The Five Doctors

That was a load of silly nonsense that barely held together to form any kind of coherent plot. It was just an excuse to line up as many old faces as possible, for little to no reason other than to create a cheap thrill for hardcore fans. Basically, it was absolutely perfect.

I’ve probably seen it more times than any other classic story; I’d often turn to it as a way to get a quick fix of virtually all of Doctor Who‘s best bits. Placing it into context made the Borusa stuff work better; when you know that he’s one of The Doctor’s oldest friends, it means a lot more, plus his descent into full-on villainy makes sense when you see how he’s become a bit of a shit since becoming Lord President. I could buy it a lot more here than in Arc of Infinity.

It’s interesting that Borusa’s plan essentially has him doing the same thing as JNT, Saward and Terrence Dicks (surely the ideal candidate for this particular job) – creating a narrative by picking up a bunch of characters from the toybox and chucking them together in various combinations. Maybe the whole thing was an elaborate marketing ploy for a range of action figures.

It’s undeniably a shame that it’s actually only really three Doctors at best, with one refusing to play ball and another refusing to remain alive. In the end, they got around these unavoidable obstacles well; the Shada footage works fine alongside the specially-shot abductions, and Hurndall does a passable impression of Hartnell. I mean, it’s definitely jarring to have someone pretending to be the First Doctor, but there’s not much they could have done differently.

It was arguably even weirder to see Susan as an adult; her character was almost entirely based on being a childish liability, so she couldn’t really do the same thing here. Instead, it was interesting to see some unusual pairings of Doctor and companion; obviously you have the First going off with Tegan, but also the Second and Third are not the Doctors you’d most associate with the Brig and Sarah Jane respectively.

I could have done with more scenes of the various Doctors together, but what we had was so much fun. I loved that the Second still thinks the Third is a bit of a dick, after last time. It was also interesting to see the Fifth Doctor acknowledge the First’s attitude towards women, it the same way people react awkwardly to a racist grandparent. It was apt and pleasing that the Fifth should remain the protagonist; all the others were resolutely guests in his story, and he outshines them all.

There were so many returning companions and villains that it’s hard for any of them to stand out; I just enjoyed them as players in a series of vignettes. It was a celebration of all things Who, and not of any particular character or era over any other. My only gripe would be that Sarah Jane was written as fairly slow-witted, which she just isn’t. The Brig was reliably excellent and I enjoyed seeing glimpses of some less obvious returnees, such as Yates, Liz and Zoe.

As for the villains, the little Dalek cameo was more than welcome, and The Master was on pretty good form. It’s the first time since perhaps Logopolis that he’s been written with any particularly grey shades; he’s always much more effective when you’re not quite sure of his motives. The new addition – the Raston Robot – threatened to steal the show, with a great design and a formidable style. The way it dispatched all those Cybermen was like a version of Robot Wars where it’s men in costumes fighting with explosives. Weird that platoons of Cybermen got their asses kicked on two separate occasions, but to be fair it’s probably the best way to use 80s Cybermen.

Elsewhere, the Hartnell clip at the start was a lovely touch, as was the slightly modified opening theme. The amalgamated closing theme was less successful to my ears, but their heart was in the right place. Also exciting to see a glimpse of a brand new TARDIS console. I was mightily impressed by how new and different it looked in the opening shots, but I went off it a bit the more I saw it. I’ll reserve judgement for now.

All these touches combine to make this feel like a real special occasion. Me and a big group of friends watched it as part of our 50th anniversary celebrations, and even tonight, my girlfriend and her brother couldn’t help watching along with me. It feels like a film, with its extensive and sumptuous location work, and the picture quality is superb.

I loved it so much that it took me until half an hour after it finish to notice that Kamelion wasn’t even referenced, despite having watched his introduction just yesterday. I’m aware that I’m about to delve into a very difficult period in Who‘s history, and I’m hurtling ever closer to the end of the original run. But whatever happens next, this stands out as a near perfect celebration of the first twenty years, and indeed the journey I’ve been on for nearly two years. I love Doctor Who so much.

RATING: 10

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Arc of Infinity

Wow, Season 20. We really are hurtling towards the end of the classic era. This is a show that’s celebrating two decades of glory with all manner of nostalgic treats, whilst blissfully unaware that it’s about to career into deep, deep trouble; losing its format before eventually losing its life, which I’m only a few months away from witnessing. Sadly, on the evidence of the last two serials, I think the warning signs are already present.

This was a decent idea, combining various Gallifreyan tropes that have been successful in the past, along with some always-welcome foreign filming and an interesting twist on the companion narrative. But everything was handled so clumsily, and the results varied between dull and annoying. Nothing quite worked the way it should have done.

The action darted wildly between locations and characters throughout the first three parts, never following any one story strand for more than a minute before whizzing through several other elements. It lead to a disjointed, almost schizophrenic feel, which never gives enough time for the plot to become gripping, regardless of what’s involved.

The Amsterdam elements were spoiled by those two teenagers being such bloody awful actors. The Gallifrey bits never really worked because almost everyone was being an intolerable prick, even if they were The Black Adder’s mum. Given The Doctor’s track record, how did nobody believe that there might be a traitor framing him? There’s always a traitor on Gallifrey; they’re all terrible people. Including that Commander Maxil.

Yeah, that was a weird one, seeing Doctor Who talking to Doctor Who, except that one Doctor Who wants to kill the other one. Colin Baker plays it very well, but Maxil is such an pompous little prick, and from what I’ve seen of Colin’s Doctor, it’s not too far off what he brought to that role. Maybe when the regeneration trauma caused the Sixth Doctor to be a bit of a prick, the Fifth subconsciously conjured up the image of this odious twat of a Time Lord as inspiration.

Elsewhere, I admit that I was fooled into thinking Borusa was the traitor – a similar confusion occurred during the last Gallifrey story – but even taking my gullibility into account, he doesn’t come out of it well. He sanctioned the Doctor’s death sentence, and he didn’t even have the excuse of being under the control of Omega. Based on their previous encounters, I simply can’t believe Borusa would do that to his friend, no matter what the circumstances.

And speaking of Omega, hey – Omega’s back! Except, he isn’t really, is he? He was so different to the version from The Three Doctors that it might as well have been anyone. If it was some other ancient Time Lord, they’d have avoided the deeply annoying lack of explanation for how he survived his explicit death in his first appearance. At least with The Master, they always leave him in an escapable position, or give some kind of lip service to it when he shows up out of the blue. Basically, the nostalgia-fest so far consists of dredging up good memories and making them worse.

There are positives, of course, and the regulars are all on good form. Nyssa getting a bit of time as the sole companion gave her a chance to finally establish herself, just a whole season later than most companions manage it. She’s capable, fiercely loyal and has a strange affinity with guns. The bravery shown in trying to save The Doctor from execution demonstrates that she’s clearly devoted to The Doctor in the same way as your Sarah Janes and your Jo Grants, but the TARDIS has always been too crowded for her to display this until now.

It all seemed to be ramping up nicely in Part Three, when Omega was unveiled and Tegan became more involved. But this was completely squandered by a tedious last part in which the action is held up by The Doctor and Nyssa having a casual meander round Amsterdam – the sort of scenes that usually take place before the plot is heading towards a climax.

But then, what’s this? A confrontation between The Doctor and Omega, leading to the creation of a second Peter Davison? Hooray! Double Davison! This’ll be good… oh, no. They’re just going to run around Amsterdam for absolutely ages. Seriously, so much running. Just running and a puppet show. Until The Doctor eventually saves the day by shooting the baddy with a big gun. Brilliant. This serial can do one.

RATING: 5

The Invasion of Time

Oh. Bye then, Leela. I knew she’d be leaving at the end of this season, but I’d kind of forgotten about it by the time I was watching Part 6. Normally when a companion leaves, there’s some sort of build up to it during the serial, whether that’s through them indicating that they’re unhappy, the building of a new relationship, or a subtler sense of change being in the air. Here? Nah. See that bloke in the uniform that she’s barely spoken to or spent time with? She’s going to abandon her life of adventure and freedom for him.

And The Doctor barely gave a solitary shit. I know that Tom Baker didn’t always get on with Louise Jameson, but he could have made a bit of an effort to mask his delight. Not that he was given much to work with. K-9 suddenly departing was also weird, which is obviously negated seconds later by the reveal of the Mark II box, but The Doctor’s reaction (which, incidentally, will forever remind me of a rude internet meme) just infuriated me, as it emphasised his complete lack of response to the departure of a damned fine companion. I’ll miss that savage more than he does.

It’s a shame that this, along with the reveal that The Doctor’s masterplan was to build a big fuck-off gun and not hesitate to use it, rather overshadows a serial which had been somewhat inconsistent and confusing, but always tremendous fun. I loved the relationship and implied history between The Doctor and Borusa, and it’s always a delight to have Milton Johns back to play yet another sniveling little shit.

I wasn’t sure what to make of The Doctor in the first couple of episodes – I obviously knew that he was up to something rather than him actually being evil, but I didn’t enjoy how much of a bastard he was being to his friends. It was unnerving. But then, as soon as he and Borusa became gr8 m8s again, it all made a lot more sense, and looking back it was definitely a bold and worthwhile thing to do.

As was the structure of having everything wrapped up by the end of part four, as if it were a normal-sized story, then the rug pull of there being another little mini-story tacked on to the end. Once again, I find myself wishing that the DVD packaging hadn’t given away the surprise, as that the reveal of the Sontarans would have been mind-blowing if I hadn’t been expecting them. As it happened, they were a bit of a let down – their voices have gone very whispery and lispy, the make-up is inferior and in the shots where their helmets are on, you can see normal, human eyes behind the visor.

Great to see the interior of the TARDIS explored – I loved the swimming pool and art gallery in particular, plus the concept of them walking through an identical set of rooms forever. Lovely also to hear the middle eight for the first time in absolutely ages. But overall, while it’s a lot better in places than it has any rights to be considering it was written in two weeks, only had one studio session and a budget of pence, it doesn’t quite hold together and it doesn’t amount to much.

RATING: 7

It’s certainly not an epic season finale, but perhaps that’s fitting for this troubled run. Let’s look at the scores…

SEASON AVERAGE RATING: 7.67

  • Seasons/Series watched: 15 of 35
  • Stories watched: 97 of 263
  • Individual episodes watched: 479 of 826

Nearly a hundred stories down, and not too far off 500 episodes. But blimey, that average rating, while decent in itself, is a big drop – the lowest since the days when half the episodes were missing. The consistency seems to have gone, which brings us to a question that I’ve been pondering for a while – has the show peaked by this stage? I know that there are plenty of classics to come, but is there now going to be a steady decline in quality between now and the show being cancelled?

I mean, I don’t care – I’m still going to watch it, and it’s sure as hell still going to be entertaining, one way or another. And I’m already looking forward to the big pink boxset that’s staring at me…

The Deadly Assassin

I’ve watched this one once before, years ago, and all I could remember was there was a lot of violence and some stunning cliffhangers. And that it was very good indeed. I was not disappointed.

It’s a very, very special serial, for many reasons. In one fell swoop, almost everything we know about Gallifrey and the Time Lords is introduced all at once, and it’s a vision that has endured ever since. I feel like from this point on, I’m now seeing the “finished” version of Doctor Who – every single recognisable element has been introduced, all the wrinkles have long since been ironed out, and there’s still an infinite amount of possibilities to explore.

Even without the heavy levels of mythology, The Deadly Assassin is truly unique in its own right. The unusual scrolling text opening is the perfect lead-in to the shocking and frightening assassination premonition. This sets the tone for a headfuck of an opening episode, with the pomp and circumstance of the Time Lords’ ceremony adding even more dissonance to the Doctor’s trippy mental anguish, leading up to the pure shock of him (seemingly) actually assassinating the President.

And it doesn’t let up. The Matrix sequences are even more batshit, with some incredibly inventive and impressive direction. It’s properly dream-like, with each scene fading into the next, recurring imagery and of course relentless peril. These are simply some of the best scenes in the show’s history – brilliantly directed, expertly choreographed, and the writing is a stream of pure, unadulterated imagination.

Bringing The Master back was another stroke of genius – the perfect person to be at the centre of all this chaos. It did feel a little weird to have not witnessed the events that turned Roger Delgado’s incarnation into this… thing, which causes a bit of a disconnect early on. But by the end of the fourth episode, when The Doctor and The Master have had their suitably epic showdown, there’s no denying that the same brilliant bastard of a character is back.

I think it may have been my favourite serial so far. There are a lot of contenders for that particular title, but this one is right up there. It reminded me in many ways of a much more recent adventure – a companionless Doctor, fighting aspects of his imagination in a dreamscape designed by the Time Lords. Heaven Sent is also one of my favourite episodes of all time, and this is just as incredible.

RATING: 10