Oh my God. That was incredible, for so many reasons. Right from the very first establishing shot of the school, I was utterly amazed. THAT’S MY OLD UNIVERSITY! Trent Park, Enfield, Middlesex. Absolutely unmistakably the place where I spent three of the happiest years I’ll ever spend. I became a Doctor Who fan while I was at a place where Doctor Who was filmed… and this is literally the first I’ve ever heard of it. I often go on about how difficult it is to avoid spoilers, but this was a very personal headfuck that I had no idea was coming.
I was fully aware, however, of who’d be returning in this serial, but that the lack of surprise didn’t matter in the slightest. God, I love the Brigadier so much. His greatest hits flashback put the biggest grin on my face, and the long list of names The Doctor reels off made me realise just how much affection I’ve got for the UNIT era. It was a product of a unique set of circumstances and it had its downsides, but you can’t help but feel a warm, nostalgic glow whenever it’s invoked.
Nostalgia aside, Nicholas Courtney is absolutely fantastic here, even after a seven year break from playing the character. The Brigadier looks equally at home alongside Davison’s Doctor as he did against any of his predecessors, and it was tremendous fun to see him transposed into the current set-up. All the same characteristics of loyalty and bravery are still there, with an added vulnerability thanks to the disconcerting hints of his suppressed memories. The humourous streak was still there too – I laughed both times I heard the line “I know all about regeneration, I’ve seen it twice before”.
Also in the mix is the return of the Black Guardian, which I initially greeted with an element of “meh”. Prior to this project, I’d always assumed that he was a huge figure in the mythology of Who, but in fact he gets his own tasty little trilogy based on nothing more than one prior appearance and some long since abandoned foreshadowing. Then he turns up here with a dead crow on his head, on the set of Bad Influence.
But actually, he was great. He instantly seems more powerful and impressive than he did at the conclusion of The Key To Time, and he’s unashamedly evil. It’s always that little bit scarier when the villain is specifically targetting The Doctor, rather than him turning up to a pre-existing situation by chance. His utter control of Turlough was terrifying, as indeed was Turlough himself. He’s fantastic – we’ve got a companion who’s completely bonkers, both in terms of their mannerisms and being actually mentally ill.
It’s a brilliant performance so far; one which takes care to leave the audience unsure of the degree to which he’s under the Black Guardian’s influence, and how much of it is down to him just being a bit of a shit anyway. If I hadn’t have known he was to become a companion, I would never have seen it coming, and it’s an incredibly interesting twist to the normal dynamic to have a companion that fundamentally can’t be trusted. Easily the most memorable debut for a long time.
And as well as all that going on, you’ve got a third antagonist in the eponymous Mawdryn, who’s part of a whole separate-but-parallel story. Him posing as The Doctor and successfully tricking his companions – including one of his longest serving friends – was deeply disturbing. Yet you can’t help feel sorry for him and his people in the end, despite what they put everyone through, because all they want is to find peace. These moral grey areas are what the show does best.
As is timey-wimey stuff, and this serial has some of the best timey-wimey stuff the show ever managed. It’s not just the two Brigadiers wandering around, or the fact that the same place is visited in two different time periods. It’s the way the story is told, whereby events that are taking place simultaneously unfold in parallel for the audience, thanks to The Brigadier slowly regaining his memory and filling in the story for The Doctor. It’s just so much fun.
There is an incredible amount of stuff packed in to this story. It’s an absolute whirlwind of immense satisfaction. I adored it.
PS. I am aware that the new banner is shit. I’m guessing the lack of high-res publicity shots – or even half-decent screengrabs – of this particular combination of people means they won’t be together for very long…