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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.

Who Review: The Curse of Peladon

The Doctor thinks he might have fixed the TARDIS when he and Jo find themselves transported to the somewhat barbaric kingdom of Peladon. They arrive just as delegates from the Galactic Federation are convening to consider Peladon’s petition to join. The young king believes this to be their way out of the dark ages. Peladon is rich in minerals, and the Federation will open doors to trade, and new cultures and ideas. But not everyone is convinced the king has Peladon’s best interests at heart, least of all those who see joining the Federation as an abandonment of the old traditions. Councellor Torbis encourages the king in his ambitions for Peladon, but the High Priest Hepesh warns that the king will bring the ancient curse of Aggedor upon them if he turns his back on the old ways. When Torbis winds up dead, there is fear that Hepesh was right. The Doctor and Jo, passing themselves off as the delegation from Earth, can’t leave without trying to help. After all, they might well be Aggedor’s next victims…

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!

Script Editor Terrance Dicks and Producer Barry Letts were clearly very anxious to get the Doctor roaming time and space again. The Doctor’s Earth exile was a burden handed to them from the end of the Second Doctor era, and while it was good for a few episodes, they found it too limiting. With all of time and space to explore, confining the Doctor to fighting alien visitations with U.N.I.T. gets old very quickly. One way out was to have the Time Lords send the Doctor on errands, returning him to Earth afterwards. We saw this in “Colony in Space,” and we see it again in “The Curse of Peladon.”

Brian Hayles, creator of the Ice Warriors (which feature prominently in this story) wrote “The Curse of Peladon,” and a good job of it he did too, I think. It’s a neat four-parter, with a credible story and plenty of intrigue and action. At the time of writing, Britain was considering entering the European Economic Community, or the “Common Market”–the forerunner to the E.U. The political arguments of the day seem to be reflected in Hayles’s story. That’s not a criticism, but a point of interest, and it goes to show how universal themes are often at the heart of some of our most controversial issues. Tradition versus progress. Individualism versus globalization. The old tried-and-true ways versus the new and risky.

This is a great story for Jo Grant. She takes charge of the situation, concocting the story that she’s a princess, and the Doctor is her underling. She’s shows strength dealing with King Peladon (played by Patrick Troughton’s son, David), especially since the king appears to be spinally challenged. He starts off unsure, dependent on his advisers with no confidence in his own ability to make wise decisions. By the end of the story, he proves himself a worthy king and leader of his people. And I’m sure Jo had no small role in that. She also takes the initiative in trying to figure out who is behind the attempts to kill delegate members.

Perhaps the biggest fail of the story is the Aggedor costume. Aggedor is supposed to be a mighty, fearsome beast. But when we see him, he’s hardly very large and imposing. I wouldn’t expect anything like what they could do today, with modern technology and budgets, but I think it falls short, even by 1972 standards. Alpha Centuri’s costume is also a bit dodgy (its multiple arms are clearly strung together to give the impression of movement), but on the other hand quite creative. I’d like to see Alpha Centuri return in the New Series; it’d be interesting to see what a better budget could do for him… her… whatever.

Also, subtly hinted at throughout is the idea that “religion” and “superstition” hold back progress. Certainly, the religion of Aggedor, with its primitive rituals and barbaric punishments, is a good caricature of such “religion.” As far as I could tell, though, the problem wasn’t Hepesh’s intransigent adherence to the old faith, but the lack of tolerance on both sides for each other’s perspective. There was no allowing for the possibility that the Cult of Aggedor could continue under the new king without imposing itself on everyone, giving the king freedom to make decisions without having to get the High Priest’s blessing.

All in all, “The Curse of Peladon” is worthy of your time. Not must-see Who, but there aren’t many stories that are, though most are good enough to warrant the Whovian’s attention. This one is certainly good enough.

What are your thoughts regarding “The Curse of Peladon”?

Who Review: Day of the Daleks

It’s the late twentieth century, and international affairs on Earth have reached a crisis point . Sir Reginald Stiles is trying to organize a peace conference at Auderly House in England, hoping to avert World War Three. When he encounters what appears to be a ghost threatening him at gunpoint in his study one night, his assistant contacts U.N.I.T. Stiles immediately dismisses the apparition as nonsense, but the Doctor isn’t convinced. Then a mysterious soldier appears on the grounds of the house, dead. His weapon is centuries ahead of its time, and the box he’s carrying turns out to be a time travel device. The Doctor manages to activate the device, but with no apparent effect, so he and Jo volunteer to keep watch at the house overnight while Stiles heads off to China. The next day, they are visited by three of the mysterious soldiers, intent on killing Stiles. Mistaking the Doctor for the diplomat, the leader orders his immediate execution to save the planet from a war he will start. A war that will lead to global devastation, enabling the most ruthless race in the universe to step in and take over…

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!

Jon Pertwee’s third season as the Doctor launched in January 1972 with the return of the Daleks after a five year absence. Louis Marks’ original tale didn’t feature the Daleks, but having just obtained Dalek creator Terry Nation’s permission to bring them back, Script Editor and Producer team Terrance Dicks and Barry Letts wanted to feature them as soon as possible. Marks managed to find a prominent place for them in his scripts, and the result was record ratings for the show.

It’s to Marks’ credit, I think, that the Daleks don’t appear to be late additions. Their role in the story is quite well defined as the brains behind the government, using people to do their dirty work, which is often how they operate. The story of how they rose to power, and found people willing to help them, doesn’t seem contrived.

The story itself is good, and I can’t find any major plot holes. Even the possible objection that, given the ability to travel in time, any failure to stop World War Three could be fixed by simply going back in time again and correcting whatever went wrong, is addressed, though perhaps not very satisfactorily. The “Blinovich Limitation Effect” is given as a reason why you can’t change something you did in the past, rather like the “fixed point in time” is given in the New Series. It’s not really a solid reason, but more like a patch over a potential plot hole.

Perhaps the most intriguing part of the story is the fact that, while the resistance fighters have all along been blaming Stiles for the explosion that resulted in the death of the conference delegates and the start of World War Three, it was in fact their own tampering in time that caused the fatal explosion. This kind of temporal paradox was not new to science fiction, but it hadn’t really been explored in Doctor Who until now, and it’s rather cleverly done here.

I have mixed feelings about the fact that you never really know what’s going on until the last episode. At the beginning, you learn about the rebels and their desire to kill Stiles. You then learn about the government and their oppression of people in the future, and then you discover that the Daleks are the ones in power. By that time, you have all the strands of the story in your hand, waiting for an explanation to tie them all together. That explanation comes in the form of expository dialog in Episode Four. On the one hand this structure keeps the audience in suspense and tuning in each week to find out what’s going on. But on the other, it leaves the audience frustrated, and perhaps confused, and not really engaged with how the Doctor’s going to solve the situation.

I definitely felt the absence of the original Dalek voice actors in this story. The Dalek voices in “Day of the Daleks” just don’t cut it. I’m not sure why Roy Skelton or any of the other voice actors from five years ago weren’t used, but these sound very odd and very out of place. Also, while the Ogrons make for a good, menacing kind of thug monster, they sound like the Gumbies from Monty Python:

The DVD release features a second disc with a “Special Edition” version of the serial, with CGI special effects, and replacement Dalek voices performed by New Series Dalek voice actor Nicholas Briggs. These Dalek voices are definitely an improvement, but I could do without most of the new CGI effects. The DVD came out in 2011, and already they look dated. The only effect I think stands up well is the improved laser blast.

This is one worth watching, simply because it’s a good story, though you will have to overlook some of the production failings noted above. The pace also demonstrates why, with few exceptions, four parts are better than six or seven. Also of interest is the Doctor showing himself to be a wine connoisseur, and the Doctor shooting an Ogron unprovoked. Terrance Dicks regards this as a mistake, since the Doctor would never use violence except when attacked or to defend someone else who is being attacked.

Who Review: The Daemons

The eyes of the nation are on Devil’s End, a village where a Bronze Age mound is about to be excavated. Local white witch, Olive Hawthorne, warns against the project saying untold evil will be unleashed by disturbing the site. No-one believes her, except, oddly, the Doctor. Jo is surprised given the Doctor has just lectured her on the superiority of science over superstition. But the Doctor’s concerns aren’t about the supernatural, but about an ancient visitor to Earth who is about to be awakened, and is ready to wreck havoc across the entire planet. What the Doctor doesn’t know is that this ancient visitor has an ally, the mysterious new vicar Mr. Magister, whose interest in the occult seems at odds with his profession. Using centuries old rites and incantations, Magister is determined to help his new friend achieve his goals. The Doctor must stop him 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!

Doctor Who does Hammer Horror in this five part story written by “Guy Leopold”–a pseudonym for producer Barry Letts and his writing partner Robert Sloman. And there are plenty of Hammer tropes to enjoy, including villagers with their traditions and folklore, Morris Dancers who turn violent, a white witch foretelling doom, and a vicar who doubles as a red-robed Satanic priest holding occult rituals under the church. Toward the end, we even very nearly have a human sacrifice!

“The Daemons” was much praised for its well-written script and better-than-usual special effects when it first broadcast in May and June of 1971. Over the years it has received more mixed, maybe jaded, reviews, but it still holds a special place in the hearts of many fans. Undoubtedly the script is one of the better of the Pertwee era. This is partly due to the fact that Barry Letts, the show’s producer for the past couple of years, co-wrote it, bringing to bear his intimate knowledge of the characters, and careful observation of the actors.

Personally, I think the effects are good for their time. These include giant hoof prints in a field seen from a helicopter, an archway cut into a heat barrier enabling U.N.I.T. soldiers to pass through, and a church blowing up at the end. All these were done with video trickery and models–no CGI. I’m impressed, anyway.

The U.N.I.T. technician called upon to help the Doctor in this story is Sergeant Osgood. If you’ve been following the New Series, you’ll recognize that name. Osgood was a U.N.I.T. scientist in “The Day of the Doctor,” reappearing in New Series Seasons Eight and Nine. Though never explicitly stated, according to Steven Moffat, New Series Osgood is, in fact, the daughter of Sergeant Osgood. What did you expect with a fanboy running the show? 🙂

This is a good story, but it’s not without its problems, chief of which is the ending. Terrance Dicks says he doesn’t like it because it doesn’t make sense. Azal, the last of the Daemons from Daemos, has been on the Earth for thousands of years, helping mankind grow in knowledge and skill. The Earth has been an experiment for the Daemons, and Azal will soon decide whether or not to end the experiment and destroy the planet. In the end he decides to pass on his power to the Doctor, but the Doctor refuses. Somewhat put out by the Doctor’s snub, Azal decides to gift his power to the Master (who was posing as the vicar, Mr. Magister). Before doing that, he takes the Master’s advice and attacks the Doctor, intending to kill him. Jo, however, throws herself in the way, offering her life in place of the Doctor’s. This illogical act of self-sacrifice confuses Azal who has a sudden existential crisis, resulting in self-destruction, taking out the church as well as himself. Dicks’ problem with this is the fact that, having been on Earth for thousands of years, Azal would have witnessed countless acts of selflessness, so what Jo did shouldn’t have been such a shock to the old alien. I would add to this the fact that throughout the story, the Doctor has pushed science over superstition, and yet it was something as unscientific and intangible as Jo’s love for her friend that defeated the bad guy. Surely it would have been more consistent for the Doctor to come up with a scientific weapon to destroy Azal?

Of course, the story is typical of Doctor Who in that it wants to be theologically agnostic, but can’t help leaning toward skepticism, or outright atheism, while on the other hand upholding logic, reason, love, good, and evil, for which there are no scientific explanations. The Doctor tells Jo there’s a scientific explanation for everything in life. He warns her that the Daemons are far more real than any “mythical” devil, but they are not evil, simply amoral: they will help as long as they somehow benefit from helping. And yet the Daemons punish failure with destruction, something the Doctor wouldn’t consider “amoral.” Further, the Doctor tries to persuade Azal to leave by making a moral argument based on how much his “help” has actually increased man’s power of self-destruction. It would be better for mankind, he says, if Azal were to go. Clearly, the Doctor thinks the fact that man can blow up the Earth many times over, thanks to Azal’s training and guidance, is a bad thing. From a purely rationalistic point of view, why is this the case? And who has the right to say it’s bad? Indeed, by confronting Azal, the Doctor is saying he is wrong. On what scientific basis does the Doctor object to Azal’s experiment? One could write an entire thesis on the moral conundrums bubbling under the surface of Who, so I’ll leave it at that.

In short, despite the dodgy ending, “The Daemons” is a good story, a great script, and worthy of your time.

Who Review: Colony in Space

The Time Lords are concerned. The Master has stolen files pertaining to a highly dangerous weapon, known as the “Doomsday Weapon.” Reluctantly, they agree to make use of the Doctor to investigate. Rather than sending a message, they take control of his TARDIS and temporarily release him from his exile, sending him, and unwitting passenger Jo Grant, to the planet Uxarieus. There the Doctor and Jo encounter a colony of people trying, and failing, to make a life for themselves away from the overcrowded and polluted Earth of 2472. To add to the colonists’ worries, the Intergalactic Mining Corporation is laying claim to the planet so they can excavate its precious minerals, particularly “duralinium.” Also there have been reports of giant reptiles, and giant claw marks on machinery. The Doctor is convinced someone is using trickery to scare the colonists away, but who’s responsible, and how can they be stopped, especially without evidence? When the colonists summon the assistance of an Adjudicator to settle the dispute between them and the IMC, the Doctor has high hopes the issue will be resolved–until he meets the Adjudicator…

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!

This six-part story was written by Malcolm Hulke, who weaves some hot political issues of the day into a story that thinly veils his left-wing politics. We have the colonists and their relationship with the “primitive” natives, clearly taking a jab at colonialism and the treatment of the natives. Then there’s the big, greedy, powerful corporation coming in to lay waste to the planet for its own profit, with no thought for the lives of either the natives or the newcomers. This won’t be the last time a writer uses Who as a vehicle for his or her social or political viewpoint. Thankfully, it’s usually done with a good story, so you can agree or disagree with the writer while still enjoying the show.

The Time Lords make their first appearance since “The War Games” to introduce the main story: the Master has stolen documents concerning the Doomsday Weapon. It’s interesting that for much of the story, this plot thread gets lost in the colonists struggle against IMC. The Doctor’s visit to the primitive city uncovers another layer, and a deeper history to the planet, that drops some subtle hints at what’s going on. Then the Master shows up, and, knowing what the Time Lords have told us, we know he has an agenda that involves the Doomsday Weapon. Another subtle hint is offered when the Master shows an interest in the old, primitive city. Of course, having stolen the documentation, he knows what he’s doing. Hulke draws the threads together when the Weapon is unveiled, and we find out it has been leaking radiation into the soil, which is why the colonists attempts at farming have been so disastrous. It’s a bit of a slow-burning plot, but if you stick with it, there’s a satisfying conclusion.

If “The Claws of Axos” was visually ground-breaking with its use of video effects, “Colony in Space” is quite the opposite. All the action takes place over a couple of sets, and there’s sparing use of video effects. It’s almost as if they blew the effects budget on “Claws,” and had to make do for “Colony.” But the story doesn’t demand a lot of video manipulation, though there are some good old traditional bangs and flashes, and plenty of action–particularly in the form of gun battles. It’s a little strange to see so much shooting and death (albeit bloodless) in Doctor Who, but this was the 1970s, and these were the kinds of games boys, especially, played in the school yard. I think we have a different sensibility about this kind of thing today which we have to suspend to appreciate Classic Who for what it was. All that to say, the show is pacy and interesting enough that the lack of effects doesn’t matter. The viewer can easily stay engaged for the entire six episodes.

The acting is good, though wonky at times–especially during the aforementioned gun battles. Maybe they played them down a bit so they would be more on the level of what kids would do at school, fearing kids would be traumatized it the battles were too realistic? I don’t know, but there’s no doubt the guns were firing blanks, and no-one was seriously hurt.

Overall, it’s a solid story, and worthy of a Whovian’s time. It’s Jo’s first adventure in the TARDIS–indeed, the first time Jo goes inside the TARDIS. She delivers the classic line, “It’s bigger on the inside,” and the Doctor gives the explanation: “It’s dimensionally transcendental.” When Jo asks what that means, the Doctor replies, “It’s bigger on the inside.” 🙂 So, not essential Who, but a fun way to spend a couple of hours that you won’t regret.

Who Review: The Claws of Axos

A mysterious flying object lands somewhere in the south of England, embedding itself into the ground. At first the Ministry of Security wants to treat it as hostile, but the Doctor intervenes, and, along with U.N.I.T., investigates this strange craft. It seems the occupants are a race of beings known as Axons. They are in need of fuel, and are willing to give Mr. Chinn, a Ministry representative, some powerful Axionite in exchange for the chance to refuel their ship. The Axons demonstrate Axionite’s potential to replicate and grow any organism. It could solve the world’s hunger problems by producing and reproducing giant-sized grains and cattle. Mr. Chinn agrees, and all seems well, even if Chinn is determined to secure global rights to the use of Axionite for Great Britain. But there’s more to these Axons than they are letting on. Their true plan is to drain Earth’s energy. And when they discover the Doctor is a Time Lord, they expand their ambitions, and try to persuade him to help…

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 Claws of Axos” is a four-part story, and the first written by Bob Baker and Dave Martin. Baker and Martin went on to write more Classic Who stories, proving themselves to be more than capable of coming up with good scripts. Post-Who, Bob Baker helped write the Academy Award-winning “Wallace and Gromit” series of films.

The premise for the story is good, if only because it’s different from the normal “alien invasion” trope. Here, the aliens present themselves as beautiful, benevolent beings offering the riches of their planet as a thank-you for the humans’ hospitality. Everybody is sucked into this line, but soon the Doctor, Jo, and a few others stumble upon the real plan. The ship is Axon, and it, along with all the Axons and the Axionite, is a single organism whose sole purpose is to feed off of energy. By getting the humans to distribute Axionite throughout the world, the Axons can use the Axionite as a conduit through which they can drain the Earth’s energy.

In this story we see probably the most extensive use of video effects so far in Doctor Who. And for 1971, they aren’t bad, using chroma key (“green screen”), distorted pictures, and other forms of picture manipulation. Of course, not nearly as sophisticated as New Who, but relatively impressive. And having experimented with these new techniques here, you can be sure we’ll see them again in coming stories.

There were a couple of characters that seemed a little pointless. Bill Filer, the man from Washington with the briefcase and the dodgy accent, for one. Filer has quite a big part in the story, and yet really serves no purpose, other than being a concern for Jo. Was he intended to be a love interest that didn’t work out? Or perhaps he was there to remind us of the international scope of the problem, while Mr. Chinn is blathering on about what’s good for jolly old England? The jury’s still out on that one, I think.

And then there’s the Master. Yes, the Doctor’s wily foe turns up again, but this time we encounter him as a prisoner of the Axons. I’ve been trying to think what role he plays in the overall plot, at least up until episode four, when he helps the Doctor fix his TARDIS (at least temporarily). Granted, this is an important part, since the Doctor uses his TARDIS to defeat the Axons by putting them in a time loop. In the process, the Master is reunited with his own TARDIS, which was captured by the Axons, and escapes. But what exactly was he doing for the first three episodes? And why didn’t the Axons make use of the Master’s knowledge of time travel while he was their prisoner? Maybe they read his mind and knew he couldn’t be trusted? But the Doctor wasn’t exactly a willing conspirator, so why should they trust him?

All in all, however, this is a good four-part story that moves along at a good pace and, my little issues aside, works well plot-wise. Even the stringy Axon monsters are creatively conceived, and about as convincing as you might expect on a 1971 BBC effects budget. The TARDIS does it’s first space travel since the Doctor was exiled, though the Time Lords have programmed the TARDIS so it always returns back to Earth. Nevertheless, this gets us out of the Earth-bound format, which makes for a nice change. Definitely one to put on the list of Who stories to watch.