Time Crash

A brief return to actual Doctor Who for the next couple of nights, and tonight’s portion was particularly brief, but oh so special. I am incredibly glad that this thing exists. These days, the show frequently showcases its history with pride, but it simply wasn’t like that for the first few years of the revival. Remember how excited we got at seeing pencil drawings of past Doctors in Human Nature? How crazy was it that we went from that to a full-blown (albeit miniature) multi-Doctor story in the space of a few months?

Of course, at the time I was only vaguely aware of Davison’s Doctor – I think I’d seen Castrovalva, Earthshock and Caves, but that was about it. So naturally this viewing was even better than previous ones, as I was able to feel a facsimile of the nostalgia rush that long-term fans would have got on the night. It really was great to see the Fifth Doctor again, and a thrill to see Davison’s name in the new-style credits, plus the Radiophonic-esque motifs in the music.

He got all the best lines too, particularly “two minutes to Belgium”. He was at his best when mocking Tennant, continuing the long-standing tradition in any multi-Doctor story that the earliest incarnation must rip the piss out of the incumbent at every opportunity. Tennant was playing up his slightly annoying quirks in order to facilitate this, but then pulled it back at the end for the lovely, heartfelt speech about what a great Doctor Davison was.

It all gets very meta – this is David Tennant and Steven Moffat talking about “their” Doctor, like all fans do, but to their Doctor’s face, on national television in the middle of Children In Need. When the Tenth talks about what idiosyncrasies he “got” from the Fifth, that’s an actor telling his childhood hero that he was his inspiration. It’s lovely, and something only Doctor Who can do.

It’s basically perfect, but it does raise a couple of interesting talking points. This story taking place in the middle of events that we’ve already seen – namely the ending of Series 3 – opens quite the can of worms with regards to the nature of the medium and the reliability of the show’s portrayal of reality. It’s like Trial of a Timelord all over again.

Secondly, the Tenth Doctor only knowing what to do because he remembers watching it as the Fifth is a massive paradox, and it means that the Doctor’s memory works in a completely different way than it does in any other multi-Doctor story. You can explain it away as being a side-effect of The Master turning the TARDIS into a paradox machine if you like, but to do so would be to treat it as a bigger problem than it actually is, tbf.

Finally, the joke about The Master not having a beard, but having a wife… I totally did not get that joke when I first watched it. And yet it really made me laugh – I thought the gag was that the Master treats her like an accessory or an affectation, and that the humour was in the incongruity of the comparison. I guess it works on multiple levels.

RATING: 10

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Dimensions in Time

Technically, the 1992 VHS version of Shada should come next, but I’ve already watched that, knowing that the animated version is coming up shortly. So instead, today’s treat is a rewatch of what would have been the first Doctor Who I ever saw. I was seven, and distinctly remember sitting down with those 3D glasses from the Radio Times. The version I watched today thankfully included the Noel’s House Party links, in which Jon Pertwee accurately predicts the success of Deal Or No Deal.

We all know that this is awful, but it was slightly more coherent than I remembered (not from when I was 7 – I last watched it at a gathering for the 50th in 2013). The Rani’s plan is not dissimilar to Borusa’s in The Five Doctors, and it seemed like the special was an attempt to do similar things to that story, but in ten minutes, which would have been a tall order even without the added element of the EastEnders crossover. The problem of certain Doctors being unavailable/dead is not handled nearly as well. I could see what they were going for with trapping the first two Doctors in time, but representing Hartnell and Troughton as floating, lifeless, disembodied heads was ill-advised.

Meanwhile Tom Baker phones it in, with his eyes never breaking contact with the page of script that’s clearly just out of shot, and the worst title sequence in the show’s history is sped up and accompanied by a “updated” (read: “shit”) theme tune remix. But once it gets going, it’s actually rather lovely to see just so many familiar faces taking part. It seems harsh to criticise the endeavour when all these people gave up their time for free, purely to celebrate Doctor Who whilst raising money for charity.

However, it’s obviously not very good. It’s impossible to disguise the fact that the story is cobbled together based on who and what was available, and almost every actor is playing a generic catch-all character, with no time to display any of their own traits. They whizz by so fast it’s hard to clock them all on first viewing, although obviously the fact that they’ve all aged by up to 30 years is a hindrance to instant recognition. It’s the same problem with the menagerie of random monsters that turn up halfway through – it was just a bunch of moving costumes, and none of them got a chance to do… anything, really.

I’m not particularly familiar with EastEnders, so I can’t judge how successful it would have been for fans of the soap, but Mike Reid chewing the scenery was a highlight. Obviously there are troubling continuity questions surrounding the likes of Mel and Leela turning up in Albert Square when they look so similar to people who’d live there in the future. And wasn’t Pauline Fowler dead by 2013? I think Kathy Beale was too, but she got better…

Inevitably, the flimsy conceit completely fell apart by the end. The Rani is suddenly back in her TARDIS after she was defeated by Mandy bumping into her (should’ve been Big Ron), and an attempt to clear up the nature of the time-slips ends up making the story much more confusing. When Leela tells The Doctor that she was in the form of Romana, that implies that all of this is happening to the Seventh Doctor and Ace, but that they’re reverting to previous incarnations at times. Aside from the fact that that doesn’t really make sense for the companion, what about when there’s more than one companion on screen? Or when Romana is on her own, hiding in the Mitchells’ lock-up? They even had K-9 turn up out of nowhere seconds after the explanation!

If this was an attempt at a full-on revival of Doctor Who for the 30th anniversary, then it was a fucking disgrace. But it wasn’t – it was a daft little comedy sketch for charity, and seeing such a huge number of characters from throughout the show’s long history all at once is obviously a joy. It’s just indicative of the show’s standing at the time – in an ideal world, a big anniversary would be marked by a blockbuster episode of a current series, but that simply wasn’t the case for the 30th or 40th. Sadly, Dimensions in Time suffers simply because it’s an emblem of the darkest time in the show’s history.

RATING: 3

The Caves of Androzani

That was, quite simply, the best serial of Doctor Who that I’ve seen so far, and I didn’t expect to have that reaction. It was one of the first Who DVDs I bought, but despite its reputation, I don’t think I’ve got through it before without nodding off along the way. That was entirely down to me, as my attention span as a student was not what it is now, plus it isn’t your average serial, and as such it wasn’t what I was expecting back then; I wanted to see something which fitted the tropes I was used to.

So this is another glorious example of why this is the best possible way to enjoy classic Who. I’ve now seen enough of it that an unusual story is something to be savoured rather than feared, and while this one can be hard going if you watch all four parts back to back, it’s absolutely perfect when you watch an episode at a time, as each episode in itself is perfect.

Watching the serials in sequence also shows up how much a giant step forward Graeme Harper’s direction is. Were it not for the fact that it’s 4:3 and interlaced, the composition of the shots and the way they’re put together would not look out of place today. So many ambitious and ground-breaking choices combine to lift otherwise conventional sequences to new heights.

There’s a scene early on where Jek is just going about his business, to show the audience how his set-up works. Any serial prior to this would have seen this play out in real time, but Harper moves the story along by turning it into a montage. Chase sequences are peppered with unusual angles and frantic pacing, which brilliantly enhance the well-choreographed action. The one thing that was a bit weird was Morgus occasionally delivering theatrical asides, but even that seemed to work in the context of such an epic and intriguing tale.

The world that Robert Holmes creates here is so complex and fascinating that it’s a shame it was only used for four episodes – it could have made for a series in itself. I didn’t want each episode to end – I wanted to stay in this world forever, exploring more and watching all the machinations play out. Each scene was the equivalent of a page turner – by the time Morgus pushed the President down a lift shaft, I couldn’t take my eyes off it.

The tension is unbearable, especially towards the end. It’s The Doctor’s desperation in hijacking the ship in order to find the antidote; his need to save Peri, because it’s his fault she got infected. It’s a bleak, bleak story. We’re literally watching The Doctor and Peri die a slow and painful death, right before our eyes. By the time that even Jek was desperately trying to keep her alive, I found myself crying out of sheer emotional exhaustion.

Jek is the highlight of the world Holmes created. He’s clearly a sex offender, and his treatment of Peri is deeply distressing, but you somehow ended up feeling sorry for him. The same is true, to varying extents, of all the guest characters. With the possible exception of Morgus, who reminded me a lot of Iago, nobody is fundamentally good or evil. They’re all real, complicated people, with motivations that are clear and relatable.

Like I say, there’s enough material there for a whole raft of stories, and it kind of felt like The Doctor and Peri were just dropping in to this world. Their presence is somewhat of a MacGuffin – they affect the outcome of events just by being there, rather than directly playing a part. Morgus brings about his own downfall because he’s paranoid about The Doctor being a spy, while Jek takes huge risks due to his infatuation with Peri, and these two factors combine to bring a bloody and vicious end to the war.

But meanwhile, The Doctor’s having his own separate story against this backdrop, which is as straightforward as it can get. They’ve got a disease, they need the antidote, so he goes on a dangerous quest. But this is Robert Holmes, and this is a rare example of the classic series doing something the new one does so well – having The Doctor lose. In the vast majority of stories, Doctor Who or otherwise, the hero does what he or she sets out to do, but not here. By only having enough antidote to save one person, the Fifth Doctor gets to go out by making the ultimate sacrifice.

It’s a great way to say goodbye to an incarnation that has unexpectedly become one of my favourites. Davison’s task was arguably the hardest it’s been for any Doctor – to follow on from Tom Baker, widely regarded as the greatest of all time, whilst coping with the quality of writing and production values wildly fluctuating from one story to the next. Like my other favourite, Troughton, Davison’s screen presence was enough to boost any scene he was in, and he’s a huge loss after what feels like a ridiculously short tenure by previous standards.

It’s sad, and it’s probably exacerbated by the knowledge of what’s to come. I’m obviously going to give Colin a fair chance, and I really hope that he’s better than his reputation suggests. I’m not particularly optimistic, but perversely I’m really looking forward to his debut, just so I can see whether they really did manage to make the absolute best and absolute worst serials of the classic era back-to-back…

RATING: 10

Planet of Fire

Ah, this is one of those periods where absolutely everything is changing, bit by bit. This story is little more than a backdrop for a succession of significant events, but it’s at least a very pretty backdrop. The location filming in Lanzarote doubles up to portray both itself and an extremely dramatic volcanic surface, which makes the visuals very impressive throughout.

The main plot – a bunch of confused survivors accidentally worship technology,  thinking it’s the work of a god – has most certainly been done, but it’s not important because that’s not the crux of the story. It’s really all an elaborate origin and departure story for Turlough, as the gaps in his backstory are slowly filled in, ready for him to finally say goodbye and head home.

It all unfolds very entertainingly, even though I did predict “he’s an escaped prisoner” very early on. He was especially shifty throughout the story, even by his standards, and it was interesting to see just how strained his relationship with The Doctor became as a result. Between Turlough acting up and Kamelion being taken over (more on that later), The Doctor seems completely isolated at times, which is especially unusual for this Doctor. His mood has definitely been altered by recent events, which is a very New Who thing. There are consequences to his actions.

I will miss Turlough. A lot of the time he was fairly generic, but every now and then he was so alien that he was unlike any companion before or since, and that takes some doing. His departure marks the end of an unusual period in Who history – of having multiple companions and not all of them human – so I’m looking forward to seeing how they adapt to going back to basics.

First impression of Peri? “Christ, that American accent is bad”. To be fair, Howard’s was by far the worse, and I think his was highlighting her imperfections in those early scenes, as it started to sound more natural later on. She seems a little bit over-screamy for my liking, but she did at least display some strength in resisting mind control, and she seems more than willing to roll her sleeves up and get stuck in.

Plus, her scream is nowhere near as horrifying as Kamelion’s. Christ almighty, that will haunt my dreams. It was totally incongruous to have him suddenly reappear as if he’s never been away. The Doctor treats him like he’s part of the furniture, but for the audience, we haven’t even heard him mentioned since the end of the previous season, and even after this serial, he spent far longer on-screen as a baddy than a goodie.

See that thing where they had him morph into the guise of random guest actors in order to avoid using the dodgy prop too much? They did realise that they could have done that all the time, right? Because if we’d have seen more of him, maybe I’d care a lot more about his departure, and also his death. It was clearly supposed to be a touching moment, but I was mostly concerned about how nonchalant The Doctor was about ending a sentient life, no matter what the circumstances. I’d have preferred Kamelion to have turned on The Master and sacrificed himself in some way, leaving The Doctor out of the equation.

Speaking of whom, there was a decent Master story bubbling under the surface. He’s often at his best when he’s motivated by self-preservation rather than just domination; the desperation heightening his powers. My impression was helped by that rarest of occurrences – a decent cliffhanger that I didn’t already know was coming. The reveal of the tiny Master, in a box, is brilliant!

But then, there was another weird bit. I had to check afterwards if I interpreted his last scene correctly, but yep – he’s fucking burnt to death. It’s pretty grim, and The Doctor just lets it happen. Sure, he’s really cut up about it, but because it happens so soon after he’s mercy-killed Kamelion, I’m not sure how I feel about him having quite so much blood on his hands.

If this was most other periods of the show’s history, I’d assume all this dark subject matter was part of a wider plan, but given what I know about the next couple of seasons, I’m not confident that’s the case here. But regardless, I know that the next serial is going to be bitter-sweet, but that I’m in for a treat…

RATING: 8

Resurrection of the Daleks

I’m back, and so are they, and therefore so is he. I’m committed to watching the episodes as originally broadcast where possible, so I had to wait until I had enough spare time for 45 minute episodes (which thankfully won’t too much a problem for Colin’s first year), and this serial was well worth the wait. The extended running time, combined with brilliant production values, made this feel very special.

It would indeed have made a superb conclusion to the anniversary season, which was the original intention – it even had a montage of (almost) all the old companions, including Katarina and Sara. The story was suitably epic; in a similar way to Earthshock, it took an iconic baddy from the 60s and put them into an action setting. And it did that very well, which is to be expected when you see the name “Peter Wragg” in the credits. As well as the effects, the locations and sets were also top-notch.

The Daleks are used a lot more effectively than they have been for a long time, anniversary cameo aside. For the first time, the mutant itself is dangerous outside of its travel machine, which allows them to add a tense, Alien-style section to break up the standard Dalek stuff. We also see the first seeds of the Daleks breaking off into factions, thus providing further new avenues to explore next time.

Your man Davros is played a hell of a lot better than he was last time, but – having already seen Revelation and Remembrance – it’s now confirmed that they never came close to bettering his first appearance until Julian Bleach came along. Here, he could do with calming down a bit; his long sleep having seemingly made him very grumpy and shouty. Terry Molloy’s incarnation was definitely Davros’s Curious Orange phase.

It’s a shame that there’s only one scene between Davros and The Doctor, but it’s a belter. It’s neat that the Genesis dilemma is referenced, and interesting that The Doctor now believes his decision to be wrong. I don’t necessarily agree with him, but it makes for a compellingly tense scene between the two old adversaries, where you’re genuinely not sure whether the Doctor will pull the trigger or not, and in the end, the decision is taken out of his hands.

Davison’s Doctor is getting slightly darker as he nears regeneration, and this is probably the most grimly violent serial we’ve seen since the days of Hinchcliffe and Holmes. It’s not just the high body count – although it is pretty damn high – it’s the casual manner of many of the deaths. It was getting to the point where I was grimacing with (enjoyable) discomfort with each new killing, particularly that poor metal detecting man near the end.

It’s good that the show acknowledges all of this, which brings me on to the other big part of this story. It’s incredibly effective to have a companion wanting to leave out of disgust at what they’ve witnessed, especially as it’s partly The Doctor himself that’s caused it. It’s a wake-up call for him – people usually leave because he’s made them a better person and they’ve got a new calling, not because he’s actually making their life worse.

I hadn’t really thought about it, but Tegan has been around for bloody ages at this stage – her episode count is up there with Jamie, Jo and Sarah Jane, but I don’t feel like she’s anywhere near as iconic as those three. I’ve never really been sure whether or not I like her, but I must admit that her lonely utterance of “brave heart, Tegan” got me right in the heart. I’ll miss having her around, as from what little I’ve seen of the rest of the classic run, we’re not going to have a strong female companion now until the very last one.

I can’t let this one pass without mentioning the absolutely stellar guest cast. Rodney Bewes! Rula Lenska! Dirty Den! The guy who conned Del Boy by faking a heart attack! All of the above are great, particularly Bewes with his varied and conflicted performance. Some of the prison ship staff were not so good, but I did like Lytton – I’ve since learned that he’s coming back pretty soon, which is an unexpected addition to my recurring enemies list.

Do you know what? Fuck it, I was going to give this an 8 or a 9, but I’ve talked it up to a 10. It’s got pretty much everything I want from a Doctor Who story, and on-form Daleks are always worth a bonus point or two. As is an on-form Davison, and I’m sad that his tenure will be over so soon…

RATING: 10

Frontios

Ah, now this season has got going. That was an unexpected hit for me – one of those rare serials at this stage where the title means nothing to me, and so I can go into it without any preconceptions. I was immediately impressed by the truly dangerous and hellish world portrayed, and the cliffhanger of the TARDIS seemingly destroyed is great.

The hatstand being left behind was a very neat touch. Turlough subsequently using it as a pretend weapon was even better. It was a great story for him; he’s been a little less interesting since his enlightenment, acting like any other companion, so this was a timely reminder that he’s actually an alien, and a particularly freaky one at that. It was good to see him get the opportunity to completely lose his shit again; this serial really made the most of Mark Strickson’s extraordinary face.

I like the Tractators, who sound like a race of extremely authoritarian farmers. Not the most convincing of costumes, and not quite as effective when they started talking, but their powers were impressive and interesting. I also liked that they had a separate leader whose character was fairly well fleshed out, with his own motives and weaknesses for The Doctor to latch on to. Davison struck me as being on particularly good form, actually – he’s got that kind of default brilliance that Tom and Troughton had, where regardless of the rest of the episode, you know you can rely on them.

The plot was intriguing and never seemed like it slowed down, thanks to the constant drip feeding of new information, as everything slowly begins to make sense. I wasn’t completely sure what was going on with the TARDIS towards the end – it looked like it had somehow merged with the underground tunnels, but the explanation that it had been pulled apart into lots of fragments didn’t quite marry with the visuals.

It’s not quite clear how the pulling apart happened either, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt because I enjoyed the serial so much. My only other criticism is that Tegan was a bit thick at times towards the end; blabbing secrets to the enemy and failing to cotton on to The Doctor’s plan, much like Adric used to do at times. And as for the other “companion”, what the hell happened to Kamelion when the TARDIS was in a million pieces?

Oh, and naturally, the mentions of “the hungry earth” reminded me of The Hungry Earth, a story that I don’t remember particularly well, other than it being crap, but that I’m sure had similar sequences of people being pulled through soil. Plus, of course, the excavation machine thing looked very similar to Max Thingy from Voyage of the Damned. It’s like the new series mined Frontios but turned everything to shit, much like the Tractators did.

RATING: 9

I’ll be taking a very short break for the next few days, as other commitments mean it’s going to be near impossible for me to spare 45 minutes at a time. Oh well, at least the sad day when I have no new Old Who to watch will be postponed, even for a little while.

The Awakening

It’s the last of this particular type of two-parter; the next ones I see will be 45 minutes apiece, starting pretty damn soon. It’s strange to see one deployed so early in a season; they often act as little breathers in amongst the bigger stories, but given that the opening story was so crap, a two-parter here just makes it feel like this season hasn’t got going yet, which is irritating as I know that a damn fine Doctor will be gone before it’s even over.

But this was perfectly fine for what it was, if unspectacular. The location work was absolutely lovely; reminiscent of The Daemons, as was a significant chunk of the plot. The nature of the war games could have done with being explored more; the ringleader, Sir Denis Lill-in-a-wig, was under alien influence, but we didn’t see much of the other villagers’ perspective on the whole thing, perhaps due to the lack of time for more than one dissenting voice to be heard. It was odd that this insanely out of control roleplay was just accepted, with everyone happy to arrest, lock up and/or kill innocent bystanders.

The giant face poking through the wall was incredibly effective, and certainly both original and memorable, which is no mean feat at this stage of JNT’s reign. This was the first serial for ages to not feature a returning villain or two, and it made a nice change. Again, it could have benefited from a bit more time to explore, but it did the job nicely.

Having read that they were considering making Will a companion, I can see why everyone found him so loveable, and the actor is strangely fascinating, but I can also see why they didn’t bother. They’ve already tried and failed to do that sort of thing with Katarina, and the TARDIS is already crowded enough, as evidenced by the fact that Kamelion remains nowhere to be seen. I watched the deleted scene with him afterwards. It was crap.

There’s very little else to say, other than “ooh, a purple border on the text in the closing credits”. Like I say, it was fine, but no more than that. At least it’s halted the run of stories either being amazing or shit.

RATING: 7

Warriors of the Deep

Something in the back of my mind was telling that this had a reputation for being one of the better stories of the Davison era. After the first episode, I had to double check. As suspected, it does in fact have a reputation for being one of the shitter stories of the Davison era, which is entirely deserved.

That first episode is extraordinarily slow, taking its full duration to establish a setting that’s extraordinarily simple – it’s a sea base with nuclear bombs, it’s the Cold War, and meanwhile the Silurians and Sea Devils are waking up. That can be put across in five minutes; we didn’t need quite so much procedural detail before the first sign of conflict. The cliffhanger is completely unearned. “Face it, Tegan, he’s drowned!” What, because he fell into the water from the height of an average diving board? Turlough was annoyingly defeatist throughout, when he wasn’t happily charging round with a gun.

The human characters are tediously one-note, although there is a comfy familiarity in a good old-fashioned base under siege tale. It would have been so much better but for the minor detail that both the Silurians and Sea Devils are utter shit. They all move incredibly slowly, and there’s no nuance to them whatsoever. The whole point of the Silurians is that they’re just reptile versions of us – there’s good ones and bad ones. Here, there’s no telling them apart; they’ve become cookie-cutter generic monsters.

The Doctor goes on about them being a noble race in the dialogue, but that simply doesn’t carry over to the characterisation. There’s a big old chat between the Doctor and their leader in episode four, which is great, but this kind of moral consideration should have come way earlier. It makes sense that they’d be changed by their previous encounters with humanity, but until this is clarified it comes across like the show has forgotten what made them interesting in the first place.

And then there’s the Myrka. What even is the Myrka? Some sort of hybrid of Silurians and Sea Devils, but massive? Either way it looks utter dogshit. I’m struggling to think of a monster so far that’s been quite so embarrassingly awful. I’m aware of the huge production problems they faced – thanks, Thatcher – but I’d rather they shot it in a different way so you only saw glimpses of it, or got rid of it entirely in favour of dialogue to inject some sense of moral ambiguity into the Silurians.

Meanwhile, there’s a subplot going on with the sync operator being conditioned by undercover Soviet saboteurs. It’s intriguing, but it moves incredibly slowly, and then just as it begins to ramp up, everyone involved is killed. It’s all just set up for a situation where The Doctor has to sync his mind with a computer, but nothing really happens there either, so the whole thing could have been excised with absolutely zero impact on the story. What a time-consuming waste.

The final episode isn’t terrible, and it’s just about enough to save it from getting my lowest score ever, but it’s too little too late. The ending is impressively bleak, with absolutely every guest character of any species wiped out, but The Doctor’s right: there should have been another way. If the only way to add excitement is The Doctor failing to come up with a peaceful solution, and companions firing guns at point blank range, then the show is in a pretty bad state.

And this is the first serial since the jubilation of The Five Doctors. What the hell is going on with this inconsistency? At least there’s some excitement in not knowing what to expect next, but I can’t deny that I preferred the days when the only variation was between “great” and “excellent”.

RATING: 5

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

The King’s Demons

I was fully expecting this to be utter dogshit, due to its low placing in the last massive DWM poll, and the fact that this season routinely oscillates between brilliance and garbage. So, as I’ve said countless times before, I’m not sure whether my response is a reaction to that, but I found it to be perfectly fine, even teetering towards being actively good.

I also knew that this was a Master story, but even without that knowledge, you know it’s him right from the start. Just from the tiny glimpse from behind before he puts his mask on at the joust, I wrote in my notes: “is that Anthony Ainley in a ginger wig?”. Despite the accompanying Radio Times trickery, it’s got to be intentionally obvious, hasn’t it? The big sword fight is positively improved with the realisation that it’s The Doctor vs The Master; it’s Pertwee vs Delgado all over again.

The criticism that his scheme is both daft and too piffling for The Master is probably fair enough, although it didn’t really bother me. Well, that is until afterwards, when I read someone point out that it fits much more closely with the modus operandi of a different renegade Time Lord. If you’re going to bring back old villains every week, then man, this should totally have been The Monk.

But still, Davison and Ainley have developed into a great adversarial double act. The Master is always a reflection of the particular Doctor he’s up against; not only does Ainley match Davison’s recent penchant for more minimalist nonchalance here, but the pair seem to have gained confidence in their roles at the same rate.

Gerald Flood’s depiction of King John is arguably the highlight though, even with his silly lute playing. This brings me on to the thorny subject of Kamelion, who I know is already doomed to failure, and as such I won’t bother putting him in the header. It’s a shame it didn’t come off, because this serial – which would surely rank as the all-time weirdest way to introduce a companion, were it for the preceding trilogy – did enough to make me intrigued.

The possibilities are quite obviously endless, and there’s an interesting thread to be followed in the dichotomy of a sentient being voluntarily succumbing to the will of another, regardless of their intention. Couldn’t they just have shot the prop from a distance at the start of each serial, and have him instantly morph into some plot-relevant guest character?

But like I say, this one’s perfectly fine, and it certainly doesn’t outstay its welcome. It’s not a season finale by any means, but perhaps that’s appropriate considering how weirdly inconsistent this season has been. They needed to end with the Daleks or something, so it wasn’t a surprise to read that this was the original intention; I’d always assumed that this season was a few episodes short due to them being allocated to The Five Doctors. But anyway…

RATING: 8

SEASON AVERAGE RATING: 7.5

  • Seasons/Series watched: 20 of 35
  • Stories watched: 128 of 263
  • Individual episodes watched: 601 of 826

Wow, over 600 episodes done! Things are definitely winding down; the spectacularly bumpy ride has resulted in the lowest average rating of the colour era so far, despite containing two serials that are now among my all time faves.

And now it’s over, I’ve concluded that the recurring-villains-every-serial thing didn’t really come off. I’m not sure if I’d have even clocked if it wasn’t so well documented. Three of the six serials are taken up by just the one baddy, and of the three remaining villains, one is only from the last season, and another shows up all the time anyway.

Oh well, the proper anniversary celebration is still to come. See you tomorrow.