The Time Monster

Seriously, what is wrong with Doctor Who fans? I genuinely don’t mean to be contrary, but it seems like every time I approach a story with no preconceptions, I like it a hell of a lot more than the people who, for example, voted it 222 out of 241 in the most recent DWM survey, below The Bloody Web Bloody Planet. And Before The Flood wasn’t that bad, but I’ll get to that in about three years.

Anyway, this story combined a huge amount of fun with all the drama you’d hope for in a season finale. You can’t fail to be delighted by The Master pissing about with time to thwart UNIT, or perfectly impersonating The Brigadier, or turning The Doctor’s voice backwards just to shut him up. The souped-up super-fast Bessie was also brilliant, as was Baby Benton. Little moments of joy sprinkled liberally throughout.

And as for the drama, the stakes were really ramped up. A lot of the cliffhangers were superb, particularly at the end of episode three with the Doodlebug crashing down on Captain Yates’s convoy, and the subsequent rare loss of composure from The Brig sold it as genuinely perilous. The Doctor’s speech about the hermit in the last episode was beautifully written and perfectly acted – both in Pertwee’s reading and Manning’s reactions.

A special mention for Katy Manning and Jo Grant, who both continue to absolutely shine. Jo is utterly fearless thanks to her total devotion to The Doctor – twice in this serial she has moments where she accepts the prospect of death, because life wouldn’t be worth living without him. Plus, her costume in the Atlantis scenes was really quite something.

It was nice to see a return to a historical setting, albeit a mythical one. I hadn’t quite realised how long it had been – you’ve got to go back to relatively early Troughton since we’ve seen anywhere that wasn’t contemporary, futuristic or alien. That said, episode five being set entirely in Atlantis, with no cutting back and forth with the present day, was a bit of a mis-step. It all went a bit Clavdivs and it was weird.

Also, obviously, great to have UNIT back for only the second time this season, but it’s a shame there wasn’t more for them to do towards the conclusion. Yates was hardly in it even before he was hospitalised, and Brig got frozen in time for half the serial. It was a strong outing for Benton, what with his various run-ins with The Master and the aforementioned Baby Benton, but it was disappointing that he wasn’t seen for two episodes after being youthed.

This lack of following through on ideas is all that stops this story from getting full marks. (Which reminds me, for those of you who have been paying attention – I’ve gone back and altered my rating for Day of the Daleks). Well, that and the initial manifestation of Kronos as a big flappy bird being a bit daft. It’s also hard to take something called a “TOMTIT device” seriously, and the time sensor thing, pictured above, totally looks like a cock and balls. Oh, and the inside out roundels are crap.

But seriously, that speech about The Doctor’s origins – along with the sheer number of times this serial made me exclaim with joy, shock or horror – makes this a worthy conclusion to what has been an excellent season. Not the season I was expecting, but with the exception of the damp squib of an opener, you can’t fault the results.

RATING: 9

So yes, with the season over, let’s have a look at the scores so far (with totals correct at time of writing):

SEASON AVERAGE RATING: 8.4

  • Seasons/Series watched: 9 of 34 and a third
  • Stories watched: 64 of 255
  • Individual episodes watched: 329 of 817

Very much looking forward to what’s coming next, even though I’m already familiar with the next couple of stories. Weirdly though, the prospect of The Doctor being free to explore the universe unhindered once more doesn’t feel as exciting as it should, thanks to the fact that this season has played out like his exile has already been lifted. Nevertheless, I can’t wait to see a couple of old friends again…

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The Mutants

I knew next to nothing about this story before I started, which is always my favourite way of approaching a serial. Not knowing whether the popular consensus is positive or negative allows me to form an unbiased opinion, as I would for a brand new adventure. And having done my customary reading up after watching, it would seem that The Mutants can be filed alongside The Keys of Marinus and The Space Museum as “stories that I think are brilliant but that everyone else hates”.

I always love a serial where there’s so many elements that it feels like you’re watching a mini-series rather than a chopped up episode. Both the Solonians’ mutation process and The Marshal’s insane lust for power could have happily supported a story on their own, but they interweave and come together nicely when it’s revealed that one element is causing the other.

The Marshal is the most memorable element for me, with his irrational hatred for the Solonians providing both a particularly entertaining villain and an effective Apartheid parable. The show is pleasingly right-on at the moment, and they’re not afraid to show it. The casting of Cotton is notable as well – one of the earliest and most significant black characters who just happens to be black, with no reference made to his ethnicity.. It’s been a slow and almost imperceptible process, but we really have come a long way since the likes of Kemel and Toberman.

Even without such weighty subtext, there’s a great cast of characters here. As noted, the Marshal is the standout, but the likes of Stubbs, Jaeger and Sondergaard are also memorable. There’s also a welcome but all too brief appearance by Geoffrey Palmer. On the downside, the non-mutated Solonians are a bit clichéd and dull – the story of their species and its mutation process is far more interesting than the characters we meet.

This is one of only very few quibbles with what is ultimately a well-constructed and beautifully-paced story. Another is that Ky’s ultimate mutation into a giant floating rainbow god was a bit silly, and also the complete lack of UNIT, once again. So strange that they’re absent from what’s now the majority of serials in the last season of the Doctor’s exile. Genuinely missing the Brigadier at this stage, and hoping he has a big role in the finale.

RATING: 8

PS. Those rockets that the professor dropped on Solos… can we call them Jaeger Bombs?

The Sea Devils

It’s a testament to how brilliant Roger Delgado’s Master is that an absence of just two stories can lead to such a sense of triumph in his return. A short gap when you watch the seasons back-to-back, but the break has done the character the world of good, as you can tell that both the script and the actor are having so much fun.

There’s a willingness to play things for laughs, seen through much of The Master’s imprisonment and especially his enjoyment of The Clangers. Plus, when a character’s appearance is a special occasion rather than the norm, it allows you to be more elaborate – sword fights and jet-ski chases spring to mind – and it brings with it a requirement to raise the stakes. The Master leading the successful takeover of a naval base is certainly a career highlight of his.

The Sea Devils are a worthy addition to the Silurian family, and are arguably more effectively deployed here than their cave-based cousins were in the original. Gone is the internal power struggle, but the moral ambiguity remains – in both stories, it’s regrettable that the reptiles had to wiped out, with bittersweet endings aplenty. Here, it’s because all of their actions were down to being used as pawns in The Master’s ongoing war on everything that isn’t him. This allows them to function both as The Master’s personal army, and eventually the bringers of his downfall.

Elsewhere, the production values seemed exceptionally high for this story, no doubt thanks to the extensive location work, produced with the co-operation of the Royal Navy. The various ships, submarines, sea forts, diving bells, hovercraft and jet-skis added a huge sense of scale to the story, and it was action-packed and exciting throughout.

Even by her standards, Jo is notably brilliant in this serial, acting almost as a co-lead at times, as her and The Doctor share the action hero duties at various points. The only issue is that UNIT are completely conspicuous by their absence – that’s two serials in a row without even a glimpse of The Brig, Benton or Yates. It’s clear that Letts and Dicks are trying to vary each story as much as possible within the mandated restrictions, and that’s extremely admirable and worthy. But the thing is, I know that The Three Doctors is fast approaching, and I’ll miss the UNIT family when The Doctor and Jo fly the nest. These last two serials have been like his exile has been lifted already.

But still, the absence of the Brig aside, given that this serial marks the first time that the Sonic is used extensively throughout, and that it contains the full unexpurgated phrase “reverse the polarity of the neutron flow”, The Sea Devils is pretty much peak Pertwee era. And now I’m pretty much exactly halfway through it, I’ve concluded that I really like the Pertwee era.

RATING: 9

The Curse of Peladon

Where did that come from? Out of nowhere, having not anticipated anything particularly special, this was one of my favourite serials in a long time. I think the element of surprise is a huge factor – it’s so far removed from the rest of Pertwee’s tenure so far that the Brig et al don’t even get so much as a cameo. Suddenly the TARDIS is fine again (or seemingly so, before a bit of Time Lord-shaped handwaving at the end), and the Third Doctor and Jo are happily swanning around in an alien setting like it’s an everyday thing. Such a great, affectionate dynamic between these two.

It was all about confounding expectations, this story, not least when it comes to the Ice Warriors. It was a bold move to turn previously ruthless killing machines into reformed good guys, and I spent the whole serial expecting it to be a bluff, but no. The expectation of a twist that doesn’t come is sometimes better than an actual twist. The murder-mystery-esque aspect of this was particularly enjoyable – a proper whodunnit to almost rival The Web of Fear.

The success hinges on the quality of the Federation delegates. Unlike the interchangeable ragtag posse from The Daleks’ Master Plan, this lot all had memorable designs and distinctive personalities, with the morally ambiguous Ice Warriors joined by motorised shrunken head Arcturus, and the squeaky-voiced penis-shaped coward Alpha Centauri. It’s a shame that they’re all the same colour, but that’s what you expect from an all-powerful political alliance.

The humanoid Peladonians were all good too, especially the evil priest, here playing the role of what would now be a UKIP supporter in the surprisingly understated EU allegory. Troughton Junior is also good as the slightly wet king, but the star of the show is undoubtedly Jo Grant, or Princess Josephine as she’s known here. The running subplot of her relationship with Peladon (the king who inexplicably shares his name with his planet) could so easily have been an unwelcome distraction, but Manning is such a fine actress, and Jo such a strong character, that it ends up becoming a highlight.

Never more so than in that final scene, where Jo has to make a heart-breaking decision about whether or not to stay behind. This whole serial could so easily have been leading up to her departure – all the signs were there for a classic marrying-a-bloke-you’ve-just-met exit, and there was a definite sense that she’d come of age by being so capable and useful on what was only her second TARDIS trip.

But I’m very glad she’s staying – she’s already one of the best companions ever, and there’s so much more still to come.

RATING: 10

Day of the Daleks

They’re back, after an absence of 134 episodes, equating to about five months’ worth of my marathon. And after a five year break for the production team, it seems like they kind of forgot how to do them. The voices in particular are really off – staccato to the point of sounding hesitant. Where’s Zippy when you need him?

And yeah, you could totally tell that there were only three Dalek props available. I wasn’t aware that there even was an attempt to disguise the fact until I read about it afterwards – I assumed that the entire invasion had been carried off by just three Daleks, one of whom was gold. Maybe it would have been easier to pass them off as dozens if they were all the same colour, rather than attempting to suggest that they all hang around in groups of two greys and a gold.

I kind of liked my interpretation that all they’d subjugated and enslaved an entire planet with just three of them – it fits in to the descriptions in Dalek that made me fall in love with them in the first place. As it is, though, it’s another example of the shoddy workmanship that plagues this serial. The Ogrons weren’t terrible, but they were seemingly only there because they were cheaper to make than more Daleks, and the cheapness showed. With the exception of Aubrey Woods – who I always thought was creepy as fuck in Willy Wonka, so it’s no surprise he makes such a good villain – most of the guest cast are woeful. Then there’s weird little things like CSO elements disappearing from shot to shot, and the theme tune scream appearing after the cliffhanger resolves. Just why?

But the worst thing? You set up a scene at the beginning where The Doctor and Jo are visited by another version of The Doctor and Jo from the near future, seemingly from towards the end of the same serial. And then we get to the end of the serial… and there’s no corresponding scene where The Doctor and Jo visit their past selves. Not even a hastily-inserted line of dialogue to explain what that visit was all about. Unless they do something amazing, like resolve this hanging thread in the last episode of the season, I’m going to come back in time and remove one point from my rating for this episode.

EDIT: Yep, see below.

It’s a shame, because underneath all of that, there’s a decent story to be told, it’s just not the one that involves the Daleks. The stuff with the “ghosts” appearing at the manor house was much more intriguing than the dystopian future – again, Aubrey Woods aside – and that eventually developed into a brilliant timey-wimey story. Just as I was wondering how they could possibly resolve this plot without invoking a paradox, they go and explain that they’d been aware of that all along. It works well, and there are plenty of other good points – Pertwee and Manning are both on fine form, and there’s some great little UNIT moments, particularly those involving Benton, Yates and a plate of cheese.

But the problem is, apart from that little moment where they cycle through pictures of Hartnell and Troughton, I’d kind of rather The Daleks weren’t in it. This is not ideal for a long-awaited comeback. Overall, not an absolutely terrible serial, but I sincerely hope it’s not the best Dalek story I see this week.

RATING: 7 6