Category Archives: season 6

The War Games

I must admit, I don’t know what the fate of Doctor Who was in June 1969, whether it was set to return for a new series, or if this was the end of the line… but watching this now, The War Games feels to me like a finale. A culmination of six years of time and space adventures, where the themes of the show – history, aliens, companionship – all come together in an epic conclusion. And where, six years after Doctor Who first appeared on television screens, someone finally utters those immortal words… “Time Lord”.

The Tardis lands in the middle of World War I... or does it?

The Tardis lands in the middle of World War I… or does it?

I must also admit that I really liked this. I don’t want to go through the intricacies of the plot, as it’s one that’s worth discovering fresh, but it was extremely good sci-fi that reminded me of The Matrix (and other similar concepts). Alongside that, mysteries of the Doctor and his origins are finally revealed, friends depart forever, the Doctor is put on trial, and it all felt like the writers were going all-out on making this one epic conclusion.

The War Chief and The Doctor - Time Lords must run out of names pretty quickly.

The War Chief and The Doctor – Time Lords must run out of names pretty quickly.

I really liked the slow reveal of information, seeing the Doctor react to the realisation of who could be behind all of this, an insight into his character that we haven’t seen until now. Even at ten parts long (nearly four hours), it rarely felt like it was dragging, as each episode ends in some sort of cliff-hanger and I always felt compelled to watch the next part. Truly exciting stuff. Yes, some of the action is still laughably bad, the fights are often badly staged, but overall this had a compelling quality to it, enjoyable performances, a well-paced mystery and ended with the rarest of events… a regeneration.

Shhh... the Doctor sneaks into a 3D film.

Shhh… the Doctor sneaks into a 3D film.

Much of the plot whizzes by amidst the action, but towards the end things slow down, the Doctor reflects on his adventures and says goodbye to his friends.

As it appears this is where Jamie and Zoe are leaving the Doctor, it’s time to reflect on their characters.

Zoe wasn’t with the Doctor for all that long, and mainly served to replace Victoria as the obligatory young female companion. Her defining personality trait was her intelligence, which was occasionally (but rarely) used in the story to their advantage, not least of which in this story, where she is able to memorise the locations and names of the resistance fighters at a glance. When they first met, she was almost devoid of emotion, but it did seem like she developed a sense of humour and a friendship with her companions over time.
She ends up back where she left. The Time Lords send Zoe back to where she first met the Doctor and erased the memories of their adventures together. While she remains safe, I can’t help feel she’ll have lost a certain something… but from the way she looks back one last time, she has a vague recollection of what happened.

The Doctor, Jamie and Zoe make one last break for freedom before the Time Lords get them.

The Doctor, Jamie and Zoe make one last break for freedom before the Time Lords get them.

Jamie has got to be the longest-running companion yet. He came aboard alongside Ben and Polly, so I expected him to always be something of a third wheel. But somehow, despite everyone coming and going, he stuck it out until the end. He is fiercely loyal, morally-grounded and closer to the Doctor than any of his companions yet. Despite his 18th century highlander origins, he showed remarkable adaptability to whatever situation he was thrown into. He retains some mild misogynistic qualities, but his heart was always in the right place.
Like Zoe, the Time Lords returned him to his own place in time and space, with no memories of having joined the Doctor. I can only hope that something of their time together remains within him.

Awaiting his trial, the Doctor plays clock patience. Brilliant!

Awaiting his trial, the Doctor plays clock patience. Brilliant!

Now, with the trial over, the Doctor is exiled to Earth. Stripped of his visage and the use of his Tardis, he is forced to undergo a transformation. This is not the end… but a new beginning.

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The Space Pirates

At first, this story is only tangentially related to the Doctor and his companions. The writer seems more interested in setting up this new sci-fi universe, filled with history, politics, corporations and… pirates.

The evil space pirates doing evil piratey things... in space.

The evil space pirates doing evil piratey things… in space.

Attacks on government satellites have finally caught the attention of the Space Corps, who track down a band of pirates who have set up an argonite smuggling operation with a seemingly legit mining company. The Tardis lands in the middle of a raid on one of the satellites, and the Doc and co find themselves shuttled back and forth, caught up in a sting operation, facing death at the end of each episode (although miraculously surviving, the big teases!), and eventually averting atomic disaster and stopping the pirates.

Captain Posh and Commander Yank. Maybe, I can't remember.

Captain Posh and Commander Yank. Maybe, I can’t remember.

A colourful cast of characters helps flesh out the story, with a bizarre mix of accents. The captain of the Space Corps cruiser sounds either ridiculously posh British or German. Or both, I’m not sure. The old timer space trucker Milo Clancy has one of the worst American accents I’ve heard since… well, since the wild west Doctor Who episode! Then there’s the woman in charge of the mining company, whose father is secretly still alive, and the evil pirate boss uses him as leverage to ensure her cooperation, because, y’know, he’s so evil. This sort of self-involved storytelling reminds me of some of the older William Hartnell episodes, except this has the advantage of being futuristic instead of some boring historical setting.

Milo Clancy sits down to eat breakfast in his cockpit.

Milo Clancy sits down to eat breakfast in his cockpit.

The ships and sets and practical special effects are impressive for their time. The show seems to be using more miniatures recently, daring to be a bit more ambitious with its scenarios, which is good. I think Clancy’s old rocket ship might be the same one from The Seeds of Death, but I can’t be sure.

Only one of the six episodes remains complete – the rest are reconstructions and therefore a little harder to follow. If they were all complete, I think the story would be more bearable, but as it stands, it’s difficult to fully recommend it.

This is, thankfully, the last reconstruction I will have to watch. Every episode from here on is complete. This is quite a relief! Next is the final serial of Patrick Troughton’s adventures as the Doctor…

The Seeds of Death

Facilities on the moon are also becoming a ‘thing’ in this series. This makes sense, given the era it was made. The idea that all of Earth’s transport, communications or weather is controlled from an isolated point orbiting the planet is a compelling one, full of hope for the future.

The Doctor, Zoe and Jamie fly to the moon in a rocket ship. The Tardis is no good for short trips.

The Doctor, Zoe and Jamie fly to the moon in a rocket ship. The Tardis is no good for short trips.

In this case, it turns into a weakness. It’s the 21st century (wow!) and Earth has not only developed teleportation technology (called T-Mat), but relies on it for all forms of transportation. So when the central control junction on the moon is attacked by martians, mankind is thrown into disarray.

Unlike the transporters from Star Trek, the T-Mat booths instantly teleport whatever is inside them without any theatrics or sparkles. It's cheaper.

Unlike the transporters from Star Trek, the T-Mat booths instantly teleport whatever is inside them without any theatrics or sparkles. It’s cheaper.

Yes, the Ice Warriors (from The Ice Warriors) are back, and they have their eyes set on conquering the Earth, using the moon as a jumping in point for their invasion. These heavily armoured reptilian creatures may be slow, but they are powerful and deadly, and easily take control of the moon base control centre. Using T-Mat, they teleport deadly fungus spores (seeds) down to Earth, which spread across the world and threaten to transform the atmosphere of Earth into a Mars-like one, killing all human life!

The Martian commander, because he has a different helmet. Same hissy voice, though.

The Martian commander, because he has a different helmet. Same hissy voice, though.

I quite liked this story. It has its contrivances, though. I find it highly unlikely that the entire planet would rely so heavily on this one miraculous teleportation technology. When the world’s food starts running short, I just had to wonder “where are your aeroplanes? Where are your boats and trucks?” They have to bring an old rocket out of retirement just to get a team onto the moon to fix the T-Mat system. Additionally, the entire weather control system for the country appears to be located in an unsecure area, with an unlocked door, manned by a single person, with the controls freely accessible to anybody who enters. Madness!

The suds of death. The Doctor is engulfed in deadly spores.

The suds of death. The Doctor is engulfed in deadly spores.

My only other problem with this serial is the villains. Just like their last appearance, they’re one-dimensional single-minded creatures, lacking any complex motives. However, this suits the plot perfectly well, and on the whole, I found this very watchable and didn’t feel like it dragged on unnecessarily. It was also visually interesting, with good use of special effects for its time.

The Krotons

This era of Doctor Who seems determined to create as many new little waddling robots with silly voices as possible. The croutons… sorry, I mean the Krotons, are supposedly crystalline metal ‘creatures’ rather than robots as such, although the science is fuzzy, and they basically are robots, complete with claw-ended tube arms and deadly acid gas guns. Also one of them sounds South-African for some reason.

One of the two Krotons. Possibly the South-African one, I can't recall.

One of the two Krotons. Possibly the South-African one, I can’t recall.

A thousand years earlier, they conquered the planet’s inhabitants, the Gonds, and now they rule over them, forever unseen, hiding in the machinery underneath the Gond city. Now ruled as ‘gods’, they control the Gonds through lies and brainwashing, telling them that the wasteland outside is uninhabitable, and regularly selecting the most gifted candidates to join them as companions. What they’re actually doing once inside the machine is absorbing their brain waves to power their ship and then killing the unfortunate person afterwards with their deadly gas, which dissolves them into nothing.

The Gonds see their 'gods' for what they really are.

The Gonds see their ‘gods’ for what they really are.

Such a delicate balance of lies obviously doesn’t take much to upset, and the Doctor’s arrival immediately raises questions and shatters the Gonds’ faith. This causes an uprising, forcing the Krotons to come out of hiding and accelerate their plans. The Doctor and Zoe have sufficient mental energy to fully charge their spaceship (poor Jamie doesn’t), but using some hastily made sulphuric acid, the Doctor manages to dissolve the Krotons and destroy their ship, freeing the Gonds, and teaching them a bit of chemistry in the process.

"It's an umbrella. I have an umbrella now. Umbrellas are cool."

“It’s an umbrella. I have an umbrella now. Umbrellas are cool.”

This was another ‘unseen enemy’ type story, with rather bleak ramifications. Nonetheless, the Doctor has some comedic moments, exclaiming “great jumping gobstoppers!” and “oh my giddy aunt!” at one point. Gotta love him.

The Invasion

The second Doctor seems to attract Cybermen like a magnet! Now, I did see some images from this serial prior to watching, so the big reveal at the end of episode 4 was sadly not a surprise.

Oh, spoilers! Again! Sorry.

This time, we’re back on Earth, just a few years after the events of the The Web of Fear. The Colonel (now a Brigadier) Lethbridge-Stewart from that London Underground yeti attack now heads up a brand new government force called UNIT. A Cyberman invasion is in full swing and the stakes are high. This is certainly one of the more exciting storylines yet!

Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart heads up the brand new UNIT.

Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart heads up the brand new UNIT.

Unfortunately, like many of these old serials, it suffers with being too bloody long! I don’t mind giving a story time to breathe, but eight episodes is just too much. Four or five would have been sufficient. It’s good, but it just can’t sustain suspense and drama over that length, although it does try.

The villain of the piece isn’t really the Cybermen, but the maniac who wants to bring them down to Earth and control them, use them as a force for conquering the world. Tobias Vaughn runs an electronics company with its innocuous-looking devices now installed all over the world, which instantly reminded me of 2006’s Cybermen two-parter (although this plays out quite differently).

Vaughn and the Doctor.

Vaughn and the Doctor.

Vaughn is one of the more entertaining villains to watch. He’s deliciously evil, almost inhumanly so. But, despite his thorough planning and preparation, he is betrayed by the invading army and its commanding computer brain. Fortunately, his failsafe device, a machine for overloading the Cybermen with ‘emotional force’, acts as a successful weapon, and the Doctor is able to help UNIT to coordinate an attack on the Cybermen, blowing its attack ships out of the sky with missiles.

The Cybermen design changes again - note the new 'earmuffs'. I like these ones the most so far.

The Cybermen design changes again – note the new ‘earmuffs’. I like these ones the most so far.

There’s a lot to like here. Being set on Earth again means relatively higher production values, on location filming and outdoor action and setpieces. If anything, the direction lets it down a little – some of the Cybermen attacking just look a bit pathetic. There’s a sequence where Jamie is trying to get one of them off his leg as he pulls himself out of a sewer, and it’s just so blandly shot it looks daft and not the least bit menacing. Maybe they should have set the invasion at night, it might have looked better.

The Cybermen invade!

The Cybermen invade!

The UNIT characters are likeable chaps, as are the other extras – Isobel, the photographer and her uncle, Professor Watkins (whose house they visit looking for Professor Travers). The world of Doctor Who starts hanging onto familiar faces and enemies, setting in a sense of continuity while also opening up into bigger things. Certainly, this mission is too much for the Doctor alone, but he’s making a name for himself on Earth now.

The missing episodes, 1 and 4, animated by Cosgrove Hall studio.

The missing episodes, 1 and 4, animated by Cosgrove Hall studio.

A word on the restoration. For its DVD release in 2006, the BBC commissioned for the two missing episodes to be restored using 2D cartoon animation. Although they look a little like a cheap Flash animation at times, the art style is nice and some of the imagery is really striking. So much so, that when it reverted back to live action for the next part, I really missed it. A much nicer experience than watching telesnaps, although those are available too.

The Mind Robber

This is one of the weirdest Doctor Who stories I’ve seen so far, particularly part 1, which concludes with the Tardis exploding!

In an effort to escape from the volcanic eruption at the end of The Dominators, the Doctor has to reluctantly use an emergency function of the Tardis, which pulls it out of reality and into a dimension of thoughts and fiction.

A dimension of thought and fiction.

A dimension of thought and fiction.

This dream-like setting allows for more than the usual dose of strangeness, since anything can happen. Fictional characters appear and disappear, giant toy soldiers hunt and attack the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe, who get separated, trapped or turned into cardboard cutouts. It has monsters, characters from books and legends, a unicorn, a minotaur, a futuristic comic strip superhero (who helps them) and a Medusa statue, with rather impressively animated snake hair.

The Doctor attempts to piece Jamie's face back together... unsuccessfully.

The Doctor attempts to piece Jamie’s face back together… unsuccessfully.

I liked this story more when I had no idea what was going on – that sense of mystery is appealing. As the plot progresses over the five episodes and we learn there is a consciousness behind the events, it loses its appeal a little.

The rather impressive Medusa statue.

The rather impressive Medusa statue.

The man orchestrating everything calls himself The Master. Although seemingly unrelated to the Doctor’s future recurring nemesis, this is the second time a villain has called himself that, the first being The Great Intelligence from The Abominable Snowmen serial. As an aside, the Master in this story is being controlled by a computer brain containing a disembodied intelligence, although I’m not sure it’s related to The Great Intelligence either. Writers, get some original names please!

The Master(mind).

The Master(mind).

Due to illness, the actor playing Jamie is replaced for a couple of the episodes, but this is worked into the plot, as the Doctor tries to reassemble a picture of Jamie’s face and revive him, but picks out the wrong pieces! They could have written Jamie out for a while, or just recast him without saying anything, but they don’t do that here. I like that.

The Doctor, Zoe and Jamie are charged by a unicorn.

The Doctor, Zoe and Jamie are charged by a unicorn.

This is another story where the Doctor’s ‘superior mind’ overcomes being controlled, as he manages to re-write the fictional world to his own whims. A bit of a cheap get-out, but it was done in a funny way. The Master is rescued from the machine and they all escape as the universe around them ceases to exist. The exploded Tardis appears to reassemble itself and… that’s it, that’s how it ends.

Kinda weird, kinda funny, kinda creepy. I’m not quite what to make of it… but it was fun to watch.

The Dominators

A five-parter. With new girl Zoe now in tow, the Tardis arrives on a peaceful alien planet, with the Doctor fully intending to have a nice relaxing break. He’s been here before, an island on the planet Dulkis, whose inhabitants are total pacifists.

But they hadn’t always been. Unknown by the Doctor, the island was a testing ground for the planet’s only ever atomic weapon, nearly two centuries prior, and became an irradiated deathtrap that must never be visited. Luckily for the Doctor and co, an alien spaceship from a fleet of warlike Dominators happens to land minutes before the Tardis does and absorbs all of the island’s dangerous radiation into its energy cells. Not so lucky for the Doctor and co is the fact that the Dominators intend to enslave the people of Dulkis and use the planet’s natural energy for their own fleet of ships.

The Dominators land on Dulkis.

The Dominators land on Dulkis.

Given the era this was made, I suspect it was intended to play into the atomic war fears of the 1960s (Star Trek did similar things back then). The Dulcians have very silly costumes, even by Doctor Who standards. Really not very flattering at all, for either gender. The Dominators do have pretty cool costumes, however, with big arching shoulder mount things around their heads, and lots of funky tassels.

The Dulcians' awful clothes.

The Dulcians’ awful clothes.

It’s lucky that it’s only a scout party of two Dominators that lands on the planet, as the Doctor is able to defeat them. Their main weapons are little robots called ‘quarks’ that waddle around on stumpy legs and fire deadly lasers. As they are defeated one-by-one, it sparks arguments between the two Dominators, who disagree about whether or not to hunt down the slaves or concentrate the quarks’ dwindling power reserves on drilling through the earth. Employing delay tactics, the Doctor is eventually able to capture the Dominators’ explosive device and hide it aboard their ship, moments before lift-off, destroying them as they try to leave. Nevertheless, the island is evacuated and the Doctor, Zoe and Jamie run back to the Tardis as a volcanic erruption starts.

The 'quarks'. Deadly robots. Honestly!

The ‘quarks’. Deadly robots. Honestly!

This wasn’t a particularly interesting story, although it was well-produced. A lot of miniatures were used (for the flying saucers and transport capsules, etc.) and there was an usually high number of explosions. The Dulcians’ technology was also quite utopian futuristic-y, with transport tubes, automated navigation capsules, and all the control panels in their city seemed to use non-touch motion gestures, pre-empting Minority Report by forty years.

The Doctor plays the fool for a while, to avoid arousing suspicion.

The Doctor plays the fool for a while, to avoid arousing suspicion.

There was one other curious reference. When the Dominators scan one of the captured Dulcians, they mention that they have two hearts. Earlier in the story, when Jamie and the Doctor are captured, Jamie is also scanned, but they don’t bother to scan the Doctor because they assume his physiology is the same as Jamie’s. I wonder if this was just a coincidence at this point, or if this was when the writers started thinking about the Doctor’s alien physiology. It’s never really been brought up yet, aside from his extraordinary age and the fact that he can regenerate. In the previous story (The Wheel in Space), the Doctor is given a medical exam, including listening to his heart, and nothing unusual is mentioned. Not that it necessarily would be.

Anyway, enough rambling. Verdict: meh, average.