The Awakening

Written by:
Eric Pringle
Directed by: Michael Owen Morris
Starring: Peter Davison
Year: 1984
Video Availability: Try

Why's this one called The Awakening then? Cos when you watch it you keep dropping off to sleep. Boom! Boom! There you go, that's a freebie, you can have it on the house.

Seriously though, as the final (regular length) two-parter in the series' history then its remarkable that there's scarcely enough plot for one episode. The Doctor ponces about with some daft tart from The Liver Birds, while a lot of overage war game enthusiasts conjure up a big plastic face in a church. Some authentic country bumpkin mopes around for a bit, the Doctor makes the face (which is now a little man with a tale) puke up green stuff like he's had too many melon V20s and then they all stand around discussing tea. I mean, what is this - a Doctor Who story or summat that's fell out me ass?

I've decided to experiment during this story by taking the necessary precaution of getting tanked up. Well, I'm starting, at any rate. I'm on my first can to deaden the pain, but even through the questionable merits of Carling Black Label I can still feel the agony of scraping exposition like "Why, Miss Hampton, you of all people, our schoolteacher…" Like picking at a congealed scab until the fetid puss oozes out, it continues on and on as one clunky dialogue exchange crashes into another.

To be fair this story, it's even worse than I remembered. Peter and Janet are, on reflection, better in this season than in most others (though Janet's a little bored), but the exquisite ham of Mark Strickson is given nothing to do in his no-go character of Turlough. Pretty soon all three are forced to cling on to the Tardis console for dear life while the camera shakes and squiggly electro sound effects play out to express the "danger" inherent. F*** me, I've only been watching it for 2 ˝ minutes and already I want to kick the screen in. People big up Peter's last season, but most of the stories, apart from one very obvious example, were distinctly below par.

Dear Christ, was is Peter Howell's music all about? I mean, I'm belching like a girl here, cos I just can't drink fast enough to compensate. Those battle drums drowning out the dialogue - even Keff McCulloch would turn his nose up. Shot better, with better script-editing, darker lighting and more realistic sets this could have been a decent story… for Sapphire & Steel. I'm not saying the mighty S & S had weaker stories than Who - quite the opposite, pound-for-pound David & Joanna had a far higher hit rate - but this one is just so far out of the usual Who remit it jars badly. The story is even precipitated by that old soap standby - the previously unmentioned relative. "We're just here to visit my Grandfather." "Oh yes, and who might he be?" You're not the only one who's asking, mate.

Time can stretch and contract with Who all the time… I feel sure I've watched an episode, but the clock counter tells me I've only endured ten minutes. We've got Peter falling on his ass, Tegan being menaced by some old git in a cheesy 80s video effect and some bloke with a black 'tashe going on about being a magistrate. This isn't so shockingly bad to make an all-time worst list, largely because it's so forgettable, but it really is poor. What hurts so much is just how uninspired and turgid Who was becoming at this stage. Okay, granted, Peter's final story (shoot me if I ever use the phrase "swansong") is outstanding, but the rest of it is becoming a dirge. People might slag off Colin Baker (and good luck to 'em) but at least season 22 had a feeling of energy and ambition, even if those energetic ambitions did only reach as far as remaking loads of old stories.

"There's been a confusion in time. Somehow 1984 has become linked with 1643." Were they improvising this crap or something? I imagine Erics Pringle and Saward were probably in the BBC office playing Consequences. Either that or it's a direct adaptation of a story from one of the old World Annuals. Some people say nice things about this story, but you know the Anorak never leads you astray by now, don't you? Trust me, no matter what you might read elsewhere, this really is a load of indescribable wank.

The monster, incidentally, is called Malus. He's a sadistic bloke who gets off on people's hatred, see? Almost like he does it out of Malice. Malus's Malice. Dear Christ take me now. Most offensive scene though involves Fielding's physical domination by a man being used as titillation. "Change into that", says one of them (and please don't ask me to bother looking up either actor or character name - I really don't give a shit either way), "unless you want me to do it for you." It's not presented as a threat to make the guy look bad, but to make the Dads in the audience go "Phooooarrrr, he's gonna get her kit off for 'er!" Please, pray tell, what exactly is the difference between this odious little scene and the guy turning round and saying "Put this outfit on or I'll do you up the wrong 'un"? I can see little. Anyway, Janet/Tegan/whatever diligently does so, with the guy soon snapping at her "You're beginning to annoy me!" A favourite Saward line, when you think the Doctor says exactly the same thing a season later in Attack of the Cybermen. It's a jarring line, the sort of thing Eric doubtlessly reckons makes his characters seem macho, but instead makes them seem as if they've walked out of an episode of Holby City. Meanwhile, Davison continues running around with an underused (thankfully) Polly James, talking shit so fast the general audience can't keep up. He blows a line, too - always nice to see that in one of the colour stories, where retakes generally wiped it out. I planned to dig at this one, but still say it was average-ish. It's actually worse than I could possibly have imagined - even the cliffhanger's crap.
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I really don't know what it is about Davison apologists and their season 21 monsters, I really don't. Okay, granted, everyone slags off the Myrka and the Magma Beast, but you get people actually sticking up for those silly rubber slugs in Frontios, or claiming that the Malus. (Oh God, The Malus!!) is a good creation. It really is beyond me, I swear to God. I have so little to add to this second episode beyond the bile of the first, except to note that it's probably one of the most ludicrous Doctor Who plots of all time. Dennis Lill clearly wants to be somewhere else, while the working title is rumoured to be "Eric Saward had nothing better on his submissions desk". Yes, the whiff of "it's crap but it's the best we've got, it'll have to do" wafts all throughout this one, and a first-rate companion like Turlough is resigned to getting locked up or beaten up, while Janet is used as unwilling sex object only. Morris's direction is so bog standard it also feels like they just took a camera down to a local village and shot whatever came to hand - it's a Thursday night schedule filler, with no feel of any special effort at all. In fact, a Davison two-parter could well be one of the ten most sinful things in all of Who, along with Keff, Pertwee era Time Lords and the '96 TV Movie.

Anyway, it all comes to a merciful end when the Doctor presses a few buttons on the console and destroys the Malus! Hurrah! I gave up on the idea of getting drunk, it just didn't work out - no matter how many cans I swigged, the torment of this story would offset the effect. We get a psychic projection of roundheads (remember me mentioning Sapphire & Steel?) and the Doctor uttering "Not if there's another way" just two episodes after the end of Warriors of the Deep. Do you reckon Saward just had fifty stock phrases in his script-editor's book and picked 'em out of a scrabble bag? Things draw out with a lot of polystyrene and a pathetic fake church. Then there's the chat about tea. Please, I can't take it any more…
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Surprisingly, this is possibly the worst Davison story of all. Other notable poor efforts, such as Time-Flight, at least have the power to amuse. But this one fails to satisfy by taking itself seriously, despite all around being so completely ridiculous. What really was the point???
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