Revelation of the Daleks

This was one of the first Classic Whos I ever watched, but I only ever watched it once, because I thought it was complete rubbish. I’ve now realised that my issue was probably with the trappings of this particular era – the Doctor and some of the production values are rubbish, but this is by no means a bad serial overall, and it stands head and shoulders above the rest of this season.

I remember finding the plot confusing the first time round, but I think it benefits from knowing more about Davros and the Daleks – I’ve now seen their story play out in the order it was intended, and this is a decent installment of the ongoing civil war thread. The highlight is the scene in the catacombs, with the truly gruesome and scary mid-conversion mutant. One of the few all time classic scenes from the Sixth Doctor’s time, and tellingly him and Peri aren’t in it.

This was the case for much of the first part in particular – what little we did see of them was some irritating bickering and some extremely dodgy, sexist bullshit about Peri putting on weight. 1) That’s absolutely no way for the Doctor to talk about a companion; 2) You can talk, you fat fuck. The pair wandered around while a story happened independently in the distance, which did give us the great, chilling moment of The Doctor finding his own grave. The cliffhanger was slightly let down by the statue falling in neatly-segmented polystyrene chunks, and indeed by the resolution, which revealed that it was only polystyrene after all.

There was more screen time for the pair in Part Two, and The Doctor/Colin was actually on decent form – he seems to work much better when he’s separated from Peri. But again, he felt disconnected from the story. It obviously had to end in a face-to-face meeting between him and Davros, but that meeting didn’t amount to much more than an amputated hand. The main plot was still happening around him, and would have played out much the same had he not been there at all; his sole contribution to the resolution was to make Davros turn his back on Orcini so that he could grab the bomb.

Nevertheless, it was an exciting conclusion, particularly the Dalek infighting, and Davros hovering around like it ain’t no thing. Much like Caves of Androzani (but obviously nowhere near as good), it relies on a rich and complicated back-story to create an interesting tale to tell regardless of the Doctor’s presence, with a large guest cast to back it up. It’s almost a little too densely packed at times – Eleanor Bron turned up out of nowhere, and I struggled to see how she fitted in until quite late on, but it all works if you give it a chance.

Orcini and Bostock were a lot of fun, and Clive Swift did a good job of portraying a completely unlikeable bastard, which can’t have been much of a stretch. I do wish the show would stop using being creepy towards Peri as way of defining their character, though, as it’s usually quite uncomfortable to watch. I spent all serial wondering what to make of Jenny Tomasin as Tasambeker – she clearly can’t act for toffee, but I couldn’t help but like her, and I was totally on her side as she plunged that needle into the odious Jobel.

And then there’s Alexei Sayle. One of my favourite performers of all time, in one of my favourite shows of all time. But his role is so weird. I couldn’t stand it the first time round, and the disappointment was a key factor in me writing the serial off as a stinker. I liked it a lot more this time – I’d forgotten about the bits where Peri comes to see him, which fleshes him out a lot more and gives his presence a clearer purpose, but I do still find him highly incongruous prior to this point.

But hey, it’s something new and original after over twenty years. There’s been a few little things like that among the dross of this season. This story is clearly the standout, and it was the most I’ve enjoyed watching Who since Colin took over. But I don’t think I’ll ever truly adore any story with this Doctor, written and performed in this arrogant, patronising and smug manner. With the knowledge of what’s to come, this serial is most likely the closest any Colin story comes to greatness.

Oh, and I thought there was some sort of DVD error at the very end, until I read that it was an inadvertent cliffhanger, brought about by necessity. “All right, I’ll take you to… an eighteen month hiatus!”

RATING: 8

SEASON AVERAGE RATING: 6.33

  • Seasons/Series watched: 22 of 35
  • Stories watched: 142 of 263
  • Individual episodes watched: 639 of 826

To get me in the mood for the next fortnight of joy (I’ll be dealing with each section individually, btw, even though I’m counting it as all one story), I’ve just listened to Doctor In Distress for the first time, and watched the video. Jesus Christ. It’s not exactly Band Aid, is it? It’s not even Band Aid 20. It was slightly before I was born, but even so – I didn’t recognise anyone other than the various embarrassed-looking Who actors and the somewhat incongruous Faith Brown. You can really tell that the talents behind the song were the same as that for the K-9 and Company theme tune. We should be grateful the series came back at all after this.

Timelash

I’m getting pretty sick of the 45 minute episodes now. It’s come at a bad time – the show’s not on form, and the longer running time only emphasises its faults. For both parts of this story, I found myself enjoying them to begin with, but there’s so many small annoyances that all added up until I eventually lost interest. Even a ropey 25 minute episode usually has the good grace to finish before that happens, but in this season there’s nowhere to hide.

Elements of it were pleasingly old school; I don’t know whether it was just the unexpected mentions of Pertwee and Jo Grant that did it, but it put me in mind of their brief travelling era – The Doctor and his companion turning up on a distant planet, acting all superior over the natives and getting involved in the politics was very Peladon. They’ve done the sequel-to-a-story-we-haven’t-seen thing a few times now, and it was handy here as a way of skipping a few of the usual steps where The Doctor finds out how the civilisation works and persuades the locals that he’s a time traveller.

Elsewhere, the idea of a secretive leader in hiding, communicating via a fake video link, reminded me a lot of The Macra Terror, except here the fake persona was an exact cross between The Demon Headmaster and Jeremy Corbyn. I quite liked the Borad, with his big half-dolphin, half-Alastair-McGowan face. The make-up was far from life-like, but it was passable, and the performance sold it. Your man from Blake’s 7, on the other hand, was a bit much for me.

The rest of it was largely inconsequential – it wasn’t an unpleasant way to spend my time, but like I say, those little niggles started adding up. Some consistency in what the Timelash actually was would have been nice, other than it being an early prototype of the Stars In Their Eyes set. Depending on the scene, it would either destroy people, dump them unharmed in ancient Scotland or merely provide The Doctor with a handy source of magic crystals, which despite some clever and pleasing uses, came completely out of nowhere. And while they’d previously tried to make a virtue of the dodgy sets by dialogue referring to them being intentionally drab, the set for this bit was just woeful.

Then there’s the smaller things. Like wondering how Peri knows so much about Jo Grant in the first place, or why she knew that the Daleks had previously used a time tunnel, precisely one story before she turned up. The over-indulgence in whatever Quantel effects came to hand. The sudden presence of a brand new Adric. And The Doctor constantly shouting at Peri. Dramatic scenes are being paused in order for them to argue, and it’s just a horrible, horrible trait that the show’s picked up.

The ending was several annoying moments of silliness all piled up. The Doctor and the TARDIS have been blown up! Oh no, here they are, but we’re not going to tell you how. The Borad is back from the dead! Oh no, he can clone himself, so he doesn’t actually need Peri as a mate any more, but let’s not acknowledge that. Surprise, that annoying bloke turned out to be H.G. Wells all along! Give a shit. Oh, and the Borad is not Nessie. Nessie is a big robot built by the Zygons.

I’m being harsh, because this season is proving a slog and it’s frustrating. Maybe one day I can go back and enjoy some of these serials in isolation, but currently I’m just facing an endless stream of episodes which veer only between mediocre and rubbish. What’s more, they’re all twice the length, and what’s even more the Doctor and his companion both irritate the shit out of me. I’m looking forward to the return to 25 minute episodes, and I’m hoping that the Daleks will be enough to end this failed experiment on something approaching a high.

RATING: 6

The Two Doctors

Yes, sorry, it’s taken me a week to watch this. I’ve been busy. Naturally, this enhanced the sense that this is the longest story for some time, although I feel that by watching an episode every few days, I’ve done it a favour – if it have been consecutive days as normal, I’ve a feeling I’d have got bored with the story quite easily. Although, it’s hard to be bored when Patrick Troughton’s face is on screen.

I was worried that by doing a multi-Doctor story so soon after the last one, and without the excuse of having a milestone to mark, it would devalue the premise somewhat. But I then released what JNT did – you don’t need an excuse for having the likes of Troughton and Frazer Hines around. It was just like old times and so much fun to see them together.

With the dialogue about The Doctor working for the Time Lords, having “fallen out of favour”, the show seemed happy to casually set up the Season 6B theory without much fuss or fanfare. I’d read about it, and assumed it was just the fans clutching at straws to explain away the Doctor and Jamie looking older in this serial. But no, I’m pretty sure that the production’s actual intention was to set this after The War Games and before Spearhead in the Doctor’s timeline. I find this stuff fascinating.

So we’re all set for an exciting Troughton and Jamie adventure, when Colin Baker and Peri come along and ruin it. Honestly, it’s such a marked step down in quality whenever it cuts back to them. There’s an arrogant streak to the Sixth Doctor, and he’s still incredibly nasty to Peri on occasion. The sad thing is that you can’t feel too sorry for her, because she’s bloody useless anyway. I don’t want these two dolts, I want the Second Doctor adventure advertised at the start!

But what we got instead was distinctly average. Luckily there was enough going on across the three parts (that’s what you get with Robert Holmes), but not all of it worked (that’s what you get with mid-80s Doctor Who, it seems). For example, Jamie teaming up with the Sixth Doctor and Peri was quite nice, but it seems so wasteful to separate him and the Second Doctor for so long. Jamie says to Peri at one point “I think your Doctor’s worse than mine”. Yes, Jamie, you don’t know how right you are.

The Sontarans were on good form, particularly when they started to get sulky and sarcastic. I like it when they’re played for laughs, and you can see the link between these ones and Strax. The other baddies – Servalan, her dad and an orange-eyebrowed sex offender – were not so good. The first two were generic, one-dimensional and unremarkable. Shockeye had his moments, and again the comedy was the highlight, especially when paired with Troughton, who was clearly having fun as the Doctor-Androgum hybrid. But his lecherous pursuit of a scantily-clad Peri made me very uncomfortable, as did his cold-blooded murder of Oscar later on.

I quite liked that character in the earlier scenes, and his death seemed gratuitous. It was so arbritary – there were no consequences for any of the main characters, and it served no story-related purpose whatsoever. There’s also a strange moment soon after where Servalan starts smearing The Doctor’s warm blood all over her face, which is never explained. Then the Sixth Doctor deliberately kills Shockeye, and you can’t escape the feeling that this show has really lost its way.

It wasn’t an awful story, it just had a handful of awful bits in it. Colin gradually improved as the serial went on, as he has been doing since that disastrous introduction. I liked the scenes of the two Doctors together, and the whole thing was worth it to see my favourite Doctor back for what sadly turned out to be the final time. What a terrific Doctor he was.

RATING: 6

The Mark of the Rani

Like so many stories of this era, the ideas are right, but the execution is pitifully wrong. The opening scenes brilliantly set up an enjoyable, nostalgic setting, thanks to the brilliant, authentic location. Then the guest cast started to speak, and it was all ay up lad, I’ll just sup this gravy then we can get down t’pit and I’ll stand at the bottom of our stairs and eat a barmcake, our mam. I expected this kind of nonsense in the 60s, when people with regional accents were banned from television, but this is a post-Auf Wiedersehen Pet world.

I was looking forward, in a perverse way, to finally meeting the Rani, even though I knew she was a symptom of the show’s decline. My only previous experience of her was Dimensions In Time, so I was expecting a grotesque, shrieking pair of shoulder pads, but I was almost disappointed to find she’s quite normal and understated here. It’s actually a decent performance from Kate O’Mara, at odds with the Dynasty archetype you expect.

The concept of an amoral Time Lord scientist is a decent one, although I felt the episode spent more time telling us how brilliant The Rani is than actually showing us. It also felt a bit cheap to say “oh yeah, there’s this other renegade Time Lord that The Doctor knows, he’s just never mentioned her before”. Most of her tricks were largely the same as The Master’s, but done through chemistry rather than mind control.

Yes, he’s back, and still alive, with barely so much as an acknowledgement that he was burnt to a crisp the last time we saw him. And one of the first things he does is to kill a dog. Great. His presence seemed like another barrier to The Rani becoming a new iconic villain, although I did like the relationship between them early on. The bickering, the posturing, her pointing out all the ridiculous things about him – it was like a multi-Doctor episode.

But by Part Two, it became clear that neither of them are as clever as they think they are, and the plot kind of fizzled away before it really got going. The conclusion was just three incompetent Time Lords taking it in turns to fuck everything up, before the Doctor wins by accident. And again, as with Attack of the Cybermen, they decided to show us how the plot would be resolved in advance, by having The Doctor tinker with The Rani’s TARDIS while there’s still half an episode to go. I know that Chekhov’s gun type scenarios happen all the time in Who, but this isn’t just showing us the means by which the Doctor will win – they’re showing the action actually taking place, and the rest of the episode is just spent waiting for the effects of this action to render everything else irrelevant.

But hey, The Rani’s TARDIS looked lovely, by the way. There were enough decent bits of this episode to make it not-terrible, but too many annoying things to make it actually good. You can’t have The Doctor suddenly remember he hates guns, and then have him hold The Master and The Rani hostage using the TCE. Some of his dialogue regarding The Rani seemed to have a slightly anti-scientific streak to it, which was extremely out-of-character, and indeed at odds with his fanboy adoration of George Stevenson. Or is it just chemists he suddenly hates?

There was also a huge dose of silliness running through, not least towards the end of Part One where it all turned into Last of the Summer Wine. Then there was the boy who was turned into a tree, wrapping his branch around Peri. And the tiny dinosaur embryos coming to life because The Rani’s TARDIS was going too fast. Still, all of these things made me laugh, and while it’s a shame that the laughs I get from Doctor Who are no longer intentional, at least I’m still getting them.

RATING: 5

Vengeance on Varos

How times change. In the mid-80s, it was the video nasties that were going to desensitise us into a nation of subjugated slobs. In the mid-00s, it was reality TV, and we ended up with Bad Wolf. Colin Baker is no stranger to shows where the viewers vote on which participant gets tortured, but before I’m A Celeb he did this, which manages to combine The Hunger Games and Gogglebox, years before either of them were a thing.

A healthy slice of meta-fiction ran through the first part, thanks to the commentary from the bickering old couple. More Dave and Shirley than Steph and Dom, and their chat about his funny clothes at least reassured me that they’re supposed to be ridiculous. This built very nicely to a cliffhanger that leaned on the fourth wall to show us the process of creating a cliffhanger, but which somehow also felt real and scary.

It was good to finally see Colin’s Doctor put through the ringer, as both character and actor were thoroughly tested for the first time. You get to see what a Doctor is made of when he’s placed in constant peril, and the slightly false and formulaic nature of the prison complex allowed for surreal and experimental things to happen within a familiar format. It’s basically The Crystal Maze – or even The Celestial Toymaker – you know all he has to do is escape the room, so all manner of weird stuff can happen inside the room without being too disorientating.

While the fun stuff is going on, however, you’ve got the tedious trade negotiations and detailed political procedures to contend with. The latter isn’t too bad, largely thanks to Martin Jarvis and his Martin Jarvis face, but even without that it’s an interesting situation to explore. I could have done without Chief Officer Wario’s confusing double agent status, as that added one too many threads to follow.

The rest of it relies heavily on the success or otherwise of Sil, who’s certainly a most memorable guest star and possibly the best looking new alien we’ve seen for a while. However, he doesn’t sound as good as he looks, and he’s a little hard to understand at times. The over-complicated language – a problem that seems to be endemic during the Colin Baker era – didn’t help, as it caused his scenes to be slower paced than the rest. I liked his little tongue thing though, and am intrigued to learn that he’s coming back.

Ultimately, and somewhat unfortunately, the balance between exciting action and tedious discussion tipped too far towards the latter in Part Two. There was just so much talking, with only The Doctor throwing people into an acid bath and Peri being turned into an owl to break it up. You really felt every one of those forty-five minutes, which I guess is easier to avoid when you’ve got battles with Daleks or Cybermen to pepper throughout. This one bad experience with a longer running time is now making the prospect of sitting down to watch each day slightly daunting, when you know you have to commit the best part of an hour to something that could well be shit.

RATING: 6

Attack of the Cybermen

The switch to 45 minute episodes is a mildly annoying one, as obviously watching Who now takes up a bigger chunk of my day than usual, but then I suppose I’d better get used to it, considering it won’t be too long before I reach the new series. It works pretty well here, to be fair – I didn’t find my attention wandering, which I feared would be the case, and it’s structured well, with the cliffhanger coming as The Doctor and Cybermen meet for the first time.

The Doctor himself was a lot better this time, although he could hardly have been much worse. He’s merely grumpy rather than nasty, and while he’s not yet redeemed himself enough to stop being my least favourite Doctor ever, I can at least tolerate this version. He still feels OTT at times, but he’s calmed down the florid language a bit, and is a perfectly believable Doctor during the lower key moments.

Peri, on the other hand, is beginning to really get on my tits. She’s so scared and nervous all the time, and it manifests itself by her sounding unsure and tentative on every single line. Mind you, she’s probably still scared that The Doctor might kill her at any moment, and the energy in this pairing is very poor. There’s no love or friendship of any substance, and they’re constantly on edge around each other.

Aside from that, this was a pretty decent story, especially when viewed back-to-back with the previous one. I’m never going to be a fan of 80s Cybermen, but they didn’t annoy me too much here, despite their new found vulnerability to human weaponry. They’re supposed to be unstoppable killing machines – you shouldn’t be able to kill them with a normal pistol. Especially if you’re The Doctor or a companion; they shouldn’t be stashing guns at all, ideally.

The continuity nods to previous Cyberman encounters were interesting, but the danger of reminding viewers of past glories is that it shines a light on the current deficiencies. The nostalgic element was a little over-played, I felt – was there any actual reason for the TARDIS to land at Totter’s Lane? That sort of thing should be saved for special occasions, otherwise it dilutes the mythology.

Lytton was perhaps the most interesting thing about the serial, which again surprised me, as he was good but nothing special last time. Being unencumbered by a Dalek-y helmet enhanced Maurice Colbourne’s screen presence, and made me realise that he looks a bit like Eric Roberts, doesn’t he? His journey from baddy to goody was well handled. I was sold on the change of heart, but not quite on The Doctor being so hard on himself for not spotting it earlier. The script seemed to be implying that he’d been a good guy all along, but the impression I got from Resurrection was that he was a thoroughly bad egg deep down, mercenary-for-hire or not.

One last complaint – the Cryons were a bit annoying. The slowed down movement and lolloping speech patterns are quite a 60s thing, and the reason that they were dropped is because they make the conversations drag on and on. Also, when there’s fifteen minutes to go and you see a bomb being irreversibly set to completely destroy the entire enemy base, it kind of takes the tension out of things.

But despite these complaints, I want to stress that I did enjoy this serial – it’s far from a classic, but there’s plenty to enjoy. It’s always nice to see Brian Glover pop up in things, and his “I thought you were from Fulham” line to Lytton was very Arthur Dent. I wasn’t sure we needed the scenes of the two lads wandering around Telos at first, but the awesome decapitations of Cybermen kept it interesting, and the cool grimness of their semi-converted state made it worthwhile. Seeing Lytton in the process of conversion was also fun, and I liked the extremely violent crushing of his bloodied hands.

And a working chameleon circuit! I wasn’t expecting that, and I enjoyed it so much that I was almost disappointed when it stopped working again right at the end. I always like seeing how The Master’s TARDIS blends in, and there was clearly mileage to be had in a running gag of The Doctor’s TARDIS always getting it slightly wrong.

Having seen that 45-minute episodes can work, and a slightly calmer Sixth Doctor, I’m now less worried about this season as a whole, and I’ll continue to try and judge it fairly. It’s just that each serial is now having to fight against so much – the inconsistency, the testy companion relationship, the horrible production design – that the episodes will have to work a lot harder to match up with the hundreds that I’ve already seen.

RATING: 7