Category Archives: season 22

Revelation of the Daleks

It’s another Something of the Daleks story. Occasionally, these can be really good. Lately, however, this has become a less frequent occurrence. Davros returns, having escaped from the explosion in Resurrection of the Daleks, and does his usual routine of frothing at the mouth while yelling about his great plans to build the ultimate master race, etcetera, etcetera. Davros is definitely an iconic villain (particularly here, where for the most part he appears as a severed head attached to a machine), but this whole leader of the Daleks thing is getting tiresome now. When the ‘true’ Daleks return and arrest him, I thought that was a genuinely good moment and a simple but effective way to bring him down.

The head of Davros. I have to admit, that's a lot of trouble to go to on the off chance that you might be assassinated.

The head of Davros. I have to admit, that’s a lot of trouble to go to on the off chance that you might be assassinated.

Severed heads and violent stabbings are combined with some misplaced comedy to create a distinctly mixed tone here. The low point has to be the DJ; what on Earth were they thinking with him? “He’s just so ker-azy, man!”, whooping and hollering as he destroys Daleks with a laser powered by rock and roll or something. And then steps out like a fool and gets shot. Dear me.

No. Just no.

No. Just no.

That said, none of the action is particularly good. They try to do an action-packed assassination attempt in Davros’ lab, complete with limbs being blown off, but a BBC TV studio and some weak video effects just can’t do that sort of sequence justice. Good effort, but no. That’s not to mention the mixed quality of acting. Clive Swift is a good comedy actor, but he’s just a bit weird and creepy in this. Jenny Tomasin is unwatchably awful and cringeworthy in every scene. The romantic interest subplot is inconsequential. Elsewhere, I sort of enjoyed the scenes with Kara and Vogel, but their motives are a bit foggy.

The creepy human-Dalek hybrid head. The see-through Dalek is cool but... why build a see-through Dalek?

The creepy human-Dalek hybrid head. The see-through Dalek is cool but… why build a see-through Dalek?

There isn’t much left to enjoy, really. Orcini, the ‘honorable’ assassin is a kind of cool character. Tranquil Repose is an interesting place where they preserve you in death but what they’re producing is suitably icky. The part where the Doctor finds his future memorial stone is quite creepy, but not enough is done with that because it turns out to be a set-up to snare the Doctor. And speaking of which, I don’t actually know why Davros wanted to bring him there; that seems awfully irresponsible! Overall, this was a mess. Maybe the show should have gone on some sort of hiatus for a year and a half…

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Timelash

Pulled into a time warp, the Tardis arrives on planet Karfel during a particularly nasty dictatorship, a looming war with a neighbouring planet, and rebellion bubbling beneath the surface. Apparently, the Doctor has visited this world before with Jo Grant during his third incarnation, but this was not from any televised adventure. It’s useful only in the sense the bad guys recognise who he is, which I suppose makes a change from the normal routine of capturing the intruders and having them explain themselves.

The timelash is so horrific and deadly, it can only be thwarted by a rope.

The timelash is so horrific and deadly, it can only be thwarted by a rope.

There are a couple of cool things in Timelash. Firstly, there’s Borad, the mysterious ruler. It’s a well-worn trope of hiding behind a false persona, but I liked the idea of him using a robot dummy to talk to his people, and I especially like the awesome make-up they used to make Borad’s face. The half-human/half-rubber-lizard prosthetic is genuinely impressive (and horrific!) to me now; I can only imagine what it must have been like for viewers in 1985. Secondly, there’s some interesting use of time effects. The Doctor’s double-image bluff is intriguing, and there’s the burning android that gets sent back in time one hour, which hints at the sort of non-linear storytelling that Doctor Who doesn’t do very often, probably because serials have to be painfully linear when they’re spread over several weeks. Sadly, this doesn’t have much bearing on the plot.

Okay, three good things. The time accelerator deathray is very cool. Flop!

Okay, three good things. The time accelerator deathray is very cool. Flop!

And the plot is not all that. The rebel uprising is kinda boring and the time portal to the past is silly. It’s made out to be some horrible fate worse than death… but actually you just wind up in Scotland with H.G. Wells? Speaking of, the whole Wells thing is a cute twist, but the character is awful, or at least the actor is. This is a particular shame since most of the supporting cast are also awful. Poor performances all round, with one or two exceptions. And Peri is perhaps at her most useless here, serving as little more than the damsel in distress and screaming a lot. The best performance is from the Doctor as he frustratingly (and meticulously) chews out his companions for getting in the way, in a scene that appears to have been written to fill the remaining ten minutes, despite the implied urgency of the situation. I mean, it’s quite funny, but what the hell?

Herbert looks like a young Michael McIntyre. That's right, try to unsee that now!

Herbert looks like a young Michael McIntyre. That’s right, try to unsee that now!

The ending, then, is just one massive cop-out, as the Doctor steers the Tardis into the incoming missile and is presumed dead, only to miraculously survive the explosion. I’m sorry, but “oh, it’s complicated, I’ll tell you about it some other time” is the absolute worst bottom-of-the-barrel writing imaginable. Shameful stuff.

Borad, in all his marvellously hideous glory.

Borad, in all his marvellously hideous glory.

The Two Doctors

Oh my giddy aunt! What the bloody hell did I just watch? You might think, from the name, that The Two Doctors would be a team-up of Time Lords on a lighthearted adventure against some iconic bad-dudes, particularly with the inclusion of Patrick Troughton as the jolly and childish second Doctor. What I didn’t expect was this utterly bizarre trip through cannibalism, torture and some the darkest and weirdest themes Doctor Who has ever tackled. Was this even considered a kids’ show by this point? The decline into dark themes has been gradual, I admit, but this is a world away from the sort of story The Five Doctors was, just a year or so prior.

Dastari and Chessene try to discover the secret of Time Lord symbiotic nuclei.

Dastari and Chessene try to discover the secret of Time Lord symbiotic nuclei.

Things start off strangely in the second Doctor’s Tardis. Now, it’s great to see Frazer Hines back as Jamie, one of the longest-serving companions, but it is quite obvious that he’s nearly twenty years older. Even Patrick Troughton’s wig is now grey, and in addition to the clearly modern design of the control room, it suggests this version of the Doctor is set along some parallel timeline in which he never regenerated. He’s even on a mission for the Time Lords, which did not happen in the original timeline, and moreover the sixth Doctor has no memory of this adventure. But this is all completely ignored, and we’re supposed to accept that this all happened in the past (presumably between the points where Victoria left and Zoe joined). I gather there are some woolly ‘fanon’ explanations around for this, but it’s difficult to accept at face value.

The black-and-white opening catches you off-guard, before the colour (and wrinkles) return to their faces.

The black-and-white opening catches you off-guard, before the colour (and wrinkles) return to their faces.

I like Patrick Troughton as the Doctor, and he’s still a pleasure to watch here, but it’s just not the sort of story that suits him. I won’t even get into the bizarre restaurant scene towards the end, because I’m not entirely sure I didn’t just dream the whole thing. Remarkably, though the villains of the piece are the Sontarans, the scariest villain here is undoubtedly the cannibal chef, Shockeye. I have to give credit to the performance; his heavy breathing and leering gaze as he eyes up his prey and sharpens his blades is truly unsettling. The script is dripping with descriptive prose about tearing tender human flesh from the bone and so on, it’s hard to believe that Robert Holmes wrote this as a vegetarian; it comes across more like he was just really hungry. Well, intentionally or not, he’s created one of the scariest villains in Doctor Who, ever.

Dressed for dinner, the Androgum-mutated Doctor and the chef head into town to sample the local cuisine.

Dressed for dinner, the Androgum-mutated Doctor and the chef head into town to sample the local cuisine.

Almost everything about this story has a wicked tone, from the computer that tries to casually murder them on the space station, to the repeated capture of the heroes. Poor Peri is attacked by Jamie, chased through the Spanish heat and knocked unconscious by Shockeye, is literally seconds away from having her throat cut, and goes through the whole ordeal in a skimpy little outfit. Jamie doesn’t fare much better; in fact no-one really comes away well. The poor lady of the villa gets casually offed in seconds, the truck driver is killed and so is Oscar the restaurateur when Shockeye stabs him. Yes, this is a Doctor Who story where a cannibal goes around bludgeoning an elderly woman and stabbing people. What the actual flip?

Peri and Jamie meet in less than ideal conditions. In fact, I think he tries to hump her.

Peri and Jamie meet in less than ideal conditions. In fact, I think he tries to hump her.

And it’s another story where the Doctor blithely goes along with it. He puts Peri in danger repeatedly (the bit where he tells her to go into the dangerous house on her own is almost laughable; it’s like a horror parody), and he once again has little regard for life as he kills Shockeye with some cyanide(!!!). Although I can’t say he didn’t have it coming, did we really need the Doctor to offer another witty quip afterwards?

Continuing the theme of grotesque deaths, Stike the Sontaran gets burned by acid and then blown up.

Continuing the theme of grotesque deaths, Stike the Sontaran gets burned by acid and then blown up.

Frankly, this is one of the strangest pieces of television entertainment I think I have ever watched. While there is an interesting central plot, lots of it is just weird tangential filler (possibly because the runtime is 50% longer than the current norm) and it’s just filled with really dark humour and unsettling scenes throughout. I can’t say it’s entirely without merit, because I’m all for pushing boundaries and trying new things, and I would much rather it be bizarrely interesting and darkly comic than, I dunno, boring and bland. But, just, wow. I’m lost for words. And I really fancy a shepherd’s pie.

The Mark of the Rani

The Rani is name of a Time Lord (er, Time Lady?) who has travelled to the 19th century industrial revolution era to steal brain chemicals from the local miners, resulting in the poor humans becoming aggressively violent. So, it’s another historical episode with an alien incursion to deal with… and, do you know what? I thought it was fairly good!

The Master watches as the Rani examines her captive. These two should team up more often.

The Master watches as the Rani examines her captive. These two should team up more often.

When the Master turns up on the scene, the dynamic changes for the better. Here we have a (seemingly indestructible) villain stumbling into a scenario without a plan of action, who almost immediately develops one, and it’s totally bonkers (“I shall rule the world by kicking Earth’s industry up a gear while controlling everyone’s mind!!”). He and the Rani work well together as characters, bickering and distrusting one another, leading to some great scenes. Meanwhile, the Doctor and Peri are well-established bickerers themselves, but there are hints of a stronger relationship developing, albeit slowly.

Luke, turned into a tree, helps Peri to not turn into a tree. Yeah, I know, right?

Luke, turned into a tree, helps Peri to not turn into a tree. Yeah, I know, right?

The Doctor’s quite tolerable in this. Since his first appearance, he’s mellowed out loads. He’s still something of an anti-hero at times, socially awkward and big-headed, but he gets some excellent lines now. I laughed when he implied he was a scarecrow.

The Rani's Tardis looks so cool!

The Rani’s Tardis looks so cool!

I almost burst out laughing when the Doctor gets himself stuck between his two captors who have both stepped on mines that turn them into trees. It’s such a ridiculous idea but it’s completely confident that you’ll just go along with it. So too with the growing dinosaur embryo thrown in at the end, as the Rani’s Tardis goes spiralling out of the galaxy. Incidentally, for the short amount of time the other Tardis is seen, it’s extremely well-realised. It absolutely looks like a “next generation” Tardis control room. Those spinning loops on the console are really cool. I think the Doctor should consider an upgrade.

So, it’s a bit daft and light-hearted, but it’s good fun. And it’s set “oop north”, which makes a change!

Vengeance on Varos

Vengeance on Varos is probably one of the grimmest Doctor Who stories so far. Much like The Sun Makers, it pushes contemporary concepts to farcical extremes to create a darkly comic dystopian future. In this case, it’s a society that oppresses its people while publicly televising torture and death for their entertainment, dangling the carrot of freedom in front of them by letting them vote on their governor’s policies. I suppose it’s also a commentary on reality TV, albeit a bit before its time.

The Chief Officer and Sil plot to extort underpriced ore from Varos.

The Chief Officer and Sil plot to extort underpriced ore from Varos.

The plot is kept simple, but is punctuated by some distinctive imagery. The slug-like alien, Sil, and his evil gurgling laugh is particularly memorable. Quillam’s scarred face, Peri growing feathers over her skin, the Doctor being subjected to heat exhaustion, an acid bath and a gallows. It’s almost relentlessly bleak.

Furries around the world drool as Peri is nearly turned into a bird creature.

Furries around the world drool as Peri is nearly turned into a bird creature.

It has some comedic elements, some of which work as satire, like the couple watching and commenting on the TV at home, while some of it feels very badly judged in tone. The Doctor is supposed to care about life, but he has no problem with causing a few deaths here. Firstly, the security guard who gets zapped by the torture beam that he intentionally sets up as a trap, and later the two who get knocked into the acid vat. This wouldn’t be so bad, but the Doctor then makes a witty quip afterwards (“you’ll forgive me if I don’t join you”) – he’s not James bloody Bond! He hasn’t got the dress sense, for a start.

I couldn’t help but think of The Truman Show as the TV cameras are getting the best angle of the Doctor struggling for his life in the Punishment Dome.

I couldn’t help but think of The Truman Show as the TV cameras are getting the best angle of the Doctor struggling for his life in the Punishment Dome.

The Governor is the sympathetic character, bravely going against the grain of the public vote, and is generally likable even when he’s giving questionable orders in the line of duty. No-one is a saint, there are only shades of grey. The Doctor continues to improve as a character I can actually care about, which I guess means he just needed a decent script, and on the whole I did enjoy this one a lot.

Attack of the Cybermen

As a rule, I now expect the worst from a Cybermen story. Ever since Revenge of the Cybermen, they’ve been terrible villains. The voices, the design, their mannerisms, all were handled much better back in the black-and-white era (the last such appearance being The Invasion). Well, Attack of the Cybermen doesn’t depict them any better, but I was surprised at the attempts to bring back some of that old Cybermen magic by referencing their original story, amongst other things.

The Doctor and Peri search for the source of the distress signal.

The Doctor and Peri search for the source of the distress signal.

There aren’t many shows that run long enough to be able to revisit “future events” once that fictional date rolls around for real. I’d almost completely forgotten that The Tenth Planet was set in 1986, and so the Earth will very shortly experience the arrival of planet Mondas in the sky. This is what the future Cybermen are trying to prevent, having encountered a time machine of their own, by destroying the Earth before it destroys what was once their home. If nothing else, that’s a pretty cool concept.

The Cybermen only appear strong when they exert force on somebody. Here, Lytton's wrists are crushed and bleeding.

The Cybermen only appear strong when they exert force on somebody. Here, Lytton’s wrists are crushed and bleeding.

Elsewhere, this story seems intent on tickling the nostalgia glands with a few winks and nods. The Tardis lands in the original junkyard from An Unearthly Child (complete with I.M. Foreman signage), and the Doctor finally “fixes” his chameleon circuit, allowing the Tardis to change into different forms (although this fix does not seem to last long). I liked these references.

The Cryons remind me of the Sensorites. I think it’s the beard around the base of the mask, the bulbous head and the plain jumpsuit uniforms.

The Cryons remind me of the Sensorites. I think it’s the beard around the base of the mask, the bulbous head and the plain jumpsuit uniforms.

There is plenty I didn’t like, though. The blippy-bloppy electronic music is almost uniformly awful throughout. Lytton (who returns from Resurrection of the Daleks) is a decent enough character, but his gang of villains is annoying. Peri is reaching almost unwatchable levels of bad at the moment; her acting is awful, so forced and melodramatic. The Cryons are an interesting sort of race, but their costumes and masks are… not so good. Every time the Cybermen attack, I have to laugh at how rubbish they look, swinging their arms around, throwing the Doctor across the set unconvincingly. And just HOW did they get inside the Tardis? Did the Doctor just leave the door open? And the ending is rushed to the point where it stretches logic to quite some length.

I'm sorry, do you have an appointment?

I’m sorry, do you have an appointment?

On the other hand, I liked the crazy zombie Cybermen smashing through the windows and grabbing people. I liked how one of the them exploded after being shot through the mouth. I liked seeing the humans trapped in the machinery being converted into Cybermen (that’s a first, isn’t it?). I think this story is novel enough to earn a passing grade, despite its problems. And, actually, the Doctor himself has at least mellowed out a bit, and shows some redeeming characteristics towards the end. He’s a charmless, arrogant so-and-so the rest of the time, but hey, it’s a start!