This is most definitely the 80s, alright. It seems to be a theme, intentional or otherwise, that huge changes have to take place for the first season in a new decade. The 70s saw the move to colour and a whole new format, and it even carried on in the new series when Smith and Moffat replaced Tennant and RTD in 2010. Here, a new producer continues with the old cast, but manages to change pretty much everything about the aesthetics in one fell swoop.
I was immediately sold on the new theme tune, which surprised me – I thought it would take some getting used to as it’s the first ever wholesale change. But I didn’t realise the old one needed changing until the new one came around. It’s a great interpretation by Peter Howell; I’m particularly fond of the big boom at the end of the credits, and of course the glorious return of the middle eight on a regular basis. One of my cats is not so keen – she’s been startled by the opening scream every time I’ve pressed play for the last four nights.
The title sequence is perhaps not as good as the one it replaced, and certainly not as iconic, but again, maybe the old one was a little tired in retrospect – it’s been around for even longer than Tom has. I’m not so keen on the new logo. While the others so far have been pretty timeless to various degrees, this one feels very much rooted in the style of the early 80s. I like the title font, though, so I’m pretty much happy.
I was very pleased to note that the Radiophonic Workshop are on incidental music duties – I love their sound from this era, as it instantly makes me think of the Hitch-hikers TV series. Another change is in the direction, with lots of noticeably long, developing shots, both live action and special effects. It’s a way of developing the story in a visual way, as well as adding tension whilst also allowing the dialogue to breathe. The weird Quantel transition from Brighton to Argolis via the title sequence was a stupid idea, but hey, these failed experiments are the price you pay whenever Doctor Who gets hold of new technology and strives for creative ways to use it.
The best change of all is more of a regression – K-9 has his proper voice back. Hooray! But he’s then immediately blown up. Boo! It’s the start of a pretty trippy story that lurches between intriguing and slightly dull in roughly equal measure. I love all the early stuff with the Recreation Generator as an entertainment device gone wrong, but it becomes less interesting the more it’s experimented with. The Doctor being aged into an old man is a fantastic cliffhanger, but an episode and a half of him just doing everything he normally does whilst walking more slowly isn’t a great pay off.
But I did like the Foamasi, and I was completely fooled into thinking they’d be the baddies in a base-under-siege story that never unfolded. Maybe that would have been more interesting overall, but I liked that The Doctor and Romana could identify them as being friendly, and the unmasking of the true villains was nicely done. When the ambassador gained the voice manipulator, he sounded pleasingly camp, especially when bursting into the final scene. “Did someone say… Foamasi?”
The guest cast was a strong one, with Adrienne Corri on fine form as Mena. David Haig was great throughout, but especially after revealing himself as being a warmongering shit. However, even in that make-up, and looking so much younger than anything else I’ve seen him in, I was longing for him to say “your cock up, my arse”. Oh, and the scientist bloke was the narrator from the first series of Look Around You! I recognised his voice immediately – his first line is narrating an experiment being carried out.
All of the aesthetic changes, as well as The Doctor’s conspicuous disdain for the randomiser as he deliberately gets rid of it, seem to be an emphatic statement of the intent to shake off the various vestiges of the Williams era – although I can’t tell whether The Doctor also dismissing the Black Guardian as a threat is further evidence of this, or foreshadowing for a forthcoming return (no spoilers pls). Either way, while this story is in itself a little all over the place, I come away from it with a warm feeling of hope for the show’s immediate future. It’s another bold new direction, and I’m very much on board.