Category Archives: season 24

Dragonfire

This has been a thoroughly terrible season so far, but thankfully Dragonfire tries its best to pull it back from the brink. The setting is a lively shopping district on the imaginatively-named Iceworld, populated by the hustle and bustle of aliens coming and going. While it still has a slightly silly feel with a sprinkling of slapstick here and there, Dragonfire is a good old-fashioned adventure, going after a mythical dragon and his treasure, exploring caves with a old map, and uncovering a three-thousand year-old mystery. It has a good sense of fun and even Sabalom Glitz returns for some more mischief.

Kane's frozen base of operations.

Kane’s frozen base of operations.

Kane is a cool villain (quite literally) with a heart as cold as ice. He casually murders a whole bunch of people after chasing them into a boobytrapped spaceship. It’s strange that no-one comments on that afterwards. Kane’s death is unexpectedly brilliant as he melts in front of an unfiltered window, in a scene eerily reminiscent of the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. I wonder how that got through in a kids’ show!

Nightmares.

Nightmares.

Dragonfire introduces new companion Ace, a 20-century Earth girl who got pulled into some sort of time/space vortex that landed her a waitressing job in Iceworld. Appropriately her real name is Dorothy – perhaps she should have tried clicking her heels together? I’m not convinced she’s that much better than Mel just yet – their scenes together are a bit “Grange Hill” for my liking, and I reckon her catchphrases could grate. Brill or naff? It remains to be seen. Still, I’m definitely glad to see the back of Mel, but her exit comes out of the blue. She’s just… had enough? If she actually had some character in the first place, it might make more sense. A total non-entity, purely there to fill a void and scream. Good riddance.

The ice caves look cheap and repetitive, but what can you do?

The ice caves look cheap and repetitive, but what can you do?

Dragonfire has a few issues, certainly. The actual ‘dragon’ monster itself is decidedly ropey, looking like somebody cosplaying the alien from Alien. The literal cliffhanger at the end of part one is inexplicable, but McCoy does good physical comedy and the expressions on his face are priceless. It’s a solid story overall, if a little rushed towards the end, and shows some genuine promise. A shining ice crystal amongst a season of tepid water, then.

What a strange mess to get himself into.

What a strange mess to get himself into.

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Delta and the Bannermen

One awful serial is to be expected now and again; call it a slip in judgement. Two in row is an anomalous accident, perhaps. But three absolutely awful serials in a row? This can only be by design. For one reason or another, the powers that be have turned Doctor Who into a very strange, very silly, programme, which this time seems intent on mimicking an episode of Hi-de-Hi. That is, if Hi-de-Hi was set in Wales and had alien bounty hunters in it. I’ve probably made that sound far more interesting than it actually is.

The Nostalgia Tours "space bus" hits a satellite and crashes. Oh, what japes!

The Nostalgia Tours “space bus” hits a satellite and crashes. Oh, what japes!

I’m not adverse to comedy in sci-fi – in fact, some of my favourite Star Trek episodes are ones that don’t take themselves too seriously. Unfortunately, this era of Doctor Who just isn’t funny. I think laughed once, and that was when one of the (awful) American characters says “we’re in Wales… in England”.

Ken Dodd as the toll master, because... well, why not?

Ken Dodd as the toll master, because… well, why not?

There are hints of seriousness, of war and genocide in a far away galaxy, as if somebody is trying to inject a bit of serious drama into the show, but it’s all at odds with the overall ‘campy’ tone. Even when the bus-load of alien tourists is blown up, it’s almost played for laughs and then forgotten about. The characters are paper-thin caricatures (although I must say, “Ray” gets by on good looks and a sexy accent – she should have been the new companion, darn it!). The Doctor has a fairly good confrontation with Gavrock in which he pushes his luck in a rather endearing way, but that’s about it. I quite like this new Doctor, but it’s so frustrating not letting him sink his teeth into a meaty role. Speaking of meat, Gavrock chewing on a big lump of the stuff is really quite disgusting.

Gavrock misses an opportunity to drastically improve the show when he spares Mel's life.

Gavrock misses an opportunity to drastically improve the show when he spares Mel’s life.

It’s just so bad, it’s painful to watch. The music is absolutely awful. Some of it is rubbish cover versions of fifties songs, and then there’s the use of the “Devil’s Galop” during the chases, which does nothing to help the naffness of the thing. And the bit with the green baby – oh my god, what were they thinking? And Queen Delta can communicate with bees or something? What? THIS IS COMPLETELY STUPID!

Did it just grow a green onesie or is that supposed to be its skin?

Did it just grow a green onesie or is that supposed to be its skin?

I have almost nothing good to say about this one at all. I think we’ve just struck solid Low, buried fifty feet underneath Lowtown, in Lowestoft. Let’s keep it down there and forget this whole thing ever happened.

Paradise Towers

Paradise Towers isn’t quite as awful as Time and the Rani, but it has its own set of problems. It’s arguably a lot more disappointing, because it has elements that show promise. The cyberpunk-esque setting and hints of war and disaster elsewhere paint a rich science fiction canvas. The enclosed setting of the tower building has allowed for a self-contained culture to develop. Unfortunately, it’s been filled with excruciatingly silly cartoon characters.

The Doctor shows the 'Kangs' how to use a vending machine. Mmm... fizzade.

The Doctor shows the ‘Kangs’ how to use a vending machine. Mmm… fizzade.

Gangs of kids are never fun to watch singing, chanting and mocking. Admittedly, their use of language and names is somewhat imaginative, but the performances are painful. Then there’s Mel’s tea break with Tilda and Tabby – oh my word, these scenes are diabolical. It’s one part kids’ comedy show, one part weird horror (again with the cannibalism; give it rest, writers!). What with the music that frequently sounds like it’s from a soap opera, it creates completely the wrong atmosphere (unless the intended atmosphere was of a soap opera version of Dredd / The Raid!). The thing is, it could sort of be weird enough to work, but then someone like Pex turns up and all hope is lost. Not to mention the Chief, played by Richard Briers, who hams it up throughout, putting on a performance that goes from Blakey from On the Buses to a gurning robo-zombie. Just so, so awful.

Mel enjoys some tea and crumpets with Tilda and Tabby, who then try to eat her. I can't help but think they'd be better off just eating the crumpets. This whole scene is seriously WEIRD.

Mel enjoys some tea and crumpets with Tilda and Tabby, who then try to eat her. I can’t help but think they’d be better off just eating the crumpets. This whole scene is seriously WEIRD.

The one element of humour that I think actually works is the rules and regulations that all the caretakers abide by. Panicking patrols having to call out ridiculously long numbers just to report in is the sort of satirical humour that works well in science fiction, but it is completely overplayed, and the Doctor’s escape by faking the rulebook is unbelievable.

Why does a cleaning robot need a drill and a circular saw?

Why does a cleaning robot need a drill and a circular saw?

Further, the robot cleaners are pathetically unthreatening, looking like a group of Robot Wars rejects, the ‘action’ is laughable, Mel is excruciating, and the silly tone turns a potentially interesting premise into a joke. This is not Doctor Who’s finest tower.

Time and the Rani

It had to happen eventually. CGI has invaded Doctor Who. I’m sure the title and Tardis sequences were absolutely cutting edge in 1987, but that shiny computerised Tardis looks awful compared to the stunning model photography from the previous season. I hope they don’t rely too much on these ambitious but dated digital effects. I kinda like the new logo, but the less said about the Doctor’s creepy winking face, the better.

I wouldn't have thought it was possible to have a regeneration sequence without the original actor being there, but they put Sly McCoy in a wig and did it anyway!

I wouldn’t have thought it was possible to have a regeneration sequence without the original actor being there, but they put Sly McCoy in a wig and did it anyway!

Doctor Who’s downward spiral into misery continues, and Time and the Rani is quite possibly the low point of the whole show up until now. It contains so much badness that I had to keep notes on all of it. Amongst the mind-boggling awfulness is the Rani putting on a wig and pretending to be Mel to fool the amnesiac Doctor. One Mel is bad enough as it is (particularly in this story where she seems to have a screaming addiction), but the Rani pretending to be her is bafflingly stupid and further reinforces the idea that this is barely pantomime level of drama. The only thing that could top it would be somebody shouting “she’s behind you!”.

I mean, where did the Rani even get the wig and clothes from in such short notice? How did she know the Doctor wouldn't remember her clearly? What a bloody stupid plan!

I mean, where did the Rani even get the wig and clothes from in such short notice? How did she know the Doctor wouldn’t remember her clearly? What a bloody stupid plan!

Pratfalls, slapstick ‘comedy’, mistaken identity and a bizarre wrestling match between the Doctor and Mel, all make for terrible viewing. The Rani’s plan is insane, too. Apparently, amongst other things, she’s unhappy with the evolutionary direction that Earth took after the dinosaurs were wiped out, so she wants to erase the worthless humans from history. To do this, she requires genius humans pulled from history. What.

Duh, me brain not think so good.

Duh, me brain not think so good.

It’s a script that has a lack of thought put into it. It may be nitpicking, but at one point, the Doctor breaks out of his prison cell using a secret code. The code is the Rani’s age, which the Doctor knows because it’s also his age. Now, a sensible writer would have made it an unchanging number like the year of their birth, not their age, which is entirely relative to the year that it currently is and the timeframe that they’re both from. What are the chances that both time travellers would be operating in sync like this? It’s bad enough when villains turn up from any point in time ahead of when they previously appeared, but this is just extra lazy.

It's not just Mel who has awful clothes, the Lakertyans' are an eyesore too.

It’s not just Mel who has awful clothes, the Lakertyans’ are an eyesore too.

I’m struggling to find anything of value in this serial. Okay, I suppose some of the music is quite exciting, if a little overbearing. The tripwire exploding ball things are also pretty cool. And those bat-like creatures… yes, they have that “man in a suit” problem and look ridiculous, but I like that they’ve got eyes all around their head and their vision superimposes all the images together. Nice touch.

In such a daft story, the blood-sucking bat-monsters are almost incongruent.

In such a daft story, the blood-sucking bat-monsters are almost incongruent.

I suppose the only good thing about all these problems is that any issues with the new Doctor are sidelined. I must say, though, that going from an extroverted loudmouth in a clown costume to a small mumbling Scotsman who looks like a Batman villain is a change that will take some getting used to. At times, I struggled to hear what he was saying. I did enjoy his self-loathing and mixed metaphors, though. I wonder if they’ll remain his “thing”.