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.


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.



  • 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…

Nightmare of Eden

The drugs trade is a strange topic for Doctor Who to cover. It’s not like they haven’t used serious real life sources before, but with this being a family show, I was worried it was going to turn into some sort of mawkish, overtly moral message. Instead, it was merely one of a number of diverse elements in a complex and engrossing story. The drug itself looks like tremendous fun, and the scenes of characters under the influence were very funny, not least because the navigation officer looked exactly like Limmy.

The serial has a strange, sprawling structure, with The Doctor jumping back and forth from one problem to another, getting distracted before he can finish fixing them. His priorities were constantly changing between separating the ships, the drug smuggling and the projector, all while evading both Mandrels and being arrested by Don Brennan. As such there’s a frantic pace and a suitable level of tension throughout.

As for the Mandrels, I was expecting the worst when even the DVD booklet pointed out that they were shit. I do wish they didn’t editorialise like that, as I’m sure it affects my perception of the episodes. I thought they were absolutely fine – for the most part, they were only seen it glimpses, which masked the faint whiff of cheapness. Even towards the end when we saw them in their full glory, they didn’t strike me as being bad enough to classify amongst the worst ever. I was far more distracted by the Doctor being attacked by a giant fanny plant at one point.

But the monsters were pretty much just there to tick a box, as the main appeal of the story comes from the pleasing whodunnit aspect in trying to work out who’s a complete shit and who isn’t. I was leaning towards Della having been behind the whole thing, and everyone else merely being her pawns, particularly when The Doctor and Romana so emphatically dismissed any notion of her being involved, for no discernible reason. In the end, you could tell Tryst was a baddy just from his accent and glasses, but Dymond had me fooled.

Other notes: I enjoyed the stuff with the crystals and the projector – it was a cross between the Miniscope from Carnival of Monsters and the Red Dwarf episode Timeslides. K-9’s new voice was a little less annoying than last time, but it’s still jarring to hear anything other than John Leeson. Romana II is a lot more screamy than her predecessor, although she still retains her intelligence and practical skills. It’s a shame that her and The Doctor have been separated so frequently in the last couple of stories, as I’m slightly losing the sense of friendship and flirtiness established in Paris.

I’m starting to become vaguely aware that I’m hurtling towards the end of an era. This season has whizzed by, and the next serial sees us step foot into the 80s – the decade with more Doctors than producers. I feel like a little shake up is welcome at this stage, if for no other reason that it’s hard to remember what the show was like without Tom Baker. But then again, I don’t want his reign to ever end, because it will move me ever closer to the point where I’ve run out of old Doctor Who to watch, and that makes me sad.


The Creature From the Pit

Oh dear, K-9’s new voice is completely shit. What on Earth was that? I appreciate the decision to not merely mimic John Leeson’s version, but he now has an arch, detached tone, which makes him come across as incredibly smug and unlikeable. How can you make K-9 unlikeable? I didn’t really mind when we were told he’d been killed by the wolfweeds. Combined with this story’s tendency to have people pick him up and plonk him down willy-nilly, the effect is to reduce K-9 to a talking prop, rather than the fully-fledged character he’s grown to become, up to now.

Anyway, this serial concerns the adventures of a giant scrotum, complete with articulated yet flaccid, wrinkly old penis. The looks are a bit of a shame, as the writing is very good – The Doctor realising that the creature isn’t necessarily evil, and his attempts to communicate with it. There’s also a good sense of humour spread throughout, with Geoffrey Bayldon as Organon the highlight.

It’s a light tale, but not necessarily a fluffy one. There’s a dark, violent edge to it, with quite a high body count. The comic scenes, such as those involving the bandits, or The Doctor trying to talk down the creature’s proboscis, all serve to advance the plot and ramp up the drama. I’ve seen Douglas Adams’s influence criticised for turning the show into a comedy, but for me, the structure is the same as it’s always been, it’s just that it’s not afraid to be funny while it’s doing it, not dissimilar to the lighter adventures under RTD and Moffat.

I quite like having a smaller scale to the adventure every now and then. The universe doesn’t have to be at stake every week, and it suits The Doctor’s character to take an equal interest in problems that are tiny in the grand scheme of things. There’s plenty to enjoy along the way, not least the machinations of Lady Adrasta falling apart around her, and the excellent way Romana escapes from the bandits by just convincing them that she’s in charge.

The one high-stakes bit in this serial – the planet being threatened with obliteration right at the end – seemed a little tacked on, and the scale of the action was perhaps beyond the technical capabilities of the team. It felt like the story I’d been watching finished with more than half an episode still to go, and the rest was an overlong post-script.

Overall though, an enjoyable and entertaining meander through a curious and well fleshed-out world… but man, K-9’s new voice is shit. I can’t stop thinking about how shit it is.


City of Death

There’s a problem that I encounter every so often on this blog. Sometimes a serial is so good that it commands my complete, undivided attention for its entire running time, because there is barely anything that’s even remotely sub-par enough to break my concentration. This is a very good thing as a viewer – I’m completely lost in the story, as I often am when the current series it at its best – but annoying when I realise that I’ve completely failed to make any meaningful notes.

City of Death very much feels closer to modern Who than it does to An Unearthly Child, with time travel trickery at the centre of the drama, a relentless pace and energy throughout, and a consistent streak of humour that lifts every single scene. The Doctor and Romana are having a ball, as are the cast and crew. It’s brilliant, and it’s pure Douglas.

On the subject of The Doctor and Romana – they’re clearly shagging at this point. I know Tom and Lalla probably were, but I mean the characters. This is a dirty weekend. And I’m fine with that. They’re the same species and they’re equals; he doesn’t have a duty of care towards her like he does with most companions. Let them get on with it, they’re allowed.

The location filming in Paris really makes this serial stand out as being special, and I also loved the little excursion into Renaissance Italy. Julian Glover is brilliant as the Count/Captain/Scaroth, his performance aiding the air of mystery around him as The Doctor and the audience slowly work out what he’s up to. The stolen/duplicate Mona Lisa(s) are a great hook, and it all adds up to a unique and enjoyable atmosphere.

Duggan was also great, and I liked the little professor chap too, even though I couldn’t figure out where the hell his accent was supposed to be from. He sounded like Manuel from Fawlty Towers, which is apt considering who makes a cameo appearance in the last episode. That scene is, of course, brilliant.

The only downside was, once again, the lack of K-9. I worry about that little guy – his voice actor has gone, and now he’s been completely sidelined for two serials in a row. I know the behind-the-scenes reasons for these absences, but there wasn’t even a TARDIS bookend for him here. I hope he’s back properly for the rest of the season, as it feels like they’re discarding one of their greatest assets, and letting his tenure fizzle out.

But still, this serial isn’t losing any marks for that. Everything about it worked, so you can’t complain about what’s not there. A simply perfect set of episodes.


Destiny of the Daleks

Right, first of all, let’s get it out the way. I didn’t mind the regeneration scene. I’d probably have preferred a proper regeneration, with Mary Tamm present and an actual reason, and I had a nagging voice in my head throughout telling me that the way she’s burning through those incarnations is sick and wrong, but sod it, it was funny, and Tom and Lalla are great together already. They instantly feel like a proper little team of friends, more so than with Romana I. She’s even got her own ridiculously long scarf.

Their first task is to explore an absolutely beautiful location, which is very well directed. Between the scenery and all the low-angle steadicam shots, Skaro has never looked so good. Some of the studio sequences let it down somewhat, with some battered looking props and unconvincingly bare sets. Why have the Daleks got so many studio lights knocking about?

But despite their casings looking a little worse for wear, it is good to have the Daleks back after such a long time – the gap between this and Genesis is almost as long as the gap between Evil and Day. I couldn’t help but grin when they smashed their way into the story. There really is no monster quite as good as them.

The drama ramped up nicely throughout the first two episodes, peaking with the reveal of Davros. But sadly, it all went downhill with his introduction. This is not the Davros I recognise. Quite aside from the complete lack of wit, machiavellianism or subtlety in the writing, he didn’t even have the right voice. Had the new actor not bothered watching Genesis? With the Daleks subservient to this rubbish impression of Davros, someone powerless to prevent the Doctor pushing him around like something out of Weekend At Bernie’s, the story fell apart fairly quickly. Although I did very much enjoy the Doctor telling some Daleks to “spack off”.

The Movellans were fairly interesting, and I liked that one of them was McClaren from Porridge. More could have been made of the idea of two computer-controlled superpowers locked in a logical stalemate – mirroring the mutually assured destruction aspect of the Cold War, just as that was all about to flare up again in real life. But ultimately they were defeated extraordinarily easily – they’re supposed to be on a par with the Daleks, but they keep their vital batteries loosely strapped to their hips?

I can’t help but come away disappointed after those first two episodes (yes, “episodes”, not “parts”, apparently) were so good. Also, any story that sidelines K-9 to such a degree is always going to put my back up. On the plus side, you can really see Douglas Adams’s influence shine through, especially with the Doctor reading a book by Oolon Colluphid, which made me laugh and applaud.

Oh, and here’s an idea. You know when Romana fakes her own death to escape from the Dalek mines? What if it had been Mary Tamm’s Romana up until that point, and she’d actually died from radiation poisoning, having been separated from The Doctor and his supply of anti-radiation drugs? Then she could have regenerated into Lalla Ward shortly after being buried. Damn, now I’ve thought of that, the actual regeneration just got worse in comparison.