Yeah, I couldn’t resist staying away for too long. I might have to miss the odd day here and there for the next few weeks, but I couldn’t even last a full week without starting to miss my fix of new old Who. Well, I say ‘new’. I’ve seen most of Season 12 before, but quite a while ago and only the once, so it’s still more or less fresh to me now.
But anyway. This is one hell of an introduction to one hell of a Doctor. Escaping from the medical bay was very Pertwee, but the way the Fourth Doctor just dives feet first into the action within the first episode, with such innate joy and vigour, could only have been done by Tom. He’s just arrived fully formed, with his big eyes and infectious grin. He’s even offering the jelly babies round in his very first story. Incredible.
This was a time of much upheaval behind the scenes, but having the departing Letts and Dicks deliver this serial as a sort of bridge between the old and new regimes was extremely effective. It’s the tried and trusted technique of UNIT providing reassuring familiarity whenever anything changes, and it was particularly nice to see Benton – in what I assume is one of his last appearances as a semi-regular – promoted to second-in-command behind the Brig. He always was, in my head, even before Yates turned out to be a rotter.
And as with Liz and Jo in the past few seasons, UNIT has provided a ready-made new companion in Harry. He seems an amiable sort of chap, very much in the Chesterton/Steven mould. I know he’s not going to be around for that long (although I don’t know exactly when he’s off), and it’s easy to see that he’s probably going to be bit unnecessary alongside such a brilliant combination as Sarah Jane and #4. I literally forgot that he existed when he spent an episode or so undercover at Think Tank.
As for the story itself, it wasn’t particularly original, but it did what it had to do – provide Tom Baker with lots of opportunities to be daft, whilst also giving him character-defining moments of intelligence and triumph. The secret Nazi-esque society were pretty effective, and I liked Kettlewell (and his hair), but wasn’t hugely surprised when he turned out to be in on it. The big old eponymous robot himself is great – a fantastic design, and the Oedipal element is a nice touch. Some of the effects aren’t brilliant, but as always, I will cut them infinite slack for the sheer audacity required to even attempt such things at that time.
I know that this is probably hindsight, but this genuinely feels like the start of something new, exciting and above all special. The tweaked title sequence works a lot better with the TARDIS in place of the Pertwee cut-out, and the mere image of Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen on screen together is extremely pleasing. I’m also glad that four-episode serials are now the norm, with six-parters being saved for special occasions. Not all of them dragged by any means, but things are a lot more interesting when the setting and storyline change more frequently.
Oh, and I loved the fact that the locations were all shot on VT. I know it’s a very specialist area of interest, but the whole thing is much more immersive when you don’t have that jarring switch between formats whenever anyone goes outside. Another brilliant thing about this project is that I’m seeing a microcosm of “old” television slowly transforming into the form I remember from childhood. As someone who’s always been fascinated by every aspect of television production, Doctor Who is a perfect case study.