The Seeds of Doom

Oh great, now I’ll always be confused as to which one is about Ice Warriors and transmats, and which one’s about the massive plant that’s taking over the world. Even now, mere minutes after finishing it, I’m having to check the DVD case to make sure I’ve got it right.

Ultimately, I’ll always remember Doom, Not Death as being an absolutely stunning example of a season finale. For the first time in ages, it feels like there’s been proper thought put into the structure of a season, with an episode count that equates to exactly half a year, split up into five fours followed by a six. It instantly makes a six-parter feel like a special occasion, rather than worrying whether it’s going to be a bit of a slog.

And even in itself, this is a damn fine example of a six-parter, with the two distinct main settings keeping things moving and also adding a more epic scale. It looks absolutely beautiful, partly thanks to the return to videotape for the location work. The Antarctica sequences are a particular triumph, especially the big explosion towards the end of it.

The guest performances are particularly strong in this one too. Chase is delightfully weird and creepy even before he gets possessed – I particularly liked him taking the time out to give The Doctor a guided tour of the house, and piss about playing his rubbish plant music. Just as excellent was Boycie, making a treacherous murderer likable throughout, even before he reluctantly joined the good guys. However, I couldn’t hear anyone shout “Scorby!” without thinking of Pam Doove.

It’s yet another episode with an undercurrent of violence, with The Doctor getting his hands dirty every now and then. It’s noticeable, but not particularly jarring – it just contributes to an overall tone that feels slightly more adult under Phillip Hinchcliffe than it did under Barry Letts. Both approaches are great, and I’ve got no qualms with stuff like The Doctor knocking the chauffeur/assassin the fuck out – it’s just this particular Doctor’s version of the Third’s Venusian Aikido. The sight of him stalking around with a gun is a little unpleasant, regardless of his insistence that he’d never actually use it.

The only real downside was the shit version of UNIT that showed up towards the end. It’s sort of missing the point of their popularity – if you’re not going to use the Brig or Benton, just say they’re the normal army or something. The Doctor has cut his ties with Earth now and that’s fine, but seeing him interact with complete strangers in the same way he interacted with his friends is weird.

That links into a slight issue that this era seems to be having in contextualising stories. UNIT were also a handy device for kickstarting the Doctor’s involvement in the plot, but it was confusing to see the Doctor taking orders from some unknown civil servant at the start of this serial. Pre-exile, the majority of serials would open with a little TARDIS scene, giving a glimpse of what passes for everyday life, as well as dropping the characters into the setting. It strikes me that we’ve barely seen the TARDIS interior for ages, and as such there’s swathes of the Doctor and Sarah’s relationship that’s undocumented.

None of this takes anything away from this particular serial, however. It’s pacey, thrilling and unpredictable, and a suitable finale to an astonishingly good season.

RATING: 10

Yet another review where I barely even mention how great Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen are. Extraordinary performances are everyday occurrences to them, and they just automatically add a base level of brilliance to any serial they appear in. Which is probably why this season, as we reach its end, has gone down as my favourite so far.

SEASON AVERAGE RATING: 9

  • Seasons/Series watched: 13 of 35
  • Stories watched: 85 of 263*
  • Individual episodes watched: 427 of 826

* Story count altered to reflect current thinking on exactly how many stories formed Series 9. I disagree with DWM on the issue, but their word seems to be official, and I’m a stickler for the rules. Even if the last three episodes were blatantly one long story.

Advertisements

The Brain of Morbius

Ah, so that’s who the Sisterhood of Karn are! I was beginning to wonder. I’d gotten the gist from their recent appearances, but not the specifics. As usual, I’m glad to learn that there’s at least a vague scientific explanation for their magical powers – a lot of things in the Who universe only really make sense if you’ve seen their origins. I was amused to note that they were complete shits for the majority of the serial, before they came good and decided to be The Doctor’s mates.

They’re just one of a number of brilliantly-realised ideas that make yet another proper classic, to add to the staggering number that the Fourth Doctor has had already. I loved the Frankenstein elements to this story, and the always-reliable Philip Madoc was having the time of his life in the mad scientist role. Also a big fan of the monobrowed, hooks-for-hands Lurch equivalent.

And then Morbius himself was gradually introduced into the story, which progressed at pace that left me desperate to just mainline the whole serial in one go. Just expertly put together, and much like with Pyramids of Mars, it doesn’t make any sense as to how this can be the case when Robert Holmes had to completely rewrite it at the last minute. Maybe they should have made him work like that all the time.

It was also quite a grim and harrowing tale. We care so much about Sarah Jane at this stage, and seeing her being blinded, tied up and then enslaved is somewhat emotionally involving. Not to mention the borderline sexually assaults from Lurchio. I can see why Mary Whitehouse was affronted by this one, and as usual, I fail to see how that can be a bad thing.

The one thing I’m not comfortable with, however, is The Doctor straight up killing Solon. I’m not sure what his plan was, if his intention was to murder the person keeping him captive, whilst still being captive. I assumed that he was knocking up a gas that would make the laboratory uninhabitable, but in a harmless way, so that Solon would have to come down and get at the gas. That would have been far more Doctorish than just poisoning the fucker.

RATING: 9

The Android Invasion

This one was good, but for the first time this season, not brilliant. Which is a shame, as it had all the makings of a classic. The initial set-up, spread across the first couple of episodes, is brilliantly intriguing. There were times when I genuinely wasn’t sure what was real and what wasn’t, and I loved The Doctor spotting all the tiny clues that something was amiss.

The androids themselves were also excellent throughout – a good balance between the eerily uncanny and the dead-behind-the-eyes automaton. Unfortunately, the Kraals are not so interesting. They’re not bad, and I liked that Roy Skelton just used his actual Zippy voice, but they’re a bit generic and dull. Couldn’t we have done without them? I don’t see why the androids had to be the henchmen, rather than being behind it all themselves.

The whole thing felt very old-school, and slightly out of whack with the brave new direction the season has taken so far. I think it’s down to a combination of Terry Nation using the same old tropes as he’s been flogging since 1963, and the sleepy English village setting feeling very Pertwee. As does, of course, the presence of UNIT.

It wasn’t really much of a last hurrah for them, considering we only saw the non-android versions of them for a few minutes in Part Four. Lovely and unexpected though it was to see Harry, so much more could have been made of what it means to be an ex-companion. And I’ve just read that this is the last we ever see of Benton, and I feel conned. All he did was smile politely for a bit and then get knocked out.

Then there’s the lack of The Brigadier, which was made worse by the somewhat insulting decision to replace him with a one-off stand-in. Why couldn’t Benton have been deputising for him, and why didn’t anyone question who this other guy even was? Overall, if you’re not going to use them properly, I’d kind of rather UNIT weren’t involved – Terror of the Zygons would have been a much better send off.

There’s plenty to keep you entertained in this serial, not least the android duplicates of Sarah Jane and The Doctor, which were by far the best thing on offer. But frustratingly it never quite lives up to its promise, and as such it’s a little underwhelming.

RATING: 7

Pyramids of Mars

Well, that was damn near perfect. It has a reputation that suggests as much, but bloody hell, that was something else. One thing I didn’t already know was that it had such a troubled start in life, what with Robert Holmes having to write it from scratch due to the original scripts being utter dogshit, which makes it even more remarkable.

I wasn’t mightily enthused at the notion of entering into Doctor Who‘s Gothic Horror phase. I’ve previously noted that I prefer science to fantasy, plus the phrase “Gothic Horror” itself just makes me think of moody vampires and Nightwish. But for one thing,¬†Who‘s take on the genre is deeply rooted in science and logic anyway. Plus this new style has made the show become incredibly dark and violent, and I approve greatly.

This was an absolute thrill ride, with some amazing cliffhangers and incredibly high stakes. Everyone died, mostly in hideous physical and emotional pain. The seriousness of the threat was beautifully illustrated with the sequence depicting the alternative 1980, which established a relationship to causality that the show sticks by today. If the Doctor and Sarah fail, humanity ends in 1911. Simple as that.

But these two could hardly fail – they’re unstoppable. This was perhaps Sarah Jane’s best serial yet, proving that she’s almost the Doctor’s equal at this stage, performing as his right-hand-woman rather than a mere assistant. And Elisabeth Sladen is one of very few actors whose performances aren’t overshadowed by those of Tom Baker – they’re clearly having a whale of a time together, hence the above gif.

And you can’t underestimate the importance of the villains, all of whom were just brilliant. Scarman was The Demon Headmaster twenty years early, and Gabriel Woolf gives Sutekh bags of depth and personality with his voice alone. Furthermore, due to how deliciously violently they dispatched the good guys, the mummies have to be the first truly scary depiction of robots in the show so far. (Daleks and Cybermen don’t count, obvs.)

There was even a bizarre back reference to Victoria, for no apparent reason whatsoever. What more do you want?

RATING: 10

Also, I note that I am now exactly halfway through Doctor Who – there are 826 episodes at the time of writing, and Part Four of this was the 413th. I’ve been doing this for fifteen months, but you’ll be pleased to hear that it’ll be more than fifteen months before I’m finished – I’ve got a very long list of spin-offs and specials to make things more interesting later on…

Planet of Evil

This is probably the first Fourth Doctor serial where I’ve not known what to expect in advance – no recurring enemies, no iconic first appearances, and not a title I remember seeing too often in any top or bottom ten lists. I don’t know whether it’s down to the lack of preconceptions, but I always seem to enjoy these types of serials a lot. This was no exception.

What a beautiful setting. That jungle has got to be one of the best pieces of set design in the show so far. Unbelievable that they managed to achieve all of that in the studio. It’s the sheer amount of foliage, all painted from a rich and varied palette. It’s marks this story out as something special right from the beginning, and draws you in to the world.

It’s an unpredictable and exciting story, which seems incredibly fresh and original, despite chunks of it being basically Jekyll & Hyde (I confess that I’ve never seen Forbidden Planet, which I’ve read was the other big influence). You can tell that it’s the first story aired that’s purely conceived by Hinchcliffe & Holmes, without a sniff of Letts & Dicks. The Fourth Doctor has so far taken part in adventures that would equally have suited The Third, but this is something different.

From what I know about Hinchcliffe, he was the guy that was big on horror, and that’s certainly the case here. Sorenson’s transformation into the daftly-named Anti-Man is pure B-Movie stuff, and utterly gripping. It was also incredibly bleak, with a very high body count – I was relieved that Sorenson and (especially) Vishinsky ultimately survived, but they were pretty much the only ones.

Elsewhere, I note that after such impressive work with the jungle, it was time to fall back on the extremely cost-effective invisible aliens once more. But the CSO-red-outline versions were very good indeed. Again, it’s a marker of the new regime that they felt confident enough to rely on the ethereal for the main threat – it’s a lot spookier than a rubber suit. Obviously, I love the proper monsters too, but it’s good to have a more varied arsenal.

Also, I could be wrong, but is this the first time that The Doctor has successfully piloted the TARDIS as if it were a normal spaceship, in order to make a short trip within a story? If so, while it feels like a little bit of a cheat in the context of this episode’s conclusion, it’s another big step forward in terms of the types of stories this development allows the show to tell, and what kind of heroics The Doctor can get up to. The time spent at UNIT HQ continually tinkering with the TARDIS and conducting experiments has clearly paid off, as his new incarnation seems capable of anything.

RATING: 9

Terror of the Zygons

I love Zygons, but prior to now have only ever seen them in the new series. Considering that The Day of the Doctor and The Zygon Inv[a/er]sion are two of my favourite stories of all time, the original had a lot to live up to.

And it’s probably a bit of a shame that I’ve seen it this way round, because while all the ingredients that have made their recent appearances so successful are present and correct, this serial doesn’t quite use them as effectively. There’s a hell of a lot going on – “UNIT vs Nessie” and “invading alien doppelgangers” are both stories that I want to see, but they could, and perhaps should, have been done separately. Both ideas seem slightly wasted when they’re completing for screentime in a four parter. Just let Zygons be Zygons.

I loved Evil Harry, which was played brilliantly by Ian Marter, but I just wish there was more of it. But the thing is, I’m probably only thinking along those lines because it worked so well with Clara, and I was hoping for more of the same. I feel ever so slightly underwhelmed, especially as I know this one’s considered an all time great, but it shouldn’t detract from what is a brilliantly gripping story, and a hugely impressive production, in itself.

The design of the Zygons is fantastic – instantly iconic and unforgettable. Nessie, not so much, but you can see what they were trying to do. There’s never a dull moment, and the Highland setting – though clearly shot several hundred miles to the south – was well realised, even if some of the accents weren’t. Intentionally or otherwise, the stereotypical Scottish bits are hilarious – the serial opens with a bloke asking for haggis, and ends with a gag about Scotch people being tight-fisted. No wonder they want independence.

It’s also great to see UNIT back in action for one last hurrah. I believe (please don’t confirm or deny) that this is their last appearance for a very long time. I’m kind of sad about that – mostly because of how brilliant the Brig and Benton are – but the show is clearly moving on. The Doctor is back to travelling the universe with nothing in his way, and he no longer needs anything to ground him. It was a great time for the show, but the show is nothing if it doesn’t change.

It’s also goodbye to Harry, from the looks of things. This is a shame, as character and actor alike are great. The received wisdom that his role was superfluous is nonsense – the three way dynamic in the TARDIS was working really well, and there was a real spark between him and Sarah Jane. He may have been an imbecile, but he was funny, charming and likeable with it. On the plus side, his exit makes sense in story terms – he never wanted to travel with the Doctor in the first place, and he was given the opportunity to make an informed decision. Best of luck to him – he’s off to invent an anti-Zygon gas, apparently.

I liked that Sarah was also given the choice of whether to stay at home or stick with The Doctor, and that she chose the latter. I share her enthusiasm to find out what adventures are to come…

RATING: 9