This is one of those times that I really, really wish it was possible to go into serials completely spoiler-free. When I first became a Who fan, I never envisioned actually watching the whole lot, so I read up on the classic series with gay abandon. I know roughly when most of the companions come and go, and I’m often aware of which serials feature which returning monster or villain. I do a bit of reading up after finishing each serial (Wikipedia, The Doctor Who Reference Guide, Shannon Sullivan and TARDIS Data Core), and read the DVD booklets before each new one.

It’s fine most of the time, but I can’t help but feel that this serial relied somewhat on shock reveals, and I knew each and every one of them was coming. It’s a shame that I can only guess as to what my reactions would have been; I want to experience these old episodes like I do the new ones, not sit here analysing them like I do with things I’ve seen a dozen times.

But for what it’s worth…

Shock One: Adric’s cameo. Spoilt by: articles about Earthshock mentioning his future appearances. This was actually quite a nice moment, after the necessary but jarring pace at which our heroes got over his death. It was all part of the pleasingly baffling illusion-strewn world that the Concorde landed in, which worked really well. Okay, the sets were rubbish and the CSO was shockingly bad – especially considering the show was doing better stuff over a decade ago – but that added a surreal edge which genuinely made these sections more successful.

Shock Two: The big baddy was in fact The Master. Spoilt by: the DVD booklet, plus being enough of a fan of The Master to be able to recognise his stories by name, even if I haven’t seen them. I think in this instance I would have guessed – he looked like any other alien in his disguise, but he had the voice of Anthony Ainley. The reveal was part of a neat little two-and-two structure – like with The Ark all those years ago, everything was nicely wrapped up by the end of the second episode, and then blam.

The problem here is that the final two episodes are crap. So much talking, so little action. The Doctor and The Master hardly interacted – all that happened was that The Master disappeared off-screen for most of it (presumably chuckling throughout), while The Doctor explained to his companions and the audience what he imagined The Master was up to. They were just telling us what the problem was, and then telling us it had been fixed. This is not remotely compelling.

A real shame, as I did enjoy the set-up. The stuff at Heathrow at the start was a lot of fun, particularly the heart-warming mentions of UNIT, after the majority of Tom’s era did its best to pretend that Pertwee’s run never happened. The flight crew were good, as was the old professor. But you could tell that the budget let it down, and nothing quite gelled towards the end. Particularly…

Shock Three: Tegan’s “departure”. Spoilt by: the DVD coming boxed with the following story, with her sporting a completely different hairstyle on the cover. Plus the booklet. Plus everything I read about this story afterwards. Plus generally knowing that Tegan is quite a long-running companion. Let’s face it, this was never likely to affect me emotionally, but I can appreciate that it’s a stonkingly good idea for a season-ending cliffhanger. It’s just that after such an immensely disappointing couple of episodes, I doubt anyone would have cared.



  • Seasons/Series watched: 19 of 35
  • Stories watched: 122 of 263
  • Individual episodes watched: 579 of 826

Speaking of a complete lack of surprise, I remember reading ages ago that JN-T went continuity crazy to celebrate the twentieth anniversary, and brought back an old monster in absolutely every serial in Season 20. Bollocks to the casual viewers that this policy no doubt alienated – bring it on.


Adric is dead, and I find myself upset about that. This is a surprise, given that he’s a rubbish companion, played by a not terribly good actor, and that the show can only be improved by his absence. Plus, I’ve seen this once before – probably over a decade ago – and I knew exactly what was coming. But despite all of this, I feel moved and emotional. It’s partially due to the effect his death has on the other characters – is it still fridging if it’s a bloke that dies? – but mainly, I think, due to the quality of the execution.

The scale has to be huge in order to justify the death of a companion. I mean, this wasn’t quite as epic as the last time it happened, but still – he sacrificed his life to save the Earth, even if, somewhat aptly, the way he did it was largely accidental. But more than this, the direction gave it so much gravitas, and the frantic pace of the closing episode whipped the plot up to a point where desperate measures were required.

It was startling enough to see The Doctor and his companions using guns – in the console room, of all places – but you felt like they had no choice. Similarly, everyone who travels with The Doctor is imbued with qualities that will make them risk their lives to chase lost causes, but Adric seemed to be at a point of no return. This cause was so lost that he couldn’t solve everything, and nor could he be rescued or find a way to escape. It was so brilliantly done.

Adric didn’t have the best start to his final adventure; his temper tantrums a timely reminder of why he had to go. He was like a stroppy teenager in his bedroom, with The Doctor as his inattentive dad. On reflection, this has not been the greatest TARDIS dynamic, and I’m glad that it’s over – the aftermath of his death will give everything a good old shake up, and having one fewer companion will give the others more to do. Tegan rocked the boiler suit/trolley-dolly make-up combo here, and Nyssa – for possibly the first time – got her chance to shine when she assumed the position of power in The Doctor’s absence. More of this, please.

But anyway, after that initial wobble, Adric was actually pretty decent for the remainder of the story. It’s possibly his best performance ever, certainly of this season. When he and The Doctor pair off to go exploring/get captured, he’s useful, competent, not-annoying, and generally on his way to becoming more of an equal partner. Of course, this contributes to the tragedy of it all, but you also can’t ignore the quality of Waterhouse’s performance in the death scenes. “Now I’ll never know if I was right” is iconic, and the look he gives as he waits for the inevitable – the lost little boy – is just heart-breaking.

Oh yeah, also: The Cybermen are back! Man, that cliffhanger to episode one was so good. If I’d have been watching at the time, I would never have expected them in a million years. I mean, aside from the aforementioned previous viewing, the DVD cover does slightly give away the “shock” element from the title. But at least they didn’t go so far as to plonk on a sticker saying “the one where Adric dies”.

But anyway, I am glad to see them back. After such a long absence, it’s nicely nostalgic, and the recap of previous encounters was a great touch. Sadly, I am categorically not a fan of 80s Cybermen, from what I’ve seen. The design’s not terrible, and I can live with the fact that they’re nowhere near as creepy as they were in the ’60s. But I can’t get past allĀ  the “excellent” nonsense. That’s an emotional response! You have no emotions!

It’s such a shame, because it almost all works, but there seems to be this crucial element that’s missing, and it happens to be what made them so appealing in the first place. If they want to capture The Doctor alive, it should be because they need him, not because “he should be made to suffer”. Revenge is not logical.

And it’s especially baffling that these inconsistencies exist, considering much of the best material comes from The Doctor and the Cyber Leader having these exact debates about logic vs emotion. Davison is brilliant in these scenes, and the Doctor’s dialogue is so sharp. That said, episode three contains a line that’s always stuck with me, as an example of either the best or worst Cybermen dialogue ever: “It is a word like any other. And so is ‘destruction’. Which is what we are going to do… to that planet.”

Oh man, I’ve written so much. Just quickly: the guest cast were great too, even though it was weird to have so many randomers in the TARDIS for two serials in a row. Beryl Reid was brilliant; an inspired choice to have an older woman playing a hardened space captain. I just loved this serial.

I’ve come to the conclusion that Doctor Who definitely peaked at some point in the mid-to-late ’70s. The consistency is long gone, and some utterly bizarre production decisions are sneaking in. But every now and then, an episode like this will come along and completely blow me away, which not only makes this project continually worthwhile, but also cements my belief that Doctor Who has an intrinsic, indefatigable brilliance that makes it very special indeed.


Black Orchid

It’s taken me a stupidly long time to watch this tiny two-parter, thanks to an inconveniently-timed birthday party. In fact, for the first time ever, I watched this serial at a slower pace than the original broadcast. It was a little odd to have two historical-set stories in a row, but this is the first pure historical for absolutely ages, and as such it feels truly unique; the show hasn’t done this since it was a completely different show.

“Odd” is most definitely the byword, and it stands out in many ways beyond the size and the setting. It’s like a strange dream, or an extended charity skit. There’s a series of implausible coincidences that the Doctor doesn’t seem too bothered about; he just wants to piss about playing cricket and going to a fancy dress party.

For example, at no stage does anyone offer an explanation as to why one of the natives has the exact same face as a regular character, which is something that often bothers me with doppelganger stories. It’s good that there was more for Sarah Sutton to do, but crucially there wasn’t much more for Nyssa to do, or indeed either of the other two.

But hey, this was largely an opportunity for the characters to have a bit of a fun, and I enjoyed the detail that Adric had chosen to wear his special maths badge as part of his fancy dress outfit. The whimsy of the first part gave way to a more pacey and sinister second half, and this was much more my cup of tea. It didn’t really work as a whodunnit, considering it’s pretty likely to be the hugely disfigured bloke that the woman who’s a proven liar keeps locked up, but it still managed to be tense and exciting.

Davison was great, as per what can now be described as “usual”, both in the pissing about stages and when The Doctor was exasperatedly trying to prove his innocence. There have been so many predicaments in the past where an obvious solution would be to just show people the TARDIS as proof of The Doctor’s claims, so it was nice to actually see it used for once.

There was a tiiiiny bit of casual racism in the second part, which, whilst appropriate to the setting and totally unintentional on the part of the production, seemed out of place for something made in the early 80s. Perhaps that was another attempt to hark back to the 60s era. A minor blip in an otherwise fun and unusual little sojourn into silliness, before the serious business of bringing back a classic enemy and killing off a companion. I’m looking forward to this.


The Visitation

The problem with starting a serial with scenes starring Fred Elliott, is that you expect Fred Elliott to be in it throughout. Therefore, The Visitation was fighting a losing battle from the second the TARDIS crew turned up at the house and he wasn’t there. I can’t help but imagine the alternate universe where Fred Elliott is in place of Richard Mace.

But that’s not to say that this universe’s version is without its merits, chief amongst them being the aforementioned thespian. Such a warm and likeable performance that it’s a joy every time he encounters something mind-boggling, comes to terms with it and uses it to grow. A top-notch guest character.

Both the Terileptil and the Android were pretty decent, although neither of them seemed particularly original – it could quite easily have been a Sontaran story and little would have needed to change. I wasn’t sure about the design at first, but the animatronics worked well, and it was a joy to see the late great Peter Wragg’s name in the credits.

One thing you could always rely on Peter Wragg for was scenes of utter destruction, and the closing scenes set in London and shot on film looked amazing. The Doctor being responsible for the Great Fire of London is an obvious yet fundamentally Who-y idea, and it also provided a particularly grisly death for the aliens; bubbling away as they burnt to death.

The last episode made up somewhat for a very slow start. There wasn’t much plot development beyond one or more of our heroes being captured, escaping, then being captured again somewhere else. It got a bit repetitive after a while, and it was a frustrating wait for a real showdown between The Doctor and the baddies.

The exception to the above formula is Nyssa, who instead gets to spend the vast majority of the story keeping herself busy yet out of the way in the TARDIS. It’s great that her mission is successful and for her to have such a hand in saving the day, but honestly, I feel like I barely know her, other than that she’s clever and that she shares The Doctor’s compassion.

Overall I don’t think I like having this many companions – the necessity to share out the screen time is preventing much character development, and the only way they are changing is in a negative way. Tegan has to be increasingly whiny and petulant in order to create conflict, and Adric has to be increasingly thick to advance the plot. He once again blabs all The Doctor’s secrets to the baddy, and accidentally leads people straight to the TARDIS. Six episodes to go until he gets what’s coming to him.

And they killed the Sonic Screwdriver! There was no real need – he wasn’t using it all that much recently anyway – but I get the reasons why. I’m far more affected by the episode selection menu on the DVD using screenshots of the title cards from the Bernard Lodge days, rather than the current Sid Sutton titles. Idiots.



Ah, finally. I’ve spent years wondering whether it’s pronounced “kinda”, as in “kind of”, or “Kinder”, as in the surprising chocolate egg. It’s the latter, and I can confirm that Kinda is bueno.

Tegan’s nightmare was just superbly realised on every level; terrific directing, early Quantel wizardry, and a brilliant performance by Janet Fielding, combining to produce sequences that are truly dream-like. I had no idea what the hell I was watching at times, but I enjoyed it all because it was done so well. There was a surreal edge to the whole serial, and you’re never quite sure what’s real and what’s not.

I particularly liked that there’s no real, scientific explanation for any of it. Normally, I like everything to be rationalised, but here I was more than happy to accept that the Kinda are magic, giant wind-chimes will send you to sleep, and that while you’re dreaming, you can accidentally unleash a mind-controlling snake. Everything just seemed to fit. I’d never even heard of The Mara as a recurring villain until I started ordering the DVDs, and I’m already looking forward to the sequel.

There was a fantastic guest cast too. Mary Morris has a face that’s endlessly fascinating, and Lee Cornes did a great job of being Lee-Cornes-but-with-a-costume-on. But the humans stole the show, with their strange mix of nineteenth century colonialism and actual insanity. Todd could have been a companion, or even a romantic interest for a slightly older Doctor. But Hindle was the absolute best. He was all over the shop, but fascinating as he slid further into insanity, to the point where he forgot all about blowing everyone up in favour of hiding in a cardboard box in the pretend city he’d built.

Sadly, the actual companions suffered a bit, and once again there was a sense that there wasn’t enough for them to do. After Adric’s performance last time, I was completely unsurprised when he appeared to side with the baddy again, and had little faith that it would turn out to be a double bluff. Tegan got all that amazing material at the start, then promptly slept through Part Three.

But that was nothing compared to Nyssa, who had a good long rest for the whole serial. It was like the old days when the regulars would miss episodes just so the actors could take their annual leave. Or as if she was K-9 in a story with a lot of tricky location filming. On the plus side, Peter Davison no longer feels like “the new Doctor”; he’s just The Doctor now. Only took three stories, which is even more impressive when you consider the guy he replaced.

It’s a little bit of a shame about the giant snake puppet at the end. Aside from the aesthetics, it would have worked better had it not grown big enough to see over the mirrors that were supposedly trapping it, considering you already have to ignore the big gap in the circle for the camera to move in and out. This aside, it was a serial that alternated between the low-key and the fantastically ambitious with great aplomb, and it’s the Fifth Doctor’s first true classic.


Four to Doomsday

This is the first serial in ages where the line-up of regulars hasn’t changed in some way, and therefore the first fair test of a slightly more settled new dynamic. It just about passes, but I have my reservations. It works well when they need to split into pairs and explore, and also when they come back together and compare notes, which is an effective way of doing the exposition.

Having so many combinations of pairs to choose from also helps to keep it varied. While last time it was Nyssa and Tegan kicking arse as independent women, the combos here gave us the dysfunctioning adults (Doctor and Tegan) and the curious children (Nyssa and Adric). Monarch treating them as such helped to shape the plot; with the serials running into each other once more, these things give the show a much more character-driven vibe.

The downside of this is that the behaviour of the characters is often dictated by what the plot needs them to do, and there’s little consistency in the way they’re written. I still don’t really know who Nyssa is, after four stories. Adric suffered the most this time, acting like a sexist prick at the start just to create conflict, and developing an annoying habit of being incredibly gullible, which leads to him spilling all The Doctor’s secrets to any giant frog who’ll listen.

This has always been one aspect to him, but he seems to be suffering from having two more likeable companions around; all the negative traits are being pushed onto him. There’s also rarely enough for everyone to do, which was also an issue back when it was Ben, Polly and Jamie vying for airtime. In this serial, this results in Nyssa being continually kidnapped and/or hypnotised, and Tegan locking herself away in the TARDIS for two episodes for no good reason.

This serial had a bit of a pacing problem, with the first three episodes being predominantly talky and explainy, with all the direct action taking place in the last part. The atmosphere was nice, and Monarch was a very enjoyable villain, but you just find yourself waiting for everything to kick off. The Doctor doing a spot of bowling practice in space is too little too late.

It sounds like I hated this one, but I didn’t – in a funny way, it reminded me of an old historical, where the situation is unveiled to the audience extremely slowly, and the plot pauses every now and then so we can watch the natives dancing and/or fighting. It was perfectly fine, it was just so slow. But hey, at least these days the non-white characters are played by non-white actors, including Burt Kwouk, pleasingly.

Here’s a thought: rather than them being robots, what if they’d have all been Zygons, looking to assimilate on Earth like they would over thirty years later? Then you could have Bigon The Zygon.



My watching of the final episode was delayed by a couple of days due to the destruction of my country and the subsequent loss of sleep, which had two main effects. Firstly, the Doctor’s line about democracy chimed more the second time round, and secondly that I’ve slightly forgotten some of my opinions on the first three parts.

Luckily I make notes as I go, but I mostly recall being slightly confused by some elements, and hoping that all would be made clear in the last part. It sort of was, but I still feel like I’m missing something with regards to Adric, and how The Master was using him. I get all the stuff about Adric generating Castrovalva through maths, but I don’t quite get how The Master was able to see The Doctor by reading Adric’s mind, when Adric was trapped in a big web.

I also made a note fairly early on that “at least one of these Castrovalvans is blates The Master”. I can’t claim any credit for guessing something that’s always going to be on the cards given who the villain is, and I lose a spectacular amount of points for somehow failing to clock that the Portreeve was Anthony Ainley during Part Three. It was obvious straight away in Part Four, so I must have just been knackered.

Ainley is clearly an actor that benefits from having a varied brief, and he’s so far portrayed three distinct personas in as many serials. His main Master was less of a caricature this time, and the madness and anger on show towards the end brought back fond memories of the rare occasions where Delgado’s incarnation totally lost it.

It was nice to see Nyssa and Tegan take a starring role through most of the story, and they make a good little team. It’s hard to nail down any real defining characteristics for Nyssa so far, yet she’s somehow strong enough a character to carry the burden. Tegan has already grown into the latest strong feminist icon to grace the TARDIS, and she’s adapting to a completely alien existence remarkably well. I knew that we’d get along from the moment she stole an ambulance.

At first, while this was helping to define the characters of the new companions, I worried that it was in detriment to the process of establishing the new Doctor, which seemed far more pressing. However, I then remembered The Christmas Invasion, and the strategy of dropping the new guy in fully-formed towards the end to kick arse and become a hero. This is exactly what happened here, and I’m already sold on Davison.

With his little quips and his cheeky smile, he’s affable like Troughton and an everyman like some of his successors, while retaining his alien qualities. The abrasiveness of Pertwee and latter-day Baker has been toned down, and he’s got a new-found vulnerability, thanks to the severity of his regeneration trauma. All of this has clearly been carefully calculated by JNT, and it seems like it’s going to be a big success.

The regeneration trauma itself was arguably the best bit of the serial. I loved his tour through his previous incarnations, and all the references to old friends and enemies. We’re on our nineteenth season now, and there’s so much history to draw from. I only wish that his meandering round the TARDIS had lead him to somewhere with better clothes than the on-board cricket club. I don’t hate the outfit, but it’s a bit daft. All four regulars, and indeed The Master, dress like characters, rather than real people.

The only other note I made was “Davison’s face looks nice”. I think that was in reference to the title sequence, but it’s also true in general. He is indeed absolutely splendid.