After the failure of Who on Saturdays, the BBC took the somewhat knee-jerk reaction of scheduling the series twice-weekly on Mondays and Tuesdays. While this initially did boost the ratings it never quite captured former glories. A change to a Tuesday/Thursday timeslot for the 20th season may also have caused the significant ratings dip between Peter's first and second seasons. (Season 19 scored an average 9.32 million viewers, with an average chart position of 54.31. Season 20 worked out at 7.07m/83.13). This dip seemed to have little bearing on the quality of the season 20 stories, either - the ratings were constant throughout, and in fact started 1.1 million lower than the final episode of season 19 (which was, in fairness, Time-Flight, and may have put a lot of people off).
Davison's highest-rated stories all occured in his debut season, with Castrovalva netting a 9.9m/58 average. The Visitation wasn't far behind, with 9.8m/46, while Earthshock got 9.5m/42. Lowest rated were The Kings Demons (6.5m/86), Frontios (6.8m/86) and Enlightenment (6.8m/83). Any theories that Davison was unpopular with viewers appear unfounded, as his part of season 21 did pick up (slightly) with a 7.15m/72.9 average. Time-Flight's episode one was the only Davison episode to trouble the top 30 most-watched programmes, while five episodes fell out of the top 100 altogether.
The idea of a young Doctor isnt as mould breaking now as it must have seemed at the time. The public regarded the Doctor as an eternal old fart, so a 30-year-old in the lead wasnt the most expected choice. However, since then weve had an overweight panto king, a Scotsman and another youthful version (Paul McGann, 37) so in hindsight Davison seems more acceptable. It helps, of course, that he gives such a good performance. Okay, it was never the most radical of interpretations, and he perhaps hasnt got the greatest range, but what he does he does very well. He even gets to feel like a traditional Doctor by being shown to have poor eyesight and absent-mindedness, as well as an Edwardian costume. Okay, it was a cricketers dress, complete with trainers and silly question-mark lapels, but it was still tied into the same ethos. It certainly wasnt an old jumper or a circus clowns garb.
Season 19 was arguably the last time the series would have dignity. After this it was all anal continuity, tacky sets and lip gloss. Here it retains some of the sombre style and sophistication of the previous year.
Castrovalva is a popular tale with fans, but is really just a pile of cack. At its centre is a truly inspired idea of a fictional city based on the works of M.C. Esher. However, abstract concepts do not a drama make, and so the story is lacking in several basic areas.
The whole plot is equally flawed. The regeneration - a cod narrative device to pass over between lead actors - should never be dwelt on, lest the viewers realise how fundamentally silly it is. Here its half the story, along with some guff about a zero room. To the casual audience this is all meaningless hokum, and Davison would never again achieve the same high figures as his debut.
Lowlights include the appalling special effect (A misnomer as its neither special nor effective) where the Masters Tardis attacks some security guards, the chronic acting of the companions, Fielding and Sutton particularly, and Anthony Ainley taking ham into a new dimension.
With two episodes exploring the Tardis itself, the whole thing reads like a "Whos Who" of what not to include in a Doctor Who story. The awful continuity references Davison has to utter really distract, and he was never really able to forge his own take on the character. Perhaps no other Doctor was so weighed down by the programmes own history.
The Doctor spends much of the later episodes in a portable zero cabinet. Which, were told, cannot be opened without him wishing it. Something about "internal interfaces" or some such nonsense. Apparently such knowledge is lost on fellow Timelord the Master, who tries to jimmy it with a brass poker.
However, despite a glut of technobabble, the final two episodes are not without charm. Davison brings a surprising authority to the role early on, while Fiona Cummingss direction keeps things brisk.
Four To Doomsday is much like Davison himself: pleasant, amiable and unthreatening. The most average of average stories, it was the first Davison to be filmed. Consequently hes yet to get a real handle on the character and his performance is nervous, high-pitched and faintly irritating. Not a bad story, though Nyssas jargon-shouting cipher surely has no appeal to a mainstream audience.
Kinda is the first decent story to come from the era, a period that, sadly, contained just a handful of good scripts.
An excellent piece of television that used to be slated by shallow fanboys who didnt like the studio set exteriors and silly rubber snake at the climax. The best Davison story of all, it covers colonialism, telepathy, religion, classical literature, existentialism, madness and sexual imagery... to name just a few. One thing John Nathan-Turner did bring to the series, for better or worse, was a greater inference on intellectualism. This was no longer the fun escapism of the Hartnell era, but, generally, slabs of hard science-orientated drama. This has a downside in stories like Kinda, in that they have little to hold a child audience.
The guest cast here are all wonderful. Mary Morris is as enigmatic as always, while Nerys Hughes is one of the more successful "name" actors. Richard Todd is also on fine form, while Simon Rouses "You cant mend people!" is one of my all-time favourite scenes.
Of the companions, Nyssa is thankfully absent, in "induced deep sleep". She seems to get quite an easy ride from fandom while Waterhouse cops all the flak, but Id say his amateurish melodrama is better than her wooden delivery any day. In fact, her shit stinks. Waterhouse as Adric, meanwhile, continues to become more childish, presumably to make Davison look maturer in comparison. Janet Fielding gives her best performance, largely because for once shes actually given some decent lines.
Look out for the goof in episode one (due to some scenes being cut) where the TSS Machine forces along the Doctor and Adric - in between scenes they change places! In all, a classic Doctor Who story.
The Visitation is the script that earned Eric Saward the job of script editor. It was a role he was to undertake for four stories in Season 19, then every year until 1986. Personally I think his brand of violent, continuity-led actioners are what killed off the series, but thats just my opinion. And he has spoken out against the producers controlling influence, so maybe it wasnt all his fault.
However, you do have to question why he got the commission after the pretty lacklustre work here. Theres a few homages to other Who writers, most notably Terry Nation and Robert Holmes. By this I mean that Richard Mace is a desperately self-conscious Holmes character wannabe, while in the first episode someone unconvincingly twists their ankle. The second cliffhanger is also so unoriginal that even the Doctor says "not again".
After a brief prologue, the story opens with some interminable Tardis scenes with the regulars. While its nice to actually have an attempt at relationships with the crew - something that was pretty much abandoned the following season - they never seem real, or, for that matter, interesting. With Richard Mace a more than adequate replacement companion, Adric and Tegan go through various stages of being captured. Nyssa, meanwhile, builds a box that vibrates - no wonder she spends most of the story stuck in the Tardis, the dirty minx!
To be honest, its not all that bad, and you have to wonder why no one had written an "aliens cause the Black Death and the great fire of London" story before. But with silly rubbery monsters (who look a little like the rubbish Borad, three years later) and helmed by Peter Moffatt, one of Whos most leaden directors, it never really takes off. The biggest problem is the resolution - after four episodes of what is really just a two-part story, the Doctor saves the day by accidentally dropping a burning torch and setting fire to the Terileptils... and, er... thats it.
Black Orchid is a lot of fun, which leads us into Earthshock, the story that was seen as a classic in its day. However, hindsight reveals the negative effect it had on the series future, acting as a template for most of the next three years. The action format, sloppy plotting and faceless macho ciphers would be constantly repeated with decreasing returns. Most of the cast change their motivations from episode to episode, while Tegan blasting a Cyberman with a gun seems an out-of-character moment, particularly as she slates the Master for doing pretty much the same thing just eight stories later.
This "plastic ray gun" mentality never really worked with Who, though it doesnt seem as revolutionary now as it must have done at the time. The whole thing seems like one set piece after another, and though Adrics death does raise a tear, the decision to run the end credits without sound is just way too silly and pretentious.
Seeing the Doctor being roughed up in the first episode loses him dignity, and this was his most "vulnerable" of tales, as he really doesnt do very much at all. However, the real surprise was the kept secret of the Cybermens involvement. Having appeared only once in thirteen years, it was a successful return to form for the once-invulnerable creatures. Sadly, it wasnt to last, with bumbling, undignified returns in The Five Doctors, Attack of the Cybermen and Silver Nemesis. However, I do find the look of 80s Cybermen more than a little tacky, and for once they do seem to have emotional responses.
Although short clips were used for the Logopolis regeneration, and stills were used from time to time, episode two is just one of two stories which use clips from the shows history as part of the narrative; the other being Mawdryn Undead. At the time, following Toms departure and a Five Faces of Doctor Who repeat season, the public were still generally aware of the programmes backstory. Yet continuing with continuity-based tales only damaged the shows credibility and mainstream appeal.
Of the cast, none of whom get to make much of an impact, then Beryl Reid stands out. Obviously miscast, she clearly doesnt understand half of her tech-heavy dialogue, yet somehow shes brilliant because of it. Earthshock probably seemed wonderful in a pre-video age, when its shock plot developments were genuinely unexpected, and the story wasnt available to be rewatched at will. Its still a great deal of fun, but rather empty and shallow.
When it comes to critical appreciation, Davison seems to be in very much a forgotten wasteland, his work neither much praised nor panned. In the DWM issue I like to quote from, #265, a survey among over 2500 fans was undertaken. In this, most of his stories flitted around the middle, with just three (The Caves of Androzani, Earthshock and The Five Doctors) breaking the top forty. Conversely, only five fell into the bottom forty. (In fact, only eight fell into the lower 70, so it wasnt all bad news for lovers of the period). Yes, step forward the fifth-worst Doctor Who story of all time... Time-Flight.
You know, I have to stand up for Time-Flight as one of the great "so bad its good" stories. Okay, its not intentionally funny or ironic, like Nimon, but Davison still cares enough to keep tongue in cheek, where in later tales he would merely be bored. The highlight is episode two, where he tries not piss himself at Anthony Ainleys overacting. Daft bits include the prehistoric landscape, which creaks like floorboards as the actors walk across it, the chronic dialogue, Ainley kissing the Tardis and the Masters disguise. Okay, its an excuse for a cliffhanger, but does it make sense logically? The people around him are under hypnosis anyway, and even if they werent, who would recognise him?
Its notable that, baring one or two small exceptions, JN-T had maintained a remarkably high standard of production and acting up to this point. Time-Flight sees it all come down, with some wooden guest actors (Judith Byfield is horrendous!) and woeful special effects. The Hydra! The Plasmatons! Its all truly so bad, and childish too. After this stage, it seems like JN-T thought hed gotten away with making a crappy one, so why bother trying so hard in the future? Yet Time-Flight is still enjoyably bad, with an outrageously silly plot. Of course, a "Concorde through timewarp" script should have been binned straight away, but enjoy this one with a drink and its not so bad. You have to wonder though, how Peter Grimwade - a good director - wrote a story so obviously out of the series budget.
Yet another sign of things to come is given when the Doctor gets out of a scrape by quoting a UNIT number and name checking Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. As UNIT hadnt appeared for six years, the Brigadier seven, you might have expected an explanation, but none is forthcoming. So if you were under ten (a sizeable part of the audience) then you were screwed, basically. Davison also gets his first "Ill explain later" - two of them, in fact. And his defeat of the Master is such a contrived deus ex machina that even Pertwee would have complained.
Someone once asked me when I thought the first signs of Doctor Whos death were. An interesting question. Some would site the sixth or seventh Doctors, maybe, or the leaving of Tom Baker. Still others might claim JN-T ruined the show from day one, or that it was never the same after Philip Hinchcliffe left. Ive even heard some purists say that after Hartnell the show was never quite as good. Yet season 20 is the benchmark of stupidity - an anniversary season that features "something from the past in every story" - and saw the series gradually disappearing up its own rear end and becoming a wasteground for anoraks. In many ways, it was the Voyager of its day.
Arc of Infinity isnt a very good opening story, but its one that I enjoy anyway.
The major problem is the tackiness of the whole thing. Gallifrey has only ever been presented stylishly in The Deadly Assassin (and, thanks to black and white, possibly The War Games) - here it looks like an MFI furniture warehouse. JN-Ts ridiculous Ergon is also possibly a homage to the crappy Gel Guards of The Three Doctors - certainly its the worst monster in the ten years intervening. Even the incidental musics annoying. The story also marks JN-Ts first overseas location shoot. City of Death, a classic story, built itself around Paris, and worked very well indeed. As if to reattempt this, Nathan-Turner gave us here Amsterdam, followed by Lanzarote (Planet of Fire) and Seville (The Two Doctors) - none of which were used half as well, or felt relevant. But the huge flaw in Arc of Infinity is the continuity. As a fan of the show I can enjoy it, but casual audiences were presented with talk of Omega, Romana, E-Space, The Matrix and Leela, all without explanation. Consequently the third episode cliffhanger - "Omega controls the Matrix" - is meaningless to anyone without intricate knowledge of the shows ten-year backstory.
Theres much padding in part two, incidentally, with the whole episode seemingly pacing itself until the "termination" cliffhanger. Davison often said that Nyssa was the most compatible of his companions, but shes shown here as a techno-spouting bore. So it is that Tegan (who was accidentally left behind in Time-Flight) rejoins the crew at the climax. Her whole involvement is pretty contrived, but it squeaks by. She at least gets out of that grotty hostess outfit and the fluffy curls, though is notably wearing an 80s boob tube.
On the plus side, the acting is pretty good, headed by Michael Gough, Leonard Sachs, Colin Baker and those two students in the crypt. Well, yes, Michael Gough and Leonard Sachs are good, anyway. The highlight though is Davisons "child in a mans body" performance as Omega in the last episode, which is genuinely charming.
Snakedance is probably the best idea for a sequel this season as its a sequel for a story just eleven months old - Kinda. Again its the cheap one that gets made in a (very obvious) studio, though the run-down marketplace is a fairly original setting. Probably the worst bit is the "sky" where the snakedancer sits - you can even see the dried paint. Best bit is the unusual, and thoughtful design of the cages that add an extra interest to the standard "Doctor in prison" scenes. Fiona Cummings clever direction never sets the camera on the inside of the cell, note, but is always on the outside looking in.
While Davison - good as he is - tends to take an unvarying characterisation into the situations around him, here he gets to show a slightly darker side. One of possibly just five stories where he showed a different aspect (Earthshock/Resurrection of the Daleks - kick ass; Mawdryn Undead - Selfishness; Caves of Androzani - heroic survival instinct), here we see a mildly sadistic edge as he uses Tegan with little regard for her feelings.
Janet Fielding again puts in a good turn - you can tell she really enjoys doing her possessed "Betty Davis" voice, and her acting generally has improved. Her ability to keep a straight face when acting with a pathetic rubber snake and a mouthful of Ribena is also commendable. Whats going on with the Doctor and his companions by the way? First there was the lovers tiff with Adric in Earthshock; here its a spat between him and Nyssa. After his grimace at Tegan rejoining last time (An expression which read "Thats going to get in the way of our shagging"), here he refuses to acknowledge her new dress. Three episodes later and she gives a curt "Thankyou, but it wasnt necessary" as he helps her over a ledge. The tone says it all - "Men are bastards."
Weirdly, if this story was made today then Martin Clunes would be a light entertainment "name" guest, but here hes just a jobbing actor as Lon. The same goes for Jonathon Morris (later of Bread) - both of whom are a bit camp, but much better than you would expect. Interesting, incidentally, how Punch and Judy is seen to have evolved on other planets, too. Still, I suppose it allows for a bit more snake symbolism and episode three padding. On the subject of trivia, we get to see the Doctors socks in this story. Red with that outfit??
The Doctors defeat of the Mara (snatching away a crystal) is a bit of a Pertweeish resolution, though I remember as a ten-year-old being delighted with the gory "puss out of its mouth" close-up for the final shot.
There are some who prefer this to Kinda as its a more traditional, linear Who story. And while certainly not dumb, it doesnt aspire to intellectualism in the same way that Kinda does. Yet while ultimately entertaining, Snakedance is just a slightly above average story to Kindas classic.
Mawdryn Undead marks the beginning of a rare good idea from Eric Saward - what if one of the Doctors companions tried to kill him? Some have problems with Mark Stricksons performance, but I think hes superb fun, and the character is brilliant. Devious, manipulative, duplicitous, arrogant and cowardly. Those are his better qualities. Unfortunately the character wasnt as well worked out as it might have been, as we shall see later. Here though its a good debut for Turlough. Note that here, as in Enlightenment and The Kings Demons, he expresses a wish to return home, despite being revealed as a persecuted exile just nine stories later. Theres properly planned character backstories for you. Turlough is roped into the mix after he is killed in a car crash and saved by the Black Guardian in return for agreeing to kill the Doctor. An awful special effect - imagine Jim Bowens Bullseye on a ZX Spectrum - constitutes the Black Guardians psychedelic domain. So who is the Black Guardian? Its never explained to anyone here, though I guess well find out in time, right? Right...?
Problems with Mawdryn Undead arent that many, though considerable. On the plus side, Peter Grimwade seems more budget-minded here, just as he would be for Planet of Fire. Shame hes not the director as well, as we get Peter Moffatts customary lifeless direction. It also has some of the most misplaced, Godawful incidental music of all time, thanks to Paddy Kingsland. Peter Davison often said that he had to make a decision whether or not to leave at the beginning of his third season. Had the second been the quality of his third, its reported, then he may have signed on for a fourth year. As it is, his opinion of the season twenty scripts and production were so low he opted out of further involvement around May 1983. I mention this because his boredom seems to be clearly setting in here and in the following story, with a tale that gives him little to do save run around. Mark Strickson also noted that the characters werent really having relationships at this stage in the programme, just saying lines at one another.
That said, its clear that Davison does enjoy working with Nicholas Courtney. Ive never understood his idea that - despite getting on with them personally - Turlough and Tegan werent as good companions as Nyssa. One was trying to kill him, the other constantly argued; Nyssa was the most compatible. Its called dramatic conflict, Peter. Maybe he was worried because theyre arguably more interesting characters. In a note of trivia, this is the only time outside of the Troughton era that we get to hear someones "thoughts". Turloughs "Its cracked!" is dubbed on over his wordless expression, while Nicholas Courtney gets whispered memories return to him. Also, why does the baby Tegan speak in an English accent?
As for the plot, the idea of a story set in two separate, yet parallel timezones is one that works, if a little confusing to some viewers. However, adding to the Black Guardians involvement is the return of the Brigadier (Ian Chesterton in the planning stages), again with no real reference made to who or what he is to the Doctor. In a moment of pure fanwank cheese, a dozen silent, sepia clips from old episodes are worked into the narrative as the Brigadier gets his memory back. This backfires spectacularly as all the clips look ten times more exciting than the stuff the production team were then churning out. Davison even mentions reversing the polarity of the neutron flow. This is a series that is trying to break free and be original, but is being inescapably sucked up its own bottom. And as for the Black Guardian - did he always have the personality of Mr.Bronson from Grange Hill?
Yet its an intriguing, thoughtful plot that keeps you constantly guessing. Strangled by anorakiness and a slight tattiness of production, it doesnt quite cut above average, but is still well worth watching.
Terminus continues the Turlough/Guardian trilogy, and for once, thanks to Turlough, the Tardis scenes are actually interesting. In particular, he strikes sparks with Tegan by undermining her somewhat limited characterisation. Its over five minutes before the actual plot starts to kick in, but for once it doesnt feel like padding, particularly as its tied in to the Black Guardian subplot.
Speaking of the Black Guardian, his involvement is pushed to one side somewhat, though this is a logical decision. After all, too many scenes of the Doctor escaping death at Turloughs hand would have stretched credulity. As it is hes relegated to spending three episodes in a tunnel with his nose stuck up Janet Fieldings bum. Lucky bugger. Shooting the tunnel scenes on film also makes a nice contrast.
As for Nyssa - forget it! It may be her last story, but that just seems an excuse for her to take her skirt off and continually bend forward so we can have gratuitous shots of Pinky and Perky. And a woman directed this?
Fittingly, her last appearance is possibly her most wooden of all. Christ, if you got all of this girls appearances in Who and stuck them together it could make a small rain forest. The Doctor may be sad to see her go, but I for one never missed the blandest companion of all time. Nyssa who? See, Ive forgotten her already.
As for the story itself, what mars it is the tackiness (I make no apology for using the word "tacky" so many times in this article - after all, can you think of a better word to describe season twenty?) of the production. The exterior spaceship shots in this one (and in Mawdryn Undead for that matter) are absolutely atrocious. This was 1983 for Gods sake, not 63. Maybe thats the reason theyre so poor - its a tribute to the creaky Hartnell era. And when you see Lisa Goddard running around with a plastic ray gun and a silly cape, her hair all fluffy and "80s frizz" you can see the programmes credibility evaporate. And whats that big dog all about anyway?
All of which is a shame as Terminus is quite an intriguing little story. Of course, coming from the pen of the man who wrote Warriors Gate its an inevitable disappointment, but thanks to him disguising the name of his leper victims - as "Lazars" - they take on a fresh relevancy. They could now easily be Aids victims, shunned by society. The somewhat clichéd SF staple of exploding fuel causing the Big Bang fares less well, however, and lacks the originality that made Gate so special.
Steve Gallaghers first script was a work of genius. This second is much better than its reputation, but still feels like standard, formula Who.
So, Enlightenment. Lets get the bad things out of the way first:
And so, the good bits.
Basically, everything else. Quite clearly the best story of the season by a long way, this is the only really "out there" Davison tale. The Christopher Bailey scripts were nicely esoteric, but the rest were fairly down to Earth within the series format. Enlightenment is imaginative and surreal, with an Edwardian ship race in space.
Brilliant performances abound, especially Keith Barron - now famous for ropy sitcom Duty Free, but an experienced dramatic actor - as Striker. The Doctors intellectual persona rarely enters a situation where he doesnt have the mental upperhand, but here hes an insect compared to Barrons all-powerful, telepathic eternal. "You are a Timelord, a lord of time," Barron notes, reading the Doctors thoughts, "are there Lords in such a small domain?" Its a chilling moment, made all the more so by Barrons icy, detached delivery. And how can the Doctor slyly outwit a foe that can read his every thought? (A question which the writer doesn't seem to have an answer, and is brushed over, Barron ultimately posing no threat whatsoever, but let's not dwell on that as I love this story).
Given a sensible budget then it could have done the space effects a little better, but the ship sets are wonderful. Just when you think it cant get any better, episode three sees Tegan getting her cleavage out and the incidental music (like most of the season, in general a little too loud) segues into the very pleasant "MLonga". As for the regulars, Janet Fielding always seems to give a calmer and more considered performance under Fiona Cumming, while Mark Strickson delights in the excesses his character allows. All in all, a great story, and one of the three best of the era.
The Kings Demons is another two-parter from Terrance Dudley, his second after the wonderful Black Orchid. Sadly, this one doesnt really live up to its promise, and is largely inconsequential. This, combined with Anthony Ainleys hamming produce something less than the sum of its parts, despite nice production and direction.
The Masters return sees him in a disguise so pathetic that even Stevie Wonder wouldnt be fooled. What is the Master supposed to be in this story anyway? A Welshman? A Yorkshireman? Oh, hes supposed to be French? Could have fooled me. This also leads to a questionable remark from the Doctor, viz.: "I like not this man" "Well I cant say I care for him much myself... a French knight!" The Doctor not liking the French, or does it just sound that way? On a trivial note, this is the last story where, unless knocked off course by Timelords, the Doctor lands somewhere where he didnt plan to. From this point on, the Tardis suddenly works properly.
Meanwhile, Turlough spends most of the story locked up in a dungeon ("Wheres Turlough?" "Hes gone to look at something" must be the most flaccid plot device to separate the companions ever.) and hams up his one dramatic line in what seems like desperation. The conclusion to the story sees the introduction of a rubbish singing android which never worked properly in the studio and so was largely unused. An appearance in The Awakening was cut due to timing restrictions and so he only reappeared when he bought the big one in Planet of Fire. Yet another good(?) idea completely blown due to lack of forethought and planning. However, while forgettable at best, this bite-sized tale is perhaps unfairly treated by being regarded as one of the top twenty worst stories of all time.
And for the twentieth season that was that. Industrial disputes in the BBC had forced the schedule behind, meaning that The Return, a Dalek story with Michael Wisher reprising his role as Davros, was put on hold. It was resurrected (no pun intended) the following year, by with Terry Molloy having to take over the part. Despite my many criticisms of season twenty, its still an enjoyable year, particularly for fans, with just Arc of Infinity and The Kings Demons possibly below-average stories.
In order to celebrate 20 years of Doctor Who, the BBC struck up a co-production deal with the Australian Broadcasting Commission and was provided with $60,000 in Australian dollars. Broadcast on Friday 25th November as part of the BBCs Children In Need appeal, it was watched by 7.7 million viewers.
Ive always thought of The Five Doctors as being inspired by Alice Through The Looking Glass. People and places appear and disappear without reason, including teleportation, and the central plot involved Davison (Alice) being promoted to President (Queen) by a Chancellor (another Queen). Theres even a scene with Cybermen on a chessboard. And to cap it all, Davison quotes from the story just as he teleports ("Like Alice, I never believe six/three impossible things before breakfast.") All of which is pretty irrelevant, but I thought Id mention it.
Yes, the story was produced to celebrate 20 years of Doctor Who. If thats the case then Doctor Who must have been smug, brash, indulgent and cheap. I really hate the idea of The Five Doctors, which casts the old Doctors as one-note caricatures in order to make Davison seem more interesting. Pertwee is all action and "reversing the polarity of the neutron flow", while Troughton - while not quite as irritating as in The Three Doctors - still sends it up. Hes doing himself no favours, as to many viewers this was the only experience theyd had of his Doctor. Pertwee seems more comfortable in these anniversary get-togethers, probably because his Doctor is shallow and complacent anyway.
After improving considerably, Janet Fielding gives a pretty stagy performance in this story. Mind you, so does Mark Strickson at times, and so maybe the combination of the words "Peter" and "Moffatt" had an effect. It doesnt help that Terrance Dickss dialogue can be described, at best, as functional. This is never clearer than when 11 minutes in (or 1232 on the special edition, anorak fans!) Tom Baker - who sensibly opted out - is represented by a clip from the uncompleted Shada. Written by Douglas Adams and directed by Pennant Roberts, its infinitely better than anything else around it. Talking of no-shows, William Hartnells death eight years previously would have cast doubt on the production you may have thought. Not so. Here Richard "Goodness me!" Hurndall does an impersonation of the first Doctor... and frankly, hes shite!
Even the enemies are reduced to demeaning stereotypes of themselves. A Dalek gets to say "exterminate!" twelve times before blowing himself up, while the Cybermen are just plain thick. I actually really like Anthony Ainley in this story, though. You can see in his eyes an intelligent man, knowing hes in dross and choosing to send it up. Its also drier and subtler than his usual take, proving that JN-T was giving his "ham it up" speech to Troughton instead.
There are small things that fans can delight in, such as Pertwee meeting both Ainleys Master and the Cybermen. And despite the undignified massacre of the Cybes, the Raston Warrior Robot is a genuinely exciting scene. For a man in a leotard, it carries a genuine threat. Other things get your back up, like the Doctor being aware of the Daleks and Cybermen from prehistory, and Troughton having a post-War Games life.
As for the bad bits, there are so many its impossible to name them all, but certain instants stick out, like a "Doctor... who?" gag so mistimed you could park a bus through the gap. Then theres Pertwees "Great balls of fire!" Or just badly directed bits, like Hurndall not being seen by a Cyberleader, despite standing in front of him for several seconds. I always go red with embarrassment at the "phantom" scenes, particularly Jamies "scream". Why do Pertwees phantoms urge him to go on and try to prevent him turning back, anyway? Wheres the logic in that? Richard Mathews is horrible as Rassilon, and most famous of all, theres Paul Jerricho with arguably the worst line in Who history: "No, not the mind probe!" I even hate the new console, which is a horrible tacky 80s BBC depiction of what they thought sophisticated computers were supposed to look like. Theres something so Saturday Superstore about the whole thing it robs the Tardis of the majesty it once had.
As for the remastered "Special Edition", its a definite improvement. Its a wonder some of the alternate takes werent used originally, as theyre much better shots. The new sound and visual effects arent as state-of-the-art as might be claimed, but theyre also much better than the ropy old ones. Despite being longer (101 minutes to the originals 90) its also much better paced. Its just the little things, like the final shot of Shada being matched up with the first, and the sky colour on the Raston Warrior Robot sequence being aligned. Or touches like the Cybermen firing on the Robot, giving them back a modicum of dignity. Even the "Mind Probe!" take is a less melodramatic one. The only altered sequence which is worse is the Castellan saying hes going to automatically retrieve the Master anyway, which takes away some of the ingenuity of the Doctor. But while an improvement over the original presentation, a turd with a ribbon on top is still very much a turd.
I used to hate Warriors of the Deep, and sat down expecting to feel the same. So it was a pleasant surprise to find that its actually a very enjoyable and intelligent story.
Pennant Roberts takes his first directing job on the show in five years (a sign that JN-T was relaxing his "not the old school" rule), and does very well, particularly in terms of shots, if not in actors. Theres a little too much running around but the Seabase set is fantastic, and the model effects are well above standard.
But where it scores is in its flaws not really seeming to matter any more. For example, its a story full of variably acted ciphers with exotic fictional names that none of them seem comfortable pronouncing. A karate-kicking Ingrid Pitt mauls her dialogue while wearing Adam Ant make-up, and yes, the Myrka is ropy. However, this creation - an unfinished, freshly-painted monster operated by the two guys behind Rentaghosts Dobbin - still isnt as bad as its reputation would have you believe, and is hardly central to the story. There have been much, much worse monsters in Who, though maybe being in such a po-faced one makes it seem worse.
The cold war commentaries no longer have much relevancy, but in a strange sort of way now the story isnt topical it takes on a fresher appeal. The Doctor leaving the Tardis door open and the Hexachromite gas are fairly contrived, but they get by. As for the Sea Devils and Silurians (nicely motivated, but, not having appeared in the series for 12 and 14 years respectively, its still not explained what exactly they are), they see some improvements and some lessening in their appearance. The Ninja Sea Devils are arguably better than in their eponymous Pertwee debut, though I preferred the original, jerkier Silurians. Here theyre colder and more logical, too, making them almost interchangeable with the Cybermen. (Their leader even says "excellent!" a few times) They also seem to have a similar voice modulator to that of The Kandyman, and its less than five minutes in before one of them bumps into the scenery.
As if to fit in with a tale thats a sequel to not one but two Pertwee stories, Davison spouts the odd moral, like "where theres life theres also hope", but generally hes on good form. Turloughs flexible sense of morality makes it easier to accept him as a gun-toting protagonist than it does some of the other companions. While no classic, this is a sensibly crafted story, and, while pretty much hated by everyone, including the writer, its well worth a second chance.
The Awakening is the Davison story that Eric Saward script-edited the most. Although Eric Pringles name is on the credits, Saward claimed the end result was nearly all him.
As claims to fame go, its not that great a feat as The Awakening is very much a bog-standard story, made even more irrelevant by being reduced to the two-part format. Its full of stuck-on beards and cod accents, the sort of show where people contrivedly reveal their motivations and relationships in lines like "Why, Miss Hampton, you of all people, our schoolteacher, should know..."
Davison has some nice lines with Polly James, but generally its very uninvolving and basically involves a big face in a church called the Malus, which seems to be a rather feeble play on words with "malice". Anyway, this creature has crash-landed on Earth and feeds on the hate generated from a war game society. Hes eventually defeated by the Doctor who presses a few buttons on the Tardis console to destroy it, then spends the final two minutes of the story talking about tea. Yes, really.
Frontios is a story thats gained some fanciful appreciation over the years, some fans praising it for surreal whimsy. I dunno why, cos its a load of old tot really, isnt it? Christopher H. Bidmeads third and final script for the series (wasnt he much better as script editor?) its merely a so-so story undermined by indifferent playing and incidental music that sounds like it was composed on the pan pipes.
New continuity points are introduced, seemingly at random, such as the Tardis being limited to how far into the future it can travel. A flashing sign with "Boundary Error - Time Parameters Exceeded" appears on the console, which does seem to contradict Planet of Evil and its 37166AD somewhat. Okay, kudos to Saward for - for once - ignoring continuity, but why introduce such a limiting factor in the first place? Like the Doctor trying to maintain non-interference, its a very Prime Directive, Trekified vision of what Who should be. So too the Tardis breaking up (how and why? Its never really explained) seems fatuous, and the Gravis pulling it back together is not only trite but also makes for yet another contrived resolution.
Its undignifying seeing the Doctor having to bow and scrape to the Tractators, just as its silly that theyre so powerful. Call me shallow, but theyre just silly rubbery things arent they? They look ridiculous. So too, the third episode cliffhanger - Captain Reveres corpse trapped in an Excavator - is horrifying, yet blunted by said machine looking like it cost 10p. Theres no steel; iron or wire mesh... just one big lump of grey plastic. It tries to be like something out of Hellraiser, but ends up being reminiscent of Chockablock.
The whole things okay, but it was made for the words "so-so" and Mark Strickson gives his lousiest performance.
The Return, the hangover from the crass party that was season twenty, finally got transmitted in February 1984 under the title Resurrection of the Daleks. The four-part story was edited into two forty-five minute episodes, shown on successive Wednesdays, in order to fit in with Winter Olympics coverage. Despite the rumour, the decision to make Doctor Who in this format had already been decided on for the following year. Critically, Eric Saward acknowledged that his screenplay was flawed, and sought to improve his depiction of the Daleks in the followings years Revelation. In terms of the fans, then DWMs survey saw it come ninth out of the fourteen Dalek tales (not counting cameos, such as Frontier In Space), though this was still overrated enough to take it into the top fifty.
Watched in one go, with constant squawky Dalek dialogue and a sense of overkill, then the whole thing becomes very wearying. One of the weakest Davison stories, its also the most violent Doctor Who story ever made, featuring more on screen deaths than any other. Im not anti-violence in Who, if done well, but here the whole thing is so sloppily put together, and crammed into several, underwritten plot lines, that it feels like a mess.
Which is a shame, as it starts off brilliantly. The opening scenes shot in the Docklands are extremely well directed and nice to look at. By contrast, the scenes set aboard the spacecraft are lifeless, "plastic ray gun" territory. Its weird seeing characters smoking on TV these days. That, and the multi-racial starship crew - something Who rarely did - feel more like forced tokenism in context rather than a realistic snapshot of society. It also doesnt help that, sadly, the non-Caucasian cast members are pretty dreadful actors. Still, in true horror film tradition, theyre the first (with one exception) to get killed. Speaking of bad acting, even as an undiscriminating eleven-year-old I was aware Davros (A different actor, Terry Molloy, though I didnt know that at the time) was disastrously over the top. Mind you, with his awful ranting dialogue and horrible rubber mask its no wonder hes so bad. And am I wrong to resent Les(lie) Granthams television debut - a convicted murderer in a TV show primarily aimed at children? Mind you, hes in good company, as this is Eric Saward desperate to write an adult schlock thriller... gratuitous deaths, dissolving faces, killer mutants, assassin policemen...
Continuity is dragged in, a double flaw for Saward. One is to include it in the first place (the plot is heavily derived from Destiny of the Daleks), the other is then to get it wrong. "Fascinating... if only Id been there" says Davros of the Dalek-Movellan impasse. Yes, but you were. So in one line not only have you alienated casual viewers but also irritated the very fanbase you were trying to please.
But crucially, Matthew Robinson cannot direct Daleks. Maybe its a combination of the silly script, harsh lighting and Smash voices, but frankly they look like a parody of their former selves. The scene where the Doctor talks to the black Dalek on the scanner is straight out of Victoria Wood. Davros "dies" with his hand outstretched, Dr. Strangelove style, while Victor Lewis-Smith was obviously watching the final part. "White wee-wee!" indeed!
Questions abound: why is it that the Daleks have a plastic prong in the middle of their domes? Have they been snapped out of an Airfix kit? And doesnt the black Dalek look crass with all those huge white globes on his base? Note that his operator is so thick that he uses his indicator lights in the first episode when another Dalek is talking. Mention must be made for Maurice Colbourne, who is great as Lytton, and Rula Lenskas not bad either. Of the regulars, Mark Strickson again shows that the writers didnt know what to do with him post-Enlightenment (and this was the script-editor writing this one, remember). Janet Fielding spends the whole story lying in a blanket, being attended to by one of the rubbish ones from Playschool. She does get a nice leaving scene, but amidst all the plastic, screeching and ridiculously bad death scenes, its not enough.
Peter Grimwades remit for Planet of Fire saw him having to introduce a new companion (Peri), exit two others (Turlough and Kamelion) and kill off an old enemy (The Master, who, despite returning three times more in the original series, was planned to end it all here).
Interesting to see Peri with her (badly acted) stepfather... I wonder what her family thought when she never returned home? Intriguingly, despite getting into her bikini just fifteen minutes into the story (I must get round to getting a better quality copy), she actually has a bit of a character in the Davison period. Its only under Colin Bakers era that, for some reason, the writers make her just boobs and a mouth.
Mark Strickson finally gets to take off his schoolboy uniform, which is no mean feat considering hes been wearing it for thirty episodes. He shows a different side to his nature here, being very much in control, though you cant help feeling the character was written with nowhere to go and was ultimately a wasted opportunity. As for Davison, hes ineffectual as usual, and is seen sporting some grotesque question mark braces. The guest cast is variable, with camp 70s icon Peter Wyngarde surprisingly good and authoritative. Others are weaker, such as the slightly wooden Jonathan Caplan.
But where Planet of Fire succeeds as a story is in being understated. The plot, a thin commentary on religion set on a desert-like world, is low-key and unobtrusive, so that the pivotal series elements never feel ostentatious. The characterisation is nicely worked out, with all involved having cleverly conceived motivations. Directed by Fiona Cumming, who, apart from the shaky Castrovalva, never helmed a duffer, she even gets a relatively discrete performance out of Anthony Ainley. Maybe its wearing a business suit that gives the character back some credibility, or knowing this was to be his final appearance. That said, he does let out a cry like Blakey from On The Buses as part of his death scene. Nothing special, but then its not meant to be, Planet of Fire is a subdued last gasp that subtlety alters the basic format without you realising its doing it.
Finally, I can deny it no longer. Theres always a sense of anticlimax that greets initial viewings of highly rated stories, but Im forced to admit that The Caves of Androzani is a classic.
In a relaxing of his "new blood" rule (though its said to be more Sawards insistence than the producers wishes), John Nathan-Turner produces a Robert Holmes script, and its a spectacular return to form. Director Graeme Harper was relatively inexperienced, so its a shock to acknowledge that this is probably the best directed Doctor Who story ever. How unusual to see sophisticated use of long shots and fades, when all the series usually got was some old buffer making the actors say their lines in front of the camera while he drank his mug of cocoa.
In much the same way that Holmess Deadly Assassin (which also had the Doctor being put through extreme physical endurance) effected much that followed, so too did this have a knock-on effect. Eric Saward desperately tried to recreate its success, and it even succeeded in reversing the trend (Timelash excepted) for one-word titles until 1987.
Flaws are practically non-existent. Obviously the post-regeneration coda (directed by Peter Moffatt) is crappy, with Colin Baker camping up his first appearance and Nicola Bryant suddenly regaining full make-up. Oddly, Id never noticed before the shaking sky (caused by the matte painting being on video, the location footage on 16mm film, readjusted for the DVD release) in the first episode. And when Robert Glenister laughs at the Doctors plight in the second, then why does he sound like Popeye?
Acting all round - John Normington and Christopher Gable particularly - is superb. Normingtons speeches direct to camera were a mistake, but one that works extremely well, and was a trick used again in another crooked politician drama, House of Cards. Coincidence? Roger Limbs incidental music is wonderful, while theres also talk of plant closures and unemployment, giving it a vaguely political air in the Thatcher administration. The bullets add a realistic touch to this era of plastic fantasy, while the threat of rape between Sharaz Jek and Peri lends an adult tone. The parts, written as operatic melodrama, could easily fall over into camp, yet somehow never do. Androzani confidentially occupies its own world of intensity, full-bore speeches and flowery exposition, so that it never seems artificial or stagy.
The fifth Doctor is strangely out of character this time, as hes allowed to have one. Wit, arrogance, defiance, aggression, ingenuity and determination are all things this incarnation was rarely, if ever, allowed to display before. Like most of the Davison era, which saw the series lose its childlike sense of innocent wonder, all the characters are beyond redemption. Davison isnt frightened to humble himself with a very physically punishing role, while Bryant isnt afraid of looking a dog with no make-up.
The Doctor is constantly humiliated in this story, being slapped, kicked, dragged, shot at, and having two androids attempt to rip his arms out of their sockets. Theres also talk of sticking electrodes into his body and removing his legs. Its easy to see how, having got away with this much, the production team got carried away and went too far the following year.
Astonishingly well produced, and with a dark, bleak humour, this superb tale has everything in the way of drama, and is thankfully devoid of anorak qualities. The following week all fan appreciation would be dashed to the ground with the all-time low of The Twin Dilemma. But thats another story, as, sensibly, this is where Peter chose to get off.
Peter Davison - The Wet Vet...? Despite the hype, Davisons portrayal of a "vulnerable" Doctor often turns out to be as false as Troughton being just a "cosmic hobo". In fact, particularly when script-edited by Eric Saward, Davison could kick ass. Heres a full list of his hard-man moments: Four To Doomsday: Rips the guts out of Persuasion (well, he is an android); Kinda: Grapples manly with Hindle, though does get rather unconvincingly knocked out by a small table as a result; The Visitation: Kicks the ass of a villager and a Terileptil; Earthshock: Grinds gold into the Cyberleaders chest unit, then shoots him three times at point-blank range; Arc of Infinity: Grapples with an Ergon. Doesnt win, but manages to keep a straight face. Also blows the buggery out of Omega; Terminus: Gets his ass kicked by one of the Vanir, though could be just using rope-a-dope tactics as he wins the rematch in true "irrelevant long-shot fight in episode three" Pertwee style; Enlightenment: Its not shown on screen, but the Doctor and Turlough somehow manage to lob Wrack and Leee John out into space... I guess the Doctor made his body talk, eh? Eh? Oh, forget it then; The Kings Demons: Beats the Master in a sword fight; Warriors of the Deep: Overcomes two security guards by hitting each of them and kicking one in the face. Whatever happened to "My names the Doctor and this is my friend..."? The same story also sees him push another guard forcibly and blast the Myrka to death with ultra-violet rays; Frontios: Not violent as such, though is he joking when he speaks of the Tardis "Its lack of armaments can be a positive embarrassment at times."?; Resurrection of the Daleks: Davisons most violent story sees him plan to execute the humanoid Davros (as SFX amusingly put it, he "gets all drive-by on Davross ass"), though bottle it at the last minute. However, he has no such compunction when destroying Daleks. First he throws one off a warehouse and then empties a handgun into the mutant inside. Later he blows up two Daleks using high explosive, and kills at least two more by infecting them with the Movellan virus. He also knocks down a guard and steals his gun, (its implied that the same thing happens a second time, off-screen), and can be seen several times giving other characters instructions to kill; Planet of Fire: Commits euthanasia on Kamelion with aid of the Masters Tissue Compression Eliminator, and also stands back and watches, refusing to lift a finger as the Master buys the big one and The Caves of Androzani: Grabs Selateen threateningly, and butchly rips out his chain holders. Generally spends most of the story getting battered, but finally gets to show his full survival instinct throughout.
Its saddening to see Who being transformed from a populist science fantasy programme into a cultish science fiction one. While most of the series flaws that would see it get postponed and then cancelled were to emerge over the coming years, you can already witness the cracks here. That said, only three or four of Peters stories are below par, a surprisingly high quality rate maintained throughout. On the down side, theres also only about three or four of his stories that are above mediocre, with only Kinda and The Caves of Androzani reaching classic status. A sad fact that makes the final score...