Yes, sorry, it’s been a while. Due to real life intervening, and some poor planning, it took me eleven days to watch these four episodes, with a week long gap between the first and the second. I just about followed it, and enjoyed it, but I probably did it a bit of a disservice by spreading it out in this way. I know it was designed to be watched weekly, but I have neither the attention span nor the memory of your average 70s child.
I do remember my first impression being disappointment at seeing K-9 arbitrarily sidelined during his first TARDIS trip – I’m expecting it to happen every now and then during his stay, but not so quickly. Momentum well and truly lost. Additionally, due to a combination of a different outfit, subtler make-up, a completely different hairstyle, still not being used to her blue eyes, and a slight dampening down of her usual trouble-making tendencies, Leela didn’t seem herself during this.
But still, the guest cast is incredible, with an amazing hit rate for actors who’d go on to be more famous: Denis Lill, Benedict Cumberbatch’s mum, Charlie Slater and Don Brennan. The first one is a particular highlight as the mad foreign scientist, while the evil cult scientist is superbly OTT.
It’s got an unusual structure, with the monster not actually turning up til the cliffhanger of Part Three, which has the effect of making the story feel like three quarters set-up to one quarter of action. I quite liked this, with the slow, unnerving buildup and steady escalation. It dealt with some really heavy themes, with the pentagram imagery, the concept of man’s evolution being manipulated, and The Doctor handing someone a gun so that they could commit suicide.
After the last serial‘s more light-hearted approach, this was definitely gothic horror business as usual. I guess that makes sense, as this was Robert Holmes’s last story before following Hinchcliffe out the door, but this season is all over the place so far. It’s been noticeable every time the producer has changed, in the 70s at least, that the new guy never gets a chance to stamp his mark for quite a while – they’re just following the groundwork laid by their predecessor for the first season or so.
So it remains to be seen whether I like Graham Williams’s approach, as he’s only just approaching the approach at the moment, but what I’m hoping for is a bit of a break from the dark and gloomy stuff, and writers facing up to the challenge of properly incorporating K-9. But hey, anything that contains Tom Baker’s face is entertaining by default, so I’m just happy to be back on a regular schedule.