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

Terminus

Oh. Bye then, Nyssa. I still don’t feel like I really know who she is, so I can’t say I’m devastated to see her go. She was never annoying or unlikeable, it’s just that she’s a bit of a blank canvas, designed to fill whatever function the writer needs for each particular plot. She’s like plain rice; perfectly nice to have, but not something you’d want on its own, and not as good as chips.

Sarah Sutton always did her best to inject some sort of life into the character, and she puts in a good final performance here. It was nice that they tried to give her more to do than normal, and the parting scene was as emotional as it could be for a character you don’t really care about. Quite baffling and distracting for her to spend most of the adventure running around in just her undies, though.

This serial had a really promising first part, and Turlough continued to impress. You can’t help but be on his side, even when he’s sabotaging the TARDIS and plotting to kill The Doctor. After a good supporting role in his debut, he’s the best thing about this one, along with the Black Guardian’s continued campaign of terror. You don’t know what either of them are going to do next, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing how it all concludes.

Unfortunately, this intriguing first part was then followed by three episodes of people wandering around and getting up to not very much. As soon as our heroes get separated into smaller groups, there’s no coherency and no emotional attachment; it feels like they’re all taking part in separate small stories, none of which are weighty enough to make you care. And how’s Turlough supposed to carry out his mission when he spends three episodes mostly hiding under the floor, while The Doctor’s busy swanning around with Liza Goddard?

The lack of coherency spreads to the storytelling, as a series of seemingly random events take place with little to no sense of how they’re supposed to be relevant. When Nyssa’s been rounded up and sent to a leper colony, why should I care about a tedious power struggle within the people who sent her there? Then all of a sudden a giant robot dog turns up, and nobody seems to bat an eyelid. I didn’t know whether to admire it for being ambitious and out there, or deride it for being incongruous nonsense. I’m leaning towards the latter.

Then all of a sudden the entire universe is at stake, but it doesn’t seem earned, or particularly convincing. The journey to get me to this point bored me so much that there was no tension – I just wanted them to solve it asap so that we could move on to the next story. It’s a shame. There’s a good Doctor Who story to be told about a corrupt leper colony at the centre of the universe, but this wasn’t it.

At least Nyssa was given a good reason to leave, and her departure won’t cause too many ripples. And it’s encouraging that the most successful bits were the glimpses at the relationship between the two remaining companions. Putting newbie Turlough in opposition to faithful Tegan is supposed to turn you off him, but actually she can be pretty brash and slightly annoying, so it makes you empathise with him more. I just hope he’s more central to the plot in the conclusion to the trilogy – it should be a story about The Black Guardian and Turlough, not just featuring them.

RATING: 5

Mawdryn Undead

Oh my God. That was incredible, for so many reasons. Right from the very first establishing shot of the school, I was utterly amazed. THAT’S MY OLD UNIVERSITY! Trent Park, Enfield, Middlesex. Absolutely unmistakably the place where I spent three of the happiest years I’ll ever spend. I became a Doctor Who fan while I was at a place where Doctor Who was filmed… and this is literally the first I’ve ever heard of it. I often go on about how difficult it is to avoid spoilers, but this was a very personal headfuck that I had no idea was coming.

I was fully aware, however, of who’d be returning in this serial, but that the lack of surprise didn’t matter in the slightest. God, I love the Brigadier so much. His greatest hits flashback put the biggest grin on my face, and the long list of names The Doctor reels off made me realise just how much affection I’ve got for the UNIT era. It was a product of a unique set of circumstances and it had its downsides, but you can’t help but feel a warm, nostalgic glow whenever it’s invoked.

Nostalgia aside, Nicholas Courtney is absolutely fantastic here, even after a seven year break from playing the character. The Brigadier looks equally at home alongside Davison’s Doctor as he did against any of his predecessors, and it was tremendous fun to see him transposed into the current set-up. All the same characteristics of loyalty and bravery are still there, with an added vulnerability thanks to the disconcerting hints of his suppressed memories. The humourous streak was still there too – I laughed both times I heard the line “I know all about regeneration, I’ve seen it twice before”.

Also in the mix is the return of the Black Guardian, which I initially greeted with an element of “meh”. Prior to this project, I’d always assumed that he was a huge figure in the mythology of Who, but in fact he gets his own tasty little trilogy based on nothing more than one prior appearance and some long since abandoned foreshadowing. Then he turns up here with a dead crow on his head, on the set of Bad Influence.

But actually, he was great. He instantly seems more powerful and impressive than he did at the conclusion of The Key To Time, and he’s unashamedly evil. It’s always that little bit scarier when the villain is specifically targetting The Doctor, rather than him turning up to a pre-existing situation by chance. His utter control of Turlough was terrifying, as indeed was Turlough himself. He’s fantastic – we’ve got a companion who’s completely bonkers, both in terms of their mannerisms and being actually mentally ill.

It’s a brilliant performance so far; one which takes care to leave the audience unsure of the degree to which he’s under the Black Guardian’s influence, and how much of it is down to him just being a bit of a shit anyway. If I hadn’t have known he was to become a companion, I would never have seen it coming, and it’s an incredibly interesting twist to the normal dynamic to have a companion that fundamentally can’t be trusted. Easily the most memorable debut for a long time.

And as well as all that going on, you’ve got a third antagonist in the eponymous Mawdryn, who’s part of a whole separate-but-parallel story. Him posing as The Doctor and successfully tricking his companions – including one of his longest serving friends – was deeply disturbing. Yet you can’t help feel sorry for him and his people in the end, despite what they put everyone through, because all they want is to find peace. These moral grey areas are what the show does best.

As is timey-wimey stuff, and this serial has some of the best timey-wimey stuff the show ever managed. It’s not just the two Brigadiers wandering around, or the fact that the same place is visited in two different time periods. It’s the way the story is told, whereby events that are taking place simultaneously unfold in parallel for the audience, thanks to The Brigadier slowly regaining his memory and filling in the story for The Doctor. It’s just so much fun.

There is an incredible amount of stuff packed in to this story. It’s an absolute whirlwind of immense satisfaction. I adored it.

RATING: 10

PS. I am aware that the new banner is shit. I’m guessing the lack of high-res publicity shots – or even half-decent screengrabs – of this particular combination of people means they won’t be together for very long…

Snakedance

Due to work commitments, I had to pretty much switch to watching every other day this week, which was annoying. I don’t feel like I’ve given this one a fair crack of the whip as a result – I’ve also been rather drained whenever I’ve found time to sit and watch, so the serial never had a chance to flow smoothly.

Despite this, it’s clearly pretty decent, although not quite what I expected as a sequel to Kinda, which featured some of the most surreal sequences in the show’s history. Instead, this one was firmly set in the real world, with Tegan’s surroundings being less nightmare and more Knightmare. They also added pseudo-scientific explanations for The Mara that had been left deliberately vague the first time round.

That was one of the things I felt worked well with Kinda, but actually, this is good too. Why not have your cake and eat it? The two stories back-to-back would almost feel like a modern two-parter: the first full of intrigue and mystery, the second clarifies everything before setting about tackling the problem. Every now and then in the modern series, the second part will be the lesser of the two due to the lack of mystery – that’s the case here too, but not by much.

It was an interesting choice to provide a sequel so close to the original – there’s only five stories in between. Happened all the time in the 60s, but not for ages. Considering the plan for the twentieth series to have returning enemies for every story, it might have been better to wait until later in the run. It’s also a stark contrast to the previous adventure bringing back a character who appeared once ten years ago. I guess you want a carefully-controlled ramping up towards The Five Doctors, which I’m hoping we’ll get. But then again, with Tegan having only just returned to the TARDIS, it did feel odd that she was separated from The Doctor again so quickly.

But anyway, these four episodes as a collective are pretty much your archetypal Classic Who formula: the first part is exploration, the second escalation, a slight slowing down to explain everything during part three, then action and drama in the fourth. The first two parts did their jobs perfectly adequately, if not spectacularly.

Then the third was a particularly bad example of the archetype. It was really noticeably slow – Tegan/The Mara was barely in it, when she’d been the best bit thus far. It’s understandable, given the amount of exposition that needed to be done, but if it had been more evenly spread, it could have been done without resorting to locking The Doctor up and explaining the plot to him. Then the story pauses for a Punch and Judy show. It’s odd.

But then the fourth part is particularly strong, with a return to some of Kinda‘s surrealism but with a more convincing-looking finale. Plus, of course, snake venom being used as a blatant substitute for LSD. As with the rest of the serial, Janet Fielding was great as both the goody and the baddy, and maybe even slightly better as the latter. It was a strong showing for the companions in general, with Nyssa continuing to be much more of a grown-up now Adric’s gone, and them both finally getting new costumes that make them look like actual people, rather than fancy dress caricatures.

The main thing I’ll remember from this episode, though, is obviously Martin Clunes. After the initial shock, his performance really stands out. He looks bloody ridiculous throughout, of course, but you can totally tell that he’s destined for great things. He bulks out the character to such an extent that you’re never sure how much of his portrayal is The Mara’s influence, and how much of it is Lon himself being a petulant little bastard.

As a bonus, I now know what that Six Faces of Delusion thing on the back page of DWM is in reference to. Slowly but surely, I’m filling in all the blanks.

RATING: 7

Arc of Infinity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RATING: 5

Time-Flight

This is one of those times that I really, really wish it was possible to go into serials completely spoiler-free. When I first became a Who fan, I never envisioned actually watching the whole lot, so I read up on the classic series with gay abandon. I know roughly when most of the companions come and go, and I’m often aware of which serials feature which returning monster or villain. I do a bit of reading up after finishing each serial (Wikipedia, The Doctor Who Reference Guide, Shannon Sullivan and TARDIS Data Core), and read the DVD booklets before each new one.

It’s fine most of the time, but I can’t help but feel that this serial relied somewhat on shock reveals, and I knew each and every one of them was coming. It’s a shame that I can only guess as to what my reactions would have been; I want to experience these old episodes like I do the new ones, not sit here analysing them like I do with things I’ve seen a dozen times.

But for what it’s worth…

Shock One: Adric’s cameo. Spoilt by: articles about Earthshock mentioning his future appearances. This was actually quite a nice moment, after the necessary but jarring pace at which our heroes got over his death. It was all part of the pleasingly baffling illusion-strewn world that the Concorde landed in, which worked really well. Okay, the sets were rubbish and the CSO was shockingly bad – especially considering the show was doing better stuff over a decade ago – but that added a surreal edge which genuinely made these sections more successful.

Shock Two: The big baddy was in fact The Master. Spoilt by: the DVD booklet, plus being enough of a fan of The Master to be able to recognise his stories by name, even if I haven’t seen them. I think in this instance I would have guessed – he looked like any other alien in his disguise, but he had the voice of Anthony Ainley. The reveal was part of a neat little two-and-two structure – like with The Ark all those years ago, everything was nicely wrapped up by the end of the second episode, and then blam.

The problem here is that the final two episodes are crap. So much talking, so little action. The Doctor and The Master hardly interacted – all that happened was that The Master disappeared off-screen for most of it (presumably chuckling throughout), while The Doctor explained to his companions and the audience what he imagined The Master was up to. They were just telling us what the problem was, and then telling us it had been fixed. This is not remotely compelling.

A real shame, as I did enjoy the set-up. The stuff at Heathrow at the start was a lot of fun, particularly the heart-warming mentions of UNIT, after the majority of Tom’s era did its best to pretend that Pertwee’s run never happened. The flight crew were good, as was the old professor. But you could tell that the budget let it down, and nothing quite gelled towards the end. Particularly…

Shock Three: Tegan’s “departure”. Spoilt by: the DVD coming boxed with the following story, with her sporting a completely different hairstyle on the cover. Plus the booklet. Plus everything I read about this story afterwards. Plus generally knowing that Tegan is quite a long-running companion. Let’s face it, this was never likely to affect me emotionally, but I can appreciate that it’s a stonkingly good idea for a season-ending cliffhanger. It’s just that after such an immensely disappointing couple of episodes, I doubt anyone would have cared.

RATING: 6

SEASON AVERAGE RATING: 7.86

  • Seasons/Series watched: 19 of 35
  • Stories watched: 122 of 263
  • Individual episodes watched: 579 of 826

Speaking of a complete lack of surprise, I remember reading ages ago that JN-T went continuity crazy to celebrate the twentieth anniversary, and brought back an old monster in absolutely every serial in Season 20. Bollocks to the casual viewers that this policy no doubt alienated – bring it on.

Earthshock

Adric is dead, and I find myself upset about that. This is a surprise, given that he’s a rubbish companion, played by a not terribly good actor, and that the show can only be improved by his absence. Plus, I’ve seen this once before – probably over a decade ago – and I knew exactly what was coming. But despite all of this, I feel moved and emotional. It’s partially due to the effect his death has on the other characters – is it still fridging if it’s a bloke that dies? – but mainly, I think, due to the quality of the execution.

The scale has to be huge in order to justify the death of a companion. I mean, this wasn’t quite as epic as the last time it happened, but still – he sacrificed his life to save the Earth, even if, somewhat aptly, the way he did it was largely accidental. But more than this, the direction gave it so much gravitas, and the frantic pace of the closing episode whipped the plot up to a point where desperate measures were required.

It was startling enough to see The Doctor and his companions using guns – in the console room, of all places – but you felt like they had no choice. Similarly, everyone who travels with The Doctor is imbued with qualities that will make them risk their lives to chase lost causes, but Adric seemed to be at a point of no return. This cause was so lost that he couldn’t solve everything, and nor could he be rescued or find a way to escape. It was so brilliantly done.

Adric didn’t have the best start to his final adventure; his temper tantrums a timely reminder of why he had to go. He was like a stroppy teenager in his bedroom, with The Doctor as his inattentive dad. On reflection, this has not been the greatest TARDIS dynamic, and I’m glad that it’s over – the aftermath of his death will give everything a good old shake up, and having one fewer companion will give the others more to do. Tegan rocked the boiler suit/trolley-dolly make-up combo here, and Nyssa – for possibly the first time – got her chance to shine when she assumed the position of power in The Doctor’s absence. More of this, please.

But anyway, after that initial wobble, Adric was actually pretty decent for the remainder of the story. It’s possibly his best performance ever, certainly of this season. When he and The Doctor pair off to go exploring/get captured, he’s useful, competent, not-annoying, and generally on his way to becoming more of an equal partner. Of course, this contributes to the tragedy of it all, but you also can’t ignore the quality of Waterhouse’s performance in the death scenes. “Now I’ll never know if I was right” is iconic, and the look he gives as he waits for the inevitable – the lost little boy – is just heart-breaking.

Oh yeah, also: The Cybermen are back! Man, that cliffhanger to episode one was so good. If I’d have been watching at the time, I would never have expected them in a million years. I mean, aside from the aforementioned previous viewing, the DVD cover does slightly give away the “shock” element from the title. But at least they didn’t go so far as to plonk on a sticker saying “the one where Adric dies”.

But anyway, I am glad to see them back. After such a long absence, it’s nicely nostalgic, and the recap of previous encounters was a great touch. Sadly, I am categorically not a fan of 80s Cybermen, from what I’ve seen. The design’s not terrible, and I can live with the fact that they’re nowhere near as creepy as they were in the ’60s. But I can’t get past all  the “excellent” nonsense. That’s an emotional response! You have no emotions!

It’s such a shame, because it almost all works, but there seems to be this crucial element that’s missing, and it happens to be what made them so appealing in the first place. If they want to capture The Doctor alive, it should be because they need him, not because “he should be made to suffer”. Revenge is not logical.

And it’s especially baffling that these inconsistencies exist, considering much of the best material comes from The Doctor and the Cyber Leader having these exact debates about logic vs emotion. Davison is brilliant in these scenes, and the Doctor’s dialogue is so sharp. That said, episode three contains a line that’s always stuck with me, as an example of either the best or worst Cybermen dialogue ever: “It is a word like any other. And so is ‘destruction’. Which is what we are going to do… to that planet.”

Oh man, I’ve written so much. Just quickly: the guest cast were great too, even though it was weird to have so many randomers in the TARDIS for two serials in a row. Beryl Reid was brilliant; an inspired choice to have an older woman playing a hardened space captain. I just loved this serial.

I’ve come to the conclusion that Doctor Who definitely peaked at some point in the mid-to-late ’70s. The consistency is long gone, and some utterly bizarre production decisions are sneaking in. But every now and then, an episode like this will come along and completely blow me away, which not only makes this project continually worthwhile, but also cements my belief that Doctor Who has an intrinsic, indefatigable brilliance that makes it very special indeed.

RATING: 10

Black Orchid

It’s taken me a stupidly long time to watch this tiny two-parter, thanks to an inconveniently-timed birthday party. In fact, for the first time ever, I watched this serial at a slower pace than the original broadcast. It was a little odd to have two historical-set stories in a row, but this is the first pure historical for absolutely ages, and as such it feels truly unique; the show hasn’t done this since it was a completely different show.

“Odd” is most definitely the byword, and it stands out in many ways beyond the size and the setting. It’s like a strange dream, or an extended charity skit. There’s a series of implausible coincidences that the Doctor doesn’t seem too bothered about; he just wants to piss about playing cricket and going to a fancy dress party.

For example, at no stage does anyone offer an explanation as to why one of the natives has the exact same face as a regular character, which is something that often bothers me with doppelganger stories. It’s good that there was more for Sarah Sutton to do, but crucially there wasn’t much more for Nyssa to do, or indeed either of the other two.

But hey, this was largely an opportunity for the characters to have a bit of a fun, and I enjoyed the detail that Adric had chosen to wear his special maths badge as part of his fancy dress outfit. The whimsy of the first part gave way to a more pacey and sinister second half, and this was much more my cup of tea. It didn’t really work as a whodunnit, considering it’s pretty likely to be the hugely disfigured bloke that the woman who’s a proven liar keeps locked up, but it still managed to be tense and exciting.

Davison was great, as per what can now be described as “usual”, both in the pissing about stages and when The Doctor was exasperatedly trying to prove his innocence. There have been so many predicaments in the past where an obvious solution would be to just show people the TARDIS as proof of The Doctor’s claims, so it was nice to actually see it used for once.

There was a tiiiiny bit of casual racism in the second part, which, whilst appropriate to the setting and totally unintentional on the part of the production, seemed out of place for something made in the early 80s. Perhaps that was another attempt to hark back to the 60s era. A minor blip in an otherwise fun and unusual little sojourn into silliness, before the serious business of bringing back a classic enemy and killing off a companion. I’m looking forward to this.

RATING: 8

The Visitation

The problem with starting a serial with scenes starring Fred Elliott, is that you expect Fred Elliott to be in it throughout. Therefore, The Visitation was fighting a losing battle from the second the TARDIS crew turned up at the house and he wasn’t there. I can’t help but imagine the alternate universe where Fred Elliott is in place of Richard Mace.

But that’s not to say that this universe’s version is without its merits, chief amongst them being the aforementioned thespian. Such a warm and likeable performance that it’s a joy every time he encounters something mind-boggling, comes to terms with it and uses it to grow. A top-notch guest character.

Both the Terileptil and the Android were pretty decent, although neither of them seemed particularly original – it could quite easily have been a Sontaran story and little would have needed to change. I wasn’t sure about the design at first, but the animatronics worked well, and it was a joy to see the late great Peter Wragg’s name in the credits.

One thing you could always rely on Peter Wragg for was scenes of utter destruction, and the closing scenes set in London and shot on film looked amazing. The Doctor being responsible for the Great Fire of London is an obvious yet fundamentally Who-y idea, and it also provided a particularly grisly death for the aliens; bubbling away as they burnt to death.

The last episode made up somewhat for a very slow start. There wasn’t much plot development beyond one or more of our heroes being captured, escaping, then being captured again somewhere else. It got a bit repetitive after a while, and it was a frustrating wait for a real showdown between The Doctor and the baddies.

The exception to the above formula is Nyssa, who instead gets to spend the vast majority of the story keeping herself busy yet out of the way in the TARDIS. It’s great that her mission is successful and for her to have such a hand in saving the day, but honestly, I feel like I barely know her, other than that she’s clever and that she shares The Doctor’s compassion.

Overall I don’t think I like having this many companions – the necessity to share out the screen time is preventing much character development, and the only way they are changing is in a negative way. Tegan has to be increasingly whiny and petulant in order to create conflict, and Adric has to be increasingly thick to advance the plot. He once again blabs all The Doctor’s secrets to the baddy, and accidentally leads people straight to the TARDIS. Six episodes to go until he gets what’s coming to him.

And they killed the Sonic Screwdriver! There was no real need – he wasn’t using it all that much recently anyway – but I get the reasons why. I’m far more affected by the episode selection menu on the DVD using screenshots of the title cards from the Bernard Lodge days, rather than the current Sid Sutton titles. Idiots.

RATING: 7

Kinda

Ah, finally. I’ve spent years wondering whether it’s pronounced “kinda”, as in “kind of”, or “Kinder”, as in the surprising chocolate egg. It’s the latter, and I can confirm that Kinda is bueno.

Tegan’s nightmare was just superbly realised on every level; terrific directing, early Quantel wizardry, and a brilliant performance by Janet Fielding, combining to produce sequences that are truly dream-like. I had no idea what the hell I was watching at times, but I enjoyed it all because it was done so well. There was a surreal edge to the whole serial, and you’re never quite sure what’s real and what’s not.

I particularly liked that there’s no real, scientific explanation for any of it. Normally, I like everything to be rationalised, but here I was more than happy to accept that the Kinda are magic, giant wind-chimes will send you to sleep, and that while you’re dreaming, you can accidentally unleash a mind-controlling snake. Everything just seemed to fit. I’d never even heard of The Mara as a recurring villain until I started ordering the DVDs, and I’m already looking forward to the sequel.

There was a fantastic guest cast too. Mary Morris has a face that’s endlessly fascinating, and Lee Cornes did a great job of being Lee-Cornes-but-with-a-costume-on. But the humans stole the show, with their strange mix of nineteenth century colonialism and actual insanity. Todd could have been a companion, or even a romantic interest for a slightly older Doctor. But Hindle was the absolute best. He was all over the shop, but fascinating as he slid further into insanity, to the point where he forgot all about blowing everyone up in favour of hiding in a cardboard box in the pretend city he’d built.

Sadly, the actual companions suffered a bit, and once again there was a sense that there wasn’t enough for them to do. After Adric’s performance last time, I was completely unsurprised when he appeared to side with the baddy again, and had little faith that it would turn out to be a double bluff. Tegan got all that amazing material at the start, then promptly slept through Part Three.

But that was nothing compared to Nyssa, who had a good long rest for the whole serial. It was like the old days when the regulars would miss episodes just so the actors could take their annual leave. Or as if she was K-9 in a story with a lot of tricky location filming. On the plus side, Peter Davison no longer feels like “the new Doctor”; he’s just The Doctor now. Only took three stories, which is even more impressive when you consider the guy he replaced.

It’s a little bit of a shame about the giant snake puppet at the end. Aside from the aesthetics, it would have worked better had it not grown big enough to see over the mirrors that were supposedly trapping it, considering you already have to ignore the big gap in the circle for the camera to move in and out. This aside, it was a serial that alternated between the low-key and the fantastically ambitious with great aplomb, and it’s the Fifth Doctor’s first true classic.

RATING: 9