The Green Death

I cried, as I thought I might do. That’s got to be one of the most heartbreaking companion departures in the show’s history. The closing scenes are sheer joyful agony, with the Doctor devastated by his imminent loss despite knowing that it’s for the best, just like when it was his own flesh and blood. The giant leap from first meeting to marriage proposal was also very similar, but you can easily forgive that thanks to the beautiful way this story is constructed.

It’s got an elegant structure to it, and as a result it zips by, quickly establishing the situation in episode one by intercutting between the various factions involved, in order to get on with moving the plot forward without ever overwhelming the audience with information. That this is further intercut with the Doctor’s hilariously nightmarish trip to Metebelis III is the icing on the cake.

Meanwhile, Professor Jones is subtly being set up to be a young, human, sexy, Welsh version of The Doctor, which is solidified with the brilliant back reference to Jo being someone who can hand you test tubes and tell you how brilliant you are. By the end, she’s pulling favours for the Prof just like she did to meet the Doc, and she’s off to go adventuring in exotic locales in the name of science. This era of Doctor Who really knows what it’s doing, and it certainly doesn’t feel like it’s over forty years old – this is just great television.

Elsewhere, it’s lovely to have the Brig back after a relatively long absence – like slipping on a comfortable dressing gown, making you feel at home. And I see Yates is still alive and well after all, and he’s finally becoming useful and vaguely interesting. Despite only turning up halfway through, this was his best story yet, with his undercover shenanigans giving him the chance to do some very Doctorish things. And did I detect a little moment of heartache when Jo announced her engagement to another man?

Pertwee was on great form too, not only with the emotional goodbyes, but also getting a chance to do a bit of comedy. It’s surprising that the Third Doctor is so serious most of the time, given the actor’s Navy Lark heritage and future Worzel Gummidge infamy. But it’s great to see the Doctor’s penchant for disguise return, and he’s outstanding as both the milkman and, in particular, the cleaning lady.

And speaking of campness, BOSS is a bit flamboyant for a computer, isn’t he? Increasingly so throughout the serial, and he becomes all the better for it. His giddy singing and child-like distrait in the last episode is brilliant, and also a stark contrast to the visceral, creepy threat of the maggoty mine scenes that dominate the early episodes. This serial really does have everything, and it does everything well.

Well, almost everything. It’s a shame about the big papier mâché wasp, and the Welsh accents definitely aren’t as convincing as the ones in New Who. But who cares when there’s so many other brilliant little moments – the deeply disturbing but brilliantly underplayed suicide machine, the touching generation-spanning friendship between Jo and Bert, and of course The Doctor cock-blocking Professor Jones when he tried to seduce Jo in front of a log fire.

The CSO doesn’t always work, and it was especially weird when they were cutting between filmed locations and video-taped mock-ups within the same scene – I wonder whether they ran out of time on location, or whether these scenes were extended in the studio to pad out the running time? But despite how poor the effects look by today’s standards, I still always see them as a huge tick in an episode’s plus column. For a start, they wouldn’t have looked nearly as bad on a tiny CRT in the early seventies, plus they show incredible ambition and ingenuity; the production team utilising new technology in the pursuit of telling as big and impressive a story as possible. Coupled with great performances and brilliant writing, this is a golden age.

RATING: 10

Season 10 ends with a 10 out of 10. Milestone time!

SEASON AVERAGE RATING: 8.8

  • Seasons/Series watched: 10 of 34 and two thirds
  • Stories watched: 69 of 257
  • Individual episodes watched: 355 of 821

That’s the highest average rating so far – the extra special tenth anniversary season very much living up to its promise. I’m now past half way through the classic era in terms of episode count, and this makes me slightly sad. But on the other hand, I can’t wait to have witnessed all the brilliance that’s still to come, starting with the first appearance of possibly the only companion who seems worthy of following Jo Grant…

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Planet of the Daleks

Ah, that’s more like it. After the false dawn of their initial reappearance, the Daleks are most emphatically back this time, and what’s more they’re back to their old selves. As I’d hoped from their cameo last time, they’re suddenly effortlessly effective again. The uniform battleship grey paint job suits them, more props have been built, and they’re being properly directed so that it seems like there’s hundreds of them. But best of all, Zippy is back on voiceover duty.

This is them going back to their roots, with a story to match. This is a proper sequel to their very first appearance, as written by their creator. (Terry Nation, not Davros – he doesn’t exist yet.) The Thals are back for the first time, and there’s even lovely mentions of Barbara, Ian and Susan. It works as part of the season-spanning tenth anniversary celebrations, but it’s also satisfying in story terms to hear of how the First Doctor’s actions in that serial have entered folklore, exploring the impact that this incredible man has on civilisations throughout the galaxy.

After a while, though, you notice that it’s not so much a sequel to The Daleks, as a complete and utter rehash, just in a different order. Terry Nation is never one to dismiss a good idea just because it’s already been used, and so we get the Daleks attempting to poison the Thals, a Dalek city being infiltrated, The Doctor being imprisoned and even someone getting inside a Dalek casing as a disguise. It’s not great to be so derivative, but on the other hand it’s still a huge amount of fun.

There was a fair chunk of new stuff too, and it all worked pretty well. The jungle and its various aggressive plant life was great, albeit in itself a little derivative of elements of Nation’s The Keys of Marinus and Mission To The Unknown. I liked the Spiridons a lot too, with their furs in the exact same hue as Emu. Always handy for the budget to introduce an invisible monster, and CSO allows them to make good use of the concept. Oh, and the Daleks can fly now! Admittedly they need a special anti-gravity device to do so, but I wasn’t expecting to see that until Remembrance.

One thing that surprised me was how little it had to do with Frontier In Space in the end. There was even a line of dialogue at one point where The Doctor acknowledged that thwarting The Master’s plan was completely irrelevant in the grand evil scheme of things. It feels like they were two different stories comprising five and a half episodes each, with the remaining episode’s worth of linking material spread across part six of the former and part one of the latter.

But while it failed to pick up on the previous serial’s lead, it did seem to plant a seed for the next one. I may be reading too much into it, considering I know what’s coming next, but there seemed to be some foreshadowing of Jo’s imminent departure in the way that she and The Doctor were separated for so long. And this definitely ramped up in episode six, which presented her with an opportunity to stay behind with some bloke, reminding the audience of the most common way for a female companion to leave the show. The fact that she’s starting to contemplate life without The Doctor, coupled with a hint of homesickness is really setting up what promises to be an emotional departure.

RATING: 8

Frontier in Space

I feel like I’ve just spent six episodes waiting for a story to really kick off, only to discover that this was never on the cards. Instead of ending with The Doctor having averted war and defeated The Master, we get a cliffhanger leading into the next serial. I’m a big fan of the way the serials used to link together in the first few seasons, but here it just feels like Frontier In Space has been abandoned – left unresolved in the pursuit of the next adventure, without a satisfying conclusion of its own.

It’s a cracking cliffhanger for sure, and it feels similar to the way some modern two-parters have the first episode purely there as build-up to the second (Dark Water, The Magician’s Apprentice), but the difference there is that it’s 45 minutes of build-up, rather than six lots of 25. And although they couldn’t have known it at the time, it’s such a shame that this is the last we see of Roger Delgado’s Master. The character really deserved a much more climactic send off than this, and I feel bereft that I’ve got no more performances to look forward to, but obviously that’s nothing compared to the tragic loss of the man himself.

Still, before it all peters out towards the end, the serial itself is perfectly enjoyable. The sheer number of different settings is impressive, and the production value is high. There are some lovely sets on display – and many of the spaceships featured have a similar aesthetic to the earliest series of Red Dwarf – along with good model work. The Draconians look great, and while I’m concerned to note that there appear to still be only three Dalek props, this was covered up by the direction far more effectively than it was last time.

The high production values aren’t always matched by the story, though. The overall concept of The Master engineering a war between two races is solid and well executed, with both the humans and Draconians displaying the necessary moral grey areas for the type of engaging, unpredictable story we’ve come to expect from Malcolm Hulke. But then the plot takes so many detours that it soon becomes clear that there’s not enough story to cover a six-parter, let alone form part of a Masterplan-esque twelve-episode mega-serial. And the padding is all so repetitive – turn up somewhere, get imprisoned, escape, try to convince everyone that there’s a conspiracy going on, head for the next place, turn up, get imprisoned… Seriously, the amount of imprisoning going on here is out of control.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that the journey isn’t enjoyable. There are some great moments, like The Doctor and Jo concealing their ongoing efforts to escape from The Master’s custody by talking complete bollocks for ages until he stops paying attention. Or Jo resisting all the mind control power The Master can throw at her, further underlying how much she’s developed since she first met both Time Lords. I think she might have overtaken Jamie and Zoe as my favourite companion so far.

So it’s far from a bad serial, but overall I can’t help feel my enjoyment was hampered by the preconceptions I took into it. The DVD comes in a package called Dalek War with a picture of the The Master on the front, so I spent the first two episodes pretty much just waiting for my Delgado fix. Then the rest of the serial was spent wondering when the Daleks were going to show up, having assumed they’d have a much bigger role to play than what was essentially an extended cameo. It’s absolutely unavoidable I know, but it is a shame that the one thing missing from this experience is the element of surprise. I wish I’d been born thirty years earlier.

RATING: 7

PS. I’ve just realised – Monday 26th October marked one year since I started this watch through. Subsequently, I’ve further realised that I’m 24 days behind schedule. Oh well – it’ll make it last even longer…

Carnival of Monsters

This was one of the very first pre-2005 stories I ever saw, having picked up the DVD soon after Series One finished, in my first foray as a newly declared Doctor Who fan. I’ve always loved it, and assumed it was among the very finest serials that the first 26 years had to offer. Having watched it again now, I’ve realised… it’s not.

But that’s only because I now know that the rest of the classic era is mostly brilliant too – it’s not that this is any worse after another viewing, it’s just that other stories are better. That said, despite having seen this two or three times before, I had completely forgotten about the existence of the grey (apart from fleshy patches around their eyes and mouths) people. Perhaps that’s not surprising.

The fact that there’s a separate lower class of the species goes absolutely nowhere, although admittedly that would have been a retread of The Savages. But the sub-plot about conspiracy and sabotage doesn’t end up impacting on the main story either, so it’s baffling that so much time is spent setting up a disaster that’s resolved within seconds while The Doctor’s busy doing something else.

But it would be churlish to deduct too many points for such trivialities, considering how much brilliant stuff there is. All the bits of bureaucracy and xenophobia between the grey chaps and the Lurmans is pure gold – a lighter brand of humour than last time, but just as funny. Leslie Dwyer’s Vorg is one of the most memorable guest characters for ages, plus the very idea of the Miniscope is genius.

It allows The Doctor and Jo to go on three different adventures simultaneously, side-stepping between an historical mystery, a perilous journey and a monster chase throughout the first three episodes. The scenes aboard the SS Bernice are the most successful, especially towards the beginning when they’re still figuring out what’s going on. Seeing the same scenes from different viewpoints is one of my favourite things a time travel story can do – this is basically Back To The Future 2 mixed with Groundhog Day, but with a sozzled old Major and a sailor who looks like Harry Sullivan.

The Drashigs are a decent threat that suit the specification that this story required, but I can’t help but wondering what it would have been like if it had been the Cyberman we glimpsed instead. The quality of the model lets it down in some shots, but elsewhere in the world of visual effects, some of the CSO is unbelievably good for the time. The colour era has been polishing the technique from the start, but here they’re using it to do more and more – growing/shrinking things, forced perspective, and most impressively, joining together elements shot on different sets. Hard to imagine how gobsmacking that would have been in 1973, especially on analogue CRTs where you couldn’t see the joins.

Overall, while it’s probably no longer in my top ten, this is still an absolute classic in my book. I now see why it drew me in a decade ago – it’s so standalone, and with such an accessible premise, that it’s the perfect introduction for someone who wants to get in to old Who.

RATING: 9

The Three Doctors

It’s the start of season ten, and nobody in the production has seemed to notice that if you do one season each year, the start of the tenth season is actually much closer to the *ninth* anniversary than the tenth. But their lack of knowledge of how calendars work is a small price to pay for the joy of having our first multi-Doctor story a year early.

It’s such a pleasure to have Patrick Troughton in the TARDIS once more. He’s still my favourite ever Doctor (at the time of writing), and he slots back in effortlessly. The return of the old irreverence and obfuscating behaviour brings the contrast with his successor in to sharp focus, and it’s this clash of characters that provides some of the funniest scenes of all time. It’s great that Troughton’s presence ups Pertwee’s game, rather than overshadowing him – there’s a danger that bringing back long-gone elements from the past could make you pine for the old days, but Pertwee’s performance here reminds you that the role is still in safe hands.

It’s a shame that Hartnell couldn’t be more involved, and it’s probably best not to approach his performance with a critical eye. But the vacuum created provides great opportunities for the other regulars to play their part. The Brig is on fine form, playing it for laughs by becoming increasingly pissed off at everything he can’t understand, culminating in the brilliant “Cromer” line. Elsewhere, Jo’s utter devotion to the Doctor is further evolving into a fear of being separated, to such an extent that I’m blatantly going to be a blubbering mess come the end of this season.

It’s also a strong showing from Benton, who gets to have a go at being a proper companion for the Second Doctor, and takes it all in his stride. One thing, though – where’s Captain Yates? Were the injuries sustained in the doodlebug incident worse than we thought? I’m trying to work out how I’ll feel if he’s been quietly written out between seasons (I genuinely don’t know, so no spoilers please). I don’t think I’ll be too bothered – unlike Benton, he’s never really had much of a distinct character, and has always just been the spare army guy if the Brig is doing something else.

As well as being the first multi-Doctor story, this is also the first time we’ve really had a good look at Time Lord mythology. Having only seen bits and bobs of it during the classic series, I’ve always been a bit confused by this element of the show, so it’s great to see it all play out without having to worry about half-remembered bits from other stories. Omega himself is hammy as all hell, but entertaining with it. The reveal of his empty armour and his subsequent breakdown was compelling, and the earlier battle between the Third Doctor and Omega’s dark side was completely mental.

There were undoubtedly a few less successful elements, such as the fantastical world of anti-matter Omega creates looking just like an English quarry, the pan-dimensional monsters and wibbly video effect not being the most convincing, or the convenient way that the Second Doctor’s recorder fell into the forcefield generator and landed upright. But when there’s so much joy sprinkled throughout, and so many brilliant actors at the top of their game, this serial is nothing short of an absolute classic.

RATING: 10