More than 30 Years in the TARDIS

This is what I meant about this blog becoming both more frequent and less regular. I’m forging my way through the wilderness years, but I had to wait until I had a spare 90 minutes set aside to watch this. Technically speaking, this is one I could have skipped, as I’m primarily concerned with fictional things, but they’re my rules and I can break them if I want to.

Plus of course there are some fictional elements to this, but we’ll come to those in a minute. The main purpose is a documentary to celebrate 30 years of Doctor Who, and it manages to pack a hell of a lot in, even considering the luxurious running time of this home video edition. It whooshes its way through the show’s history in a largely linear fashion, but with a few pauses to explore the bigger issues. It’s constructed well, with each topic dovetailing into the next, and lots of lovely archive footage to glue it together.

My favourite was the clip of a particularly pedantic Pertwee on Anne and Nick, utterly undermining their competition, to Nick Owen’s barely disguised distaste. It was their own fault for picking such an ambiguous question. The ad breaks were lovely too – I’d forgotten how much the Prime adverts conflated The Doctor and Romana with Tom and Lalla. The clips from the episodes were always well-picked, and my only complaint is that they were a little stingy with the rushes, but then we’re used to a much more generous portion in the DVD age.

As with the other, much less successful 30th anniversary celebration, it was good to see representatives from so many eras of the show as interviewees, and their family members too in some cases. With the exception of Gerry Anderson, who’s welcome on my television any time, I could have done without the random celebrities. Give me more Lambert, Dicks, Letts and Hinchcliffe, and less Mike Gatting bollocking on about cricket, or Toyah Wilcox remembering her inappropriate sexual awakenings.

I recognised the Douglas Adams interview set-up from Don’t Panic, the equivalent Hitchhikers documentary from a very similar time. That too mixed in the occasional sketch using old monster costumes and actors reprising their roles, but here they were much more ambitious. The classic scenes of Cybermen at St Paul’s and Daleks on Westminster Bridge were recreated beautifully, and Pertwee pissing about with the Whomobile was marvellous.

It all climaxed with the little boy walking through a police box prop and into the TARDIS, which is something we all take for granted these days, but was achieved for the very first time here. This is slightly overshadowed by the truly bizarre and sinister turn that the rest of the narrative takes, where Nick Courtney/The Brig (the lines are deliberately blurred) is driven off by an Auton, and Elisabeth Sladen/Sarah Jane turns into some sort of Sontaran agent and attempts to kill said little boy.

A strange ending, but a very solid documentary, which tells you everything you need to know about how Who was perceived at the time. Having been off the air for a few years, the problems of the later seasons were being forgotten about, and the nostalgia factor allowed the fond memories of yesteryear to become the thing that defined the brand. That was certainly the impression I got as a youngster who was just starting to become a TV obsessive.

RATING: 8

P.S. I’ve only tagged the people/monsters who appear in the sketches, not everyone that was interviewed, or who featured in clips. That would be pretty much all the tags.

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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 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 War Games

I’ve just witnessed the most depressing conclusion to a season of Doctor Who since Rose Tyler was trapped in a parallel dimension. (I know that came 40-odd years later, but time is relative.) Depressing, but utterly, utterly brilliant.

I’d always been aware of the notion that The Doctor’s punishment seems a lot harsher in hindsight. The specifics of regeneration had yet to be nailed down, and the intention at this stage wasn’t that it was a traumatic and tragic event. With the knowledge of what’s to come, an enforced “change of appearance” is tantamount to an execution. But what I wasn’t prepared for was the manner in which it was realised, with The Doctor yelling out in pain, begging for the Time Lords to stop, kicking and screaming to cling on to life. That in itself is horrifying – the poor sod is being tortured to death. It’s barbaric, terrifying and heartbreaking.

I can’t figure out what’s more upsetting – the murder of my favourite Doctor, or the fate of the two best companions the show has ever had by this point. Plonked willy-nilly back in their own times, with no memory of having travelled with The Doctor, mere moments after promising never to forget him. They can’t bear to leave, and he can’t bear to see them go. The Time Lords are easily the worst, most vicious and heartless enemies the Doctor has faced so far.

Zoe will be hugely missed – I feel like I’ve done very little but bang on about how brilliant she is for the last month or so. But Jamie’s departure is something else. He’s been around for so long that he feels like so much more than a normal companion – hell, he lasted longer than a fair few Doctors did. He’s been as much a part of the Troughton era as the man himself, and it will be very strange to not have him around.

But concentrating on the huge changes that this serial heralded, and the incredible amount of backstory and mythology introduced, is to do a disservice to the rest of the story. It’s a fantastic concept, and there’s so much going on even before the term “Time Lord” starts being bandied about willy-nilly. It’s obviously extremely long, but aside from a few rather contrived cliffhangers, it doesn’t really suffer from its length. Some bits are better than others, but when it’s good, it’s excellent.

The 1917 Zone is by far the best setting. It’s startling to think that when they made this serial, they were closer to the First World War than we are to them. Such a great conceit to slowly introduce the anachronisms and the mind control elements, and General Smythe is an absolutely superb baddie, played by the Cat Priest from Red Dwarf.

The idea of using time travel to jumble up different bits of Earth’s history reminded me of The Time Meddler, and The War Chief – a renegade Time Lord, manipulating other races for his own gain – certainly owes a lot to The Meddling Monk. I’d like to amend an earlier theory of mine: Peter Butterworth regenerated into Edward Brayshaw, who then regenerated (having somehow delayed the process to avoid further trouble from the War Lord) into Roger Delgado.

It was such a successful character that it’s easy to see why they came up with The Master so soon afterwards. Less successful was the Security Chief, who seemed to think he was a Dalek, barking his weirdly-enunciated proclamations at nobody in particular. The stuff in the alien complex wasn’t generally as strong as the bits in the historical war zones, but it was all necessary for the brilliant unraveling of The Doctor’s past, and the desperation that led to him reaching out to the Time Lords.

Much like the even-more-epic Daleks’ Master Plan, I come to the end of this serial after what seems like an age since it started, but this time that’s not a bad thing. I kind of didn’t want it to end, because as excited as I am about seeing Jon Pertwee take on the role, I’m absolutely gutted that I’ve reached the end of Troughton. Unlike Hartnell, I don’t feel satisfied that I’ve seen enough of him – it seemed like he had years left in him.

Before I’d seen his entire run, I knew that Troughton was one of the best Doctors ever, from the bits that I had seen. And now? He’s not just *one of* the best. At this stage, I’m comfortable with saying he’s my all-time favourite Doctor, new series or old. Although I reserve the right to change that opinion when I’ve seen complete runs of the others.

RATING: 10

And so it’s with some degree of sadness that I reach another milestone:

SEASON AVERAGE RATING: 8

  • Seasons/Series watched: 6 of 34
  • Stories watched: 50 of 253
  • Individual episodes watched: 253 of 813

And what a milestone it is. Season 6 was the last of its kind in so many ways – the length, the number of stories and the format are all about to change, not to mention the most obvious difference. Bring on that glorious colour…

The Space Pirates

I’VE DONE IT! I’VE DONE ALL THE MISSING EPISODES!

Hurrah, frankly. No more hunting down recons that have been copyright-blocked for containing tiny censor clips. No more pondering how accurate a reconstruction I’m watching, given how little reference material exists for some episodes. No more having to concentrate really hard after a long day’s work because it’s really bloody hard to follow an action sequence via the medium of stills and scrolling text. Such a relief to know that I’ll always be coming home to a proper episode, and indeed such a relief to find that I didn’t give up.

Seriously, I always knew from the start that missing episodes would the biggest challenge in the quest to make it through 50+ years of Who. Seasons 3 and 4 just looked so daunting on the spreadsheet. I’ve got to give a huge amount of credit to Loose Cannon Productions for the sheer quality of their recons. Their commitment to both authenticity and incorporating as many sources as possible has made it a lot more tolerable than I thought. Not half glad to see the back of them though.

As for the serial itself… it’s not brilliant. I see what they were going for, with a deep space version of a western, but it doesn’t quite come together. The Space Corps crew are all very plummy – and hammy in several cases, although I’ll forgive Igor from Count Duckula because he’s Igor from Count Duckula – but then you’ve got this crazy old prospector who sounds like the Cowardly Lion.

The main problem is that The Doctor and his companions are barely in it, and when they are, it’s barely anything to do with the main plot. He doesn’t even meet the Space Corps, so it’s hard to care about them – a problem when around half the action is from their point of view. A huge chunk of this serial is just a bunch of scenes between people we don’t know, so there’s no emotional impact to their exploits.

It’s not helped by some terribly clunky expositional dialogue to establish the backstory. “Milo Clancy? But he’s the man I blame for my father going missing. You know, my father – the one who established this mining company that I run.” I’m exaggerating, but not by much. And by the way, her secretly working for the pirates is the least surprising twist ever. If you’ve not seen this story before, I promise you that’s not a spoiler – you’ll know it the second she turns up. I assume Robert Holmes gets much better at some point, considering that so far he’s only done this and the ultimately unremarkable Krotons.

It gets a bit better towards the end, as The Doctor finally starts doing things that actually impact on the plot, and aren’t just him stumbling around while a story happens around him. Even if the last episode does end like an episode of Police Squad. But overall, it’s not exactly near the top of my wishlist for when they next discover a lost story. (For the record, the top of that list, on reflection, would be The Evil of the Daleks).

Of course, the only downside of getting to the end of the missing episodes is how perilously close I am to the end of Troughton. But at least his final story is ridiculously huge. I’ll see you in a week and a half…

RATING: 5

The Seeds of Death

Sometimes, I get to a serial title that I recognise as being iconic, but with very little prior knowledge of what to expect. I therefore assume that it’s either notoriously good or notoriously shit. The last time that happened was The Celestial Toymaker, and that turned out to be bobbins. So what would I make of this one?

I bloody loved it. So much fun, with a bonkers plot that proved to be absolutely gripping – I found myself wanting to watch the whole lot back to back, but I stayed strong. There’s so much to enjoy here. The TARDIS lands in a space museum (not *The* Space Museum), then the Doctor flies a bloody big rocket to a moon base (not *The* Moonbase). This is a joy – to see him flapping about trying to do “proper” space travel. Later on, he spends a good fifteen minutes having a one-man foam party. It’s a good serial for Troughton faces.

The Ice Warriors are so much better than their slightly underwhelming first appearance. Not that they were rubbish before, it was just that I didn’t feel the execution matched the description. Here, though, they’re a lot tougher – seemingly unstoppable at times, despite only being able to shoot straight when they were aiming at guest characters. Having different ranks of Ice Warrior worked really well, as it gave their actions more structure, and allowed for their complicated plan to be communicated properly.

I enjoyed the slow reveal of this plan, with all the various measures they had to take in order to make Earth hospitable for them, and our heroes thwarting them one-by-one. One thing I didn’t quite buy was how T-Mat (another bit of the mythology making its debut) had eradicated all forms of transport despite there only being machines in a handful of world capitals. Did the whole of the UK just relocate to London?

That’s a nitpick, though – I happily accepted it whilst watching, largely because I was engrossed by the quality of the directing. It’s so easy to lump all the black and white stuff together, but by this stage we’re really seeing work that wouldn’t look out of place later on in the original run, were it not for its lack of colour. Michael Ferguson’s work is stylish and pacey, and – combined with some great music – creates a menacing and gripping atmosphere.

The supporting characters are good too, particularly the doddery old rocket scientist and Fewsham, who really is a brilliant example of a slimy, cowardly shit. It seems like a lot of elements came together for this one, but really I think what’s setting this season apart is the fantastic combination of lead characters. I’ve banged on about Zoe endlessly, but her presence is also bringing out the best in Jamie – while she’s close to being The Doctor’s intellectual equal, that’s pushed Jamie to be his equal in terms of nous, bravery and moral fibre.

He’s learned all of this from the man himself, and we’ve been there every step of the way. I’ve spent so long thinking about how I’m going to miss Troughton, I’ve only just realised that I’m *really* going to miss Jamie too. He’s like no other companion – the sheer length of his tenure has made him feel so integral to the show.

But still, I won’t have to worry about that for another couple of weeks. Next up – the last of the recons…

Oh, one last thing. I had no idea that this was an Ice Warrior episode until I took the DVD out of the Revisitations slipcase and saw one on the cover. (Lovely cover as well, if you’re reading, Clay.) It’s completely and utterly unavoidable, but it’s a shame that it’s not possible to be completely spoiler-free for this journey. I’d love to know how long it would have taken me to figure out the surprise. Now I’ll never know if I was wrong.

RATING: 8

The Krotons

Much like The Underwater Menace before it, I watched through this one with the unshakable sense that it wasn’t a particularly brilliant serial, but once again I bloody well enjoyed it anyway. I’m pretty sure you can put that down to the power of Troughton – with only three to go, there haven’t been any Second Doctor stories that weren’t worth watching. He’s just got this compelling presence that elevates every scene he’s in.

As has Wendy Padbury, and Zoe is well within the vicinity of “favourite ever companion” territory. The best bits of the story were the pair of them working as double act, whether for drama or comedy. Jamie was flying solo more often than not, but this worked well too – he’s more than capable of sustaining a scene or a plot thread single-handedly. That really is the strength of this era – such strong, well defined and well acted central characters.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for all of the guest characters. The Gonds were all very samey, and each and every one of them a stock archetype. The Krotons themselves were little better – why did one of them have a South African accent? It’s quite hard to take them seriously whun thuy taulk like thus, especially in the wide shots when it was revealed that the Krotons wore long shiny skirts. Poor production values all round, especially coming after what we saw last time.

The fact that it was such a step down from The Invasion, and with the knowledge that there’s some huge mythology-defining stuff to come by the end of this season, made it abundantly clear that this was something of a filler episode. But hey, even this hastily-cobbled-together-late-replacement still represents a significant milestone – it was Robert Holmes’s first script. As much as I’m dreading reaching the end of Troughton, I can’t wait to get stuck in to more stuff from him and Terrance Dicks…

RATING: 6

The Invasion

Well, that was awesome. I’d seen it once before, back when the DVD with the animated episodes first came out, but seeing it in context really emphasised the scale of this story’s ambition, in terms of plot and production values.

The stakes have never been higher, because not only is this contemporary Earth, but a version of contemporary Earth that we really care about – it’s a very well-established and consistent world at this stage. It stretches back to Ben and Polly’s introduction, and this is a direct follow-up to The Abominable Snowmen and The Web of Fear – the final stepping stone towards the Pertwee Era.

Following this line of continuity works fantastically, as does the return of the newly-promoted Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. He’s kicking more arse than ever before, with a newfound confidence and a touching level of faith in and devotion to The Doctor. With this strengthening of an easily lovable character, and the establishment of UNIT, it’s clear that the trial run of a potential new format was a huge success.

The plot builds very slowly – the Cybermen aren’t even revealed until the cliffhanger of Episode 4. (How amazing would it have been to watch that for the first time and be surprised?) But while the information is trickled out gently, the pace never drops, thanks to some impressive action sequences and sparkling dialogue. It’s well worth eight episodes – it didn’t feel stretched at all.

Tobias Vaughn stands out as one of the most memorable villains to date. Early on in this story I’d identified him as being rather similar to Mavic Chen, long before I suddenly realised that it was the same sodding actor. The eyes should have given it away, but in my defence, he was blacked up last time. He’s just as hammy in places here, but all the better for it. A magnificent portrayal of a complete and utter bastard.

Meanwhile, Zoe continues to be amazing, especially when destroying an entire Cyberman invasion fleet single-handedly. There were a few strange 60s attitudes towards her and Isobel at times, but at least there’s a fantastically strong female role model to counteract it. Another inconsistency within the story is that while it had plenty of brilliant action sequences, it also skimmed over several – quite a few scenes ended with someone saying “right, we need do this thing” and then cut to someone saying “well, we did that thing”.

Maybe it was a case of sacrificing certain sequences in order to make others better. It was perhaps all worth it for the scenes of the full invasion starting – dozens of Cybermen in the streets of London, emerging from St Paul’s. Lots of lovely model shots too; so many things got blown up over the course of eight episodes.

That’s the last Troughton story that I’ve seen before – the rest of this season will all be fresh to me. God, I’m going to miss him afterwards.

RATING: 10

The Mind Robber

Oh yes. That was superb. I’ve seen it before, having owned the DVD for a while, but it still blew me away, thanks to the context provided by having seen all that came before it. It’s like a not-rubbish version of The Celestial Toymaker, and it’s the most batshit mental thing I’ve seen since The Feast of Steven.

Episode One in particular is just insane, and that cliffhanger – with the TARDIS exploding and Zoe’s beglittered arse as she clings to the floating console – is one of the finest that the show’s ever done. They’re all fantastic cliffhangers, thinking about it – a charging unicorn being properly threatening, a claymation Medusa coming to life and the companions being trapped in a comically massive book. Trust me on that last one – it works in context.

As does the quite disturbing thing that happens to Jamie in Episode Two. I’m glad they did something interesting to deal with Frazer Hines’s illness, when they could have just had him go missing for a week. Hamish Wilson has a good stab at mimicking Frazer’s speech patterns and mannerisms, but is let down by having a genuine Scottish accent, rather than the usual slightly-inaccurate-but-incredibly-endearing one.

I’ve seen some people say that the serial goes downhill after that amazing first episode, but I strongly disagree. The Land of Fiction is such a compelling and unpredictable setting that you’re hooked throughout. I loved the riddles and the traps, and the cavalcade of fictional characters who popped up throughout. The final battle of wits between The Doctor and The Master (not that one… man, that would have been interesting) plays out like a pair of eight year-old boys trying to outdo each other, which tells you so much about The Doctor’s character, in this incarnation in particular.

The only downside is that the episodes are all a good five minutes shorter than normal, which is particularly noticeable when you’re watching them one at a time. There’s only slightly more than four episodes’ worth of material here, which shouldn’t be the case given that a whole extra episode was written when the serial was extended from four to five. But still, at least having short chapters helped to make this story such a page-turner.

RATING: 10

The Dominators

44 dominatorsDo you feel the power of The Dominators? Do you have the will and the skill?

Sorry, that’s been in my head for five days. Anyway, I went into this one with extremely low expectations, as I’d spotted that in the latest Doctor Who Magazine poll, it was ranked one place below The Rings of Akhaten. And I can’t imagine how it’s even possible for an episode to be worse than The Rings of Akhaten.

Fortunately, this isn’t. It’s certainly not a standout, but considering that the Troughton era is almost entirely composed of all-time classics, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s rubbish. There’s plenty of good stuff here – it’s pretty pacey, the location work looks great, and there’s some entertaining, if a little scenery-chewing, performances to keep you interested.

I really like the Quarks, the cute little buggers with their child-like voices and ability to fling people at walls. They’re not very good at actually killing, though – great when blowing up buildings (thanks to some impressive pyro work), but their aim is atrocious when they’re chasing a Scotsman and a fat bloke wrapped in a curtain.

The Dulcians being fanatical pacifists was a good concept, but it didn’t really go anywhere – it looked at one stage like the council were about to snap and take action following the murder of Brian Cant, but they never showed up in the end. Fortunately, the necessity for the youngsters to rebel in order to save themselves allowed Zoe to continue to kick arse, when she rallied them to stand up and fight. It’s so refreshing to have a companion who’s intelligent enough to talk to The Doctor at somewhere near his level, and also to have a young woman on board who’s equally as brave as the male companions.

Overall though, the implication that pacifism is an inherently bad thing, and that violence is a necessary feature of a civilised society, makes me a little uneasy. The Doctor always believes in peace, but the show’s authorial voice doesn’t always agree.

I found the power struggle and in-fighting between The Dominators much more interesting – they’re both ruthless in the pursuit of their goals, but the smarter one realises that it’s counter productive to be evil for the sake of it. It’s fitting that they were literally hoist with their own petard.

So Season 6 starts with a solid if unspectacular episode, but looking back on past season openers, that’s surprisingly common so far – Tomb being the only exception. I know for a fact that this season gets much better, having seen a couple of them before, but it’s also the last of its kind. The last in black and white, the last ridiculously long run, the last where there’s episodes missing, and unfortunately the last of the Troughtons. Not looking forward to that particular change, so while I’ll be excited when I enter a whole new era, I’ll be making the most of Season 6 while I wait.

RATING: 7