Season 8 is my all-time favourite DW series. I'll refrain from comment here, as this is a place for chrisno1's excellent reviews, but, earlier this year, under a different moniker, I posted my own episode-by-episode reviews of Season 8, including incidental observations of its allusions to Bond, over at Gallifrey Base in their 'Dr Who' forum (where posters rp as if they were commenting 50 years ago).
I'll check it out @Shady Tree , please feel free to comment on my reviews, I'm not adverse to opinion - what I would object to is actual reviews, as these would distract from the theme of the thread. I also won't be involved in much back-and-forth banter for the same reasons. Glad you like the reviews.
@caractacus potts I never knew about that Matt Smith episode, but it's nice to know I wasn't the only one who speculated about this !
The Third Doctor - Jon Pertwee
THE CLAWS OF AXOS
Beware Axons bearing gifts.
The third outing of the eighth season combines the now familiar elements of earth bound UNIT stories: alien invasion, incompetent bureaucracies, exploding nuclear reactors, the Master interfering and the Doctor attempting to escape his exile. It binds them up in a colourful, frantic set of emperor’s clothes. Sadly the substance is buried beneath the paraphernalia.
Bob Baker and Dave Martin’s first writing venture for television, let alone sci-fi, does have an intriguing premise. Axos is an organic space vampire, leap-frogging the galaxy from planet to planet in search of nutrients on which it can feed, survive and then move on. The idea that a space ship can grow organically, that once landed it will burrow into the ground to feed on a planet’s nutrients was unique to sci-fi in 1971 and certainly makes Axos marginally more interesting than the Autons. It also allows the set decorators to let rip a little with their alien designs, which are a cross between Fantastic Voyage and an LSD nightmare.
Sadly the Axos ‘creatures’ are represented by your standard Adonis-like gold humanoids, who clearly have zip fasteners on their costumes, or bipedal orange blobby things with a multitude of root-like tentacles. At a distance or visualised quickly, the latter look suitably grotesque; up close you can see the actor’s eyes through the holes dug in the costumes. On balance the expressionless Gold Axons are better realised, but to be honest neither creature works particularly well. Nor does the single Axos ‘eye’ peering from the end of a single floating limb. This somewhat phallic ‘eye’ seems to make all the decisions and the other ‘creatures’ are merely gestates of its own self.
These apparently benign aliens initially offer the UNIT / government delegation Axonite. This is declared the chameleon of molecules, an element so anatomically advanced it can solve the earth’s food and material shortages. Despite a well-received demonstration, the Doctor is sceptical. Unfortunately the boisterous, troublesome government underling Chinn [Peter Bathurst, indignant, bustling, loud] has taken matters into his own hands. Once again the Brigadier has been caught a foot short and struggles to wrestle control of a deteriorating situation out of bureaucratic hands. Meanwhile, the Master has assisted Axos in travelling to Earth and it appears has allowed the alien some access to time travel. The Master requires a second TARDIS to offer Axos a fully functional time machine and has brought them to earth to capture the Doctor’s police box.
Meanwhile the Doctor learns the Axonite sample is merely bait. His own actions at the Nuton nuclear power plant [actually Dungeness in Kent] start an organic chain reaction which will endanger the world. “It will spread across the entire planet,” explains Axos, “and then the nutrient cycle will begin. Slowly we will consume every particle of energy, every last cell of living matter.” The Doctor calls the alien a “cosmic bacteria.” This concept is very unique and quite frightening. It’s an extra-terrestrial eco-story; this alien organism is the destructor. It isn’t courting revenge on the earth for human’s mismanagement, like Stahlman’s Gas in Inferno, it simply wants to devour everything in its path. Eventually, the two Time Lords work together to thwart the destruction of the planet.
This is a far better turn of the Master’s fortune than the one presented in Terror of the Autons. The Doctor persuades his archenemy that he wants to escape Earth and can only do it with the power surge provided by Axonite; he needs the Master to reprogram his TARDIS as the Time Lords have memory blocked the secret of trans-dimensional travel. Jon Pertwee is excellent in these scenes. He’s so ordinant about his motives even we believe him – our hero genuinely does want to leave earth to the fate of Axos – this can’t be right – can it? Ultimately there is a bluff and Axos ends up trapped in a Time Loop. However, the Time Lords have programmed the TARDIS to always return to Earth, and the Doctor’s hopes of continued space / time travel seem prevented forever.
Kenneth Sharp’s designers give us a new TARDIS control room, much smaller than the Hartnell and Troughton versions, and covered in a chaotic cat’s cradle of wires. There also appears to be a corridor outside the control room meaning for the moment the doors don’t open directly to the outside world. The Master is not enamoured with the Type 1: “It’s like trying to fly a second hand gas stove!” The design and effects teams also come up trumps with the third version of a cyclotron. We’ve already seen these in both The Silurians and Inferno, but the Mark 3 looks far grander, being lodged on a platform suspended over a cavernous chamber, one assumes for safety reasons. Sadly we only see it at distance once. When Donald Hewlett’s flustered Professor Hardiman is blown over the edge, it’s disappointing we don’t see him fall; it would have made a fearsome shot.
There’s a great stand-off between the Master and the Brigadier at the end of episode three which results in a powerful cliff-hanger as the Doctor and Jo try to escape the ravaging claws of Axos’ spaceship. Those pincers seem a little too interested in fondling Miss Grant! What makes this scene so good is that the Master’s reasons for helping UNIT give him control of the situation, even though he’s being held captive. He appears genuine, just as the Doctor does later on, and the audience wonders if he might just be trustworthy. This blurring of the audience’s expected perception is clever and keeps us interested in a relationship which would otherwise become one-dimensional.
The climax, when it comes, is noisy, muddled and rather exciting, although by now I’d completely lost the thread of whatever was supposed to be happening. The adventure was originally written as a six-part serial and the condensing of the episodes doesn’t help the telling. Sequences like the swift exploration of the alien space ship or the explanatory scenes in episode three or the finale, feel rushed. There’s an unnecessary subplot involving Bill Finer [Paul Grist] an American agent chasing the Master. This takes up valuable time. Katy Manning is nicely inquisitive and gets to practice screaming. She wins the award for the show’s least impressive shriek.
Ah, I’m nit-picking now. Overall The Claws of Axos is an enjoyable adventure whose originality is hidden beneath the guise of traditional thrills:
3 from 5.
COLONY IN SPACE
The Time Lords elect to transport the Doctor and his TARDIS to the planet Uxarieus, site of the fabled Doomsday Weapon, the files for which the Master has stolen. This plays out like the opening of a spy epic, except the Time Lords don’t bother to tell their ‘secret agent’ what his objective is. This opening couple of minutes, in which these powerful galaxy watchers are again shown to be quite prepared to interfere in interplanetary affairs as long as it benefits them, is clearly an ‘add-on’ demonstrating Malcolm Hulke’s screenplay was written without the overarching earth-exile template. The Time Lords barely get a mention after the triumvirate council dispatch him to thwart the Master’s plans.
Jo Grant is inside the TARDIS when its seized by the Time Lords. Not only is she bemused by the transcendental dimensions of the space ship interior, she now has to endure her first frightening experience of time travel and an opening adventure in outer space. Katy Manning’s playing of Jo’s initial confusion with her surroundings then out-right panic as the TARDIS dematerialises is excellent. She has the perfect expressions of surprise, all startled, wide-eyed and curious. However, the UNIT assistant doesn’t take long to adjust to the new world she finds herself in.
The year is 2472 and a group of colonists are scratching a living on Uxarieus, their crops refusing to grow and under attack from strange lizard creatures. Unknown to their leader, Ashe, the Interplanetary Mining Corporation has also landed on the mineral rich planet, seeking to extract the huge Duralinium deposits. These will help build enormous seaborne skyscraper dwellings on earth. There’s a moment in episode two where the Doctor views a newscast regarding the 25th Century condition of the polluted, over populated mother earth, which explains why both parties are here: the colonists to escape the toil and effluence and begin a new Eden-like existence, the IMC to exploit and extend the drudgery, making vast profits from the plight of earth’s population. The IMC are faking the lizard attacks in an attempt to scare the colonists. Both parties have contact with the green skinned primitives, psychic beings who wander the barren wastelands, some friendly, others not.
It’s easy to see the parallels Hulke is drawing between this story and that of the white man’s expansion into the west of the Americas. The colonists are the earliest Plains settlers, eking a living from poor soil and attempting to communicate, trade and understand the indigenous population, represented here by the primitives. The IMC are the rampaging scourge of capitalism and big business, coupled with the armoury and technology of the United States’ Cavalry, whose only intention is to subjugate both the natives and the settlers, freeing the path for their rapacious intent. Colony in Space inhabits the milieu of the traditional western. What Hulke, script editor Terrance ****, producer Barry Letts and designer Tim Gleeson, do most cleverly is what the producers of The Gunfighters [hamstrung by a historical context] and The Space Pirates [equally constrained by the inter-galactic setting] didn’t when attempting a ‘space western.’ They have forged a realistic futurist environment, one which pays homage to the genre without ever mocking it or attempting to recreate the era.
The colony of the title is just that. At one point we see a map of the various domes and homesteads, interlinked by pathways and a floundering nuclear generator. They have only one pilot, one engineer, dwindling supplies. They live in tent-like metal pods, sleep on fold down camp beds, congregate at a central meeting hall where supplies are held. They are dressed in rough twill clothing and sport long hair, moustache’s and beards. They go everywhere by foot. They have outreached tentatively to the silent primitives. Peace, albeit within a difficult framework exists. Into this other Eden come the IMC with their flashy servo robots, transport buggies, guns, mining equipment and a fully functional snazzy all-bells-and-whistle space ship which has the clean comforts of home, including television, good food and wine, the latter drunk from crystal flutes. A trip to their ship is like stepping into another world, one of the future when compared to the retro-look of the colony. The primitives meanwhile inhabit a network of caves. They are the remnants of a once great civilisation and, while they fill the function of the Plains Indian, they are in fact far more akin to the ancient lost nations of South and Central America, such as the Olmecs and the Mayans. There is little to explain their existence, only fragments of hieroglyphs and a store room cluttered with once state-of-the-cosmos artefacts.
The Doctor can’t fathom them out. Only one of their kind, a wizened dwarf [never named but listed in the credits as The Guardian] has the power of speech, several others appear to be High Priests and human, or Uxarian, sacrifice has become their tenet. They have regressed from powerful beings into a semblance of their former selves due to the ongoing consequence of radiation poisoning, a side-effect of the colossal Doomsday Machine they created. This inhabits a large portion of the planet’s subterranean structure and is poisoning the soil, preventing the colonists crops from growing.
[Point of order: if Ashe is an agriculturalist and has surveyed the planet for its suitability to grow crops, why did his experiments not pick up the high levels of contamination and why are none of the colonists suffering radiation poisoning?]
Thrown into this mix is the Master, impersonating an Earth Adjudicator, who acts like one of the travelling magistrates of the old west or a County Marshall, attempting to bring calm to a storm. He does nothing of the sort of course and is really out to use the Doomsday Weapon for his own personal gain. He tries to get the Doctor to side with him, pleads with his nemesis to form a duopoly by which together they can rule the universe. The mysterious Guardian appears and passes his own judgement, which is rather ironic given the Master’s earlier attempts at justice. The sun-destroying Doomsday Machine, the most powerful weapon ever created, is the science fiction element of the story and to be brutally honest, it’s of the least interest. The aliens are fairly well realised, but it’s a bit cheeky to make them totally mute and it isn’t clear what they have existed on if all plant life dies. No one ever mentions animals and the planet seems to be a desolate wasteland. I’d have preferred Colony in Space not to have involved the Master and his silly all-conquering plans, although obviously the story could not have taken place in Season 8, given the Doctor’s enforced stop-over on Earth.
Malcolm Hulke was once a paid up member of the UK Communist Party, so he’s manipulated a political angle into the story as well as a social and scientific one. His screenplay is superb. Through the dialogue we see the creeping futility of the colonists as their crops fail and supplies shrink, as well as their fears about the environment, the lizards and the primitives. He highlights with brilliant character interplay the vital relationships, firstly between Ashe, the leader of the expedition, an earnest, reasonable, thoughtful agriculturalist [John Ringham] and Winton, a younger headstrong activist, prone to rash decisions [a muscular Nicholas Pennell]; secondly the bond between Ashe and his daughter Mary [Helen Worth, soon to be famous forever as Gail in the soap opera Coronation Street] – a crucial element of all the best westerns is the difference of opinion between as well as the support given by the generations. Hulke even has time to show a starry-eyed moment between the Leeson’s, a couple doomed to be victims, who reflect on how much better life is at the colony away from the over-populated morass of earth.
The IMC team also has its conflicts and cabals. Captain Dent is a cutthroat company man, a racist, greedy for money and power; he revels in his position as leader of the expedition and his solution to a problem is to exterminate, full-frontal or by stealth. Morris Perry is fantastic as this sadist pirate. His right hand man is Morgan, a thug of the most traditional kind. Originally slated to be female, Morgan would have demonstrated great forward thinking on the producer’s part but for the BBC big-wigs who vetoed it as being a role unfitting for a woman. Tony Caunter is suitably nasty, devious and single-minded, but a little stereotypical because of that short-sighted decision. These two villains have a spy, the outcast Norton, who ingratiates himself with the colonists, blaming the primitives for his murders and sabotage; Roy Skelton is like a nervous rat, all blinking eyes and fidgety demeanour. We believe him, initially, but as the doubts mount, his behaviour becomes even more ingratiating and eventually his over-confidence betrays him. The traditional ‘hero’ of the piece is Bernard Kay’s sympathetic and challenged Caldwell. This is Kay’s fourth outing for the show, having initially made impressions in Season 2. Here he plays a mining engineer with a conscience, who switches sides at the last, uncomfortable with Dent and Morgan’s slaughter, unsure about the Master and rather smitten – it is hinted – with Mary Ashe. This is a story thread Hulke really could have expanded, making Caldwell’s eventual epiphany less cumbersome. We always know he’s going to fall on the side of virtue, it’s simply a question of when and the seeds are sown in an arbitrary fashion. A little romance wouldn’t have hurt the story, indeed it may have sealed it completely as a future-western for a love story is the only missing ingredient in the confection.
Hulke is keen to highlight the freedom offered by the colonists, with their debates and meetings and decisions taken by committee. When Ashe tries to assert himself, its done out of desperation for what he believes, not from a position of power. Captain Dent, from the thrusting, all-powerful Corporation, has might as right, and his decisions are obeyed under threat of court martial, expulsion and execution. Never do you suspect Dent will change his attitudes. At one point he convenes a mock trail and forces the colonists to leave the planet in their dilapidated space vehicle. There is no room for a moral judgement in Dent’s world only a financial one. Even the primitive’s Guardian understands the need for compassion: “The basis of all true law is justice.” This lesson is one Dent and the IMC misunderstand; it is also one the colonists must forsake to prevent their formative world from being turned into an enormous slag heap. A difficult decision for Ashe to reach, but one he does by dint of self-sacrifice.
There is much to admire in Colony in Space. The sets are marvellous. They really add to the sense of these settlers determination to survive, just, on a tough, gritty, alien world. The sleek, sparkling IMC ship is a stark contrast. The dark, glossy caves of the buried primitive city are some of the best underground designs yet, although the sudden appearance of very 20th century mechanics instead of other-worldly instrumentation is a bit of a let-down. The costumes are good too. Peter Hall’s camera work is particularly fine on the chalky landscapes. The action is very wild west, gun fights staged behind box carts being the prerequisite. There’s an exceptionally realistic fist fight in the final episode as Winton struggles to subdue an IMC security guard and the two of them wrestle and punch and writhe in a quagmire of mud. There’s nothing pleasant about this representation of the future, in the same way there was nothing comfortable in the lives of the earliest American settlers.
The performances, especially the supporting characters as highlighted above, are excellent and much of the success of the serial rests with the cast’s interpretation of the insightful screenplay. Director Michael Briant is clever enough to keep the relationships at the forefront of the action, even when mayhem is overtaking them. A quick note must be mentioned about Katy Manning, who seems to have come of age as Jo Grant, adding a strand of steeliness to her make up, even if she’s prone to shrieking and moments of self-doubt. The Doctor, while still treating her with kid gloves [“No, Jo, stay here – Not this time, Jo – It’s too dangerous, Jo – etc, etc”] appears to have finally accepted her as his co-conspirator. On their return to earth, he suggests she doesn’t let on to the Brigadier what’s happened in the few seconds they’ve been absent; “He wouldn’t understand,” he chuckles, which seems to be a private joke between the two at the Brig’s expense. Roger Delgado doesn’t disappoint as the Master and he’s given another fine set-to with the Doctor, but already the format of the season is waning and we’ve seen a little too much of this evil Time Lord.
Colony in Space is an exciting, thoughtful adventure, with a gritty setting and a clever, realistic premise, served well by an excellent script and let down only by a few inconsistencies – and every Dr Who adventure has them. The unnecessary necessity of the Master’s appearance and his sun-destroying weapon scheme are superfluous. Both could easily have been transferred into any other future-based serial with ease.
Regardless, a well worthy:
4 from 5.
There are strange going’s on at Devil’s End…
Many commentators dislike The Daemons. They criticise its weak science, its less than flattering representation of the Doctor, the poor CSO effects, the unsatisfactory ending, numerous inconsistencies in the narrative and refer regularly to the influence of Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass and the Pit. However, this ignores the excellently constructed overarching plot, the joyful supporting characters, the location work, the above-par action, the misappropriation of magic and / or science to achieve barbarous ends, the extended reveal of the monster, the traditional English setting and the horrific aspects of sacrifice and satanic worship.
There has not been, up to this point, a Dr Who story which has felt so quintessentially English. The Daemons is set in the fictitious village of Devil’s End [Aldbourne, Wiltshire, very pretty] with its church, pub, village green, local squire and a clutch of villagers aware and slightly frightened of the area’s demonic history, including witch trials by Matthew Hopkins [the witchfinder recently made notorious by Michael Reeves’ 1970 film Witchfinder General]. Even fifty years on from the serial’s premiere, this fictitious location is easily identifiable to viewers, and the superstitions of the inhabitants are the kind of folk stories you still hear repeated in the countryside, usually, but not always as entertainment. As an audience, we share the nibbling fear and acknowledge the bleak atmosphere because we associate so closely with the location and its people.
Hiding out as Mr Magister, the local priest, is the Master who plans to awaken Azal, last of the Daemons. This race of horned giants came to earth hundreds of thousands of years ago and engineered homo sapiens’ genetic development, helping mankind to oust the Neanderthals, a triumph which led to further great innovations, such as the Renaissance or the Industrial Revolution. By bringing forth Azal, the Master hopes to be given the daemon’s awesome power, through which he will be able to rule the world.
[Point of order 1: the Master’s ambitions have shrunk a little since the destruction of the Doomsday Weapon – or was that adventure chronologically out of sync with the other four in this series, at least as far as the Master is concerned?
[Point of order 2: how many times has Azal appeared to man and who did he bestow his knowledge and power upon? At one point the horned-one mentions he destroyed Atlantis, which seems at odds with what we learnt in The Underwater Menace.
[These are the sort of criticisms the serial’s detractors raise in negative argument. I have the benefit of having watched every Dr Who adventure in close succession over five months, plus I am doing research as I progress; while I do notice these inconsistencies, they don’t bother me tremendously. It is always worth remembering that in the early 70s no one expected the show to continue its popularity for sixty years. A few trifling remarks out of line weren’t considered any sort of problem in 1971.
[Point of order 3: It is worth noting the resemblance of the daemon’s history to that of Nigel Kneale’s telekinetic aliens in Quatermass and the Pit. I’ve not seen this serial, although I watched the film version many years ago – I wasn’t impressed, by the way – and even though I checked, I had no memory of the similarities. Given that the Quatermass serial hadn’t been shown on television since a condensed repeat in 1960, I hardly think the expected Dr Who audience demographic would remember it. I agree that The Daemons isn’t original in the annals of television sci-fi, but for Dr Who, it is an important and influential story.
[This is the first Dr Who adventure to openly put on film elements of the traditional horror story: devil worship, sacrifice, demons, mythological beasts, local legends, the defrocked priest, the local bibliophile, the frightened and enslaved villagers. If we look at Hammer Pictures output for the late sixties, they are peppered with films representing these closeted communities, usually set in eastern Europe, but not always, witness The Reptile or The Devil’s Own (both from 1966) for instance. The idea of devil worship had even penetrated Hollywood where Roman Polanski made Rosemary’s Baby. There was a whole slew of films being released around this time which ventured into the peace of the countryside only to discover horror, most noticeably Straw Dogs, Deliverance and The Wicker Man all from 1972, Last House on the Left from 1973 and most garishly Blood on Satan’s Claw from 1971. It is interesting to note that The Daemons pre-dates them all. Later Dr Who stories, such as Pyramids of Mars, The Masque of Mandragora, The Hand of Fear and Image of the Fendahl, even The Curse of Fenric, owe a huge debt to the success of this 1971 opus.
[So, while it may have borrowed liberally from Nigel Kneale’s original, The Daemons is tapping into a contemporary zeitgeist that registers with an audience and still resounds today. The fact it remains a hugely popular serial and was twice repeated by the BBC suggests it maintains that impression.]
The adventure starts with a television transmission from a long barrow burial chamber, where the facetious archaeologist, Professor Horner, is being interviewed for BBC3 [yikes! That’s the youth channel!] as he excavates a long lost tomb. The Doctor on hearing the protests of Miss Hawthorne, a local witch, has a moment of premonition similar to that experienced by the First Doctor in The Massacre; instinctively he understands the consequence of an action, although this time it isn’t his. The mention of the pagan celebration of Beltane prompts him to journey to Devil’s End on a futile attempt to prevent disaster. The locals don’t take to his arrogant and impatient attitude. The village pub, the focal point of gossip, was initially a pleasant and jovial setting, but the Doctor’s arrival turns it unwelcoming and cold. The residents are aggressive towards this stranger who wears “a silly costume and wig.” It’s one of the few times the Doctor loses his temper and, for once he loses our sympathy.
This is often seen as an example of poor characterisation, but I’d veer the other side. This is exactly what the Third Doctor, as interpreted by Jon Pertwee’s severe, commanding performances, is meant to be like. He is impatient, occasionally stroppy, impossible to please, narcissistic and patronising. He is also kind, brave, charming, mentally astute, physically agile and morally upright. We have seen all of these personality traits in the two previous incarnations of the Doctor, and Pertwee – by implication the writers – chooses to emphasise his more alien characteristics because he is alone on a planet of lesser beings. He has no equal here. He is marked as superior both intellectually and through his physical capabilities. There is no challenge on Earth, so he labours while his mind whirls. While he may not have any truck with UNIT engineers or the locals in the pub, his rough edges are constantly soothed by Jo Grant’s precocious naivety, the Brigadier’s competence and the assistance of willing hands, such as Benton, Yates and, here, Miss Hawthorne. It frustrates him to have to deal with minds floundering in the dark. Therefore encountering a mythological beast like a daemon, combating centuries of superstition and disproving magic, takes on for him an almost apostolic charge. He simply has to be right; he’s as driven in his belief as a preacher would be in his, or a capitalist, or a Marxist, or a perfectionist.
It is slightly disappointing the adventure doesn’t involve itself wholeheartedly with witchcraft or sorcery, the kind of themes Hammer Pictures were happy to oblige us with in The Devil Rides Out or later Robin Hardy’s classic The Wicker Man. The alien angle adds an extra level of texture that doesn’t sleep easily with its bed-mate, especially as we’ve recently had monsters offering great power in The Claws of Axos. It would have been interesting to see how the story could have developed if Azal was truly supernatural, instead of being represented as mere interpretations of the mystical. So while we may have fun with Bok the gargoyle, the trail of cloven hoofs, a pillar of psychic energy, a coven of witches assembled by the Master and the unleashing of powerful forces, such as frozen air, scorching heat or earth tremors whenever Azal is summoned, this is tempered by a weeny space ship, an impenetrable forcefield a la John Wyndam’s The Midwich Cuckoos and lines of utter scientific garbage like: “let the negative diathermy buffer the molecular movement of the air with reverse phase shortwaves.”
Reading even my own comments, it’s easy to understand why some viewers dislike the serial intensely. Yet I must hark back to the overall impression of the piece. There is so much to enjoy. The Master breezily and deviously impersonating Mr Magister, including wrapping on a dog collar and black rimmed spectacles and tearing into the squire for his pedantry. Later on, when confronted by the full horror of Azal, Roger Delgado looks suitably terrified. He’s elegantly splendid again and so personal the Master even gets a cliff-hanger to escape! Damaris Hayman is superb too as the shrewish Miss Hawthorne, delighted to be rescued by the dashing Sgt Benton, and giving as good as she gets with the Master: “A rationalist, existential priest indeed!” She doesn’t succumb to his mesmeric tricks. She also has a side line in making tea and pouring large brandies. Benton is very well cared for indeed! Both the Sergeant and Mike Yates are more vigorous than usual and even get to dress up in civvies. The Brigadier puts on his military dress suit, medals included, and has a night on the town – with who it isn’t clear, but he isn’t to be disturbed! Jo Grant gets brighter and braver and drops in a funky reference to the show Hair. The companions good-natured interaction, including plenty of humour, interlaces with the thrills, never overpowering it.
There’s a great contrast of scenes in episode 3, when the Doctor briefs his small band of outlaws on the danger posed by the Daemon, while the Master takes control of the village council pertaining to offer the power and riches Azal can bestow in return for the village’s assistance. The episode ends with a helicopter pursuing Bessie towards the energy barrier. The chase closes with the chopper exploding [a scene borrowed under licence from EON and From Russia With Love] and Jo Grant is thrown out of the Doctor’s vintage car. An early advert for seat belts methinks. It’s brilliantly photographed and very tense. Indeed Fred Hamilton’s camera work has to be congratulated. He brings an other-worldly atmosphere to the adventure and is particularly effective in the night shoots; the chilling prelude for instance, featuring the old vicar’s death in the churchyard, or the catastrophic tomb opening. The mist, smoke, flame and shadows which later inhabit Azal’s becoming are a vivid portrait of the thunderous might he possesses. No wonder the Master was so terrified.
As the climax builds, and it really does build, the tension mounting with some skill, it is only Jo Grant’s offer to save the Doctor’s life by giving up her own which prevents Armageddon. It is of course completely lost on the Doctor that one of the basic pillars of old legends, old magic if you like, has triumphed, for Azal cannot contemplate the moral ambiguity of self-sacrifice. It isn’t clear why this results in his own self destruction; once again, this betrays the underlying supernatural elements of the story – that Azal, while an alien, inhabits a paranormal, psychokinetic world. Perhaps, like the Celestial Toymaker, he can be banished from existence by what he terms illogical, impossible acts, by ‘losing his game.’
There’s a lot of enjoyment to be had watching The Daemons. It’s by far the best example of the UNIT family gelling together. It features extensive location shooting and Dr Who always seems to look better out of the studio. The dodgy SFX are a prized hoot but don’t detract from the strangeness of the story, in a weird way they add a further layer of unbelievability, that this really could be magic. A clutch of great performances, from the urbane Master to the impudent Doctor, Miss Hawthorne to Professor Horner, trippy Bok to Stephen Thorne’s bellowing Azal. Best of all things is probably the script, which while phenomenally banal at times [“reverse the polarity” makes an appearance] instils the cast with character, sympathy and bite. It never drags, never slackens and doesn’t blunder around.
Guy Leopold is the pen name for the Barry Letts and fellow BBC producer Robert Sloman. They bring a claustrophobic air to proceedings, with the Brigadier attempting to break through the energy barrier while the Doctor’s cohort take refuge in the pub. The premise isn’t so much ‘those in peril’ as ‘in peril and in the lion’s den’ which adds a new hazard to the group dynamic. By the time it all ends, amongst the relief there’s even a moment for laughter: Captain Yates is tempted by the local Morris revelry, “Fancy a dance, Brigadier?” he asks; “Very kind of you, Captain, but I’d rather have a pint.”
[Point of order 4: that’s possibly only the second best line the Brigadier ever had, earlier when confronted with the rampaging gargoyle Bok, Nicholas Courtney is flatly hilarious declaring: “What the blazes is that – some sort of ornament? Jenkins! Chap with wings. Five rounds rapid.” The line became so famous Courtney’s autobiography was named Five Rounds Rapid.]
Hell, I don’t care what the critics say:
5 from 5.
I've never seen the original tv version of Quatermass and the Pit, but I did watch the Hammer Films version just last year and was struck by general similarities to the Third Doctor episodes: a character much like the Brigadier, a character much like Liz Shaw, and a scif-fi/weird horror plot where they've dug too deep and unearthed monsters. that film was released late 1967 so might well have been fresh in viewers memories when they introduced the Third Doctor and changed the concept of the show. I expect it attracted a similar audience.
I'd forgotten there was an actual Third Doctor plot that was so specifically similar though. I would have watched The Daemons about five years ago now, so do not clearly remember it, perhaps because there were four Master plots in a row and they already did a few "they've dug too deep" type plots. But from what you describe, the ancient visitors/secret occult history angle is very similar to that Quatermass story. Quatermass and the Pit also reveals the ancient visitors guided human evolution, much like the monolith in 2001 except two years before that film came out. Humans have long forgotten, but the memory lives on in streetnames and folklore, and theres a fantastic section where our heroes dig up mediaeval texts and find all these references to the ancient visitors, except they were then interpreted as Devils.
After a marvellous first season, Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor could only really go one way and that was down. To see the overall quality of the Eighth Season at least sustain a level of competence across all facets of the program – writing, direction, design, acting, SFX, general plotting, costumes, camerawork, etc – is certainly heartening. At any other time, this season would be considered a rousing success. There are no dud stories. The atmosphere, the ‘feel’ of the series, remains the same as before; remarkable given the restrictions of the earthbound setting. We have a pugnacious Doctor; we have an exceptionally patient Brigadier, who retains his composure and military bearing even under the strictest of examinations; we have a new blonde female companion for the Doctor to protect; we have numerous alien forces attempting or being manipulated to take over the earth. The biggest difference between Pertwee’s initial outings and the second set is the Master.
While I find Roger Delgado’s performances riveting to watch, a clear problem emerges halfway through the season: how can the writers continue to explain the Master’s presence in each story? It is fair to say each of the five serials could have been equally as successful without the Master being involved at all. Accusations of repetition are easy to make: he wants to destroy or rule earth or both on four occasions, for the fifth he wants to rule the universe. Twice the Doctor persuades him to change sides, twice the Master’s plan is foiled, four times he escapes at the last to fight another day, three times he plans to use another alien entity or species to destroy or conquer the earth for him; the list doesn’t stop there, it’s quite long. Shoehorning a villain into a story doesn’t always work out for the best and I feel the Master was overused. He could have been ditched quite easily from The Mind of Evil or Colony in Space, even The Daemons, with only a few plot alternations. While the familiarity is welcome, in the same way it is welcome from the expanded UNIT personnel, the Master’s constant reappearance and subsequent defeat does remove the element of tension. Of course, I’m expecting Roger Delgado because I know he features in the stories. The effect is entirely different for me than it was for a viewer in 1971. Perhaps the worst aspect of these stories is the manner in which the Time Lords commandeer the Doctor as a sort of ‘Special Galactic Agent’ and let him interfere in the cosmos right under their noses purely because they are afraid of the Master. Why are these all-powerful beings so worried about what a renegade Time Lord does, which mostly involves one piddling little planet, but not the rampaging Daleks, Cybermen or Dominators?
The Doctor seems to enjoy his confrontations with the Master. He’s looking forward to it at the end of Terror of the Autons. A Time Lord nemesis raises a rare challenge for him. He is clearly bored with being tied to earth, he admits it to Jo Grant at the beginning of Colony in Space, and we see elements of this as he tinkers and tampers with dematerialisation circuits, sonic screwdrivers and Bessie, his vintage car, as well as in his curt and supercilious attitude to authority. Pertwee’s Doctor almost always has the last word, even if it’s “Yes, well...” He also still intends to escape his exile and I found this aspect of the Third Doctor the most troublesome. He steals the Master’s dematerialisation circuit in the hope it will function in his TARDIS. When it doesn’t he tries to use the Master’s expertise to fix it. At one point he genuinely appears to be leaving and although it is a bluff, the moment is quite shocking because Pertwee is a good enough actor for us to believe it to be true. That could not be said of Patrick Troughton who was far too jovial and see-through. Possibly William Hartnell could pull it off, but the First Doctor’s deep sense of personal morality would prevent it; he’d be more devious, less demonstrative. Nonetheless, by the season’s end, the Third Doctor does seem more settled on earth. Perhaps understanding the Time Lords will occasionally utilise his talents and temporarily free him from his cage has softened his wanderlust.
The other obvious difference is Jo Grant. While Katy Manning is a cute presence and grows ably into her role, developing a playful relationship with Jon Pertwee, she is a big step back from the startling genius of Zoe Herriot and Liz Shaw, both of whom could outwit the Doctor, even if they don’t quite have his knowledge. Liz in particular, being a member of UNIT and a scientist, brought a new level of authority to the role of companion. More than once it was Liz Shaw’s skill as a physicist which made breakthroughs in research. She could also placate the Brigadier; their relationship was based on military might versus scientific right, so she was often listened to. Not so Jo Grant, who simply isn’t as dexterous. She might get to save the Doctor’s life in The Daemons and do some kick-ass karate chopping to thwart a prison break, but she’s also required to scream and be the damsel in distress more than once, which Liz or Zoe hardly ever did. Initially she seems accident prone, although this aspect of her character seems to have been gradually eliminated. It was clever of the writers to in turn increase the Doctor’s respect for Jo. Non-existent at the start, by Colony in Space he’s confiding in her about his love of space travel, of how trapped he feels on earth, and by The Daemons instead of saying “Not you, Jo,” he invites her to travel to Devil’s End with him, even though he knows the dangers involved.
Season Eight maintains the high standard set in Season Seven, with a few minor quibbles. The earth stories are a little samey by now – explosions, fist fights, the Brigadier looking bemused, bureaucracy gone south – but there is some strange comfort in the family dynamic and reward comes through a run of strong performances and dialogue orientated scripts which always give the cast material to get their acting chops into.
I’m enjoying these reviews. Been watching them daily too, but I’m a few episodes ahead of you now. I’m with you with S8 being right up there near the pinnacle. That of course being S12 for me.
Yes. I think the seventies output 1970 - 1978 features the best of Classic Who. It is remarkably consistent. Pertwee's era brings much needed adult themes and behaviours to the show. I am currently on Season 14 and using Christmas to pierce the back of Tom Baker's run.
Back after Christmas !
That's not a Dr Who related pic BTW just somewhere Christmassy
I read today that the recent Dr Who episode Eve of the Daleks was the lowest rated episode the show has had since it got its reboot way back in, what, 2006. Time for a rethink on the female Dr Who ? Ah, well, time for me to burst back after Christmas with more tales form the Classic Era...
DAY OF THE DALEKS
The return of the Daleks to Dr Who after almost four and a half years was greeted with much excitement. Jon Pertwee was less than enthusiastic. He hated the creatures.
Day of the Daleks is not the best example of a Dalek adventure. The titular monsters are curiously static for most of the serial, confined to a meeting room during which they wave eyestalks and suckers and scream “Exterminate!” Partly this was due to producer Barry Letts insisting they were crammed into writer Louis Marks’ already commissioned and completed script entitled The Ghost Hunters. Although it’s great to see the Doctor’s arch enemy return and see them in colour, they are less than impressive. When they finally venture into the action, the producers do the audience a huge disservice by only being able to supply three Dalek casings for a climatic pitched battle. The result is distinctly underwhelming.
[Point of order: it’s worth mentioning early on that I’ve seen both the original and the 2-Entertain CGI redux, which uses state of the art SFX to create more Daleks and better visual and sound effects. If you get the chance, watch the redux version on the 2011 DVD release or online if you can find it. The action is a far more visceral experience than the somewhat muted original. They even overdub the original Dalek voices with that of Nicholas Briggs who impersonates the grating monsters for the rebooted series.]
Putting aside the Daleks, the opening story of the Third Doctor’s third season is important to the show because it is the first serial to concern itself fully with the probable effects of time travel. While the Doctor has always been at pains to ensure he doesn’t interfere in history as we know it [or he knows it] it has never stopped him interfering when he doesn’t know the outcome of a situation. Day of the Daleks suggests there is always the possibility his good intentions could sometimes have poor results further ahead in time.
The world is on the verge of war. A second World Peace Conference is being held at Auderly House and Sir Reginald Styles, an under-pressure British diplomat, is almost assassinated by a ghost-like soldier from the future, who vanishes before he can complete his mission. Undeterred, Styles flies to China in an attempt to bridge barriers. One assumes the Chinese don’t trust the British after their delegate was assassinated at the previous Peace Conference [see The Mind of Evil] thus bringing the threat of war much closer. There’s no Master interfering this time, but the Doctor suspects something out of the ordinary is happening, especially after inspecting the assassin’s 22nd century ray gun. The Doctor and Jo are confronted by three more guerrillas, also out to kill Styles, but in the confusion Jo is transported forward to the future using a primitive molecular-teleport device. The Doctor persuades the guerrillas to take him with them and discovers that 22nd century Earth is in the grip of the Daleks, a future he knows can’t exist because he’s already been there [see The Dalek Invasion of Earth.] After saving Jo and escaping the Daleks and their minions, the Doctor realises the rebel Shura never returned to the future and will set off a bomb which, in destroying the Peace Conference begins a series of wars which decimate the earth, leaving it open to invasion and a future only as the guerrillas know it.
The Doctor has recently experienced alternate universes [see Inferno] and recognises how horrific they can be and also what infinite possibilities exist to change them. The discussion with Ariat [a bland Anna Barry] and Monia [an even more bland Valentine Parker] is one of the great moments of Dr Who:
“Don’t you see this has happened before – You went back to change history, but you didn’t change a thing, you became part of it – If Styles didn’t cause the explosion, somebody else did – Isn’t that exactly what Shura would have done, one last attempt to carry out his orders? You’re trapped in a temporal paradox. Styles didn’t plant that explosion and start the wars: you did it yourselves.”
The Doctor returns to the twentieth century in time to save the foreign delegates and allow Shura to destroy the Daleks with his makeshift bomb. The paradox plot isn’t original. It had been used already in science fiction stories, most noticeably by the film series Planet of the Apes, specifically Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971). Later on it was used even more successfully in James Cameron’s The Terminator and its sequels. Other films such as Looper, even comedies such as Sliding Doors, use the theory as a jumping off point. It’s commendable that a Saturday tea-time children’s show can have such an impact on science fiction lore. In addition, writer Louis Marks also creates the Blimovitch Limitation Factor, a tongue-twisting name for an important restrictive physical process of time travel, that a person cannot continually return to the same point in time and change the future. One assumes this a Law created by the Time Lords, but that’s not stated clearly here. What the Limitation Factor does is neatly explain why the Daleks are unable to travel back to 2164 and change the outcome of their meeting with the Doctor during the first Earth invasion, because they’ve already taken advantage of the alternative invasion.
Outside of the time travel gobbledygook, there is much to admire in Day of the Daleks. Most of it revolves around the depiction of the 22nd Century war-ravaged Earth. David Myerscough-Jones does sterling work creating streamlined, gleaming, metal based interiors for the headquarters of Central Control. Here, Aubrey Woods’ devious Controller tries to maintain production of raw materials, while keeping a lid on rebel insurrection and placating his ever more demanding Dalek masters. He shares two excellent scenes with Jon Pertwee, during which he is persuaded to switch sides. It is the Doctor’s magnanimous display of humanity which finally turns him against the Daleks. The Controller is responsible for the concentration camp conditions of the workers and an authoritarian regime based on fear and control. In a rare insight into what drives a villain to commit atrocities, he describes how the world descended into chaos: “Towards the end of the 20th Century, a series of wars broke out. There was over one hundred years of nothing but killing and destruction. Seven-eighths of the world population was wiped out, the rest were living in holes in the ground, starving, reduced to the level of animals.” A fertile ground has been laid for the Daleks to invade. The Controller’s family sided with the conquering despots as much for survival as power. His redemption seems fitting, especially when you consider the betrayal of his masters was foreseen by the Gold Dalek: “Humans are treacherous and unreliable.”
The Doctor may not like being “an interplanetary puppet” for the Time Lords, and he’s still fiddling with his dematerialisation circuit [still! I thought we’d seen the last of this repetitive storyline], but his heart and soul is always in the right place. Day of the Daleks sees him in a less abrasive mood. Confronted with determined people, who he recognises are in situations of their own making for their own perceived survival, he displays great empathy and understanding. Gone are the impatient, impertinent and condescending attitudes we saw in the previous two seasons. This new attitude seems to have spread to more leniency for the Brigadier and Jo Grant. He’s even become a cheese and wine connoisseur! Pertwee retains the James Bond edge though, eluding capture by stealing a trike, a la Sean Connery in Diamonds are Forever.
Most of the praise for the story’s success rests with the script and Louis Marks, who painfully gave us Planet of Giants way back in Season 2, has concocted a minor triumph here. It’s a pity some of the production values are a little bit off. The Ogrons, an alien race of space gorillas, look less like the apes from Planet of the Apes and more like the blacked-up actors they are. It’s uncomfortable watching the Ogrons in 2021; when I was a kid mind, they were considered a terrifying, powerful and successful monster. Paul Bernard directs with a gift for dialogue; he engages well with the actors, but he’s less skilled with the thrills which are fairly moderate, although as I noted earlier, decent SFX perks things up tremendously. As a point of interest the guerrilla Shura is played by Jimmy Winston, who used to play keyboards with the sixties band Small Faces. He’s rather good and gives it All or Nothing.
It’s a bit cheeky to cast a vote using a modern CGI redux, but I enjoyed Day of the Daleks much more in its 2011 incarnation. It somehow felt snappier, edgier and basically more exciting. The story isn’t an out-and-out classic, but it succeeds more than it fails, chiefly because the script is remarkably intelligent:
4 from 5.
THE CURSE OF PELADON
From the opening shot of a mighty, precipice perched citadel, clinging to a rain and wind slashed cliff, the audience knows we are not on Earth. From the incense laden, torch lit castle interiors we know we are in a Gothic tableau. From the political gamesmanship surrounding the young king, Peladon, and his advisors, the Chancellor Torbis and the High Priest Hepesh, we know we’re in for some Machiavellian intrigue. From the costumes, the expansive and erudite language, we understand immediately we’re in for a tragedy of Shakespearian proportions. The Curse of Peladon does not disappoint.
A multi-alien council delegation has arrived on Peladon to determine if the planet is suitable for membership of the burgeoning Galactic Federation. Peladon is mineral rich, but plagued with a superstitious aristocracy. The King believes his duty is to take his people forward, out of the dark ages so encapsulated by the grim shadowy castle he inhabits. As the delegates wait for the Earth Councillor, Chancellor Torbis is murdered. King Peladon, already wary of his mentors, who bicker and scrap like children, now only has the traditionalist Hepesh for advice. The Federation delegates, the hermaphrodite hexapod Alpha Centuri, the Ice Warrior Izlyr and the bodyless logician Arcturus wish to cancel the conference. Into this mix enters the Doctor and Jo Grant, initially landing on the brunt of the mountain face.
The TARDIS falls to the foot of the mammoth scarp, stranding the Doctor and Jo who enter the citadel through a series of long forgotten tunnels and appear unexpectedly in the throne room to be mistaken for the delayed Earth Councillor and his observer, a princess. Hepesh is invoking the Sacrament of Aggedor, a mythic beast said to appear in times of uncertainty to restore order to Peladon. The High Priest’s idea of order is to maintain the ancient status quo, even if that means leaving the future behind. There follows a brilliant mystery escapade revolving around the ideological battle of barbarism versus civilisation. The Federation and its alien representatives are the future and the King recognises that, yet his decisions are tied emotionally and to a certain extent intellectually to the religious doctrines of the past. His position becomes untenable as the crisis deepens.
Meanwhile the Doctor, who is having a grand time impersonating the Earth delegate, has his own suspicions. He always enjoys taking on roles like this; remember The Savages and The Power of the Daleks? This sort of disguise appeals to his vanity. But he’s blinded by prejudice, which is unusual for the Doctor in general, but perhaps not for the straightforward unequivocal Third Incarnation. Having met the Ice Warriors twice before, he refuses to trust their motives. As the clues to Torbis’ murder pile up, he misinterprets them and finds himself tricked into committing sacrilege. The Doctor’s opinion of Izlyr changes during his predetermined execution: surviving a vicious bout of hand-to-hand combat with the King’s champion, the Doctor is almost killed by the opportunist Arcturus, who is himself shot dead by the Ice Warriors. This scene is one which could never have been played out with the less physically adept William Hartnell or Patrick Troughton. They had companions for this sort of rough stuff. Pertwee’s Doctor doesn’t need such protection and, although he does fight, he doesn’t kill, seeing the death of his opponent as a waste of a loyal king’s man.
Hepesh has already revealed himself to the Doctor as the architect of the piece, holding back Peladon society with his cult of Aggedor. During another wonderful scene, the scales fall from Jon Pertwee’s eyes as Geoffrey Toone’s idealised priest speaks eloquently of his fear of the Federation: “They will exploit us for our minerals, enslave us with their machines, corrupt us with their technology. The past will be swept away and everything I know and value will be gone.” Toone of course is used to this kind of dialogue. He was the doomed Temmosus in the big screen Dr Who adaptation Dr Who and the Daleks (1965). The High Priest’s fear has transplanted itself into the young King, who struggles with the quandary facing him, only recognising his true plight and resolving his fate after his timidity leads to insurrection.
The atmosphere surrounding The Curse of Peladon is first class. The camera work is very good, all shadows and dark lights. The editing sharp and suspenseful; Michael Sha-Dyan should take a bow. The design team led by Gloria Clayton have infused the serial with the feel of a horror story, all the caves, castles, flaming torches and hairy, horned beasties. It also has a medieval look, primarily through the costumes, which is tempered by the strange and sophisticated aliens. Exactly how Peladon exists within this interstellar Federation isn’t clear. They are still fighting with swords and spears and appear to have no electricity, even their clothes are a 13th Century throwback, so Jo’s seventies flowing, flowery clobber fits right in. And yet they have contact with other planets. I was reminded of the oddity of the moons of Mongo in the classic 1933 version of Flash Gordon, where despite the obvious improvements in technology, everyone still fights with fists or swords, lives in windy castles and dresses inappropriately.
Brain Hayles’ script neatly side steps this issue by simply ignoring it. Instead he provides a brilliantly woven multi-layered piece of political intrigue and murder mystery. He even weaves in a furtive love story between the young impressionable King and Jo Grant, who is exceptionally regal impersonating a princess. This is quite possibly Katy Manning’s finest two hours as Jo. She’s brilliantly believable as a slice of royalty, so good she’s not even caught out by her colloquialisms. There’s a tenderness in her handling of the infatuated King, a stern resilience when dealing with the Federation delegates and she’s even able to take Jon Pertwee down a peg or three. There’s a lively moment too where the Doctor accidentally hypnotises her. Director Lennie Mayne deserves credit for creating rounded characters and ensuring the ‘love scenes’ have texture. They escape becoming mawkish. David Troughton [Patrick Troughton’s son] is equally good playing a King constrained by tradition and a law which fulfils traditional expectations.
The story has tension, action and solid, honest, believable characters throughout. The aliens are splendidly realistic. The Ice Warriors we’ve seen before, of course, but in colour they look spectacular. Changing them from villain to hero is a clever ruse by the writer, which allows their overall character to develop. No longer are they simple mindless invaders. Now the Martians are statesmen and peaceable Federation diplomats. Alan Bennion is thoughtful and stately in the role. Voiced by Ysanne Churchman, the one-eyed worm-like Alpha Centuri comes across as a hysterical bureaucrat, at one point quoting “Galactic Article of Peace, paragraph 59, subsection 2.” Meanwhile the life-support-machine-encased Arcturus is a hideous wizened head trapped in a dome, its internal atmosphere constantly pumped with green gasses which keep him alive in foreign lands. At first he seems the most balanced of the trio, but his devious nature eventually reveals itself. Arcturus has plans for Peladon’s mineral reserves. This creates a curious paradox, for Hepesh has sided with him, clearly not understanding the alien’s true intent in bringing forward the future he so detests.
The adventure is a little too easily resolved: the Doctor is told first-hand Hepesh’s motives, although not his ultimate aims. Once Arcturus is killed, there is an awful lot of presumptuous dot-joining. The remainder of Episode 4 is a revolution plot, quickly beaten. However, it was a nice change not to have an almighty explosion for the climax, even if things did feel a trifle too elementary. There’s a neat scene at the very end where the real Earth delegate arrives and the travellers narrowly escape in the Time Lord controlled TARDIS. [They’re interfering in the cosmos again, those sneaky non-interfering galaxy watchers…] All in all, The Curse of Peladon is an excellent adventure and gets high marks for writing, acting and design.
[Point of order 1: the adventure was originally transmitted in 1972 and at the time the U.K. was debating whether to join the Common Market. The verbally warring Pels clearly reflect the polarised opinions of Britain’s politicians, commentators, observers and general population. The alien delegates inhabit the role of the nervy Europeans, each with their own reasons for accepting a new member state. It’s interesting to know that fifty years on the same debates still raged and Dr Who was also still in existence.
[Point of order 2: I am aware the storyline of The Curse of Peladon exactly mirrors that of the Star Trek episode Journey to Babel, where the Enterprise hosts a Federation conference and the diplomats begin to be killed off. Kirk discovers it is the mineral wealth of a disputed planet which is at stake. Now, you may recall my arguments about The Daemons, and how I didn’t consider recognising an inspiration for a story necessarily to be to its detriment. However, these two stories are so close in their similarities that once you’ve seen one, it is almost impossible not to link them together. I first saw this serial on a repeat, and had already read the novelisation, but I had no memory of the Star Trek story, although I had probably seen it. Only later did I make the connection, reinforced by other reviews. My enjoyment wasn’t and isn’t hindered by my knowledge. Is it worth considering whether writer Brian Hayles had seen Journey to Babel before he penned this? Quite possibly, I’d say. Does it matter? Well, he’s not disguised his inspiration as cleverly as Barry Letts did for The Daemons; but Hayles has created a story which gelled with contemporary audiences and still resonates today. However you feel about the Star Trek inspiration, The Curse of Peladon is an exceptional serial and deserves to be admired.]
An all-round, first class achievement:
5 from 5.
THE SEA DEVILS
Malcolm Hulke’s The Sea Devils is re-tread of his seminal serial The Silurians. It doesn’t hold any surprises.
The Doctor and Jo travel to the south coast to visit the Master in his one-inmate castle prison. The governor, Colonel Trenchard [Clive Morton] is fussy and annoying. A chance remark about vanishing ships prompts the Doctor to investigate an abandoned World War II sea fort. There he discovers a marauding race of prehistoric, reptilian, ocean dwelling Eocenes. [Apparently no reptilian life forms could have existed in the Silurian era; a factual error noticed by interested scientists and reported to the BBC. Hulke makes the correction in this screenplay.]
After a more than satisfying opening episode, which unfortunately ends at the wrong cliff-hanger moment, the serial reworks the original Silurian adventure replacing Quinn and UNIT with the Master and the Royal Navy. It’s nice to see Roger Delgado back, but you do ask the question why. There’s good support from Edwin Richfield and June Murphy as Captain Hart and his comely Staff Officer Blythe, who make more than adequate replacements for the Brigadier etc. Quite why UNIT isn’t called in to aid the Doctor’s investigation is never explained. External scenes were filmed at and near the Foxglove Navy barracks and this plus some official naval stock footage lends authenticity. There are lots of tiny moments of interest: the Doctor struggles to turn a radio receiver into a transmitter; he and the Master conduct a rapier dual almost to the death; the Sea Devils have a unique claw-held disintegrator weapon; Trenchard is motivated by false patriotism; Martin Boddey’s fatuous and obnoxious parliamentary secretary Walker is a cowardly warmonger; the Doctor’s cape disappears and reappears at will; Jo Grant miraculously maintains a firm hold of her handbag throughout; a whole fleet of miscellaneous transport craft are used for chases and escapes and investigations; the famous line “reverse the polarity of the neutron flow” makes its first and only utterance from Jon Pertwee’s lips.
There’s nothing really wrong with the production. The model work is good. Sets are fine. Peter Sargeant’s photography is above board. Along with director Michael Briant, he creates some memorable images; the first chapter in particular is visually more imaginative and off-kilter than most episodes. The overall impression however is of a competent team going through familiar motions. The story is tremendously slow and lacks tension, even during some of the battle sequences, which is a stylistic crime in the heavily action-orientated UNIT format. The cliff hangers are uniformly poor. The Sea Devils themselves are disappointing. They wear odd fishnet blouses, unlike their Silurian cousins who were basically naked. Their masks are obviously helmets: the eyes don’t move. Only one speaks and his mouth jabbers like a shy puppet.
Malcolm Hulke overeggs the era’s ‘peace for all races’ line. It is wearing thin already and seems to be at odds with Pertwee’s more antagonistic portrayal of the Doctor. He’s vigorous again here and has a personal dilemma to solve: does the Doctor choose to destroy the Sea Devil’s base and prevent a catastrophic war – effectively enacting the Brigadier’s role at the end of The Silurians – or does he let violence and destruction take its course? The ethical conundrum is new to Dr Who, which is normally more black and white than this. The change is noteworthy.
Unfortunately, The Sea Devils isn’t. It’s a very ordinary story:
3 from 5.
The Time Lords send the Doctor to Solos with a message pod, but he doesn’t know who it’s for. So, no Earth invasion this time around, but also not a lot of thought, for, like much of the science on show, The Mutants is clunkingly inept despite all the makings of a great story. What it does well, it does really well. The problem is it also does an awful lot tremendously badly:
1) Let’s take the storyline. Solos has been an Earth colony for five hundred years, yet the nitrogen rich atmosphere is poisonous to humans, so they live in an enormous orbital space ship called Sky Base and only make sporadic surface landings to monitor the indigenous mine workers. Like Uxarieus in , the planet is mineral rich, especially in the rare radioactive element Thaesium, which in the 30th century is a prime source of rocket fuel. Also as with , relationships between the native Solons and the humans – here called Overlords – has sunk to an all-time low. The exploited Solons have been decimated by a plague prevaricated by Professor Jaeger’s atmospheric ionisation experiments. The horrific side effect turns them into insect-like mutants. The Base Commander, Marshall, wants to wipe the Solons out, but a visiting Administrator believes it is time to grant the planet independence. The Doctor and a journeyman scientist Sondegard discover the mutations are part of the Solons genetic metamorphic life cycle, which generates through its five-hundred year seasons, but can they persuade Marshall and Jaeger to stop their deadly experiments?
On the face of it, all sounds good, but inside the basic plot are a host of silly scientific blunders which will irk any reasonably educated viewer. Perhaps the worst offence is that radiation exposure is treated like a dose of the flu.
[Point of order: when did the Doctor gain his immunity from radiation? When he first landed on Skaro, in The Daleks, he was as susceptible as his companions to radiation sickness and needed a Thal antidote to combat the effects of the neutron poisoning. Yet here, he wanders about in highly contaminated areas without even putting on a protective suit.]
Continuing on, particle reversal theory is nonsense. So is the effect of ionisation crystals on a planet’s environment – and where did the Overlords store enough crystals to affect a whole planet? When an enormous fissure is blown in the side of the space station, nobody dies. Sondergard has lived undetected on Solos for decades. Everyone keeps explaining that Earth as a liveable planet is finished, yet two of the characters desperately want to return there. The story replays elements of megalomania, apartheid racism, colonial capitalism, genocide, mutation brought on by radiation, greed, mad scientists, the revolution story, the Doctor on a special Time Lord mission; all these ingredients have featured in past adventures. It becomes tiresome quickly.
The best element of the plot is undeniably its antiapartheid message coupled to the Marshall’s unbending racism. It’s not subtly made, which I think is the point, but we have seen this kind of narrative before – as early as The Sensorites in fact, where rogue colonists were poisoning the inhabitants of Sense Sphere. Repetition is always a factor in long running television shows and while it doesn’t make The Mutants a bad adventure, it does make it less interesting. There are however, other reasons to be doubtful about the serial.
2) Let’s take the acting honours or dishonours. Jon Pertwee shines, understanding quickly he’s dealing with a megalomaniac in Marshall and treating him with scant regard. Paul Whitsun-Jones, who returns to the show following his stint in The Smugglers, plays Marshall with blustering affrontery. He’s the most watchable character, being nasty, spoilt, ambitious, racist, and a complete loon. The acting goes up a notch whenever he’s in a scene. His sidekick Jaeger is played by a nervous George Pravda, who previously appeared in Enemy of the World. He was better there. John Hollis plays Sondegard like some new-age space-age hippy, all love beads and kaftans. Terrible. Sadly, the ever watchable Geoffrey Palmer is killed off in episode one. He’s the lucky one. None of the natives convince. They are dressed up to like Vikings, which only reinforces their lame dialogue. When four of them are supposed to represent a raiding party, the effect is stoutly silly. They are never given enough opportunity to explain themselves, preferring to shout “Die, Overlord, Die!” or “We want freedom!” Cliches all-round. Katy Manning is more than adequate, and gives as good as she gets against the Marshall, but anyone would look good against Rick James and Christopher Coll as the Overlord guards Cotton and Stubbs. Clearly envisioned by writers Bob Baker and Dave Martin as a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern pairing, these two struggle with appalling dialogue and at times both are exceedingly wooden; James in particular lacks charisma and conviction. His performance is considered one of the very worst on Dr Who and I’d agree with that assessment. He does though deliver one classic line, after Ky has mutated into an ethereal super-being and escaped a radiation chamber, Cotton says: “Oh, great, so he flashes off and leaves us here!”
3) Let’s take the look of the piece. The location work is superb. Bluewater Quarry is now a shopping centre, but here it’s the surface of Solos, shrouded in never ending mist. Chislehurst Caves stand in for the mines and the caves of Solos. Fred Hamilton’s camerawork is uniformly excellent; he even throws in a few slanted angles a la Batman. The serial benefits enormously from the out of studio sequences which are believably realistic. It’s a credit to Jeremy Bear that his Sky Base sets are also convincing. The hexagonal passageways, the huge laboratory, Marshall’s office, the radiation chamber, all of these are brilliantly realised. The mutant monsters are one of the show’s best creations. They resemble the Zarbi from The Web Planet, but are much more detailed. Early on, when we are led to assume they are dangerous, the mutants are quite frightening. Later, as our attitude changes, they become figures of sympathy. The costumes work equally well for both and it’s a credit to director Christopher Barry that we believe in and empathise with these sad creatures. The final mutation of Ky however is a crushing disappointment. He transforms into a rainbow coloured angel with super-powers. John Horton, the FX bod, ought to be ashamed. Similarly the CSO effects grate badly.
[Point of interest: James Acheson was the costumer for this serial and he would later win Oscars for his work on The Last Emperor and Dangerous Liaisons. While the Viking look is ill-advised, it’s certainly well-presented, and I’ll never be keen on Sondegard’s hippy outfit, but you can’t fault his monsters or the Overlord outfits. He really shows his class. A little bit more of this quality would go a long way to helping some other adventures.]
4) Let’s take the episode endings. From the sublime episode three climax, to the dreadful apex for episodes two, four and five. The standard of cliff-hanger has fallen dramatically recently, to the point there is barely any drama at all. The Mutants ends in the usual rush and the Doctor and Jo hot foot it out before the arriving Earth Councillors figure out who they are [The Curse of Peladon anyone?]
To summarise, taken as a whole, the good points of The Mutants can’t out-weigh the bad and unfortunately it’s the bad points we remember:
2 from 5.
THE TIME MONSTER
A third of the way through Robert Sloman’s The Time Monster, I had a crippling sense of déjà vu. Hadn’t I seen this plotting somewhere before? Yes, of course. Sloman and his uncredited co-writer Barry Letts re-trod the same steps in last season’s The Daemons. They don’t conceal it very well and they don’t provide anywhere near as successful an adventure. To describe The Time Monster as slack is probably being generous.
The Master has developed the Transmission Of Matter Through Interspatial Time device. Hilariously shortened to TOMTIT, this is the first of a whole gamut of indecipherable, indescribable, implausible scientific jargon which bombards the audience throughout the serial, like “the moments of time between now and now” and “time flow analogue.” This latter refers to a deftly constructed and arranged whirligig of kitchen utensils; remarkably silly and not very effective for thwarting the Master.
The Doctor meanwhile is having premonitions. He’s had them before [remember The Massacre] but never with such visual clarity. He appears to be witnessing the end of a great civilisation. The premonitions are never explained. Neither is the ultimate purpose of the Chronivores, a race of time-eaters who live in the time vortex. One of them once escaped to Earth and was subsequently trapped in a time crystal by the priests of Atlantis. The Chronivores sound like a superior bunch, but you wonder how capable they are to be trapped in a crystal by doddery old men like Krasis. Additionally, I thought Atlantis had been destroyed either by Azal the Daemon or an earthquake, both of which could have resulted in the undersea kingdom hidden for two thousand years and discovered by Professor Zaroff in The Underwater Menace. Not so at all. It was Kronos, the Time Eater.
Or was it? Firstly, at the end of the serial, there’s no indication Atlantis has been entirely destroyed. Secondly, which past are we viewing: the one the Doctor knows about from his adventures, or an alternative one, created by travelling through time cracks? Could Azal the Daemon be a Titan, part of the same mythology as Kronos, and the alien races lived – and fought each other – at the same moment in history? Indeed, the Doctor’s explanation of the Chronivores makes them sound like the sort of creature all those crackpots whittle on about on shows like Ancient Aliens. The only thing made entirely clear by the intentionally difficult and confused screenplay is that nothing is going to be made entirely clear. The story, from a narrative, scientific and historical aspect, is hopelessly and horridly messy; I’m sure you can tell that already from my pathetic attempts to explain it.
The serial spends most of its time at the Wooton Institute, a research centre near Cambridge. The Master is again impersonating a top level scientist, using another egotistical pseudonym. He’s uncovered by Jo Grant, who’s suddenly developed the skills of a classicist and speaks Greek. Who’d have thought it. The Master is assisted by two bickering lab technicians. Wanda Moore comes off slightly better as Ruth Ingram. She’s clearly a substitute for Liz Shaw [who returned to Cambridge academic life, if you recall] and has all the latter’s ballsy Women’s Rights, antiauthority standards. Ian Collier is the more commonplace Stuart Hyde, who spends one episode transformed into his eighty year old self. Congratulations to Joan Barrett’s make up team, but it doesn’t help Collier’s performance which is dreadfully cliched. There’s nothing new in any of the Wooton scenes. UNIT returns. The Brigadier is baffled. Bessie has inertia braking and superspeed super-drive [a what-what?]. The Master hypnotises the Institute’s Director, makes a mess of his experiments and calls down the wrath of Kronos, which as with Azal, he fails to control. Katy Manning looks pretty. Jon Pertwee looks bored. The best moment was when Sgt Benton gets zapped by the properties of the time vortex and reverts to a baby toddler. Cute.
Things perk up a little when The Doctor chases his foe to Atlantis. Susan Penhaligan is charming as a hand maiden. Best of all, Ingrid Pitt looks gorgeous and out performs everybody for two episodes despite dealing with a risible script. Quite how she makes the role of Queen Galliea so potently involving and multi-dimensional is a minor thespian miracle given she has next to nothing to work with. The scene where she seduces the Master and he appears to respond is fascinating as it hints at the unique sensual power of the mesmerist. The Master, by sheer force of his elegant and powerful personality, has the Queen wrapped around his finger without even needing to hypnotise her. His very presence is mesmerising enough: she recognises the riches and influence he can bestow on her. This is what seduces. The fact she feels the need to physically attract him, reinforces her and his scheming desire for control.
Sadly the rest of the Atlantis sequence is a tawdry exercise. The script’s fey Shakespearian-ism’s reminded me of the haplessness of The Myth Makers. Tim Gleason’s sets are mundane; the best one is the new TARDIS interior, which tells you something and nothing. I was appalled by some of the worst acting I’ve witnessed in Dr Who, a series of farcical happenings and a mythologically misplaced Minotaur. David Prowse would go on to better things disguised as Darth Vader in Star Wars. Here he’s only disguised by an ill-fitting bull-mask and is easily bested by Jon Pertwee’s matador impersonation. Director Paul Bernard has somehow managed to turn the Atlantean exercise into a visual joke. It doesn’t get any better when Kronos manifests himself. This is quite possibly the most cumbersome, unimaginative and foolish looking monster the show has ever produced. Kronos is basically a man-sized white-washed pigeon. Recognising how crap this was, the director sensibly conjures a completely different image for a second confrontation inside the time cracks. The bending of the monster’s gender is a decent twist. The Master’s sudden decision to plead for mercy on bended knee is not. It’s like watching Captain Hook in a very bad pantomime. Like everyone else, Roger Delgado has been hit-and-miss in this adventure. In this scene, he doesn’t so much miss the target as fail to even see it. Dreadful.
There’s a four episode adventure crying to escape from the confines of another convoluted six-parter. The latter scenes, based grimly around the Greek legends of Atlantis and the Titans, might have worked on their own. Similarly the mumbo-jumbo about the time vortex might have proved better without the Atlantis connection. This is the sort of decision a good script editor should be making and Terrance **** has made a duff job of this one, perhaps because The Time Monster was co-written by his boss, producer Barry Letts.
Two points of interest do arise. One is a series of explanations given about the TARDIS, that it [she, we are told] is a living being, has telepathic powers and is designed not only to be indestructible but also to protect its owner. The inventiveness of the TARDIS-within-a-TARDIS scenario is spoilt by having a TARDIS-with-a-TARDIS-within-a-TARDIS-etc-etc. The Doctor merely says “Oh, no” and leaves it at that.
Secondly, Jon Pertwee delivers a long speech about the Doctor’s childhood which is a retelling of an ancient Buddhist text. I was going to quote the speech in full, but it’s very long. What interested me was the Doctor’s moment of epiphany. On the blackest day of his life, unable to fathom existence, the Doctor visited the hermit who lived on the mountain behind his house.
[Point of order: the Doctor appears to live outside of the building we saw in The War Games and his description of the mountains, grey snow, trees, gold and red and brown rocks suggests a hospitable and earth-like environment. No orange sunsets though, as mentioned by Susan Foreman.]
The ancient hermit gives no answer to the Doctor’s troubles, he merely points at a daisy “glowing with life like a perfectly cast jewel and the colours were deeper and richer than you could possibly imagine.” The Doctor realises that the universe is as perfect as a sinless flower, he simply has to reinterpret what he sees and apply it beneath the surface. This, in a way, explains why he is unable to incarcerate the Master with the Chronivores, that there is always a redemptive goodness under the sheen of bad. If nothing else remains of his predecessors, Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor can still claim to be an optimist.
Despite the chicanery of Eastern philosophy, the majority of The Time Monster is a long winded and impertinent bore. The Third Doctor had a stupendous start to his tenure, with barely a foot misplaced. This adventure steps in all kinds of muddle and only Ingrid Pitt succeeds in pulling a foot out:
1½ from 5.
After the more than successful Seasons Seven and Eight, you’d think it might be time for the Dr Who production team to slow down. The fact they refuse to tread water and continue to create interesting, watchable and entertaining serials is remarkable. Season Nine doesn’t quite touch the highs of what’s gone before and it does become very run of the mill by the end, but overall it succeeds far more than it fails. The UNIT based stories had started to turn stale and the writers have obviously been urged to get the Doctor away from Earth, or at least twentieth century Earth. Of the five serials, two are set entirely on different planets and have the Doctor acting as an unofficial agent of the Time Lords; two more involve UNIT but have large chunks set forwards or backwards in time [let’s forget the business about Atlantis being a myth, the writers conveniently forget it too]. The only story entirely based in contemporary times is The Sea Devils and that, curiously, doesn’t feature UNIT, although one feels it probably should. It was also noticeable that the Master only makes two appearances, which frees up stories to introduce other monsters. The UNIT family isn’t as interesting this time around. All the hard work bringing them to the forefront of the action has been chucked in the metaphorical bin and by the climax of The Time Monster they’ve become stooges for fun. I rather hope this doesn’t last, as undermining the authority of the Brigadier has always been the Doctor’s role; once it becomes a writer’s task, the dynamic is loosened. The Brigadier isn’t supposed to be a hopeless, ignorant buffoon, he’s a capable military commander and to portray him and his battalions as anything less feels churlish.
The Doctor has had some of his more uncompromising edges smoothed away. This might be Jon Pertwee’s doing as he spars better with Katy Manning than he did with Caroline John. Manning herself, bouncy and joyful, certainly delivers a more rounded portrayal of Jo Grant; she’s particularly strong in The Curse of Peladon and The Mutants; in both stories her role is expanded and she’s not simply a question and answer receptacle for the Doctor. Roger Delgado retains his watchability without ever seeming to try. While there have been some great individual performances, the general standard of acting seems to have dipped a level and occasionally this unbalances a story. The production values have remained high excluding the occasional mishap. Extensive location shooting immeasurably helps the stories feel more alive. The emphasis on the interpretation and physicality of time was very welcome, drawing some interesting metabolic problems. The infighting and politicking between bureaucrats was well-observed. I’m happy to see this kind of sensitive, structured and instructive writing continue as long as it doesn’t become as farcical as it did in The Time Monster and doesn’t let the show lose its sense of proportion. It should after all be entertaining, not mind-numbing. Overall, a very good season once again.
THE THREE DOCTORS
The opening adventure from Dr Who’s tenth anniversary season doesn’t need much introduction. It’s the one where all three incarnations of our time-travelling hero are united to fight an unseen all-powerful foe, who turns out to be Omega, one of the greatest of all Time Lords, a genius solar engineer whose story is shrouded in myth and mystery. Contrary to popular belief, the idea of uniting all or two of the actors to play the Doctor had been on the minds of the producers for some time. What was missing was a sensible reason to bring the trio together. A tenth anniversary ‘special’ is as good a reason as any and the writing team of Bob Baker and Dave Martin was charged with bringing this ground breaking episode to life.
The adventure opens with a scientific puzzle: why has Dr Tyler’s meteorological balloon been struck by a beam of energy travelling faster than light? The energy force contains anti-matter and within a few hours the UNIT building has been surrounded by mysterious blobby apparitions. Contact with any of these anti-matter beasts leads to immediate disintegration, or so the Doctor believes. Meanwhile the Time Lords are battling a cosmic energy drain which appears to be controlled from beyond a black hole. This mystifies even the Time Lords, as they don’t believe anything can exist in the void beyond a black hole. Nonetheless the energy drain is so severe it threatens to destroy the Time Travel Facility [the what?], to say nothing of the total annihilation of the fabric of space time. The Time Lords have learnt the energy beam was seeking the Doctor – he figures it out at the same time – and they manipulate time to send his previous incarnations to assist him against whatever evil lies beyond the black hole.
Jon Pertwee and Patrick Troughton fill their boots each playing a warring segment of the Doctor’s self. Pertwee’s Third Doctor is a man of action; he thinks laterally, tactically and concisely; to him there is always a point of negotiation before action. Troughton’s Second Doctor is hopelessly disorganised. He’s an inquisitive nuisance who never reveals his intentions, covering his astuteness with fumbling antics and over-demonstrative cheerfulness. The contrast between their respective terms could not be more obvious. I always found Troughton’s interpretation of the Doctor wearisome and childish; several times during his tenure he appeared to infantilise the character. I also disliked the way he never gave a clear intention or explanation to his actions. For me, Pertwee’s Doctor eradicates most of Troughton’s faults, and here his straightforward and authoritative version clashes with the outward immaturity of his predecessor. Both are given ample time to display these character traits. Troughton seeks to control the anti-matter invasion and has fun making fun of the Brigadier, who fails to comprehend the possibility of more than one Doctor as well as the dynamics of dimensional relativity. Meanwhile Pertwee has a James Bond style confrontation with the villain, where he discusses the legacy of the great Omega and his diabolical aims for the universe.
Curiously, up against Pertwee’s Doctor, Troughton’s interpretation is far more agreeable. Maybe it’s because the two play up the laughs as much as the seriousness: when they face Omega together, the great Time Lord is aghast: “Are you sure you and he are of the same intelligence?” he asks Doctor Three. “Just ignore him,” replies Pertwee sharply, “He’s incorrigibly frivolous.” The screenplay provides many moments of high hilarity as these two fine actors bicker and squabble and argue with each other. Sometimes it takes the earthy practicalities of Jo Grant or Sgt Benton to bring them into line. At other times it takes the First Doctor.
It’s great to see William Hartnell return to the show. Sadly he was too ill to play a fully active role in the production, hence his Doctor is stuck in a time eddy and can only be viewed on the TARDIS monitor screen. Naturally, he is regarded as a true authority figure and Doctor One ensures his two successors make the right decisions at the right time. He has probably the whole show’s finest ever line when inspecting what he’s become: “So you’re my replacements,” he says disdainfully, “Wonderful. A dandy and a clown.” Hartnell’s more belligerent aspects were toned down for this adventure; he’s much more the elder, considerate statesman, as he was in The Savages and The Tenth Planet.
Baker and Martin’s script cleverly gels all three Doctors with the regular and the guest cast, never forgetting anyone’s position or persona. Jo Grant is perhaps a tad too clingy, but she displays moments of insight and persuasion which reveal her once again to be a little bit more than the blonde bimbo type. Nicholas Courtney’s Brigadier becomes equally frustrated and maligned. So confused is he by the circumstances, even his own Sergeant offers sparing sympathy. Benton copes better with the otherworldly occurrences. John Levene is more than adequate in a much expanded role. [This was due to the unavailability of Frazer Hines, who was meant to feature alongside Patrick Troughton; Benton got most of his lines.] Rex Robinson’s Dr Tyler has all the insular inquisitiveness of a scientist. Laurie Webb’s unfortunate gamekeeper Mr Ollis is splendidly stoic. At the adventure’s end, henpecked by his wife who demands to know where he’s been, Webb mumbles: “You’d never believe it. Supper ready?” Memorable understatement indeed.
Best of all is Stephen Thorne’s monstrous Omega, the renegade who helped create time travel and is now sucking the cosmic energy out of the universe. It’s never clear what he’s doing with all this energy as the world he inhabits doesn’t actually exist. We rather accept it with a hefty dose of salt. Omega is a bona fide example of ‘I think therefore I am’ – his world would not exist without his willpower. Everything is given form in the anti-matter universe only by the force of his mind. Eventually this even includes himself. To prevent the onset of matter decay, Omega has hid for millennia behind a protective armoured coat and helmet; when it is removed, he is revealed as no longer possessing a physical form. His pain is keenly interpreted by Stephen Thorne. While Omega is clearly crazed and vengeful, one does feel for his plight. Abandoned for dead by the Time Lords at the moment his experiment’s prove his hypothesis, he feels slighted and bears the biggest of grudges. His lonely existence has driven him into a universal homicidal rage. When his fate is sealed, Omega howls and sobs, both with fury and misery. Stephen Thorne has to do all his acting through voice and mannerism. His achievement is outstanding. It’s disappointing nobody noticed we can occasionally see his chin under the otherwise all-encompassing garments.
Trapped in Omega’s anti-matter world, the Doctors discover a solution to the problem with the simplest of items: the Second incarnation’s flute. He lost the recorder when it fell into the TARDIS forcefield generator, hence it is unaffected by Omega’s controlling anti-matter partiality. Doctor Two’s childish behaviour has already exposed Omega’s short emotional fuse and the Doctors combine to agitate their nemesis until, in a blustery tantrum, he destroys the generator, thus freeing the flute which becomes the only item of positive matter in Omega’s anti-matter universe. The ensuing explosion destroys the world behind the black hole and restores the cosmic energy. This is a simple, easy to grasp resolution, and is in keeping with the rather elementary science on show and the general absurdity of the proceedings. That it doesn’t matter a jot is a credit to the team playing, to Lennie Mayne’s solid direction and to that script.
I keep mentioning the script because it is that good. Additionally there are several interesting points raised by Baker and Martin’s treatment which, by design, open up the history and mystique of the Time Lords:
1. We have a longer view of their home world. Still not named at this point, Gallifrey has taken on a more standardised alien look, with control desks, consoles and sweeping costumes. We see a control centre, but it could just as well be any alien control centre. I would have expected something far more wonderous for these all-powerful beings. Interestingly one of the Time Lords is played by Graham Leaman, who featured as such in Colony in Space, while another is fleshed out by Clyde Pollitt, who was one of the sentencing judges in The War Games. If your memory is good, you can make the connections.
2. The Time Lords break the First Law of Time Travel by allowing a Doctor from the past to meet his current self. It isn’t explained why this is such a crime. It doesn’t appear to be a law of physics, more one of procedure and convenience.
3. We learn the Time Lords possess a Time Travel Facility, suggesting that all of the time machines are interlinked, as if by a central nervous system, which begs the question how the First Doctor ever believed he could escape from his home planet and run around the universe without anyone knowing where he was. Perhaps the reason his TARDIS malfunctions so often while it travels is because he’s removed something like a ‘central nervous system circuit.’
4. It’s been hinted in previous adventures that the TARDIS is telepathic and can think for itself; here we see the Three Doctors performing telepathic communication – exactly how Susan did in The Sensorites – and one assumes this gift must have been imparted to the TARDIS mechanism. Previously, though, the Doctor hasn’t been very adroit with this gift.
5. The history of Omega also gives rise to several questions and answers, which I don’t really have the time to cover in a review. It’s enough to state that Omega was a Time Lord solar engineer tasked with discovering how to power ongoing time travel. The Time Lords already understood the science of it, but they lacked the energy. Omega collapsed a star, releasing its nuclear energy which now still continues to power the Time Travel Facility. He disappeared in the ensuing explosion, vanishing through the black hole created by the star’s collapse. It’s a well-constructed legend by the authors, however…
6. How does this explain the Daleks’ time machines or Professor Waterfield’s? [see The Chase and The Evil of the Daleks] Is there more than one method to perfect time travel? Perhaps those were primitive designs which did not have the ability to generate power in the manner of a TARDIS.
7. We know the War Chief was a renegade Time Lord and he used the energy source from his TARDIS to fuel the Sidrats [see The War Games]; yet they ran out of power. On that evidence it seems likely there is no central link. Is this a contradiction or a misinterpretation?
8. At the end of the adventure, the Doctor is given a new dematerialisation circuit and the secrets of time travel are restored to him. Have they in fact been restored to TARDIS, which is now telepathically communicating with him? Curiously, in the ensuing seasons, while the Doctor does exert some dexterity over his space craft’s movements it usually seems just as out of control as it always was. Which raises a point I made reviewing The Ark, that the TARDIS is deliberately seeking moments of universal imbalance for the Doctor to put right.
9. It isn’t clear when in their relevant time-streams Doctor’s One and Two are lifted. For Doctor Two it must be after The Invasion as he’s met Sgt Benton. As this 10th Season adventure assumes retrospective action, it becomes an anomaly of continuity that neither Doctor ever mentions it. This isn’t such a problem for Hartnell’s incarnation for there is plenty of centuries of unrecorded history before we met him and his granddaughter. He might simply have forgotten! In fact, there’s no reason for him to ever need to mention it. It remains an issue for Doctor Two, though. [The black and white footage of Troughton is often erroneously attributed to The Macra Terror. That’s not possible as the serial had already been wiped. Both incarnations brief black and white intros were in fact recorded specifically for The Three Doctors.] Given the paucity of evidence otherwise, I can only assume that any memory of The Three Doctors adventure has been erased in a similar fashion to the procedure undergone by Jamie and Zoe at the end of The War Games. Then, Doctor Two was fearful of his superiors and the judgement they delivered. If he had memories of meeting his future self, he wouldn’t be quite so anxious. However, as the Time Lords don’t wipe Doctor Three’s memory, it clearly hasn’t been done to hide the indiscretion of breaking the First Law of Time Travel, which would be the most obvious explanation for memory erasure. This knotty little problem raises its head once more in the twentieth anniversary saga The Five Doctors.
However we interpret the Time Lords and their legacy, it’s fair to say while Omega is impressive, they are not. That isn’t a fault of the writing. It’s the fault of an unimaginative production team and the designers, under Roger Liminton, who won’t think outside the box. The anti-matter universe and creatures don’t really convince. Terrance ****’ adaptation astutely stated Omega’s world resembles a quarry because he’s bored and isn’t using his will power to maintain anything other than a rudimentary landscape. It’s a pity this explanation wasn’t inserted into the Doctor and Omega’s head-to-head in episode 3 as it could have gone a long way to clarify the dog’s dinner appearance of the anti-matter blobs – who succeed the dove-like Kronos as one of the poorest monsters ever seen on the show – as well as the dull, unimaginative citadel interiors. It wouldn’t though explain away the tremendously dodgy blue screen SFX. James Acheson’s costumes are passable.
In fairness, these issues don’t hold the story back. It has verve and ambition, never ceases to entertain, and – wait for it! – that’s down to the primary success of the script as well as the fine character interplay and the sentimental return of Hartnell and Troughton. Upper most in my thoughts, considering I’ve watched this serial four times since its 1983 BBC repeat, is that the tale never ceases to be watchable fun. The Three Doctors is a genuine slice of television entertainment even if it crimples at the edges. The adventure may not be quite a classic in terms of its presentation, but in terms of nostalgia, it certainly ranks as a such.
It’s very cheeky, I know, but I can’t help it:
The Third Doctor - Jon Pettwee
CARNIVAL OF MONSTERS
Carnival of Monsters is a very above-average serial. Barry Letts directs with a high focus on suspense and action. Robert Holmes’ screenplay concentrates on the relationships between its numerous characters, most notably the Doctor and Jo, two carnival entertainers Vorg and Shirna, and three alien patriarchs. The narrative structure follows two only vaguely connected story arcs.
The first concerns the machinations on Inter Minor, an isolated planet whose inhabitants have retreated from contact with the universe following the Great Space Plague of 2950. [That’s my estimated date; the Doctor mentions this occurred one thousand years after Jo Grant was born.] Here the three Tribunal representatives of the unseen President vie for power. The fundamental differences between Pletrac and Kalik, revolve around the preservation of the status quo. The Minorians, like the Pels on Peladon, wish to venture beyond their planet, but a complicated bureaucracy prevents them making elastic decisions. Kalik’s more aggressive position clashes with Pletrac’s staid uninventiveness. Michael Wisher and Peter Halliday are fine as the conflicting patriarchs, but Terence Lodge’s Oram is out-acted badly. He shares none of the deviousness of his mentor, Kalik, and comes across as a lackey rather than a planetary leader. Inter Minor is also home to a mute slave-race named the Functionaries, but their plight and origin is barely touched upon. This seems an oversight from the usually reliable Robert Holmes. While the Doctor enthusiastically spends the adventure attempting to solve his problems, he barely even notices the Functionaries and doesn’t register the obvious imbalance in their relationship to the Minorians. Coming during Pertwee’s run of informal morality plays, this seems unlikely of the Time Lord.
Pletrac is aghast that the President has allowed a travelling show to land on Inter Minor, essentially as entertainment for the Functionaries, a way to soothe their restlessness. This reminds us of The Romans and Nero’s plans to entertain the audience of the amphitheatre with music and dancing while the lions tear into the gladiators. An investment in bread and circuses never succeeds as a long term plan to secure favour from the masses. It doesn’t work here either. It isn’t for want of trying, mind. Two brightly clothed Lurman entertainers arrive on the planet with their Mini-Scope, a machine that allows spectators to observe alien creatures and manipulate their behaviour within a safe-housed, miniaturised environment, like a visual portable zoo. Several amusing contemporary references are made to this effect and Vorg makes mocking David Attenborough style commentaries when describing the creatures inside the Scope.
[Point of order 1: it’s not clear exactly how the aliens are gathered. Vorg admits he won the Mini-Scope at a Lurman casino and doesn’t wholly understand how it operates. However, somebody must have collected the species together and as they encompass different space times, it’s fair to assume these safari hunters must have had access to time travel.
[Point of order 2: the Doctor has knowledge of the Mini-Scope. There’s a very fine exchange with Jo Grant at which he compares their situation with that of animals in captivity. The point is made with the minimum of fuss and convinces wholeheartedly. It’s amazing to think we are only now as a society beginning to shy away from zoological parks.
[Point of order 3: the Doctor was fundamental to Mini-Scopes being banned throughout the universe. Apparently this was at the behest of the Time Lord High Council and once again this contradicts with the Time Lord’s manifesto of observation, not influence.]
While the Minorians bicker about import licences and disease control, Vorg attempts to drum up business and discovers he’s got problems with his Mini-Scope. Leslie Dwyer is superb as Vorg, a jaunty opportunist, who wriggles his way into and out of every situation, always coming out selfishly for the better. [Dwyer would go on to much acclaim playing a similar role, that of a miserable puppeteer, in the BBC sitcom Hi-De-Hi.] His nubile assistant Shirna is played by Cheryl Hall. This actress lost out to Katy Manning in auditions for Jo Grant. Shirna’s a bright presence, flashy and barb-tongued. Used to better things, she knows she’s on a loser with Vorg; like the Doctor’s companions, she’s been drawn in by promises. That they go unfulfilled does not appear to deter her or alter her cheerfulness. These two are given bizarre costumes which at first seem awkward and distracting, but as we learn more of their backgrounds – an ex-military man, a gambler, a showgirl, carnival gypsies – they become more appropriate: a collection of garments stolen from their pasts: greatcoats and trinkets for him, leotards and sparkles for her. It’s unusual for guest roles to feature such detailed backgrounds, but here it works exceptionally well, adding extra layers of character. In another clever scene, Vorg mistakes the Doctor for a Carny and attempts to communicate in a patois; the Doctor doesn’t understand a word of the gibberish.
[Point of order 4: the Doctor’s had no trouble understanding alien languages before. Later on in the show we learn this gift of interpretation and translation is provided by the TARDIS. So has the TARDIS never heard Carnival-speak?]
Let’s move away from the machinations of political intrigue and interplanetary import and export to find out what’s happened to the Doctor and Jo. He’s taking his assistant on holiday to Metebelis 3, the fabled blue planet of the Acteon Group, but instead they arrive on the S.S. Bernice, a cargo ship bound for Bombay. Jo is disappointed and teases the Doctor about his inability to control the wayward spaceship. Mistaken for stowaways, the twosome are surprised to discover the presence of dinosaurs in the Indian Ocean as well as a prominent hexagonal hatchway, which for some [unexplained] reason the locals are unable to visualise. The disappearance of the S.S. Bernice is a fictional maritime mystery as strange as the Marie Celeste. These first episode sequences are phenomenally atmospheric, a claustrophobia of eerie happenings and stages. It climaxes with one of the great episode cliff hangers when a giant hand reaches in and steals the TARDIS. Katy Manning’s expression is suitably stupefied and horrified at once.
Stuck on board, the Doctor and Jo choose to uncover the hatch and enter a new, completely mechanical environment, which the Doctor recognises as an electronic filter circuit. Eventually, with Jo’s helps, he understands that the TARDIS materialised inside a Mini-Scope and the travellers have been shrunk to miniscule size. Now, they are able navigate the workings of the microchip as if they were walking around a wrist watch. Dr Who has been to this microscopic realm before in Planet of Giants, but because this electronic world has no point of visible reference, designer Roger Liminton is able to fashion a believable and fantastic series of metal passages and bridges, slopes and chasms to represent the interior circuit. This foreshadows more elaborate animated sequences in Walt Disney’s computer based sci-fi epic Tron. The Edwardian onboard sets are equally good.
The inhabitants of this micro-world are caught in a time loop and endlessly play out the same scenes over and over again. This allows some competent comic interplay. Jo’s rising frustration with the crew and passengers becomes more and more resignedly apparent. Katy Manning is marvellous in this serial. Given a more central role to perform, she once again triumphs. Her somewhat mischievous demeanour is echoed in the Doctor’s dutiful attentions. This is the first of a rare few serials on Dr Who where you can almost sense genuine affection between the Doctor and his female companion. When they discuss methods of escape or the curious situation they are caught in, when they disagree, there’s real warmth and appreciation. No female companion had lasted as long as Jo Grant and she’s being rewarded for her loyalty with a more conciliatory Doctor, one who recognises her faults and strengths and no longer talks down to her. For her part, Jo has smoothed the Third Doctor’s brusqueness; she always keeps him in check and questions his motives and hypotheses, not only because she fails to grasp his intent, but often bringing forward the human aspect of a situation, for right or wrong. Most importantly she gains knowledge; the accident prone poppet personality has been completely eradicated. It helps too that she’s still a dab hand at escapology! While the Doctor never wants anything terrible to happen to Jo, she also never wants anything terrible to happen to him. They share an interdependent relationship, one which we had a foretaste of through Caroline John’s marvellous Liz Shaw, but which has taken almost three seasons to develop with Katy Manning’s Miss Grant. Here, much like Liz, Jo’s probing questions make the Doctor realise the TARDIS landed inside a Mini-Scope rather than a caravanserai on Metebelis 3. It’s rather romantic to think that for her first journey in the TARDIS the Doctor is taking her to the most beautiful planet in the universe.
A pity she has to run the gauntlet of Ian Marter’s bland ship’s officer, rogue dinosaurs and marauding Drashigs. These last reptilian monsters are superbly introduced in a slow motion episode climax, bursting through a sea of marsh grass. The Doctor and Jo have escaped the electronic circuit and entered the neighbouring realm of the Drashigs, omnivorous reptiles whose goal in life is purely to hunt, kill and devour. This initial appearance is like a throwback to the great days of Ray Harryhausen and those Sinbad and creature epics. Sadly the standard cannot be maintained. As the Drashigs continue to perform a prominent narrative role as uncontrollable destructors, the creaky CSO SFX does them no favours. There’s not much Barry Letts or cameraman Peter Hamilton can do about that.
[Point of order 5: while the inhabitants of the S.S. Bernice are caught in a time loop, the Drashigs are not. Why is this?
[Point of order 6: the Doctor is at pains to point out he helped get Mini-Scopes banned, but when did this occur in space-time? Could the events of Carnival of Monsters occur before the ban? The only galactic reference point we’re provided with is the Great Space Plague, so one has to assume the ban prefaced that event or else how would the Doctor know the Time Lord decree is in force during this time? We never saw him checking the date on the TARDIS console, but there’s no suggestion he was travelling in time to Metebelis 3, only through space. Hmm, complicated.]
The adventure plays itself out remarkably well to a worthwhile and suspenseful climax. The Doctor escapes the Mini-Scope in time to prevent the Drashigs causing a total meltdown of the machine. The final chapter veers towards philosophical conflict rather than a physical one, before suddenly re-pitching itself as an action piece. Indirectly the Doctor and Vorg also resolve the Minorian issue, although not the lot of the Functionaries. Ultimately the Inter Minor coup isn’t as interesting as the adventure in the Mini-Scope. Vorg’s sudden change of heart is clearly influenced by Shirna, who’s rather taken with the tall attractive Tellurian creature called ‘The Doctor,’ who proves them not to be as stupid or uncivilised as she’s been led to believe.
[Point of order 7: the term Tellurian is applied constantly to the trapped Earth humans. Does this mean Lurmans such as Vorg and Shirna are not human? Or does it mean they live far in the future, when 20th Century Earth is regarded as so violent and primitive its humankind is no longer considered human at all but Tellurian, e.g. Earth-bound.
[Point of order 8: the Doctor intends to return all the captured species to their own time and space; yet in episode 1 he related the tale of the S.S. Bernice as fact. If he returns the ship to Earth in the year 1926, that fact and all its associated implications will no longer exist, a whole different set will arise. So, is he returning the Bernice to the actual Earth of a future Jo Grant and UNIT or an alternative one, where a different Jo Grant, or a radicalized Brigadier exist? Question, questions, questions and no answer in sight…]
Carnival of Monsters has another clever script, wielded by competent direction. It falters every so often and while it entertains as efficiently as The Three Doctors, the events surrounding the Tribunal on Inter Minor tend to slow it down. These grey-faced bureaucrats simply aren’t dynamic enough, being too wrapped up in logistical democracy to be believed as vicious conniving rebels. The long list of obvious plot holes above gives rise to too many exponential narrative inconsistencies.
A well-deserved, but – like Jo Grant’s sycophantic joke in episode 2 – a slightly undercooked:
FRONTIER IN SPACE
This space saga sees the Doctor and Jo caught up in border infringements along the outer reaches of the Earth’s Empire, where a fragile peace exists with the competing Draconian Empire. Unknown to anyone, the Master is using the Ogrons to ferment a war, launching pirate attacks on both Earth and Draconian space craft. The different flight crews believe they are being attacked by their enemies because the malefactor’s mesmerising hallucinogenic makes the Ogrons appear either as Draconians or Humans. It is never specified, but the Master has clearly developed an off-shoot of the Keller Machine minus its entrapped alien [see The Mind of Evil] for that device made victims confront their greatest phobias with similar resulting effects. The Master plans to have the two Empires destroy each other in a galaxy-wide war, leaving the way open to conquest for his employers: the Daleks.
The adventure starts brilliantly with intrigue and excitement onboard a stricken cargo vessel which almost collides with the speeding TARDIS. To avoid a crash, the TARDIS lands the travellers inside the cargo ship and they walk straight into an Ogron attack.
[Point of TARDIS order: this is interesting as from the opening, we learn the TARDIS can travel in hyper drive and on its side and the craft spins violently when moving. This openly implies the space craft has an interior gravity. I’d never considered this before. Essentially, once in flight and out of the gravitational influence of larger objects (i.e. planets) the TARDIS will always appear upright to its crew. When Ian and Barbara first took off in the TARDIS the journey was a difficult, violent experience; was this because the ship wasn’t ready for take-off and in clearing the Earth’s atmosphere it caused the ferocious vibrations, temporarily switching off the internal gravity?
[Additionally, the opening to Frontier in Space is one of the rare occasions we see the TARDIS ‘in flight.’ In Fury from the Deep, we saw the ship plunge into the sea, but I assumed this was because it had materialised in mid-air. It appears I was wrong, as here we have an exterior visual representation of the TARDIS rotating and travelling at speed. As the series progresses, we will see more and more of these establishing shots and sometimes the TARDIS is rotating and other times not.
[So, why does the ship dematerialise? It obviously isn’t working like Star Trek’s transporter or a Travel-Mat [see The Seeds of Death], both of which’s effectiveness would be compromised by distance. It always felt more like a version of a molecular dissemination chamber, such as we saw in The Daleks’ Masterplan, but this also appears incorrect. Perhaps the dematerialisation we and characters witness occurs because on ‘taking off’ the TARDIS travels phenomenally fast as it passes through both space and time, appearing to vanish. However, if the craft is moving at such speeds, how can the crew of the space freighter see the TARDIS on their visual scanner? I’d like to say that’s because it is slowing down, or about to materialise, but that doesn’t seem correct as the TARDIS then materialises inside the ship and upright.
In the aftermath, believed to be spies, the Doctor and Jo are transported to Earth and imprisoned. From here on one or the other or both of them spend almost the entire next five episodes incarcerated. This makes for dully repetitive watching and is a new low in imagination from the producers. The adventure is enlivened by trips out of gaol to visit the Earth’s President’s quarters, the Draconian embassy, a lunar penal colony, the planet Draconia and the Ogron’s home world. The Doctor performs a tense spacewalk [twice, in fact, the second time nowhere near as exciting – odd, given it takes place towards the story’s climax], he almost gets sucked into space [a repeat of the scientific error from The Mutants], has a couple of fist fights with the Master and eventually gets severely wounded. The final chapter ends with him using the TARDIS’ telepathic communications to hastily contact the Time Lords. The TARDIS meanwhile spirals on through the universe, upright this time…
Excellent performances and some bold, combative dialogue keep us interested throughout this space opera. Vera Fusek’s under-pressure President, Michael Hawkins warmonger General Williams, Peter Birrel’s Draconian Prince and John Woodnutt’s Draconian Emperor are all brilliantly realised. Jon Pertwee and Katy Manning are sparking off each other better than ever. She’s particularly good in several confrontations with the Master. It’s great to see the nasty Time Lord undone by a nursery rhyme! Roger Delgado is slightly subdued this time out. It’s disappointing that once again the Doctor’s nemesis is being exploited by another alien race. The Master never seems to be working purely for himself; only in Season 8’s Colony in Space was Delgado’s erudite villain truly independent.
The story is fatally hampered by its conclusion, which is both rushed and inappropriate. The appearance of the Daleks is quite a nifty turn, but one which only serves to make us feel we've only been watching a prelude to the next adventure, Planet of the Daleks. Sadly, Roger Delgado was killed in a car accident a few months after filming and his character was ‘retired’ for a few years. His exit here is undeniably abrupt, but then at the time it was expected he would return. Malcolm Hulke’s novelisation Dr Who and the Space War changes the adventure’s ending and a short scene of internal reflection nicely withdraws the Master from the series.
Frontier in Space ought to be excellent, but it suffers from the ongoing imprisonment of its central characters as well as the Master’s unclear motivations. It is also a thinly veiled and much extended adaptation of the classic Star Trek episode Balance of Terror where the star ship Enterprise engages in combat with a Romulan craft as the two speed in and out of ‘the neutral zone.’ This is a defined area of outer space between the Federation and the Romulan Empire, established after a long and violent war. These border transgressions could signal the start of a new war. The Star Trek adventure touched on many themes, including intransigence, fear of the unknown enemy, diplomatic stasis and blatant bigotry, and Frontier in Space attempts to emulate this. The comparisons are fairly obvious, although wildly expanded, but unlike The Curse of Peladon, where a Star Trek episode was impersonated and bettered, here the result is less enchanting.
It’s interesting to note the very dignified interpretation of the Romulans in Balance of Terror. While both crews have impulsive, emotional youngsters on board, the experienced leaders display tact and guile and are portrayed as competent and scrutable. They have our sympathy as they juggle leadership, duty and friendship. Sadly, Frontier in Space isn’t quite so textured. Jon Pertwee’s favourite monsters were the Draconians. As imagined by costumer Barbara Kidd and make-up artist John Friedlander, the latex and rubber masks do provide the actors a tremendous amount of facial movement, allowing expressions to change and giving these bipedal, slightly lizard-like humanoid aliens an organic appearance totally absent from other creatures, such as the Sea Devils, or robots like the Cybermen or the Autons. The Draconians are elegant, intelligent and honourable beings. Their Emperor and his sceptical, questioning son display much diplomatic dexterity. The former is particularly astute in attempting to maintain peace between the warring empires. He’s aided immeasurably by a legend of Draconia’s past which tells of how ‘the Doctor' arrived in his space ship ‘the TARDIS’ and helped eradicate the Space Plague [not the same Space Plague referred to in Carnival of Monsters, the space time calendar’s all wrong for that]. This helpful explanation seems rather too convenient even for Dr Who.
Most interestingly, the Emperor is an autocratic monarch, like King Peladon. Unlike the Pels his race has reached out and embraced the stars, forming a great empire. Like the Pels, the people trust him. This allows the wise and experienced Emperor to make decisions from a strong power base unhampered by advisors. Humans meanwhile struggle to come to terms with differing opinions. As personified by General Williams, Earthlings are portrayed as arrogant and single-minded, stuck in a recurring groove of hate and misunderstanding. Many resent the peace treaty and fear the Draconians, considering the rival empire a threat. The female President attempts conciliation, but her fragile democratic strength is only a step away from faltering. She has to take decisions based on popular sentiment, not facts and understanding. Her own General has schemes against her, not specifically for his gain, but to ensure certain and strong military leadership and therefore civil control and stability. Their relationship is spiky and I enjoyed the hint of unrequited allure between them.
There are modern parallels here for British viewers, who have recently engaged in a society dividing Brexit debate which fostered anti-European sentiments based on scaremongering and misunderstanding. The central theme of Malcolm Hulke’s screenplay is also one of political intransigence, how cultures misinform based purely on their fears and ambitions.
Sadly, this thoughtful axle doesn’t turn in favour of the returning Ogrons, who look the part of simian mercenaries, but are sadly underdeveloped and roundly mocked to the point they cease to have any threatening persona. Even the Doctor, who is usually able to see beyond external appearances, constantly and disdainfully refers to them as “stupid.” This must surely be a misnomer. As I stated when reviewing The Day of the Daleks, these doltish characters are very much a product of their time and have dated horribly. Hulke, or perhaps director Paul Bernard, simply isn’t competent enough when providing them with any behavioural motifs or a realistic background. The Ogrons are capable fighters and they can even pilot star ships. They are not as dumb as everyone assumes them to be; although their decision making process lets them down. Given their home environment, it’s hardly surprising. The Ogrons live on a desolate world, one inhabited by enormous [unseen] reptiles and a peculiar jelly-like behemoth which they appear to worship as a god. They live in terror of these overbearing beings and hence react negatively to any authority figure, immediately becoming subservient or frightened. They tremble at the mention of Daleks and scatter before the oncoming [unseen] behemoth. When one of them is captured and caged, the Ogron stands forlornly at the cage bars, staring at the outside world. Jo Grant brings him / her a meal which includes a banana, the first item the Ogron greedily reaches for, and the scene seems to reinforce the idea of their beast-like doltishness. Later on, when the roles are reversed, and Jo is given a distasteful prison gruel to eat, she scornfully calls the Ogron “Cheerful.” A disagreeable remark from the normally pleasant Jo. Although they are physically well-able to overpower her, she has clearly drawn her own conclusions about the menace posed by these beings. Added to the monster’s brutish design, the blatant ogrish simpleton overtones come across very poorly in 2021. Not only does the constant pillory remove any ounce of terror they might provide, but the represented stupidity and the implied black-face is unpleasant to these modern eyes.
Even so, Frontier in Space is one of the best designed serials of Pertwee’s era. You can’t fault the costumes and make up departments. Cynthia Kljuco makes suave surroundings for the President, obtuse ones for the Emperor, soulless empty boxes for the prisons. The cargo vessel interiors are cleverly reused for several ships which isn’t as daft as it sounds. It makes perfect sense that the mass produced star ships of the 26th Century contain similar operational controls, cargo holds, airlocks, etc. The incidental music from Dudley Simpson is well-above par. Even the location shoots – much of it around the Hayward Gallery on London’s South Bank – have an otherworldly futurist atmosphere to them. The story has moments of tension and excitement, yet I didn’t feel rewarded after watching the tale and that’s probably because we’re not party to a full resolution. We have to assume Earth and Draconia remain at peace, that the President retains her job, the Emperor stays on his throne, General Williams retains his reformed position, the Master remains at large, and so on.
The story too often wallows in its own importance. The Third Doctor is probably at his most diplomatic and acerbic in this story. He’s thwarted by individual misinformed opinions and doesn’t hold back in letting them know it. Pertwee is memorably watchable playing the wrongly accused. Unfortunately, he and Jo exasperate matters by never explaining what they witnessed accurately; and they’re given ample opportunity. It takes Jo two episodes of imprisonment before she even mentions the Ogrons, and when she does no one batters an eyelid. To be fair, nobody is very communicative. The Earth military seem to be myopic in their opinion of the travellers, even after repeated use of a mind probe [a device more viscerally represented in Mike Hodges’ cult classic Flash Gordon (1981)]. Meanwhile the Draconian Prince takes almost five episodes before making war crime allegations at General Williams, a ruse which manages to both appal and unite the verbally warring empires, but you wonder what took him so long. This recurring fault is most evident when the Doctor is imprisoned on the human right’s emasculating Lunar Penal Colony and marks himself as a troublemaker. This particularly slow fourth chapter comes across as a pining advert for prison reform and should have been excised completely by the script editor as it is so obviously padding and slams the brakes on a good first half. Terrance **** was too close a mate of Malcolm Hulke so the episode stayed. The good and bad elements of Hulke’s writing are laid bare throughout the telling: politically, socially, morally, he’s focussed if over-opinionated; action, intrigue and drama, he’s got good ideas yet presents them in a remarkably flat manner.
Frontier in Space is a near gem, glowing on one side, unpolished on the other:
Carnival of Monsters sounds really good, lots of interesting ideas mixed together, and I always like stories about Carnie folk
other than the Three Doctors, you're getting deep into a run of serials I've never seen. I think of Pertwee as the earthbound Doctor, havent seen so many where he actually use the TARDIS. I'll have to search some of these out
PLANET OF THE DALEKS
Terry Nation returned to Dr Who especially to pen this tenth anniversary story. He revisits many images from his previous four Dalek adventures. To list a few:
1. The Daleks are holed up in an underground metal city [The Daleks]
2. They have subjugated the local population [The Dalek Invasion of Earth, The Chase]
3. Their invasion started with fire flares that carried a deadly plague [The Dalek Invasion of Earth]
4. They plan to release bacteriological spores to wipe out all life on Spiridon [in The Daleks they were going to fire a neutronic bomb]
5. The Spiridons are invisible [like the Marya in The Daleks’ Masterplan]
6. The Thals are the Doctor’s allies [The Daleks]
7. Jo Grant is saved by a friendly alien [as was Susan in The Daleks]
8. The Thals launch an attack through fissures of an ice volcano [they used a cave network in The Daleks]
9. The Thals are still a peace-loving race, but threatening and endangering their women turns the men a little angry! [The Daleks]
10. The Doctor finds himself on a strange planet [well, when doesn’t he?]
11. An ally falls for a companion [in this case Latep for Jo, in Invasion of Earth it was David for Susan]
12. The Thals need to send a second space craft to investigate what happened to the first as the communications have broken down [Mission to the Unknown, The Daleks’ Masterplan]
13. Spiridon is the most dangerous and uninhabitable planet of the 9th Solar System [Kembel was the most violent and vicious planet of the whole universe in Mission to the Unknown, The Daleks’ Masterplan]
14. The Dalek Supreme is different to the usual Daleks; this time he’s impressively black and gold, has rectangular lights, and is taller [different versions were used throughout the Dr Who series. This model was Terry Nation’s own and featured in the 1965 movie adaptation, which is the sort of fact a quiz show host might enjoy.]
15. There’s a spectacular cliffhanging reveal of a Dalek [numerous]
16. The Doctor is captured by the Daleks [numerous]
17. The Doctor is recognised by the Daleks [numerous]
18. A Thal impersonates a Dalek [as did Ian in The Daleks]
19. The Doctor and his allies hide out on the Plain of Stones and are attacked by the local wildlife [similar incidents occurred in Nation’s Dalek stories and in The Keys of Marinus]
20. There is a huge Dalek army [not Nation’s idea, but David Whitaker’s from The Evil of the Daleks]
21. The Daleks use an overhead antiseptic spray to administer a vaccine against their bacteria [it resembles the same method used to create human factor Daleks, also in Evil of…]
22. The story ends with the Daleks defeated, but only temporarily [almost all of Nation’s Dalek adventures after the premier suggest this, as the audience is aware from Invasion of Earth there is a sprawling Dalek empire]
There are probably more incidents I have failed to mention. Perhaps most importantly, Nation’s script revises the ‘those in peril’ format which worked so relentlessly well during Patrick Troughton’s ground breaking Season Five. Here a small detachment of Thal space commandos are attempting to destroy a Dalek base on a distant planet, unaware of the invasion plot the Doctor uncovered in Frontier in Space. The two forces combine and the adventure takes off.
It reads as if I should be lambasting and complaining about lack of authorial originality, but there is something rewarding and satisfying about rewatching all your favourite snippets of Dalek fortune and misfortune dressed up and condensed into a single exciting, colourful adventure. Despite some short falls, this story is undoubtedly one of my favourite Dr Who adventures of all time. For that, I suppose, my opinions are rather biased.
I enjoy Planet of the Daleks because it is an old-fashioned adventure story. It takes place on a strange, alien world, where not only are the indigenous population unfriendly and the Daleks marauding, but even the plant life is out to kill you. The world of Spiridon is brilliantly created by designer John Hurst. In the sixties, Dr Who was always good with jungle landscapes, but since the advent of colour seasons and the Earth-based UNIT stories, the show hasn’t required one. Nation’s script takes place almost entirely in the jungle, with its spitting flora, its hungry fauna, its violent invisible enslaved populace. It’s well realised and while I’m aware director David Maloney is shooting the same set from different angles, it barely shows.
I enjoy Planet of the Daleks because it doesn’t spend ages lecturing me about peace, bureaucracy, politics, scientific jargon, etc, etc, etc. There are brief moments. One fine exchange has the Doctor discussing the meaning of fear with the scientist Codal: “Courage isn’t just a matter of not being frightened, you know. It’s being afraid and doing what you have to do anyway.” Another has the Thal leader Taron explaining how Rebek’s presence could endanger them all, as he will think differently knowing his lover will be in danger. This minor sidestep from action to intimate drama is a neat observation. Love affairs never feature much in Dr Who, there’s David & Susan, Tanya & Leo in The Wheel in Space, Vicki & Troilus in The Myth Makers, by implication both Ian & Barbara and Ben & Polly appear to be couples, famously of course the Doctor and Cameca in The Aztecs; generally though, romance, as well as politics and philosophy, is eschewed in favour of thrills of a different kind.
Indeed it is those kind of thrills I enjoy most in Planet of the Daleks. It barely pauses. The Doctor falls into a deep coma while recovering from the laser blast he received at the end of Frontier in Space. Jo is scared he’s going to die and when the TARDIS lands – she doesn’t know where – the nonsensical thing to do is venture outside for help. So she does and gets infected with a deadly fungus, meets some Thals, hides from invisible aliens [some good CSO SFX here; Clifford Cully deserves a thumbs up for the wonderful nostalgic 1950s look of all the effects] and gets rescued by Wester, a friendly Spiridon. The Doctor meanwhile has recovered, gets rescued from his oxygen-exhausted TARDIS, meets the Thals, convinces them he really is the same Doctor who saved their race on Skaro so many generations ago and encounters a Dalek. And we’re only at the end of episode one! The pace doesn’t let up through the whole six episodes, which is unusual. Even the padding is worthwhile. That can’t often be stated of longer stories. Daleks are regularly fought and exploded. There are chases, fights, escapes, arguments, tension and intrigue. I mean, what more can you possibly want?
[Point of order: the events of The Daleks take place prior to this adventure, so one assumes the Thals have repopulated the planet Skaro. They have recently discovered interplanetary travel. I assume though, that events here must have occurred sometime after the events of The Evil of the Daleks, as the Doctor revisits the Dalek city at the end of that serial and there was no sign of the Thals on Skaro then. Alternatively, perhaps that portion of Evil… takes place so far in the future when the Thals have deserted their own home world, allowing the Daleks to repopulate it. This might appear to be so as the events of The Daleks’ Masterplan occur in the year 4000AD, some fourteen centuries later than this story. Of course, we may not be witnessing adventures in ‘Dalek chronological’ order. That would again lend credence to the idea that Daleks can identify individuals through some form of DNA scan, which I first suspected in The Power of the Daleks. The history of the Daleks will become even more complicated during the Fourth Doctor’s era.]
The performances are all-round first class. Some commentators reckon not, but I was engaged from the get-go. Jo lost and afraid without the Doctor; the Thals nervy, desperate, argumentative and indecisive; the Doctor forthright, yet also displaying fine moments of sentiment. I applaud the cast. Bernard Horsfall, back again for another run-out on the show, probably gives his best performance as Taron, the over-cautious, stoic, but practical leader of the depleted Thal commando squad. He’s pitted against the also returning Prentis Hancock as Vaber, all bristling indignation and youthful arrogance. When Jane How’s delicate and underused Rebek arrives, Vaber takes matters into hand with disastrous consequences. It suddenly becomes a race against time to smuggle bombs into the Dalek stronghold and detonate them close to a fissure of the volcano, thus drowning the comatose army in ice. If the model work’s a bit iffy, it still has a certain charm and recalls those snippets of long distance black and white Dalek v Dalek battles in Evil…
The accompanying music is first rate, as are Dick Mills’ sound effects, the jungle being particularly lively. The costumes recall the space suits worn by Cory and Lowery in Mission to the Unknown. Even the slightly beaten-up Daleks do it for me, as this suggests they’ve been on Spiridon for many years, first in battle, then construction, then for experimentation. It makes more sense they’d be scratched and scarred and less well bolted. That’s what makes the pristine Supreme Dalek so impressive, for he’s immaculate and gleaming. Towards the end of the story, as the Thals steal a Dalek spacecraft, the Doctor and Taron reflect on the effects of war, both on the combatants and the civilian population. “Don’t glamorise it,” the Doctor cautions. Given this serial was transmitted in 1973, when regular updates of the Vietnam war were still dripping onto the news programs, telling us clearly war was hell and contrasting with Hollywood’s gung-ho tales or the BBC’s own cheery shows like Colditz, it’s very brave to make this statement to a teatime, predominantly youthful audience. I applaud the moment of insight.
It only leaves me to remark that in episode five when the Daleks are preparing their bacteriological spores for release into Spiridon’s atmosphere. Wester upsets the test tubes, sacrificing himself and sealing the laboratory, leaving two vaccinated Daleks trapped for eternity inside the now infected lab. This scene was replicated by Christopher Wood in 1979’s Moonraker. The more you watch that movie, the more you see where Wood’s influences come from. Let’s not forget as well the resemblance of the volcano eruption to the classic climax of You Only Live Twice.
Like The Daleks’ Masterplan, The Web of Fear or The Invasion, there is much to enjoy in Planet of the Daleks. It isn’t a perfect story, but it isn’t attempting to be. What it wants to do and succeeds in doing is entertaining an audience and the serial does this in bucket loads, shaky scenery and dodgy effects and all.
I love it:
THE GREEN DEATH
The Green Death features my earliest memory of Dr Who. I didn’t see the original transmission, at least I don’t think I did as I would not even have been four years old. However the adventure was edited and retransmitted as a one-off ninety-minute special over Christmas 1973 and I’m fairly certain that’s where my abiding memory of horrific white maggots scrabbling out of the earth stems from. I am sure I wasn’t the only young viewer petrified by the bloody things. I watched the serial again when the BBC repeated the story in full in the 1990s and thoroughly enjoyed it, despite not being quite as scared. The Green Death is a non-stop, exciting, thought-provoking, ecological science fiction nightmare where big business has become culpable in the pollution of the planet. UNIT and the Doctor, naturally, are at the forefront of the battle to right a multitude of wrongs.
It’s fair to say, however that there is a tremendous amount wrong with The Green Death. First up are the horrendous special effects. To call them ‘poor’ is probably being generous. There is an over-reliance on colour separation overlay, used not only for SFX monster purposes, but also when extra scenes were required post location shooting. There are whole sequences with Jon Pertwee driving Bessie set against a pre-filmed backdrop. The white husked maggots only occasionally work, most notably in a repeated shot of one rising to attention, its salivating jaws open. Famously these phallic creations were indeed stuffed and painted condoms. They look awful when moving, static in a long shot and dreadful against the CSO backdrops. One larva pupates into an enormous dragonfly which recalls all the disasters of The Web Planet. We can’t even start to believe it’s real because it so obviously is not. The same goes for the pulsating green slime which infects anyone who touches it. There’s not even an attempt to make it look as if the slime isn’t an effect. The scenes set on an elevator cradle defy adequate interpretation, as does the Doctor and Jo’s paddle across a sea of green maggot infested slime.
Second is the complete absence of any coherence to the plot. Global Chemicals, headed by the control-freak Dr Stevens, has taken over an old Welsh colliery in Llanfairfach and been pumping biohazard waste from its chemical processes into the empty pit. It is never explained what was in those chemicals, but it’s dangerous enough to foment the fly larvae, which may or may not be alien and unknown or they may just be gigantic mutations. Stevens is in fact beholden to Global Chemicals’ super computer B.O.S.S., which has networked all seven of Global’s mainframes in an attempt to take over the world. It’s not clear how this becomes such a threat, especially as the solution is basically UNIT’s solution to everything: blow it up. The two threads of the story don’t gel well at all. Throw into the mix the hippie eco-friendly Nut Hutch, a commune of like-minded scientists led by Professor Clifford Jones, who are demonstrating against Global’s environmentally dangerous policies, a community of disgruntled miners [sadly side-lined after episode 3 in favour of the Nut Hutch] and an undercover corporate espionage plot involving Mike Yates, and it’s a wonder the adventure holds together at all.
Third up are the characters. There is a very stereotypical representation of the Welsh miner, who to a man scurry in speech, action and deed. Jo Grant too takes a desultory step back, reverting to the accident prone dizzy blonde we first encountered way back in Terror of the Autons. Actor Tony Adams, who plays the sympathetic Elgin, became ill and is simply ditched without mention and a replacement [Roy Skelton’s bland Mr James] is inserted to fill the gap. Even the Doctor comes across as a jealous, controlling type, casting longing, knowing glances at Jo, and malicious ones at Professor Jones. Stewart Bevan was engaged to Katy Manning in real life, so there’s a believability in their portrait of young love, however inauspicious the occasion. The two meet in a moment of mistaken identity as seventies porn music weeps over the soundtrack. Bizarre indeed. Things don’t get much better for them either. The Doctor begins to act the envious uncle, taking every opportunity to thwart their fledgling affair. It’s a bit creepy. Jon Pertwee always explained this as the Doctor being over-protective, but I’d like to see him try this kind of behaviour with Liz Shaw! Jo barely notices. The Prof does, but I think he’s quite pleased to better the Doctor, which is why he asks Jo to marry him.
Meanwhile, the Brigadier suffers less from the associated muddle. As always Nicholas Courtney ensures Lethbridge-Stewart is upright, forceful and confused in equal measure. He’s a good counter point to “the alarm bells of pollution” as exemplified by the vegan / climate change / environmentalist rhetoric of the Nut Hutch. The less said about Benton and Yates the better. Neither convince. There’s a disconcerting scene where Richard Franklin’s Mike Yates seems to flirt with Jon Pertwee’s Doctor, who is temporarily done up in drag, while the two of them infiltrate Global Chemicals. Images of the film version of Paddington suddenly sprang to mind. The best two figures are the villains: Jerome Willis’ intense Dr Stevens and the brooding, Get Carter-lite Ben Howard as the chauffeur-come-henchman Hinks.
So, given all these shortcomings, why does The Green Death succeed where so many other Dr Who adventures of this standard fail?
Well, it’s probably because unlike many serials it was designed to have a contemporary relevance and that message still resonates today. The underlying themes writer Robert Sloman introduces, that of a planet in peril from the tentacles of global business and the outreach of sophisticated technology, resound very clearly with a modern audience. When I watched this in 1994, I remember how up to date I considered the pollution plot; it wasn’t the result of nuclear testing, like the spiders in Them!, but a business decision to deliberately pollute wildlife. While we haven’t yet seen giant mutations, it is well documented that big business is polluting the world we live in: only this year Southern Water was handed a record fine for discharging untreated waste into Britain’s rivers. Equally as relevant is the argument over meat substitutes. I’m not personally in favour, but Prof Jones argues succinctly and coherently for a reduction of meat eating and a switch to organic protein rich fungi. This change is already occurring, albeit on a small scale, although the ongoing effect on our environment, good or bad, is still open for debate. Not open for debate is the idea of a global computer network which has begun to think for itself and – although this may still be a step too far – or is it? – even electronically hypnotise human brain patterns, enabling those effected to behave like drones. Perhaps it isn’t; is this not what many already do when hitched to their computer generated, efficiency measured, time managed work programs?
Sloman’s script makes these points and fixes them as dramatic moments in the narrative. We’ve seen this all before in Dr Who [the Primords in Inferno and W.O.T.A.N. in The War Machines, for instance] but The Green Death is a reinterpretation and reimagination which has lasted far longer than those two stories. Partly this is because director Michael Briant doesn’t waste any time dwelling on the inadequacies of his product. He drives the adventure forward with good scenes of action and drama. The steadfastly corny SFX actually provide some entertainment, allowing the audience can laugh away the tension. Confronted with a sea of slithering, condom-like, phosphorescent maggots, the Doctor exclaims: “Good grief!” And well he might. Jon Pertwee isn’t always at his best here, but he’s virile and combative, fighting off Hinks with Venusian Aikido, peering down microscopes at mucus cultures, crawling down abandoned coal pits, arguing the toss with Stevens, the Brigadier or Professor Jones, or verbally jousting with John Dearth’s manic B.O.S.S.
The Bimorphic Organisational Systems Supervisor is a computer in behest to efficiency – another aspect of corporate greed – but it has also taken on many human qualities from Stevens, sharing a sense of humour, impatience, a love of Wagner and a belief in its own infallibility. Logic doesn’t always come into B.O.S.S.’s make-up, which makes it a peculiarly human villain, despite being a supercomputer. Quite how it ever became so powerful is never explained. The eventual turn and destruction happens swiftly but is smartly realised.
Reading my comments, I think it’s not far wrong to say The Green Death perfectly encapsulated the general public’s perception of Classic Dr Who: genius Time Lord grapples with wicked monsters and crazed villains, his companions get in and out of trouble, things blow up, the scenery shakes, the special effects are distinctly dodgy and it all ends happily ever after.
Except this serial retains a poignant touch to its conclusion. Earlier the Doctor had finally made it to Metebelis 3 where he spent a moment admiring the sunset, before embarking on a ghoulish journey to retrieve a blue crystal. He gives the sapphire to Jo as a wedding gift. While the UNIT crew and the Nut Hutch embark on an impromptu celebration, the Doctor retreats silently outside, jumps into Bessie and drives across the hills, the starry night sky illuminated before him. He’s spent a long time with Jo Grant and the parting upsets him. As with Susan, his granddaughter, he can’t bring himself to part physically. There is no hug, no kiss on the cheek, no ardent goodbye. Earlier on he’d offered Jo “all the time in the world [neat for us OO7 fans!] and all the space” yet she prefers her time and space on Earth. He leaves her dispassionately and, as he always has, goes in search of other planets and other lives. Along with the final scenes of The Silurians and The Ambassadors of Death, this probably marks a high point in provocative Dr Who conclusions.
The Green Death may be fraying at the edges, but the themes are quintessentially Third Doctor and, while I suppose viewers can ignore the environmental message, I certainly can’t ignore those childhood frightening’s:
4 from 5.
Along with Season 5 and Season 7, Dr Who’s tenth anniversary serials can safely lay claim to be one of the best sets of the show’s history. Admittedly, there are only five stories, but generally the quality holds up exceptionally well. It’s fair to say the enthusiasm of the casts and the astuteness of the scripts go a long way to maintaining a high level of entertainment, even when some of the production values take a dip.
The season opens with a terrific nostalgia tinged serial combining all three incarnations of the Doctor and those elements of nostalgia continue to seep through all the other tales, which hark back to many storylines we’ve seen before, yet dress them up so effectively, they appear fresh and invigorated. This is particularly true of Planet of the Daleks and the eco-story The Green Death, which rehash familiar themes and incidents. Perhaps most rewarding was the relationship built between the Doctor and Jo Grant. With the Earth-bound stories, the role of the curious and slightly scientifically challenged companion has become spread across several characters: the Brigadier, Benton and Mike Yates all share the hapless lines. Initially, Liz Shaw’s assistant filled a more assertive female companion role, but Jo is nothing like that. At first, she appeared a fool, but she grew on the Doctor in the same way she grew on the audience and by the time she’s trapped on the S.S. Bernice, Jo has become well able to cope physically and mentally with the fraught trials of being a TARDIS companion. It helps that the Doctor displays patience and also a little sternness. He is, as Jon Pertwee suggests, over protective of her, but she both accepts and rebels against this preoccupation. More than anyone, Katy Manning fulfils the requirements of an archetypical companion: female, young, not naive but not the brightest of buttons, enthusiastic, curious, reliable and redoubtable. Her parting at the season’s end – in fact it is the Doctor not she who departs – is one of the best in the show’s history and demonstrates that Dr Who can be fun, scary and still understand and demonstrate human emotion.
The tragic death of Roger Delgado hastened Jon Pertwee’s exit from the role, but he still had another season to perform. The solidity of the earliest stories from his era, all those UNIT shenanigans, have been firmly dismissed and it is fairly obvious that more thought provoking narratives will take place in the far future from now on. The Brigadier and his clan clung on for three more seasons, but The Green Death and the excellent Season 10 is almost the last light, as if once Jo Grant’s bubbly presence departs, so does everyone else.
THE TIME WARRIOR
The debut serial of Season 11 is best remembered for Kevin Lindsay’s magnificent depiction of the Sontaran warrior Linx. These warlike aliens have a peculiar ‘squashed’ appearance, the result of developing muscles to withstand the tremendous gravity on their home planet. Lindsay’s movements and demeanour are suitably pinched. He’s also verbally forthright, revelling in the warrior theology of the Sontarans. There is nothing these powerful space soldiers love more than war and destruction and conquest. To that end they have been engaged in a centuries long battle with the Rutan, a conflict that has laid waste to galaxies. Sontarans are not invincible – they have an exposed nerve at the apex of their spine – but they are certainly imposing, devious, single-minded and a cut above the usual fare of Dr Who monster. As compositely created by Lindsey, costumer James Acheson and make-up artist Sandra Exelby, Linx is squatly mobile, laden with expression beneath a horrific latex mask, and comes with a bristling commanding presence. He’s entirely believable as a spaceship wrecked alien using his futurist technology to aid an escape from Earth as well as influence skirmishes between two feuding medieval barons. It’s probably one of the most impactful debuts of any monster, excepting the Daleks. There’s no development necessary: the Sontarans, in the body of Linx come fully formed, with a history, a purpose and a philosophy. Robert Holmes, who takes the antics of Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court as his jumping off point, has never written a more complete villain.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot else to please us in The Time Warrior. The story opens in England, the west country, the middle ages, where Irongron and his sidekick Bloodaxe, are plotting to depose the local Earl, Edward of Wessex. The Sontaran’s crippled spaceship lands on his estate and a mutual, and mutually distrustful, alliance is forged between Linx and Irongron, one which highlights their similarities as bloodthirsty soldiers as well as their differences. It is the differences which rankle as Holmes makes the historical characters so stereotypical they feel as if they’ve dropped out of an episode of television’s Robin Hood. When the Doctor joins the melee, he’s given to sparring verbally with his captors and making them look ridiculous. David Daker and John Carney play the two villains as if they are a comedy double act. At least they show some cheeriness. The pedantic Earl and his wife [June Brown, years before East Enders, but noticeably already Dot Cotton] come across as simply dull. Ditto Donald Pelmer’s Professor Rubliesh, one of several time-travelled, hypnotised and kidnapped scientists set to do Linx’s engineering work.
The plot is wafer thin. The tale relies on humour to propel itself forward. A lot of astute narrative mileage is made from the Sontaran and the Doctor being considered magicians by the locals [“These wizards and warlocks are a dangerous breed; we’d best be wary of him!”], but there are also several moments of high farce where there should be tension. The Doctor escaping an execution by firing squad was particularly lame. His impersonation of a fighting robot is similarly misjudged. The Doctor is very physical in this adventure. Stunt arranger Terry Walsh has his work cut out to make all the fight scenes watchable.
Linx repeats the same folly as the Meddling Monk, way back in Season Two [see The Time Meddler], and also has the same misfortune to come up against the Doctor. He seems as misguided. For instance, you do have to ask why he bothers designing a robot when surely it’d be easier to fashion more and better guns? Interfering with a civilisation’s natural time line rankles the Doctor all-ends-up, but Linx dismisses sentiment over a pathetic morsel like our Terra. His opinion of the Doctor’s race is similarly scathing: “Time Lord philosophy is egalitarian twaddle” he scoffs. Ooh, I like him! Mind you, even the Doctor condescendingly calls his fellows “galactic ticket inspectors.”
[Point of order on the Time Lords: this is the first story where the Doctor’s home planet receives a name. He calls it Gallifrey, which immediately marks him out as Time Lord to Linx, suggesting the Time Lords and the Sontarans have at some point a shared history.]
As you can tell, unlike the rudiments of plotting, humour ranks high on the script’s list of achievements, however misplaced. Luckily, there’s a new companion to deliver the excellent comic lines supplied by Robert Holmes. Sarah Jane Smith is a young journalist out for a scoop. Elisabeth Sladen makes an instant impression as the quintessential companion. Smart, clever and eager, she not only manages to verbally wrangle with the Doctor, but is equally capable dealing with sword swiping pikemen. Luckily, she’s intelligent enough to cope with the inherent disorientations of time and space travel. Like Ian Chesterton, she’s initially less convinced of the Doctor’s motives. Not aware he’s attached to UNIT, she believes he’s responsible for the disappearing scientists and organises a raid to capture him for interrogation. A combination of Liz Shaw’s intelligence, Jo Grant’s enthusiasm and Zoe’s cheekiness, Sarah – or Sladen, as it were – presents all the best aspects of her immediate predecessors and wraps them up in a bubble of all-knowing fun. She’s memorable from her very first scene. Jon Pertwee’s Doctor finds her an amusing challenge, but she’s measured him instantly for the conceited traditionalist he is.
Elisabeth Sladen and Kevin Lindsay might be doing sterling work, but everyone else is slackening off. The designs are standard and rather limited in scale. The action feels restricted because of it; the story really needed more expansive scenery than these awkward interiors. Some scenes appear to be filmed in completely inappropriate settings. Director Alan Bromley hasn’t got to grips with the action at all.
A final word must go to Bernard Lodge’s famous and iconic credit sequence, a psychedelic time-tunnel developed using the slit-screen technique pioneered by Stanley Kubrick for 2001. Utilised here for the first time, the moving, swirling bands of light offer an entirely new take on the world of time travel. The version for Season 11 isn’t the very best – the standing image of Jon Pertwee is inferior to Tom Baker’s face [see Season 12, to come] – but it is better than anything we’ve witnessed preluding Dr Who before. The diamond shaped logo also took on an almost mythic proportions, especially once Target books started to use it as the basis for the cover title font of their novel adaptations.
The Time Warrior starts the new season fairly well, but there are no fireworks:
3 from 5.
INVASION OF THE DINOSAURS
There’s no stretch of anyone’s imagination that can describe Invasion of the Dinosaurs as a good Dr Who story.
For much of its length, this adventure is borderline hysterically funny. The dinosaur monsters themselves are hilarious, hence there’s a distinct lack of tension, not helped by four cliff-hangers featuring these marauding plasticine mock-ups. The Doctor spends most of his time trying to capture one or attempting to evade his own arrest on Wimbledon Common. Sarah Jane Smith meanwhile goes all girl-power on us, utilises her journalistic skills to good effect and virtually solves the mystery and foils the plot all on her lonesome. UNIT and the Brigadier are reduced to tossing grenades at a tyrannosaurus rex.
It’s disappointing, for the serial began tremendously well, with the TARDIS landing in a deserted London and the travellers encountering a gun-toting looter who later turns up dead and covered in blood beside his crashed escape vehicle. A gory beginning, but that’s about as realistic as the story gets. Once a pterodactyl enters the fray and the Doctor and Sarah are captured for the first of many occasions the rot sets in. A clutch of environmental fanatics led by the M.P. Charles Grover and aided by a disillusioned Mike Yates plan to ‘roll back time’ to Earth’s ‘golden age’ and repopulate it with a band of brothers and sisters holed up in an underground fake spaceship. These unfortunates think they are bound for a new world in a new galaxy. They’re as gullible as the meteorologists in Enemy of the World. Elisabeth Sladen has a series of edgy scenes getting into and out of the fake space ship, battling Grover and his sidekicks as well as the new age pioneers. Jon Pertwee meanwhile looks baffled, frustrated and embarrassed all at the same time.
Malcom Hulke’s screenplay is deadly serious. It draws a neat paradox with The Green Death, where the environmentalists were the heroes. Here they are the villains and quite capable of atrocities as callous as any dictatorship. Without any humour [accepting those dinosaurs] the serial becomes very leaden. Nobody emerges from the mess with any glory, especially Clifford Culley, the F/X wizard responsible for the woeful look of all the monsters. The cast is peppered with actors who have been on the show before or will do so again. Given the villains’ scheme amounts to the extinction of every living creature on Earth, you’d expect them to be as insanely zealous as Prof Zaroff [see The Underwater Menace]. Sadly, to a man, they play it straight, polite and dull. If it wasn’t for Elisabeth Sladen’s verve the story wouldn’t be worth watching at all.
Quite possibly one of the worst Classic adventures ever:
1 from 5.
DEATH TO THE DALEKS
The Doctor and Sarah are anticipating a holiday on the beautiful ocean world Florana. Suddenly, the TARDIS loses power and crash lands on a nearby planet. Outside, everything is shrouded in fog. The Doctor, despite assuring Sarah he won’t wander off, does just that and gets attacked by the natives. Sarah battles another inside the ship, battering the poor thing to death with the lever used to hand-crank the TARDIS’ doors open. [Is its body still there?] Desperate to find the Doctor, Sarah ventures outside and instead follows a beacon of light to an enormous, beautiful, living city. [One of the 700 Wonders of the Universe – along with Florana’s effervescent seas, no doubt…] Sarah is captured by the rock-like Exxilon natives, who worship the city as a god. Meanwhile the Doctor befriends the remainder of a Marine Space Corps mission sent from Earth to mine parrinium, an element vital to the vaccine against the space plague. [This is the third such plague mentioned in recent stories; none of them are related.] A second space ship lands and it too appears to have lost power during its descent. When the bay doors open, four Daleks sweep into view, determined to exterminate.
I summarised the outline of episode one of Terry Nation’s Death to the Daleks because it is so unusually good, particularly the initial fifteen minutes, which are as eerie and beguiling as the beginning of The Mind Robber. The Doctor and Sarah [and us] are perplexed by the lack of power in the time capsule. The mystery thickens like the fog. The lighting is dark and full of shadow. Bill Matthews’ camera angles are off-kilter, unusually placed, full of closeups in the halo of a flickering oil lamp. Bob Raymer’s editing is sharp and builds tension. Carey Blyton’s strange oboe-like incidental score adds atmosphere. John Friedlander’s masks, Rowland Warne’s costumes and Magdalena Gaffney’s makeup turns the Exxilons into organic living stone beings, their enormous eyes suggesting they have lived their whole lives underground; they’re so good at times they really do seem to blend seamlessly into the stony quarry. [I was reminded of the Rock Men from Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe.] The wonderous white city looks spectacular and is covered in strange hieroglyphs. Elisabeth Sladen is excellent as a scared, confused and distinctly nervous companion.
The problem with Death to the Daleks isn’t the opening episode, which sustains the action well and paints the narrative effectively, it’s the other three, which are painfully slow, devoid of almost all suspense and riddled with the usual plot holes. The Exxilons become uninteresting. So do the Daleks; why, we ask, are they in the story at all? The Earth party are very one dimensional. None of them convince. The set design is unimaginative at best; most of the action takes place in a series of badly realised caves. The story lumbers its way through these tunnels, a number of dreary verbal confrontations between humans and Daleks and a complicated troupe of mental and physical games set to thwart the Doctor as he attempts to destroy the city. The music score, which at first provided an extra layer of tension, becomes annoyingly, numbingly repetitive. Jim Ward’s special effects are ordinary, which is being kind. It’s a tremendously long-winded adventure even at four episodes. Director Michael Briant doesn’t seem to care much. There are no surprises. We all guess how it ends. Capping everything, episode 3 features possibly the worst cliff-hanger ever, certainly the of worst of the Jon Pertwee era.
There are a few neat touches. A city designed so well it begins to function as a living entity, repairing, defending and seeking energy to power itself, is a good expansion of the mad computer storyline. Its serpent-like mechanical ‘roots’ were rather good at destroying Daleks. It’s humanoid anti-bodies were also quite chilling. The skeletons of previous interlopers into the city’s interior maze provided a glimmer of horror; the last visitor decayed to a husk was effective. The idea that the Exxilons are one of the oldest civilisations in the universe and taught humans how to build is worthy, but now has a touch of Ancient Aliens about it. The character of Bellal, a small shrew like creature [male or female?], is well portrayed by Arnold Yarrow. The Daleks overcoming their lack of power by designing old fashioned bullet guns was cheerfully done. [But how come their sensors still function?] The melting cityscape is a worthwhile climatic shot, the best of the paltry effects. The Earth leader, Dan Galloway, is written as a callous collaborator – a variant on the unsympathetic innocent, he isn’t after all particularly naïve, merely stupid. He turns hero by sacrificing himself. It’s unusual for Dr Who to offer a character shades of grey, but they are very obvious shades.
A Dalek story is normally an excuse for some sort of joy, but this serial is very moribund indeed. Be thankful for that excellent opening episode then; without it Death to the Daleks certainly wouldn’t merit my score of:
THE MONSTER OF PELADON
The Doctor returns to Peladon, but the TARDIS lands him fifty years hence and into a whole heap of new trouble.
Not much has changed on Peladon since they joined the Galactic Federation. The Pels are still a suspicious bunch, operating a feudal hierarchical patriarchal society which favours the haves over the have nots. King Peladon has passed away and his young, naïve, waiflike daughter Thalira is Queen. She occupies the role in name only as women have no position in Pel society. She’s stymied too by having her chief advisor and mentor, Ortron, being both Chancellor and High Priest. He’s adamant the spirit of Aggedor has returned to punish the Pels for daring to mine the planet’s rich trisilicate deposits for the Federation. Trisilicate has become a valuable mineral as it is fundamental in the construction of military armaments to aid the Federation’s destructive war with Galaxy Five. The miners are revolting – and that’s without even mentioning their dirty outfits, craggy facial hair and permed badger wigs – as they’ve not been party to the benefits of progress, which Ortron, being a traditionalist, has staunchly kept for the elite. The shrill Federation Ambassador Alpha Centauri is trying and failing to placate all sides.
There’s plenty to admire in Brian Hayles’ final screenplay for Dr Who. The parallels with the Russian revolution are very obvious, the backwardness of the miners as well as their loyalty to the Queen hints strongly at the lot of the peasant serf. There are factions within the revolutionaries, moderates like Gebek are overshadowed by the young, impulsive violence of extremists such as Ettis. This balancing act between Menshevik and Bolshevik is well drawn. The passivity and unworldliness of the Queen aptly reflects the Tsar, while the wily, misguided Ortron represents the titled class. The mix gets confused a little by the outsider Eckersley, an Earth engineer up to no good, provoking discontent with his machinations. His role seems more like the East India Company in the Raj. If anything, he’s the weak link in the first half of the adventure.
While the politics is worthwhile, it does get very laboured in the telling and isn’t helped by the cast’s poor interpretation of the characters. Nina Thomas is non-existent as the Queen. Frank Gatliff’s Chancellor is one note and over-the-top, lacking all the depth of Hepesh in The Curse of Peladon. In fact, the longer it progressed the more the story felt like a rerun of the earlier adventure: the Doctor is treated like a criminal, captured, clears his name, evokes the wrath of the High Priest, gets chucked into a dungeon and pacifies a growling Aggedor. Sarah isn’t a lesbian – at least I don’t think she is – so there’s no room for a love story between Queen and companion. Where’s Sgt Benton when you need him? He’s always good with the ladies [see The Daemons and The Green Death.] Add in the countless secret doorways, the muted Queen’s Champion [Do these loyal servants have their tongue cut out for the pleasure of service? Another peculiar Pel tradition, no doubt] and the endless running around in tunnels and it’s no wonder the serial begins to drag.
Luckily at the end of episode 3, the Ice Warriors drop into the fray and the pace picks up immeasurably. Alan Bennion is once again outstanding as an Ice Warrior Lord, this time a villainous incarnation. Azaxyr is a consummate villain, installing his rule of law with authority, speed and skill. Even when losing control, he retains an air of supremacy, which is unusual in Dr Who, as most baddies tend to be put firmly in their place. Not here. Azaxyr retains his warrior ethos to the end. He’s leading a treacherous faction of the Martian class, who dream of a return to the years of war, conquest and dominance. [This in itself reads like a Dr Who story which has never been told…] Azaxyr’s imposition of martial law and subjugation of the Pels has overtones of colonial expansion, exploitation and empire building.
Once again the politics and motivations of the characters in Brian Hayles’ script are more interesting than the counter-revolution action, which is by turns robust, frantic and occasionally laughter inducing. There’s an awful lot of misguided self-sacrifice, inactivity in the throne room, chasing after a sonic lance, wailing from Alpha Centauri [congratulations again to Ysanne Churchman for her vocal interpretation], long ineffective speeches and wars in those wretched tunnels. It also features a moment of high suspense as the Doctor battles a psychedelic mind scrambling sentient security device, an effort which almost kills him. Sarah is suitably sombre. Her tears wake the Time Lord from his self-induced sensory withdrawal. A neat touch. He’s almost cruel; misinterpreting her distress as some sort of weakness. Jon Pertwee’s usually forward thinking Third Doctor suddenly comes across as backward as the Pel elite. The cad.
The adventure ends smartly enough, but however it’s dressed up, Monster... isn’t so much a sequel to Curse… more a reinterpretation. It looks great – those dreadful miners aside – so you can’t moan about the technical aspects. It succeeds in the same manner, but that’s not really enough for a direct follow up. Dr Who had never ventured into ‘sequel territory’ before and all the associated pitfalls of ‘universe creation’ which we’ve come to recognise in 21st century cinema. On this evidence it’s ill-advised.
The Monster of Peladon is okay, but it won’t win many hearts. One wonders too if the legacy of the Doctor’s visits will ever be enough for the poor primitive Pels:
PLANET OT THE SPIDERS
At the climax to episode one of Jon Pertwee’s ultimate outing as the Doctor, a quintet of crazies at a Buddhist retreat summon up a force of evil: as Sarah and Mike Yates look on from hiding, an enormous spider materialises in the centre of the mandala. This is one of the greatest cliff-hangers in the show’s history. It’s one of the few moments I vividly remember from the last throes of the Pertwee era. It scared the bejesus out of me and I have been an arachnophobe all my life thanks to this story.
Sadly the remainder of Planet of the Spiders fails to match this bravura scene. It’s a very poor adventure all round. The support acting is borderline atrocious, from John Dearth’s salesman with a power complex, to the jokey UNIT crew, from Kevin Lindsay’s tippety boo Cho’Je, to Gareth Hunt’s West Country colonist’s accent [yes, Gambit from The New Avengers, virtually unrecognisable], from Richard Franklin’s reformed Mike Yates, to George Cormack’s Time Lord in disguise K’Anpo. Saddle all this with a run time which seems at least two episodes too long and you’ve got a tough watch all-round. The direction, from Barry Letts, is unusually flat; Robert Sloman’s script is confused and touches on so many aspects of psychology, Eastern philosophy, E.S.P., cults and witchcraft, that frankly, it’s impossible to decipher it. The designs are appalling, especially the right-angled alien sets; Rochelle Selwyn ought to be ashamed. When the Doctor is captured after yet another demonstration of his skills with Venusian aikido, even he reflects: “This is getting monotonous.”
There’s a resigned air to the story, as if everyone knows they are filming the last scenes with Jon Pertwee and have almost stopped trying. The adventure is more interesting for drawing together unresolved elements of the Third Doctor’s recent history. Jo Grant returns the Blue Crystal to him and it becomes the prize for a dominant race of genetically mutated spiders. These monsters travelled to Metebelis 3 in an Earth colony space ship, when they were only normal sized arachnids. The Doctor’s own Metebelis 3 adventure, briefly seen in The Green Death, occurred many centuries in the past. The colonists have survived on the planet for 433 years and having once been space travellers have regressed to a primitive lifeform. It isn’t clear why this is, unless that’s how the spiders want it.
The properties of the Blue Crystals increased the eight-legs size as well as their mental power. Now they speak, can control human life forms, which they call two-legs, shoot deadly bolts of cell destroying negative energy and appear to be able to travel through space thanks to the summoning power of extra sensorial perception. It sounds exciting, but this is a very dull serial. The story feels constrained. Many scenes are curtailed. There’s something of a paradox here, as overall it feels exceptionally long winded. The pacing is completely haphazard. For instance, a whole episode is taken up with a pointless car and air and sea chase which tries to out-Bond James Bond. The later episodes on Metebelis 3 are simply dreary, with hardly any dramatic build up, friendships formed in seconds and no explanation to what is happening. The adventure splits its time badly between the dull alien world and the very boring machinations at the Buddhist retreat, where the properties of the crystal help the mentally challenged Tommy develop a keen intelligence. John Kane is probably the best thing in the serial – spiders apart – and he deserves plaudits for making the naïve Tommy sympathetic.
The spiders themselves are remarkably believable. They look horrible and vibrate with a lifelike pulsing, jumpy timbre. The voices are supplied by Ysanne Churchman [she of Alpha Centauri], Kismet Delgado [the late Roger Delgado’s widow] and Maureen Martis. Congratulations all round for that trio, who breathe character into essentially static beings. The scenes where Sarah is possessed by the Queen and the horrid insect clings to her back in its death agonies are frequently cited as some of the eras defining moments. I wouldn’t disagree. The story certainly has flashes of class, usually when those eight-legs are on screen petrifying actors and audience alike. Unfortunately there isn’t enough of that kind of drama.
[Contemporary reaction suggested the spiders were considered too horrific for a children’s show. This tells us that Dr Who was certainly a lot more adult in the 1970s than we might think. The producers though, must have considered their core audience able to cope with this kind of story and monster. As the show developed into the era of the Fourth Doctor, the horrific elements of science fiction were highlighted more and more and the show became a focus of anger for the National Viewers and Listeners Association. I digress.]
Eventually, the Doctor has to confront his greatest fear and returns the crystal to the Great One, a magnificently gigantic spider. Possessing the crystal will effectively kill it. Odd though, to think the Doctor’s greatest fear is fear itself. That’s a psychological tautology if ever there was one. Earlier on he suggests it is his thirst for knowledge which is his greatest weakness, but the Great One says not: yes, she recognises the Doctor’s pride, but taunts him when he displays true dread: he’s never been afraid before, apparently.
The Doctor returns to UNIT H.Q., mortally weakened, where K’Anpo explains the cycle of regeneration. This is the first occasion the Time Lord rejuvenating process has been so named. The Brigadier looks unimpressed: “Here we go again,” he mutters as Jon Pertwee changes into Tom Baker. K’Anpo, of course, is the hermit who lived behind the Doctor’s house and gave him much sage advice [see The Time Monster]. Another renegade Time Lord who has chosen to live on Earth, K’Anpo is able to levitate, dematerialise, kick-start regenerations and project an image of his future self, useful for the story but completely impractical in real terms. Sarah is distraught again; she keeps seeing the Doctor get killed. It must be tremendously upsetting, poor lass; no wonder she’s tearful.
Planet of the Spiders isn’t the fitting end one might have hoped for the Jon Pertwee era. The spiders make it worthwhile, just, but it’s a lacklustre enterprise all round. The overriding feeling at the finale is one of relief it’s finally over. Perhaps five years was too long for one actor to inhabit the role and too long for a production team to keep creating new and inventive stories. Change then couldn’t come soon enough:
2 from 5.
The Third Doctor’s era comes to close after five years and twenty-four stories. The final season of Jon Pertwee’s stately and statesmanlike Doctor is something of a disappointment, suffering from a paucity of ideas and a sense of going through all the necessary motions without any idea of where exactly everyone is going. Thank goodness then for the ever watchable Elisabeth Sladen as the inquisitive, emotionally compact, independent and cocky journalist Sarah Jane Smith. Without her presence the season might be completely unbearable. She provides hints of the conflict, meddlesomeness and intellectual curiosity the show would display in abundance in the coming years. The less said about the dreary stories the better. They are, in the main, repetitions of dramatic elements and overarching themes we’ve already witnessed in Dr Who, although in such a long running show and in an age lacking the online fan support network and ‘universe-building’ ethos, this was less of a problem; fans wouldn’t always remember the individual stories. It was the advent of the Dr Who Weekly magazine and the Target novelisations that did much to restore memories of past adventures.
However, the Third Doctor’s reign must be viewed as a consummate success, if only because the standard of production, particularly the scripts and performances, was so high and maintained so well for such a long period of time. There may be several reasons for this.
Firstly and most obviously, the show was made and transmitted in colour. This enhances the look of the program even when the content is ropey. The special effects come and go; some stories F/X seem a far cut above others. This was to be expected given the paltry budget available in comparison to some US shows, or even the commercial monies available to independent television. One of the most significant decisions taken by the producer Barry Letts was partly brought about because of the expense of colour film. The seasons only ran for twenty five weeks instead of the usual forty-two. This meant only five stories were created each season allowing significantly more time and money to be applied to each serial’s production values. Poor design had often let down the show in the past. The early seventies’ adventures genuinely look and feel like landmark serials. There is a sense of something important happening when we watch Spearhead from Space, The Silurians or The Daemons.
Secondly, the standard of support casting was, for the most part, exemplary. Actors gave their performances depth and a level of emotional involvement only rarely seen in the show before. It is noticeable that the Doctor, given mature companions in Liz, Jo and Sarah, doesn’t have to spend his time pampering them. He’s possibly over-protective, particularly of Jo, but this seems to be more from his own ego, the presentation of himself as a guardian of his brood, which also includes the UNIT crew and anyone who happens to drop into the plot. Elsewhere, characters like Inferno’s Professor Staelhman, Vorg and Shirna in Carnival of Monsters or Lawrence, Quinn and Masters from The Silurians raise audience participation to a new level as we identify with these people’s failings, ambitions and regrets. The villains [note: not necessarily monsters] are equally engaging, Linx the Sontaran probably taking the highest accolades, but Omega and Hepesh come close runners-up. It’s hard not to forget the guest appearances of Patrick Troughton and William Hartnell which added humour and gravitas to an otherwise run-of-the-mill The Three Doctors. Perhaps the only real disappointment is the poor showing of women. As barriers were being broken down, there’s a general imbalance between male and female roles; only occasionally was a woman provided with a position of authority or intellect. The loss of the no-nonsense Liz Shaw, with her undeniably intellectual as well as physical sexiness was keenly felt here.
Thirdly, the enforced Earth-bound settings aided the show tremendously. Location shooting could be committed to without making a mockery of the story. Production design became much simpler as there was no need to spend time and cash imagining alien worlds. Of all Pertwee’s adventures, only seven are set entirely on recognisably alien planets, and of these the ‘aliens’ are humans or humanoid in all of them, excepting the Daleks, mutants and spiders, who share the floor anyway. There is something comforting in the familiarity of the surroundings and the knowledge that at the end of every adventure, our planet is safe in the Doctor’s dignified hands.
Fourthly, of course, the Earth stories allowed the UNIT officers to share the load of a ‘companion’ role. While this succeeded well for two seasons, it’s disappointing that as the era continued, Nicholas Courtney’s Brigadier was portrayed more as a buffoon. I dislike him in the jokey performances of Planet of the Spiders and The Time Monster. He’s the weakest of the regular cast in The Three Doctors, where his bafflement seems out of character given his experiences with the Doctor over the years. I prefer to recall his and his battalion’s efforts in Season 7, where he was a commander of some steeliness. The alternative universe episodes in Inferno in particular displayed a latent side to the Brigadier’s character we never saw again. Disappointing.
Generally though, the acquaintance with a regular cast, who could drop into and out of a serial whenever necessary was appreciated [certainly by this viewer]. It also means writers don’t have to keep introducing new characters. This did become problematic in Season 8 when each story featured the Master, who despite being a surrogate evil twin to the Doctor, virtually became a companion, so often did he switch sides and aid our heroes in preventing disaster. Roger Delgado was always a hoot and frequently an excellent adversary, but he was used too often and his appearances were diluted by his over reliance on other alien races to fulfil his aims.
Lastly, the recurring themes of damaged environments, confused bureaucracies, anti-colonialism, anti-fascism, anti-communism, pacifism, the meek inheriting the earth [or Peladon or Solos] and cooperation across galaxies / races / classes, are well presented and in the main do not interfere with our enjoyment of what we are watching. These themes did become somewhat tub-thumping by the time Malcolm Hulke and Robert Sloman reached their final stories, and you do wish they’d give the soapbox a rest, but overall the educational and thought provoking aspects of the serials are to be lauded. Indeed, some of the arguments raised are still relevant today and if that isn’t great writing, I don’t know what is.
Perhaps the final words ought to be about Jon Pertwee himself. While William Hartnell was always the crotchety, secretive grandfather and Patrick Troughton the cheerful, jittery uncle, Jon Pertwee comes across as your noble father. His performance as an action man of virility, democracy and statesmanship probably went further than any other aspect of the show’s early seventies success in ensuring its continued prominence in the TV schedules. He may not have liked the Daleks much, but he clearly liked the show. He never made fun of it. He was always in a position of authority, be it moral, physical or intellectual. He always had a plan. It was heartening to know he was on your side. You knew the Third Doctor would never let you down. When he does – or appears to – it is a shock. While Tom Baker may have provided Dr Who with its international standing, it is Jon Pertwee whose high profile and excellent performances set the foundation stones for the show’s continued and expanded success.
Jon Pertwee as the Third Doctor
Nicholas Courtney as the Brigadier and Caroline John as Liz Shaw
And for her longevity, the bubbly Katy Manning as Jo Grant
I'm taking another short break before continuing with Tom Baker's reign.
I'll post a few interludes in the meantime to whet your appetites.
I hope everyone's who's reading is enjoying my efforts. Only fifteen more seasons to go !