The Android Invasion

This one was good, but for the first time this season, not brilliant. Which is a shame, as it had all the makings of a classic. The initial set-up, spread across the first couple of episodes, is brilliantly intriguing. There were times when I genuinely wasn’t sure what was real and what wasn’t, and I loved The Doctor spotting all the tiny clues that something was amiss.

The androids themselves were also excellent throughout – a good balance between the eerily uncanny and the dead-behind-the-eyes automaton. Unfortunately, the Kraals are not so interesting. They’re not bad, and I liked that Roy Skelton just used his actual Zippy voice, but they’re a bit generic and dull. Couldn’t we have done without them? I don’t see why the androids had to be the henchmen, rather than being behind it all themselves.

The whole thing felt very old-school, and slightly out of whack with the brave new direction the season has taken so far. I think it’s down to a combination of Terry Nation using the same old tropes as he’s been flogging since 1963, and the sleepy English village setting feeling very Pertwee. As does, of course, the presence of UNIT.

It wasn’t really much of a last hurrah for them, considering we only saw the non-android versions of them for a few minutes in Part Four. Lovely and unexpected though it was to see Harry, so much more could have been made of what it means to be an ex-companion. And I’ve just read that this is the last we ever see of Benton, and I feel conned. All he did was smile politely for a bit and then get knocked out.

Then there’s the lack of The Brigadier, which was made worse by the somewhat insulting decision to replace him with a one-off stand-in. Why couldn’t Benton have been deputising for him, and why didn’t anyone question who this other guy even was? Overall, if you’re not going to use them properly, I’d kind of rather UNIT weren’t involved – Terror of the Zygons would have been a much better send off.

There’s plenty to keep you entertained in this serial, not least the android duplicates of Sarah Jane and The Doctor, which were by far the best thing on offer. But frustratingly it never quite lives up to its promise, and as such it’s a little underwhelming.

RATING: 7

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Terror of the Zygons

I love Zygons, but prior to now have only ever seen them in the new series. Considering that The Day of the Doctor and The Zygon Inv[a/er]sion are two of my favourite stories of all time, the original had a lot to live up to.

And it’s probably a bit of a shame that I’ve seen it this way round, because while all the ingredients that have made their recent appearances so successful are present and correct, this serial doesn’t quite use them as effectively. There’s a hell of a lot going on – “UNIT vs Nessie” and “invading alien doppelgangers” are both stories that I want to see, but they could, and perhaps should, have been done separately. Both ideas seem slightly wasted when they’re completing for screentime in a four parter. Just let Zygons be Zygons.

I loved Evil Harry, which was played brilliantly by Ian Marter, but I just wish there was more of it. But the thing is, I’m probably only thinking along those lines because it worked so well with Clara, and I was hoping for more of the same. I feel ever so slightly underwhelmed, especially as I know this one’s considered an all time great, but it shouldn’t detract from what is a brilliantly gripping story, and a hugely impressive production, in itself.

The design of the Zygons is fantastic – instantly iconic and unforgettable. Nessie, not so much, but you can see what they were trying to do. There’s never a dull moment, and the Highland setting – though clearly shot several hundred miles to the south – was well realised, even if some of the accents weren’t. Intentionally or otherwise, the stereotypical Scottish bits are hilarious – the serial opens with a bloke asking for haggis, and ends with a gag about Scotch people being tight-fisted. No wonder they want independence.

It’s also great to see UNIT back in action for one last hurrah. I believe (please don’t confirm or deny) that this is their last appearance for a very long time. I’m kind of sad about that – mostly because of how brilliant the Brig and Benton are – but the show is clearly moving on. The Doctor is back to travelling the universe with nothing in his way, and he no longer needs anything to ground him. It was a great time for the show, but the show is nothing if it doesn’t change.

It’s also goodbye to Harry, from the looks of things. This is a shame, as character and actor alike are great. The received wisdom that his role was superfluous is nonsense – the three way dynamic in the TARDIS was working really well, and there was a real spark between him and Sarah Jane. He may have been an imbecile, but he was funny, charming and likeable with it. On the plus side, his exit makes sense in story terms – he never wanted to travel with the Doctor in the first place, and he was given the opportunity to make an informed decision. Best of luck to him – he’s off to invent an anti-Zygon gas, apparently.

I liked that Sarah was also given the choice of whether to stay at home or stick with The Doctor, and that she chose the latter. I share her enthusiasm to find out what adventures are to come…

RATING: 9

Revenge of the Cybermen

In 1974, you couldn’t move down here for Cybermen. In fact, in an amusing incident, Tom Baker sprained his ankle on that rock there… Just goes to show how easily these accidents happen.

79-revenge-of-the-cybermen

Watching this serial has been a prolonged affair, due to various social and work commitments around the turn of the year – it’s taken me seven days to watch these four episodes. That could explain why I struggled to properly get in to it, but I reckon that it’s mostly down to the serial being fairly rubbish.

I’m a big fan of the early Cybermen, and was looking forward to seeing them again after such a long gap. But the early Cybermen aren’t back after all. They’ve turned into generic robots, with very little in common with the cold, creepy monsters from Troughton’s day. Making them sleek and shiny totally misses the point that they are upgraded humanoids, and it was a real mistake to give them booming, clear voices. These are not Cybermen – they’re just annoying self-satisfied idiots.

Also, I’d always accepted that Cybermen are allergic to gold, and hadn’t really noticed that it was never mentioned in the ’60s. But now I’ve seen how haphazardly it’s introduced into the mythology, I’m no longer on board with it. It’s just completely contrived, and it stands out like a sore thumb. Bring back Polly’s special melty spray.

The Vogans weren’t much better. I didn’t care about their internal politics, and it’s really confusing to have rival factions of aliens when they’re all in incredibly similar masks. The non-speaking ones all looked like Michael Winner. The Ark crew were a lot more interesting, along with the gadget-loving turncoat, but they were struggling for screen time towards the end.

The last couple of episodes did build up nicely to an exciting conclusion, but even that was hampered by the execution. The Doctor flying the Beacon all the way round Voga would have been great with a few model shots, but was just nauseating as a POV on the monitor. Oh, and you can’t get away with zooming into something to imply it’s moving closer to the camera if the background also moves.

On the plus side, “Harry Sullivan is an imbecile” made me laugh more than anything in the show for a long time. But overall a disappointing end to a brilliant season.

RATING: 6

SEASON AVERAGE RATING: 8.4

  • Seasons/Series watched: 12 of 35
  • Stories watched: 79 of 260
  • Individual episodes watched: 401 of 826

Genesis of the Daleks

I quite liked that episode. I thought it was good.

It is of course impossible to say much else that hasn’t already been said, and I knew that this would be the case, having seen this serial several times before. What’s added by watching it in sequence is the realisation of just how much it stands out against recent Dalek outings, none of which have been truly great since the black and white days. It’s also Terry Nation’s most original story since the Hartnell era – not a petrified jungle in sight.

I’ve also realised that it’s not until fairly late on that this serial becomes so remarkable. Don’t get me wrong, it’s absolutely brilliant throughout, it’s just that the rest of the series is also mostly brilliant. The first three or four episodes represent a fairly standard adventure, albeit one where the quality is a little higher than normal. But towards the end, when Davros and The Doctor start interacting… oh, man.

Davros has arrived completely fully formed, and his ruthless and complex machinations are so entertaining that you’re almost on his side as he arranges to utterly destroy Thals and Kaleds alike. He also looks and sounds brilliant, and it’s an astonishingly good performance from Michael Wisher. When he links up with Tom Baker, it turns into a tense, psychological and philosophical battle, made all the more effective by the mutual respect between both characters and actors. The chat about the hypothetical armageddon virus is perhaps the best individual scene in the series so far.

That is until the next episode, which has the “do I have the right?” scene. It works because it’s so ambiguous as to whether The Doctor is doing the right thing, and the show doesn’t attempt to present a definitive answer. The whole of the first five episodes builds up to that moment, with layer upon layer of moral ambivalence. It’s the very essence of The Doctor – he creates a possible solution to all his problems, then considers the morality of his actions for so long that he chickens out of making a decision all together.

But even aside from these huge moments, it’s just a brilliant story from start to finish. Nyder is such a perfect sniveling little shit that he’d be the highlight of most serials. The war zone seen at the start is one of the most gritty and realistic ever depicted in the show, and the Thals using Mutos as slave labour is equally grim. Plus, perhaps thanks to how sparingly they’re used, this is the best Dalek action we’ve seen for ages too – Zippy on top form as they hoist Davros with his own petard, with their emergence as the xenophobic maniacs we know and love had me grinning from ear to ear.

And as for Tom Baker, it’s hard to believe that this is only his first season. He quite simply *is* The Doctor, even at this early stage. Basically, this has been the highlight of my Christmas.

RATING: 10

The Sontaran Experiment

Hello again. That was a short one. Like the Sontarans, ahaha. I quite liked having this as a little palate-cleanser before the mouthwatering main course of the next serial. I think I prefer a season to have a nice mix of serial lengths, although I’m also looking forward to seeing how the regimented consistency works out for the rest of the Tom Baker era.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. This was a very entertaining little story in its own right. The slow-building mystery first half is better than the action-packed second, despite another strong showing from a Sontaran. I love how uncomplicated their philosophy is – they simply do not give a fuck about any other species. They’re not killing people for the sake of being evil, it’s just that they see no reason why they shouldn’t.

I was on board right from the start when, knowing that this would be entirely shot on location, I saw that they’d plumped for video tape instead of film. One of the things I love about watching classic Who, and a lot of archive television in general, is the intimacy that analogue interlaced video implies, and I find that film sequences detract from this, adding a certain distance between the viewer and the actors. The vibrant colours (well, mostly Sarah’s coat) and crystal clear details really added to the appeal of this story.

That said, the direction is a bit off at times, particularly in the second episode, with a confusing sense of geography, and a lot of important-seeming things happening off-camera. There’s a lot of gaps that are left to the viewer to fill. This is probably partially down to the limitations of early portable video cameras, and can’t have been helped by Tom Baker breaking his collarbone halfway through filming, to be fair.

But when he’s not in agonising pain, he’s once again on top form here. His cheery playfulness when confronted by the South African buggers is a brilliant choice, and his rage against Styre after he discovered Sarah had been tortured was just superb. Even at this early stage, it’s easy to see why he became the definitive Doctor. I want to see all his serials RIGHT NOW.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, for the second year in a row (I watched ep 6 of Dalek Invasion of Earth on 25th December 2014), I’m going to spend my Christmas with a Dalek. Well, a few Daleks. And their dad.

RATING: 8

The Ark in Space

Well, if this is the direction that the new producer and script editor are taking us, then I’m completely on board. It’s always a slight worry when a new regime takes over, especially considering I’ve loved pretty much every iteration of the show so far, but bloody hell, this lot have hit the ground running.

The first part of this serial is one of the best individual episodes I’ve seen for a long time. The reason it works so well is that it takes the time to really explore the setting. I love the fact that even the Doctor doesn’t know where he is, and so the audience are learning at the same time as the characters, without the need for too much spoken exposition.

This sets the tone for the rest of the serial, which is never afraid to linger on interesting bits of problem solving, character building or the occasional inspirational speech, which Tom does brilliantly. You could just listen to that voice all day, but the script here is corking too. The Fourth Doctor has had almost as many character-defining moments in these two serials as the Third did in five seasons.

Similarly, I feel we’ve properly got a handle on Harry now, and I like him a lot. He’s an affable prat, and it’s played brilliantly by Ian Marter. His old-fashioned-even-for-1975 sailor patois could easily be annoying, but it’s done so earnestly that’s it’s perversely charming. I also like how Sarah is simply not taking any of his shit – she’s not been around that long herself, but she clearly considers herself an old pro at this time-travelling lark, and she knows that she’s a damn sight more capable than he could ever be.

As for the story itself, it’s a beautifully paced, creepy, horror movie, packed full of tension and drama. Noah slowly succumbing to bubble wrap disease was disturbing, and the fact that the Wirrn were always a step ahead of the Doctor’s plans was a great way of ramping up the stakes. I would say that the whole thing of a parasite getting on board a human outpost, creeping around in the infrastructure and using humans as breeding grounds is a complete rip-off of Alien, were it not for the fact that The Ark In Space is several years older.

Based on what I know about the rest of Tom Baker’s tenure, the horror elements in this story seemed like a clear mission statement that the show is shifting towards that direction, and it was certainly a big contrast to the majority of the Third Doctor/UNIT era. Weirdly though, a lot of it felt similar (in a good way) to an even earlier time – it was basically a typical base-under-siege/defeat-the-monster story from the middle bit of Troughton’s time. And the fact that this season’s serials all run directly in to one another is very much a Hartnell thing, and I’m enjoying the nostalgia.

RATING: 9

Robot

Yeah, I couldn’t resist staying away for too long. I might have to miss the odd day here and there for the next few weeks, but I couldn’t even last a full week without starting to miss my fix of new old Who. Well, I say ‘new’. I’ve seen most of Season 12 before, but quite a while ago and only the once, so it’s still more or less fresh to me now.

But anyway. This is one hell of an introduction to one hell of a Doctor. Escaping from the medical bay was very Pertwee, but the way the Fourth Doctor just dives feet first into the action within the first episode, with such innate joy and vigour, could only have been done by Tom. He’s just arrived fully formed, with his big eyes and infectious grin. He’s even offering the jelly babies round in his very first story. Incredible.

This was a time of much upheaval behind the scenes, but having the departing Letts and Dicks deliver this serial as a sort of bridge between the old and new regimes was extremely effective. It’s the tried and trusted technique of UNIT providing reassuring familiarity whenever anything changes, and it was particularly nice to see Benton – in what I assume is one of his last appearances as a semi-regular – promoted to second-in-command behind the Brig. He always was, in my head, even before Yates turned out to be a rotter.

And as with Liz and Jo in the past few seasons, UNIT has provided a ready-made new companion in Harry. He seems an amiable sort of chap, very much in the Chesterton/Steven mould. I know he’s not going to be around for that long (although I don’t know exactly when he’s off), and it’s easy to see that he’s probably going to be bit unnecessary alongside such a brilliant combination as Sarah Jane and #4. I literally forgot that he existed when he spent an episode or so undercover at Think Tank.

As for the story itself, it wasn’t particularly original, but it did what it had to do – provide Tom Baker with lots of opportunities to be daft, whilst also giving him character-defining moments of intelligence and triumph. The secret Nazi-esque society were pretty effective, and I liked Kettlewell (and his hair), but wasn’t hugely surprised when he turned out to be in on it. The big old eponymous robot himself is great – a fantastic design, and the Oedipal element is a nice touch. Some of the effects aren’t brilliant, but as always, I will cut them infinite slack for the sheer audacity required to even attempt such things at that time.

I know that this is probably hindsight, but this genuinely feels like the start of something new, exciting and above all special. The tweaked title sequence works a lot better with the TARDIS in place of the Pertwee cut-out, and the mere image of Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen on screen together is extremely pleasing. I’m also glad that four-episode serials are now the norm, with six-parters being saved for special occasions. Not all of them dragged by any means, but things are a lot more interesting when the setting and storyline change more frequently.

Oh, and I loved the fact that the locations were all shot on VT. I know it’s a very specialist area of interest, but the whole thing is much more immersive when you don’t have that jarring switch between formats whenever anyone goes outside. Another brilliant thing about this project is that I’m seeing a microcosm of “old” television slowly transforming into the form I remember from childhood. As someone who’s always been fascinated by every aspect of television production, Doctor Who is a perfect case study.

RATING: 9