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.

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 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…

The Time Monster

Seriously, what is wrong with Doctor Who fans? I genuinely don’t mean to be contrary, but it seems like every time I approach a story with no preconceptions, I like it a hell of a lot more than the people who, for example, voted it 222 out of 241 in the most recent DWM survey, below The Bloody Web Bloody Planet. And Before The Flood wasn’t that bad, but I’ll get to that in about three years.

Anyway, this story combined a huge amount of fun with all the drama you’d hope for in a season finale. You can’t fail to be delighted by The Master pissing about with time to thwart UNIT, or perfectly impersonating The Brigadier, or turning The Doctor’s voice backwards just to shut him up. The souped-up super-fast Bessie was also brilliant, as was Baby Benton. Little moments of joy sprinkled liberally throughout.

And as for the drama, the stakes were really ramped up. A lot of the cliffhangers were superb, particularly at the end of episode three with the Doodlebug crashing down on Captain Yates’s convoy, and the subsequent rare loss of composure from The Brig sold it as genuinely perilous. The Doctor’s speech about the hermit in the last episode was beautifully written and perfectly acted – both in Pertwee’s reading and Manning’s reactions.

A special mention for Katy Manning and Jo Grant, who both continue to absolutely shine. Jo is utterly fearless thanks to her total devotion to The Doctor – twice in this serial she has moments where she accepts the prospect of death, because life wouldn’t be worth living without him. Plus, her costume in the Atlantis scenes was really quite something.

It was nice to see a return to a historical setting, albeit a mythical one. I hadn’t quite realised how long it had been – you’ve got to go back to relatively early Troughton since we’ve seen anywhere that wasn’t contemporary, futuristic or alien. That said, episode five being set entirely in Atlantis, with no cutting back and forth with the present day, was a bit of a mis-step. It all went a bit Clavdivs and it was weird.

Also, obviously, great to have UNIT back for only the second time this season, but it’s a shame there wasn’t more for them to do towards the conclusion. Yates was hardly in it even before he was hospitalised, and Brig got frozen in time for half the serial. It was a strong outing for Benton, what with his various run-ins with The Master and the aforementioned Baby Benton, but it was disappointing that he wasn’t seen for two episodes after being youthed.

This lack of following through on ideas is all that stops this story from getting full marks. (Which reminds me, for those of you who have been paying attention – I’ve gone back and altered my rating for Day of the Daleks). Well, that and the initial manifestation of Kronos as a big flappy bird being a bit daft. It’s also hard to take something called a “TOMTIT device” seriously, and the time sensor thing, pictured above, totally looks like a cock and balls. Oh, and the inside out roundels are crap.

But seriously, that speech about The Doctor’s origins – along with the sheer number of times this serial made me exclaim with joy, shock or horror – makes this a worthy conclusion to what has been an excellent season. Not the season I was expecting, but with the exception of the damp squib of an opener, you can’t fault the results.

RATING: 9

So yes, with the season over, let’s have a look at the scores so far (with totals correct at time of writing):

SEASON AVERAGE RATING: 8.4

  • Seasons/Series watched: 9 of 34 and a third
  • Stories watched: 64 of 255
  • Individual episodes watched: 329 of 817

Very much looking forward to what’s coming next, even though I’m already familiar with the next couple of stories. Weirdly though, the prospect of The Doctor being free to explore the universe unhindered once more doesn’t feel as exciting as it should, thanks to the fact that this season has played out like his exile has already been lifted. Nevertheless, I can’t wait to see a couple of old friends again…

Day of the Daleks

They’re back, after an absence of 134 episodes, equating to about five months’ worth of my marathon. And after a five year break for the production team, it seems like they kind of forgot how to do them. The voices in particular are really off – staccato to the point of sounding hesitant. Where’s Zippy when you need him?

And yeah, you could totally tell that there were only three Dalek props available. I wasn’t aware that there even was an attempt to disguise the fact until I read about it afterwards – I assumed that the entire invasion had been carried off by just three Daleks, one of whom was gold. Maybe it would have been easier to pass them off as dozens if they were all the same colour, rather than attempting to suggest that they all hang around in groups of two greys and a gold.

I kind of liked my interpretation that all they’d subjugated and enslaved an entire planet with just three of them – it fits in to the descriptions in Dalek that made me fall in love with them in the first place. As it is, though, it’s another example of the shoddy workmanship that plagues this serial. The Ogrons weren’t terrible, but they were seemingly only there because they were cheaper to make than more Daleks, and the cheapness showed. With the exception of Aubrey Woods – who I always thought was creepy as fuck in Willy Wonka, so it’s no surprise he makes such a good villain – most of the guest cast are woeful. Then there’s weird little things like CSO elements disappearing from shot to shot, and the theme tune scream appearing after the cliffhanger resolves. Just why?

But the worst thing? You set up a scene at the beginning where The Doctor and Jo are visited by another version of The Doctor and Jo from the near future, seemingly from towards the end of the same serial. And then we get to the end of the serial… and there’s no corresponding scene where The Doctor and Jo visit their past selves. Not even a hastily-inserted line of dialogue to explain what that visit was all about. Unless they do something amazing, like resolve this hanging thread in the last episode of the season, I’m going to come back in time and remove one point from my rating for this episode.

EDIT: Yep, see below.

It’s a shame, because underneath all of that, there’s a decent story to be told, it’s just not the one that involves the Daleks. The stuff with the “ghosts” appearing at the manor house was much more intriguing than the dystopian future – again, Aubrey Woods aside – and that eventually developed into a brilliant timey-wimey story. Just as I was wondering how they could possibly resolve this plot without invoking a paradox, they go and explain that they’d been aware of that all along. It works well, and there are plenty of other good points – Pertwee and Manning are both on fine form, and there’s some great little UNIT moments, particularly those involving Benton, Yates and a plate of cheese.

But the problem is, apart from that little moment where they cycle through pictures of Hartnell and Troughton, I’d kind of rather The Daleks weren’t in it. This is not ideal for a long-awaited comeback. Overall, not an absolutely terrible serial, but I sincerely hope it’s not the best Dalek story I see this week.

RATING: 7 6

The Dæmons

Now, I don’t particularly like stories about magic, in Doctor Who or in general. It’s purely down to personal preference, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with them, it’s just that I prefer my sci-fi/fantasy to be heavier on the sci. So there was an element of trepidation as I watched the opening episodes of this one, especially considering the running gag of The Doctor being interrupted every time he’s about to give the rational explanation for everything that’s going on. I was a little concerned that this would continue for the duration.

But I should have just gone with it from the off, because as soon as the explanation did arrive – as cursory and functional as it was – I started enjoying the serial a lot more. There’s clearly a hell of a lot of fun to be had by casting The Master as the figurehead of a Satanist cult, and the whole thing about a sleepy picturesque village harbouring a secret network of hooded minions was very Hot Fuzz.

The scale of the story escalated perfectly as it went along, with really grim moments like Benton having the shit kicked out of him by an invisible force, and The Doctor being tied to a stake to be burnt alive by evil Morris dancers. In the end, the world may have been saved pretty much by accident, rather than with the culmination of a brilliantly cunning plan, but it was nice that it was Jo that saved the day – she’s been an absolute star of this season, which is no mean feat for Katy Manning considering the might of Pertwee, Delgado and Courtney. They are a fantastic ensemble.

Regardless of the convenient nature of Azal’s demise, the coda on the village green is the perfect end to a season, especially the subversion of The Master’s usual last-second escape. He’s finally captured, bringing his run of consecutive appearances to an end. Probably for the best, considering the need to keep things as varied and unpredictable as ever despite the current production restrictions. But here’s a sign of how brilliantly the character has worked up to this point – the big cliffhanger at the end of Episode Three is The Master’s life being in peril. It’s not The Doctor we’re worried for, or one of his companions, but an actual villain. That doesn’t happen very often.

Pleasingly, this was one of those serials that seemed rife with links to the future, intentional or otherwise. It was amusing to see “BBC 3” used as a “Jaws 19” type gag, although it does mean that the UNIT adventures are actually set in the 2000s at the earliest. Then there was the nerdy UNIT Sergeant named “Osgood”, which got me wondering whether I’d missed a line in The Day of the Doctor. Turns out Moff wrote her to be this Osgood’s daughter, but didn’t include it in the script. I love the fact that the daughters of two different characters from the 70s are working together for the same organisation in the modern day.

Best of all, though? The lines “reverse the polarity” and the impeccable: “Chap with the wings, there. Five rounds rapid.” That line in particular encapsulates this whole era of the show. It’s completely distinct from everything that came before or after, but it’s oh so charming and captivating.

RATING: 9

And so we reach the end of another season – these are coming round much more frequently now that the show has a far more sensible production schedule…

SEASON AVERAGE RATING: 8.2

  • Seasons/Series watched: 8 of 34
  • Stories watched: 59 of 253
  • Individual episodes watched: 303 of 813

Ooh, the total number of stories and episodes will have gone up next time I do this bit. And the top figure will be out of 34 and a bit. But before that, I’ve got an appointment with some old friends. Brief cameos aside, I’ve not seen hide nor hair of a Dalek since the middle of April, and this ridiculous state of affairs must stop immediately.

The Claws of Axos

57 claws of axos

Well, there I was all prepared to write a blog post about how this serial is a bit ‘meh’, and then an absolutely fantastic final episode comes along. That really is a great part four, with Pertwee’s Doctor getting some of his best scenes yet. I was genuinely unsure as to The Doctor’s motives at times; I was pretty sure that it was all partly a scheme to destroy Axos, but there was definitely a huge element of truth in the bits about wanting to fuck off away from UNIT as quickly as possible.

I’ve a feeling I’ll be saying it a lot over the next few seasons, but the Third Doctor and the First/Thirteenth Master are such a brilliant combination. They don’t even share that much screen time on this occasion, but The Master’s very existence has added a whole other dimension to The Doctor’s character – The Master has been established as what would happen if The Doctor had gone wrong, and as such he’s brought out that potential for conniving sneakiness that we haven’t seen since early Hartnell.

And this particular story brought us a new side of The Master – for the first time, he’s not completely in control of the situation, and he’s actually quite vulnerable and desperate at times. As such, he has to be extra resourceful and think on his feet. It’s a neat role reversal that the conclusion to the main plot has The Master fleeing because The Doctor’s gone too far for once. Prior to this, though, he’s properly evil, especially when forcing the Brigadier to choose between saving the earth or saving The Doctor and Jo.

But while the conflict between the two archenemies is as strong as ever, the main plot of this serial is a bit flimsy. The stakes are suitably high and the stuff on board Axos was often nice and trippy, but there wasn’t any real substance to it. I was never really sold on the concept that everything Axos-related was part of one huge organism, and I think the slightly shoddy look to the all-organic ship didn’t really help.

The oddest thing was the cast of characters involved. Benton and Yates barely featured other than an admittedly decent car chase towards the end, so it was an odd choice to introduce a (presumably) one-off character in Filer, who simply spent four episodes getting himself into trouble that could have easily been gotten in to by one of the regulars. Chinn was interesting – a more overtly comical character than we’re used to in this era, but he just became less relevant as the plot developed, and disappeared towards the end.

But still, it was bloody good to see the console room again. I hadn’t realised how much I missed the TARDIS, as both a “character” and a narrative device, until it became so prominent in this story’s conclusion. I am very much enjoying the UNIT era, especially with the added element of The Master’s regular appearances, but the TARDIS is such a huge part of everything that came before or since that it’s a bit weird without it.

RATING: 7

The Mind of Evil

This seemed like at least three stories in one – there’s a machine that can scare people to death and eat their evilness, a murder investigation at a peace conference, and The Master taking over a prison in order to steal a missile. None of these individual threads satisfyingly tied together in any meaningful way. But when The Master is on screen, who cares?

Roger Delgado is simply excellent. Bizarrely, I’d hardly seen any of his incarnation prior to this marathon, whereas I’d seen a fair chunk of Ainley and everything of all the others. He really does shit all over everyone else, doesn’t he? The best thing is that I’m seeing the origins of everything the later portrayals were informed by, as the legend is fleshed out before my eyes.

I was surprised to see his penchant for being-in-disguise-even-when-it’s-not-necessary quite so early, with him wearing a mask to tamper with telephone exchange on an anonymous and virtually deserted street. Then there was that brilliant moment when you saw him in his car with evil incidental music over the top, before the reveal that he was actually playing the evil music to himself on a little radio.

But once again, it’s all about that mysterious love-hate relationship with The Doctor. Like last time, they spend periods working together out of necessity, and make a pretty effective team. The highlight of the whole serial was the reveal that The Master’s greatest, deepest fear is a giant version of The Doctor doing a big lol in his astonished face. An alarming image, and incredibly character-defining.

Meanwhile, The Doctor’s biggest fear gave us a welcome cameo appearance by the Daleks, last seen (properly) bloody ages ago. The Keller Machine bore a passing resemblance to them from certain angles, while the funky effect used when it killed someone was like a more psychedelic version of the classic extermination effect. All in all, it’s made me realise how much I miss them at this stage. I’m pining for their return.

It was another great romp for the whole UNIT crew. Jo showed her compassionate side throughout, and was always a fantastic audience surrogate, especially during the gut-punch of what happened to poor old Barnham. The Brig got to play dress-up too, as well as taking the piss out of all around for the majority of the story. Yates and Benton both got to be very brave and rugged, although there doesn’t seem to be much to Yates just yet, especially in comparison to Benton’s cute doe-eyed enthusiasm.

But the most notable thing about this story? The revelation that Michael Sheard once played someone who wasn’t a complete shit. I kept on expecting him to betray someone, or turn out to be The Master in disguise or something, just because I’ve never seen him play a goody before.

RATING: 8