Tag Archives: doctor who

Who Review: The Masque of Mandragora

On a tour of the TARDIS, Sarah discovers a wood paneled room the Doctor identifies as a second console room. While smaller than the main console room, he is equally able to operate the TARDIS from there. The Doctor opens the viewscreen, only to see that they are being dragged into the Mandragora Helix by the intelligence within it. Forced to land in the Helix, they managed to avoid its power and escape, but not before an element of the Helix stows away with them. The Doctor and Sarah next find themselves in fifteenth century San Marino, Italy. As the Duke of San Marino lies dying, the Duke’s brother, Federico, is making a grab for power, even though the Duke’s son, Giulliano, is the rightful heir. Federico is assisted in his efforts by the court astrologer, Hieronymous, whose predictions of death–the Duke’s in particular–are eerily accurate. Giulliano is a man of science at the dawn of the Renaissance, so he has no time for Hieronymous’s superstition. However, the Helix has other plans. Using Hieronymous as its vehicle, the Helix wants to prevent the Renaissance from happening, driving Earth’s Western civilization back into the Dark Ages. As leader of a religious cult, Hieronymous serves as a useful vessel for making this happen, so that the Helix can then rule all mankind through this superstition. Unless the Doctor can stop it…

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!

First, let’s clear up a couple of things that threw me to begin with. It’s “Masque” not “Mask.” A masque is a form of entertainment popular in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries that included drama and dancing, notably with the use of masks. This kind of festivity is key to the climax of the story, since the Helix plans its takeover during the masque to celebrate Giulliano’s succession to the Dukedom. Also “Mandragora” is pronounced mandragora, not mandragora.

This serial was a bold start to season fourteen, what with a new title font, and a new console room. Speaking of the “new” console room, it was a nice change, though it only persisted for this season. That natural look has attracted a lot of fan love over the years, which may account for the return to a more organic style console room for the Eighth, Ninth, and Tenth Doctors. There’s even a nod to the show’s recent past with a Third Doctor style shirt and jacket on a chair, and a recorder, favored instrument of the Second Doctor, that Sarah picks up and plays.

An underlying theme of “Masque” is the challenge to “superstition” brought about by Renaissance “science”–such as it was. I’m not sure that the distinction was quite so sharp, since Renaissance men considered themselves, for the most part, still men of faith. However, the clash makes for good drama, so I think we can live with it here. And the “superstition” that’s mocked in this story is a fictitious cult, so there’s little to cause offense (unless you’re an astrologer who regularly predicts the demise of the rich and powerful).

It’s a good story. Not great, but good solid drama, with elements of humor (unavoidable with the Fourth Doctor), and a fairly tight, pacy plot. The location shooting is particularly good, making the most of the same Portmeirion location in Wales that was used to film the popular Sixties series, “The Prisoner.” There’s a lot of Renaissance Italian architecture, so it’s not hard to fake the period and location with some careful camera work, and some oranges attached to the trees.

During the story, Sarah is drugged and hypnotized. Once again, Elisabeth Sladen’s performance is superb, giving a slight, almost unnoticeable nuance to Sarah that suggests she’s not quite herself. I thought it interesting that the Doctor knew she was under the influence because she asked how she could understand Italian, an odd question to ask now after all the places they had visited. I thought Giulliano’s mention of her dilated pupils would have tipped him off well before that. The Doctor’s answer to her question is the first time in the show’s history the subject is broached–and I’m sure this had bugged Who fans for 13 years. He tells Sarah that the ability to understand and be understood no matter where they are is a “Time Lord gift” that the Doctor shares with her. The subject won’t be broached again until Rose asks the Ninth Doctor in “The End of the World,” where he tells her it’s something the TARDIS does for her.

The finale seems a bit rushed, and you have to be paying attention to follow what’s happening. The Doctor’s plan is to use wire wrapped around the cult’s altar to draw off the Helix’s energy when the cult gathers for worship. The Helix is already stretched energy-wise by occupying all the “Brethren” as well as Hieronymous. By wearing protective armor and taunting Hieronymous to shoot energy bolts at him, the Doctor furthers weakens it. At least, that’s my understanding. The energy-bolt-from-the-fingers effect used with the Brethren looks like the same effect used in “Planet of the Spiders,” only improved.

I’m curious to know how Sarah learned fifteenth century dance moves so quickly. When Tegan launches into The Charleston in the Fifth Doctor story, “Black Orchid,” at least she says she learned it in school. Where, and why, would Sarah Jane Smith have learned popular masque dances? I’m also curious to know why the lunar eclipse seems to be happening so quickly. The episode three cliffhanger, however, is very good, where Hieronymous removes his mask to reveal nothing but light. And those masks are pretty creepy.

To sum up, “The Masque of Mandragora” is a good story, and will keep you entertained. It’s not a must-see, and not the greatest, but better than many.

Who Review: The Seeds of Doom

In his capacity as U.N.I.T. chief scientific advisor, the Doctor has been called by the World Ecology Bureau to look into a strange pod discovered by a team of scientists at an Antarctic base. The photographs suggest something alien, so the Doctor and Sarah go to Antarctica to see the pod for themselves, warning no-one to touch it. When they arrive, the pod has already hatched and attacked one of the scientists, Winlett. He is beginning to take on the appearance of some kind of plant. The Doctor finds a second pod, which seems to confirm for him what they are dealing with: Krynoids. Before long, Winlett is no longer recognizable as a human, his whole body having been transformed by the infection. He is now a powerful and dangerous Krynoid.

Meanwhile, millionaire botanist Harrison Chase has heard about the pod discovery, and sends two mercenaries to Antarctica to recover it for his plant collection. His instructions are for them to bring back the pod, no matter what cost. The two thugs, Scorby and Keeler, are too late to get the first pod, but manage to make off with the second, leaving the Doctor and Sarah to deal with the hungry Winlett-Krynoid. But that’s the least of their concerns. Once that second pod reaches London, warms, and then hatches, not only will it infect the nearest humans, but it will turn all plant life on Earth against the planet’s fleshy occupants.

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 first thing I need to get off my chest with regard to “The Seeds of Doom” is the title. I hate it. First, I keep calling it “The Seeds of Death,” which is a Second Doctor Ice Warrior story. And second, in fiction I associate the word “doom” with melodrama, and a somewhat comical overtone–“Arrrgh! We’re all doomed!” This story is far from comical. Indeed, to me the word “doom” doesn’t do justice to this dark, and somewhat disturbing, story. At least it’s disturbing in concept, given a few plot holes and a couple of effects that don’t quite work. How about “The Pods of Death” or “The Curse of the Krynoids”? Even just “The Krynoids” would have been better than “The Seeds of Doom”!

Broadcast over February and March of 1976, “The Seeds of Death Doom” was the last story of season 13, and hence the dialog at the end where the Doctor and Sarah talk about taking a holiday. It was written by Robert Banks Stewart, who wrote the season opener, “Terror of the Zygons.” The original plan was for “Terror” to be the season 12 closing story, so Stewart would have written the last story for both seasons. However, “Terror” was pushed to the next season, so he ended up top-and-tailing season 13.

U.N.I.T. involvement in Who has been petering out over the past few seasons. This story marks the last time we see any U.N.I.T. soldiers until 1989, and the Seventh Doctor story, “Battlefield.” And even here, U.N.I.T. are not really central to the story, and none of the U.N.I.T. regulars make an appearance. Their inclusion seems to be primarily to give the Doctor an excuse to be there, and to provide some support later on.

While the production team don’t say so explicitly, it’s hard to imagine “DeathDoom” wasn’t at least partly inspired by the classic BBC TV series, “The Quatermass Experiment.” In that series, a space crew returns to Earth bringing with them an alien life that has taken over one of the astronauts, and is turning him into a plant-like creature that then threatens the planet. Somewhat similar. 🙂

All joking aside, “The Seeds of DeeeDoooo…Deaoooom” is a good story. Most of the visual effects work, and the acting is good, at least from the main cast. The Doctor and Sarah are, as always, a delight to watch, but a special shout-out needs to go to Tony Beckley, who played Harrison Chase. Wonderfully sinister, plant-obsessed, and dispassionate about anything else, including humans. Probably the worst effect was the final Krynoid form for which it seems they re-purposed the Axon costume from the 1971 story, “The Claws of Axos.” Back then, it worked fine in the context of that story. But here, it just looks a little silly, especially after the good transformation make-up we’d seen previously. And having the Krynoid talk, giving our heroes an ultimatum to give up the Doctor or die, was a bit of a stretch. I understand why they did it–they needed to give a reason why the Krynoid doesn’t attack and destroy them all immediately. But to suddenly have this silent menace announce its plans in booming clear English didn’t sit well with me.

The violence in this story is quite surprising for 1970s Doctor Who. There’s nothing graphic, but you have the Doctor hitting people, knocking them unconscious. Then there are the plant creatures strangling people to death. And, perhaps the most implicitly gruesome, is the “grinder”–the machine Chase uses to mince up all kinds of refuse to make plant food. He puts the Doctor in it at one point, but, of course, the Doctor escapes. Chase also tries to have Sarah ground, but the Doctor rescues her. One of the soldiers was not so fortunate, and neither was Chase himself in the end. We hear screams. We see the wheels turning. The Doctor looks away and shield’s Sarah’s face. But that’s enough to let our imaginations do the rest. The BBC received complaints, but in a way that was a compliment to how effective it was.

One quite major plot hole that bothered me concerned the fact that the Krynoid would cause all plants in the area to attack the non-plant life. Would that not include the grass, of which there are copious amounts, and over which people are constantly running? Could the Krynoid not have easily thwarted the plans of those attacking it by having the grass, the trees, the flowers, and all the other foliage rise up against them? Granted, that wouldn’t have helped in the end, since it was a bombing attack from the air that dealt the death-blow to the Krynoid. And given that was how the first Krynoid was killed, when the Antarctic base was blown up, you might have thought they’d have come up with that solution sooner.

The last issue I have is the ending. After all the death and destruction, it seems in bad taste to be joking about going on vacation, and acting as if innocent lives hadn’t just been brutally lost. But that’s not unusual for Classic Who. Children’s programming back then didn’t like to dwell on such things. The bad guys lost, and while brave souls gave their lives in the process, the good guys won, and so we celebrate and make merry.

All in all, “The Seeds of DoodeadoodeDoom” is a good serial, and worthy of your time. Not must-see, like some of the others this season, but definitely worth watching.

One last thing. In an inspired piece of casting, Hargreaves is played by Seymour Green. 🙂

Who Review: The Brain of Morbius

The Doctor and Sarah emerge from the TARDIS on the planet Karn, a planet the Doctor knows well because he was born nearby–relatively speaking. Much to his annoyance, the Doctor suspects the Time Lords have diverted him here to investigate something. Sarah finds the remains of wrecked ships, and a decapitated mutant creature. Then a thunderstorm forces them to take shelter in a nearby castle. There they are received by Dr. Mehendri Solon, master surgeon, and his assistant, Condo. Solon’s admiration of the Doctor’s head is of passing interest. The fact he has a bust of renegade Time Lord Morbius is more concerning. Morbius was executed by the Time Lords for his despicable crimes, and thought dead. But it seems his brain survived, and now Dr. Solon, a fully-fledged member of the Cult of Morbius,  is creating a new body for him, if only he can find a suitable head. And what more fitting head for a Time Lord brain than that of a fellow Time Lord? The Doctor, aided by the Sisterhood of Karn, must stop Solon before he uses the Doctor’s head to resurrect one of the most evil criminals the universe has known…

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!

Robert Holmes does Frankenstein in another classic Classic Who story. Originally penned by former script editor Terrance Dicks, changes needed to be made due to budget constraints. However, Dicks was on holiday, so Holmes went ahead with his rewrites and polishes. When Dicks read the final script, it was so far removed from his original vision, he asked his name to be removed. In anger, he told Holmes to credit it to “some bland name.” Following BBC rules, Holmes couldn’t be listed as script editor and writer, so he took Dicks’s advice and used the authorial pseudonym “Robin Bland.”

All the elements of the Frankenstein movies are there: the musty old castle, the strangers taking shelter from a thunderstorm, the mad professor, his strong but simple assistant, and, of course, the monster, stitched together by the professor’s own hands. The twist here is that the monster needs a head, and good ones are hard to come by. So the monster lies dormant, while Morbius’s brain sits in a jar of green goo, waiting for its new body.

This story introduces us to the Sisterhood of Karn, a mystic sect of women who guard a sacred flame that gives them the elixir of life. This elixir gives the ladies longevity, a gift they accuse the Time Lords of trying to steal from them. When the Doctor turns up, they immediately accuse him of being sent by the Time Lords to take their elixir. It takes a good amount of the story for the Doctor to convince them that Time Lords only need the elixir in emergency situations, and he is actually there to help. Initially it seems the Sisterhood don’t really serve much story purpose, and are there simply for padding. However, they become embroiled in the plot as Solon tries to persuade them to leave the Doctor’s head for him after they execute him. Later, they help with the Doctor’s rescue, since they are just as opposed to Morbius’s return as the Time Lords. At the end of the story, with the Doctor perilously close to death, the Sisterhood give him the last of the elixir that he might live.

For Classic Who fans, it was a double delight when, in 2013, Steven Moffatt not only brought back the Eighth Doctor for a special mini episode, “The Night of the Doctor,” but he brought him back to Karn. There the Sisterhood again save his life by giving him elixir, this time prompting a regeneration into the “War Doctor.”

It seems redundant for me to say how good the performances are, because for the most part, the main cast of Doctor Who always do really well. But here in particular, we have the inimitable Philip Madoc as Solon, with all the charm and manic overtones his character demands. Of course the Doctor and Sarah (Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen) are wonderful to watch, playing off each other so well. I think Sladen was an underrated actress in her day. She plays Sarah Jane Smith with such conviction and humanity, reacting to even the most incredible situations so convincingly.

Condo is an interesting character. If Robert Holmes had kept Terrance Dicks’s original scripts, there would be no Condo. Condo seems like a brute, but he softens to Sarah, objecting to Solon’s demands that he kill her. He lacks an arm that Solon has promised to replace when he has finished with Morbius. When he sees that Solon used his arm for the Morbius monster, he turns on his master. These are lovely twists of character that add depth to the story.

Dicks’s biggest objection to Holmes’s changes was something about which, I must admit, he’s right. Namely, if Mehendri Solon is the greatest surgeon in the universe, why did he do such a bad job with the Morbius monster? While that’s an important point, it’s easy to come up with reasons why his Morbius body is such a mess (lack of decent parts, inadequate materials, unsatisfactory working environment, Solon’s addled mind, etc.). Perhaps another plot hole that’s glossed over is the fact that when the Doctor challenges Morbius to a Time Lord “mind bend,” Solon just happens to have the appropriate equipment set up and ready for them in his laboratory! What would Solon have used this for?

All-in-all, this is another must-see Classic Who story. There’s humor (Solon’s line regarding Morbius: it will be “my crowning achievement–sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun.”), and great design ideas, like having the brain hooked up to a stretched vocal cord membrane, which is connected to an amplifier, thus enabling Morbius to speak from his jar. And then there’s the infamous mind bending contest, where we see regenerations prior to the First Doctor. Fans have found ways of reconciling that with the later revelation that Time Lords have only 13 lives, but at the time, the intention was that the faces flashing past were all the Doctor.

There is some rather graphic violence, when Solon shoots Condo, and we see blood spurt out. This is very unusual for Doctor Who in any era, even today, and the BBC received complaints at the time. It does reflect, however, the darker, edgier feel the production team were trying to bring to the show, expanding it beyond the domain of children to draw in older members of the family. I think they succeeded.

Buy the DVD. Watch it online. Whatever, no Whovian should miss this one!

Who Review: The Android Invasion

The TARDIS materializes on what appears to be Earth. The trees and vegetation suggest Sarah’s home planet, but something’s not quite right. Suddenly, a soldier strides past them and falls off a cliff. Horrified, the Doctor and Sarah go to check on him. At the bottom of the cliff, they find a large pod and people dressed in white shooting at them from their fingers. The Doctor and Sarah escape to a nearby village, but they are surprised to find it deserted. Even the pub is empty, though the cash register has money–newly minted coins, all from the same year. When the villagers finally arrive, it’s in the back of a truck escorted by the white-suited people from earlier. And one of the villagers is the soldier they saw fall to his death. It seems an alien force is replicating humans, but that’s just the start of their invasion plan. The Doctor and Sarah need to put an end to the whole scheme before every human being is wiped off the face of the 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!

“The Android Invasion” had a lot to live up to, following on the heels of as great a story as “Pyramids of Mars.” While not a complete disaster, it does ultimately fall short. The deserted village and android replicas all echo the movie “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” so it is in-keeping with the production team’s desire to give the show a darker spin, and touch on familiar horror themes. The deserted village is certainly eerie, and the android humans are creepy, but the overall story isn’t well thought-out. The alien Kraals want to use the androids to spread a virus that will wipe out the human race, which seems very inefficient. To accomplish this, they have to create android humans, pack them all in pods, and distribute them to key locations around the world, hoping that nothing goes wrong with the pods, or the androids’ programming, along the way–assuming the pods make it to Earth and aren’t blown out of the sky by various military forces on Earth. Wouldn’t it have been better to send the virus in small capsules that burn up in Earth’s atmosphere, releasing the deadly contagion into the air?

The story does have some good moments. The episode two cliff-hanger, when android Sarah falls over and her face falls off, was well done. Even though we knew it wasn’t the real Sarah, seeing that mask fall off was very unnerving. I must have watched this when it was first broadcast because that’s the one scene I remember most vividly. And, as usual, the acting is first rate, especially the leads. Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen manage to convey a distinction between the Doctor and Sarah and their android doubles with looks, expressions, and other subtleties. They don’t need to put on robot voices, or walk strangely. You can tell which is which just by watching them.

This is the last Doctor Who serial to feature Benton and Harry Sullivan of U.N.I.T. The Brigadier was supposed to be in it too, but actor Nicholas Courtney was unavailable. The Brig will turn up again in 1988’s “Battlefield.”

There’s really not much more to say about “The Android Invasion,” aside from a couple of other points that bothered me. First, when the Doctor and Sarah “examine” the soldier who fell off the cliff, they check his pockets, but don’t notice that there’s no blood? Not even a scratch? And yet his head is resting upon rocks. Surely that would be the first thing to tip them off that he isn’t real? And when the Doctor and Sarah are hiding in the Kraal ship, it’s too convenient that there are pods available for them to hide in. Why didn’t they check the other pods? If they did, they would have seen Doctor and Sarah androids, among others. Finally, when the Doctor jams the Kraals’ signal, turning off all the androids, how does he operate the Doctor android independently of the others?

Unless you’re a completist (like me), don’t feel compelled to watch “The Android Invasion.” It’s okay, good enough, but it’s not particularly special. The effects are nothing to write home about, and the Kraal costumes are a bit underwhelming (they wear boots with laces?!). Perhaps the most compelling reason to watch this if you’re not a die-hard Whovian is the fact that Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen are on fine form. But then, they usually are.

Who Review: Pyramids of Mars

The TARDIS is thrown off course and ends up in a stately home in 1911, among a collection of Egyptian artifacts. It seems the house is the Scarman family home, and there are some strange things going on there. A Dr. Warlock takes the Doctor and Sarah to a hunting lodge on the grounds where they meet Lawrence Scarman, scientist and brother to the archaeologist, Professor Marcus Scarman, who has recently returned from an expedition in Egypt. Lawrence shows the Doctor his marconiscope, from which he has received some odd signals. The Doctor identifies them as a message from Mars: “Beware Sutekh!” The Doctor explains that Sutekh was the last of an alien race called the Osirians who was chased across the galaxy and supposedly defeated on Earth by his brother, Horus. The Doctor, Sarah, and Lawrence go to the house to investigate, and there they witness a black masked, black robed so-called “servant of Sutekh” kill a man by gripping his shoulders and burning him. The man in black reveals himself to be Marcus Scarman. But he is no longer the man he was. Something happened to him in Egypt, and as a result, the entire created order is in danger from the might of Sutekh the Destroyer…

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!

Despite what the credits say, this story was pretty much a complete Robert Holmes re-write of a script offered by Lewis Greifer. What we end up with is one of the great Who stories of all-time. This review will be positive. Sure, I could nit-pick at the mummy costumes, but they really aren’t all that bad. And, of course, the CSO is not as good as it would be today, but–of course it’s not! This show was broadcast in October and November of 1975. The effects are about as good as you’re going to get for the time.

In short, this is MUST-SEE Who. I could end the review with that, but I’ll give you some reasons why this is such a good serial.

First, Sarah enters the TARDIS Console Room wearing one of Victoria’s dresses. Victoria was a Second Doctor companion he picked up in the Victorian era, so the dress is sort-of appropriate for the story. This is a nice touch, an homage to Sixties Who we don’t often see in 70s Classic Who. The Doctor then vents his frustration about being tied to U.N.I.T., and not wanting to go back to London. This is yet another nail in the coffin of the U.N.I.T. era. We’ve already said goodbye to the Brig (at least until 1989), and we’ll see Harry and Benton for the last time in the next story. But here, it sounds like the Doctor is making a conscious decision to leave U.N.I.T. But he doesn’t really. He’ll never stop being their chief scientific adviser, and he’ll continue to use that position when it’s advantageous for him.

Another notable point is the Doctor’s reference to his respiratory bypass system, which allows him to use an alternate means of breathing, thus giving the appearance of death. I think this is the first time it’s mentioned.

The Doctor takes Sarah “back” to 1980 so he can show her what the world will look like if Sutekh is successful. I think a previous story also indicated that Sarah is from 1980, which sets this era of the show in the near future. We need to remember that when this story first aired, the idea that it would be available on video tape and DVD for people to re-watch was not even a consideration. As far as the production team was concerned, it would be aired, enjoyed, and mostly forgotten–especially little details like Sarah being from 1980. But now, we can compare Sarah Jane Smith’s 1980 with actual 1980 and see how far off they were. It’s not really fair to fault them, though I wonder why they felt the need to give a year. I don’t think it mattered to the story.

To stop Sutekh using Marcus Scarman to steal his TARDIS, the Doctor says the controls are isomorphic, so Scarman will need him to operate the TARDIS. I think this is also a first mention of a concept that comes up now and again. Whether or not the TARDIS controls are actually isomorphic, or whether they are only so when the Doctor remembers to configure them to be is up for debate. It’s certainly true that other people have used, and will use, the TARDIS aside from the Doctor (e.g., Romana, River Song).

One story error–Sarah remarks that the puzzle in the pyramid on Mars (the “childish strategem”) is like the puzzles on the planet of the Exxilons (see “Death to the Daleks” in Season 11). This observation is accurate, but not from Sarah since she never actually saw any of the puzzles on Exxilon.

What really sets this story above many others though, is the combination of the script, the acting, and the atmosphere. Up to this point, producer Philip Hinchcliffe, and script editor Robert Holmes have been dabbling with “gothic horror.” Well, here they go full-bore. The echoes of the classic “Mummy” movies are resounding, and not just by the nature of the story (and the fact there are robot mummies). The lighting, the set designs, the mood combine to give this story a classic horror feel. If the whole story had been shot on film, that would have been the finishing touch. However, budgets wouldn’t extend to studio filming, so only the location shots are on film.

One of the best executed effects (at least IMO), is when Marcus Scarman is shot, and then the smoke from the shot seems to suck into him. This is done by playing the shot backwards and splicing the reversed section into the scene, but it’s so well acted and edited together, it looks seamless.

A couple of acting nods. First, the possessed Marcus Scarman is utterly chilling, and played with such conviction by Bernard Archard. Marcus’s brother, Lawrence, is played by Michael Sheard, who has been in the show a few times before. His performance is unusual in that he is visibly shaken by Marcus’s “death.” It’s not often in Classic Who that you get a sense of grief from characters at the traumatic events happening around them. It was, after all, still considered a children’s show, and too much time spent digging into feelings detracted from the action. But Lawrence’s face, voice, and actions show his heartbreak and devastation louder than any words on the page. Very well done.

As I said, “Pyramids of Mars” is, without doubt, must-see Who. There’s perhaps a little more violence than usual, with a man being crushed to death, another shot, and one man burned alive, but there isn’t any blood, and the camera shies from showing too much. Classic Who doesn’t get much better than this.

(And if that wasn’t enough, the DVD has one of the most entertaining extras, “Oh Mummy!” which tells the story of Sutekh post-“Pyramids of Mars.” Very funny.)

Who Review: Planet of Evil

The Doctor and Sarah leave Harry behind in Scotland to travel back to London by TARDIS. En route they pick up a distress signal to which the Doctor responds, landing the TARDIS on Zeta Minor, a remote jungle planet in the far reaches of the universe. It appears that a geological research expedition has fallen prey to a mysterious killer, and only the expedition leader, Dr. Sorenson, is left alive. A military ship comes to rescue Dr. Sorenson, and capture the Doctor and Sarah, suspecting them of the murders. But the creature that attacked the expedition is now turning upon the crew of the ship. Someone, or something, is not only on the warpath, but is preventing them from leaving. The Doctor and Sarah have seen the attacker, a hazy red entity composed entirely of anti-matter. The Doctor suspects its attacks have something to do with the minerals Sorenson has extracted from the planet. He needs to convince the crew of his and Sarah’s innocence, and get them to return the minerals before they are all destroyed…

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 Doctor and Sarah continue their adventures without Harry. While not technically part of the story arc from “Robot” to “Terror of the Zygons,” this story takes place as they are making their way back to London from Scotland. I love the Doctor’s reaction when he hears the distress signal–he’s evidently excited at the prospect of adventure and danger.

I’ve lost count how often the Doctor and his companion(s) turn up on a planet and are immediately accused of causing whatever problem they encounter. I suppose it’s not unreasonable to think this could happen, especially if they are caught examining a dead body, or in some other compromising situation. However, the Doctor is usually able to convince people of his innocence fairly quickly. In this story, Salamar, the commander of the rescue ship, remains unconvinced for most of the story, which is unusual.

This is a good serial, though not entirely original, since it plays on the “planet fights back” theme we’ve seen before (“Inferno” and “The Green Death” for example). Important minerals are extracted, and the planet, in the form of an anti-matter monster, won’t let the explorers leave until they return the minerals. In episode two, the story takes a Jekyll and Hyde turn as Sorenson is taken over by the anti-matter monster and has to drink a potion to control the transformation. Perhaps a hint at the “gothic horror” direction the show’s producer and script editor planned to take Doctor Who?

The effects are reasonably impressive for the time. They use a red superimposed outline to indicate the anti-matter monster, and red reflective patches on Sorenson’s eyelids to show when the monster is controlling him. I’m not exactly sure, however, how an anti-matter monster is able to control someone who is matter. Wouldn’t there be some kind of explosive reaction? And why does anti-matter make Sorenson behave like a Primoid from “Inferno”? Maybe these questions were answered somewhere and I missed it.

It’s notable that the Doctor uses physical violence when he punches Salamar and knocks him out cold. That might be the first and last time we see the Doctor land a punch on someone. Even the Third Doctor’s hand-to-hand combat was restricted to Venusian aikido, which consisted largely of chops and finger pressure applied to certain parts of the body. Certainly no fisticuffs!

The most impressive part of this adventure, however, has to be the forest scenery. The trees, the vines, the plants are all superbly rendered using who-knows-what. The effect is even more stunning when shown on film as opposed to videotape. I think this is one of the best Doctor Who sets in the programs’ history. If they recreated it today, it couldn’t look much better.

In summary, “Planet of Evil” is another good story, with a dark atmosphere and a challenging monster. Indeed, it’s hard to dismiss any of the stories from this era since so many of them are good. The Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith work so well together, you can’t not enjoy watching them. Add to that the amazing scenery, and I think you have reason enough to check it out.

Who Review: Terror of the Zygons

The Doctor, Sarah Jane, and Harry respond to the Brigadier’s summons, landing in present-day Scotland. A North Sea oil rig has been attacked, but no-one is to be able to trace the attacker. It seems three other rigs were similarly attacked in the past month. Harry attempts to talk to one of the attack survivors, but his attempt lands him in hospital with a serious head injury. Meanwhile, the Doctor examines a piece of the rig that has washed ashore, only to discover giant tooth holes in the metal. When Sarah visits Harry in hospital, she is accosted by a strange orange creature that, apparently, used to be the attending nurse. An alien plot is unfolding in that Scottish village, and the TARDIS crew is finding it hard to tell who they can trust…

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!

While this story begins a new season of Doctor Who, it was, in fact, recorded as part of the previous season, and hence it serves as the conclusion of the loose arc that started with “Robot.” It also marks the end of Harry Sullivan’s time on the TARDIS, and, indeed, the end of the UNIT era. UNIT will make an appearance once more in this season (see “The Android Invasion”), and again 13 years later in “Battlefield,” but from this point on, they are no longer a regular feature of the show.

The Zygons themselves are a great Who baddie, and it’s puzzling that this was their only story in the Classic run. Not only are they a great design, but they are interesting conceptually, with their shape-shifting ability that keeps you guessing who’s who. Fandom cheered when the Zygons returned for the Fiftieth Anniversary special.

Speaking of great design, the Zygon ship is superbly realized, the way it continues the organic look of the monsters, with squishy controls and tentacle-like wires. It’s a very different take on a spacecraft, which is not something you often see in sci-fi, where all space ships tend to look alike.

For his last major role in Doctor Who, Ian Marter does an outstanding job not only playing “normal” Harry Sullivan, but also playing Zygon Harry. The menace he conjures in his eyes as he attacks Sarah Jane is totally convincing. There’s no question this is not the same Harry Sullivan, despite appearances.

Overall, the show is a win for the effects and costume teams, with the possible exception of the “Nessie” monster. We could give them a bit of a pass because it was supposed to be a cyborg in the story, so it shouldn’t matter if it looks like the dinosaurs from “Invasion of the Dinosaurs.” But after doing so well elsewhere, it’s a bit of a disappointment.

In summary, “Terror of the Zygons” is very much worth your time–maybe even essential, given it’s the only time you see the Zygons in Classic Who. The Zygons are a creative and challenging foe, and the effects and costumes are above standard for the era. And, most importantly, it’s a great story.

By the way, I believe the DVD release of “Terror of the Zygons” was the last complete Doctor Who serial to come out on DVD. The soundtrack has been remixed for 5.1 surround, possibly by keeping the core mono track, and re-applying sound effects and incidental music. Did they do this to mark the occasion? I don’t know. But they did a good job.

Links and Stuff

Hello, everyone! Time for another Links and Stuff. First, while Hurricane Matthew has long dissipated, his effects are still being felt here in Eastern NC. We (as in me and my family) didn’t suffer from the flooding, but there are roads and towns nearby that are submerged due to rivers and creeks bursting their banks. It’ll be early next week before the water subsides and the clean up begins for those affected. Many have lost homes, and some have lost loved ones thanks to this storm, and my prayers go out to them all.

Now to the links! As you may have heard, singer-songwriter Bob Dylan became the first lyricist to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. The citation praises Dylan for “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” This move by the Nobel committee has been lauded and criticized. Among the criticisms is the fact that the Nobel committee passed over under-appreciated writers and works that deserve the spotlight a Nobel prize would afford. After all, Dylan is already a popular figure whose songs have garnered a number of other prizes over the past 50 years. Those pleased with the nomination point out that Dylan is well overdue recognition by the literary establishment for his insightful poetry that became the voice of a generation. I tend to the view that if the award is given for creating “new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition,” Lin-Manuel Miranda should get a Nobel Literature prize for “Hamilton.” And maybe he will. Watch for next year’s awards…

Speaking of literature, an interesting mash-up was announced this week. Puffin announced that they are publishing a series of Doctor Who “Mr. Men” books. For those who don’t know, the “Mr. Men” was (and is) a British book series by Roger Hargreaves, featuring odd-shaped characters named for their distinctive actions or attributes. “Mr. Tickle” has long arms so he can tickle people from afar. “Mr. Bump” bumps into things. “Mr. Strong” is, well, strong–you get the idea. I was really into this series as a child. I remember my Mum buying me “Mr. Men” books to keep me quiet while she shopped (yes, they’re THAT old). I would post a picture of some of my original “Mr. Men” books, but they’re packed away, so these will have to do:

The new series will feature each of the twelve Doctors, the first four, “Dr. First,” “Dr. Fourth,” “Dr. Eleventh,” and “Dr. Twelfth” being released next spring. Here’s what “Dr. First” and “Dr. Eleventh” look like:

Yes, they’re kids books… but I’ll be ordering them. 🙂

Next, another mash-up, this time Lego and the Beatles! On November 1, in time for the Christmas market, Lego is releasing a new “Yellow Submarine” set, based on the iconic 1968 Beatles cartoon movie. The set comes with a giant yellow submarine, along with John, Paul, George, and Ringo figures based on the cartoon characters. At $60 it’s a bit expensive, so I don’t know that I’ll be rushing to get one. It’s a nice collectible, though.

Finally, today is the 950th anniversary of The Battle of Hastings, a battle that changed the course of the Western world. I wrote an article about it five years ago, which contains links to various other sites, including the famous Bayeux Tapestry–possibly the world’s first graphic novel! 🙂 Here’s my article.

That’s all from me. Now, it’s your turn–share your thoughts!

Who Review: Revenge of the Cybermen (Revisited)

The time ring takes our heroes back to the Nerva space station, but they arrive thousands of years before it became an Ark for the cream of humanity. At this point in time, Nerva is a beacon, alerting ships to uncharted moons and planets so they don’t crash into them, like a deep space lighthouse. The planet under Nerva’s watch is the newly-discovered planet of Voga, the so-called “planet of gold.” But all is not well on Nerva. A strange virus is wiping out the crew, causing the beacon to be quarantined. The Doctor isn’t convinced it’s a virus, and the name “Voga” tells him what he needs to know: the Cybermen are involved. And that means even bigger trouble for Nerva. Meanwhile on Voga, there is violent dissension over the future of the planet. One faction wants Voga and its inhabitants to keep to itself, fearing attack from the Cybermen. The other wants to emerge from the shadows, become a great trading planet again, and fight off the Cybermen once and for all. This political and military fighting only complicates things for the Doctor, Sarah, and Harry, who find themselves caught up in the struggle, which turns out to be a fight for their lives and the lives of everyone on Voga…

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!

I wrote a review of this story about five years ago, but since I recently re-watched it, I thought I’d revisit the review.

Continuing the storyline that began with “The Ark in Space” (which really just continued directly on from the previous story, “Robot”), “Revenge of the Cybermen” saw the return of the tin men for the first time since 1968. The Third Doctor didn’t have an encounter with the Cybermen because, frankly, Terrance Dicks, the script editor during the Third Doctor era, didn’t like them. However, with a new production team coming in, and a new Doctor to get used to, it was decided to put some old favorites in the season line-up to make sure people kept watching. Hence the previous story featuring the Daleks, and this Cyberman story.

Written by Cyberman co-creator, Gerry Davis (with some strong influence from then-script editor Robert Holmes), it’s not a bad story. In fact, there’s no padding at all, which is one of the advantages of four-part stories. The Cybermen costumes get a much-needed overhaul, though not all the visual effects work. We have warring factions on Voga, and a double-agent on Nerva, all of which make for depth and interest in the plot.

Sadly, though, the story is plagued with inconsistencies and plot holes. Here are some that particularly struck, and in some cases bothered, me:

  • How did the Cybermen transmat onto the planet? The Doctor used the transmat to cure Sarah of the “plague” since its beams disperse human molecules, separating them from the virus. So how did the non-human Cybermen make it onto Voga?
  • How could the Cybermen survive on Voga? If gold is now deadly to their systems, surely the “gold planet” would have gold dust in the air? Surrounded with so much lethal gold, the Cybermen would surely suffer, perhaps even die.
  • Why did the Vogans continue shooting at the Cybermen when it was obvious their guns had no effect, and they were simply committing suicide? They mentioned once having used a scatter gun to drive the Cybermen away with gold. Why not use that? Or at least throw gold rocks at them–that would have been much more effective. Indeed, why did the Doctor and Harry attack with gold dust? Why not big chunks of gold that could be thrown and less easily shaken off?

The whole gold allergy thing with the Cybermen was introduced in this story, and persisted through the rest of the Classic era. While it provides a weakness that sort-of fits with the plot, it undermines their menace. Indeed, the only time gold is used as a weapon in the New Series is in the Eleventh Doctor’s last encounter with them, “Nightmare in Silver.” When the Doctor uses gold against a Cyberman in that story, they all download an upgrade that “fixes” the problem. This underscores how lame a weakness it truly was.

Oh, and then there’s the sassy Cyber Leader with his hands on his hips. I don’t know what’s up with that, but it is funny.

The story ends with the TARDIS catching up with the Doctor on Nerva, and the Brigadier summoning him back to Earth. This leads into the next story, “Terror of the Zygons,” which was originally supposed to be the last story in this season, but was held over to start the next.

To sum up, “Revenge of the Cybermen” is a solid, no-padding story, and it sort-of works if you don’t think about it too hard. The performances are great, especially from the leads, so if you like watching the Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane at their best, then definitely give this one your attention. It’s also worthwhile to continue the Nerva space station story. But aside from that, I wouldn’t worry too much about it. In fact, the best thing on the DVD release is the extra, “Checks, Lies, and Videotape,” a 30 minute documentary on the history of Doctor Who on videotape, going back to the days when fans would tape the show from television and buy pirate copies of old stories, through to the release of “Revenge of the Cybermen” on video in 1983–the first Doctor Who story to get a commercial release.

Who Review: Genesis of the Daleks

The TARDIS crew are, once again, sidetracked from returning to space station Nerva, this time by the Time Lords. On the planet Skaro, a Time Lord gives the Doctor a time ring, and tells him he must do something to prevent the menace of the Daleks. They will be a scourge on the universe for millennia, so the Doctor, Sarah, and Harry have been brought back to the time when the Daleks were created. This is their opportunity to at least delay their development, if not destroy them, or alter their genetics so they retain a moral conscience. Once they have completed their mission, the time ring will set them back on their course to the Nerva space station and the TARDIS. Of course, this is no easy mission. Not only is there a war going on between the Kaleds and the Thals, but Dalek development is taking place in a well-guarded bunker. And the Kaled chief scientist, the creator of the Daleks, is not going to let his life’s work die without a fight…

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!

Not without its flaws (we’ll get to those in a moment), but “Genesis of the Daleks” definitely ranks as one of the classic Doctor Who stories. Written by Dalek creator Terry Nation, this six-part adventure explores the origins of the pepper pots, drawing from things we’ve learned from previous Dalek stories (e.g., that there is an organic, mutated life form inside the Dalek outer shell, and that there was a war with the Thals on Skaro at the time), as well as adding new information (and changing a few things, too). The biggest new revelation is the introduction of Davros, the evil genius who created the Daleks.

The basic plot is pretty solid. Davros has created the ultimate fighting machine to win the war with the Thals. But, in-keeping with his philosophy that peace can only come through absolute power and suppression of dissent, he has created the mutations inside the Daleks to be without morals or conscience. They are built to survive, and subjugate or eliminate all inferior life forms (i.e., anything not a Dalek). To his ethically-minded scientists and soldiers, such a creature is monstrous, so Davros manipulates acceptance of the Daleks by orchestrating an attack on the Kaleds by the Thals, necessitating the use of deadly force in response. Not only does this give him justification to use the Daleks, but it also serves to eliminate much of his opposition at home. There is still a lot of resistance to his experiments, so he tricks the opposition leaders into a conference wherein he unleashes the Daleks and destroys them all. In the midst of this, the Doctor, Sarah, and Harry are trying to prevent the Daleks from progressing any further, without losing track of the time ring that is their only way back to the TARDIS on space station Nerva.

Davros’s ideal of a super race creating peace by oppressive rule and forced removal of opposition mirrors Hitler’s ideology. Indeed, the likeness of the Kaled soldiers to German World War Two SS troops is very thinly veiled. Even their salute is taken from the Nazis. This isn’t a new theme; from the beginning, Nation modeled the Daleks on the Nazis, and their ideas of racial purity and power through strength. Here he makes the connection a little more blatantly obvious. That’s not at all a criticism. It works wonderfully well.

There are many things to praise about this serial. The main cast are on fine form, but there’s usually little to fault with Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen as the Doctor and Sarah Jane. Add to that Michael Wisher’s superb performance as Davros. He was the original, and he has never been bettered (though Julian Bleach in the New Series does an excellent job). His costume is surprisingly good for the time, leaving Michael’s mouth uncovered, yet made up to blend with the mask. Nyder, Davros’s right-hand man, played by Peter Miles, also puts in an outstanding villainous turn.

I also really like the ironic turnaround at the end of the story [serious spoiler coming up]. After proclaiming the Daleks to be the supreme beings of the universe, and touting the virtues of their pitiless amorality, what happens at the end? Davros gives them a command, and they refuse to obey. Why should they? The Daleks finally figure out that if they are the supreme beings, Davros is nothing to them. They don’t need him. And as they point their guns to exterminate him, Davros pleads for pity. “Pity?” the senior Dalek replies. “Pity is not in our vocabulary.” Of course it isn’t. Davros didn’t give it to them! Excellent writing.

Some less successful moments include–and maybe this is being a bit picky–the Time Lord’s costume. It reminds me of a court jester, only all black, which takes away some of the gravity of his mission. More seriously, Sarah’s attempted escape from the Thals by climbing up the rocket scaffolding is an obvious piece of padding. She gets to the top, is stopped by guards, and taken back down. The plot didn’t move an inch for all that, except for the fact that two of her friends died. But even that didn’t cause any emotional change in Sarah. And then there are “Davros’s pets”–particularly the giant clam that grabs Ian’s legs. Not the design department’s finest moment. Totally unconvincing.

Finally, some points of interest. In every Doctor Who serial, each episode after the first begins by replaying the cliffhanger from the previous episode. Not so episode two of “Genesis of the Daleks.” It just picks back up where it left off. Very unusual. Also unusual is the freeze frame cliffhanger at the end of episode two.

Of interest to me is the assertion of the necessity of morality and conscience in science. Clearly Davros doesn’t see such things as important. But I don’t think the Doctor really puts up much of a case for why, objectively speaking, Davros is wrong. If there are no objective standards of morality, right and wrong, why is it wrong for Davros to establish peace by brute force? Indeed, what makes the Daleks evil? Davros insists the Daleks are good, because they will end warfare and unite people under their supreme rule. In the end, the Doctor simply assumes a standard of morality and the necessity of conscience to justify his attempts to stop the Daleks. And I believe he is right. But my belief is based on a Biblical worldview. Where does the Doctor get his from?

The end is not entirely satisfactory. The Doctor didn’t stop the Daleks, so ultimately he failed in his mission. Of course, he couldn’t succeed, otherwise there would be no Dalek stories. But the Doctor falls back on an argument he made earlier, that some good must come as a result of the Daleks’ evil. Granting that, he still didn’t succeed. And maybe, in an odd way, that adds to the story’s success. The Doctor doesn’t always win the war, even if he’s victorious in battle.

To sum up, this is another must-see story. Aside from the issues above, it’s well written, well directed, even well lit (and lighting is an ongoing issue with Classic Who, with many serials being over-lit). And, of course, it’s Davros’s introductory story. All in all, well worth the time.