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

The Five Doctors

That was a load of silly nonsense that barely held together to form any kind of coherent plot. It was just an excuse to line up as many old faces as possible, for little to no reason other than to create a cheap thrill for hardcore fans. Basically, it was absolutely perfect.

I’ve probably seen it more times than any other classic story; I’d often turn to it as a way to get a quick fix of virtually all of Doctor Who‘s best bits. Placing it into context made the Borusa stuff work better; when you know that he’s one of The Doctor’s oldest friends, it means a lot more, plus his descent into full-on villainy makes sense when you see how he’s become a bit of a shit since becoming Lord President. I could buy it a lot more here than in Arc of Infinity.

It’s interesting that Borusa’s plan essentially has him doing the same thing as JNT, Saward and Terrence Dicks (surely the ideal candidate for this particular job) – creating a narrative by picking up a bunch of characters from the toybox and chucking them together in various combinations. Maybe the whole thing was an elaborate marketing ploy for a range of action figures.

It’s undeniably a shame that it’s actually only really three Doctors at best, with one refusing to play ball and another refusing to remain alive. In the end, they got around these unavoidable obstacles well; the Shada footage works fine alongside the specially-shot abductions, and Hurndall does a passable impression of Hartnell. I mean, it’s definitely jarring to have someone pretending to be the First Doctor, but there’s not much they could have done differently.

It was arguably even weirder to see Susan as an adult; her character was almost entirely based on being a childish liability, so she couldn’t really do the same thing here. Instead, it was interesting to see some unusual pairings of Doctor and companion; obviously you have the First going off with Tegan, but also the Second and Third are not the Doctors you’d most associate with the Brig and Sarah Jane respectively.

I could have done with more scenes of the various Doctors together, but what we had was so much fun. I loved that the Second still thinks the Third is a bit of a dick, after last time. It was also interesting to see the Fifth Doctor acknowledge the First’s attitude towards women, it the same way people react awkwardly to a racist grandparent. It was apt and pleasing that the Fifth should remain the protagonist; all the others were resolutely guests in his story, and he outshines them all.

There were so many returning companions and villains that it’s hard for any of them to stand out; I just enjoyed them as players in a series of vignettes. It was a celebration of all things Who, and not of any particular character or era over any other. My only gripe would be that Sarah Jane was written as fairly slow-witted, which she just isn’t. The Brig was reliably excellent and I enjoyed seeing glimpses of some less obvious returnees, such as Yates, Liz and Zoe.

As for the villains, the little Dalek cameo was more than welcome, and The Master was on pretty good form. It’s the first time since perhaps Logopolis that he’s been written with any particularly grey shades; he’s always much more effective when you’re not quite sure of his motives. The new addition – the Raston Robot – threatened to steal the show, with a great design and a formidable style. The way it dispatched all those Cybermen was like a version of Robot Wars where it’s men in costumes fighting with explosives. Weird that platoons of Cybermen got their asses kicked on two separate occasions, but to be fair it’s probably the best way to use 80s Cybermen.

Elsewhere, the Hartnell clip at the start was a lovely touch, as was the slightly modified opening theme. The amalgamated closing theme was less successful to my ears, but their heart was in the right place. Also exciting to see a glimpse of a brand new TARDIS console. I was mightily impressed by how new and different it looked in the opening shots, but I went off it a bit the more I saw it. I’ll reserve judgement for now.

All these touches combine to make this feel like a real special occasion. Me and a big group of friends watched it as part of our 50th anniversary celebrations, and even tonight, my girlfriend and her brother couldn’t help watching along with me. It feels like a film, with its extensive and sumptuous location work, and the picture quality is superb.

I loved it so much that it took me until half an hour after it finish to notice that Kamelion wasn’t even referenced, despite having watched his introduction just yesterday. I’m aware that I’m about to delve into a very difficult period in Who‘s history, and I’m hurtling ever closer to the end of the original run. But whatever happens next, this stands out as a near perfect celebration of the first twenty years, and indeed the journey I’ve been on for nearly two years. I love Doctor Who so much.

RATING: 10

Planet of the Spiders

I’ve seen two hugely climactic season finales this weekend, and enjoyed them both very much indeed. This one was much more of a mixed bag than the other, but it works incredibly well as a fitting end of an era. It was like the whole of Pertwee’s tenure was condensed into six episodes, with Dicks and Letts giving “their” Doctor one last hurrah before seeing him off and ultimately handing over the reins themselves.

Like most good stories this decade so far, it was firmly rooted with the now partially estranged UNIT family, with Benton and Brig the mum and dad holding everything together, while golden child Jo writes home about her travels and black sheep Mike thinks about what he’s done. There’s real links between the events of The Green Death, Invasion of the Dinosaurs and this, which makes everything seem all the more significant – when changes occur in these people’s lives, we see the consequences.

But as well as a little bit of UNIT, every other type of Pertwee story was also included: investigating a creepy supernatural cult; getting involved in a power struggle between colonists and alien natives; dealing with mind control, hypnosis and magic energy beams; repeatedly getting captured and escaping in order to fill a six-parter; and of course a massive multi-vehicle chase sequence across land, air and sea.

This was blatantly included purely for Pertwee’s benefit, and why not? It was part of a sense of fun spread throughout the early parts of the serial, such as the pissing about with the fake-not-fake clairvoyant, and the frequent back-references to the Third Doctor’s greatest hits. The scenes on Metebelis III are not quite on par with the rest of the episode – the two-legs aren’t interesting enough for us to care about them, and the spiders aren’t distinct enough from one another for their in-fighting to make much sense.

But the bits in the monastery were often superior, especially when they involved Tommy. What a lovely, compassionate character, even if some of the patronising attitudes towards him are so very 70s. Meanwhile, the redemption of Mike Yates was a good move – going back to see what happens next after a character’s story is seemingly concluded seems like a very New Who thing, and I totally buy him retreating to the countryside and becoming a bit of a hippy. It’s nice to think that he knows he’s done wrong, and that he’ll carry on investigating danger and having adventures in his spare time.

The redemption theme was very much in play towards the end, with The Doctor having to pay the ultimate price to atone for his greed. To be fair, I don’t think nicking a shiny crystal that a spider needs to take over the universe is quite punishable by regeneration, but the scenes in the final episode with K’anpo are so good that you don’t care if it’s all a bit OTT. Finally we meet a Time Lord who isn’t a complete shit. Is K’anpo the same guy as the hermit up the mountain, I wonder?

All of which leads up to a truly terrific regeneration scene, which manages to be both emotional and comedic, thanks to Sarah Jane and the Brigadier’s differing reactions to the situation. I feel like I’ve hardly mentioned Sarah Jane since she started, and that’s probably because she’s so good that it feels like excellence is par for the course. Just assume she’s kicking arse each and every episode.

So that’s it for the Third Doctor. I don’t feel the same sense of loss as I did when Troughton left, but that’s not to say that Pertwee wasn’t a magnificent Doctor. He was always charming and enthralling, but I think that after five seasons, a bit of change is probably for the best. He’s been a little out of sorts since losing Jo, and it seems harder for him to hit the same heights when he’s sparring against lesser evils than The Master.

Overall, Planet of the Spiders serves as the perfect swansong for this entire Pertwee/UNIT/Letts/Dicks era, while also promising much for the next phase. I know it’s all due to the hindsight of knowing how good the next Doctor is, but I couldn’t help but grin with anticipation at the sight of those curly locks…

RATING: 10

And as it’s the end of the season…

SEASON AVERAGE RATING: 8.2

  • Seasons/Series watched: 11 of 35
  • Stories watched: 74 of 259
  • Individual episodes watched: 381 of 825

And unfortunately, despite how keen I am to see the hair and teeth in action, I’m going to temporarily pause it there. I’ve just had my longest uninterrupted run of exactly one episode a day for seventy straight days, but I’ve got so many work and social commitments coming up that I can’t keep up this pace without either falling behind on the blogs, or dying. It’s annoying, but at least I’m making it last longer.

So rather than squeezing an episode in here and there, this feels like a good place to take a small break until my schedule clears, which should be within a fortnight. Until then, there must be no regrets, no tears, no anxieties. Just go forward in all your beliefs, and prove to me that I am not mistaken in mine by bookmarking or subscribing, so that you know when I’m back.

The Monster of Peladon

Ever since my extremely positive reaction to The Curse of Peladon, I was aware that the sequel is widely considered to be a poor relation of the original. In fact, while I was still watching it a few months ago, a friend asked “is that the good one or the shit one?” But when it comes to the more unpopular serials from the classic era, my opinion rarely seems to match that of the average fan, and this is no exception.

It was reminiscent of the twist in the middle of The Ark, with The Doctor returning to a civilisation that he’s saved, only to find that everything’s much worse than when he left it. I’m always a fan of that particular time travel trope, and with the reused sets and costumes, it felt like we were straight back into the thick of it, with very little messing around. The characters were very similar, but a generation on – the well-meaning but ineffectual monarch, with the bloodthirsty evil priest as their counsel.

Alpha Centauri was also a welcome returnee, although I found him slightly more annoying this time round – it’s partly the voice, but also his knack of getting himself into trouble too often, and then instantly blabbing about The Doctor’s plans. The majority of the guest cast were superb, though – I really took to Gebek, and Eckersley made a great villain, despite his slightly silly name. But the real stars of the show were obviously the Ice Warriors.

So effective was their use as peacemakers in Curse that I genuinely had no idea which side they’d be on when they turned up this time round. In the end, I’m glad they’ve defaulted to their evil ways – they’re proper vicious bullies here, the ruthless bastards we were promised way back in their first appearance. They completely change the story as soon as they turn up, causing the miners and the nobles to forget their differences and join forces against the common enemy. It’s the kind of impact from a mid-story arrival that you’d normally associate with the Daleks or The Master – I didn’t know the Ice Warriors had it in them.

On top of all that, it’s a story with a real heart, and plenty of touching moments during the various times that Sarah thought The Doctor was dead. The way things have panned out since the start of this season, I’m not completely on board with Three/Sarah Jane as a pairing – he’s often condescending and slightly mean to her, and it’s done without much real affection – but Elisabeth Sladen is still absolutely shining through regardless. I’m looking forward to seeing her team up with Mad Uncle Tom, which is only a week away.

I really am failing to see why anyone could be particularly opposed to this story. There were a handful of dodgy moments – like the climactic fight at the end of Part 4, between Ettis and some random bloke in a grey wig – but nothing major. But really, I was always going to be on board with a story that contains a huge pro-feminism speech in the middle, and a parable of 1970s miners’ strikes that sympathises almost entirely with the working masses, and shows the Tory analogues as relentlessly evil. This show is force for good, and so are the people behind the scenes.

Oh, and there was plenty of foreshadowing going on here too – Letts and Dicks are masters of the art. I’ve not seen Planet of the Spiders in full, but I have seen the regeneration scene, so the echoes of the Third Doctor’s last words were not lost on me. Here’s hoping it’s a great send off for a great Doctor.

RATING: 9

Death to the Daleks

Yes, Daleks again. It feels like they’ve only just been in it – obviously there’d have been a nearly a year between this and the last one for the audience at the time, but for me, that was the shortest gap I’ve had between two Dalek stories. I can’t say I was straining at the leash to see them again, but I was intrigued by the unusual title, and the fact that it was Terry Nation on writing duties once more.

And when The Doctor was exploring a petrified landscape, where nothing has grown for years, I thought, yep, that’s definitely Terry Nation. But to be fair, this story did try something new with the Daleks for the first time in years, with them being powerless and thus unable to kill. The uneasy truce with The Doctor and the humans gave us an interesting dynamic, and their improvised machine gun add-ons were pretty cool, as was the Dalek who committed suicide because he’d fucked everything up.

Unfortunately, you can kind of tell that the Daleks were tacked on to boost interest – as reliably excellent as they are, there’s no real need for them to be here, as this story has plenty of other things going on. I wouldn’t have minded if all the stuff with the Exxilons and the Parrinium and the magic city had sustained a four-parter by themselves. That said, the Daleks did improve all of the other elements – breaking up the attempted sacrifice wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun if it had been anyone else barging in.

The Exxilons themselves were pretty decent, if unspectacular, but I did like the chirpy little one who joined our heroes. The humans, on the other hand, were ill-defined and largely forgettable. Most of them were interchangeable other than the sneaky turncoaty one, whose actions were never truly bad enough to be that interesting – he made the traditional heroic sacrifice to redeem himself, but a written apology would probably have sufficed. And it was a shame that Rimmer’s Dad didn’t survive for very long, because he’s Rimmer’s Dad.

Tonally, the serial as a whole was all over the shop. Part One was dark, atmospheric and nerve-wracking. Sarah Jane goes through a genuinely traumatic experience, and Elisabeth Sladen plays it brilliantly. The foreboding grimness continues through the sacrifice scenes and tunnel escape, but at the same time you’ve got comedy oom-pah music whenever the Daleks are on screen, and it all culminates in The Doctor doing a load of silly logic puzzles.

Yes, it all goes a bit Tomby at the end, with the intelligence tests to gain access to the heart of the city. It’s entertaining enough, especially the Daleks not being able to solve the floor puzzle and electing to shoot the shit out of it instead, but it turns out that this was a complete waste of time. Another set of Daleks were simultaneously blowing up the beacon, which restored the power immediately. The Doctor would have been better served helping the humans to get their ship ready, and ultimately he destroyed a beautiful ancient city for no good reason whatsoever. Nice job.

Overall though, an entertaining if slightly inconsequential four episodes. This time, I am really looking forward to the Daleks coming back, because next time they’re bringing their dad along…

RATING: 8

Invasion of the Dinosaurs

You know how I’ll always champion the use of special effects in early Who, regardless of whether or not they quite work, because of the fabulous innovation and imagination on display? Well, it’s a lot harder to forgive the faults when the effects are so integral to the plot, and when they’re this woeful.

There were a handful of decent sequences, such as the T-Rex bursting out of the aircraft hangar, and… no, that’s the only example I can think of. The textures were too rubbery, the motion too restricted and the least said about the floppy pterodactyls the better. The fight between the T-Rex and the brontosaurus at the start of Part Six should have been brilliant, but was just too comical. I wasn’t sure if they were fighting or kissing.

All of which is a shame, because there’s a fantastic story at the heart of this. The dinosaurs are a complete red herring; the meat is in the unraveling mystery of who’s behind it and why. The plot is full of twists and turns, and you can kind of see most of them coming, but that doesn’t make it any less fun. Especially since one of them is truly shocking, in that it goes against character conventions in a brilliant way.

I’ve always thought Yates was a slimy little shit, so him turning double agent made perfect sense, especially given the duplicity he displayed in The Green Death. What’s shocking is that the Doctor has been completely and utterly betrayed by someone he should be able to trust. I’m not going to get into a debate about who counts as a companion and who doesn’t, but this is certainly the first time that a recurring goodie has turned out to be a baddie. Sure, The Brigadier’s done some dodgy shit in his time, but there’s no coming back from pulling a gun on your own men. The UNIT family now has a black sheep, and it can never be quite as cosy again. The show is beginning the process of leaving it behind.

Elsewhere, all the other traitors were great too, as were the rest of the guest cast. General Finch was clearly a bastard from the start, but I was genuinely fooled by Grover at one point. Also, that grey-bearded chap from the fake spaceship totally looks like Jeremy Corbyn. Typical BBC bias to portray him as a big old communist, aggressively brainwashing people to conform to his left-wing peace-loving ways. Never mind the Thatcher stuff in the 80s, it was incredibly prescient of them to satirise a Prime Minister 46 years in advance.

Another huge positive is Sarah Jane, who’s already showing exactly why she was the one companion from the classic era to be brought back all those years later. Ultimately though, this is a story that feels like it’s a couple of episodes too long. I was gripped and intrigued by the plot, but at the same time wishing it would develop just that little bit faster. I don’t always feel that way with six-parters, but I am glad that this is the last season where four-parters aren’t the norm.

Oh, and the Whomobile is rubbish. Bring back Bessie immediately.

RATING: 7

The Time Warrior

First of all, NEW TITLES! I very much approve, even if Jon Pertwee looks rather bored in his photo at the beginning. The effects look great, and I like the chunky, bold new font – it immediately feels much more recent than the previous style. I’ve never been mad keen on the diamond logo, and it’s replacing my all time favourite, but it does look much better than I imagined when coupled with the slit-scan effect.

This was very much a story of many firsts – a new title sequence, a new name for The Doctor’s home planet, and most importantly a new companion. It was an interesting variant on the usual introduction to have the newbie meet The Doctor and mistakenly identify him as the villain of the piece. Her coming round to his side was a way to establish her intelligence and ability to get to the bottom of a story. She’s not quite as loveable as Jo just yet, but it’s a strong start nonetheless, and you can see an instant chemistry between the lovely Lis Sladen and Pertwee.

The new villain was very decent too. I’m only really familiar with the Sontarans from the new series, and due to the shitness of their two-parter, I haven’t previously taken them seriously as a threat. This is a much better introduction; establishing the same core traits of their warlike ways and contempt for anything that can’t better their cause, but in a way that’s actually entertaining.

The flipside of this is that I love the comedic side of the Sontarans in New Who, and while Linx had his moments, he just reminded me of a less funny version of Strax. Not that that’s the fault of this serial of course, but it didn’t help that I found Irongron a bit too shouty to be an effective villain. He didn’t seem like a real person, which is sometimes fine in an alien or futuristic setting, but not in an Earth-bound historical.

And that was often a problem with the serial in general – we’re back in a real historical setting for the first time since the black and white days, but it feels like it’s been done in a really half-arsed way. The historicals of old were always nuanced and sympathetic in their portrayal of the olden days, whereas this was done in broad brush strokes, which made it hard to empathise with anyone. Sarah Jane was right – it was like being in a re-enactment rather than being in the past. Even Dot Cotton was putting on a posh voice.

All of the above left me feeling slightly disconnected from what I was watching, despite the obvious strengths of the main cast and Linx. Perhaps it would have been better if the subplot with Irongron’s attempts to expand his empire hadn’t been so prominent – I wanted more time-travelling Sontaran hijinks instead. As it is, a slightly disappointing start to the series, but that’s outweighed by the huge promise of the new companion. It was smart to end the last episode with The Doctor and Sarah Jane just stepping into the TARDIS – they’re such a natural pairing that it would seem a formality for him to officially invite her. She just belongs there.

RATING: 7

The Green Death

I cried, as I thought I might do. That’s got to be one of the most heartbreaking companion departures in the show’s history. The closing scenes are sheer joyful agony, with the Doctor devastated by his imminent loss despite knowing that it’s for the best, just like when it was his own flesh and blood. The giant leap from first meeting to marriage proposal was also very similar, but you can easily forgive that thanks to the beautiful way this story is constructed.

It’s got an elegant structure to it, and as a result it zips by, quickly establishing the situation in episode one by intercutting between the various factions involved, in order to get on with moving the plot forward without ever overwhelming the audience with information. That this is further intercut with the Doctor’s hilariously nightmarish trip to Metebelis III is the icing on the cake.

Meanwhile, Professor Jones is subtly being set up to be a young, human, sexy, Welsh version of The Doctor, which is solidified with the brilliant back reference to Jo being someone who can hand you test tubes and tell you how brilliant you are. By the end, she’s pulling favours for the Prof just like she did to meet the Doc, and she’s off to go adventuring in exotic locales in the name of science. This era of Doctor Who really knows what it’s doing, and it certainly doesn’t feel like it’s over forty years old – this is just great television.

Elsewhere, it’s lovely to have the Brig back after a relatively long absence – like slipping on a comfortable dressing gown, making you feel at home. And I see Yates is still alive and well after all, and he’s finally becoming useful and vaguely interesting. Despite only turning up halfway through, this was his best story yet, with his undercover shenanigans giving him the chance to do some very Doctorish things. And did I detect a little moment of heartache when Jo announced her engagement to another man?

Pertwee was on great form too, not only with the emotional goodbyes, but also getting a chance to do a bit of comedy. It’s surprising that the Third Doctor is so serious most of the time, given the actor’s Navy Lark heritage and future Worzel Gummidge infamy. But it’s great to see the Doctor’s penchant for disguise return, and he’s outstanding as both the milkman and, in particular, the cleaning lady.

And speaking of campness, BOSS is a bit flamboyant for a computer, isn’t he? Increasingly so throughout the serial, and he becomes all the better for it. His giddy singing and child-like distrait in the last episode is brilliant, and also a stark contrast to the visceral, creepy threat of the maggoty mine scenes that dominate the early episodes. This serial really does have everything, and it does everything well.

Well, almost everything. It’s a shame about the big papier mâché wasp, and the Welsh accents definitely aren’t as convincing as the ones in New Who. But who cares when there’s so many other brilliant little moments – the deeply disturbing but brilliantly underplayed suicide machine, the touching generation-spanning friendship between Jo and Bert, and of course The Doctor cock-blocking Professor Jones when he tried to seduce Jo in front of a log fire.

The CSO doesn’t always work, and it was especially weird when they were cutting between filmed locations and video-taped mock-ups within the same scene – I wonder whether they ran out of time on location, or whether these scenes were extended in the studio to pad out the running time? But despite how poor the effects look by today’s standards, I still always see them as a huge tick in an episode’s plus column. For a start, they wouldn’t have looked nearly as bad on a tiny CRT in the early seventies, plus they show incredible ambition and ingenuity; the production team utilising new technology in the pursuit of telling as big and impressive a story as possible. Coupled with great performances and brilliant writing, this is a golden age.

RATING: 10

Season 10 ends with a 10 out of 10. Milestone time!

SEASON AVERAGE RATING: 8.8

  • Seasons/Series watched: 10 of 34 and two thirds
  • Stories watched: 69 of 257
  • Individual episodes watched: 355 of 821

That’s the highest average rating so far – the extra special tenth anniversary season very much living up to its promise. I’m now past half way through the classic era in terms of episode count, and this makes me slightly sad. But on the other hand, I can’t wait to have witnessed all the brilliance that’s still to come, starting with the first appearance of possibly the only companion who seems worthy of following Jo Grant…

Planet of the Daleks

Ah, that’s more like it. After the false dawn of their initial reappearance, the Daleks are most emphatically back this time, and what’s more they’re back to their old selves. As I’d hoped from their cameo last time, they’re suddenly effortlessly effective again. The uniform battleship grey paint job suits them, more props have been built, and they’re being properly directed so that it seems like there’s hundreds of them. But best of all, Zippy is back on voiceover duty.

This is them going back to their roots, with a story to match. This is a proper sequel to their very first appearance, as written by their creator. (Terry Nation, not Davros – he doesn’t exist yet.) The Thals are back for the first time, and there’s even lovely mentions of Barbara, Ian and Susan. It works as part of the season-spanning tenth anniversary celebrations, but it’s also satisfying in story terms to hear of how the First Doctor’s actions in that serial have entered folklore, exploring the impact that this incredible man has on civilisations throughout the galaxy.

After a while, though, you notice that it’s not so much a sequel to The Daleks, as a complete and utter rehash, just in a different order. Terry Nation is never one to dismiss a good idea just because it’s already been used, and so we get the Daleks attempting to poison the Thals, a Dalek city being infiltrated, The Doctor being imprisoned and even someone getting inside a Dalek casing as a disguise. It’s not great to be so derivative, but on the other hand it’s still a huge amount of fun.

There was a fair chunk of new stuff too, and it all worked pretty well. The jungle and its various aggressive plant life was great, albeit in itself a little derivative of elements of Nation’s The Keys of Marinus and Mission To The Unknown. I liked the Spiridons a lot too, with their furs in the exact same hue as Emu. Always handy for the budget to introduce an invisible monster, and CSO allows them to make good use of the concept. Oh, and the Daleks can fly now! Admittedly they need a special anti-gravity device to do so, but I wasn’t expecting to see that until Remembrance.

One thing that surprised me was how little it had to do with Frontier In Space in the end. There was even a line of dialogue at one point where The Doctor acknowledged that thwarting The Master’s plan was completely irrelevant in the grand evil scheme of things. It feels like they were two different stories comprising five and a half episodes each, with the remaining episode’s worth of linking material spread across part six of the former and part one of the latter.

But while it failed to pick up on the previous serial’s lead, it did seem to plant a seed for the next one. I may be reading too much into it, considering I know what’s coming next, but there seemed to be some foreshadowing of Jo’s imminent departure in the way that she and The Doctor were separated for so long. And this definitely ramped up in episode six, which presented her with an opportunity to stay behind with some bloke, reminding the audience of the most common way for a female companion to leave the show. The fact that she’s starting to contemplate life without The Doctor, coupled with a hint of homesickness is really setting up what promises to be an emotional departure.

RATING: 8