The Dæmons

Now, I don’t particularly like stories about magic, in Doctor Who or in general. It’s purely down to personal preference, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with them, it’s just that I prefer my sci-fi/fantasy to be heavier on the sci. So there was an element of trepidation as I watched the opening episodes of this one, especially considering the running gag of The Doctor being interrupted every time he’s about to give the rational explanation for everything that’s going on. I was a little concerned that this would continue for the duration.

But I should have just gone with it from the off, because as soon as the explanation did arrive – as cursory and functional as it was – I started enjoying the serial a lot more. There’s clearly a hell of a lot of fun to be had by casting The Master as the figurehead of a Satanist cult, and the whole thing about a sleepy picturesque village harbouring a secret network of hooded minions was very Hot Fuzz.

The scale of the story escalated perfectly as it went along, with really grim moments like Benton having the shit kicked out of him by an invisible force, and The Doctor being tied to a stake to be burnt alive by evil Morris dancers. In the end, the world may have been saved pretty much by accident, rather than with the culmination of a brilliantly cunning plan, but it was nice that it was Jo that saved the day – she’s been an absolute star of this season, which is no mean feat for Katy Manning considering the might of Pertwee, Delgado and Courtney. They are a fantastic ensemble.

Regardless of the convenient nature of Azal’s demise, the coda on the village green is the perfect end to a season, especially the subversion of The Master’s usual last-second escape. He’s finally captured, bringing his run of consecutive appearances to an end. Probably for the best, considering the need to keep things as varied and unpredictable as ever despite the current production restrictions. But here’s a sign of how brilliantly the character has worked up to this point – the big cliffhanger at the end of Episode Three is The Master’s life being in peril. It’s not The Doctor we’re worried for, or one of his companions, but an actual villain. That doesn’t happen very often.

Pleasingly, this was one of those serials that seemed rife with links to the future, intentional or otherwise. It was amusing to see “BBC 3” used as a “Jaws 19” type gag, although it does mean that the UNIT adventures are actually set in the 2000s at the earliest. Then there was the nerdy UNIT Sergeant named “Osgood”, which got me wondering whether I’d missed a line in The Day of the Doctor. Turns out Moff wrote her to be this Osgood’s daughter, but didn’t include it in the script. I love the fact that the daughters of two different characters from the 70s are working together for the same organisation in the modern day.

Best of all, though? The lines “reverse the polarity” and the impeccable: “Chap with the wings, there. Five rounds rapid.” That line in particular encapsulates this whole era of the show. It’s completely distinct from everything that came before or after, but it’s oh so charming and captivating.

RATING: 9

And so we reach the end of another season – these are coming round much more frequently now that the show has a far more sensible production schedule…

SEASON AVERAGE RATING: 8.2

  • Seasons/Series watched: 8 of 34
  • Stories watched: 59 of 253
  • Individual episodes watched: 303 of 813

Ooh, the total number of stories and episodes will have gone up next time I do this bit. And the top figure will be out of 34 and a bit. But before that, I’ve got an appointment with some old friends. Brief cameos aside, I’ve not seen hide nor hair of a Dalek since the middle of April, and this ridiculous state of affairs must stop immediately.

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Colony in Space

Only in Doctor Who could the format-breaker of the season also be the most straight-forward, traditional story for years. UNIT get six weeks off, as the Time Lords decide to temporarily free The Doctor so that he can defeat The Master for them. Although, they never actually tell him that this is what they’re doing, which is a bit weird. That whole prologue with the Time Lords is strange in general, in that the rest of the serial seems to be written as if that scene never existed. The Master’s sudden appearance midway through the serial and the slow reveal of his plan are played as if they’re supposed to be a surprise to the audience, whereas it had all been spelled out to us in the very first scene.

This is a rare misstep for a serial which holds together a huge number of plot threads surprisingly well. There really is so much going on here, with so many different factions to keep an eye on. There’s the colonists and their internal power struggles, as well as the threat from the evil mining corporation, and the three different sub-species of the indigenous Primitives. You can tell this is a Malcolm Hulke story – the plucky, unassuming commune-dwellers vs the greedy, underhanded, bullying establishment thugs. There are strong characters on both sides of this divide – Captain Dent is a excellently sadistic shit, and the goodies have got Gail Platt (pictured above in 2015).

The Primitives end up playing a relatively minor role in the sprawling storyline, with them and their doomsday weapon being little more than a MacGuffin, but they’re certainly an intriguing and complex alien. Silent, spear-yielding green mind-readers are creepy enough, but the variations in the species get weirder and weirder, until you end up with the tiny, deformed, wrinkly… thing that’s somehow at the top of the food chain. I wonder if they inspired both the mini-Doctor and the Toclafane in Last of the Time Lords?

And then eventually, all of the above become mere pawns in the ongoing chess game between two renegade Time Lords. That doesn’t come until halfway through the story, and it’s arguably slightly stronger before the focus shifts to The Master. It certainly wouldn’t have carried the full six episodes, and any sequences with Pertwee and Delgado together can only improve a serial, but it was nice to see the typical non-UNIT formula once more.

That said, the Brig was missed throughout, and there’s clearly plenty of mileage in the current format yet. I presume that the device of the Time Lords recruiting The Doctor for missions will crop up again occasionally, and in conjunction with The Master not having to appear in absolutely every story, it’ll be nice to have more of a variation of settings for the remainder of The Doctor’s exile. I love TARDIS-based travels, and I love the UNIT family, so my preference would be a little bit of each… Please don’t tell me either way, but I’m really hoping that the Doctor will get to take UNIT along with him on a future excursion.

RATING: 8

Oh, and also, if you’ve not already been sent here from there, you may be interested to read this piece I wrote for Unlimited Rice Pudding: Ten Things I’ve Learned Watching Doctor Who From The Beginning.

The Claws of Axos

57 claws of axos

Well, there I was all prepared to write a blog post about how this serial is a bit ‘meh’, and then an absolutely fantastic final episode comes along. That really is a great part four, with Pertwee’s Doctor getting some of his best scenes yet. I was genuinely unsure as to The Doctor’s motives at times; I was pretty sure that it was all partly a scheme to destroy Axos, but there was definitely a huge element of truth in the bits about wanting to fuck off away from UNIT as quickly as possible.

I’ve a feeling I’ll be saying it a lot over the next few seasons, but the Third Doctor and the First/Thirteenth Master are such a brilliant combination. They don’t even share that much screen time on this occasion, but The Master’s very existence has added a whole other dimension to The Doctor’s character – The Master has been established as what would happen if The Doctor had gone wrong, and as such he’s brought out that potential for conniving sneakiness that we haven’t seen since early Hartnell.

And this particular story brought us a new side of The Master – for the first time, he’s not completely in control of the situation, and he’s actually quite vulnerable and desperate at times. As such, he has to be extra resourceful and think on his feet. It’s a neat role reversal that the conclusion to the main plot has The Master fleeing because The Doctor’s gone too far for once. Prior to this, though, he’s properly evil, especially when forcing the Brigadier to choose between saving the earth or saving The Doctor and Jo.

But while the conflict between the two archenemies is as strong as ever, the main plot of this serial is a bit flimsy. The stakes are suitably high and the stuff on board Axos was often nice and trippy, but there wasn’t any real substance to it. I was never really sold on the concept that everything Axos-related was part of one huge organism, and I think the slightly shoddy look to the all-organic ship didn’t really help.

The oddest thing was the cast of characters involved. Benton and Yates barely featured other than an admittedly decent car chase towards the end, so it was an odd choice to introduce a (presumably) one-off character in Filer, who simply spent four episodes getting himself into trouble that could have easily been gotten in to by one of the regulars. Chinn was interesting – a more overtly comical character than we’re used to in this era, but he just became less relevant as the plot developed, and disappeared towards the end.

But still, it was bloody good to see the console room again. I hadn’t realised how much I missed the TARDIS, as both a “character” and a narrative device, until it became so prominent in this story’s conclusion. I am very much enjoying the UNIT era, especially with the added element of The Master’s regular appearances, but the TARDIS is such a huge part of everything that came before or since that it’s a bit weird without it.

RATING: 7

The Mind of Evil

This seemed like at least three stories in one – there’s a machine that can scare people to death and eat their evilness, a murder investigation at a peace conference, and The Master taking over a prison in order to steal a missile. None of these individual threads satisfyingly tied together in any meaningful way. But when The Master is on screen, who cares?

Roger Delgado is simply excellent. Bizarrely, I’d hardly seen any of his incarnation prior to this marathon, whereas I’d seen a fair chunk of Ainley and everything of all the others. He really does shit all over everyone else, doesn’t he? The best thing is that I’m seeing the origins of everything the later portrayals were informed by, as the legend is fleshed out before my eyes.

I was surprised to see his penchant for being-in-disguise-even-when-it’s-not-necessary quite so early, with him wearing a mask to tamper with telephone exchange on an anonymous and virtually deserted street. Then there was that brilliant moment when you saw him in his car with evil incidental music over the top, before the reveal that he was actually playing the evil music to himself on a little radio.

But once again, it’s all about that mysterious love-hate relationship with The Doctor. Like last time, they spend periods working together out of necessity, and make a pretty effective team. The highlight of the whole serial was the reveal that The Master’s greatest, deepest fear is a giant version of The Doctor doing a big lol in his astonished face. An alarming image, and incredibly character-defining.

Meanwhile, The Doctor’s biggest fear gave us a welcome cameo appearance by the Daleks, last seen (properly) bloody ages ago. The Keller Machine bore a passing resemblance to them from certain angles, while the funky effect used when it killed someone was like a more psychedelic version of the classic extermination effect. All in all, it’s made me realise how much I miss them at this stage. I’m pining for their return.

It was another great romp for the whole UNIT crew. Jo showed her compassionate side throughout, and was always a fantastic audience surrogate, especially during the gut-punch of what happened to poor old Barnham. The Brig got to play dress-up too, as well as taking the piss out of all around for the majority of the story. Yates and Benton both got to be very brave and rugged, although there doesn’t seem to be much to Yates just yet, especially in comparison to Benton’s cute doe-eyed enthusiasm.

But the most notable thing about this story? The revelation that Michael Sheard once played someone who wasn’t a complete shit. I kept on expecting him to betray someone, or turn out to be The Master in disguise or something, just because I’ve never seen him play a goody before.

RATING: 8

Terror of the Autons

For the first time in its history, Doctor Who has a status quo other than “madman (and companion[s]) in a box”, and it’s great. It took a while to get there, but with the final tweaks made in this serial, it’s finally been fully established. And it’s largely thanks to the sheer size of the core cast.

It really is a family UNIT now, with the same amount of recurring characters as your average sitcom family. Mike Yates hasn’t done much that isn’t functional yet, but one more non-generic soldier gives us more to cling on to. Jo Grant, on the other hand, makes an absolutely sensational debut. It’s hard to disagree with the Brigadier’s assessment that the Doctor just needs “someone to hand you test tubes and tell you how brilliant you are”, and she does that with aplomb. She’s straight into the thick of it too, being hypnotised into bombing UNIT and rescuing the Doctor from evil carnies within the first two episodes.

I was concerned that the thinking behind the change in companion would be a bit of a backwards step – following the super-intelligent Zoe and Liz, they wanted someone who was less of an equal to the Doctor, and I was worried that might lead to some manifestation of a sexist seventies stereotype. Not a bit of it – she’s not thick or ditzy, she’s just normal. A normal everyday woman who the Doctor inspires to do extraordinary things. It’s the first step in a lineage that goes right up to Rose, Amy and Clara.

But really, this serial is all about the introduction of The Master. Roger Delgado is superb right from the off, with the perfect mixture of charm and sinisterness. And they instantly nail his relationship with The Doctor – a high-stakes battle of wits with undertones of begrudging respect and an uneasy affection. It’s a template that’s remained unchanged ever since. The Master is always the equal and opposite of whichever incarnation of The Doctor he faces, and these two seem to have an amazing chemistry already.

It’s interesting that once again the Autons/Nestene are used as a means of introducing a new character, and as with Spearhead and Rose are really only the side-show to the main story. I guess they work in this role because they can be anything they’re needed to be. Here, they certainly benefit from manifesting as more than just shop dummies – the troll dolls, daffodils and creepy life-sized doll things are particularly effective.

So many memorable moments in this story, such as the reveal of the Auton policeman, the Doctor’s stupid face when he’s being strangled with a telephone wire, The Doctor and The Master briefly working together at the last minute, and the particularly cruel method The Master used to escape from UNIT at the end. My favourite stand-out moment, though, was the weird Time Lord floating around in the sky, all dressed up like a little city gent.Wonderfully stupid.

And when The Doctor reacts to The Master’s name by exclaiming “that jackanapes”, I had to press pause because I was laughing so much. There seemed to be an extra level of flair within the dialogue throughout, with The Master also described as an “unimaginative plodder” and Jo, brilliantly, as a “ham fisted bun vendor”. Now I most definitely get why Robert Holmes has a reputation as one of the best writers the show had, while Barry Letts and Terrence Dicks are taking the show into a brilliant direction. Long may it continue.

RATING: 9