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.
SEASON AVERAGE RATING: 7.86
- 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.