I feel sorry for people who cant enjoy Graham Williams stories. I feel certain there are a vast majority of people who really love them, but wont let themselves through fear of peer pressure. Graham didnt do anything wrong of course. He was asked to make the series funny by the BBC after the levels of violence had risen, and funny he made it. In fact, I had no idea that this period of the show was held in low regard until very recently. And while ultimately I probably prefer Doctor Who to be played straight, this is far more intelligent in its humour than when the show was again instructed make it "lighter" in 1986.
Season 15 is the season that proves Williams didnt change the show overnight. The straight Horror of Fang Rock sees Baker in one of his funny moods, where he refuses to look anyone in the face (See also The Horns of Nimon) and is highly regarded amongst fans. This is pretty much a revision of opinion, where the now-derided Invasion of Time won the DWAS season poll upon transmission. To be honest, Ive never really been a Terrance Dicks fan, and, co-authorship of The War Games accepted, hes written some pretty staid stuff for the show: Robot, State of Decay and The Five Doctors. Even The Brain of Morbius only benefits through the direction and playing of the cast. Horror isnt bad, though the studio set never fully convinces, and the story has no ambitions behind its rather flat "alien invades deserted lighthouse" set-up. No message or intent, its just a very simple, basic plot, but done seriously so the fans love it.
The Invisible Enemy is nowhere near as bad as its made out to be, though obviously a kind eye has to be given to a five-foot prawn as the main monster. This is the story that also introduces K-9, the Doctors robot dog. K-9 may be a rather obvious plot device and a shameless appeal to the child audience, but hes loveable, surely? I had no idea the poor thing was so hated; I grew up loving the by-play between him and Tom. Speaking of by-play, the relationship between Baker (Who gives one of his performances with the least conviction) and Louise Jameson is tangibly sparky. Mind you, the violence still hadnt been toned down to the level where she doesnt stab men in the neck with a hunting knife. An interesting, if very cheap, story, some of its concepts would be confusing to the very young, and its more intelligent than you might think. A bit ropy, admittedly, but amusing all the same.
Image of the Fendahl is almost my favourite of the season, another Boucher gem and one of the last stories to tackle the gothic horror genre. It's all cracking stuff, with tension, night shoots, fog and glowing skulls. There's the occasional dodgy 70s guest actor (Edward Arthur, Scott Fredericks...), but Geoffrey Hinsliff and Daphne Heard should have got their own series. Like most Boucher scripts it can be a little self-conscious and artificial, with the brilliance of some lines ("What sort of corpse?" "A dead one, what other sort is there?"/"You must have been sent by providence." "No, I was sent by the council to cut the verges.") conflicting with the contrived awfulness of others. ("I'm a technician not a human palentologist.") Yet despite all this its cracking stuff.
The Tom in this story isn't first-class Tom, but he still tries harder than in virtually all the other season 15/16 stories. I slate his playing in the following season, but watched again 15 is almost as bad. And to think this was just the year after his peak. What is weird is how out of character Chris Boucher writes the Doctor at times. In The Face of Evil he threatens to break a nose - here he makes use of a shotgun and give Max a revolver to commit suicide with. It works, though. Also bizarre in the final episode is the first instance of Tom breaking the fourth wall - "Time's running out!" - and a short runtime that lasts a little over twenty minutes. This is also the third story in a row to be resolved by an explosion. Oh, and look out for Leela in the opening minutes of part three as she opens a door the whole wall wobbles.
The Sunmakers was the last story to be script-edited by Robert Holmes, the man behind all of the Hinchcliffe stories. From Underworld and up to the final scene of The Armageddon Factor Anthony Read took the honours. That last scene of Factor and all of season 17 would be edited by Douglas Adams... though we shall learn more of his wisdom later. The Sunmakers was also written by Holmes, and as a taxation satire its sledgehammer subtle. Then again, Holmess humour never really worked under the Williams administration, as the following years Ribos Operation would attest.
Henry Woolf knows exactly why hes there, yet Richard Leech overplays to the hilt. Its always nice to see Michael Keating, though Tom gives one of his most arrogant performances, ranging from over the top to disinterested, often in the same scene. Some of the less obvious jokes one of the corridors being called P45, or Tom misquoting Marx are better, though ultimately the story has little for a child audience. As a result the desperately tacked-on humour, particularly Leela being hypnotised and all of K-9s scenes, comes over as more childish than it perhaps is. Finally, the use of violence is disturbing as it shows the "heroes" resolving their differences by hurling a man to his death and Leela stabbing a guard. Mary Shitehouse would say this is better than before as its not presented graphically. Yet surely the fact that murder can be presented as a joke makes it even worse?
Underworld is the deathly dull yet also inoffensive retelling of the Jason and the Argonauts myth. So forgettable you almost cant remember it even when youre watching it, Underworld trudges on with bored supporting thesps and minimal incidental music.
Its taken for granted these days that its a turkey, and was voted 7th worst in the big DWM poll. However, the much-slated CSO isnt as bad as its reputation would suggest, and you feel that someone, somewhere would reappraise it to average... if only they could be bothered.
Its all played straight, which makes you question why the fans despise it rather than just feel apathy. One notable moment is that it gives Tom a second (or third, if you count The Face of Evil, of which this story has similarities) chance to talk direct to camera in the third episode.
With its bog-standard caves, functional dialogue and oppressed populace it rarely gets above formula Who. The characters have little or no motivation, the villains no clear purpose and the sidelined Doctor doesnt really seem to care. K-9 is more of a lazy writers device than ever, while theres only enough plot for two episodes. And just what is the Doctor painting? The designer of this one was called Dick Coles, which sounds like the sort of punishment he deserved for his work on the show.
Yes it is boring, yes it did nearly send me to sleep, but, like The Gunfighters, its nowhere near being one of the ten worst stories of all time.
NB. Having seen this one again since writing this article, I have to concede that, while I do still stand by most of my above comments, this is probably the weakest Tom Baker story as it's completely lacking in wit, charm or inspiration. If you wanted to get someone who'd never seen the series before hooked on Who, they wouldn't see anything appealing from this snapshot of the show.
The Invasion of Time is the big finale of the season, the one the fans rated the highest on transmission. As a sequel to The Deadly Assassin, its one of the more fannish (Tom) Baker stories, and is not without flaws. Clearly a higher budget should have been called for, and the dual resolutions to the Vardan/Sontaran conflicts a time loop and a bloody big gun are straight out of the "reverse the polarity" Pertwee textbook. But while it has its faults, I really like The Invasion of Time. As a final Leela story its not that great, as its largely a character piece for the Doctor himself.
While the flippancy that would drown season 16 occasionally seeps in, generally Tom gives a good performance, taking in post-modernism at some stages. ("Even the sonic screwdriver wont get me out of this one.") Okay, so the Vardans floating tinfoil shapes/three humans, one a foot taller than the other are rubbish monsters, but then the same "fans" that whinge about them probably praise the Gel Guards in The Three Doctors. Up yer cacker! Tom even gets in a dig, with "Disappointing, arent they?" just to counter any moans.
The Doctors madness is nicely conveyed, the notion of telepathic aliens a good one. Just one question if the Sontarans were also tricking the Vardans, then how come they didnt read their minds? Is the inference that the Sontarans helmets are lead-lined? Theres also a brief bit of Christ analogy in there, and an overt SS reference. The idea of a story where the Doctor seems to turn bad and you havent got a clue whats really going on until episode three is also a nice one, though is along with some technobabble possibly distancing for casual audience members.
The great Key of Rassilon turns out to be an old Yale key, but I dont mind Derek Deadmans Stor all that much. And while the final episode does have its silly moments, Leelas departure as illogical as it may be does have some nice moments, delivered well by Jameson. "Where will he go?" "Somewhere else" and all that, not forgetting "Will he be lonely, K-9?" with a noisy Mark One K-9 answering "insufficient data."
Season 16 is probably my least favourite set of Tom Baker episodes, at least in terms of Toms performance. Without the rapport between him and Lalla to come, or the animosity between him and the recently departed Louise, he seems to get more and more flippant as a result of either arrogance or drunkenness. I grew up with Toms Doctor, and, while I now acknowledge he wasnt the best actor in the role (Though dont get me wrong, he could be pretty darn good), I still hold a great deal of affection for him. Its just that here his unapplied; blasť attitude can be more than a little irritating.
The first real attempt to do a season of interlinked stories (The six-part Keys of Marinus had tried to do a series of linked episodes within itself in 1964 and the later 14-part Trial of a Timelord was generally considered a failure), it sort-of works by keeping the quest to a bare minimum. The season introduces us to the somewhat far-fetched concept of the black and white guardians. God-like, omnipotent creatures with the power over the universe itself. Strangely for such an awesome being the White Guardian lives on an old wicker chair in a cardboard BBC studio. Mind you, the object of the Doctors quest The Key to Time looks like a tinfoil Rubiks Cube so hes in good company.
We also meet Romana as played by Mary Tamm. Shes possibly the prettiest assistant, but with her slightly wooden acting combining with Toms disinterest and the cheaper than usual sets it all contributes to an artificial season. Some of it is great fun, but it never looks or feels quite as real as it should. The Ribos Operation is the biggest exponent of this, filled with self-congratulatory performances and polystyrene snow. The script was probably funny in itself, but when its been sent-up to the nth degree all inherent mirth is eked out of it. The scene where Binro (Timothy Bateson) realises his theories were right is lauded as one of the most touching scenes in Who. It would be, if it were played with sincerity.
The Doctors superior attitude to his "inexperienced" assistant would perhaps be off-putting to the shows inexperienced core audience. That said, his anger towards her is the only bit of acting he does all story. I also hate the carefree way he murders the villain at the climax without any sign of remorse.
The weakest Graham Williams production, it includes such laboured comedy moments as Tom in an animal trap. A plastic-looking concoction with hammy acting, it goes nowhere, but if you dont watch it you wont understand the rest of the season. As Romana would probably say, me and this story have a "negative empathy".
The Pirate Planets received a positive redress since its 95 video release. Reputed to have a muddled and confusing storyline, a wider audience reveals it to be imaginative yet still readily understandable.
A huge improvement over Ribos in that it doesnt just establish a situation and then let the characters wander around within it for four episodes. Instead, the situation, and the motivations, constantly change, though always within the logic of the piece. Although the forced Doctor/Romana relationship is already tired, this is a very impressive debut from Douglas Adams.
Again, things are ridiculously cheap even by Who standards were the BBC splitting the budget between this and Blakes 7 or something? The Doctor keeps The Key to Time in an old bedside cabinet, while an entire city is populated by just six extras. The script shines with invention yet never achieves its full potential due to the facetiousness of the production. Weak support actors, garishly-lit sets and, again, an element of unnecessary send-up means it falls short. This one was even the victim of an internal memo from BBC heads, who were concerned about the level of silliness in the programme. Intriguingly, Tom does another "talk to camera" in the second episode.
With its witty lines and big ideas The Pirate Planet is certainly above par. Sadly, though, it should have been one of the greats.
Everyone likes anniversaries, and perhaps whatever the content then the 100th Doctor Who story would have topped the DWAS season poll. Fandom rarely has a major revaluation and so even today The Stones of Blood is regarded as a classic.
Its a nice enough story, yet curiously overrated, the good things said about it seeming to omit 50% of the material. Most of the praise is probably down to Tom settling into the season and dropping the needless silliness... at least until the third episode. Here Tom travels to a brightly-lit spacecraft and gets put on trial by two silly flashing lights, a poor mans Chocky. The Doctor contrivedly has a barristers wig just lying around in his jacket pocket, and goes into ham overdrive. The fourth episode also has perhaps the most obvious example of Tom trying to find his spot on the studio floor. All actors have to do this, of course, but only Tom would make a performance out of it.
Yet its not just in the second half that things stumble. The first episode is too leisurely, lacking pace, while the opening minutes see some of the most blatant and clunky expositionary dialogue in the series history. The later bullfighting sequence also undermines the credibility of the monster.
On the plus side, support acting is generally fine (though Nicholas McArdle is a bit OTT) and the Ogri are some of the scariest monsters in the series, at least until they get on the spaceship. Blood, never a prominent part of Who, is here chillingly upgraded to a major plot element. In fact, not only are the Ogri scary, but also original and inspired. Beatrix Lehmann as Professor Rumford has almost Hartnell-like levels of recall, yet exudes charm. Though it is a little disconcerting to see her not wearing a bra for her final scene.
Years before Dragonfire, incidentally, Romana does a literal cliffhanger. Well, a cliff fall we see her crudely hanging on to a rubbishly-CSOed cliff-face the following week.
Its frustrating that The Stones of Blood is so popular as it highlights the shallowness of fan opinion. Yes, theres a relatively sensible performance from Tom and some darkly lit sets, but on closer examination its far from the best story of the season.
The Androids of Tara was once regarded as a turkey, and scored the lowest on the DWAS annual season poll. Many years later DWM would hold a widespread fan survey, only to see the tale rise to a respectable 82, a position above three of its peers. Its still perhaps a little too low, though its nice to see that the video release has seen it undergo a radical reassessment. The story used The Prisoner of Zenda as its source text, right down to the prisoner escaping a hut with "a little silver table". Here that little silver table is K-9 and all the other major scenes are faithful, too. Unimaginative rip-off or witty pastiche? Bearing in mind the Hinchcliffe years directed viewers to Hammer Horror; this one made me read literature. (Pretty good, too. Look out for the sequel Return To Zenda!) This is one of the biggest pluses of the Williams years: the literary referencing. The Jaggaroth in City of Death might not be a reference to the Hindu deity Vishnu-Jagganath, but who would bet otherwise? While many of these stories reference mythology and text, if youre not aware of it, then it doesnt distract or make your viewing pleasure less. Its just a different form of viewing pleasure. This is unlike the later J-N-T years, which relied heavily on knowledge of previous stories in order to understand them.
The highlight of the season and also the best directed (not that hard a feat, considering the flatness of the others), Tara is a vibrant reworking of the source text. Maybe some have a problem with the plot format: in a novel twist, the key segment is discovered within the first eight minutes, while all the Doctor wants to do is go fishing. Both he and Romana are dragged through four weeks of adventure against their will, while the Werebeast is one of the most ridiculous-looking monsters ever.
You could also argue that if you dont know what its parodying then you wouldnt fully appreciate the story. This is a reasonably valid argument, though even before Id read Hopes novel I still enjoyed this as a cracking adventure yarn in its own right. The guest cast are all wonderful, with Peter Jeffrey especially good, pitching it just right. His four-and-a-half onscreen minute swordfight with the Doctor does highlight the seasons strange abandonment of musical score, however, as it passes without incidentals. This is another contributing factor towards the somewhat lifeless feel of the year, though with Tara this isnt a major issue. Theres also a smashing goof in the third episode where the hand and shadow of a crewmember can be seen, pulling the door of the pavilion closed.
Full of laser swords, android doppelgangers and court intrigue, how could this story have once been so derided?
Am I the only person in the whole world who doesnt hate The Power of Kroll? I sometimes think it would be interesting to show the series to a people on Earth who had been shut off from the rest of civilisation and ask them to survey their favourites. That way, thered be no peer influence, and possibly completely different patterns would emerge. Long-standing views like The Daemons being a classic, for example are hard to shake, but this way maybe non-entities like The Three Doctors and Resurrection of the Daleks wouldnt top the charts. Also, perhaps Kroll would get a fair hearing.
The final Robert Holmes script for five years, when he did get asked back he famously gutted this and The Talons of Weng-Chiang to build The Caves of Androzani. There is humour present, but generally this tale of gunrunners and segregated politics is played straight.
The Doctor playing a reed is silly but funny, his glass-breaking singing is just silly, and maybe the Swampies are a bit daft-looking. The racial subtexts are also a little ham-fisted, while the location/studio clash in Romanas sacrifice is a slight annoyance. The Swampies Holy Writ clearly has fake pages much larger than the rest of the book, and, okay, occasionally the script is clunky. Its a tale where people call each other constantly by their Christian names, and some of the exposition "What a good thing we remembered it reacts to movement" is questionable.
On the plus side though, the marsh swamps make it a unique setting for Who and the various boats and hovercraft work well. The most slated element of the story is, of course, Kroll itself. Kroll, tentacles and all, appears for less than four-and-a-half-minutes of screen time, hardly a major element. I actually think it doesnt look that bad, and is no worse than the realisation of other big monsters in many other stories - The Daemons, The Seeds of Doom - that are accepted as classics.
As for the cast, theyre variable, though Glyn Owen has laid-back appeal as Rohm-Dutt, and Philip Madoc purrs with his usual style. Im not saying Kroll is a classic far from it but its an average romp, the best Holmes script of the season and a pacy yarn. Not only that, but for some reason Mary Tamm looks her sexiest in this one.
Pretty much everything said about The Armageddon Factor is true: as a story in its own right its passable SF, but as the conclusion to a 26-part quest its an anticlimax.
The serial opens with an atrociously acted, poorly-realised sequence... which then turns out to be a television programme within the story itself. As has often been pointed out, this joke would only work if the story proper was expensive and well acted. Its not the only time a propaganda broadcast is used in the tale, with all of them seeming half-assed fillers rather than any great satirical endeavour.
It all seems a bit of a run-around, characters transmatting everywhere in search of a plot. A space epic in three rooms, the sparsity of the production and the weakness of some performances (David Harries gets really silly from episode four) mean it lacks any kind of pull for the viewer. However, the second half does spice things up slightly by introducing some irrelevant elements that at least colour the piece, such as Drax the Cockney Timelord, and the Doctor using the power of the Key. Drax, incidentally, calls the Doctor "Theta Sigma". In The Happiness Patrol he claims it was a nickname, but here theres nothing to say its not his real name. He also advises the Doctor to "fly over there", which could have interesting possibilities when you consider the opening lines of City of Death.
The Shadow, laughably described in The Fourth Doctor Handbook as "an excellent portrayal of suppressed evil by William Squire" is really just a panto king. Apparently he was planned to be in more episodes, which would have worked better. As it is hes just a lazy git who sits around letting others do the work for him. Maybe an appearance in one of the other stories just to keep a constant threat would have been nice, too.
In the final episode one of the Mutes kicks up the set floor which turns out to be a bit of mangy old carpet by mistake. It really is that cheap. I remember even before seeing this serial I read some of the dialogue in Doctor Who: The Unfolding Text. The scene where the Doctor has power over the universe itself with the lines "Are you listening to me, Romana? Because if youre not listening I can make you listen" sounded chilling and profound. Yet seeing them performed turned out to be a crashing disappointment because, as we all know, Tom delivers them like an arse, rolling his eyes and overacting dreadfully. Its possibly the worst performance by anyone in the lead role ever. And while the vague disappointment of the Black Guardian resolution does contain answers (though ones that, perhaps commendably, arent spoon-fed to the viewers) the Doctors plan to escape seems bizarre. Bearing in mind that at this stage in the programme he still couldnt adequately control the Tardis then why does he fit a Randomiser in the first place? Isnt that like Matthew Waterhouse fitting a wooden actor device?
The weakest of the seven (Tom) Baker seasons saw a row between him and Graham Williams break out, Baker threatening to leave the series at its conclusion. The BBC didnt want to lose their star, no matter how out of control he was getting, and so ordered Williams to stand down on the subject. Season 17, then, accommodated the Baker problem adequately. For if Tom was going to try and squeeze a laugh out of every line, no matter what the content, then every line should be made funny...
Here it is then, possibly the most controversial season of Doctor Who and one that really separates the men from the fanboys. Season 17 is either seen as a post-modern, intertextual breakthrough in modern entertainment, or a childish, indulgent pantomime.
I have to say Im firmly in favour of the former. Like K-9, I had no idea that Season 17 wasnt held in high esteem until I became aware of fan viewpoints. Toms last two seasons would be some of the best the series had to offer. Where John Nathan-Turner would enter the show and make it respectable to serious fans, all his later flaws would be evident: gloss, continuity and po-faced adherence to mythology. Season 17 is the last season where having two hearts is mentioned just for a joke. The Appreciation Society might have loved The Keeper of Traken, but the public loved the Jaggaroth. Why the season is so slated is beyond me, as it demonstrates a Doctor and companion perfectly matched: so matched that they famously wed. Where Tamm was lovely but artificial, and Leela excellent but disliked by Tom, here the lead is enjoying himself more than hed done in years. At the end of the previous season a row with the producer had made him threaten to walk out. Not so here, where his rapport with Lalla Ward is immense, and dominates the screen.
Lets start with the one that comes in for the most stick: The Horns of Nimon. Nimon always gets negative comparisons against "classic" stories, by being, for example, not as scary as The Robots of Death, or not as horrifying as The Talons of Weng-Chiang. Thats always seemed a narrow-minded viewpoint to me. Fans never like Doctor Who as comedy, but negatively comparing two stories because one doesnt have the others qualities in a certain field seems to be missing the point. Nimon doesnt want to be scary like Robots or horrific like Weng-Chiang: it wants to be funny. Its raison de etre is completely different. You could as easily say that The Deadly Assassin is inferior because it isnt as amusing as Nimon, though of course youd never hear a fan say that. Yet the genius of Toms period, particularly in retrospect, is that it has such variety. Watch season 14 to remind yourself how good Doctor Who can be as drama. Watch The Horns of Nimon with a can of lager and laugh yourself silly. A story for every occasion is what Toms era promises, and if you want one for a Saturday night, then this is the perfect remedy. Your friends will certainly be more grateful for this one than the pompous Leisure Hive.
Its notable that Romana takes the proactive role here, not Tom, and that the plot complete with a maze made out of a giant circuit is quite innovative. But its the send-up where it excels, and, like the ratings, the silliness increased week by week. The first episode gives us a reasonably tame scene where K-9 has produced so much tickertape data that hes drowning in it. The second week has the broken Tardis making all those silly noises, including sirens and pinging rulers. From this its only a week away to the ultimate season 17 scene where Graham Crowden as Soldeed overacts to full effect. All together now: "my dreeeeeeeams of CON-QUEST!!" Crowden is hilarious, and this is no pissing on the programme that Brian Blessed was to do in season 23, but rather a self-knowing parody of a typical SF megalomaniac.
The series was to have ended with the then-obligatory six-parter, though Shada has become infamous as the only Doctor Who production begun but halted. With industrial strikes, only around 50% of the story was filmed, with great chunks of the concluding episodes missing. The incomplete material was released on BBC video in 1992, with linking narration with Tom. A Douglas Adams story, by his own admission its nothing special and has achieved notoriety only by going unfinished. The conclusion that can be drawn about the story is that it is, or would have been, ultimately unsatisfying. Some of the ideas and lines are witty, though others are overly indulgent. The central plot the search for a missing book of Gallifreyan law is too self-referential and obscure to appeal, and Christopher Neame is too fey to be an effective villain. When the monsters, the Krarg, finally appear, they are one of the silliest-looking creatures in the entire series. As it is, the serial was abandoned, and the final image of the 17th season was, appropriately, Lalla Ward bursting into what looks like unplanned giggles at the end of Nimon.
Adams suggested four Who scripts in all including The Pirate Planet and the rejected Krikkitmen and the second story of the 17th season was his pinnacle. When Prince sang in the song 7 of defeating an enemy "with an intellect and a savoir-faire", hed probably just watched City of Death. Even Williams haters admit this one is an absolute classic. In fact, I'll say little about this story as I have nothing new to add. The only point I will make is that among discussion of the brilliant soundtrack, fantastic plot, great acting and devastatingly witty one-liners it's easy to overlook the direction. Michael Hayes effects an appropriately European style to match the Paris location. The camera largely stays static while events play out in front of it, often from a distance, with objects obscuring the foreground. Like the rest of the production, it's absolutely wonderful. Oh, and is it just me or does one of the Scaroth splinters resemble Christ?
Destiny of the Daleks, too, is a reasonable start and much more worthy than fans would credit. Its a lot straighter than what was to follow, with irony rather than out-and-out silliness, and is one of the few Graham Williams stories that references the past. The Doctors decision not to aid ethnically-represented robots against the Nazi-like Daleks could be seen as Whos stand against the extreme face of Political Correctness... or I could just be talking tripe.
This leaves Nightmare of Eden and The Creature From The Pit. Planets that look like quarries are fine, but forests have always been a major sticking point for Who. So The Creature From The Pit is to be savored for its Elstree Studios woodland on film, the most realistic forest ever in Who. Rather a shame its not used in a better story then as, while superficially enjoyable, Creature is the weakest of the season. Even at just four episodes its padded, while its attempt to parody bad science fiction ("We call it... the pit" "We call it... the creature") blows up in its face, a victim of its own joke. It simply lacks the wit needed to carry it over into satire, though is notable for a scene where an overacting Tom appears to go down on the creature. Other notables include the third cliffhanger with Lady Adrasta being threatened by the creature. So thats a cliffhanger where the villain is in danger? Lalla Ward has also yet to get a handle on the character. Shes not bad, but by her own admission, plays it as Mary Tamm, this being the first story in production order.
As the only Doctor Who story to directly tackle drugs, Nightmare on Eden should perhaps have been a more serious story. Though while its cheap and occasionally flippant, Eden is still superb fun. Whereas Creature is a one-joke plot, Eden has bucketfuls of imagination, from the merged spaceships to the crystal recording device. Not as silly as initial impressions may lead you to believe, there are some subtler jokes, such as Tom suggesting they go East when in Eden (East of Eden, geddit?) and even the infamous "My fingers... my arms... my legs... my everything!" paraphrases ummmmm.... sorry, I have to admit that I once came across a book that told of an arty foreign film (something like the name of L'Arian or summat) that had similar dialogue. Except before I got to write down the title I'd forgotten it. Maybe I dreamt the whole thing?
Season 18 was John Nathan-Turners first and a misguided attempt to turn the show into po-faced science fiction. Fans worshipped it, the public were indifferent; I, quite frankly, detested it. I missed the jokes, the brevity, and the spark. In fact, I even stopped watching halfway through Full Circle. Years later and Ive grown to love it. I guess thats when I stopped being a member of the public and became a fan.
In fact, the way in which the show is pared down is cleverly done. It opens with a light touch (The Doctor snoring; K-9 blowing up in the sea) so as not to jar totally with the tone of the previous year. Yet the snoring points to a more (forcibly) subdued lead, and K-9 blowing up is one of the many ways hes downsized and made to look silly. His role reduced, the following stories would see, in order: his batteries constantly run down and him kicked by Bill Fraser; his head get smashed off; relegated to Tardis guard duty; irreparably damaged by the time winds; kicked (again); hurled away and spouting gibberish. As Romana would put it in Full Circle: "We always seem to be repairing him."
The opening story itself is timely in this age of a failing tourist attraction. For The Leisure Hive, read the Millennium Dome. The gloss, JN-Ts trademark, stays just the right side of tacky, while the special effects are commendably sophisticated. Coming from the writer of fun stories The Stones of Blood, The Androids of Tara and The Creature From The Pit, its also astonishingly scientific. Though that could be more due to Christopher H.Bidmeads script editing than anything else. A final innovation is the use of single-camera takes, with scenes being reshot for different angles. Not necessarily a good innovation, but interesting nonetheless. And of course, to a layman the whole story would mean nothing whatsoever.
The regime stamped out the generic something-of-the-something titles and brought in esoteric, one-word names, of which Meglos was one. This practice would go unabated for the next three years, and the idea to transform the Doctors interchangeable clothes into a single outfit is a wrong move. Though as Toms final costume is a sombre, Soviet-influenced affair its not so bad. Did he really need the question marks on the collars though? Meglos itself is inconsequential but underrated, a nice fun story. Which takes us on to Full Circle.
Whenever I hear the title Full Circle I always have two instant memories. One is that it was chosen for that very 70s fad, the Viewfinder. Three white discs with still images were made of this story, to be slotted in to a red lump of plastic. The very young wont have a clue what Im talking about. Yet the most prominent memory is borrowing the novelisation from the library and finding a large, congealed bogey in the pages. Yuck! Yet such things are inappropriate when discussing this pleasant little tale. One of just two scripts commissioned from unsolicited fan writers, (the other being Ghostlight), Andrew Smiths work is a strong one.
Showing a worrying predilection for continuity, JNTs third take on the show is script-edited with reference to the past three years in just the first two minutes. All of it is relevant, but meaningless to the casual viewer and those with short memories. Full Circle contains such things as Hitch-Hikerish music, a wonderfully resigned performance from Tom and a satire on vivisection. It also introduces Adric who, as Ive said elsewhere on the site, is nowhere near as bad as hes made out to be. With Barry Letts Executive Producing, the first cliffhanger seems to homage his own The Sea Devils, though with notably more sophistication.
Featuring an archaic society, the sort of antiquated SF staple that feature in all but one of the season, its also the first set in E-Space, a pocket universe into which the Tardis inadvertently falls. Its a brilliant concept, but again, it would mean nothing to the majority of the viewing public who have never read New Scientist. A lot of the dialogue is exposition-heavy, but its interesting how it marginalises Toms once-ubiquitous presence. Look out for the first episode, where hes absent on screen for a continuous eleven-minute stretch. In fact, the Tardis crew only appear for around 40 minutes of the whole story, including reprises. Of this, Toms righteous anger in the third episode is especially notable. And its nicely directed by Peter Grimwade too just a shame about those silly stuck-on veins on Romana.
And of course, the collapsing societies so favoured by the production team help to mirror the Doctors own growing state of decay. Which, by a tenuous link, is the title of the next story. As any fan will tell you, this is the story that was postponed from Season 15, to be replaced with Horror of Fang Rock after the BBC insisted it would clash with their production of Dracula. It was the story where Tom got sick and his hair went straight, and it was also the story where he announced his engagement to Lalla Ward. Easily the weakest story of the season, perhaps the weakest Tom story full stop; its a curiously flat vampire tale. Its also odd the fan scorn directed at Meglos, considering this campy affair is equally as daft. Not funny enough to be a comedy, not scary enough to be horror, it satisfies neither convention and is frequently tedious.
Much better is Warriors Gate, an esoteric work from hard SF author Steve Gallagher. Here the direction is excellent and inspired, the acting assured and Baker again gives an intelligent, indignant performance. Particularly notable is the scene in episode three where he smashes down a goblet in anger. In a clever touch perhaps not picked up on initial viewing, the first episode sees him (in a later timestream) pick up the same goblet, now aged and covered in dust. "Like talking to a Cheshire cat," the Doctor says at one point, highlighting the storys Alice-like properties, particularly his flitting through the looking glass at the heart of the tale. His physical beating in the final episode by the silver-haired Clifford Rose shows how the team were cleverly breaking down the fourth Doctors prior invulnerability. Perhaps the only real flaw in this almost-classic work is that its so surreal and complex that its almost incomprehensible.
The Keeper of Traken was the debut of Johnny Byrne, a man who went on to complete three tales of continuity-obsessed goings-on. Arc of Infinity is underrated, Warriors of the Deep is woeful, and Traken falls somewhere in between. The only story (correct me if Im wrong) other than the first, to feature flashbacks, the opening ten minutes are possibly the most contrived exposition in the series history. The cod Shakespearean dialogue is laughable, and the idea of a planet so good evil cannot exist on it is childish.
The Master returns in his disheveled, Deadly Assassin guise. Perhaps sensibly, JN-T opted to replace the plastic eyes with real ones, though it does beg the question as to why adhere to continuity if youre only going to change it? This is compounded just four episodes later where a clip of the original decayed Master is shown, plastic eyes and all.
Tom seems remarkably upbeat considering its his first post-Lalla story, though the blatant plot device of his ion bonder is unfortunate. One thing the older Tom could never do all that well is screen violence, and a scene where he knocks out three men by "banging" their heads together is notably fake more to the point, they dont even connect. The sets are nice but artificial, while the special effects are cheap. Some clumsy shots and direction, as well as technobabble and silliness (those awful red "eyes" on Cassia) make it all less than it could be. In all, this stands alongside stuff like The Daemons as a highly overrated fan favourite.
Logopolis finally gives us a chance to see what the script editor was capable of, as Christopher H.Bidmead takes over the writing duties. Perhaps expectedly, its another hard science epic.
There are amusing mistakes the Doctor not being able to shut the panel on the real police box; a litterbin next to a "please take your litter home" sign; Adric getting off the top of the police box very quickly; the companions looking in completely different directions when the Doctor falls and some totally bonkers logic, like the Doctor trying to flush out the Master. Yet while the budget runs out way before the end (at 28 episodes this was the longest season since 1969) and its an atypical story for the era, its still pretty good stuff all the same.
The purpose of the CVEs is explained, thus tying together the continuity of the E-Space trilogy. And the whole thing is initiated by the Master from the Traken story. With The Leisure Hive setting the tone, the season is, unofficially, one interlinked story. With only Meglos existing outside of the whole, its no wonder it came last in the season poll.
The moronic Tegan makes her debut, and drowns beneath poor dialogue and chronic overplaying by Janet Fielding. In fact, with Fielding joining the crew, the show now has a compliment of the most badly acted companions of all time. No wonder Tom lets go at the end. Anthony Ainley, meanwhile, making his debut proper as the Master, mews and purrs and is quite the campest intergalactic villain youve ever seen. With its shoestring sets, the serial perhaps isnt the finest exit story for a Doctor, but it succeeds in doing what JN-T doubtlessly had in mind: to make a now-sombre Tom pass away quietly, so that a new actor after seven years can seem like a triumph.
The Tom Baker era of Doctor Who was rarely, if ever, dull, and brought a new literary sophistication and intelligence to the series. But more than that, its variety - both in stories and in the lead's performance - is what makes it one of the two essential eras in Doctor Who. Tremendously entertaining.