Tag Archives: who review

Who Review: Timelash

On the way to Andromeda for a holiday, the TARDIS encounters a time tunnel. While trying unsuccessfully to navigate around it, the Doctor and Peri end up on the planet Karfel. This is not the Doctor’s first visit, however, and the locals seem pleased to see him again, especially since last time he and his companions saved their planet. But that was a long time ago, a few regenerations back, when Karfel was a different place. Now it is ruled by the despotic Borad, who makes pronouncements via video screen, and has the Maylin, the most senior member of the board of counselors, act as his enforcer. The people are constantly monitored by closed circuit cameras. Insurrection and rebellion are punishable by death, or exile in the Timelash, which casts the miscreant into time and space. This is the time tunnel that found the TARDIS, and as they passed through, the TARDIS crew was visited briefly by someone going the other way–the ghostly form of a woman with a talisman. It seems this woman grabbed the talisman from the Maylin before being thrown into the Timelash, and now the Maylin wants the Doctor to use his TARDIS to retrieve it. To ensure compliance, the Maylin has one of his people give Peri a tour of the facility, during which she is to be captured and held prisoner until the Doctor’s return. But the Borad is wary of the Doctor. He has already wiped Karfel’s history books of stories from his last visit, but his legend continues to be spread word-of-mouth. If the Borad has his way, this trip in the TARDIS to trace the talisman may well be the Doctor’s last…

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!

Where to begin talking about “Timelash”? Regarded by many Whovians as not Who’s finest hour, and as much as I try to look for the positives, I have to agree. So maybe I should start with the positives. There are some, really. Trust me!

The first positive is the Borad. We don’t see him fully until later in the story, and when we do, he is a masterpiece of make-up. Part human, part Morlox, his face blending from one to the other in a fine piece of prosthetic craftsmanship. And the actor underneath, Robert Ashby, plays him so well, with a quiet, menacing demeanor, never shouting, but exuding power with every line.

Next, I’ll give a shout-out to Herbert. A delightful character, portrayed brilliantly by David Chandler. His enthusiasm, excitement, and trepidation are balanced well, especially considering who he is… which, if you haven’t figured it out by the end, is revealed by the Doctor in the closing scene. Morlox? Vena? Invisibility? Time Travel…? I like that end reveal, by the way. It was a nice touch, and I recall being both surprised and glad when I watched it first time around.

I also like the idea of the Doctor returning to a place he visited long ago, especially when that past adventure was one we haven’t seen, and involved a companion we haven’t met. It adds another layer of mystery and speculation, which is always good for the fans. The down-side of it here, as opposed to, say, in “The Face of Evil,” is that it really serves no plot purpose only to give the Doctor credibility and a reputation with the inhabitants.

Which brings us to the problems, of which there are myriad, and not one single person to blame for them. The writer, the producer, the script editor, the director, and the actors, and the designers all contributed to both the good and the bad. When it’s remarkably good (e.g., “Vengeance on Varos”), everyone can take a bow. When it’s remarkably bad, I’m afraid the shame-faces are shared too. Perhaps the biggest issue for me is the tone. It’s all too… panto, as in Pantomime, that great British tradition of campy, family-friendly, audience-participation theater. Some scenes avoid being over-played (e.g., the Borad’s chambers), but some are borderline ridiculous, like the fight scene at the beginning of episode 2, and, worst of all, the Borad’s finale when he gets pushed into the Timelash. I almost expected the cast to take a bow at the end!

It seems the show under-ran, so extra scenes were quickly written in, and it shows. The scene with the Doctor and Peri squabbling over where to go at the beginning is irritating. And the scene where the Doctor and Herbert argue over why Herbert shouldn’t be there is painful, almost as painful as the scene he played out with Peri just moments before having the same argument. The padding was so obvious, and inelegantly handled.

The Sixth Doctor’s character, which had settled down nicely over the past two or three stories, has suddenly reverted back to the crotchety, argumentative, demeaning egotist we met in his first story, “The Twin Dilemma.” This is jarring, and very unwelcome. I like where Colin Baker had taken the Doctor’s mellower, albeit still a bit full of himself, persona, and I thought it worked well. This, however, is possibly one of the most disappointing aspects of “Timelash.”

Put all this together with sets that are okay, but not special, Morlox that look no better than the Drashigs of 13 years previously, and tall android guards that look like giant Munchkins with their squeaky sing-song voices, yellow hair, and blue faces. What were they thinking?! Who thought this was a great idea?!

I know I’ve given the show a beating, but if I might just put the final boot in the gut, what’s with the TARDIS’s unexplained escape from the missile strike, and the Borad’s return by means of cloning? For a start, how hard would it be to explain that the TARDIS is invincible, or to have the Doctor working on some clever shield enhancement at the beginning of the story (instead of that inane argument with Peri), that comes into play at the end? Talk about deus ex machina (no, don’t, I think this story has that covered). And where was the Borad’s cloning experimentation mentioned previously? That’s right, it wasn’t! This was so obviously a device thrown in at the end so they could bring the Borad back for one last hurrah. Let’s call it a diabolos ex machina. Whatever, it’s lazy and it sucks.

Do I need to say this is not must-see Who. Sorry to say, but try as I might to be as generous as possible, “Timelash” has to be one of the worst of the Classic era. Watch it if you’re a completist, or if you just like watching car wrecks. Otherwise, feel free to skip it. Please.

Who Review: The Two Doctors

The Second Doctor and Jamie have been sent by the Time Lords to investigate time experiments being conducted by Messers Kartz and Reimer, under the supervision of an eminent scientist named Dastari. The Time Lords fear such meddling with time could have catastrophic results, and therefore must be stopped. The Doctor delivers the message, but Dastari refuses to comply with their demands. Before negotiations can progress, Sontaran warriors invade Dastari’s space station. Dastari falls unconscious, and the Doctor is held at gunpoint while Jamie runs for his life… Meanwhile, the Sixth Doctor isn’t feeling himself. Fearing trouble with one of his past incarnations, he decides to call on his old friend, Dastari. By the time the Doctor and Peri arrive, the station crew are dead, and Dastari is nowhere to be found. The Doctor locates his other self by means of telepathic link, and they leave to find out what’s going on. What they discover is a plot to give the Sontarans the power of time travel–a prospect the universe cannot tolerate. Somehow the Doctor must save his other self, and together they must stop the Sontarans from achieving their greatest and most deadly weapon…

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 far as I know, there was no particular anniversary to celebrate when “The Two Doctors” was first broadcast. And yet this is a special story since it’s Robert Holmes’s first Who since Peter Davison’s finale, “The Caves of Androzani” the year before, and we see the return of Patrick Troughton as the Second Doctor. We last saw Troughton in “The Five Doctors,” the 20th Anniversary special which aired in November of 1983. If these things aren’t enough, Robert Holmes wrote his very first Doctor Who story, “The Krotons,” for the Second Doctor back in 1968. So this is the first time he has written for him in seventeen years! Perhaps looking to make the most of the occasion, the production team gave the story three 45-minute episodes, almost the equivalent of a traditional 6-parter. We haven’t seen Who serials that long since the Seventies.

The story has its critics, but I can’t honestly say I’m one of them. It’s not the best work Holmes has done, but it’s far from bad. He does everything you should do in a story–especially a Doctor Who story. He establishes a premise for the Second Doctor being involved, and for the Sixth Doctor crossing his time line. Also, the Doctor can’t just leave without rescuing his old self, otherwise he would be putting himself in grave danger, with the possibility of even greater danger should the Sontarans learn how to time travel. None of the characters are window dressing; they all play a part in the plot. The two humans, Oscar and Anita, show our heroes the location of the hacienda where Dastari has set up shop. They are also running the restaurant where Shockeye and the Second Doctor dine, and where Shockeye commits murder. Dastari leads the time travel experimentation, and is the reason both Doctors are there. The Androgums and the Sontarans both want the experiments to succeed for their own agendas, providing conflict and creating obstacles for our heroes to overcome. Holmes even makes the rather arbitrary location work as part of the story plot (it was supposed to be set in New Orleans, but that fell through so they went to Seville).

Holmes also makes the most of the three episodes by taking his time to develop characters and weave the plot. Characterization was one of his gifts, and we see that here with Oscar the moth collector and actor, who helps the TARDIS crew but ends up on the wrong end of a knife. He also created quite a vile race in the omnivorous Androgums.  It seems Homes was vegerarian, so this story provided him an easy platform for biting commentary on meat-eating. Especially harsh (though, as a vegetarian myself, quite amusing) was his comment as he’s tenderizing Jamie’s legs, that as a “lower creature,” humans don’t feel pain like the “higher” Androgums do, so there’s no real harm in malleting his muscles!

It’s nice to see Jamie again. He was supposed to be in “The Five Doctors,” but Fraser Hines’s schedule didn’t permit. He seems to slip back into the role rather effortlessly, even to the point of failing to flirt with Anita. At the end, he steals a peck on Peri’s cheek, as if to prove to himself he’s a lady’s man (see similar awkwardness at the end of “The Faceless Ones”).

The darker tone to the stories this season continues. Not only do we have the Androgums, and their talk of eating flesh, and devouring humans, but there are some unusually graphic scenes (graphic for Who, anyway). In one scene, Shockeye carries the lower half of a blown-off Sontaran leg, complete with protruding bone and green blood. And when Oscar is stabbed, he bleeds. At the heart of Dastari’s time travel plan is the recovery of symbiotic nuclei from a Time Lord (namely, the Doctor), and his talk of gene splicing is a bit macabre. Chessene (wonderfully portrayed by Jacqueline Pearce), who is supposed to be a technologically augmented Androgum, able to rise above her base instincts, finally succumbs to her native tastes when she falls on the ground outside the Hacienda, wipes blood from the ground with her hand, and licks it. Again, strong stuff for Doctor Who.

There are a couple of places I would most fault “The Two Doctors.” The first, and most obvious, is with the Sontaran costume design and casting. The Sontarans are supposed to be a clone race of short and stocky warriors. The two Sontarans we see are both tall, one is taller than the other, and one (maybe both, I don’t recall) sports a goatee! And the facial prosthetics are not nearly as good as the original 1974 mask (see “The Time Warrior”). I can only wonder how Robert Holmes, creator of the Sontarans, let this happen. Perhaps he had no say in the matter, which would not be unusual.

Also, I think Oscar’s death scene is a little too light. Oscar hams it up because that’s his character, though since he really is dying, I can’t imagine he would be so theatrical about it. Anita cries, and is upset, but she’s not really distraught. Even if she didn’t love him as much as he thought she did, she just witnessed a murder. Perhaps they dialed it back out of regard for the children in the audience, though that would be inconsistent given the tone of the story.

Overall, “The Two Doctors” is a good story, and worth watching. It’s not Must-See Who, but it is Patrick Troughton’s last appearance as the Doctor, so the Whovian should watch it if only for that reason. It’s not perfect, and it’s not the best of the Holmes canon, but there’s a lot worse you could watch.

 

Who Review: Mark of the Rani

A scheduled trip to Kew Gardens in Victorian London is interrupted by the discovery of a time distortion, located somewhere in the town of Killingworth in northern England. The Doctor and Peri discover they have landed in a mining town on the eve of the Industrial Revolution. So-called “Luddites,” scared of the new machinery that threatens their jobs, are causing unrest. And yet something isn’t right. These Luddites are excessively violent, as if something more than fear for their livelihoods has unhinged them. And now miners are going missing, not returning home from the pit. The Doctor becomes embroiled in the mystery when he attempts to visit one of the architects of change, George Stephenson, and finds himself a target of the manic Luddites. But, as the Doctor soon discovers, it’s not the Luddites who ultimately want to see the Doctor’s demise. Not one, but two renegade Time Lords have a plan that will upset the Industrial Revolution, set England’s progress back centuries, and put an end to the Doctor, unless the Doctor can find a way to stop them.

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!

“Mark of the Rani” was husband-wife writing team Pip and Jane Baker’s first attempt at a Doctor Who script, and possibly their best, if only because it gave the Whoniverse a new renegade Time Lord (Time Lady?): the Rani. To introduce her, they teamed her up with the Master. Their quests are quite different, though they are both up to no good. The Rani wants the chemical from the human brain that induces sleep; the Master wants revenge on the Doctor. They form an uneasy alliance when they realize that by working together they can both get what they want. But it is most certainly an uneasy alliance. The Rani has no patience for the Master’s vendetta against the Doctor, and the Master would rather work alone. It’s good to see the Master challenged by someone who is his equal both in intelligence and selfish ambition. They do leave a couple of questions unanswered, however. How did the Master escape the fires of Sarn (see “Planet of Fire”)? The Master’s answer, “I’m indestructible,” is hardly satisfying. And if the Rani is the genius chemist she is supposed to be, why does she need to extract this chemical from all these human brains? Why can she not synthesize and replicate it?

Nothing other than the Doctor’s curiosity, and a desire to meet some nineteenth century industrial boffins, stops him and Peri from leaving. And it’s that curiosity that leads them into the Master’s plot, and causes them to stumble upon the Rani’s diabolical scheme. It seems by extracting this chemical from the brain, the victims become extremely aggressive. Given the fervor of the Luddite rebellion, it’s easy to pass this madness off as symptomatic of their fear and fury. But the Doctor is not easily fooled, and he soon finds a way to put a wrench in her plans and dispose of them both, but not without facing considerable danger along the way. Sort of.

In one scene, the Doctor clings to a chain over the mouth of a well, while sleep-deprived, and easily suggestible, coal miners beat on him, trying to make him fall. At least that was the idea, and it could have been a very dramatic scene if it wasn’t for the fact that the Doctor’s assailants were a little too careful where they laid their blows. One man with a shovel could made short work of the Doctor with one chop of his blade on the Doctor’s hand. But no, he cautiously slaps the chain with his shovel, while the others lay gentle blows against the Doctor’s back and arms.

Another scene finds the Doctor and Peri in the Rani’s laboratory, where a large screen conceals her TARDIS. The Doctor ties a string to the front, and opens a door that releases mustard gas. Peri grabs a couple of gas masks, and together they move the screen out of the way so they can access the Rani’s TARDIS. Maybe I missed something, but why bother releasing the gas? Why not just move the screen? If moving it would have released the gas anyway, they could have made it into the Rani’s TARDIS before the gas took effect. And the Doctor opens the Rani’s TARDIS with his own TARDIS key. That doesn’t seem right. I’m sure even another Time Lord needs the correct key to enter a strange TARDIS (see “Terror of the Autons” and “The Deadly Assassin”).

The Rani’s TARDIS is nicely designed, deliberately more classy-looking than the Doctor’s, with its swirly bar rotor, and push-panel controls. I like the fact they tried to do something different, unlike the Master’s TARDIS which tends to look just like the Doctor’s, only with black trim, or darker lighting. And near the end, when the Master tries to operate the Rani’s TARDIS, does she knee the Master in the groin? It looks like it–way to go, Rani!

Aside from these points, this is not a bad story. It’s competent and cohesive, without too many logical stretches. Most importantly, it’s entertaining, and not at all dull. The location filming is particularly well done, and, being a period drama put on by the BBC, everything looks exquisitely authentic. The principal actors all give great performances, though the extras are a bit disappointing. And the effects are good enough for the time.

“Mark of the Rani” is far from classic Who, and certainly not must-see, but worth watching for the Rani. Kate O’Mara handles the character very well, making her a villain I wouldn’t mind seeing in the New Series.

Who Review: Vengeance on Varos

The TARDIS is having engine trouble deep in space, and is in need of Zeiton-7 ore to realign the power systems and get them going again. However, Zeiton-7 is rare, and the only place the Doctor knows they can get it is on Varos. Thankfully, there is just enough residual power for the TARDIS to take them there. Meanwhile on Varos, the governor is in tough negotiations with Sil, the representative of the Galatron Mining Corporation, trying to get a fair price for their ore. Conditions on Varos are tough, with the people living off of rationed food. Their entertainment consists of mandatory voting, and live feeds of torture and execution on their video screens. A good price for Zeiton-7 could alleviate their suffering, but if Sil holds out, the governor will have to raise taxes to keep the planet financially viable. And Sil, who has operatives in the Varos government, is unwilling to set aside his greed. After a failed vote, the governor appeases the people with a public execution. However, the TARDIS arrives, and the Doctor interrupts the evening’s entertainment. Held hostage on Varos, the Doctor and Peri need to help release the people from the grip of Sil, so they can get some Zeiton-7 and leave. But on a planet designed to hold convicted criminals, that will be easier said than done…

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!

After a lackluster start, and a spotty sophomore, the Sixth Doctor really comes into his own, I think, in the first story that seems very suited to his persona. It’s dark, edgy, and satirical, with some wit and a good plot. It’s a simple story. The Doctor needs Zeiton-7 for the TARDIS, and the only planet that has some is Varos. This gives the Doctor a valid reason for being there. However, the political situation on Varos is far from ideal. We have a governor caught between the will of the people, pressure from the Galatron Mining Corporation, and what he believes is in the people’s best interest. He wants Varos to prosper, but under the economic pressure to sell Zeiton-7 to Galatron, he can’t afford to negotiate a fair price. And the Galatron representative, Sil, is only too willing to get whatever he can for as little as he can with no regard for anyone else’s interests. And the people are suffering. Reduced to essentially a slave labor force, with rationed food, and few, if any luxuries. Their only entertainment is their video feeds through which they are shown public executions, and participate in mandatory voting. To get his Zeiton-7, the Doctor will have to convince the governor to give or sell to him, which, given his position with Galatron, is unlikely. If the Doctor can break the hold SIl has on Varos, not only could he free the planet from oppression, but he might be able to get some Zeiton and leave.

I like a straight-forward plot, with a clear problem to solve, obstacles along the way, and resolution, especially in sci-fi. As Peter Davison (the Fifth Doctor) once noted, many of the Doctor’s problems, and the problems faced by the places he visited, could have been solved if the Doctor had just got back in the TARDIS and left without getting involved. Good Doctor Who stories, with few exceptions, will give a compelling reason for the Doctor to stay and get involved, and no hope of his escape until there is a resolution to the situation. That’s just one reason why “Varos” is a great Doctor Who serial. There are many more.

Colin Baker is clearly enjoying this story, and it showcases well this Doctor’s personality. There’s ego, and bravado, but there’s also compassion, and heroism. Despite her initial misgivings, Peri is genuinely upset at the prospect of his demise at the end of the first episode. And for his part, the Doctor is anxious to prevent Peri from being turned into a bird.

And then there’s Sil. What a wonderful creation he is! Deliciously evil, malicious, and self-serving. This is what happens when you have the perfect marrying of a great character with masterful acting. Nabil Shaban’s portrayal is superb, faultless, in fact. A lesser actor might have hammed the part up, and given us a theatrical baddie. Nabil’s performance teeters between manic and restrained, lustful greed and vicious outrage. He makes Sil easily one of Doctor Who’s greatest bad guys, and worthy of a come-back in the New Series. If they do bring him back, I hope they can get Nabil to play him–I don’t know that anyone else could!

Sil also helps contribute to the story’s overall dark tone. This is a society where the people vote on whether their governor should be tortured, or whether a rebel (played by Jason Connery, Sean Connery’s son) should be executed. It’s a government that conducts genetic experiments on its disruptive citizens, and use psychological manipulation to discipline people into submission. Strong stuff for family entertainment. The most controversial scene, however, is when one of the Doctor’s guards falls into an acid bath, and in the ensuing struggle, the other guard ends up falling in too. Rather than express shock or horror, the Doctor quips in James Bond fashion, “You’ll forgive me if I don’t join you,” and walks away. That was a bit too callous for some, and maybe a little less like previous Doctors. I understand the criticism, and it was, perhaps, a bit much, but this is a new Doctor, and we know there are some ugly sides to his personality.

Finally, I can’t review “Varos” without mention of the social commentary, intended or not, on television, and people’s fixation on violence and what would become “reality TV.” As we see at the beginning of the story, the video screen plays a central part in the lives of these people. Although the story was first broadcast in 1985, it seems to anticipate the 21st century with its sensational, real-life drama, and YouTube feeds of just about anything you want to see. At the end, when all is well and the video screens go offline, one of the characters says, “What are we going to do?” To which his companion replies, “I don’t know.” If YouTube went dark for a day, I’m sure there are many who would echo that same sentiment.

“Vengeance on Varos” is Must-See Who, for the story, the acting, the sets, the costumes, and even the effects for the most part. The Sixth Doctor ended up with so few stories, it’s a good thing this was one of his. I’m a fan of Classic Who, but I know it doesn’t always live up to its potential, often because the stories are written beyond the physical constraints of a BBC budget. “Varos” shows what can be done with limited funds, and a story and cast that excels. This is what Classic Doctor Who looks like at its best.

Who Review: Attack of the Cybermen

Earth, 1985, and London’s sewers have turned deadly. Two sewer workers find themselves on the wrong end of a nasty weapon, and some thugs involved in a jewel heist fall victim to the same terrible fate. The leader of the heist, a man called Lytton, has been using a transmitter to send a signal, which the TARDIS picks up. The TARDIS lands in a junkyard, and the Doctor follows what he believes to be a distress call. This leads him and Peri to the sewers. It’s not long before Lytton encounters the force behind the sewer attacks: the Cybermen. Lytton throws his lot in with the Cybermen, putting himself at their disposal to help them with whatever they’re trying to accomplish. It seems the Cybermen have made their base on the planet Telos, since their former home, Earth’s sister planet, Mondas, was destroyed by the Doctor when they attempted to drain the Earth’s power to keep it from dying. That happened in 1986. And now they have the opportunity to set things right, and make room in the universe for Mondas by removing its sibling…

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

Season 22 of the Classic Series started with some changes. First, the show moved back to its traditional Saturday evening time slot, having been a twice-weekly mid-week show for the previous three years. Also, the number of episodes per story was halved, and the episode lengths extended from 25 minutes to 45 minutes. This last change was probably the most radical. Who audiences were used to getting their stories in nice bite-sized chunks. While the new format allowed for more Who each week, it also meant the audience had to engage with the story for longer. Not really a big deal for teenagers like me, but maybe a challenge for younger viewers with shorter attention spans. Of course, these days a 45-minute dose of Who every Saturday is the norm. But I recall it took a little getting used to back in 1985.

Though I don’t honestly think the pre-teens were foremost in mind, if “Attack of the Cybermen” is anything to go by. This is an attempt at darker and grittier Who, with dark, dramatic lighting, gratuitous death, and blood. It certainly caused a bit of a stir.

The Sixth Doctor’s regeneration seems to have stabilized, after the checkered performance in his first story, Season 21’s closer “The Twin Dilemma.” This is a better story, though not a great story, which is a surprise as it was purportedly written by script editor Eric Saward (using the pseudonym “Paula Moore”). Other hands have laid claim to authorship (the show’s fan adviser Ian Levene, most notably), and the truth may be that more than one person had a hand in the writing. That would certainly explain why “Attack” isn’t as good as Saward’s other contributions (e.g., “Earthshock” and “Resurrection of the Daleks”).

A key element of the story is the return of Lytton, who assisted the Daleks in the previous season’s “Resurrection of the Daleks.” The fact he’s helping with a diamond robbery is, perhaps, a clue to his connection with the Cryons on Telos, for whom diamonds are commonplace. It seems they have solicited Lytton’s help in stopping the Cybermen from leaving Telos. Once they do, they plan to destroy the planet. It seems the Cryons picked up Lytton’s signal too, and that Lytton’s reputation as a mercenary reached Telos, which is why the Cryons thought he was the right man for the job. I’m not exactly sure how the Cryons, small in number and hiding in frozen chambers, were able to make contact with Lytton. Did I miss something?

Meanwhile on Telos, members of a partially-Cyber-converted work crew, Bates and Stratton, manage to escape. They plan to steal the Cybermen’s time vessel and return home, and in order to do that they need to infiltrate the Cyber base. This looks like an interesting sub-plot, and when they meet up with Lytton and his cohort Griffiths, it seems like they might be able to work together to capture the time vessel and bring down the Cybermen. Then Lytton gets captured, and Bates, Stratton, and Griffiths are all killed just as they’re about to board the ship. So all their effort was for nothing. Saward says he did this to show that sometimes things go wrong, and the good guys don’t always win. That may be so, but in terms of plot, these three characters were as gratuitous as their deaths, and that’s not good. In Doctor Who, if you’re going to kill off good guys, at least make their deaths count for something.

Those are some of the more egregious issues I have with the story. For the most part, the rest of it’s pretty good. Lytton’s character has some shades of grey, and things don’t go exactly to plan for the Doctor. Indeed, at the end, the Doctor laments misjudging Lytton and the fact that while the situation was resolved, it didn’t end well. It makes for a bit of a downer ending (like the ending of “Warriors of the Deep”), which plays to a darker, edgier story. Also, as in “Earthshock,” the Doctor finds himself with a gun in his hand blasting away at Cybermen. I think Eric Saward likes putting the Doctor in situations where he has to go against his non-violent instincts. He did the same in “Resurrection of the Daleks.” One of the more controversial moments in the story is when the Cybermen crush Lytton’s hands. While we don’t hear crunching bones, there’s more than enough blood to communicate quite graphically what’s going on. The Cryons were not very convincing, either in terms of their costume, or their mission. They seem too gentile to be taking on the Cybermen. However, I suppose given all the explosive material they have, it doesn’t matter whether they are a physical match for them.

“Attack of the Cybermen” is a much better start for the Sixth Doctor than his previous story. Aside from some design fails, and story gaffs, it contains some good moments, and solid performances from the main cast. Neither must-see nor classic, but worth watching.

Who Review: The Twin Dilemma

The Doctor is behaving very strangely after his regeneration. The kind and humble Fifth Doctor Peri was beginning to know has suddenly become an egotistical monster, spouting poetry, and drifting in and out of manic bouts. When he attempts to strangle her, the new Doctor realizes something must be done to restore his mind. He directs the TARDIS to the wilderness planet of Titan 3, where he can spend days, months, maybe years in peaceful introspection while Peri, his dutiful disciple, tends to his needs. A wrecked spaceship and a stranded survivor put paid to the Doctor’s plan. It also happens that twin boys, mathematical geniuses, have been abducted from their home and taken to Titan 3, where a malevolent mollusk known as Mestor requires their creative brain-power. The Doctor and Peri, exploring the planet, find themselves in the company of the twins and an old friend of the Doctors, Azmael, a tutor from the Academy on Gallifrey who had gone on to rule the planet Jaconda. But all is not well on Jaconda. It seems Mestor has taken over, and, along with his fellow gastropods, plans to use Jaconda as the base for launching their eggs throughout the galaxy. The vehicle for this will be a giant explosion, carefully calculated by the captive twins on Titan 3. The Doctor needs to stop Mestor, but with his persona in a state of flux, he may be more of a liability than a 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!

Change. It’s a constant theme throughout Doctor Who. Every story, there’s a change of location, a change of time, new characters, sometimes new companions, and every once in a while, a new Doctor. Often the changes are easy to roll with. Sometimes they’re a bit harder to accept, and that’s usually the case with a new Doctor. You spend a few years getting used to one Doctor only to have him change into someone new. Perhaps an actor you’ve never seen before, or one you can’t imagine taking that role. The latter scenario was true for me when Peter Davison took over from Tom Baker. I knew Peter Davison as the junior veterinarian on “All Creatures Great and Small.” I couldn’t see how he would handle playing the Doctor. After three years, he owned the part so much, it was difficult to see the unknown-to-me Colin Baker as the Doctor. It seems the BBC didn’t want to keep fans guessing, so the last story of Season 21 was the new Doctor’s first story, “The Twin Dilemma.”

I think the BBC gave us a couple of weeks with Colin Baker, so we could warm to him, and be excited to tune back in after the Summer. If that was the hope, this was not the story to fulfill that hope. As the end credits rolled on episode four, I remember being very uncertain about this change of direction, and this strange new Doctor. He wasn’t at all likable. The mood swings were too erratic. I didn’t object so much to the post-regeneration addled mind–we saw that somewhat with the Fifth Doctor. Even the violent extremes, and the dispassionate, even nasty edge to his character was different and not necessarily a bad thing. But I expected him to get over it and settle down after the first episode. The Who production team had other ideas. Apart from flashes of concern, and a few scattered selfless moments, it looked as if this was how things were going to be for Doctor number six.

I have to say this is probably my biggest complaint with “The Twin Dilemma.” It’s not a bad story–not great, and largely forgettable, but it holds together. The performances are fine, although the final scene where Mestor takes over Azael’s body is very strange, and not very well executed. Perhaps one of the nicest scenes is where the Doctor mourns the death of his friend at the end. Mestor’s costume is ill-conceived. Why even write a gastropod monster, knowing the BBC on a shoestring budget will never be able to deliver something close to convincing? The horned and feathered people’s costumes are much better, and there’s good set and costume design (aside from the Doctor’s new outfit). And Colin Baker is a good actor. A fine actor, even. But he is best when he’s just playing the Doctor. Not the manic Doctor, or the depressed Doctor, or the repentant Doctor, or the cruel Doctor, or the cowardly Doctor. Those brief moments when he’s just trying to help save the planet are the best. Yes, it’s okay that he’s a bit sharp and brutal with the bad guys from time to time. He needs to be different from his predecessors. But often, just being a different actor is enough.

“I am the Doctor,” he announces at the end, “whether you like it or not!” I really wasn’t sure I liked it. However, I tuned in to the next season to see if maybe the Summer break helped calm him down a bit.

Should you watch this? Aside from the fact it’s the Sixth Doctor’s first story, “The Twin Dilemma” is entirely missable. I really wouldn’t blame you skipping this one. As I said, it’s not a terrible story. It’s just not the Doctor at his best. The Sixth Doctor’s character will eventually settle down, and there will be some good Sixth Doctor stories. This is definitely not one of them.

 

Who Review: The Caves of Androzani

There may be no volcanos on the dusty planet of Androzani Minor (see the previous story, “Planet of Fire”), but things are far from temperate. The mysterious Sharaz Jek is waging war against a conglomerate owned by Trau Morgus that is mining for precious spectrox, a substance produced by bats that is deadly in its raw form, but has remarkable restorative properties when properly refined. Sharaz uses androids to collect the spectrox and help him disrupt Morgus’s efforts, relying on arms supplied by gunrunners to fight off Morgus’s military offensives. This is the situation the Doctor and Peri encounter when the Doctor’s curiosity leads him to follow tracks into a cave. They end up prisoners of Morgus’s troops, accused of being two of Jek’s gunrunners. The Doctor and Peri are thrown into a cell where they await execution. But that may be a blessing in disguise, since, on their way into the cave, they encountered a nest of raw spectrox. Unless they can escape Morgus’s forces and find an antidote to the spectrox toxemia, they face certain death. Unfortunately, their only hope for survival could be Jek, who appears to have taken quite a shine to Peri…

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 Caves of Androzani” marks Robert Holmes’s return to writing Doctor Who after a six-year absence. And what a return! Since it aired in 1984, it has been consistently ranked among the best Doctor Who stories by fans–even topping the list in 2009, four years into the New Series. And the accolades are well-deserved. It also marks the end of Peter Davison’s time as the Doctor with one of the most dramatic regeneration scenes in the Classic series.

The story has two threads. The first has to do with Sharaz Jek wanting to control the flow of spectrox, and Morgus’s conglomerate wanting to make money from that spectrox, selling it to Androzani Major. These two desires conflict, hence the battle between the two sides over ownership of the spectrox. Meanwhile, the Doctor and Peri chance upon the cave system containing this valuable spectrox, as well as Jek’s headquarters. They accidentally come into contact with the webby substance, which they soon discover is not only poisonous, but lethal, and the only antidote is the milk from the queen bat which resides in the lower levels of the cave system. So the second thread is the Doctor and Peri’s quest to find the milk and leave before they succumb to the poison. Along the way, they stumble into the conflict between Jek and Morgus, which ultimately leads to their capture by Jek. However, unlike many other Who stories, the Doctor and Peri don’t appear to precipitate or hinder the downfall of either Jek or Morgus. It’s possible Peri’s sickness distracts Jek enough to make him careless. But neither the Doctor nor Peri actively assist Jek or Morgus. It’s not their battle, and they have no interest in the outcome. There’s no-one for the Doctor to save except Peri. No planet to rescue. The universe is not in peril. The Doctor could have ignored the caves, ignored the tracks, gone back into the TARDIS, and left. But he’s the Doctor, so of course he couldn’t!

Since the Doctor and Peri have no friends, and no real allegiances in this story, they find themselves facing Morgus’s firing squad, and then facing the lecherous Jek, who wants to keep Peri for himself, and considers the Doctor disposable. Indeed, Jek only helps the Doctor locate the queen bat because Peri’s dying. And he only cares about Peri because she’s a thing of beauty, and he wants to have her around so he can admire her. Surrounded by such quality people, it’s no wonder our heroes are desperate to leave! I think this scenario is part of the story’s appeal. In most other Who stories, our heroes quickly attach themselves to a sympathetic character whose cause they take up. There are no such sympathetic characters here on Androzani Minor, which adds to the tension and the edginess.

But Doctor Who is more than just a story well told. The acting is first rate, from the main cast to the extras. Even Peri’s faux American accent is more tolerable than usual (I hasten to add, Nicola Bryant’s acting is great–it’s just that accent). The sets and costumes are good, the make-up is good (especially the blistering on the Doctor’s hands from the spectrox toxemia) and the direction is well paced and thought out. The only design fail is the magma beast, which suffers from the fact that it’s a Doctor Who monster made on a 1984 Doctor Who monster budget–i.e., next to nothing. It’s rubbery and not very convincing. Thankfully, we don’t see much of it. There are also a couple of times Morgus breaks the “fourth wall,” speaking directly to the camera. It seems this was the result of a communication break-down between the director and the actor, and they didn’t have enough studio time to fix it. This is unfortunate since it comes off a bit cheesy.

There are so many excellent story points, though, that a couple of *sigh* moments really don’t count for a lot. The episode one cliff-hanger is subtly prepared for in the preceding sequence, where we cut away to Jek watching the Doctor and Peri, particularly Peri, on his monitor screen, and then preparing equipment. As we learn in episode two, he was readying the android doubles he would use to rescue them from the firing squad. The episode three cliff-hanger is regarded as one of the best ever in Doctor Who, where the Doctor is attempting to land Stotz’s ship manually, which may result in his death. But since he’s dying of spectrox toxemia anyway, he doesn’t much care. During this sequence, there’s a brief shot where I’m convinced the Doctor has a premonition of his regeneration. The same pattern we see during the regeneration sequence at the end of episode four appears very briefly as the Doctor is piloting the ship. It’s almost as if death is reaching out for him, but he holds it off until he can save Peri. And then there’s the regeneration itself. “Is this death?” the Doctor asks, fearing something different about the process this time. He sees his companions calling out to him to hang in there and live, but then the Master cuts in crying out “Die Doctor! Die!” Excellent stuff.

What more can I say? If you’re a Whovian and you haven’t seen “The Caves of Androzani,” you simply have to. If you’re new to Classic Who, and you want to see how good it can be, this is the one to watch. “The Caves of Androzani” is simply MUST-SEE Doctor Who. Period.

Who Review: Planet of Fire

On a boat off the shore of Lanzarote, American archaeologist Howard Foster has pulled a number of artifacts from the sea bed, among them a rod made from a strange metal, with a triangle shaped impression on one end. He tries to interest his step-daughter, Peri, in his work, but she wants to travel with some guys to Morocco. When he refuses her request, and tricks her into staying on the boat, Peri gathers her things, including the rod, and swims for shore. She gets into trouble along the way, but thankfully the TARDIS has landed nearby, homing in on a signal from the rod. Turlough saves Peri, but he is more interested in the rod and its strange symbol, which matches one that is branded on his arm. He recognizes it as from his home planet, Trion, a place he doesn’t want to visit. For some reason, the TARDIS takes the Doctor, Turlough, and Peri to the barren planet of Sarn, where volcanic activity threatens the people there. The leaders believe the rumblings to be the anger of their god Logar, who requires a sacrifice of unbelievers to be appeased. When the Doctor and Turlough come across equipment from a wrecked Trion ship, they suspect there’s more to the rumblings and strange fires on Sarn than supernatural activity. Meanwhile, Kamelion, the andriod companion the Doctor picked up a while ago is acting strangely. It was he who programmed the TARDIS to go to Sarn. Now his former owner, the Master, has taken control of him, and is involving himself in the affairs of Sarn in the hope of ridding himself of his arch nemesis once and for all. And when the Doctor and Turlough appear to side with the skeptics, the Master seizes a golden opportunity to make good on his plan…

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 previous season, the Doctor Who production team filmed a story in Amsterdam (“Arc of Infinity”). For this season, they somehow found the money to outdo themselves by taking the cast and crew to Lanzarote! Naturally, to get the most bang for their buck, they used the location for the barren landscape of Sarn as well as the scene for the archaeological expedition. The diversity of terrain served them well, and it actually works.

In fact, I was rather surprised when I re-watched “Planet of Fire.” It’s actually not a bad story at all. I admit, my expectations weren’t high. Peri and her step-father don’t have very convincing accents, and the characters fall into American stereotypes way too easily. Also, the story was written by Peter Grimwade whose previous two outings (“Time-Flight” and “Mawdryn Undead”) were rather lacking in many ways (see my reviews). It seems, however, that script editor Eric Saward, had a hand in finishing the script, so that may account for the quality increase. But there had to be a good idea there to begin with, so I’m not discounting Grimwade’s contribution at all.

Aside from the “American” accents (and trust me, when you’ve lived in the States for more than 20 years, bad accents stand out like lime green carpets in a funeral home), there’s some dodgy acting, and a couple of questionable effects, but for the most part, there’s not a lot to complain about. It’s unfortunate that Peri starts out as the quintessential British idea of an spoiled American brat, because Nicola Bryant settles into the role later and does a good job. She’s no Elisabeth Sladen, Mary Tamm, or Sarah Sutton, but she holds her own pretty well. In fact, she gets what I consider to be the best line of the whole story. When the Master confronts her with his classic, “I am the Master and you will obey me!” Peri responds, “Well, I’m Perpugilliam Brown and I can shout just as loudly as you!”

As we’re being introduced to Peri, we are also saying farewell to Turlough. And what a send-off he gets! At long last, we get some back story on him, where he’s from, and how he ended up on Earth. I must say, I’m still not sure how it is he can be a fugitive from his people and yet bargain with the Black Guardian to be sent home (see “Mawdryn Undead”). He didn’t seem very enthusiastic about going home in this story. Maybe I missed something.

Also making a departure in this story is Kamelion, the android companion picked up by the Doctor in “The King’s Demons” and then forgotten about until now. He gets a good send-off, too, being taken over by the Master, and used by him to stop the Doctor’s interference in his plans. In the end, the Doctor destroys Kamelion–perhaps the first time the Doctor has killed one of his own companions. What’s more, he uses the Master’s Tissue Compression Eliminator to do the job–the first time the Doctor has used the Master’s deadly weapon.

As you probably gathered, the Master returns, using Kamelion to do his dirty work while he is somewhat physically hampered. Exactly how the Master is incapacitated we only discover in the episode three cliffhanger–and it’s a good, surprising twist. Another story point I’m not sure I understand is exactly why the Doctor feels like he needs to stop the Master. Okay, so the Master wants to use the numismaton gas and its healing properties so he can be back to full strength. Does the Doctor know the gas could make the Master stronger? The Doctor has refrained from destroying the Master in the past, and has, in fact, spared his life on numerous occasions. Why would he begrudge him returning to full health? Wouldn’t the Doctor have been better off working to help the Master heal, if that was the sole purpose for the Master’s visit to Sarn? If the healed and restored Master didn’t leave, then maybe the Doctor would have cause to oppose him. But it seems as if the Doctor is trying to stop the Master on the principle that whatever the Master’s up to, it can’t be good for anyone, which is a bit lame. In the end, the Doctor watches as the Master burns, seemingly to his death. In the following TARDIS scene, the Doctor appears affected by his willingness to let his nemesis die, but gets over it quickly. This only furthers the idea that the Doctor just wanted rid of the Master, no matter what the reason.

At the end of the story, the Doctor offers to take Peri home, but she wants to use her remaining three months of vacation to travel with him. The Doctor is reluctant at first, but gives in to her. A decision Peri may live to regret… 🙂

“Planet of Fire” is a good story; worth watching, especially for the Turlough back story and a generally good plot. But not essential Who.

Who Review: Resurrection of the Daleks

London, 1984. Two policemen armed with automatic weapons fire on a group of people running from an abandoned warehouse. Two dressed in space suits escape and head toward another building where they hope to find a time corridor. It’s this same time corridor that has trapped the TARDIS. With help from Turlough, the Doctor manages to break free, only to find they are traveling alongside it. The crew materialize near some dockside buildings, and, since something anachronistic is going on, naturally the Doctor goes inside investigate. They are soon joined by one of the two space-suited men, Stien, and encounter a bomb disposal squad sent to diffuse what were mistakenly identified as explosive devices. They are all surprised, however, by the sudden appearance of a Dalek. Meanwhile, on board a prison transport ship, the crew are under attack from a Dalek ship, come to collect their cargo: Davros, creator of the Daleks. The crew are prepared to destroy Davros before letting him fall into Dalek hands, but the Daleks are too powerful. And with the help of his creation, Davros can now avenge the Daleks against those that fought them. But the Daleks have other plans, ones that involve the assassination of the High Council of Gallifrey, which the Doctor will be persuaded to do on their behalf…

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!

To accommodate the BBC’s coverage of the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, “Resurrection of the Daleks” was first broadcast as two 46-minute weekly episodes, as opposed to the usual four episodes. Subsequent re-broadcasts spliced it up into a traditional 4-parter. Nevertheless, the two-part format works very well for this. Fans of New Who, used to 45-minute episodes, will feel quite at home.

The story picks up where the previous adventure, “Frontios,” left off, with the TARDIS being sucked toward the center of the universe. We discover that it’s actually being drawn down a time corridor operated by the Daleks. Usually, a returning monster is given a surprising reveal, as with the Cybermen in “Earthshock.” Given that this is called “Resurrection of the Daleks,” the surprise is clearly not that it’s a Dalek story. The surprises are, I think, two-fold. First, the return of Davros, virtually picking up from the last Dalek story, “Destiny of the Daleks,” at the end of which Davros was being carted away to stand trial for his crimes. Only we’re now 90 years on (story-wise, that is; “Destiny” was broadcast in 1979, a mere five years previously). The other surprise is the fact that the Daleks are actually under the leadership of the Supreme Dalek. Davros thinks he controls the Daleks, but he soon finds out they’ve moved on, and only intend to keep him alive for as long as he’s useful. Pitting Dalek factions against each other makes for an interesting twist to the story, and adds a layer of complexity–it’s not simply the Doctor vs. the Daleks. In fact, both sides want the Doctor, but for different ends, so he’s caught in the middle.

For the benefit of viewers who haven’t seen “Destiny of the Daleks,” Davros is given a recap of the stalemate that existed between the Daleks and the Movellans: two logic-driven forces unable to out-maneuver one another because they both act in logical, predictable patterns. The Daleks dug up Davros to give them an irrational advantage (Davros only being part-Dalek), while the Movellans tried to enlist the Doctor to help them think outside the box. The trouble is, Davros knew all this, so the recap is very obviously for the viewers. The bit he is told that none of us knew is that the Daleks lost the war against the Movellans. It seems the Movellans found another way to attack the Daleks: a biological weapon. Davros’s task is now to develop an antidote to the weapon and breed a new race of Daleks immune to it. He can then use these Daleks to get revenge on everyone that has wronged him. The Supreme Dalek has much more modest plans. He simply wants to clone the Doctor, Tegan, and Turlough, and send them to Gallifrey to assassinate the members of the High Council. Naturally, Davros’s antidote would be useful to them, but the Supreme Dalek doesn’t seem too impressed with Davros’s objectives. Or Davros himself, in fact.

Speaking of Davros, the Dalek creator is here played by Terry Malloy, who played him in “Destiny.” The original Davros, Michael Wisher (“Genesis of the Daleks”), was to return to the part, but the filming was rescheduled and he wasn’t available. That’s a pity. Malloy does a fine job, but his Davros is way too shouty for my liking. Wisher’s interpretation was in that grey area between genius and bonkers, so Davros’s rants had a manic edge to them, and yet he could turn on the soft-spoken contemplation of a curious scientist. There have been a few other Davroses since Wisher, but his will always be my favorite.

“Resurrection” is notable among Classic Who stories for its high body count. There is a lot of gun fighting, and much death, some controversial. The two “policemen” at the beginning who pull out automatic pistols and start shooting at people received criticism for potentially increasing public fear of the police. Also, the Doctor, who generally hates guns and tries to find a peaceful solution to things, carries a gun without much objection, and even shoots multiple times at a Dalek blob. He tells his companions that he intends to kill Davros, finishing a job he failed to do before when he had the chance (i.e., stopping the creation of the Daleks back in “Genesis of the Daleks”). The Doctor points a gun at Davros’s head and tells him he has come as Davros’s “executioner.” Of course, Davros wheedles his way out by informing the Doctor he intends to reprogram the Daleks to have emotions, even compassion. I’m sure the Doctor is doubtful, but nevertheless he lowers the gun. Perhaps the Doctor’s comment at the end, that he left Gallifrey because he had grown tired of the lifestyle, and now “I must mend my ways,” is a reference to all the death and destruction he had been a part of over the course of the story. This was, after all, the breaking point for Tegan, where traveling with the Doctor ceased to be fun. Maybe this is akin to the point at the end of the Tenth Doctor story, “The Waters of Mars,” where he realizes he’s gone too far. If so, I guess that justifies showing the Doctor to be uncharacteristically violent. And, like the Tenth Doctor, he reaches this conclusion only a few stories away from his regeneration.

Tegan’s departure is well done, I think. This was a particularly tense adventure and, as she says, a lot of good people died. It’s hard not to sympathize with Tegan, and Janet Fielding’s performance is right on the mark. As usual for Classic Who, she leaves with handshakes and sad faces, not hugs and tears. But there’s no sense that she could have just got over herself and changed her mind.

On the whole, the acting is good, aside for a bit of woodenness from some of the extras. The initial gun battle between the Daleks and the crew of the prison ship is a bit one-sided, and not very convincing. The make-up on the dead people, with faces distorted, is gruesomely good. Stien’s final sacrifice was a great way for him to go, and a nice way to turn apparent defeat into success.

On the whole, I’d say “Resurrection of the Daleks” is a borderline classic. Certainly one of the best of the Fifth Doctor era. Must-see Who? Close. Certainly one you shouldn’t ignore.

Who Review: The Awakening

The Doctor takes Tegan and Turlough to visit Tegan’s grandfather, Andrew Verney, in the village of Little Hodcombe. The year is 1984, but on their arrival, they are greeted rather unwelcomingly by seventeenth century soldiers. It appears the village is reenacting the occasion when the English Civil War(s) came to the village, except it seems the villagers are getting a bit carried away with the realism. There have been acts of vandalism, and “high spirits” which the town’s squire, Sir George Hutchinson dismisses. But local schoolteacher, Jane Hampden, is more than a little concerned. Sir George has closed the village to outsiders for the duration of their “war games,” which is why he holds the Doctor, Tegan, and Turlough under arrest. As for Tegan’s grandfather, it seems he has mysteriously disappeared. Strange things are certainly going on in Little Hodcombe, and when the Doctor encounters a young lad from 1643, and an inexplicable build-up of psychic energy, he fears alien interference. But to what end? And can he stop it before the games come to their grisly conclusion?

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 Awakening” started life as a four-part story that writer Eric Pringle was having trouble telling. Working with script editor Eric Saward, the script eventually became a two-parter, and Saward undertook a number of changes to make it fit a shorter format. This made for a tight, pacy narrative, but I think it also left parts of the story rushed, and required big chunks of exposition to replace story that had to be edited out for time.

Despite its brevity, “The Awakening” is a good story. The premise involves an alien being called the Malus who thrives off of psychic energy, which it uses to manipulate those around it. The Malus first appeared during the Civil War, attracted by the large quantity of psychic energy produced by all that fighting. Three hundred years later, when Sir George stumbled upon the Malus in the local church, he came under its influence, and started reenactments of the Civil War to create the psychic energy so desired by the Malus. To protect itself from those that would try to thwart its plan, the Malus can use psychic energy to create projections, apparitions of creatures and soldiers that have sufficient physical properties to do real harm. Somewhere along the way, the Malus created a time rift, which is how young Will Chandler came to join the Doctor in 1984. Unfortunately, there is much that could have been developed in the story with another episode or two. Why did the Malus appear originally? To what end was it drawing psychic energy–to survive, or to escape? Why do we only see a head? Why did it create the time rift? Alas, these and many other questions must remain unanswered.

The sets and costumes are great, with the added bonus of this being “period” set in present day, so there was no need to hide phone boxes, cars, and telegraph poles. I really can’t fault much about the production. There aren’t a lot of special effects, but, for the most part, the effects team did well. I especially liked the lizard-like Malus projection in the TARDIS. We first see it on a wall, colored to blend in. None of the TARDIS crew notice it at first, so it’s up to the observant viewer to realize it’s there before Tegan points it out. Of course, when the Doctor taps into the Malus’s psychic frequency and destroys the projection, there’s green goo. For some reason, Doctor Who monsters like to spew green goo when they die.

Probably the most dodgy effect in the show is the giant Malus face that breaks through the wall of the church. It looks a bit more theatrical than I think they originally intended. If I’m right, and they were going for something with a more organic appearance–I’m sorry, but it looks like something someone made (which of course it is).

When the Malus is in its death throes, it focuses what psychic energy it has left to try to destroy the Doctor and those with him who are getting in its way. This creates a very tense and dramatic finale, where one person is decapitated by three soldier projections (we don’t see the beheading, but from the way they place their swords around the person’s neck, you know what happened when the camera cut away), and people start turning on each other.

Back in the TARDIS, the Doctor answers questions in what is clearly an attempt to use exposition to make up for a lack of episode time. This is a shame, as I noted above, since so much of what the Doctor says could have been shown given another couple of episodes. It also means the Doctor has somehow figured out where the Malus came from, and how to defeat it, and all kinds of other details based on what little evidence he found at the scene. Again, a couple more episodes where the Doctor could have, say, made contact with the Malus, and maybe found answers through discovery rather than intuition, would have made this much more satisfying.

All that said, “The Awakening” is worth watching, more than the previous episode (“Warriors of the Deep”). It’s not classic Who, and it’s not without its faults, but there’s a good story in these couple of episodes.