Shada (webcast)

I had a bit of a mishap with this. After watching all of Real Time in one go, I was under the impression that this would be of a similar length, so I intended to do the same again. I therefore waited until an evening when I had enough time, only to discover that each part is in fact roughly the length of an average classic episode, so I had no choice but to treat it as an old six-parter. Consequently, there’s now been a fortnight between updates, and this project has needlessly stuttered for the first time.

As it turns out, I don’t really feel I have much to say now I’m back, as obviously I was already familiar with this story, but I must say that the animation was a huge improvement on the last effort. This was made just as web video was really taking off, and it’s probably only a couple of years ahead of its time. It was almost passable as full animation – nobody’s mouths moved and everyone glided around, but it was dynamic, busy and well directed within its limitations.

Lovely to hear Lalla Ward again, as an older and slightly wearier Romana. The presence of John Leeson meant that K-9 is a lot better here than he is in the abandoned TV version. Andrew Sachs made a great Skagra, but I don’t think any of the other guest cast matched the TV equivalent. Chronotis was nowhere near as loveable, and Wilkin really didn’t work as anything other than a posh old fruit.

I enjoyed Paul McGann, and as always I want there to be more McGann stuff to watch, but he’s at a little bit of a disadvantage on this occasion. For the sections that match what was filmed, his lines do little for me but conjure the memory of Tom Baker performing them. Tom and Douglas is a very special mix that’s hard to match.

Nevertheless, the continuity-mashing intro did a good job of establishing why McGann was taking part, and it was a very worthwhile stab at the story. The most interesting parts were obviously the bits that weren’t filmed back in the day, and it was great to finally experience any scenes that take place in somewhere other than the Professor’s room/TARDIS or the Think Tank. Interesting to note that a lot of the “location” sequences were dropped, but understandable considering how action-orientated they were. Well, if high-speed bicycle chases can be considered action-packed.

There were a few bits of the plot that didn’t seem to make as much sense this time around. I gave it the benefit of the doubt last time, because the thing was only half-finished, but even now I’m not quite clear on how exactly the Professor came back to life. Also, how come Skagra needed to sphere him on Shada when he’d already sphered him earlier? Ah well, Douglas’s plots don’t necessarily have to hold water; speaking of whom, I appreciated the little nods such as the Ford Prefect and the Nutrimat machine.

It was a fun thing to watch, although I am a bit fatigued by all this slightly crude animation. It feels like it did back in the day whenever I went through a telesnap-heavy patch. I must admit that the impetus to press on regardless has lessened now that I’m through all the proper episodes, but I’m sure it’ll come back as soon as Eccleston shows up. We’ll be back on track soon.

RATING: 7

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 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

Warriors’ Gate

Two very long-serving companions have just left, and I’m not sure how I feel about it. Although, I definitely seem to care about their departures more than JNT and/or CHB did. That goodbye between Romana and The Doctor was far too hasty considering all they’ve been through, and poor old K-9 didn’t even get to speak, being unceremoniously carried from actual pillar to actual post.

I was absolutely fuming when K-9 was put out of action once again during Part One, knowing that this was his last serial as a regular. Would everyone please stop killing K-9? For the amount of screen time he’s had this season, John Leeson needn’t have bothered coming back. It’s a disgraceful way to treat a character that was so brilliant at his peak, even though the last time he hit those heights was during The Key To Time.

But that little coda with them both happily walking off into a monochrome sunset did a lot to smooth things over, and to provide an emotionally satisfying conclusion to their travels. I love that they’ve immediately got work to do, and that it’s such noble work. And leaving the TARDIS at this point makes sense for both characters – Romana so that she can escape Gallifrey, and it being the only place K-9 can function properly. Both of which easily beat marrying some bloke you’ve only just met.

I’m sad to see them both go, but I can see that it’s probably for the best. This season makes it perfectly clear that the current team are not fans of K-9, so there’s no point him being there if he’s going to get blown up at the start of each serial. At least there are further guest and spin-off appearances to enjoy, where hopefully he’ll be back to his best. With Romana, it’s a shame to lose the chemistry between Ward and Baker, but he’s leaving soon anyway, and I like that all the cast changes are being staggered over the course of a season. It’s becoming a whole new show, but not rushing it.

Meanwhile, this was a cracking end to this strange little trilogy, and one of the most imaginative stories in a long time. Admittedly, I had no real idea what was going on half of the time; I thought at one point that The Doctor had gone off to shag a sexy lion lady. But it was pleasantly baffling rather than just confusing, and like The Deadly Assassin before it and Heaven Sent afterwards, it all makes perfect sense in retrospect when you know how it ends.

I’m always a fan of moral ambiguity, so I particularly liked that we were kept guessing as to the motives of both factions of guest stars. The ship’s captain was clearly a prick throughout, but you ended up sympathising with some of his crew, despite them being slave traders. The two engineers were a great double act, reminiscent of Parker and Brett from Alien.

The Tharils, who I’ve now decided to rename The Timey-Lioneys, were even better in terms of grey areas. They’re slaves, and that’s obviously bad, but they were absolute shits beforehand. The moment of violence when a past Timey-Lioney hits a serving girl is genuinely shocking, and The Doctor’s furious reaction captivating. The highlight of a consistently brave and bold story.

RATING: 9

PS. Just realised I didn’t mention Adric once. Oh well, being totally non-noteworthy is a clear improvement.

State of Decay

The E-Space adventure continues with a story that shares a hell of a lot of similarities with the last one. Three rulers preside over a populace that descended from survivors of a crashed ship. There’s a band of rebels that fight alongside The Doctor, and nothing ever gets done due to chronic procrastination. Is this a theme, or bad script editing?

The similarities were a bit of a distraction in the end, along with the fact that The Doctor and Romana spent ages figuring out that the baddies were vampires, despite it being obvious just from looking at them. They’re pretty tame vampires too – all creepy fingers and no fangs. The Doctor got bitten by a bat really early on and suffered no effects whatsoever.

I rarely get along with stories that are based on fantasy and mythology, and although this one was decent enough in itself, it does feel out of place amongst the heavy science of the season so far. The bits that focused on exploring the old spaceship, and the rebels rediscovering technology, were the most enjoyable. They had teletext and everything!

Adric was a little better here, which is encouraging. It was interesting to see his duplicitous side; I enjoyed him tricking K-9 into letting him out of the TARDIS, just because that’s a far better use of his intelligence than just using it show off. But he has the air of a bastard about him, to the extent that I didn’t bat an eyelid when he declared he’d sacrifice Romana in order to become a vampire. When it was revealed that it was mere subterfuge, it was kind of undermined by how pathetic and useless his rescue attempt was.

I’ve a feeling that this is a story I’ll struggle to remember clearly, despite a few very good moments. I really liked The Doctor being so nice to Romana when she remembered that the crucial information was on the TARDIS – you know that the Fourth Doctor is just as fond of his companions as any other Doctor, but he’s rarely so open about it.

That reminds me – was this the episode that started the cliche about everything from Gallifrey being called “The X of Rassilon”? It certainly seems to be an early sign of the preoccupation with mythology that I’m aware is said to be a particular trait of JNT. I’m starting to see the name Ian Levine mentioned a lot when I do my reading up after each story, so I assume he’s got a hand in it.

One last thing: the vampire that was dressed like a king really looks like Mark Heap. I think specifically Mark Heap as Ming The Merciless.

RATING: 7

Full Circle

Ah, The E-Space Trilogy. It’s one of those little landmarks I’ve always been aware of, simply because three serials in the middle of a season having its own umbrella name is an unusual and noteworthy thing. Before watching, I vaguely knew what it was all about, but none of the specifics of how it all unfolds. I know that by the end of this boxset, Romana and K-9 will have gone, with Adric taking their place, but I didn’t know when exactly these changes would take place, having deliberately tried to avoid lists of first/last appearances.

This serial plants the seeds for Romana’s departure well, especially in reminding us that she was only supposed to be there to help with The Key To Time, and the nice continuity nods to the last time The Doctor was on Gallifrey. I know that the JNT era is notorious for its obsession with the show’s past, but neat little references like this are very welcome. I’m guessing/hoping that Romana doesn’t end up going back to Gallifrey, and will continue adventuring in some way.

Then as soon as we saw a bunch of people in pastel-coloured pyjamas, I figured out that we were on Adric’s home planet. It’s a nice idea to have the companions gradually overlapping, especially as so many things are in the process of changing. I’ve seen bits of Adric before, and know how he’s viewed by most fans, but I’m trying my best to approach his presence with fresh eyes and an open mind. His background is interesting; neither belonging with the Elite or hardcore enough for the Outlers… but unfortunately, he just comes across as a bit of a prick.

His smugness when he proclaimed that his badge was for mathematical excellence was excruciating, and he can’t seem to do anything right – he accidentally lures the Decider to his death, then he leads the Outlers right to the TARDIS, before eventually failing to save his brother. If the intention was to provide an identification figure for nerdy teenage boys everywhere, the lesson is that they probably deserve to have their lunch money stolen. It’s apt that he ends up as a stowaway, as it’s not clear why The Doctor would want him.

Which is a shame, as the story itself is a very good one. The unfolding mystery behind the weird society is consistently interesting, whilst also making a great deal of sense, which wasn’t always the case during the Williams years. I liked the notion that the whole thing was about saving face because they’ve forgotten how to pilot the ship, but the eventual reveal that them and the Marshmen are different evolutionary stages of the same species – whilst being a little bit The Mutants – is thoroughly satisfying.

The Marshmen themselves are decent enough, if unspectacular, and Lalla was very good when Romana was possessed – as with Tom so far this season, it’s nice to see her given new and different things to do before she leaves. Paddy Kingsland’s music was particularly lovely, and K-9 even got his own little leitmotif, before some fucker killed him. Seriously, can everyone please stop killing K-9?

I also enjoyed the two lads enjoying a swim together in just their see-through pants. Damn JNT and his gay agenda.

RATING: 8

Meglos

You know the drill by now. I come to an episode that’s apparently one of the worst of all time, and I completely fail to see why. I guess it’s all a bit lightweight, and it’s not exactly original – we’ve seen doppelgangers of The Doctor before, and the science vs religion debate, and megalomaniacs with dopey mercenaries. But it’s by no means bad television, or bad Doctor Who.

The principal reason for this is Tom Baker. The defining characteristic of his final season so far seems to be putting him in make-up and getting him to give a different take on the character. It’s just great to see him get the opportunity to try something new, and it’s no mean feat after such a long time. Unsurprisingly, he successfully assumes the role of villain with great ease.

It’s not so convincing with Jacqueline Hill – and what a surprise it was to see her face on the DVD cover! – simply because she seems far too nice to be a baddy. All I could see was Barbara, specifically Barbara as Yetaxa in The Aztecs. But this is not her fault, and it was absolutely lovely to see her again, even though I’d have much rather seen what Barbara and Ian were up to nearly 20 years on.

The serial had a very odd structure – our heroes are barely in Part 1 at all, and then they get stuck in a timeloop. It’s common to see a quick glimpse of the guest characters before the regulars get involved, but this one kept going, and then it continued to cut back and forth between them and the TARDIS to the point where it felt like two parallel stories running side by side.

But that’s absolutely fine when both sets of characters includes Tom Baker, and the fact that The Doctor and Romana arrive to the story late means there’s no need for the pace to slack in the middle, aside from Romana leading the mercenaries on a wild goose chase around the planet. Otherwise, the story of The Doctor and Meglos follows the same pattern as The Doctor and Salamander – narrowly avoiding each other for ages while everyone gets them mixed up, while the solitary coming together is saved til right at the end.

It’s nowhere near as good as that doppelganger story, obviously, but it’s way better than the first one, and honestly, it’s not amazing but it’s all pretty decent. My only major quibble is that K-9 is once again barely in it, as I know that he’s about to be written out before too long. The Doctor has been summoned to Gallifrey (I’m enjoying these loose links from story to story, it’s like the black and white era), and I’m faced with a box-set that marks the start of an extremely turbulent time for my current-Doctor-and-companion(s) banner rotation, and lists of recurring characters…

RATING: 8

The Leisure Hive

This is most definitely the 80s, alright. It seems to be a theme, intentional or otherwise, that huge changes have to take place for the first season in a new decade. The 70s saw the move to colour and a whole new format, and it even carried on in the new series when Smith and Moffat replaced Tennant and RTD in 2010. Here, a new producer continues with the old cast, but manages to change pretty much everything about the aesthetics in one fell swoop.

I was immediately sold on the new theme tune, which surprised me – I thought it would take some getting used to as it’s the first ever wholesale change. But I didn’t realise the old one needed changing until the new one came around. It’s a great interpretation by Peter Howell; I’m particularly fond of the big boom at the end of the credits, and of course the glorious return of the middle eight on a regular basis. One of my cats is not so keen – she’s been startled by the opening scream every time I’ve pressed play for the last four nights.

The title sequence is perhaps not as good as the one it replaced, and certainly not as iconic, but again, maybe the old one was a little tired in retrospect – it’s been around for even longer than Tom has. I’m not so keen on the new logo. While the others so far have been pretty timeless to various degrees, this one feels very much rooted in the style of the early 80s. I like the title font, though, so I’m pretty much happy.

I was very pleased to note that the Radiophonic Workshop are on incidental music duties – I love their sound from this era, as it instantly makes me think of the Hitch-hikers TV series. Another change is in the direction, with lots of noticeably long, developing shots, both live action and special effects. It’s a way of developing the story in a visual way, as well as adding tension whilst also allowing the dialogue to breathe. The weird Quantel transition from Brighton to Argolis via the title sequence was a stupid idea, but hey, these failed experiments are the price you pay whenever Doctor Who gets hold of new technology and strives for creative ways to use it.

The best change of all is more of a regression – K-9 has his proper voice back. Hooray! But he’s then immediately blown up. Boo! It’s the start of a pretty trippy story that lurches between intriguing and slightly dull in roughly equal measure. I love all the early stuff with the Recreation Generator as an entertainment device gone wrong, but it becomes less interesting the more it’s experimented with. The Doctor being aged into an old man is a fantastic cliffhanger, but an episode and a half of him just doing everything he normally does whilst walking more slowly isn’t a great pay off.

But I did like the Foamasi, and I was completely fooled into thinking they’d be the baddies in a base-under-siege story that never unfolded. Maybe that would have been more interesting overall, but I liked that The Doctor and Romana could identify them as being friendly, and the unmasking of the true villains was nicely done. When the ambassador gained the voice manipulator, he sounded pleasingly camp, especially when bursting into the final scene. “Did someone say… Foamasi?”

The guest cast was a strong one, with Adrienne Corri on fine form as Mena. David Haig was great throughout, but especially after revealing himself as being a warmongering shit. However, even in that make-up, and looking so much younger than anything else I’ve seen him in, I was longing for him to say “your cock up, my arse”. Oh, and the scientist bloke was the narrator from the first series of Look Around You! I recognised his voice immediately – his first line is narrating an experiment being carried out.

All of the aesthetic changes, as well as The Doctor’s conspicuous disdain for the randomiser as he deliberately gets rid of it, seem to be an emphatic statement of the intent to shake off the various vestiges of the Williams era – although I can’t tell whether The Doctor also dismissing the Black Guardian as a threat is further evidence of this, or foreshadowing for a forthcoming return (no spoilers pls). Either way, while this story is in itself a little all over the place, I come away from it with a warm feeling of hope for the show’s immediate future. It’s another bold new direction, and I’m very much on board.

RATING: 8

Shada (VHS)

Thish week, errr, I would like to nominate, errrr, Shada. Yes, it’s quite a landmark moment, as I deviate from the path of canon for the first time. The plan is to view everything ever made in order of its original broadcast/release – and I’ll explain what’s included and what’s not when the classic series comes to an end – but I’m making an exception for this. Partly because I’ll be watching the animated version too later on, and partly because it’s nice to see it in the context of what was supposed to have preceded and followed it.

There are a few aspects of the video production that mark it out as being inconsistent with the era, most notably the music, which is unmistakably using early 90s technology, and reminiscent of a Mr Bean score. We’re thrown straight into the linking material in part one, before the titles, featuring an aged Tom Baker/Fourth Doctor talking about how he’s always felt at home in museums. Is this the first appearance of The Curator from Day of the Doctor?

I’m not sure if this is supposed to be The Doctor or Tom – he talks about the production and the cast during the intro, but uses “I” and “me” throughout his descriptions of the missing scenes. It’s probably best not to think about it too much. I’m not sure about the decision for these links to be written in the past tense, as it takes you out of the story at times. Not that there’s any truly satisfying way to cover the gaps without it being at least a little jarring.

But as for the story itself, it’s a cracker. I instantly loved Professor Chronotis – I always love the dynamic between The Doctor and a hitherto unseen mate, and it’s a great performance of a doddery old sweetheart. The scenes of his death were quite touching, although slightly hampered by K-9 sounding smug and sarcastic when relaying information about his condition. This version of the character lacks any emotional range, which is a limitation of the choices made by Brierley. I don’t mean to bang on about it, but I think this portrayal makes for the most badly acted companion of all time. Good riddance.

But, hurrah, the professor is not dead after all! Not quite clear on how that happened, and I’m not sure whether that’s the fault of the script or the fact that the completed material became less and less frequent as time went on. Regardless, the plot is as meandering and sketchy as you’d expect from Douglas Adams, but it’s more than made up for by some genuinely funny dialogue and really strong characters.

Skarag was a great villain, more so than the Krargs, who once more felt like they were only there to tick a box marked “contains monster”. Chronotis’s loveability survived the revelation that he was in fact a dangerous criminal in hiding, but my highlight was Chris, or Bristol. He’s a little bit Arthur Dent – a fish out of water, mildly irritated by the new, alien things he’s encountering, but taking it all in his stride. He’d have made a great new companion – it seems like ages since we’ve had a human from “our” time on the TARDIS, let alone a male one.

The location filming in Cambridge looks great. I’ll be seeing that punting scene again fairly soon. I’d always wondered what was originally supposed to happen instead of The Doctor being plucked out of the time stream – I always assumed he was about to fall backwards into the water, so I’m a little bit disappointed that he didn’t.

In the end, it was indeed like watching an old reconstruction – one of those where there’s tantalising glimpses of surviving clips, but not always the bits you really want to see. It’s a shame that so many of the cliffhangers were missing, as old Tom relaying them in a couple of sentences could never be as dramatic. Nevertheless, it’s clear that this would have been a great story, maybe even challenging Douglas’s other story as the highlight of the season.

Not sure how to approach the marking on this one – do I judge it on the merits of the final product, or on the basis of how the source material was intended to be seen? After all, I never used to deduct marks for missing episodes because of how recons aren’t as good as actual footage. But really, by any criteria, this was a highly enjoyable viewing experience – a fascinating taste of what could have been, yet still entertaining in its own right.

RATING: 9

The Horns of Nimon

Once again, I went into this serial knowing that it’s considered to be a particularly bad one, and on this occasion I have to say… yeah, fair enough. I don’t tend to be a fan of stories that are heavily based on myths and legends – it often feels like there’s an extra layer that I’m missing out on due to my lack of familiarity with the source material, but that’s okay if the story is entertaining in itself. This one isn’t.

I struggled to care about any of these characters – all the Skonnans are terrible people who deserve to have their planet destroyed, and the sacrificial Anethans are just a bunch of fannies, despite having a Blue Peter presenter amongst their ranks. Weakling scum indeed. Seth’s inevitable journey to mythical hero was never terribly convincing – even in the end, he only saved the day by default because he happened to be the one holding the weapon.

I’m not quite sure what to make of Soldeed, who gave the most eccentric performance we’ve had for a long time, possibly since Professor Zaroff. I don’t normally object to a spot of ham, but this was over the top to the point where it stopped being entertaining and became a distraction. Tom was dangerously close to pantomime at times too – there’s a fine line with The Doctor, but when he sarcastically hugged K-9 during Part One’s cliffhanger, it felt like he was taking the piss out of the show, which kind of makes it difficult to take seriously as a piece of drama.

Romana gets some good moments, and she’s actually more Doctorish than The Doctor at times – standing up to the co-pilot and to Soldeed, fixing the Skonnan ship, and her scenes on the other Nimon-fucked planet in the last episode. K-9 is barely in it, spending most of his time in bits on a table. This is the last serial to feature the rubbish version of his voice, thankfully, and I hope that John Leeson’s return brings him back to the centre of stories for his last hurrah – he’s felt like an afterthought for most of this season, when indeed he featured at all.

It’s about time I mentioned the eponymous Nimon, who were a failure on pretty much every level, despite being voiced by Hordriss from Knightmare. They’re the kind of crap monster that the general public assume were typical in old Who but actually weren’t – clearly just a bloke in a suit (and a badly made suit at that), with a big inanimate head that required the poor actors to bend over whenever they had to look at any props. They didn’t feel like a threat, and as such any scenes involving them tended to be dull.

There’s definitely some good stuff in there, generally around the middle. The labyrinth maze works well, and I was particularly impressed that they chose to do much of the rejigging of the sets “live” in continuous shots, rather than cutting away all the time. But it ended with an overlong and badly paced final episode, and then the plot resolved itself with a giant nuclear explosion… followed by a dialogue scene telling us what happened next. Brilliant. They neglected to point how exactly everyone got safely out of range of this nuclear explosion during the ten seconds between The Doctor warning them and the entire complex blowing up.

Amusing to read afterwards that Graham Williams deliberately put this script in the fifth slot, as he knew it was a bit shit, but thought that it would soon be forgotten about in the wake of the awesome finale: Shada. Whoops. As it is, this puts a hugely anti-climactic lid on a season that was much troubled and wildly inconsistent, but still brilliant entertainment up until now.

RATING: 6

SEASON AVERAGE RATING: 7.8

  • Seasons/Series watched: 17 of 35
  • Stories watched: 108 of 263
  • Individual episodes watched: 525 of 826

This brings the 1970s to a close, and the times they are a-changing. It’s goodbye to Graham Williams, and looking back on his three seasons as a whole, you can’t deny that his tenure represented an overall step down in quality compared to his predecessors Letts and Hinchcliffe. But then, he fought against all manner of production problems that were beyond his control, so I don’t think it reflects too badly on the man himself.

This is also the end of Douglas Adams’s brief run as script-editor, and I find myself slightly disappointed that it didn’t quite live up to my perhaps unreasonable expectations. I think it goes to show that being a good script editor requires a subtly different set of skills to a good writer, and Douglas was definitely more effective as the master of his own universe with Hitchhikers, away from the constraints of an established series and structure.

But before I dive head-first into the JNT era, an exciting temporal diversion. For the very first time, my rewatch of everything Doctor Who puts the emphasis on the “everything”, as I reach the first item on my list that isn’t a regular episode. I’ll be having a look at what we could have won by watching the 1992 edition of Shada. Not sure what to expect, other than possibly a weird flashback to the telesnap reconstruction days, but I’ll let you know in six days’ time…