The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot

This was, of course, the final component of our 50th anniversary party, and I remember it being somewhat of a surprise to see it appear on the red button during the evening. After everything we’d seen that day, we were all slightly delirious already, and so a surreal, fourth wall smashing mockumentary featuring pretty much every living cast member of the original series blew our minds.

It could so very easily have been awful, but it’s genuinely funny throughout, and the three main Doctors involved are all such endearing company. Everyone was more than willing to send themselves up in every way imaginable, from Colin forcing his family to watch Vengeance on Varos to Sylv gleefully boasting about being in The Hobbit at every opportunity. He’s the stand-out performer overall – the way he says “I’d like to go home now” so solemnly when he’s stuck in a TARDIS is exquisite.

The astounding amount of cameos are a joy, and are too numerous to mention them all; I loved the audacity of having about a dozen companions all appear at once, as part of a homage to Davison’s regeneration. Two of the most memorable appearances were the two showrunners – Moffat playing with his toys, and Russell “The” Davies with his “quel dommage!” catchphrase. Then there’s Frank Skinner and David Troughton turning up to be mostly-silent Dalek operators and – brilliantly – Rhys Thomas appearing as Gary Bellamy on Davison’s radio.

I make it six Doctors who make proper appearances, thanks to the tiny cameos by Smith and Tennant. Paul McGann gets a full scene, and it’s a shame that he’s not in it more, but perhaps he was busy doing his own fiftieth anniversary mini-special – I wonder if he knew that he’d be doing Night of the Doctor when they were making this. It’s also a shame that Tom couldn’t be arsed, but similarly, at least he did contribute elsewhere, and I wouldn’t swap the Curator for him turning up in this. And they dealt with it in the best possible way, with the same Shada snippet as used in the actual Five Doctors.

This was one of several wonderful meta-jokes, which culminated in the three Doctors breaking character – even though they’d been playing themselves – to make The Five(ish) Doctors itself the subject of the mockumentary, which leads to the aforementioned RTD stuff. My favourite meta bit was the music changing from 80s synths to 2010s orchestra when the guys stepped inside Roath Lock – and them noticing and going outside again.

At a full thirty minutes, it could easily have run out of steam, but it doesn’t, keeping up the pace of the gags, the cameos and the in-jokes throughout. My only criticism is that they spend slightly too long getting chased by security, but this does lead to the brilliant final reveal that they hid under the shrouds in the Under Gallery. I know it’s not real, but wouldn’t it have been wonderful if it really was them in the real episode? It would presumably have been feasible to make that happen.

Regardless, if you’re not going to feature all the classic Doctors in the anniversary special – and there are many reasons why that’s regrettably for the best, not least being that the anniversary special was perfect as it is – this is the best compromise. Something that’s officially part of the celebration, featuring as many familiar faces as possible, but that is doing its own thing, imbued with humour and love and joy. I adore it, and everyone involved.


Real Time

Erm, Happy New Year! I had an unscheduled pause over the festive break; my Christmases are always hectic, but for the last couple of years I’ve been doing my best to squeeze in as many episodes of Who as possible in between all the commitments to friends and family. This year, I was struggling to get the chance, so I tried not to worry about it. If I was currently on a run of actual episodes, I’m sure this might have been different, but after last time, I wasn’t exactly in a rush for more ancient Flash animation.

However, I didn’t want to return to work with the thing hanging over me, so I decided to watch the whole shebang tonight in an hour-long omnibus edition I found online. I was instantly struck by how much better the animation and technical quality were this time around. The story is a lot more accessible too – a lot less ambitious and much more conventional, but that’s a good thing when you’re in such a restrictive medium. It’s hard enough to create an immersive experience for the audience, even without throwing additional complicated nonsense at them.

It was therefore a neat idea to have the story play out in – as the title suggests – real time. This is a nice, self-contained slice of The Doctor’s life, and we don’t need any prior knowledge in order to understand the story as it unfolds. I’d heard of Evelyn Smythe as being one of the Sixth Doctor’s audio companions, so I assume that if I was familiar with those, then this would be even more accessible.

As it was, I didn’t really get much of a grasp on who she is or much of the dynamic between them, other than The Doctor making a dig about her being fat at one point. He can fucking talk. I wasn’t really sure how much he cared for her, but then that’s a problem with the Sixth Doctor in general – time has certainly mellowed him, but he’s still a bit of a git, fundamentally.

The Cybermen were on pretty good form though, and were perhaps a more convincing threat than they had been on TV for years by this stage. I enjoyed the attempt to consolidate all the conflicting bits of Cyberhistory, and to create a plausible new development. Obviously a great idea to return to the fundamentals of humans being converted bit by bit, and this was more visceral than anything before or since. The result of the slightly shoddy conversion process looked unfortunately similar to Torchwood‘s Cyberwoman, but at least this version made sense.

But really, if you know me at all, you’ll know the thing that most interested me about this production. Bloody Lee & Herring! I’m a ginormous fan of them collectively and individually, and this is one of the few pieces in their oeuvre that I hadn’t previously seen. Probably one of the last things they did as a double act too. Their presence was fascinating, but ultimately a bit distracting.

I got the sense that Rich was having a lovely time, but he’s not the greatest straight actor, bless him. Stew couldn’t really be arsed, could he? He sounded more lively after the conversion. They both met incredibly gruesome ends, but I couldn’t take them seriously, because of how odd it was to hear the voices of Lee & Herring being placed in those situations. Surreal and incredibly silly, but entertaining.

I ended up not hating this at all, and even found it enjoyable at times, but it fell a little way short of being actively good. I’m slightly regretting bending the rules by consuming it all at once, but I think ten minute chunks would have been a little too stop/start. I’m now not dreading the next animation, and at least I know that the script and storyline are both decent and familiar…


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.


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.


Trial: The Ultimate Foe

Well, that was absolutely insane. The story of how it came to be is just as shocking as anything that’s in the show, with poor old Robert Holmes passing away, Eric Saward throwing a wobbley, and Pip & Jane Baker having to cobble together the final episode in no time at all, without being allowed any knowledge of the plan for how everything was supposed to tie up.

The result is obviously a complete mess, but I was impressed by how quickly the first part got on with revealing who The Valeyard was and that the trial is a complete sham, in order to create a whole new mini-adventure. This was achieved by the sudden reappearance of The Master, which I suppose is to be expected whenever there’s a desire to throw everything at the script just to see what sticks.

I was surprised to see Glitz again so soon – I was aware that he’s turning up in a future story, but his appearance here was part of a pleasing attempt to incorporate elements from all the component parts of the season into its conclusion. As well as taking Glitz from The Mysterious Planet, you also had the same one-inch-VT-shaped Macguffin, while the shadow of the Terror of the Vervoids conclusion was present throughout.

And of course Mindwarp is represented by the retconning of Peri’s fate, which didn’t bother me because I knew it was coming, but does detract from the boldness of her original exit. What I didn’t know was the detail that she’d been married off to Brian Blessed, which is absolutely hilarious. I’m sure they’ll be very happy together. I was a little disappointed at first that not many other questions about the reliability of the evidence were cleared up, but the more I think about the more I appreciate the opportunity to make my own mind up about what’s real and what isn’t.

Besides, there wasn’t really much time to go over too many specifics, as the last episode ended up with more things to wrap up than it could comfortably accommodate. Even so, they made things even more complicated by including so many intricate twists to the narrative. The depiction of the Matrix was certainly in keeping with The Deadly Assassin, although obviously not as good, despite the best efforts of the excellent Geoffrey Hughes. Multiple Geoffrey Hugheses, in fact. It felt like there were a few too many layers to the illusion, and so it ended up feeling a little disjointed.

This was partly due to a surfeit of potential villains – Glitz, The Master and The Valeyard – all with their own weirdly ill-defined and suspiciously flexible motives, and each double crossing the others at every opportunity. It was fun to be kept guessing as to just whose side Glitz and The Master were on – both in relation to The Doctor vs The Valeyard and to each other – but in the end I felt like I needed a diagram.

“Fun but complicated” seems like a good summary of both this segment and the season in general, but I want to emphasise that I did enjoy it a hell of a lot more than I thought I would. Colin has improved to the point where I think it was a mistake to sack him at this stage – you feel like one more season of developing in the same direction might have ironed out the remaining issues. That said, the improvements to this point haven’t gone far enough to stop him being my least favourite Doctor to date, so I can’t say I’m sad to see him go. It’s just weird that a Doctor’s tenure should end like that. Those are not brilliant last words.



  • Seasons/Series watched: 23 of 35
  • Stories watched: 143 of 263
  • Individual episodes watched: 653 of 826

Which I guess means that the serial The Trial of a Time Lord gets a 7 out of 10 overall. That seems fair. It also means that Season 23 is better than Season 22, but still well below the expected standard, which is also fair. But with the sad realisation that I’m hurtling towards the end of the classic era, I have but one classic Doctor to go, and it’s one that I’ve seen very, very little of before. I’m not sure what to expect, but I’m looking forward to it, even though it’ll be all over in as little as six weeks…

Trial: Terror of the Vervoids

The trial of the century continues, and it does kind of feel like it’s been going on for a century. We’re now in to The Doctor’s defence – how come the prosecution got eight episodes and he only gets six? – and taking a glimpse into the future. I’m quite enamoured with the idea of skipping past the introduction story and seeing the new companion for the first time in situ, but in practice it’s a bit disorientating. It’s not helped by that opening TARDIS scene being a mess of chaos and noise. Just horrible.

But as time wore on, something happened which totally shocked me. I found myself not hating Bonnie Langford. Somewhat confounding expectations, Mel seems to be made of much sterner stuff than Peri. She matches The Doctor for bravery most of the time and there’s already more of a rapport between them; she’s smart enough to hold a plot-advancing conversation with him, but inexperienced enough so that he can explain certain things to her, and therefore us. That scream, though. Are all episodes from now on going to end with Mel screaming, and wherever possible a crash zoom into The Doctor’s astonished face?

Other than a less irritating scream, the one thing Mel’s really lacking so far is a reason to care about her. The lack of introduction means that we don’t know a great deal about her or her background, and we skipped all the stages where the audience become emotionally invested in her welfare. I applaud the desire to try something new, but there’s a reason why 90-odd% of companion introductions are done in a certain way.

However, where the future setting really comes into its own is with the trial sequences. As the season has gone on, the writing has been less pre-occupied with allegory about the show itself being on trial, and is instead concentrating on making the events within the courtroom more exciting, and increasingly more central to the story being told. This serial marks a slow transition from the trial being the framing material to being the main action, and it’s better for it.

The reason being that as the evidence becomes less and less reliable, the show is doing interesting things with the narrative that are actually quite far ahead of their time, in Doctor Who terms. Thus far, unless specifically informed otherwise, we’ve accepted that everything we’ve seen happened as depicted, but now we can’t take anything for granted. As the Matrix-tampering ramps up, we’re challenged to reconsider everything that’s happened so far. How much of the last section actually happened, considering The Doctor’s amnesia? With this one, is it just the bits The Doctor mentions that have been tampered with, or everything? Did The Valeyard get there even earlier than The Doctor did, and planted the whole thing?

Because if he did make the whole thing up, then he probably could have done a better job of it. I quite enjoyed the slower pace and the more light-hearted touches, but the murder mystery aspect didn’t live up to its promise. Oh, what a surprise, it was one of the three shady scientists, and the shadiest of the three at that. To be fair, I spent most of the first part distracted, trying to work out what I recognised the old passenger from. He was the old archbishop in The Black Adder!

As for the Vervoids, I liked the concept, and it gave The Doctor a chance to talk about morality and the importance of empathising with the enemy. It all boiled down to a Genesis-esque dilemma, and I can’t decide whether he made the right choice this time. But let’s face it, there’s only one thing they’re particularly memorable for. They’re a bunch of six foot fannies dressed in suits made of leaves.

Overall, don’t say this too loudly, but I’m starting to think The Trial of a Time Lord is actually pretty good. Obviously, a lot rides on the final two parts, and I have no doubt whatsoever that this production team will find some jaw-dropping way of fucking everything up. But regardless, up until this point at least, this is way better than the previous season. Still far from the show at its best, but it appears to have started the climb back up from the nadir.


Trial: Mindwarp

Well, that was unexpected. I loved that. All the ingredients were wrong, but somehow that was perhaps my favourite Colin story so far. This is despite him being absolutely peak Sixth Doctor in terms of his baffling behaviour. The exaggerated cruelty and ruthlessness were clearly been played up to show that something is not right, even though he was effectively not much different to how he started out.

The difference here is that there’s some kind of method to the madness, because you’ve got the “present” Doctor on trial, and in these scenes so far he’s been acting much more like how I expect The Doctor to act. He’s eloquent, morally superior and his anger is being channeled in the right directions. I’m still not clear whether his turncoat behaviour in the flashbacks is due to (Adam) Crozier’s experiment, a clever ploy or a result of some bastard meddling with Matrix, but I expect things will make more sense by the end of the serial/season. Or maybe not, considering I’ve just read that Colin was never told which of those three options it was either.

One thing I am sure of is that this isn’t actually what happened to Peri – that spoilery ship has sailed a long, long time ago. Nevertheless, it was a bloody effective death within the context of this segment. Maybe I was reading too much into it because I knew what was coming, but it seemed to be all leading up to it. The Doctor, either seemingly or actually, abandoning her, making her feel isolated and longing for her own time, and then eventually failing to save her. I thought she was a goner at the end of Part Three/Seven, which is one of the bleakest cliffhangers of all time.

Regardless of whatever her fate is retconned to in about a week’s time, this is the end of Peri, and I can’t say I’m sad to see her go, other than the fact that I’m absolutely dreading being subjected to Bonnie bloody Langford. Nicola Bryant is clearly likeable and a good actress, but the writing consistently let her down throughout her stay, and there was just no chemistry whatsoever between her and The Doctor. It all seemed like a bit of a cock-up, and it’s a shame that Nicola/Peri wasn’t around in a more stable era for the show.

Back to this story, and I enjoyed the courtroom scenes a little more this time round; they feel a lot less tacked on now that important plot details are being revealed within, and The Doctor’s amnesia gave this an extra edge, whilst also fixing the problem of a lack of peril in the flashbacks.

But the main setting was also a lot more interesting this time, which surprised me – I wasn’t exactly chomping at the bit to see Sil again, but he seems somewhat improved since last time, with clearer speech and more effort taken to make his pretentious language flow naturally. Christopher Ryan being his cohort was an unexpected bonus too – the second Young One in the last three stories.

But the main star was undoubtedly Brian Blessed, appearing here in the role of Brian Blessed. I’d hazard a guess that most Who fans consider his performance to be way too over the top, completely unsuitable, unnatural and unrealistic. I agree, but I don’t give a shit, because it’s Brian Blessed. Every time he was on screen, I couldn’t help but smile. I could watch him all day, and while his very presence outshadows everything else that’s happening at any given time, I don’t care because I find his presence so enjoyable.


Trial: The Mysterious Planet

Oh boy. Where to begin? Perhaps with the absolutely atrocious theme tune. It’s barely recognisable as the Doctor Who music, it’s weak and it’s messy. I had no idea this version existed, and it managed to take me by surprise every time. I was startled and insulted by its shitness as each episode opened with a whimper. Weirdly, the middle eight in the end theme isn’t terrible, but the rest of it is just nothing but a disappointment.

But then, in the first part, it’s followed up by what’s probably the most impressive model shot the show’s ever had. I’m a huge fan of the BBC visual effects team of this era, and you can always rely on that set of model makers to deliver, even when the rest of the production is going to pot. This is the first episode to have been broadcast in my lifetime, and the show’s starting to get pretty close to how I remember TV being when I was tiny. Not only are the locations shot on video now, it’s even the type of tape stock that gives the look I associate with some of my earliest TV memories.

The aforementioned model shot leads into the establishment of the trial setting, and it’s so, so weird. It’s enjoyable in and of itself, thanks to the pedigree of Lynda Bellingham and Michael Jayston, along with a far less irritating performance from Colin than we’re used to. He really is so much better when he’s not with Peri, as his outbursts and anger are much more tolerable when they’re not aimed at people who are supposed to be his friend.

But the premise is misguided at best. In universe, it’s fair enough, and I like that they acknowledge the fact that it’s happened before, but in the implementation it feels like a parody of a courtroom drama, rather than something that exists in the real world. In fact, it really reminded me of The Jasper Carrott Trial, so I simply couldn’t take it seriously, even when The Valeyard is trying to raise the stakes every time we see him. The constant crash zooms in to Colin’s big daft face didn’t help.

I think it’s a bold and somewhat dangerous move to turn an entire season into an allegory for your behind-the-scenes drama, and most likely a foolish one. You’re asking for trouble when you have your lead character deriding the action for being boring, and questioning the point of it being shown at all. The discussions around the Doctor and violence could have been clever and interesting, but it was just all a bit too on-the-nose. I’m assuming the stuff about details being censored from the evidence will become relevant later (I have enough prior knowledge to know there’s a twist, but not exactly what it is), but so far it’s just a bit jarring – the interruptions really take you out of the main story.

I mean, it’s taken me this long to even mention that there is a main story; that’s how much of a distraction the trial is. The emphasis is perhaps slightly wrong, as the bits on the sort-of-eponymous mysterious planet feel like they deserved to carry more weight. The premise of the Earth being ripped from its place in space and time is certainly a strong one, but they didn’t find time to explain why. The format of this season also slightly scuppers any sense of peril; any cliffhangers where The Doctor’s in danger don’t really work when you know it’s essentially just a flashback.

The big robot ruling over a primitive set of humanoids, and selecting the cleverest and youngest ones to serve him, is essentially The Krotons again, and I wasn’t terribly keen on this element of the story, other than the gags about their sacred books. I quite enjoyed Glitz and Dibber though; they’re nothing we haven’t seen before, but they were fun to spend time with, and I always enjoy not knowing what side people are on. But can everyone stop objectifying Peri, please? I’m sure there have been companions who were subjected to worse sexism than this, but not for a while, and this stands out because it’s the fucking 1980s – the show should know better by now.

But you know, it’s weird. This is clearly a rubbish story/segment/season, but I enjoyed the experience of watching it more than I did for most of the previous season, and looked forward to the viewings each night more than usual. Dropping back down to 25 minute episodes helps, along with the rubber-necking factor of wanting to watch an absolute disaster unfold. But to give it its due, it is completely different to anything the show’s done before. It’s probably worse than anything the show’s done before, but as the shorter seasons lead me hurtling reluctantly towards the end of the classic run, I’m amazed and glad that I’m still finding it this much fun.


Revelation of the Daleks

This was one of the first Classic Whos I ever watched, but I only ever watched it once, because I thought it was complete rubbish. I’ve now realised that my issue was probably with the trappings of this particular era – the Doctor and some of the production values are rubbish, but this is by no means a bad serial overall, and it stands head and shoulders above the rest of this season.

I remember finding the plot confusing the first time round, but I think it benefits from knowing more about Davros and the Daleks – I’ve now seen their story play out in the order it was intended, and this is a decent installment of the ongoing civil war thread. The highlight is the scene in the catacombs, with the truly gruesome and scary mid-conversion mutant. One of the few all time classic scenes from the Sixth Doctor’s time, and tellingly him and Peri aren’t in it.

This was the case for much of the first part in particular – what little we did see of them was some irritating bickering and some extremely dodgy, sexist bullshit about Peri putting on weight. 1) That’s absolutely no way for the Doctor to talk about a companion; 2) You can talk, you fat fuck. The pair wandered around while a story happened independently in the distance, which did give us the great, chilling moment of The Doctor finding his own grave. The cliffhanger was slightly let down by the statue falling in neatly-segmented polystyrene chunks, and indeed by the resolution, which revealed that it was only polystyrene after all.

There was more screen time for the pair in Part Two, and The Doctor/Colin was actually on decent form – he seems to work much better when he’s separated from Peri. But again, he felt disconnected from the story. It obviously had to end in a face-to-face meeting between him and Davros, but that meeting didn’t amount to much more than an amputated hand. The main plot was still happening around him, and would have played out much the same had he not been there at all; his sole contribution to the resolution was to make Davros turn his back on Orcini so that he could grab the bomb.

Nevertheless, it was an exciting conclusion, particularly the Dalek infighting, and Davros hovering around like it ain’t no thing. Much like Caves of Androzani (but obviously nowhere near as good), it relies on a rich and complicated back-story to create an interesting tale to tell regardless of the Doctor’s presence, with a large guest cast to back it up. It’s almost a little too densely packed at times – Eleanor Bron turned up out of nowhere, and I struggled to see how she fitted in until quite late on, but it all works if you give it a chance.

Orcini and Bostock were a lot of fun, and Clive Swift did a good job of portraying a completely unlikeable bastard, which can’t have been much of a stretch. I do wish the show would stop using being creepy towards Peri as way of defining their character, though, as it’s usually quite uncomfortable to watch. I spent all serial wondering what to make of Jenny Tomasin as Tasambeker – she clearly can’t act for toffee, but I couldn’t help but like her, and I was totally on her side as she plunged that needle into the odious Jobel.

And then there’s Alexei Sayle. One of my favourite performers of all time, in one of my favourite shows of all time. But his role is so weird. I couldn’t stand it the first time round, and the disappointment was a key factor in me writing the serial off as a stinker. I liked it a lot more this time – I’d forgotten about the bits where Peri comes to see him, which fleshes him out a lot more and gives his presence a clearer purpose, but I do still find him highly incongruous prior to this point.

But hey, it’s something new and original after over twenty years. There’s been a few little things like that among the dross of this season. This story is clearly the standout, and it was the most I’ve enjoyed watching Who since Colin took over. But I don’t think I’ll ever truly adore any story with this Doctor, written and performed in this arrogant, patronising and smug manner. With the knowledge of what’s to come, this serial is most likely the closest any Colin story comes to greatness.

Oh, and I thought there was some sort of DVD error at the very end, until I read that it was an inadvertent cliffhanger, brought about by necessity. “All right, I’ll take you to… an eighteen month hiatus!”



  • Seasons/Series watched: 22 of 35
  • Stories watched: 142 of 263
  • Individual episodes watched: 639 of 826

To get me in the mood for the next fortnight of joy (I’ll be dealing with each section individually, btw, even though I’m counting it as all one story), I’ve just listened to Doctor In Distress for the first time, and watched the video. Jesus Christ. It’s not exactly Band Aid, is it? It’s not even Band Aid 20. It was slightly before I was born, but even so – I didn’t recognise anyone other than the various embarrassed-looking Who actors and the somewhat incongruous Faith Brown. You can really tell that the talents behind the song were the same as that for the K-9 and Company theme tune. We should be grateful the series came back at all after this.


I’m getting pretty sick of the 45 minute episodes now. It’s come at a bad time – the show’s not on form, and the longer running time only emphasises its faults. For both parts of this story, I found myself enjoying them to begin with, but there’s so many small annoyances that all added up until I eventually lost interest. Even a ropey 25 minute episode usually has the good grace to finish before that happens, but in this season there’s nowhere to hide.

Elements of it were pleasingly old school; I don’t know whether it was just the unexpected mentions of Pertwee and Jo Grant that did it, but it put me in mind of their brief travelling era – The Doctor and his companion turning up on a distant planet, acting all superior over the natives and getting involved in the politics was very Peladon. They’ve done the sequel-to-a-story-we-haven’t-seen thing a few times now, and it was handy here as a way of skipping a few of the usual steps where The Doctor finds out how the civilisation works and persuades the locals that he’s a time traveller.

Elsewhere, the idea of a secretive leader in hiding, communicating via a fake video link, reminded me a lot of The Macra Terror, except here the fake persona was an exact cross between The Demon Headmaster and Jeremy Corbyn. I quite liked the Borad, with his big half-dolphin, half-Alastair-McGowan face. The make-up was far from life-like, but it was passable, and the performance sold it. Your man from Blake’s 7, on the other hand, was a bit much for me.

The rest of it was largely inconsequential – it wasn’t an unpleasant way to spend my time, but like I say, those little niggles started adding up. Some consistency in what the Timelash actually was would have been nice, other than it being an early prototype of the Stars In Their Eyes set. Depending on the scene, it would either destroy people, dump them unharmed in ancient Scotland or merely provide The Doctor with a handy source of magic crystals, which despite some clever and pleasing uses, came completely out of nowhere. And while they’d previously tried to make a virtue of the dodgy sets by dialogue referring to them being intentionally drab, the set for this bit was just woeful.

Then there’s the smaller things. Like wondering how Peri knows so much about Jo Grant in the first place, or why she knew that the Daleks had previously used a time tunnel, precisely one story before she turned up. The over-indulgence in whatever Quantel effects came to hand. The sudden presence of a brand new Adric. And The Doctor constantly shouting at Peri. Dramatic scenes are being paused in order for them to argue, and it’s just a horrible, horrible trait that the show’s picked up.

The ending was several annoying moments of silliness all piled up. The Doctor and the TARDIS have been blown up! Oh no, here they are, but we’re not going to tell you how. The Borad is back from the dead! Oh no, he can clone himself, so he doesn’t actually need Peri as a mate any more, but let’s not acknowledge that. Surprise, that annoying bloke turned out to be H.G. Wells all along! Give a shit. Oh, and the Borad is not Nessie. Nessie is a big robot built by the Zygons.

I’m being harsh, because this season is proving a slog and it’s frustrating. Maybe one day I can go back and enjoy some of these serials in isolation, but currently I’m just facing an endless stream of episodes which veer only between mediocre and rubbish. What’s more, they’re all twice the length, and what’s even more the Doctor and his companion both irritate the shit out of me. I’m looking forward to the return to 25 minute episodes, and I’m hoping that the Daleks will be enough to end this failed experiment on something approaching a high.