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Who Review: Death to the Daleks

As promised at the end of the previous story, “Invasion of the Dinosaurs,” the Doctor is taking Sarah Jane to the paradise planet of Florana for a well-deserved holiday, when the TARDIS experiences an inexplicable power drain. Using an oil lamp to guide their way, the Doctor and Sarah Jane go outside to find they are not on Florana at all. After a run in with the planet’s native inhabitants, they encounter a team from the Marine Space Corps who, like the TARDIS crew, have been forced to land due to something interfering with their power supply. The MSC crew’s interest in the planet, Exxilon, is a mineral called Parrinium, which they need to cure a deadly plague that threatens the lives of 10 million people. However, no-one is leaving Exxilon until they discover the source of the power interference. And to complicate things, old enemies of the Doctor have shown up with plans of their own…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen this serial. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

“Death to the Daleks” was broadcast between February 23rd and March 16th, 1974. The four part story was written by Dalek creator Terry Nation, and features a lot of classic Terry Nation problem-solving puzzles. In typical Nation world-building style, the planet’s inhabitants, the Exxilons, are divided into two groups: those that worship the beautiful city with its glowing tower, and the heretics who see the city as the cause of their problems, and want to destroy it. The city worshipers chant and perform rituals, such as sacrificing foreigners to the city by dropping them into a pit and leaving them at the mercy of the creature that lives beneath (more about that in a moment). The heretics live underground in fear of the fanatics, plotting a way to bring about the city’s downfall and freeing their people from its tyranny.

And then there’s the city itself, built by a highly advanced civilization to be self-sustaining to the point where it acts like an organism, repairing itself and creating antibodies to deal with invaders. It’s the beacon on this city that is preventing the flow of power within any machine that comes within its vicinity. This includes flash lights, but not oil lamps. For some strange reason, it also includes Dalek guns, but not Dalek motors–they are still able to move around.

The acting in the story is good, especially Elisabeth Sladen. She plays Sarah Jane with such conviction, you can see in her eyes she is totally sold on making you believe this is real. It’s a shame Nation gave her the ultimate cliché Who companion line, “What is it, Doctor? What’s happening?” at the moment the lights go out in the TARDIS. It seems out of character for her. Otherwise, we begin to see why Sarah Jane fast became a fan favorite.

For that alone, this story is worth watching. There are plenty of odd moments that, strangely, make time spent with “Death to the Daleks” even more worthwhile. These odd moments fall into two categories, odd in a good, quirky or unusual sense, and odd in a… well, just plain odd sense. On the “good” side, we have the Doctor going off without Sarah Jane while she goes to change into something a bit warmer than her beach costume, just after Sarah Jane tells him not to go off without her. We see Daleks unable to use their weapons, so they adapt their guns to fire bullets. Also, there’s the Doctor’s ominous command to Sarah Jane before he enters the city: “If I don’t come back, go with them” (i.e., the Marine Space Corps). That line adds a level of intensity, showing a hint of trepidation, that the Doctor really doesn’t know what he’s getting into. And then there’s the Doctor’s almost inappropriate humor at the end, as the city melts, undoubtedly killing all who are within: “Pity. Now the universe is down to 699 wonders.”

On the just-plain-odd side, we have the Daleks using model TARDISes for target practice with their new weapons. There’s the awkward battle between the Dalek and the “root” monster in the underground pit, clearly a victim of budget constraints. The “root” looks like a vacuum cleaner hose with a headlight. In fact, it probably is a vacuum cleaner hose with a headlight.

And then there’s the whole puzzle scene at the end of episode three and beginning of episode four, which deserves its own paragraph. For some reason I thought these puzzles were reminiscent of Nation’s “The Keys of Marinus” from 1964, where the TARDIS crew had to go through a series of quests to find a set of keys. Unlike the “Marinus” trials, though, these puzzles are a bit lame. First, we have a maze. A big maze on a wall. And in the room are the skeletons of those who couldn’t figure out how to draw a line from start to finish, and spent so long on it, they died. It’s a MAZE for crying out loud! They’re not that hard. Even one this big! If you take your time, perhaps an hour or so, it wouldn’t be that hard to solve. Sorry, but I would hardly call that an intelligence test. Then we have the floor puzzle, which the Doctor doesn’t even figure out; he just uses the sonic screwdriver to tell him which areas are safe. Where’s the logic in that? AND… they made seeing the floor puzzle the episode three cliffhanger!! “Look out!” says the Doctor to Bellal, his Exxilon friend, and the camera zooms in on the extremely threatening red and white floor tiles!!! DUH DUH DUH!!!! Eeeeerrrrrr… oooeeeoooo…. *sigh* That really wasn’t well planned. And then there’s the mind attack, which was probably the most effective of the “challenges.” While all this is going on, the Daleks are hot on the Doctor’s heels. Except… how did they solve the maze when the Dalek’s plunger couldn’t have reached to the starting position, and is too big to accurately trace the correct path? And since they got through while the Doctor and Bellal were just about finished with the Tiles of Doom, how come they didn’t catch up? What’s more, the Daleks were able to glide over the tiles, sustaining little damage from the electric bolts that would have fried the Doctor. And yet it took them ages to get anywhere close to the Doctor and Bellal!

One more point of odd interest. There’s a scene where the Daleks are using the Exxilons and the Marine Space Corps crew to mine for Parrinium. One Dalek is guarding Jill, a crew member, in a cave, but Jill escapes, with help from Sarah Jane. The Dalek realizes its prisoner has fled, and instead of immediately setting out to recapture her, has a complete mental breakdown. This is Dalek depression at its worst. “I have failed! I have failed!” it cries out until it shuts down completely. Are the Daleks aware of the deep psychological issues some of their number have?

Oh, and just one last thing: I have never understood the title. Why “Death to the Daleks”? Isn’t that what everyone wants in a Dalek story? Perhaps someone could explain that to me.

To sum up, as I said, this serial is worth watching for the performances and the generally good story. It’s even worth it for all the strange and quirky parts I mentioned above. 🙂

Who Review: The Time Warrior

A Sontaran spaceship crash-lands on Earth in the Middle Ages. Linx, the sole occupant of the craft, is discovered by Irongron, a robber baron, and his men. Unable to effect repairs without help, he cuts a deal with Irongron. Supply a place to work and raw materials, and he will provide weapons by which Irongron can fight his neighbor, Lord Edward of Wessex, and take his castle. But these medieval supplies are not sufficient. Linx needs technical know-how, but for that he must steal from another time…

Meanwhile, back in the 20th century, the Doctor is helping the Brigadier investigate the mysterious disappearance of scientists from a top research center. Sarah Jane Smith, a journalist, infiltrates, posing as her scientist aunt. Sarah’s curiosity gets the better of her when she sneaks aboard the TARDIS, just as the Doctor gets a lock on a signal that seems to be the cause of the disappearances. Not long after their arrival in medieval England, Sarah is taken captive by Irongron. Not only must the Doctor rescue Sarah and send all the scientists back home, he needs to put an end to Linx’s tampering with Earth history before he finishes the repairs to his ship…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen this serial. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

Season 11, Jon Pertwee’s fifth and final season as the Doctor, gets off to a cracking start with what is arguably one of the best stories of his era. I certainly consider this my favorite Third Doctor story, and one of my all-time favorite Who stories. “The Time Warrior” was written by Robert Holmes–who has already proven himself as one of the best writers for the show–and was broadcast over Christmas and New Year, 1973-1974.

Aside from the story, which we’ll talk about in a moment, “The Time Warrior” is notable for some firsts. There’s a new title sequence, featuring a new “diamond” logo that will be a distinctive hallmark for years to come. We are introduced to Sarah Jane Smith, who will become one of the Doctor’s most beloved companions. This story also introduces the Sontarans, a clone warrior race with unforgettable potato heads. And it’s in this story that the Doctor first mentions the name of his home planet: Gallifrey.

The premise of the story is simple enough, as I described above. Since it’s only a four-parter, it doesn’t need to be overly complex, and it ends up working well. Linx and Irongron form a typical bad-guy alliance, where neither trusts the other, and plans the other’s demise once they get what they want. The Doctor and Lord Edward, on the other hand, form a typical good-guy alliance, based on trust, and working for their mutual benefit. There’s a lovely twist at the beginning where Sarah Jane is convinced the Doctor is working for Irongron, and works with Hal, Lord Edward’s archer (played by Jeremy Bulloch, who later played Boba Fett in the “Star Wars” movies), to capture him. Sarah’s initial conviction that this is all some kind of costume pageant is also beautifully played. Linx’s passion for a fight, and his disappointment with Irongron’s lack of courage heightens the tension in their shaky allegiance.

Character is one of Holmes’s strengths, and there’s no shortage of them here. Irongron is the blustering robber baron with a devious mind, and no patience for fools. Bloodaxe, Irongron’s loyal companion might be dismissed as a fool if it weren’t for his unshakable faith in his master, and his agility with the sword and the compliment. Lord Edward is a bit of a wet blanket, so it’s hardly any wonder he’s an easy target. His wife, Eleanor, however, is made of stronger stuff. Linx gives us one of the best new Who monsters in a long time. The concept of the Sontarans is pure genius, and Linx is perhaps one of the Classic Series’ best monster designs, as demonstrated by the part one cliffhanger, when Linx removes his helmet for the first time. Kevin Lindsey’s portrayal is perfect. His occasional poking out of the tongue is a small detail that adds so much to the character, and the strong rasping voice is just right for the stocky soldier. As for Sarah Jane Smith–wow! I can only imagine what it must have been like seeing her entering the scene for the first time, full of confidence and curiosity, a complete contrast with previous companion Jo Grant’s initial encounter with the Doctor. I was a few months shy of four when this story first aired, so Sarah Jane was a fact of life in my earliest Who memories. It’s no wonder she commonly appears among the top few on all-time favorite companion lists. Elisabeth Sladen’s performance is pitch-perfect, and absolutely convincing.

The show is not without its dodgy moments. Perhaps the one that makes me cringe the most is when the Doctor and Sarah Jane pose as monks to gain entrance to Irongron’s castle. They tell the guards they are there to collect alms from Irongron. The guards let them pass, and when they’re gone, the guards laugh at the idea that Irongron might give them anything but the end of his sword. I don’t know who they got to play these two guards, but their dialog comes out sounding like a bad high school performance of Shakespeare. And their laughter is so obviously forced, perhaps they weren’t paid enough to be believable.

I’ve also encountered criticism of Professor Rubeish, the almost-blind scientist who is whisked away by Linx, but doesn’t succumb to his hypnotism because of his poor eyesight. While the other scientists go about their work like zombies, Rubeish walks about freely, doing his own thing (like crafting a monocle from a piece of glass and some kind of machine Linx just happened to have in his makeshift workshop), and Linx doesn’t seem to care. This is a valid criticism, though Rubeish does seem to keep out of Linx’s way, and does prove to be useful to the Doctor in helping to break the hypnotic spell, and get the other scientists back home. So he’s not a complete waste of space.

As I said, “The Time Warrior” is a classic, and one of Robert Holmes’s finest. In my estimation, it is required watching for any Whovian. Aside from the story, the performances, and the drama, there are some classic lines. For example, when the Brigadier makes a smart remark to the Doctor about his recent detour to Metebelis Three (see “The Green Death”), the Doctor explains: “A straight line may be the shortest distance between two points, but it is by no means the most interesting!” Then there’s Irongron’s description of the Doctor: “A longshank rascal with a mighty nose.” Yes, this story is well worth your time.

Who Review: The Green Death

Strange deaths at a Welsh coal mine catch the interest of U.N.I.T., particularly because the deceased have strange glowing green marks on them, and their deaths are otherwise unexplained. The Doctor is determined to visit Metebelis Three, now he has freedom to travel, and tells the Brigadier he’ll catch up with him later. Much to the Doctor’s disappointment, Jo is reluctant to go with him. It seems the marvels of the blue planet can’t compare to the need for action against Global Chemicals, and their new “Stevens Process” that, according to Nobel Prize Winning researcher, Professor Clifford Jones, can’t avoid producing gallons of waste that will destroy the environment. The Global Chemicals facility is near the mine, so Jo rides with the Brigadier to Wales, where they discover things are not as rosy as they are made to appear. Someone doesn’t want U.N.I.T. investigating the mine, or the deaths. And when they encounter giant deadly maggots, it becomes apparent why…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen this serial. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

“The Green Death” is one of those landmark Who stories. It’s the last time the “howl-around” title sequence is used. It’s also the last appearance of that “Doctor Who” logo–at least until it was revived for the 1996 movie, and then for the BBC Books and Classic Who DVD range. This story also marks the end of Jo Grant’s time as the Doctor’s companion.

And what a story to go out on! Broadcast over May and June of 1973, it touches on a lot of concerns about the environment and globalization that were beginning to be voiced at the time. Of course, back then, issues with food supply weren’t quite the same as they are today. Sure, they had processed foods, but not nearly on the scale we do today. Add to that fast food, genetically modified foods, and not to mention the amount of preservatives and other chemicals that go into much of our food supply, the idea of natural, healthy, and cheap food is quite appealing. In “The Green Death,” however, the food aspect seems to focus more on using fungus to make protein-rich meat substitutes. And it’s not preaching vegetarianism so much as sustainability–the fungus can feed a lot more people a lot more cheaply than animal meat.

But “The Green Death” is not just a thinly veiled advertisement for a hippie lifestyle. (In fact, Professor Jones and his “Nut Hutch” colleagues are portrayed as intelligent and industrious, not doped-up drop-outs, which is how hippies are normally perceived.)  There’s a good, coherent story; indeed, two related stories: the mining deaths, and the Global Chemical controversy. Global Chemicals is producing a lot of waste which is being pumped into the ground which, in turn, is creating these over-sized maggots that are deadly to those they attack. In charge at Global Chemicals is a computer, BOSS, programmed for efficiency, even at the expense of human life. Professor Jones doesn’t believe destroying lives, which includes destroying the environment, is worth any financial gain.

This story is also a good lesson in how to write a six-part story without padding. Chekhov once famously said, “If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off.” Where this advice is ignored, you get padded stories with pointless plot lines. Where it’s heeded, you get stories like “The Green Death.” For example:

  • On his seemingly frivolous jaunt to Metebelis Three, the Doctor steals a blue crystal. That crystal becomes key to breaking the hypnotic spell BOSS has on people, and eventually causing the computer’s downfall. This is not the last we see of the famous crystal in Doctor Who…
  • Professor Jones’s fungus turns out to be the substance needed to destroy the maggots, and cure the green infection.
  • Jo’s preference for an apple over “eggs and bacon” validates her interest in Professor Jones’s work. And, eventually, Professor Jones. 🙂

Every part of the story advances the whole story, without any wasted scenes. This is hard to do over six or more episodes, which is why such lengthy stories gradually fell out of favor.

This is a good story for the supporting cast, especially Captain Mike Yates, who goes undercover and uses his smarts to get the information the Doctor needs to help bring down Global Chemicals. (The Doctor’s turns as a milkman and a cleaning lady are also quite entertaining–the first time we’ve seen the Doctor in drag since 1967’s “The Underwater Menace”!)

Some complain that the Welsh are patronized and treated unfairly in this story. And yes, there is a bit of stereotyping, isn’t there? Boy-o! However, I would also point out that the geniuses in the “Nut Hutch,” including Professor Jones, are all Welsh. So there is balance.

Considering 1973 technology and Who budgets, I think the maggots are quite well done. For distance shots, they used real maggots. But for close-ups, especially when we see maggots with teeth, they used models. Again, for the time, I think they’re quite effective.

Jo Grant makes her tearful farewell at the end, as the Doctor shares a glass of wine with everyone celebrating her engagement to Professor Jones. He gives her the Metebelis Three crystal as a wedding gift, and then, while everyone celebrates, he slips away, riding off into the sunset. This is the end of an era. Season 11 will introduce a new companion, and set the stage for the next era in the show’s history.

Who Review: Planet of the Daleks

The wounded Doctor lies on a pallet in the TARDIS console room while the TARDIS whisks him and his frightened companion to the planet Spiridon. There, Jo goes in search of help, only to be attacked by plant sap. Little does she realize that this sap will start to expand until it covers her, as it is beginning to cover the TARDIS. The Doctor awakens to find himself sealed inside, and his supply of oxygen running out. He is rescued by a group of men whom he recognizes as Thals from the Dalek home planet, Skaro. The Doctor encountered the Thals the first time he visited Skaro, back when he traveled with Ian, Barbara, and Susan. That time he helped the Thals defeat the Daleks. Now it seems the Daleks have enslaved the native Spiridons to discover their secret of invisibility, and are preparing a virus that will kill all life on the planet. With these weapons added to their arsenal, along with the thousands of Daleks hidden and waiting in suspended animation, they plan to conquer the galaxy. Can the Doctor, Jo, and this small band of Thals defeat the mighty Daleks and save the universe–again?

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen this serial. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

The story that began with “Frontier in Space” continues with “Planet of the Daleks.” The two form a sort-of six-part saga, though I don’t think they are so intimately connected that they can’t be watched as stand-alone stories. Certainly “Planet” picks up some plot threads from “Frontier,” but nothing that requires watching the whole of “Frontier” to grasp. All you need to know is that the Daleks are using Spiridon as a base for the army they have amassed in their quest for galactic domination.

“Planet of the Daleks” sees the return of Terry Nation to write for his famous monsters. One of the hallmarks of a Terry Nation script is a tendency to eschew hi-tech solutions and go for resourcefulness. Hence, the Doctor and his Thal friends fashion a parachute out of clear plastic (okay, so it wasn’t supposed to be plastic… but it was, you know what I mean?) so they could utilize the updraft from the heating system to escape the Dalek “city” via a vertical chute. They disable a couple of Daleks by pushing them into a frigid lake, then sneak into the Dalek city by hiding under fluffy purple Spiridon blankets (the invisible people use them to keep warm in the cold nights), with one of their number inside a Dalek (having removed the Dalek blob first). The Doctor wards off night creatures using a flaming torch when the blasters fail them. The Doctor even ignores his own sonic screwdriver to use a regular screwdriver (that one of the Thals just happened to have handy) to unscrew his recording device, out of which he fashions a radio signal jammer to disable a Dalek. Is it any wonder Terry Nation went on to write for MacGyver?

The story itself has, I think, fewer plot problems than “Frontier.” Terry doesn’t throw in useless plot threads just to pad the story. There is at least the appearance of cohesiveness, where a discovery in an early episode can impact a solution in a later episode. For example, the discovery of the cooling vents, which the Doctor and friends use to escape. These same vents deliver the icy goop that the Doctor will use to put the Dalek army in a very long-term deep freeze at the end of the story. Also, early on, the Thals plant bombs which the Daleks subsequently discover. The Daleks only detonate a couple of them, and Jo manages to salvage the rest. One of these bombs will be used at the end to blow open the cooling duct that will deep-freeze the Daleks.

I’m still a little mystified about the Doctor’s injury at the beginning. It’s possible he was shot by the Master, but it’s just a head wound. He’s recovered from worse before. Though this scene at the beginning of episode one gives us the chance to admire the TARDIS IKEA furniture.

There are a couple of unnecessary deaths, not because they didn’t serve a purpose in the plot, but because the situations in which the characters died were not life-or-death. Marat was gunned down by a Dalek because he didn’t want to crawl under a door to escape. He had plenty of time, and there was plenty of space between the door and the floor. Marat’s death was necessary for the plot because he had the map showing all the Thal bomb locations. But they could have at least made it look like death was his only option. And then there was Vaber’s death, shot by a Dalek as he tried to escape in the forest. My problem here is that the Doctor and the other Thals were later shot at by Daleks in the forest from about the same distance, but somehow the Daleks missed them all!

By the time “Planet of the Daleks” aired (April-May 1973), Katy Manning had, I believe, decided to leave the role of Jo Grant. I don’t think this had been announced to the public yet, which makes it all the more intriguing that a relationship between Jo and Letap, one of the the Thals, would be allowed to develop. This relationship resulted in Jo having to decide whether to go back to Skaro with Letap, or go with the Doctor. Had the audience known of Katy’s impending departure, they might have wondered if this was it. But Jo returns with the Doctor. And yet, once inside the TARDIS, she tells the Doctor she wants to go to Earth. “Home.” This scene truly marks the beginning of the end of Jo Grant’s time with the Doctor.

Not must-see who, but better than average, I think. Worth seeing if given the opportunity.

Who Review: Frontier in Space

Frontier_in_space_us_dvdThe peace between Earth and Draconia is on the brink of shattering, with each side accusing the other of violating their space borders and attacking their ships. It’s into this volatile situation that the TARDIS inadvertently lands, materializing in the hold of an Earth cargo ship to avoid a collision. When a couple of the crew go down to investigate the new arrivals, they seem to mistake the Doctor and Jo for invading Draconians, and immediately take them captive at gunpoint. Jo tells the Doctor she heard a strange sound not long after they arrived. It seems someone is using sonic hypnosis to make them see what they most fear. People from Earth see Draconians; Draconians see Earth men. But the Doctor and Jo have seen the true form of the hostiles: Ogrons. Someone is using Ogrons to lead Draconia and Earth into war, and it’s up to the Doctor and Jo to discover who’s behind this plan, and convince the rulers of the two planets they are being duped before it’s too late…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen this serial. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

“Frontier in Space” is a six-part story written by Malcolm Hulke, broadcast from the end of February through March of 1973. Although pretty much a stand-alone story, it does dovetail into the next serial, “Planet of the Daleks,” creating a 12-part epic saga–sort of. But not really. There are connections between the two stories, but I wouldn’t consider them dependent links. You can watch the two stories as stand-alones.

The premise of a third party trying to manufacture hostilities between two parties makes for a good premise, and the fact that neither the Draconians or the Earth people are easy to convince is credible. Such a roadblock makes for good drama, as we see here. Add to this the fact that the Master is the one stirring trouble, and you have the makings of a good story. I don’t doubt the entrance of the Master in episode 3, posing as a commissioner from Sirius IV to claim jurisdiction over the Doctor and Jo, was a nice surprise for the original audience. We hadn’t seen the Master since the end of the previous season (“The Time Monster”). But, as we learn at the end of episode 6, the Master isn’t working alone. There are hints–some not so subtle–at who the Master is operating on behalf of. Given the Doctor’s statement in “Day of the Daleks” about the mercenary nature of the Ogrons, and how they are often used by the Daleks to do their dirty work, it should not have been a surprise when the pepperpots roll out to take charge of things. To be fair, in 1973 there were no DVDs, videos, or even novelizations of previous stories to remind you what happened before. It was up to the fans to remember, and many might well have forgotten about the Ogron-Dalek relationship.

This is our first and, as far as I recall, last time meeting the Draconians (derogatorily called “Dragons” by the Earth people, which is interesting since the Greek drakôn means “dragon”–that’s where we get the word from). They are presented to us as a race with traditions and a culture, but also mirroring the Earth people with their own hawkish advocate for war, and a ruler not wanting to be hasty and listen to the arguments before jumping to battle. At first we are led to believe they are the “monsters” of the story, but as the tale progresses, we learn they are as much victims of the Master’s scheme as the Earth people. The Draconian costumes are among the best of the era, given the limitations of budget and technology.

There are a few things that didn’t make sense to me. When the rescue party boarded the ship, why didn’t the Doctor and Jo correct their mistaken notion that Draconians had attacked? They saw beneath the Ogrons’ mental trick (Jo, not knowing the Draconians, at first saw instead a drashig from “Carnival of Monsters,” a mutant from “The Mutants,” and a Sea Devil), so they knew the Draconians weren’t to blame. Why not at least try to convince people from the get-go? Also, when Jo is locked in the cell, she digs her way out with a spoon. Granted, it’s a large spoon, but still–really?

There is also some serious plot padding, easy to spot because these parts serve no other purpose than to stretch the story out. The biggest is probably the part where the Doctor is sentence to the moon colony for a year. This rabbit trail takes up almost two episodes, and ends with the Master “rescuing” them. What makes this padding is the fact that this moon colony, and the people the Doctor encounters while held, play no further part in the story. You could cut this entire section out of the story, and have the Master capture the Doctor and Jo by some other means, and you wouldn’t miss it. There are a couple of sequences where the Doctor space walks, first to try to escape from one part of the ship to another, and again later to make a repair. These are not irrelevant to the plot, but they are stretched out unnecessarily (I think) to try to burn some time.

The sonic screwdriver is starting to become part of the Doctor’s standard equipment (though he refers to it as his “ultrasonic screwdriver” in this story). There are also some nice little points of continuity, like when the Doctor starts recounting the end of “The War Games” to Jo while they are trying to break out of their cell, and Jo makes reference to the planet Solos, which they visited in “The Mutants.” And while we’re talking about things I like, I think the Dalek reveal is good. As I said above, while it could have been anticipated, it might not have been if the audience had forgotten the Ogron-Dalek connection. Seeing them appear behind the Master makes for quite a striking visual.

The end sees the Master escape, but in the struggle the Doctor receives a shot (or a blow–I couldn’t quite make out) to the head. It only appears to be a flesh wound, but he needs Jo to help him into the TARDIS where he plugs himself into the telepathic circuits, sends a message to the Time Lords, then collapses on a bed-pallet type thing. I’m a little confused as to why the Doctor acts like he’s been mortally wounded, but there again, he’s a Time Lord so there’s no saying what affects him this way. This scene is repeated at the beginning of the next serial, “Planet of the Daleks,” to provide continuity. We will learn in “Planet” that the Doctor had asked the Time Lords to have the TARDIS follow the Daleks. It seems the chief Dalek (the gold one) had left the planet to prepare the Dalek army for an invasion after the war between Earth and Draconia had run its course–a war that, now, wouldn’t happen. Cue “Planet of the Daleks”…

“Frontier in Space” is entertaining, and not at all disappointing, but not the best Who. Certainly one that can be skipped by the casual viewer.

Who Review: Carnival of Monsters

His exile over, the Doctor planned to use his first post-exile self-piloted trip in the TARDIS to visit Metabelis 3. However, he and Jo end up on the SS Bernice, somewhere in the Indian Ocean. They are caught and held as stowaways, but manage to escape, only to find that no-one on the ship remembers them, resulting in them being recaptured multiple times. And everyone seems to repeat the things they said and did only ten minutes before. If this wasn’t strange enough, a Plesiosaurus rises from the ocean, causing panic on board the ship.

Meanwhile, on the planet Inter Minor, members of the ruling class oversee the arrival of their first alien visitors since opening up to foreigners. The two Lermans, Vorg and Shirna are “entertainers,” and the main feature of their act is a miniscope, which they brought with them. This device contains miniaturized life forms from various galaxies, which can be viewed in their habitats on a screen. Among their collection is a vessel containing “Tellurians”–people from Earth. Only there seem to be a couple of extra Tellurians roaming around inside the miniscope…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen this serial. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

At the end of “The Three Doctors” (the previous serial), as a thank-you for saving their planet (and the rest of the universe), the Time Lords release the Doctor from his exile. At last, the production team are free from the shackles of Earth imposed on the show by their predecessors at the end of the 60s! This story, therefore, marks the first time the Doctor has flown the TARDIS himself, unaided by the Time Lords, since 1969.

“Carnival of Monsters” was broadcast over January and February of 1973, and was written by Robert Holmes, his first Doctor Who script since “Terror of the Autons” in 1971. I’ve probably said this before, many times, but I consider Robert Holmes to be the finest Doctor Who script writer of the classic series, perhaps one of the best in the show’s history period. And he doesn’t disappoint with this imaginative and well-written story. The idea of the Doctor and Jo trapped inside a carnival peep show along with other “specimens” is irresistible. But Holmes doesn’t stop there. The people of Inter Minor are not all like-minded. In fact, we see shades of opinon, from the president, who wants to open the planet up to alien visitors, to some of his highest officials–including his own son–who disapprove quite strongly. These dissenters consider aliens to be lesser creatures, and resent having to treat them with respect. They conspire to have the Lermans deported, but then hit upon a new scheme that would discredit the president and have one of them succeed him.

It was not uncommon for Who writers in the 1970s to draw upon current events for their stories. On January 1, 1973, the UK’s 1971 Immigration Act came into force, giving opportunity to Commonwealth citizens to live and work in the UK. That same day, the UK joined the EEC, or the European Economic Community, often referred to as the “Common Market”–a precursor to the modern European Union. Those opposed to these measures feared foreign labor taking the jobs of natural-born Brits, and the loss of British independence. I don’t doubt these things influenced Holmes as he developed the script for “Carnival.”

Despite the budget and technology of the time, I think the design and production team did about as well as they could for this story. The set depicting the interior of the miniscope works well, and even the Drashigs are about as monstrous a monster can be when you don’t have the luxury of animatronics and CGI.

The cast of characters Holmes developed are nuanced and well-conceived. Vorg is the consummate showman, willing to bluff his way through any situation, and always on the look-out for a patsy to con with the old “three magum pods and a yarrow seed” trick. Shirna, his young assistant, is a willing accomplice, though she has more of a conscience, and will eventually tell the truth, especially when it’s evident Vorg’s lies aren’t working. The three Inter Minor leaders we encounter, Kalik, Orum, and Pletrac, are not of the same mind. Kalik is the conniver, scheming his way to power, while Pletrac wants to play by the rules.

This serial sees the Doctor make use of his sonic screwdriver to ignite gas to scare away Drashigs. However, when Jo suggests he use it to escape the ship’s cabin, he tells her it only works on electronic locks. In future Doctor who stories, the Doctor will lament that the sonic screwdriver won’t work on wood.

A few other things of note. The Cybermen make a brief appearance as one of the creatures in the miniscope. This is one of only two appearances they make in the Third Doctor’s era, the other being as a hallucinatory image in “The Mind of Evil.” Terrance Dicks has made no secret of the fact that he hates the Cybermen, which explains their absence during his time as script editor. Finally, in a scene where the Doctor is working on the miniscope, Vorg turns to Shirna and says, “You know, Shirna, he could lose that nose of his just like that.” Holmes will write another reference to the Third Doctor’s nose in “The Time Warrior.” Clearly he thought it quite a distinguishing feature! 🙂

This is must-see Who, if only because it’s Robert Holmes, and I think every Whovian should be familiar with all of Holmes’ stories. But it also happens to be a great four-parter, well worth your time.

Who Review: The Three Doctors

Strange lights, disappearances, and the sudden appearance of deadly blobby creatures capture the attention of U.N.I.T., but it’s not just on Earth that weird things are happening. The home planet of the Time Lords is experiencing a critical power drainage, and the source seems to be a black hole. With all their resources tied up on the problem, the Time Lords send the Doctor’s second incarnation into the Third Doctor’s time stream to help him figure out what’s going on. However, their constant bickering requires the intervention of a third party: the First Doctor. But he is caught in a time eddy and can only appear on the TARDIS scanner. Nevertheless, he is able to get his two other selves cooperating. They determine that the blobs are energy creatures chasing after him. The only way to get to the source of the blobs is to allow himself to be captured. But the world they are entering is controlled by an evil genius that might be more than a match for even three Doctors…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen this serial. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

As 1973 approached, those astute minds behind Doctor Who realized this would be the tenth anniversary year. How to celebrate? Why not have a story that brings all three of the Doctors together! So script editor Terrance Dicks, and producer Barry Letts, called in Bob Baker and Dave Martin (who had previously penned “The Claws of Axos” and “The Mutants”) to come up with a script. They contrived the black hole crisis as a way to force the Time Lords to break the laws of time and get the Doctors together. Initially the First Doctor was going to be running around with his two successors, however illness meant that William Hartnell couldn’t sustain the stress of the shooting schedule. Terrance Dicks, therefore, rewrote the script to allow Hartnell a cameo part, appearing on the TARDIS scanner to guide his other selves.

The story gets mixed reviews from the fans, but on the whole I like it. One interesting creative decision was to have a Time Lord villain other than the Master. Instead, they introduce us to Omega, a Time Lord of legend, who gave up his freedom so that the Time Lords could have the energy they needed for time travel. They thought he had died in the supernova Omega created to provide this power, but he had in fact been trapped in an antimatter universe, where everything that exists does so by the power of his will. By tapping into the black hole’s singularity, Omega is able to convert matter into a form that can exist within his antimatter world. That’s how the Doctors (and Jo, and the Brig, and Benton, et al.) are able to be there. Omega’s plan for revenge centers on convincing the Doctor to take over sustaining this world so he can be free to leave.

I think the resolution to the story was cleverly executed. After the TARDIS and U.N.I.T. HQ is transported to the antimatter world, the Second Doctor complains that he can’t find his recorder. After this he periodically makes mention that he wants to find his recorder. His almost childish attachment to the instrument seems a bit pointless, until we get to episode four, and we see that the Second Doctor’s recorder had fallen into the TARDIS’s force field generator. In there, it was protected from the antimatter conversion, so it was still matter. When Omega knocks it out of the force field generator, it destroys Omega’s world–but not before the Doctors jump in the TARDIS and escape, of course.

That brings me to some of the story’s weak points. First, in reality, I doubt the Doctors would have had time to escape in the TARDIS once the matter recorder interacted with the antimatter world. But that’s where the “fiction” in “science fiction” kicks in. After all, it would hardly be a good birthday celebration if they killed off the Doctor.

Also, when the Doctor discovers that the blobby creatures are after him, his first thought is to escape Earth in the TARDIS to draw them away. How would he have done this? He’s still exiled to Earth. The only way he has been able to travel in the TARDIS before now was either because the Time Lords controlled the TARDIS, or he hopped a ride with the Master’s TARDIS. And then, later in the story, the Doctors travel to Omega’s place in the TARDIS. How? Did Omega control the TARDIS? If we’re being consistent, the Doctor certainly couldn’t have done it.

When the Doctor takes on Omega in a battle of wills, we see the Third Doctor and Omega wrestle. Literally. I thought this very strange. Why couldn’t it have been a mental battle, like the Fourth Doctor will do with Morbius in a later story? Making it an actual, physical fight makes no sense to me. These are two scientists, not WWE wrestlers duking it out.

On the plus side, “The Three Doctors” is a good Jo and Benton story. Jo shows initiative and comes up with some helpful ideas. Benton shows himself to be a good U.N.I.T. soldier, able to accommodate the strange things happening, and not lose his head. It appears Fraser Hines had been asked to reprise his role as Jamie McCrimmon, the Second Doctor’s long-standing companion. However, Hines’s schedule prevented him appearing, so Benton got a lot of Jamie’s lines. Shame. It would have been fun to have Jamie in the mix.

I also noted that the Second Doctor offers the Brigadier a jelly baby. Was this the first time the Fourth Doctor’s confection of choice was mentioned? I don’t recall, but since we’re only a few years from the Fourth Doctor’s first appearance, I think this is significant.

Finally, I liked the ending, with Ollis and his wife. After all the sci-fi shenanigans and explanations, this was a nice exchange. “Where have you been?” “You’d never believe me woman. Supper ready?” 🙂

While not the best Who story, I would call it must-see Who. After all, it’s the first anniversary special, and the first (and last) time we see Hartnell, Troughton, and Petwee together, so it’s a significant piece of Who history. Also, the squabbling between Troughton and Pertwee is priceless. They play off each other so well, it’s a shame we have to wait another ten years to see them together again.

Who Review: The Time Monster

The Newton Institute at Cambridge University is experimenting with time. Under the direction of Professor Thaskalos, Dr. Ruth Ingram and Stuart Hyde are using TOMTIT, Transmission Of Matter Through Interstitial Time, to move objects from one location to another. Key to the experiments is a trident crystal belonging to Professor Thaskalos. While the Professor’s assistants see great potential benefit in TOMTIT, Thaskalos has only one goal: calling Kronos, thought by the Ancient Greeks to be a god, but which is, in fact, a mighty Chronovore that devours time. With Kronos in his control, Thascalos believes he would have limitless power.

Meanwhile, the Doctor is picking up disturbances in time, tracing them to a location that recent studies suggest is the location of the lost city of Atlantis. When the Brigadier informs the Doctor that he has been invited to witness a demonstration of TOMTIT, the Doctor’s interest is piqued. Even more so when he discovers the name of the Professor in charge. Thascalos is Greek for Master. Suddenly, TOMTIT takes on a deadly importance. The Doctor and Jo must hunt down the Master, even to Atlantis itself, to stop him before he releases Kronos, and brings about the end of all creation.

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen this serial. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

“The Time Monster” is the last story in Doctor Who’s ninth season, Jon Pertwee’s third as the Third Doctor. Robert Sloman is listed as the writer, though, as with all his stories, producer Barry Letts was his uncredited co-writer.

The story is not a fan favorite, though I think it’s not bad. Not the best, but entertaining enough. The device the Doctor constructs Magyver-fashion to block the Master’s attempt to call Kronos is quite far-fetched. Forks stuck in a cork balanced on something with a disc on top, and a cup with tea leaves placed on top of it all, spinning around of its own volition? It should at least be powered by the sonic screwdriver–something that makes it a little less like a Blue Peter project. And the acting by the support cast in Atlantis is very wooden, and comes across like a second-rate Greek tragedy. These scenes are saved by the creative set and costume designs, and good performances by George Cormack and Ingrid Pitt.

Yes, Ingrid Pitt, famous Hammer Horror actress. I’m sure that was a coup for the Who team–a sure fire way to boost the adult audience, even if she is slightly more attired than she would normally be in a Hammer movie. Slightly. Her flirting with the Master is fun (and I bet Roger Delgado enjoyed that immensely), but even better are her put-down lines. The Master has never been so wonderfully dissed as he is by Queen Galleia, and King Dalios (Cormack) for that matter.

Once again, the production team are anxious to get the Doctor away from Earth. This time they accomplish it by having his TARDIS follow the Master’s. First he dematerializes inside the Master’s TARDIS. This is not a good idea, as he soon learns–and maybe this is why later, in the Fourth Doctor story “Logopolis,” he recognizes the dangers inherent in such a maneuver. The Doctor eventually manages to follow the Master to Atlantis, but I get the feeling script editor Terrance Dicks is so frustrated with the situation, he would go to almost any lengths to get the TARDIS off of Earth. And with the methods used here, I think we’re scraping the barrel of ideas.

This is the first Doctor Who story that really plays around with time, having localized slow down of time, as well as characters made to grow very old, or become very young (baby Benton!). For a show about a time traveler, it’s strange that it has taken nearly ten years to do this.

We also get our strongest hints about the sentient nature of the TARDIS. Jo comments that the Doctor talks about it as if it’s alive, to which the Doctor replies that it is, in a way. He also references the TARDIS’s telepathic circuits, and we see its ability to tap into the Doctor’s mind and relay his thoughts.

Bessie gets an upgrade in this story. The Doctor fits a “Super Drive” feature, making the car travel incredibly fast. The Doctor assures Jo that his reflexes are better than human reflexes, so he is able to control Bessie even at high speed. And the brakes have been modified so they absorb the inertia even of the passengers, preventing people from flying into the windshield when he stops the car.

As I said, it’s not a bad story, and worth watching for some of the better scenes I mentioned above. I was particularly glad to get it on DVD since my VHS version had bad sound, and not long after I purchased it on VHS, the price shot up beyond what I was willing to pay to replace it.

Who Review: The Mutants

The Doctor is tinkering with the TARDIS, trying to get it working, when a capsule arrives from the Time Lords. This multi-faced container can only be opened by the intended recipient, so the Time Lords control the Doctor’s TARDIS to take him where he needs to go. Jo travels with the Doctor to a space station orbiting the planet Solos in the 30th century. There they encounter the Overlords, Earth colonists who rule the planet, but are on the verge of withdrawing. The security officer, known as the Marshal, opposes withdrawal, and conspires to have the Administrator from Earth assassinated as he is about to grant Solos independence. The Marshal takes command and accuses Ky, one of the Solonians attending the Ambassador’s speech, of murder. Caught up in the confusion, the Doctor and Jo run into Ky who activates the message capsule. The message is for him! But before they can do anything about it, Ky takes Jo hostage and escapes back to Solos. The Doctor, meanwhile, remains a guest of the Marshal and his chief scientist, who together plan to reconstitute the lethal atmosphere of Solos making it deadly to the native inhabitants, but friendly to humans. The Doctor needs to fulfill his mission from the Time Lords, but how can he as a prisoner of the Marshal? And how will he rescue Jo from the Solonian tribes, and the mutant creatures (“Mutts”) that roam the poisonous planet…?

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen this serial. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

Bob Baker and Dave Martin return as writers for this six-part story. Once again, we see the production team trying to escape the confines of Earth-bound stories, this time having the Doctor play messenger boy for the Time Lords. It’s a bit of a flimsy premise for getting the Doctor away from 20th century Earth. There are many other Time Lords they could have used, least of all one who’s supposed to be serving time for interference. Perhaps they appreciate his tenacity and ingenuity, and are willing, therefore, to take the risk that he will do the job? I’m not 100% convinced, but it serves the purpose as a plot device.

On the whole, “The Mutants” is a good, solid story, with plenty of hot political topics running through, not least of which are colonialism, racism, and ecology. The Earth Overlords are the dominant people, and they treat the Solonians as their underlings. Even the space station has segregated areas for Overlords and Solonians. As for the “Mutts,” the Overlords regard them as dangerous monsters that deserve to be destroyed.

One of the ingenious plot surprises is the fact that these mutants are not, in fact, monsters, but are the next stage in the Solonians’ natural life-cycle. Like butterflies, the Solonians transform from humanoid to “Mutt,” and then finally to a kind of super being, able to control energy and fly through walls. The Overlords’ experiments on the atmosphere of Solos has affected the natural cycle of change, so people are transforming into “Mutts” ahead of schedule, “like a butterfly coming out of its chrysalis in winter,” as the Doctor puts it. Thankfully, with the information from Ky’s message, and a special crystal, the Doctor is able to put things right.

The Marshal is a wonderfully evil character, full of ego and malice. His eventual demise is a bit of an anticlimax, but I’m not sure that’s such a bad thing. On the one hand, you kind of want the Solonians to make the most of his sudden defeat and take revenge on him. But having the Marshal zapped into non-existence removes the possibility of revenge, which, I think, is the better path. It certainly gives the Solonians the moral high ground.

The mutant costumes aren’t bad, especially for their time. It’s hard for 1970s monsters to not look like people in costumes, and here we have a valiant attempt to make giant bug-like creatures that are unnerving, at least in design if not in execution.

Probably the most awkward scene is when Jo and others are about to be sucked out into space after a hole is blown in the side of the space station. The hanging-on-for-dear-life acting goes on a bit long, and they all look like they’re just waiting for someone to shout “cut!”

Aside from these few weaknesses, “The Mutants” is a worthy addition to the Whovian playlist. Perhaps not vital to one’s DVD collection (unless, like me, you’re a completist), but certainly one to watch.

Who Review: The Sea Devils

The Doctor and Jo visit The Master, who is under lock-and-key in a small island prison. While there, they learn that ships have been disappearing without trace for no apparent reason. At first the Doctor suspects the Master is somehow behind it. But, of course, the Master is in prison and under guard 24/7, which makes such an idea highly implausible. After visiting the local Naval Base for more information, they make their way to an old sea fort the Navy is planning to convert into a testing center. This old fort appears to be at the center of the disappearances. When the Doctor and Jo arrive, they discover the place deserted except for one dead man, and another babbling about “Sea Devils.” Then the boat they came in is destroyed, leaving them stranded. And something else is in the fort, a creature the Doctor has encountered before, staking a claim to the Earth. Only this time, they intend to follow through with that plan, and they have terrestrial help. It seems the Doctor’s worst fears might not be so far fetched…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen this serial. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

“The Sea Devils” is a six-part story, written by Malcolm Hulke, who also wrote the Silurian story in the Third Doctor’s first season. The creatures don’t refer to themselves as “Sea Devils” because they were originally supposed to be Silurians, though I think they’re now actually cousins of the Silurians. Whatever the relationship, their purpose is the same: reclaim the planet that was once theirs before man took it over.

Classic Who costumes regularly come under fire, and I understand why. Prosthetics and latex application techniques were still fairly primitive in 1972, even outside the BBC, so the results were often far from what the designers would have preferred. That said, I think the Sea Devil costumes are pretty good for their time. I like the turtle-ish mouth, and the watery eyes, which give that sea creature feel to them. Of course, they’re nowhere near as good as they would be today, but that’s an unfair comparison.

This story marks the return of the Master, after being captured at the end of “The Daemons.” As usual, Roger Delgado plays him with gentlemanly menace. When he tells the Doctor how time in prison has made him reflect upon his life, and that he has everything he needs “except my freedom,” we almost feel sorry for him. But of course, it’s all a sham, and when the Master’s hold over the prison governor, Colonel Trenchard, becomes evident, we aren’t really surprised. Perhaps one of the best moments in the story is the scene that opens with the Master watching “The Clangers” on television. For those don’t know, “The Clangers” was a popular children’s stop-motion animated series. Each five minute episode revolved around these pink knitted aliens with long aardvark-like noses that live on a planet somewhere. They only talk in whistles and whoops, and a narrator tells the stories and supplies a translation of their noises. It was one of my favorite shows when I was a young child. The Master is fascinated by them, and rightfully so! 🙂 This scene was replayed, sort of, in the Tenth Doctor story, “The Sound of Drums,” where we see the Master watching “Teletubbies.”

One thing about the Master’s appearance in “The Sea Devils” that I’m not totally sold on is why the Sea Devils are so willing to form an alliance with him. They say they need him to build the machine that will reawaken the other Sea Devils around the world, but looking at the technology they already have, why couldn’t they do this themselves? Maybe I missed something? I don’t recall the Silurians needing help with their hi tech alarm clock. It seems the Master needed the Sea Devils more than they needed him, so he could take out his revenge on the people who locked him up, and on the Doctor, since he likes Earth so much.

What else to note? This is the first appearance of the sonic screwdriver in the Third Doctor era. He uses it first as a mine detector, and then to detonate the mines when pursued by a Sea Devil.

Overall, I would rate this a good story, though the theme’s basically the same as the Silurians: the Sea Devils want to reclaim Earth, and find a willing accomplice on Earth. The authorities are skeptical at first, but then want to blow up the Sea Devils. The Doctor wants to negotiate peace. The difference between this story and “The Silurians” is that the Sea Devils reject the Doctor’s offer to negotiate with the humans, forcing the Doctor to blow up their base.

That repetition of plot is probably my biggest criticism of the story. Otherwise, this is definitely not a waste of time. Not essential, and not the best, but good and worth seeing.