Death Comes to Time

Fucking hell, merry Christmas everyone. That was the grimmest thing I’ve ever witnessed in the name of Doctor Who, and I watched The After Party Live. I found watching this a really difficult task, for so many reasons. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I think I had unrealistic memories about what kind of animation could be achieved on Real Player in the early 00s. I knew it would be basic, but this was just an audio drama with a handful of illustrations to look at.

That would have been fine were it not for the awful technical quality distorting a lot of the dialogue, and the large number of important plot-driving events that they tried to portray visually. It was a bit like watching a recon – constantly seeing the same handful of portrait shots pasted on to different backgrounds, and ending up completely perplexed every time there was an action sequence. It was also reminiscent of really cheap anime, the kind you used to get on Channel 4 in the middle of the night before it took off in the West. And Tannis’s army reminded me of All Your Base Are Belong To Us.

It made each and every episode drag, and it didn’t help that they got progressively longer. The structure was unusual and complex, with the running time split between at least three or four concurrent storylines, which only converged right at the end, and even then not all of them intersected. The Doctor was barely in it, especially in the third and fourth parts, which felt like a bunch of characters that I didn’t care about talking about stuff that had very little to do with Doctor Who.

Because this wasn’t Doctor Who. It was dark and twisted and unpleasant. I’m all for shade, but there was barely a speck of light; the balance was all wrong. It took the names and icons from Doctor Who and told a completely different, unrelated story with them. So the Time Lords all have magic powers now, and they can kill or heal people just by making everything go red, and Ace can be trained to become one by an old man who’s a cross between Mr Miyagi and a Jehovah’s Witness? It’s made up and it’s boring and I’m not interested.

There’s an incredibly high death toll, which they wouldn’t have got away with if it was live action, webcast or otherwise. Ace is pushed to her limit by her training, and it’s deeply unpleasant at times, as is Tannis casually killing Antimony, which to The Doctor is like losing his son. Then bam – The Doctor is dead forever, blowing himself up in order to take out the baddy. It’s just harrowing, and this isn’t how I want to remember the Seventh Doctor. The darker, more mysterious tone of the last few seasons has been taken way too far.

On the plus side, the cast is outstanding, my aversion to Jon Culshaw notwithstanding. Sessions was the highlight as Tannis, who’s perhaps the only character that really fulfilled their potential. Getting Stephen Fry was a real coup, and The Minister was a good surrogate Doctor for a while, but his development got cut short when he went a bit insane for plot reasons. I enjoyed Kevin Eldon as a companion, but we barely got to know him before he was gunned down. And why the hell would you only have The Doctor and Ace together for a total of about three minutes? What a waste.

There were small bits that I enjoyed. The episode with the vampires in London was the most successful overall. There was a point in the final episode where things seemed to be picking up, thanks to the story becoming even more mental when George W Bush and Tony Blair turned up, closely followed by the bloody Brigadier in space. That was a joy, but it was all somewhat undercut by the aforementioned absolute and final death of the greatest character in the history of television, so y’know.

But hey, if the aim was to make me desperate to get on to the new series, mission accomplished. It’s just a shame I’ve got three more of these webcasts to get through first. I’m not holding out much hope for the next one, but at least the episodes are shorter, so I won’t ruin my Christmas too much.

RATING: 1

Doctor Who: The Movie

He’s back, and it’s about time. I clearly remember watching this when it first went out, and as a nine-year-old, it didn’t make me become a fan in the same way Rose did as an eighteen-year-old. Looking back on it now, it’s easy to see why, although it’s not without its charms. Now that I’m more than familiar with the show’s mythology, I can enjoy the direction and design of the opening scenes, but RTD clearly knew what Philip Segel didn’t, which is that you don’t fill the first installment of a revival with baffling back-references.

It was admittedly lovely to see Sylvester one last time, and his performance was just as good as it was seven years previously. It was a shame that the new companion had to come along and kill him. An unconventional introduction, but it was apparent from the start that Grace is a great character. She’s a high achiever like Liz Shaw, but far warmer and easier to empathise with.

The regeneration came along and the show couldn’t decide whether it wanted it to be a parallel of Frankenstein’s monster or the resurrection, until McGann tipped the balance into full on Christ territory. Either way, it was 20-odd minutes before he turned up, but when he did he was right into his stride straight away. The scenes where Grace is helping him to remember who he is were a joy, and they make a great pair.

Meanwhile, The Master has recovered from being a weird spunky snake thing, which I wasn’t keen on, and is coercing Chang Lee into doing his evil bidding, on a truly excellent TARDIS set. Everything was looking extremely promising at this stage, but as soon as the Eye of Harmony is introduced, it takes a steep nosedive into the realm of utter bollocks. Eric Roberts suddenly turned way too cartoonish, and it all became hard to take seriously.

That said, the motorcycle chase and clock theft bits were good fun, and the denouement was nice and tense even though I found the plot to be a bit confusing; I’m still not clear exactly how travelling back to before the events started helps to prevent damage that we’re told is unstoppable. Plus, a few too many liberties were taken with the mythos – I can buy the theory that it’s only this Doctor that’s half-human, but I’m still not keen on it, nor on the TARDIS containing the Eye of Harmony, and all the powers that come with it, which seemingly include eating The Master.

The thing is, whoever the current custodian of Doctor Who is, they’re allowed to pretty much do what they like with the mythology in the pursuit of telling the best story possible. But if you’re going to go as far as to bring back the incumbent Doctor, casually fling unexplained back-references around, and cover everything in Seals of Rassilon, you set the expectation that the history is to be respected. You can’t have it both ways.

Having said all of that, the issues are not so pervasive as to detract a great deal from the overall mood, and it was a perfectly enjoyable way to spend an hour and a half. You can see the similarities to the new series; for one thing the theme tune and title sequence aren’t a million miles away, and the dynamic between Doctor and companion is much more akin to Ten and Rose than the more student-mentor vibe of Seven and Ace. I don’t give a shite if The Doctor wants to snog his companion, and it seems daft from a post-2005 perspective that it was such a huge deal here.

I would have definitely have liked to see more from the Eighth Doctor and Grace. I was surprised and disappointed when she stayed behind at the end – the whole thing needed rounding off with that key moment of her making the decision to join him, in order to really whet the appetite for adventures new. As it stands, I can totally see why it didn’t go any further, but I kind of wish it had.

RATING: 8

More than 30 Years in the TARDIS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RATING: 8

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

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

Search Out Space

So what now? The magnitude of last night’s milestone only really sunk in today. When Alexander of Macedonia was 33, he cried salt tears because there were no more worlds to conquer. I am only 30. I spent my morning working my way through the DVD extras for Survival, and it was a surprisingly emotional experience. You got the sense that the main players were genuinely upset when it got cancelled, and it’s a crying shame that they never got the chance to finish what they’d started.

Of course, if the events of 1989 were any different, then we wouldn’t have had the triumph of 2005, or at least not in the same way. So the next stage of my trip through Doctor Who history is to retrace the journey that leads from the old show to the new one. After a brief wallow, I cracked open the massive spreadsheet, and made sure I had as comprehensive a watch-list as possible. I kind of want the gap to last as long as possible, to reflect the long wait that fans experienced at the time, so here are the ground rules.

From this point on, I’ll be consuming everything that fits these criteria:

  1. Regardless of the medium, a video-based format, so not the New Adventures or Big Finish. I’d absolutely love to, but it would be too mammoth a task.
  2. Fictional, or at least containing a fictional element. I’m not arsed about canon, as that way madness lies, but basically not a bunch of documentaries, and not Confidential when the time comes.
  3. Made by or for the BBC. It’s too complicated to try and classify all the semi-licensed fan projects, plus I can’t be arsed with that Australian K-9 series later down the line.

I may make some exceptions for things I really want to see, but for now the first stop on leg two of the journey is a very special episode of Search Out Science, a BBC schools programme from 1990. Since we last saw him, The Doctor has become a game show host, floating around in space on a small plastic disc. This is not the “work to do” I had in mind. Ace is his glamorous assistant, and K-9 is also back for some reason, along with an alien called Cedric, who I assume is a regular in the series.

What was lovely about this was that the makers of this obscure little show were clearly fans of Doctor Who, and they were really having fun with the idea. What wasn’t lovely was virtually everything else, but hey, their heart was in the right place and it was harmless enough. It could have easily been straight-forward and by the numbers, but there was some real effort put in. The Doctor may have been confined to bluescreen – at one stage projected against the same arctic stock footage as used in Red Dwarf‘s Marooned – but Ace and K-9 were getting up to all sorts.

The highlight was an utterly ludicrous shot of Ace sitting inside one of the Jodrell Bank telescope dishes, and the stuff of her with the mirrors was cool too. Meanwhile, K-9 alternated between drifting hopelessly through space, and matching up different colours of Smarties to different types of star. Cedric was a bit irritating, as was the constantly-repeated game show music sting. I was initially amused and delighted to hear the K-9 & Company theme tune, but now I’ve realised that it’ll be stuck in my head for days again.

It concluded with a twist ending, in which The Doctor magically transformed the final question of the quiz into an ice cream. That was a bit bizarre – I assumed they were going to run through the answers and recap the facts or some shit, you know, so that it had some actual educational value. The whole thing slightly outstayed its welcome, but hey, it could have been a worse start to this section of the project. Tomorrow’s viewing is going to be terrible.

RATING: 5

Survival

Ladies and gentlemen, I HAVE SEEN EVERY EPISODE OF DOCTOR WHO. Well, heard the soundtrack and seen telesnaps in some cases, but still. I’ve experienced every single televised story; every last moment of every single Doctor and every single companion. I have completed Doctor Who, until Christmas Day at least. This feels great.

And what a cracking story to end on. It felt like it was designed especially for me, not least because the Earthbound bits are set and shot within walking distance of my house. The pub where Ace empties the fruit machine is my nearest pub. Doctor Who literally went to my local. Although I’ve never seen Hale & Pace working in the shop next door. That was a bizarre piece of casting, but a successful one.

The authentic mundanity of the setting helped to sell the more surreal elements, and it made for an imaginative and exciting adventure, with the show doing what it does best by making the everyday unsettling. While the animatronic cats were the least convincing I’ve seen since Sabrina The Teenage Witch, the Cheetah People were nice and fearsome. The action sequences were fun, and the anthropomorphised cat-like behaviour was not quite as good as the stuff Danny John-Jules was doing at the time, but it was great nonetheless.

And my favourite foe The Master was back, after a very long gap by the standards of Ainley’s era. I’ve always harboured a theory that The Master’s characterisation directly matches whichever Doctor he’s up against, and the more sinister, mysterious and macabre portrayal here seems to confirm this. His single-minded pursuit of The Doctor, as a way of channeling the effects of the virus, was a joy to behold.

It was a fitting swansong in just about every regard, with Ace once more getting the chance to do things that were asked of very few previous companions. Sophie Aldred did a brilliant job when it came to flitting between normal and cat modes, and as a cat person myself – another reason this story was perfect for me – I identified with her relationship with Karra. I love my cats dearly too, despite the knowledge that they would happily hunt and kill me if they were hungry enough.

I don’t know whether it was the occasion making me emotional, but Karra’s cruel death – and Ace’s reaction to it – made me well up. She thought she’d lost The Doctor too, of course, and I’m not entirely clear on how he survived the giant motorcycle-based fireball and subsequent battle with the Master on an exploding planet. Nevertheless, his triumphant return to deliver a bittersweet yet rallying final speech was joyous, deeply satisfying and incredibly apt.

Not quite perfect, clearly the slightly botched results of unexpected circumstances, but doing the best it can and with its heart in the right place. It was an ending that expressed the ethos of the classic series perfectly. Thank goodness it was only a temporary pause in the grand scheme of things, but while it’s a crying shame that the curtain was brought down just as the show was back to its best, at least it ended on a high.

RATING: 9

SEASON AVERAGE RATING: 7.75

  • Seasons/Series watched: 26 of 35
  • Stories watched: 155 of 263
  • Individual episodes watched: 695 of 826

So what now for this journey, and this blog? A little over two years ago, I decided to set about filling in all the gaps in my Doctor Who knowledge, and now that objective is complete. But like I say, thankfully, the story doesn’t end here. I’ve watched from An Unearthly Child to Survival in order, but Survival isn’t the last episode of Doctor Who. And besides, I may have seen every episode, but not every special and spin-off. The only sensible option is to keep going.

As for the blog, well it’s probably going to simultaneously become both more frequent and less regular. Running times of my viewing material will vary, so I won’t always have time to watch daily. But on the other hand, the days of stories spanning several episodes are mostly gone, so whenever I do sit down to watch, a blog entry will usually follow. Out of necessity, these may be shorter than the current format, but if you’ve enjoyed joining me on this adventure so far, I’ll do my best to make you stick around.

And to those of you that have joined me, a huge thank you. I’ve loved doing this so much that I just have to tell people about it, and I’m just as excited to revisit the new series, and of course to tackle the various delights of the wilderness years first. Come on readers, we’ve got work to do.

The Curse of Fenric

Well, that’s more like it – a story that lives up to its reputation. I’d heard that this one contained high emotion and huge revelations, and it didn’t disappoint in the end, although at one stage I was a little bit worried that it was going the way of Ghost Light. I was enjoying the WW2 ambience and Nicholas Parsons being Nicholas Parsons, but I was growing impatient for the revelatory action to start, and frustrated that we were once again being kept in the dark about what was going on.

But then all of a sudden Ace berates The Doctor for exactly this reason, he starts to open up, and everything kicks up a gear, building up beautifully to the cliffhanger of Fenric finally showing up. The emotional stakes were already high, after the scene where we learn that Kathleen has lost her husband had nearly made me cry. Plus the bastards killed off Nicholas Parsons. Add to this the talk of The Doctor not knowing if he has a family, and suddenly you begin to view this season as a prelude to the first new series.

This is particularly true in terms of the companion’s role. It’s becoming increasingly common for Ace to drive the plot, or at least be just as central to it as The Doctor, and it’s only a few steps away from the decision to have Rose be the first character we meet when the show returned. We know far more about her than any previous companion – those with longer tenures may have had a lot of biographical material filled in, but the stuff we learn about Ace runs deep, and it really matters. In this story alone, we see her familiar danger-seeking and caring sides, but also as a petulant child screaming about hating her mum, a lovestruck teenager, and a sexually-confident woman of the world. So much internal conflict boiling up inside this extraordinary character.

Another very modern thing to do is to shed new light on specific past adventures, and it could be said that Fenric commands the original Bad Wolves. To the casual viewer, the final episode may well have been slightly baffling, but as an avid fan it was brilliant storytelling. The reveal that Fenric was the one who brought Ace and The Doctor together was one thing, but seeing The Doctor forced to assassinate her character in such a cruel and horrible way was completely gripping. The whole final episode was edge of the seat stuff.

The show is doing the same thing to us as happens to Ace – pushes us to the limits of our faith in The Doctor, but when all’s said and done we just end up with more reasons to love him. Like I say, the secrecy surrounding his motives was beginning to irritate me, but seeing him risk everything and claw victory from the jaws of defeat seemed like a cathartic climax to this thread, and it was all worth it.

With Ace’s secrets revealed too, and the bond between them stronger than ever, now’s the time to remove the shackles and really let these magnificent characters fly. What’s that? There’s only one story left? Shit. I really want there to be more Classic Who than there is.

RATING: 9

Ghost Light

This is a difficult entry to write, because I’m not sure I fully understand the story I’ve just watched. It was a mish-mash of various ideas – a ghost story, Victorian themes of empire and evolution, Neanderthal butlers, hidden spaceships and insectoid monsters, all wrapped up in a mystery with Ace’s past at the centre. I was waiting for the glorious moment where it all tied together. I waited, and I waited, and then I just got bored.

I couldn’t figure out what was going on, and it didn’t help that I couldn’t understand everything the insectoid things from Part Two were saying. The same went for Control before she was freed. There was a complete lack of clarity, and I ended up barely understanding the implications of the events that unfolded. The picture quality on the DVD was another hindrance – so fuzzy and grainy, it was like watching a story from the early 70s where the master copies had been destroyed.

I guess your reaction to this story is also partially down to what type of Who you like and dislike. I’m always slightly wary whenever there’s a supernatural or gothic element – give me a straightforward tale of UNIT blowing shit up any day of the week. I also need my Who to be grounded in science and to include thorough explanations, and Ghost Light is most certainly not one of those stories.

I liked Nimrod the Neanderthal butler, but the rest of the guest cast left me cold. I think my biggest stumbling block was not fully understanding who Josiah was, or his role in the whole thing, at least not until right at the very end. A lot of things became clearer once I’d read a synopsis afterwards, but that’s not an ideal way to experience a story.

It’s a big disappointment, as I’d heard good things about this story, and about its writer, Marc Platt, who I’m aware went on to play a big role in setting the tone of the New Adventures. Perhaps it’s a story that improves on repeated viewing, once you know more about Light, Josiah, Control and how their set-up affects what happens in the spooky old house. But that doesn’t make for satisfying episodic viewing as part of a marathon. For the first time in a long time, I didn’t actually enjoy watching this. That’s very rare indeed.

RATING: 4

Battlefield

All of a sudden it’s the seventies again, and all is right with the world. We’re pelted straight into a good old-fashioned UNIT story, and it’s so wonderfully familiar, even down to the occasional sword fights. The little continuity nods are much appreciated, although it’s best not to speculate on the off-screen fate that befell Liz Shaw if The Doctor ended up holding on to her pass for so long.

Despite the grey hair and the green jumper being stretched to the limit around the belly, it was like The Brigadier had never been away. He was just as suave and smooth as ever, but now finally at the age where you feel he’s at his most comfortable. Time has not withered his bravery or intuition, and it was a fittingly heroic farewell to one of the all-time greatest Doctor Who characters, perhaps the greatest barring The Doctor himself. I’m glad that he survived the encounter; for starters, I’d have blubbed like a tiny child, but it honestly didn’t need a heroic sacrifice in order to match the hype.

For this was a top-notch story, that easily stands alongside the majority of the original UNIT yarns. It was great to see them back at full strength, with a whole new generation of consciously multi-national recruits. They were of course led by Debs Lister, and it was a good decision to have her play it with the same officer-class mannerisms as “our” Brig. Her little barely-expressed love story with the good knight was quite touching, and it’s a shame she never got the chance to fulfill a similar recurring role to that of either century’s Lethbridge-Stewart.

My one complaint is that the Brig spent an episode hovering around in a helicopter rather than joining the action, but when he finally arrived he was straight into the thick of it. His calming presence allowed the story to explore a darker Doctor than we’ve perhaps ever seen before. There was a moment, however brief, when you thought that yes, he might well be capable of decapitating Mordred. I love the notion that The Doctor is the man behind all these ancient myths; it’s a theme that’s cropped up numerous times throughout the show’s history, but here it’s combined with some Bill & Ted style time-travel trickery that’s right up my street.

Nice to see Jean Marsh too, providing the gravitas needed to create a memorable villain. And of course Bessie’s back too, which an updated number plate but somehow less convincing super-speed effects than they managed in the 70s. One throwback I wasn’t expecting, though, was casual racism. In fact, I assumed I must have misheard Ace’s slur towards Shou Yuing, as I couldn’t believe anyone would use those terms on TV as late as 1989, especially not an otherwise utterly perfect companion. Baffling, and sad.

One more weird thing – I realised towards the end of Part Two that I’d seen this cliffhanger before. It’s one of the standard clips you see on every TV industry health and safety course, alongside a door falling on someone on The Brittas Empire, and Anthea Turner being blown up. I was slightly taken aback to see footage of the glass cracking in the episode itself, as I’d been conditioned to hear McCoy shouting for help immediately afterwards.

But yeah, an absolutely cracking story that left me with a warm, fuzzy feeling. And hey, Big Finish – where’s my spin-off series with the adventures of the Brigadier, Doris, Bambera, Ancelyn and Shou Yuing, driving around in Bessie, getting into gardening-based scrapes and having cosy suppers by the fire?

RATING: 9

The Greatest Show in the Galaxy

All the ingredients in this are right, but somehow it didn’t quite click with me. I think it was the slightly odd atmosphere that comes as a result of the whole thing being shot in a tent in an Elstree car park. Those billowing sheets that had to act as makeshift studio walls didn’t look great, and it was understandably difficult to get the geography of the place across.

I liked the premise, but I feel they could have made more of the competing-to-be-the-most-entertaining aspect. The Doctor should have had far more opportunities to play the fool and defy the odds, as he did beautifully in the final episode. Captain Cook was a first grade shithouse, and the bits where he ruthlessly pushed others into danger were often the highlights, as were the enjoyably-irritating popcorn-munching family.

But I did also enjoy the other elements, particularly Mags. It looked like she was just a standard companion stand-in for while, so her turning out to be a big old werewolf was a nice twist, and good fun. The main clown was delightfully creepy, and brilliantly played. I could take or leave most of the other circus crew, but the script did well to include such a large guest cast and still make them all distinct and memorable.

I was amused to note that rap music has finally reached the Doctor Who production office, and while it was awfully cheesy, I enjoyed it as a nostalgic throwback to the type of godawful efforts produced by well-meaning kids’ shows of my youth. I also enjoyed the deranged bus conductor robot, and the wonderfully mean market stall woman. Both were perhaps unnecessary additions to an already packed roster, but enjoyable ones, and it helped to create a detailed and busy world.

Whizzkid was amusing, particularly as it’s Adrian Mole cosplaying as Osgood. The line about how he’d never seen the early stuff but he knew it was better than it is now was funny but particularly barbed, and the whole thing came across as a little mean-spirited overall. You got the impression that JNT would have enjoyed seeing him killed off a little too much.

Do you know what? Not for the first time, I’ve talked myself round having gone through and processed my thoughts on all the components. I can look past the odd atmosphere and remember a great sense of fun running through the story, and it’s good to see the show firing on all cylinders. When Sophie and Sylvester have half-decent material, they’re one of the all time classic pairings, and this season has confirmed that the rot has very much stopped, and that there was more life in this old dog of a show than it ended up with.

RATING: 8

SEASON AVERAGE RATING: 7.75

  • Seasons/Series watched: 25 of 35
  • Stories watched: 151 of 263
  • Individual episodes watched: 681 of 826

Indeed, that’s the best average season rating since Davison’s first, although when the seasons are this short, a stand-out like Remembrance will push the average up. One more season to go, and I’ll have watched every episode of Doctor Who ever. Part of me doesn’t want it to end, but now I’m beginning to really look forward to the satisfaction of reaching the finish line.