This was one of the first Classic Whos I ever watched, but I only ever watched it once, because I thought it was complete rubbish. I’ve now realised that my issue was probably with the trappings of this particular era – the Doctor and some of the production values are rubbish, but this is by no means a bad serial overall, and it stands head and shoulders above the rest of this season.
I remember finding the plot confusing the first time round, but I think it benefits from knowing more about Davros and the Daleks – I’ve now seen their story play out in the order it was intended, and this is a decent installment of the ongoing civil war thread. The highlight is the scene in the catacombs, with the truly gruesome and scary mid-conversion mutant. One of the few all time classic scenes from the Sixth Doctor’s time, and tellingly him and Peri aren’t in it.
This was the case for much of the first part in particular – what little we did see of them was some irritating bickering and some extremely dodgy, sexist bullshit about Peri putting on weight. 1) That’s absolutely no way for the Doctor to talk about a companion; 2) You can talk, you fat fuck. The pair wandered around while a story happened independently in the distance, which did give us the great, chilling moment of The Doctor finding his own grave. The cliffhanger was slightly let down by the statue falling in neatly-segmented polystyrene chunks, and indeed by the resolution, which revealed that it was only polystyrene after all.
There was more screen time for the pair in Part Two, and The Doctor/Colin was actually on decent form – he seems to work much better when he’s separated from Peri. But again, he felt disconnected from the story. It obviously had to end in a face-to-face meeting between him and Davros, but that meeting didn’t amount to much more than an amputated hand. The main plot was still happening around him, and would have played out much the same had he not been there at all; his sole contribution to the resolution was to make Davros turn his back on Orcini so that he could grab the bomb.
Nevertheless, it was an exciting conclusion, particularly the Dalek infighting, and Davros hovering around like it ain’t no thing. Much like Caves of Androzani (but obviously nowhere near as good), it relies on a rich and complicated back-story to create an interesting tale to tell regardless of the Doctor’s presence, with a large guest cast to back it up. It’s almost a little too densely packed at times – Eleanor Bron turned up out of nowhere, and I struggled to see how she fitted in until quite late on, but it all works if you give it a chance.
Orcini and Bostock were a lot of fun, and Clive Swift did a good job of portraying a completely unlikeable bastard, which can’t have been much of a stretch. I do wish the show would stop using being creepy towards Peri as way of defining their character, though, as it’s usually quite uncomfortable to watch. I spent all serial wondering what to make of Jenny Tomasin as Tasambeker – she clearly can’t act for toffee, but I couldn’t help but like her, and I was totally on her side as she plunged that needle into the odious Jobel.
And then there’s Alexei Sayle. One of my favourite performers of all time, in one of my favourite shows of all time. But his role is so weird. I couldn’t stand it the first time round, and the disappointment was a key factor in me writing the serial off as a stinker. I liked it a lot more this time – I’d forgotten about the bits where Peri comes to see him, which fleshes him out a lot more and gives his presence a clearer purpose, but I do still find him highly incongruous prior to this point.
But hey, it’s something new and original after over twenty years. There’s been a few little things like that among the dross of this season. This story is clearly the standout, and it was the most I’ve enjoyed watching Who since Colin took over. But I don’t think I’ll ever truly adore any story with this Doctor, written and performed in this arrogant, patronising and smug manner. With the knowledge of what’s to come, this serial is most likely the closest any Colin story comes to greatness.
Oh, and I thought there was some sort of DVD error at the very end, until I read that it was an inadvertent cliffhanger, brought about by necessity. “All right, I’ll take you to… an eighteen month hiatus!”
SEASON AVERAGE RATING: 6.33
- Seasons/Series watched: 22 of 35
- Stories watched: 142 of 263
- Individual episodes watched: 639 of 826
To get me in the mood for the next fortnight of joy (I’ll be dealing with each section individually, btw, even though I’m counting it as all one story), I’ve just listened to Doctor In Distress for the first time, and watched the video. Jesus Christ. It’s not exactly Band Aid, is it? It’s not even Band Aid 20. It was slightly before I was born, but even so – I didn’t recognise anyone other than the various embarrassed-looking Who actors and the somewhat incongruous Faith Brown. You can really tell that the talents behind the song were the same as that for the K-9 and Company theme tune. We should be grateful the series came back at all after this.