Category Archives: season 5

The Wheel in Space

I like the Cybermen episodes so far because they’re unannounced. Aside from ‘Tomb of the Cybermen’, they’ve all taken me by surprise. Unlike the Dalek episodes, where you know it’s a Dalek episode because it has “Dalek” in the title, you’re not just waiting around for the Cybermen to show up, they just suddenly appear. You see those unmistakable helmet handles and then “surprise! It’s a Cyberman episode!!”

Ooops, spoilers!

The Wheel's control room.

The Wheel’s control room.

The Wheel in Space is set on a wheel… in space. A rotating Earth space station that monitors stellar phenomena, and is armed with a laser for deflecting meteors and such. Doc and Jamie materialise aboard a seemingly abandoned spaceship that’s heading towards the Wheel, and only narrowly avoid being shot down by them as an off-course rogue ship.

The Cybermen are brought over in caskets.

The Cybermen are brought over in caskets.

Once aboard, things take a turn for the strange. Cybermats manage to get through the hull and sabotage the laser’s fuel rods, requiring a salvage operation aboard the rogue ship. This gives the Cybermen, who were hidden aboard it, their chance to get aboard the Wheel and start brainwashing the crew. The Doctor wasn’t anticipated in their rather convoluted plan to conquer the Earth (The Wheel provides a safe gateway to Earth, for some technical reason given in the eleventh hour), and his knowledge of the Cybermen is enough to fend them off. They’re blasted into space and their ship is blown up.

The Cybermen take control of the Wheel personnel.

The Cybermen take control of the Wheel personnel.

This story struck me as rather similar to a lot of others in this series. It was perfectly enjoyable, but once again we have the corruptible power-hungry leader, the hidden enemy who no-one believes at first, the brainwashed humans acting against them in secret, and so on. Fury from the Deep, The Ice Warriors, The Moonbase… it’s a formula they seem to be sticking with. As I say, it’s perfectly fine, and there’s plenty of strong performances, but it’s getting a bit old.

Astronauts under 'cyber-control'.

Astronauts under ‘cyber-control’.

One of the station staff, the emotionally-crippled brainiac wondergirl Zoe, decides to stick with the Doctor and Jamie. Isn’t it a funny coincidence that new companions always join them on the very first mission after the previous one leaves?

Zoe and the Cybermen.

Zoe and the Cybermen.

Six episodes seems to have become standard practise again, and this one does drag a little. It takes an entire episode just for the Doctor and Jamie to get off the spaceship!

Only two completed episodes of this serial exist, but Loose Cannon’s reconstructions are some of the most thorough I’ve seen so far (these are available on Youtube). Aside from the usual telesnaps and composites, they’ve reused bits of clips from the two available episodes wherever possible, and they even made some CGI sequences of the little robot, the Cybermats, the Cybermen and even the astronauts walking around. Impressive work, team!

Noteworthy mention: When interrogated about the Doctor, who is absent for episode 2 (having hit his head!) Jamie says his name is John Smith, seeing it on a label on a piece of equipment. The Doctor sticks with it as his name for the rest of the story.

Another noteworthy mention, not specifically about this story but classic Doctor Who in general… the supporting cast of characters are portrayed as actual intelligent and believable human beings. In modern stories (certainly in most ‘New Who’), the hero is the clever one, maybe the sidekick too, but the supporting cast are slow and dimwitted in order for the story to proceed and the hero to be seen as clevererererer. That doesn’t really happen here. It’s not all about the Doctor, he’s just a cog in the machine. Anyway, just an observation.

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Fury from the Deep

Another monster storyline, which are becoming very prevalent in this series! I’m also noting a lot of research or science facility locations, often with power-hungry or corruptible leaders, and people infiltrating them or working undercover. Common themes here. I’m not complaining just yet, I prefer these types of stories.

The Doctor listens to the thumping sounds from the pipes... and then uses his sonic screwdriver for the very first time!

The Doctor listens to the thumping sounds from the pipes… and then uses his sonic screwdriver for the very first time!

This one sees sentient seaweed creatures spreading across a network of natural gas rigs on the north sea by travelling through the pipes and spreading foam and poisonous gas everywhere. The gas controls the workers and the workers spread more of the seaweed around to infect other people.

The Doctor in the refinery control room.

The Doctor in the refinery control room.

They really tried to scare the pants off you back then. The pulsating heartbeat noises from the pipes are just as effective today – the creature (what I could make out of it from the images and surviving clips) was obscured enough by all the foam to remain scarily hidden. And the possessed people… oh my. If I was eight years old watching that clip of the wide-eyed ‘Mr. Quill’, bellowing out gas from his open mouth, face contorted in terror, I’d probably have had nightmares. Who needs CGI monsters when you have that?

The terrifying Mr. Quill.

The terrifying Mr. Quill.

Victoria screams a lot in this story, which for once actually turns out quite useful, as the sound of her scream apparently kills the seaweed creatures. They amplify her scream and send it through the pipework in order to kill the nerve centre and it works! It’s an abrupt solution – it’s previously mentioned that they’re also weak against pure oxygen, and it looked like a plan was being put into place for that, but it never went anywhere. It’s possible the ending was shortened, lengthened or rewritten entirely, but I don’t know. It just seemed a bit abrupt to me.

The head of refinery operation, Robson, is caught by the evil foam!

The head of refinery operation, Robson, is caught by the evil foam!

Notable in this story is the first ever appearance of the sonic screwdriver! Unbelievably, it was actually used to remove a screw (using soundwaves)! It’s also the first time I’ve seen the Tardis physically ‘land’ anywhere – it literally descends from the sky and hovers over the sea, then leaves again the same way (instead of dematerialising first).

Also notable is the first time a companion has remarked on how often they seem to arrive in England – Jamie mentions it shortly after they arrive on the shore. Another nod to the series tropes is when Victoria complains about how they always get into one spot of danger after another and never seem to land anywhere peaceful. It’s true enough – the Tardis must have some sort of “Adventure Detector” that guides it!

This final point actually pushes Victoria to the brink. Deciding she cannot take anymore ‘excitement’, she elects to end her adventures and remain behind. The final episode winds down a little earlier than normal as the Doctor and Jamie say goodbye to her.

This six-part serial was made up of all six reconstructions, again incorporating clips of the scary footage that was cut out from the overseas broadcasts.

The Web of Fear

Bizarrely, this serial follows on from the 2012 Christmas special, the future incarnation of the Doctor having given the past incarnation of the Great Intelligence the idea to come to London and conquer the Underground system with his army of yeti robots. Yes, this really happens.

An older Professor Travers meets the Doctor again.

An older Professor Travers meets the Doctor again.

It seems to start as a disaster episode: London is evacuated! Corpses in the streets! But actually the crisis is confined to the tunnels and rooms of the Underground system, so the story doesn’t swell out into a bloated epic. The core characters (mostly army personnel, although the scientist from the previous yeti story is back as an old man) have their own unique personalities and quirks, and the story stays pretty tight, much to its advantage. The timid Evans always looking out for himself provides some light relief. We don’t discover who is helping the Intelligence (unwillingly) until the end, so there’s a bit of mystery and guessing too.

Yeti advancing through the underground tunnels.

Yeti advancing through the underground tunnels.

Also, a lot of web. I don’t know whether the title of the serial is related purely to this or also the web-like nature of the London Underground, but a core danger throughout the story is the yeti’s web-like fungus guns (yes, this also really happens) filling up the tunnels and trapping the people in.

The yeti themselves have had a slight design change since last time (on the outside, anyway – they still have the shiny control spheres inside them and make the same noise), with browner fur and scary glowing eyes. Clearly much of the footage of them advancing through the dark tunnels was considered too scary for the overseas censors, hence much of these retrieved shots have survived the BBC’s deletion! Additionally, one completed episode exists. The other five are reconstructions. That said, they’re done well (I watched Loose Cannon’s versions, they tend to do the best work on these).

The timid Evans.

The timid Evans.

The Great Intelligence is thwarted by the Doctor’s technical skill in reverse-engineering its equipment, however it manages to escape in non-corporeal form once again… so maybe it’ll come back for a future episode. Presumably, the people of London are brought back in once the crisis is over and nobody ever mentions it again!

On the whole, I enjoyed this. The setting was unique, the evil was scary, and the Doctor was a genius. I wouldn’t rank it as a favourite but it was certainly entertaining. Just a shame so many episodes are missing in action.

The Enemy of the World

In an undisclosed future date, the ‘zones’ of Earth are under threat by a sinister world leader, using natural disasters and subterfuge to gain control and leadership and rule the world. He is called Salamander, and by an astonishing coincidence, he looks exactly like The Doctor. No surprise, then, that the arrival of the Doctor and company sees the people trying to overthrow Salamander turn to The Doctor for help in impersonating him and uncovering evidence of his evil-doing.

Salamander, an astonishing likeness of the Doctor.

Salamander, an astonishing likeness of the Doctor.

A previous serial had an unexplained double of the Doctor, with William Hartnell playing the Abbot of Amboise in the (entirely missing) four-parter The Massacre. Whether there is some speculative fiction on the origin of these inexplicable doubles (something about Timelords regenerating into the bodies of real people?), I don’t know. I’d imagine it was intended just as a coincidence, which, given the vastness of time and space, seems entirely appropriate. Frankly, this was probably another excuse to have Troughton put on a funny accent. He’s meant to be Mexican or something, but it’s amusingly bad or brilliant, I can’t decide.

Jamie is recruited as one of Salamander's guards.

Jamie is recruited as one of Salamander’s guards.

Anyway, I enjoyed watching Troughton play both parts, and the plot left a lot of guessing until the end. Is Salamander really ‘evil’, or is there more at work here than it seems? The Doctor is initially skeptical without hard evidence. He also continues to uphold his non-violence stance and is reluctant to bring harm to Salamander, despite all he has supposedly done to the world.

Victoria helps out in the kitchen.

Victoria helps out in the kitchen.

In the end, a final moment of confusion sees Salamander in the Tardis, moments before dematerialisation, and he gets sucked out of the doors into the ‘void’. A dramatic and sudden end.

This six-part serial could easily have been four parts and not lost anything. It wasn’t bad, just not particularly interesting, aside from the Troughton double performance. Five of the six episodes are reconstructions, which certainly doesn’t help. I’m looking forward to episodes that aren’t just audio with pictures and captions – it’s the future, apparently! Not to mention in colour! Although I will be sorry to see Troughton’s run come to an end – I’ve enjoyed his performance so far. I think I even prefer him to modern era Doctor Who. He’s weird, yes, but he’s just so… nice.

The Ice Warriors

The Tardis lands in the middle of an ice age! So much for warmer pastures, all these snowy episodes are giving me a chill at this time of year – brrrr!!

It’s the future, and Earth is overrun by advancing ice caps, kept at bay by outposts stationed all over the world. One such outpost (bizarrely an old Victorian house renovated into a modern lab) is visited by the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria. An expedition outside discovers a frozen man, it turns out to be a creature from Mars, and he is accidentally awakened, and then revives his fellow warriors from the ice. They plan to free their spaceship (and possibly conquer the Earth, but first things first), and the outpost cannot use its ‘ionizer’ ray to keep the icecaps away, lest it react badly with the alien’s ship’s engine, causing a devastating explosion. Skirmishes and kidnappings ensue, as the martians and the humans size each other up and play each other’s bluff.

The Doctor infiltrates the Martian 'ice warrior' ship.

The Doctor infiltrates the Martian ‘ice warrior’ ship.

With six episodes, there’s a little more to this story than just the alien stuff. The base’s leader is a complex character, proud and accomplished, but more concerned with reporting in positive results than in saving lives and doing what’s right. Another former scientist-turned-scavenger plays off of this and is ultimately recruited back into the group. He’s played by Peter Sallis, which was distracting if only because I kept expecting him to say “cracking cheese, Gromit!”. Still, these scenes are all good, and the lab, props and costumes are all very futuristic-looking for their time.

The outpost control room.

The outpost control room.

The aliens are pretty one-dimensional villains and, with their wheezing, hissing voices, sound like a cross between Darth Vader and Lord Voldemort. Their costumes are a mix of mechanical and organic, and look a little rubbery, but I did like their weird prosthetic mouthpieces – very eerie the way they move as they talk. They also have powerful guns on their arms that make cool warped effects when they fire. Not a villain to be trifled with!

So, pretty good overall, but mostly down to the supporting cast this time.

"Cracking ice, Gromit!"

“Cracking ice, Gromit!”

A word on the restoration: the two missing episodes were condensed as a single 15 minutes piece by the BBC, and presented as an “in-universe” communications failure, with the remaining audio and pictures presented on one of the communicator screens used in the episode. I thought it was very well done and a nice touch to present it this way. That aside, I also watched fan-made full-length restorations of both, just because I want to see every single episode regardless.

The Abominable Snowmen

This six-part story starts when the Doctor and co arrive at a Tibetan monastery in the Himalayas, and discover the monks there have been terrorised by a group of yetis. Naturally, all is not as it appears and the yetis are in fact robots being controlled by a disembodied intelligence, who is also controlling the abbot of the monks and one of the Doctor’s old acquaintances from a previous visit.

Professor Travers shows Jamie and Victoria the yeti.

Professor Travers shows Jamie and Victoria the yeti.

To be honest, I found it hard to follow exactly what was happening in this one. Four of the reconstructed episodes were particularly poorly done, with muffled sound, over-exposed images, no captions, and looked like they had been transferred from VHS (they probably had). Admittedly, I could have tracked down some better quality reconstructions, but I wasn’t all that interested in the story anyway. It dragged on for too long.

The yeti approach.

The yeti approach.

About the only thing I liked was the voice of the disembodied intelligence – slow and calm but really creepy. For a moment, I thought he might turn out to be an early form of The Master (since he referred to himself as the master), but it seems there was no relation after all.

'The Master'. (Not the Master, apparently.)

‘The Master’. (Not the Master, apparently.)

The controlling machine is destroyed, seemingly taking the Intelligence with it, and the yeti robots are disabled. The Tardis leaves for hopefully warmer pastures.

In short: meh.

The Tomb of the Cybermen

Unsurprisingly, I liked it. Classic Who villain plus sci-fi plot gets my vote any time, and this one was handled well. Much like in Power of the Daleks, the villains are a force not to awaken, and the danger comes principally from the rogue human characters who wish to control them (and use them to take over the Earth).

The Doctor finds the whole thing fascinating.

The Doctor finds the whole thing fascinating.

At four parts long, the story was tight enough, with dramatic cliffhangers capping each part. Although I must admit, at first I was a bit confused about what year this was supposed to be set in. With the mildly racist and sexist undertones, I thought it was a 1920s expedition on Earth but then they started talking about spaceships and centuries passing and I got confused, but it all made sense in the end. Also, first ever mention of the Doctor’s age! (450 Earth years).

The excavation team explores the lower levels.

The excavation team explores the lower levels.

The Cybermen were the new metal-/foil- coated variety as seen in The Moonbase, and although they still look like men in foil suits, with those electronic voices, they were still an sinister presence. The Cyber-Controller and Cybermats are new, although the latter weren’t particularly scary, nor seem to do anything, although one escapes at the end in what I assume will become a relevant plot point in a later episode.

The Cybermen emerge from their frozen tombs.

The Cybermen emerge from their frozen tombs.

For its time, the production design was fairly impressive. Although a lot of the control panels and doors look like they’re made of wood, I was impressed by the large array of stasis pods from which the Cybermen emerge. There were also good pyro effects from their laser gun weapon, and some neat electricity special effects.

The Cybercontroller. Da boss.

The Cybercontroller. Da boss.

I thought I was going to be disappointed by Victoria’s easy acceptance into this group, considering her father was killed in the previous story and seemingly forgotten about, but then episode 3 had a welcome bit of banter between her and the Doctor, in which the Doctor describes his way of thinking about their adventures and how no-one else in the universe is lucky enough to do what they’re doing. The Doctor’s character has been largely sidelined up until now (particularly in Hartnell’s episodes), so this was a nice moment that added to the character, and I hope it continues.

Certainly, this was amongst the best Classic Who serials I’ve seen in my epic marathon so far, and the first Troughton story to be without missing parts, which was a treat. He didn’t play his recorder in this one, though. Shame.