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

The Web of Fear

Remember when I said this story would have to go a hell of a long way to top The Enemy of the World? Well, it did. And then some. Technically I’d seen this story before, but that was in all in one go, in a big group of people, with us all talking through it – hardly the ideal circumstances to appreciate what is an absolute masterpiece. What a fantastic time in the show’s life this is.

It works so well to have a sequel so quickly after the original, not least because it’s instantly apparent just how much the returning foes have improved in such a short space of time. Last time, the Yeti were a little too slow and lumbering, but the tweaks in the design make a real difference, and the addition of their web-gun weaponry adds an extra dimension. This story also does a much better job of clarifying what The Great Intelligence is and why it’s being such a dick than in any of its other appearances, including in the new series.

It’s also great to have Professor Travers back, with his aged appearance and new mannerisms instantly giving so much context and back-story from the off. And he’s just one of an interesting ensemble of characters, most notably the slimy reporter, the freakish Welsh one and the slightly ropey Staff Sergeant.

The former two are the main suspects in the ongoing subplot regarding the possibility of a traitor in the camp. That layer of intrigue makes the story so gripping – all week I’ve found myself thinking about it all day, longing to be home in front of my DVD. In the end, the traitor turned out to be the other one, and – like last time – it’s a twist that I didn’t see coming, but that made perfect sense as soon as I knew. The slight ropiness was intentional!

Of course, there was supposed to be an extra suspect, but for some reason I never truly believed that this Lethbridge-Stewart chap would turn out to be a wrongun. That’s not to say I didn’t appreciate how well he was written – all the qualities we’d come to love, but under a veil of caution and fear. He didn’t yet trust The Doctor, and so acted in a way that made The Doctor distrust him.

You can tell just from this that The Brigadier Colonel was always destined to become a regular fixture. A few villains aside, he’s by far the most well-rounded, memorable and watchable guest character in the show to date – more so than a number of companions, in fact.

You can also see the seeds of UNIT being sown, and again it’s so easy to see why the producers latched on to the concept, even in this primitive form. It must have been so joyful in the production office when they realised they could take the show in yet another brilliant new direction, because even 47 years later, it’s utterly joyful to watch.

I’m going to have to take another short break, as my sister is selfishly getting married. But I will come back, oh yes I will come back, and dive into the last really big block of missing episodes…

RATING: 10

The Abominable Snowmen

You know I was saying last time about how I knew the big headlines of what was coming next but didn’t know about the specifics? Well, I knew that this story would introduce the Yeti (the clue was in the name, really), but not that it would also see the debut of The Great Intelligence!

I mean, I should have remembered that the two are intrinsically linked (I watched The Web of Fear shortly after it was released), but it had completely slipped my mind, so it rather blew me away when it was revealed in episode three. It’s a weirdly appropriate sign of the timey-wimey nature of this project. Most of the time, I’m getting the same experience as viewers would have done when the episodes first aired, but my knowledge of what’s to come sometimes gives certain things an extra significance and alters the experience. Nobody would have gasped at the name “The Great Intelligence” in 1967, because they hadn’t seen The Name of the Doctor. I feel privileged to find even more to enjoy in those episodes than those feckless 60s idiots did.

The notorious TGI himself was suitably mysterious and intimidating, even if it was all a little Wizard of Oz (we had the same thing not long ago in The Macra Terror). His presence as the overall big bad kind of undermined the Yeti, as they were never quite as threatening once they were revealed to be merely remote-controlled henchmen. But they were great for what they were, the big cuddly lumbering murderers.

Victoria finally managed to announce herself after a couple of false starts. There seems to be a trend for companions to only show a personality on their second or third outing – Vicki, Polly and Jamie were the same. But she’s on good form here, establishing herself as inquisitive, crafty and clever when she insisted on investigating the inner sanctum. There was a hefty deal of high-pitching screaming too, but that’s to be expected and mostly tolerated in this era.

While all the ingredients to this story were good, it did perhaps go on a little too long – it felt like an excellent four-parter stretched to become a pretty decent six-parter. The ending was a tad disappointing too – it basically boiled down to smashing a load of shit up and hoping for the best, when you’d hope that The Great Intelligence would be defeated by The Doctor’s greater intelligence. But still, I know they’re all coming back in just a few serials’ time, so that’s a chance to right that small wrong.

Finally, a small notice to say that the next entry will take place in slightly longer than six days’ time. I’m going to have to hit pause for four days due to my other sci-fi passion. Four days without Who is going to feel like the gap between Survival and Rose.

RATING: 7