the season. With its emphasis on history, it’s almost a throwback to the old Hartnell historical serials. Quite fitting that the Doctor should be travelling with an alien dressed as a schoolboy, as this incarnation is basically like a teacher on a field trip.

Tegan is distrustful of the Tardis's new recruit. Again.

Tegan is distrustful of the Tardis’s new recruit. Again.

Shockingly enough, the robot, Kamelion, is not a man in a shiny suit. It’s an actual animatronic, and probably the most remarkable part of this otherwise forgettable story. Freed from the Master’s psychic influence, he’s now tagging along with the Tardis crew. I guess the producers wanted to get their money’s worth out of it.

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Enlightenment

Enlightenment brings the Black Guardian ‘trilogy’ to an imaginative and surprisingly satisfying close. What first appears to be a simple Edwardian sailing ship is actually a space vessel that’s been modelled after one, as part of a space race around the solar system against others ships crewed by people pulled from Earth’s history by a group of bored ‘eternals’.

The space race, redefined! The ships are equipped with solar sails and vacuum shields, so although it's fanciful, it's not completely magical. How cool is that?

The space race, redefined! The ships are equipped with solar sails and vacuum shields, so although it’s fanciful, it’s not completely magical. How cool is that?

The Eternals might as well be gods, since they usually exist outside of time and space, can read the minds of mortals and create anything from nothing. What the Doctor quite rightly reveals is that being all-powerful isn’t actually all that, and mocks the Eternals for their reliance on mortals to keep them amused, to give their lives meaning and purpose, even while they consider themselves superior beings. But we are made to feel sympathetic towards them, as the First Officer develops feelings towards Tegan, becoming enthralled by her mind but failing to understand why.

In spite of everything else, I couldn't help wonder how Tegan grew her hair. Did she put a wig on? Did an Eternal magic some new hair for her? This is clearly of vital importance.

In spite of everything else, I couldn’t help wonder how Tegan grew her hair. Did she put a wig on? Did an Eternal magic some new hair for her? This is clearly of vital importance.

With the Black and White Guardians pulling the strings, we have a rather high concept situation here, not unlike something Douglas Adams might come up with. The gods controlling the mortals, while the gods of gods control them. The Doctor is just a small part of a bigger picture, and yet his involvement is humble and believable. The resolution, although a bit schlocky, is quite sweet, with Turlough earning his ‘enlightenment’ through making the right choice, and seeing the Black Guardian off into a burst of flame.

Winner takes all.

Winner takes all.

Speaking of Turlough, he does spend a lot of the story either sucking up to win favour or crying to the Black Guardian for help, but there’s something rather entertaining about how over-the-top he is. He’s far more engaging than Nyssa was, although it remains to be seen if he mellows out now that he’s free of his contract. The Black Guardian continues to be a bad pantomime villain, but somehow this fits in with the godly chess game theme. The Eternals range from emotionless to crazy, with the pirate captain Wrack overacting in all of her scenes. It’s never less than fun, though.

Turlough is picked up by the pirate ship after a spectacular space jump.

Turlough is picked up by the pirate ship after a spectacular space jump.

Terminus

Turlough is inducted rather easily into the Tardis crew, despite continuing to act suspiciously. Tegan’s fears are soon dropped and everything goes on as normal. Occasionally, Turlough hears from the Black Guardian again, telling him to kill the Doctor, but it has almost no bearing on this story, which is disappointing.

I like how their helmets have to be massive to cover their eighties perms.

I like how their helmets have to be massive to cover their eighties perms.

Terminus is a futuristic version of a leper colony, in space. It also turns out to be a time-travelling ship that caused the big bang and is inhabited by a large dog man robot creature thing. All of which raises more questions than it answers, like “if the ship’s engine explosion is what created the universe, where did the ship come from?” And “why is there a large dog man robot creature thing roaming around the ship anyway?”

Just... what?

Just… what?

Things have not aged well. Quite aside from all the big perms on show, the sets are repetitious and not really large enough to give the sense of scale of the the facility. At one point, one of the raiders, Olvir, is standing in a small area after having a fight and doesn’t notice Nyssa being abducted by the giant Garn two feet behind him. It’s quite bad.

Arse literally kicked.

Arse literally kicked.

There are some good elements. The actual industrial design of the place is quite appealing, and there’s a cool hull breach sealant used by the raiders early on, which is unusually good attention to detail. The hydromel medication the soldiers have to implant into their suits reminds me a bit of Ketracel-White from Star Trek DS9. The armoured uniforms are also very elaborate and ornate, like something out of mythology. The core concept of an engine explosion causing the big bang is intriguing, the sort of “big idea” I tend to like, but it doesn’t make a second explosion destroying the Universe any more believable, and it really doesn’t need to be such a catastrophic event to provide dramatic tension. It’s overkill.

Nyssa and Olvir are approached by a drone.

Nyssa and Olvir are approached by a drone.

And then there’s Nyssa, who is routinely useless throughout, getting captured, infected and captured again, until the end, when she finally decides to follow her true calling and stay behind to develop a cure for the disease. Hopefully she remembers to put some clothes back on too, the silly girl. Thus the Tardis crew loses another and I’m left none-the-wiser as to what Turlough is up to.

Mawdryn Undead

I’ll be honest: after part 1, I had decided this story was going to be rubbish. The annoying schoolkids stealing a car, the cheesy villain and awful-looking video effects, Lethbridge-Stewart working at a school for some reason..? What’s going on?! Thankfully, the story does develop and it turns out to be one of the most interesting I’ve seen so far.

Dance, boy. Dance!

Dance, boy. Dance!

Certainly, Doctor Who doesn’t deal with local time phenomena very often, and the revelation that Nyssa and Tegan are six years back in the past is a good one. Of course, the Brigadier is always great to have on screen, and two of them is twice as nice. His memory loss seemed like a lazy conceit at first, but it makes sense in the end and the story comes together well. He’s a terrific character to have alongside the Doctor, and it almost made me nostalgic for the Pertwee years again (heaven forbid!).

The timeframes aren't quite right, but that's mostly because the 1970s pretended to be the 1980s. Now that is really is the 1980s, the Brigadier retired in the 1970s. Perhaps they should have set the present day bits in the future to avoid this whole mess!

The timeframes aren’t quite right, but that’s mostly because the 1970s pretended to be the 1980s. Now that is really is the 1980s, the Brigadier retired in the 1970s. Perhaps they should have set the present day bits in the future to avoid this whole mess!

It’s the nastiness and horror that is most surprising, though. Mawdryn and his brothers in exile, doomed to torturous immortality, is a tragic tale in itself, but the make-up designs are something else. Heads split open, pulsating brains poking out, not to mention the horribly burned skin earlier on – it’s all rather grotesque. Excellently grotesque! I liked how he pretended to be a regenerated Doctor as well. This one really surprised me, I had no idea what to expect, and that’s a good thing.

Mawdryn, posing as the regenerated Doctor, is treated with suspicion.

Mawdryn, posing as the regenerated Doctor, is treated with suspicion.

I suppose the weak link is really the Black Guardian. He’s played like a pantomime villain stuck in a pop video, and even after it’s all finished, I don’t entirely know what he was after, whether he just wanted the Doctor dead or if he was in on Mawdryn’s plan to drain his regenerations first. Turlough is even more confusing, with seemingly none of the crew bothering to question what an alien is doing posing as a schoolboy on Earth. Since he’s sticking around on the Tardis for a while, I suspect we’ll learn a lot more about his plan in the next story. It makes a change to have a secondary character with an ulterior motive, at least.

The Brigadier nearly runs into his other self, an act that would turn out to be not as catastrophic as first feared.

The Brigadier nearly runs into his other self, an act that would turn out to be not as catastrophic as first feared.

This was surprisingly good, then. One of the most memorable, unusual and intriguing stories so far; well paced, horrific and humoured in equal doses, and complemented by a distinctive synthy soundtrack. And from the looks of things, it’s far from over.

Snakedance

Continuing the theme of bringing back old villains (well, it is the anniversary year), Snakedance features the return of the Mara, the snake-demon from Kinda. Hardly an iconic villain to bring back, since it only first appeared in the previous season, but the writer obviously wanted to explore his creation a little more, now from the perspective of an ancient legend, a creature that will return from our minds and become real once again.

A brainwashed Lon convinces Ambril to give him the great crystal.

A brainwashed Lon convinces Ambril to give him the great crystal.

There’s an attempt to explore the nature of legends and truths that are inferred from mangled facts over generations, but since the legend turns out to be literally true, this doesn’t really work. Nevertheless, this story is creepy and well-made. I would not have been old enough to see this at the time, but children of the eighties would no doubt have found much of the imagery to be very frightening. It’s bad enough that Tegan is possessed and starts talking with a strange deep voice, but everything is punctuated by images of snakes, skulls, glowing eyes and the sounds of screams. It’s not quite as creepy as the dream sequences from Kinda, but it’s close. Sensibly, the Mara isn’t seen until the end, and it’s a far more convincing effect than the paper snake from Kinda.

Did anybody order a nightmare?

Did anybody order a nightmare?

I enjoyed all the performances in Snakedance. Martin Clunes plays a great “bored prince” who is then brainwashed by the Mara. Tegan convincingly plays the villain role most of the way through, which gives Nyssa more to do again – although she does resort to screaming, unfortunately. The extended cast of carnies and servants are also nicely watchable. The Doctor continues to be the Doctor, digging and probing, seeing what others do not see.

The Doctor seeks the advice of the wise old man, Dojjen. Did somebody order a cliché too?

The Doctor seeks the advice of the wise old man, Dojjen. Did somebody order a cliché too?

I suppose the resolution is a bit of a cliché (believe that it doesn’t exist and it can’t exist is a well-worn trope), but it makes more sense than a sudden realisation that the Mara hates mirrors, so it’s fair enough. An improvement, then, but probably the end of the Mara for good this time.

Arc of Infinity

Whenever the Doctor returns to Gallifrey, there’s always some sort of political problem going on. For a society that has so much power, you’d think their security would be a lot better. This time, the Doctor is caught up in a conspiracy to free the ancient ex-Time Lord Omega from his antimatter prison. It’s been ten years since Omega last appeared, in the anniversary special The Three Doctors, so it’s an appropriate year to bring him back (from the dead?).

Welcome back to Gallifrey, Doctor. You're nicked. Sorry.

Welcome back to Gallifrey, Doctor. You’re nicked. Sorry.

While the Doctor and Nyssa are gallivanting around Gallifrey, another story runs parallel, following a couple of backpackers in Amsterdam, who we later learn are the cousin and friend of Tegan, who rejoins the adventure by sheer coincidence. Amsterdam just happens to be Omega’s base of operations on Earth, while he communicates with his accomplices on Gallifrey from afar.

Omega has changed his appearance since last time. And built a Tardis. And a chicken?

Omega has changed his appearance since last time. And built a Tardis. And a chicken?

The backpackers are almost unwatchably awful, but nevertheless, it’s an interesting way to split up the story into two parallel threads that come together near the end. The final chase through the Amsterdam streets is perhaps longer than it needs to be, and I would have liked to see the duplicate Doctor idea expanded upon.

This guy. Why? Just why?

This guy. Why? Just why?

Speaking of duplicate Doctors, this story casts Colin Baker as the security commander Maxil. At the time, this would have been a non-issue, but I found his presence distracting because I know that he will be cast as the next Doctor in a couple of seasons’ time (even having never seen any of Colin Baker’s episodes myself). He plays a ruthless by-the-book hardnose, so it’s difficult to get a feel for how he’ll be later on.

Floating around in the Matrix, Omega lets Tegan tell the Doctor where she can be found. Great plan, Doc!

Floating around in the Matrix, Omega lets Tegan tell the Doctor where she can be found. Great plan, Doc!

Arc of Infinity is mixed, then. The Amsterdam half of it is weak, but the mystery stuff with the Time Lords is pretty watchable, even if it doesn’t make much sense, and the plot introduces ideas that it doesn’t develop or conclude very well. One thing I will say, Nyssa was a lot better in this than she has been before, and that’s probably because she had more to do. Keeping the roster of Tardis crew down to a minimum is a good idea. I also liked the execution scene; even though it was obvious that he wouldn’t really die, it was a cool-looking contraption.