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02 Jul 2011, 6:13 am

REVIEW: The Deadly Assassin by Robert Holmes

SERIAL
: 4P, 4X25 minute episodes

SEEN IT BEFORE?: Yes.


With Elisabeth Sladen gone from the TARDIS, and new companion Leela (as played by Louise Jameson) on the way, Tom Baker wanted to experiment with the format of Doctor Who, confident that he could carry the show by himself without companions. Although Philip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes never intended to abolish the companions at all, they decided to give Baker's suggestion a chance, and Holmes was given special permission (something that, at the time, a script editor was required to do) to write this experimental story. Set on Gallifrey, amidst political intrigue, this experiment would prove to be one of the most controversial in Doctor Who's history in more ways than one...

Summoned back to Gallifrey, the Doctor receives a series of disturbing visions of the assassination of the President of Gallifrey. What's worse, he appears to be the assassin himself. Escaping the guards sent to capture him for landing his TARDIS unauthorised in the Capitol, the Doctor struggles to warn Castellan Spandrell of the impending death. But when the moment finally comes, the Doctor turns out to have been framed, by the real assassin. And the assassin himself is working with someone who knows the Doctor very well: a decaying, decrepit Master, desperately trying to extend his life. Buying himself time, the Doctor enters the Matrix, the repository of all Time Lord knowledge, and engages in a battle to the death against the deadly assassin. Who killed the President? Can the Doctor clear his name? And why will the Master's plan for immortality affect not only Gallifrey, but other worlds as well?

For its time, The Deadly Assassin was remarkably prescient. It was written several years before the cyberpunk movement took off and the concept of virtual reality became known. The Matrix of the Time Lords preceded that of the Wachowskis by over two decades. And while having a Doctor without a companion was almost unheard-of at the time, it did become used in a number of specials in the new series. And what's more, it began to show the Time Lords in a more complex and less than flattering light that would end with their destruction in the Time War...

Robert Holmes is usually a good writer, but of the scripts I rated highly so far in the previous season that he wrote, both were originally derived from scripts by other writers, Lewis Greifer for Pyramids of Mars, and Terrance Dicks for The Brain of Morbius. This is probably his first purely solo script since The Time Warrior. Even the references to film and horror is mostly absent, with The Manchurian Candidate and the JFK assassination being starting points, but starting points only. Here, he weaves political intrigue, albeit of a relatively simplistic nature.

One of the most notable changes to Doctor Who canon deriving from this story was the de-deification of the Time Lords. While many fans objected to this at the time, I find myself in agreement with Robert Holmes' assertion that godlike aliens tend to get boring time and time again, and after their more deity-like appearances in previous stories, it's nice to see them being more human, and thus full of character. We have pompous video announcer Runcible (mockingly called 'the Fatuous' by the Doctor, and given a wonderful putdown by Borusa), the enigmatic and experienced Borusa, and eager but rather hapless Commander Hildred. All are played well, but of particular note are Who veterans George Pravda as cynical but competent Castellan Spandrell, Erik Chitty as ancient archivist Engin, and Bernard Horsfall putting in a typically fine performance as Chancellor Goth.

Of particular note here is the horror in this story. The Master, played in a mask by the superb Peter Pratt, is one of the most overtly horrific elements of the story. Effectively a living corpse in the image of the Reaper, the Master is perhaps at his most desperate and most dangerous here, as his goals are more to do with survival than with conquest. But there is the psychological battle in the Matrix itself, a psychological horror duel between two psyches that takes on a series of nightmarish images before it becomes a battle to the death between the Doctor and the Master's proxy. It is done extremely well, and the late David Maloney was a great director for the show. It's no wonder Mary Whitehouse complained, although the shot of the Doctor under the water was probably one of the less horrifying images in this story.

I'm not sure that I have any criticisms for this story. There are no real special effect failures, with everything from the staser blasts to the final catastrophe in the climax working well. The only problem seems to be that the Master can't move his mouth much. As for the story, well, it could have been complex (given the nature of the program, examining politics), but not within the episodes allotted to it, and Holmes did well with what he had. And there was that rather irritating cheat where they edited in that shot of the assassin raising a staser pistol into the start of episode 2, while making us think at the end of episode 1 that the Doctor really had shot the President.

Even so, The Deadly Assassin is another example of what happens when everything on Doctor Who comes together. Virtually perfect, and a fine example of Robert Holmes' work, we have an experiment that changed the course of Doctor Who in more ways than one...


SCORE: 10/10


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03 Jul 2011, 1:47 am

REVIEW: The Robots of Death by Chris Boucher

SERIAL
: 4R, 4X25 minute episodes

SEEN IT BEFORE?: Yes.


In 1970, the concept of the uncanny valley was introduced by robotics expert Professor Masahiro Mori. As robots become progressively more human-like, empathy towards them increases, until a certain point. After this point, the closer they seem to being human, the more revulsion they arouse in us. While not in widespread use by the public for some time, the concept itself takes on a central theme to the penultimate story of the Holmes/Hinchcliffe era, The Robots of Death, with Grimwade's Syndrome, aka robophobia...

On a desert world far into the future, a group of miners work in a special mobile mining vehicle called the Sandminer. Despite the arduous nature of their work, they live in relative luxury, tended to by robots. However, when one of them is murdered, accusations are quick to fly, especially when the Doctor and his new companion Leela make themselves known. As the bodycount rises, so do the tensions. Working with undercover investigator Poul, the Doctor and Leela soon find out that robots are being reprogrammed to kill. Nothing is what it seems. A mute robot is able to talk and reason for itself, every member of the sandminer crew has a skeleton in the closet, and one of them may very well be insane robot scientist Taren Capel...

Unfortunately, Leela's debut story isn't available on DVD, so this is the first chance I get to evaluate Louise Jameson's acting, as well as the writing of Chris Boucher. Let's start with Boucher. Later, he would go on to script edit (and write a number of episodes for) the series Blake's 7, but he shows here, if not full creativity, then a good sense of structure and giving things a certain amount of background. There is a slight lack of energy here, but that is also partly due to the direction.

The characters are functionally written, and the performances vary. Russell Hunter as Uvanov gives an ambiguity to the character that is needed to cover up the rather jarring change in his attitude, while Pamela Salem takes Toos, a character that could have been done rather coldly, and gives her humanity. David Collings does well as Poul, even if he does go over the top when his character suffers from robophobia, and David Bailie as Dask keeps people guessing. The robots, of necessity, are played rather flat and calmly, but especial praise should go to Miles Fothergill as SV7, as well as Gregory de Polnay, who infuses the role of D84 with a performance that makes the robot seem like it is struggling towards humanity. However, some of the other roles aren't written or acted as well, with Borg's change of opinion about the intruders coming out of the blue. Louise Jameson is doing well as Leela, kicking arse and taking names, and yet still showing that she's more than a mindless savage. However, Tom Baker doesn't seem to be taking the acting seriously in this story, and seems far more flippant than usual.

The production design is rather inconsistent, with very plain and functional sets mixing with the more luxurious crew quarters and their costumes, which seem out of place on a working mobile mine. I know some areas of the Sandminer would have more functional areas, but they designs seem to clash. This isn't to say that the design itself is bad. The costumes and the crew quarters sets are gorgeous, but they clash with other areas. The music is pretty good, but the distinctive heartbeat-like bassline gets irritating rather than suspenseful after a while.

The Robots of Death is by no means a bad story, and it is certainly above average. But there are annoying niggles that prevent it from reaching a status I feel it deserves.


SCORE: 8.5/10


This trailer is for the first Revisitations set, which contains the next story, The Talons of Weng-Chiang.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zZYaSQLynv4[/youtube]


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03 Jul 2011, 4:50 am

REVIEW: The Talons of Weng-Chiang by Robert Holmes

SERIAL
: 4S, 6X25 minute episodes

SEEN IT BEFORE?: Yes.


Amongst its controversies, it's a rarity that Doctor Who is considered racist. However, by today's standards, The Talons of Weng-Chiang would be, if not actually racist, rather insensitive. The Chinese characters are not portrayed in a flattering light, and the main Chinese character is actually portrayed by a European, John Bennett. But is this a deal-breaker for the final story of the Holmes/Hinchcliffe era?

Landing in Victorian London, the Doctor takes Leela to the theatre to show her how her ancestors lived and enjoyed themselves. But they encounter a man being murdered, a cabbie who accosted stage magician Li-H'Sen Chang, whom the cabbie believed responsible for the disappearance of his wife, one of many women gone missing recently. Some think it is Jack the Ripper returned, but the Doctor soon discovers that Chang is abducting these women on behalf of his master, a deformed madman posing as the Chinese god Weng-Chiang. The ersatz god, really a time-traveller, is searching for the Time Cabinet he lost long ago in China, and as it turns out, it belongs to Professor Litefoot, a pathologist the Doctor and Leela meet. With the abducted women meeting a grisly end to prolong Weng-Chiang's life, theatre owner Henry Gordon Jago investigating his cellar and Chang's ventriloquist dummy Mr Sin, and the Doctor, Leela, and Litefoot fighting against the Tong of the Black Scorpion, things will get tricky. For this foe from the future is determined to get his own way, and the talons of Weng-Chiang may dig deep into London before this is over...

Robert Holmes is, at his best, a master storyteller, and this is perhaps his magnum opus. Despite the elements of Yellow Peril stories (this story was partly influenced by the Fu Manchu stories), it is not a truly racist story, even if it is, at times, rather patronising. Far more is owed to the Sherlock Holmes mythos, and the Doctor even dresses like the classic deerstalker-and-cape image of Sherlock Holmes. This is Whovian Victoriana at its finest, with atmosphere you can cut with a knife.

The characters are all done excellently. Litefoot is the very model of a Victorian gentleman, allowing Leela to get away with eating her food without manners in order to avoid embarassing her, and Jago, full of bombast and loquaciousness, proves a perfect foil to both the Doctor and Litefoot. Trevor Baxter and Christopher Benjamin respectively tuck into their roles with aplomb. John Bennett as Li-H'Sen Chang does well with the role, and manages to make the audience feel sympathy for him in the end after his downfall by infusing him with pathos. Magnus Greel is over the top and melodramatic, and in another story might not have worked, but here, he does, with Michael 'Morbius' Spice making the role his own. Both Tom Baker and Louise Jameson give excellent performances, with Leela having an excellent put-down against Greel, even when she is threatened with death.

This seems to be one of those productions where everything comes together. David Maloney's direction, the production design, the music...There are only two bum notes in the whole thing: the aforementioned insensitivity to the Chinese, and the rather badly done giant rat. Neither are deal-breakers. The former has to be viewed in the context of when it was made, and the latter is not on screen long enough to matter.

This is one of the best ever Doctor Who stories to ever be done. Period. Some small nuisances aside, this is as close to perfection as the series can get to.



SCORE: 10/10


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03 Jul 2011, 4:57 am

PROGRESS REPORT THREE: THE GOLDEN AGE OF DOCTOR WHO, OR, HOLMES, HINCHCLIFFE, AND HORROR

STORIES: Total for this era: 14

Cumulative total: 51. 14 William Hartnell, 6 Patrick Troughton. 17 Jon Pertwee. 14 Tom Baker

TIME: Total for this era: 12 days

Cumulative total: 65 days

PERCENTAGE NEVER WATCHED BEFORE: 1/14, or 7%

Cumulative total: 14/51, or 27%

MILESTONES:

First episode with the fourth Doctor

Departure from UNIT and modern-based stories

First appearance of Davros

First hints of the Time War (in retrospect)

First Master to be played by someone other than Roger Delgado

First appearance of Borusa

First mention of Rassilon

Most noted complaints by Mary Whitehouse (particularly the 'drowning' cliffhanger from The Deadly Assassin)

Three years (1974-1977)

COMPANIONS: Sarah Jane Smith, Harry Sullivan, Leela

THOUGHTS: Nobody could have forseen at the time that Tom Baker would become the longest-serving Doctor, and that his first three years would be amongst the most controversial in the series. Under the direction of Philip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes, Doctor Who would be taken to some dark places indeed, a style that would earn the ire of Mary Whitehouse. However, many consider this period in the history of the show to be the golden age for the show, a sentiment that I share.

It has been pointed out that this era, more than others, took elements from various other sources, particularly gothic horror books and films. While the lack of originality in terms of the origins of the stories must be kept in mind, the fact remains is that the vast majority of stories from this time are of high quality, and maybe this is due to the fact that the stories already had a headstart in terms of the tropes used already, allowing the writers and the script editor to develop stories further, to their full potential.

Tom Baker, while he stamps his eccentricity on the role fairly swiftly, takes a few stories to get used to the role of the Doctor, but soon makes it his own. This is Baker when he is taking the role at its most seriously, before the rot began to set in. He is ably supported by a number of companions. Sarah, of course, leaves, but you get the sense of a real friendship between Sarah and the fourth Doctor, possibly helped by the fact that Elisabeth Sladen, like Tom Baker, came from Liverpool. Harry was a nice try, but while Ian Marter is a good actor, the character, unfortunately, was rather boring, and became superfluous to requirements, as did the rest of the UNIT family. Leela, as played by Louise Jameson, is an interesting new kind of companion, a savage with an aggressive attitude, but still intelligent, despite her primitive ways. While Baker didn't like Leela for her violent ways, I feel that she was a good experiment.

This era shows that it is possible to use horror in Doctor Who, and still keep it as Doctor Who. It is this era that inspired later creations like the Nucleus of the Swarm, the Mara, the Malus, Kroagnon, the Gods of Ragnarok and Fenric. It would even inspire people from the new series, with creatures like the Gelth, the Empty Child, the Werewolf, the Devil Entity (played by Gabriel 'Sutekh' Woolf), the Racnoss, the Carrionites, Professor Lazarus, the Weeping Angels, the Toclafane, the Vashta Nerada, the Martian Water Virus, Prisoner Zero, the Saturniyans, the Silence, House, the Gangers, all of these have roots in the horror concepts from the Holmes/Hinchcliffe era. This era may owe a lot to horror books and films, but new Doctor Who owes a lot to this era.



BEST STORIES: Genesis of the Daleks, Planet of Evil, Pyramids of Mars, The Deadly Assassin, The Talons of Weng-Chiang

WORST STORIES: The Sontaran Experiment, Revenge of the Cybermen


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03 Jul 2011, 5:54 am

Okay, so, while I might be taking a break from watching Doctor Who for a few days (don't worry anyone still following this, I'll be onto Horror of Fang Rock before the next deadline), I thought that we might have a quiz, with 10 questions from each of the eras. None of it is actually related to my reviews per se, but rather trivia related to the show proper, as well as the DVD special features. So, without further ado, here are the questions:

ERA 1: THE BLACK AND WHITE ERA

1. An Unearthly Child was actually a different first story to the one originally considered for first. It eventually became a story that was transmitted as part of the second season. What was that story?

2. Despite the fact that it is a British institution, the production team on the first Doctor Who serial was surprisingly diverse. Name two personnel, and why (nationality or gender) they were unusual in television.

3. Why was The Edge of Destruction commissioned?

4. The first Doctor and his companions had met a number of notable historical personages. Name five of them (real-life people only).

5. Although the concept of regeneration was introduced in The Tenth Planet, there was one story where William Hartnell was intended to be replaced by another actor before the idea was postponed. Which story was this, and how would it have happened?

6. Out of his various characteristics, the second Doctor is unique in pretty much one characteristic only. He was the only Doctor to...what?

7. Although the second Doctor was known to wear a stove-pipe hat earlier in this incarnation, he did try another hat on another occasion. What was this occasion?

8. Which story of the Troughton era is partially set in Australia?

9. Which story nearly had the BBC sued by the London Underground, and why?

10. Although the Time Lords are not named until The War Games, three named (or at least titled) Time Lords, other than the Doctor, appear in the black and white era. Who are they?


ERA 2: THE PERTWEE YEARS

1. Which four stories were co-written by Barry Letts?

2. What anatomical feature was Jon Pertwee notoriously sensitive about?

3. Which actor, who would go on to play a main character in Blake's 7, had his Doctor Who debut in a Jon Pertwee story?

4. In The Mind of Evil, the Master's greatest fear is revealed. What is it?

5. Which two planets, other than Earth, are visited twice during the Pertwee era?

6. Which two stories were originally conceived as a twelve-part epic?

7. Why was The Three Doctors produced after Carnival of Monsters and Frontier in Space?

8. Which story was the first mention of the Time Lord homeworld as Gallifrey?

9. What story elements link the latter three season finals of the Pertwee era (The Time Monster, The Green Death, and Planet of the Spiders)?

10. In Planet of the Spiders, much of the cast had appeared in the series before, and in the Pertwee era too. Name four of them.


ERA 3: THE HOLMES/HINCHCLIFFE ERA

1. Although Terrance Dicks claimed that he invented the tradition of an outgoing script editor writing the first story to be produced after he had left, this turned out to actually have happened before in Doctor Who. Name at least one such story. (There are at least three such answers, technically)

2. Where was Tom Baker working when he was asked to become the Doctor?

3. Ian Marter later novelised several Doctor Who stories. What did he become infamous for?

4. What was the working title of Genesis of the Daleks?

5. While this era was infamous for pilfering from various films and books, it also prefigured two well-known science fiction films. What were these films, and the stories they seemed to echo?

6. Which Doctor Who set did Tom Baker consider either walking through his own mind, or else like open-heart surgery?

7. What was the origin of the Robin Bland pseudonym used on The Brain of Morbius to replace Terrance Dicks' credit?

8. Which actor, appearing in one story during this era, has also appeared in the franchises of Star Trek, Star Wars, and Blake's 7?

9. What scene pissed Mary Whitehouse off the most in this era?

10. What city was Magnus Greel said to be the Butcher of?

:twisted:

Let the games begin...


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04 Jul 2011, 8:43 pm

Anyway, in case anyone is still paying any kind of attention to this thread, I've decided to name the remaining eras here and now.

About Time, or Cutting Violence, Cutting Budgets, and Cutting Humour (Graham Williams, seasons 15-17. About Time is the name of a documentary covering the era in the DVD of The Ribos Operation)

The Reign of Turner 1, or Fighting Entropy (John Nathan-Turner, season 18. The Reign of Turner is the name of a satirical video made by fans, but I felt it an appropriate title for this period of the show's history)

The Reign of Turner 2, or Number Five is Alive! (JNT, seasons 19-21, excluding The Twin Dilemma)

The Reign of Turner 3, or Trials and Tribulations (JNT, seasons 22-23 plus The Twin Dilemma. Trials and Tribulations is the documentary examining the Colin Baker era on the DVD for Trial of a Timelord: The Ultimate Foe)

The Reign of Turner 4, or A Parting of Ways(JNT, seasons 24-26)

Plus the TV Movie by itself.

Once we get to the new series, I pretty much go from season to season. So, we'll have...

Doctor Who Reborn, or Trip of a Lifetime (new series 1)

Enter David Tennant, or Friends and Enemies Old and New (new series 2)

You Are Not Alone, or The Doctor and the Medical Student (new series 3)

The Song is Ending, or Shapes of Things to Come (new series 4)

Vale Decem, or I Don't Wanna Go (specials)

A Mad Man With a Box, or Silence Will Fall (series 5)

Demons Run, or Family Values (series 6, or at least what has been done of it so far)


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06 Jul 2011, 2:32 am

REVIEW: Horror of Fang Rock by Terrance Dicks

SERIAL
: 4V, 4X25 minute episodes

SEEN IT BEFORE?: No.


The origin of Horror of Fang Rock was a curious one. Terrance Dicks originally wrote a vampire-based story, but the BBC vetoed it because they were doing a high-profile dramatisation of Dracula. Dicks' vampire script seemed set to drift into limbo, although it would be later resurrected as the season 18 story State of Decay. Robert Holmes, having been (in Dicks' own words) dragged kicking and screaming into a story set in medieval England (The Time Warrior), did the same thing to Dicks, requesting a story set in a lighthouse. Though reluctant, Dicks agreed, and in doing so, wrote one of his best scripts for Doctor Who...

Landing on the small island of Fang Rock, the Doctor and Leela find that there has been a death in the nearby lighthouse. One of the remaining crew thinks that the newfangled electrical system may be to blame, while the other had seen a strange light plunge into the sea. When the lighthouse fails, and a ship wrecks on Fang Rock, the tension continues to rise. There is a legend of a horrible Beast of Fang Rock, but the reality is a lot worse: an alien with the ability to manipulate the weather, kill with electric shocks, and an even more terrifying power that has the Doctor making a mistake that could prove fatal...

At its core, this is not unlike some of the 'base under siege' stories that proliferated in Doctor Who during the sixties. Take a group of humans isolated, stir well, and add an alien menace to the mix. Add to this Dicks' strong understanding of structure, and it makes for a well-written horror story. It certainly seems to owe much to the previous seasons' Gothic undertones, and the tension is thick enough to cut with a knife.

Dicks seems to have a bit of trouble with characters. While they are all acted well (Colin Douglas' Reuben and Alan Rowe's Skinsale being particularly well done), the actual writing feels a little flat. Palmerdale makes no secret of his intentions, and Adelaide is a screaming hysterical paranoiac. Harker seems to bond with the Doctor rather too readily. Indeed, besides the creature and the regulars, only Reuben and Vince are reasonably well written. The Doctor and Leela are, as usual, acted well by Tom Baker and Louise Jameson, and apparently, due to Jameson asserting herself, she gained respect from Baker.

The production design is mostly faultless. The models and sets are perfect, with the exception of a slightly dodgy yacht crash and the Rutan spaceship at the end. The realisation of the Rutan itself is variable. While it looks good from a distance and while more or less at rest, while moving, it looks rather dodgy. That being said, it was a nice touch of Dicks to make the creature a Rutan, already mentioned to be the eternal adversaries of the Sontarans, and the contrast with the Sontarans is interesting.

Overall, Horror of Fang Rock, while not perfect, is still a pretty damn good example of what can be done. Rather bleak in the end, but it's a very good story fit enough to make your hair stand on end, or maybe make your eyes change colour...


SCORE: 9/10

EDIT: BTW, forgot to add the DVD trailer for the next story, The Invisible Enemy, as well as K9 and Company: A Girl's Best Friend.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uFjCrsPEHA0[/youtube]

For those of you wondering, yes, I will be reviewing K9 and Company: A Girl's Best Friend, and I will be doing it after Logopolis as part of the 18th season review. :)


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07 Jul 2011, 12:41 am

REVIEW: The Invisible Enemy by Bob Baker and Dave Martin

SERIAL
: 4T, 4X25 minute episodes

SEEN IT BEFORE?: Yes.


Out of the various companions of the Doctor, one of those who continues to provoke division of opinion is K9. That he is popular with a large section of the fanbase is without doubt, and he continues to appear in the series, even after being written out, and not only plays a substantial role in The Sarah Jane Adventures, but also has his own spin-off, filmed in Brisbane. But what of his origins? Was he really so endearing in his first story? Let's find out...

In the year 5000, humanity is poised to spread across the stars in a really big way. But something seeks to challenge that dominance. First, a shuttle carrying a relief crew for the Titan Base, and then the TARDIS flies through a mysterious cloud. The relief crew and the Doctor are infected by a mysterious virus that seems unable to infect Leela. With Lowe, the supervisor of the Titan Base, Leela takes the Doctor to the Bi-Al Foundation in the asteroid belt for treatment against the virus, treatment that Professor Marius and his dog-like mobile computer, K9, hope to give him. But Lowe has already been infected with the virus, and the virus, the Nucleus of the Swarm, wishes to conquer the macroscopic realm as well as the microscopic. Using an unstable cloning technique and a dimensional stabiliser, the Doctor and Leela embark on a voyage to defeat the Nucleus from within the Doctor's own body. But can they stop the Nucleus? Was the reason why Leela couldn't be infected biological, or because of her intuitive nature? And what does the Nucleus want with Titan Base, or for that matter, the Doctor?

I once read that Bob Baker and Dave Martin were noteworthy for putting in catchphrases into their stories. In The Hand of Fear, it was "Eldrad must live!". In Underworld, it was "The quest is the quest". And here, it is "Contact has been made." The Bristol Boys are good at bringing in decent storylines that nonetheless do not quite excel. That being said, a lot of The Invisible Enemy looks quite good on paper compared to their earlier works. Titan being used as a refuelling station, a special hospital in the asteroid belt, and an eccentric physician with a computer dog.

The characters are functionally written rather than being spectacular, but they do get performed well. Although most human characters lose interesting characteristics once infected by the Swarm, Michael Sheard as Lowe still is compelling even after infected, a rare villainous role for him in Doctor Who. Frederick Jaegar, compared to his more serious Sorenson in Planet of Evil, plays Professor Marius as an eccentric, almost comical figure with a Germanic accent that nonetheless manages to work, although why he readily gives up his much-loved K9 to the Doctor and Leela without much sadness (even given the weight penalty). And John Leeson pulls double duty as the voice of K9, in which he is still finding his feet but manages to do a decent job, and the Nucleus's voice, which is probably the only good thing about the realisation of that character. Tom Baker and Louise Jameson do well, as usual, as the Doctor and Leela, with Baker particularly getting some interesting lines when he is fighting against the influence of the Nucleus.

If there is one part of the story that is disappointing, it's the production design, which isn't bad as such as at times inconsistent. The writers' idea of phonetic English is inspired, but does come across as a little silly-looking in practice, and the sets are mostly functional, though the sequences set in the Doctor's body are astoundingly well realised. The model effects are also amongst the best in the series, but unfortunately, there are some rather dodgy video effects and one obviously re-set 'burnt pillar' (all of which, incidentally, I replaced using the CGI effects on the DVD), and the Nucleus, when at human size, looks more comical than menacing, being a rather melodramatic giant prawn with waving pincers. However, the new TARDIS control room is good, and K9, despite his limitations, is an endearing design brought to life by John Leeson's performance.

The Invisible Enemy isn't really bad, or even average, but it tries and fails to punch above its own weight. With a better budget and a few writing revisions here and there, it could have been much better. Still, as an introduction to the character of K9, it was a good one.


SCORE: 8.5/10

Here's the DVD trailer for the next story, Image of the Fendahl. It took me a while to find this trailer, as there weren't any others, and this one had the title spelt wrong.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xOIO-6BZwRA[/youtube]


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07 Jul 2011, 4:38 am

REVIEW: Image of the Fendahl by Chris Boucher

SERIAL
: 4X, 4X25 minute episodes

SEEN IT BEFORE?: No.


Doctor Who owes much, as I have mentioned before, to the Quatermass serials of the 1950s. And while Quatermass and the Pit inspired two previous Who stories, Doctor Who and the Silurians and The Daemons, it is not the only influence Nigel Kneale had on this serial, Image of the Fendahl. In the 70s, Kneale wrote what could be considered a sci-fi ghost story called The Stone Tape, and this has influenced the writing of Image of the Fendahl. But is this story little more than, at best, a homage?

In an isolated priory, the obsessed Dr Fendelman and his backer Maximilian Stael performs experiments with a special sonic time scan, trying to determine the origins of an interesting fossil. Paleontologist Adam Colby refuses to believe that the human skull is 12 million years old, despite the evidence provided by chronologist Thea Ransome. But the time scan draws the attention of the Doctor, who knows that it is dangerous, given its proximity to a rift in time, and may cause a catastrophic collapse. The death of a hiker in the forest is covered up by Fendelman and Stael, and local wise woman Ma Tyler has premonitions of a greater disaster to come. The Doctor is certain that the skull is not human, but belongs to the alien gestalt called the Fendahl, a creature so powerful it feeds on death itself, a creature that was feared from Gallifreyan fairy tales. But Thea Ransome is affected by the skull, and both Fendelman and Stael have their reasons for disregarding the Doctor and pursuing their research. But humanity has been used, and the image of the Fendahl will soon become too solid indeed...

Despite the relatively unoriginal concept (human development being influenced by an alien race, with artefacts relating to the occult embedding themselves in race memory), Boucher does well, certainly much better than The Robots of Death. He writes an eerie and atmospheric story, with some interesting concepts. The Fendahl are far from the first or last Doctor Who monsters to feed off life energy, but they are one of the more terrifying applications of the concept.

The characters aren't all written that well, which is probably the main failing of this story, though the mostly understated performances make up for it, giving it a more realistic edge. Fendelman's motives for covering up things is obscure, though it can potentially be covered by the revelation later in the story, and Denis Lill plays him well. Adam Colby is probably the most written well of the supporting characters, but his actor, Edward Arthur, seems a bit off at times. Wanda Ventham has the best performance as the tormented Thea Ransome, a surprisingly strong character given what happens to her, and while a damsel in distress, doesn't so much as scream. Stael is understated evil, with Scott Fredericks restraining what could have been a scenery-chewing performance. Less successful are Geoffrey Hinsliff and Daphne Heard as Jack and Ma Tyler, which is a pity, as they end up as the Doctor's main allies. Once more, Tom Baker and Louise Jameson do well with their roles, with an interesting argument between the Doctor and Leela that ends with Leela needing to apologise to the TARDIS, believe it or not. Unfortunately, K9 is out of this story due to various reasons.

The production design and location work all come together very well, with some surprisingly excellent direction by George Spenton-Foster (who would later go on to direct one of my favourite Blake's 7 episodes, Gambit, written by Robert Holmes), with marvellous atmosphere. The special effects, for the most part, are excellent, with only two blunders: the effects of the explosion/implosion at the end, and the Fendahl Core's makeup which, while eerie, is still blatantly painted eyes on eyelids. However, the Fendahleen are a quite well-realised creature, and their weakness, while something of a deus ex machina, actually ties in well into the origins of superstition that this story examines.

Image of the Fendahl, with the exception of some minor problems, is pretty much perfect. It's not quite close to perfection, and it's not exactly original, but this story, which I have overlooked before, is a surprising gem.



SCORE: 9.5/10


Another DVD trailer. I have posted this one before, as it contained clips from The Time Monster, but it also contains clips from the next story, Underworld, along with The Horns of Nimon.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LPPZO4C_BTg[/youtube]


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07 Jul 2011, 6:58 am

REVIEW: Underworld by Bob Baker and Dave Martin

SERIAL
: 4Y, 4X25 minute episodes

SEEN IT BEFORE?: No. (Or at least not every episode)


While some have accused the Hinchcliffe/Holmes era of plagiarising from various horror movies and books, one could make an argument that the Graham Williams era did so too, but from myths, fairytales, and literature. The Androids of Tara was a variation on The Prisoner of Zenda, City of Death drew to a degree from the Bulldog Drummond novels, and perhaps most telling of all, not one but three stories took elements from Greek mythology. The Armageddon Factor looked at the Trojan War, while The Horns of Nimon, of course, took elements from the Minotaur myth. Underworld took its cues from the legend of Jason and the Argonauts, but would it do well with what it took?

The Minyan spacecraft R1C has been travelling for a hundred millennia, and the crew, on a seemingly endless quest to track down the Minyan Race Bank, are nearing the end of their journey at the edge of the cosmos. But the Doctor and Leela's arrival on the R1C may cause trouble, for the Time Lords were indirectly responsible for the destruction of the Minyans. What's worse, the Race Bank, and the ship it was on, the P7E, is at the centre of a not long born planet. Determined to get the Race Bank, no matter what, Commander Jackson and his crew crash into the planet, where they find the descendants of the P7E enslaved by the Oracle and its Seers. Do the Race Banks still exist? Can Commander Jackson recover them? And what is the Oracle, and its Seers?

Underworld is a story brimming with potential that never comes through completely. It feels like it was rushed into production, a production that doesn't quite live up to scratch. The concept of doing a science fiction version of Jason and the Argonauts is an intriguing one, as is the weariness of a crew made to artificially regenerate over a thousand times and the Time Lords' culpability in the destruction of Minyos. And yet, it doesn't pan out. These potentially well done concepts were wasted, as were the concept of the P7E's descendants degenerating.

The characters range from average to bad, and while the performances of the R1C crew, the Guards, and the Oracle salvage them, the Trogs unfortunately fare far worse. The Doctor is rather averagely written, although a bit more angst and guilt about the Minyan's fate wouldn't have gone astray. However, Leela is written as an unintelligent savage, more willing to knife an unarmed man to death (I got the impression that Leela would not threaten someone who looked unarmed and weak), and having a rather angry and teary breakdown after being broken from her pacified state. Louise Jameson does well, but the script screwed her over.

Surprisingly, despite the production problems, the special effects work surprisingly well. There are some good model effects and laser effects (though both the video and sound effects do little to enhance what should have been a more exciting fight scene between Herrick and the Guards, but was badly directed with little energy), and while the CSO effects from this story are often lambasted, I personally think that, for the most part, they are surprisingly effective, given what they had. However, there are many dodgy shots, and far too many repeated tunnels (and noticeably repeated shots), which probably would have been disguised better with sets. Unfortunately, the production problems robbed them of most of their proper sets, and the direction by Norman Stewart doesn't give the story the pace and energy this story badly needed to elevate it from mediocre to average.

I tried desperately to like Underworld. It has a good beginning, and had decent potential, but it was badly squandered. Bad characterisation, some poor performances, and a rather thing and unentertaining story drag down the story from something that could have been good. Not bad per se, but mediocre, unfortunately...


SCORE: 6.5/10


And now, the DVD trailer for The Invasion of Time.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kFtzAuxEJU0[/youtube]


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09 Jul 2011, 4:45 am

REVIEW: The Invasion of Time by David Agnew (by Anthony Read and Graham Williams)

SERIAL
: 4Z, 6X25 minute episodes

SEEN IT BEFORE?: Yes


Sometimes, Doctor Who is at its best when under pressure. With a shrinking budget and a strike, producer Graham Williams and script editor Anthony Read were forced to abandon the original (and expensive) season finale, The Killers in the Dark (sometimes erroneously called The Killer Cats of Geng-Singh). Forced to improvise a story at the last minute, as well as accomodate the departure of Louise Jameson as Leela, how would they cope? How well would the story turn out?

Leela is concerned. The Doctor has met with strange aliens, and refuses to tell her anything, even as he lands on Gallifrey and effectively bullies his way into the Presidency of the Time Lords. Banishing Leela from the Citadel, abusing his old teacher Cardinal Borusa, and letting the alien Vardans invade, it seems like the Doctor has gone completely mad. But there is a method to his madness, and the Doctor has a plan to stop the Vardans for once and for all. With both sides considering him a traitor, the Doctor will be hardpressed to save Gallifrey from the Vardans, but he doesn't know yet that there is another enemy, waiting in the wings, ready to conquer Gallifrey too...

Given how little time Read and Williams had to concoct this story, I am amazed at how well it manages to stand out. While there are some small disjointed bits, the only major blunders is the sudden (and not very well explained) appearance of the Sontarans, Stor's attempted suicide bombing at the end, and Leela's abrupt departure to be with guard commander Andred. Personally, in story terms, I feel that Leela had had enough of being kept out of the loop by the Doctor, despite her utmost loyalty to him, and K9 (mark one) shared her feelings. However, the story concept of the Doctor going mad with power, even if it is only a gambit to deal with the Vardans, is an absolutely brilliant one, with Tom Baker acting his heart out. And Louise Jameson does well in her last television performance as Leela, despite her rather ignomious departure.

The characters, while not excellent, work very well considering, with Andred, Borusa, Kelner, and Rodan particularly noteworthy, even if most of the work is done through the performances of the actors involved. We see particularly surprising depths to Borusa as well, depths that would be added to later in the series. The Vardans are at their best when they are still shimmering energy beings, although their later appearance would have been less disappointing if they had better-looking costumes. This is also the first time that we see the Sontarans en masse (up till now, we've only seen one or two at a time), although they only amount to about four. I can only rationalise Stor's actions at the very end if he had gone rogue from his commanders. But Derek Deadman makes an otherwise surprisingly good Sontaran.

The production design, for the most part, evokes the feel of The Deadly Assassin, without being too bogged down in it, but there are times when the cracks start to show. The use of an abandoned hospital as the TARDIS interior and the Gallifreyan control room doesn't quite work. It works in terms of scale, but it doesn't quite feel right most of the time. Most of the sets work well enough, given the time and budget that they had. The Vardan energy forms may look and sound like aluminium foil treated electronically (I had the CGI effects on this time around, although I have seen the original before), but for the time, it's quite effective, and so are the model effects used for the Vardan spacecraft.

Considering how little they had to go with, I feel that, while far from perfect, The Invasion of Time is great. I would dearly love to give it a better score, but I see too many flaws, unfortunately, flaws that are partly an artefact of the conditions it was made under.


SCORE: 8/10


And now, the DVD trailer for The Key to Time season.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QBfOikzvum8[/youtube]


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09 Jul 2011, 6:22 am

REVIEW: The Ribos Operation by Robert Holmes

SERIAL
: 5A, 4X25 minute episodes

SEEN IT BEFORE?: No


In order to give the Doctor a justification for his travels in time and space rather than accident, producer Graham Williams formulated what is, debatably, the first true story arc in the Doctor Who series. The Key to Time would be an overarching story made up out of six stories, about the quest to find the six segments to the eponymous Key. Of those stories, three of them were given to two new writers to the show, Douglas Adams and David Fisher, while old hands Bob Baker and Dave Martin would work on the finale. Two of the stories were assigned to Robert Holmes, and it was he who came up with the first story of the new season...

On his way to a holiday with K9 Mark 2, the Doctor is intercepted by the powerful White Guardian, who tasks the Doctor with finding the six segments of the Key to Time, in order to redress a coming time of cosmic imbalance. Given an assistant, the snarky Time Lady Romanadvoratrelundar, and a Tracer to track down the segments, the Doctor reluctantly begins his mission, travelling to the medieval world of Ribos, where conmen Garron and Unstoffe are planning a major deception. Deposed Cyrrhenic despot the Graff Vynda-K wants a planet to serve as a new powerbase, and Garron is hoping to deceive the Graff that there are vast stores of the powerful mineral Jethryk on the planet. But is Garron an agent of the Black Guardian, sent there to stop the Doctor, or is he just a conman who is out of his depth? What is the identity of the first segment, which can be potentially any shape? And can the Doctor and Romana learn to work together?

The Ribos Operation is one of those badly underappreciated gems in Doctor Who. You rarely see it on the best-watched lists, which is a pity. Holmes has written a world of cultural depth and complexity not often seen in Doctor Who, classic or new. Ribos feels like a real world, more than the usual ones the Doctor and company visit, and the characters, as melodramatic as they are, seem more grounded in reality. Garron is a con artist with an interesting past that involves selling Sydney Harbour. Unstoffe tries to take the initiative in the con, but ultimately shows significant character development after he is helped by Binro the Heretic, a man derided on the primitive world of Ribos for his views on astronomy and science. The Graff Vynda-K is a psychotic despot, but he has a loyalty to his soldiers, even when using them as suicide bombers.

The performances come out well. Tom Baker and John Leeson are on fine form as the Doctor and K9 respectively, while newcomer Mary Tamm, despite her role being written as rather too antagonistic towards the Doctor at first, performs very well. The guest actors do very well, but especial praise should be given Iain Cuthbertson's plummy and affable Garron, Nigel Plaskitt's development as Unstoffe, and Paul Seed (later the director of House of Cards and To Play the King) having a wonderful turn as the menacing Graff Vynda-K. And while Timothy Bateson's turn as Binro the Heretic could be considered a little exaggerated, it still works.

The production design and direction come together very well on this story, rather like a period drama, only set on a planet far out in space. This is a theatrical story, but one you could believe in. In fact, there is really only one bad note to this entire story, and that is the Shrivenzale, but even that is not quite as badly realised as the giant rat from the previous Robert Holmes story reviewed here, The Talons of Weng-Chiang. Compared to the rather grandiose melodrama of that story, The Ribos Operation is slower paced and quieter, and yet manages to reach the same level.

If you're a fan who hasn't watched this story, then please, you owe it to yourself to try it out. It's an extremely good story that surprised even me, who hadn't ever watched it before. Watch it, and see that even a not-so-famous story can actually be quite good.


SCORE: 10/10


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09 Jul 2011, 9:47 pm

REVIEW: The Pirate Planet by Douglas Adams

SERIAL
: 5B, 4X25 minute episodes

SEEN IT BEFORE?: Yes


Of all the writers to write for Doctor Who's classic series, perhaps the most famous was Douglas Adams. Having submitted at least two storylines previously to the production team (one of which, Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen, would later become Life, the Universe, and Everything, while the other would later become the Golgafrincham Ark from the Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy radio series onwards), he was finally commissioned to write the second story for the Key to Time season. A gamble, perhaps, given Adams' relative inexperience with writing, but would it pay off?

To the dismay of the Doctor, the second segment for the Key to Time is on the dull, ice-coated world of Calufrax, but when he attempts a materilisation to spite Romana's quoting of the TARDIS manual, something goes wrong. Managing to materialise, the Doctor and Romana find themselves on the planet Zanak, formerly under the rule of the evil Queen Xanxia, and now under the thumb of the blustering cybernetic Captain, a former space pirate. A dictator who grants frequent 'golden ages of prosperity', causing the stars to change and the mines to become refilled, he also seems set on destroying the Mentiads, enigmatic psychics who seem to grow in numbers with each 'golden age'. Discovering that Zanak has transmat engines on a mind-boggling scale, the Doctor and Romana soon find out that nothing is what it seems on Zanak. Are the Mentiads malignant zombies, or benign telepaths? Are the mines miraculous, or do they come at an atrocious cost? Is the Captain really a blustering bully, or does he have a plan? And is the Captain's Nurse really just there to provide medical attention, or does she have a plan of her own?

Let it never be said that Douglas Adams doesn't have his own unique and quirky style, which seems to be stuffing as many concepts into a story as possible. He also loves to add his own brand of wit and humour. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. He is good on concepts, but a little worse on story structure and certainly on character. However, he succeeds in making things entertaining. He adds in hints that are only apparent in retrospect, such as the Captain's true intelligence, and stories about Xanxia.

The characters are mostly averagely written, particularly when it comes to the mainstream Zanak people and the Mentiads, and the performances range from decent to mediocre. However, it gets better when dealing with the Bridge crew, with the Captain, the Nurse, and Mr Fibuli all written well and with great performances, although a few more hints about the Captain's cunning and intelligence wouldn't have gone astray. Tom Baker's Doctor, Mary Tamm's Romana, and John Leeson's K9 all get quite a bit to do, with K9 getting into a wonderful battle with the Captain's robot parrot, the Polyphase Avitron, and Romana managing to upstage the Doctor quite a few times.

One of the things that I am really impressed with in this story is that, despite the budget limitations on Doctor Who at the time, they managed to execute many of Adams' concepts very well for the time. Sky cars are protrayed with some of the best CSO shots I have ever seen on the show, the inertialess corridor is also well executed, and the sets within the bridge are pretty damn good. The Zanak streets and houses are less well-realised, but still play the part.

If I had to put my finger on two things that brought this story down, it would be the writing and the performances that flowed from it. Adams was all too often ambitious with his concepts, but didn't pay enough attention to his characters. The ones on the Bridge are good enough, but the characters of Kimus, Mula, and especially Pralix don't get realised well enough. There is also a tad too much humour in this story, and while it does get serious as the story progresses, it can be off-putting to a viewer watching the first episode and getting discouraged.

Despite this, I decided that The Pirate Planet was entertaining and original, with many Douglas Adams trademarks appearing ("I'll never be cruel to an electron in a particle accelerator again!"), and an intriguing concept. It's certainly not dull, even if sometimes the acting is.


SCORE: 8.5/10


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11 Jul 2011, 4:05 am

REVIEW: The Stones of Blood by David Fisher

SERIAL
: 5C, 4X25 minute episodes

SEEN IT BEFORE?: No


While Graham Williams had promised to cut down on the horror and violence in Doctor Who, it did take some time before this took effect, with stories like Horror of Fang Rock and Image of the Fendahl continuing the Holmes/Hinchcliffe style of horror story. However, the last horror story of the Graham Williams era actually was in the Key to Time season, written by new writer David Fisher. The Stones of Blood, at least in part, seemed to continue that tradition...

With a fresh warning by the White Guardian, the Doctor and Romana trace the third segment of the Key to Time to Earth in the twentieth century, and a mysterious stone circle. Archaeologist Professor Amelia Rumford and her friend, Vivien Fay are surveying the circle, which has inconsistencies in every survey done, as if the stones themselves move. Local druid Leonard de Vries is performing sacrifices to the local Celtic war goddess, the Cailleach, sacrifices of blood. And the stones themselves are alive, and hungry for blood. Who is the Cailleach, and what links this Celtic deity to a criminal over four millennia old, a criminal who is hiding in plain sight while their captors are trapped in hyperspace?

The Stones of Blood, like The Pirate Planet before it, is a writer's debut story filled with great ideas, but lacking in other areas. However, unlike The Pirate Planet, there are less deficiencies in terms of character, and the problems are more to do with inconsistencies of tone. The first half or so of the story seems like straightforward Holmes/Hinchcliffe fare, but the second half, dealing with Cessair of Diplos and the Megara justice machines, is rather jarring, especially given the humour in this section compared to the relatively grim nature of the story. And while it is implied that Cessair of Diplos was the agent of the Black Guardian, why didn't the Black Guardian take the segment from her once she had evaded her captors? And shouldn't there be more of an explanation as to how crows and ravens are used by the Cailleach/Cessair?

Besides the Doctor, Romana, and K9, both Amelia Rumford and Vivien Fay are well written and performed, with Beatrix Lehmann and Susan Engel doing well. The druids are less well written, with the performances more functional. And I get the feeling that the Megara justice machines, while very wittily written and relatively well performed, would have been suited better to a much different Doctor Who story.

The production design for most of the story is excellent, with viewers hard-pressed to tell the difference between the location stones and the one used for the studio sequences. The Ogri are at their best when not moving. One is a little hard pressed to accept that a stone can move like it does, although when not moving, they are most sinister, and the special effects and sounds are most suitable. The hyperspace ship is rather jarring compared to the rest of the show, and makes one more critical of the faults, although the Megara are quite well realised given the technology of the time, if slightly inappropriate as whirling fairy lights.

The Stones of Blood is not as good as it could have been, and has significant inconsistencies in tone, but it is still a good story. Not quite a classic, but not too bad.



SCORE: 8.5/10


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11 Jul 2011, 4:26 am

REVIEW: The Androids of Tara by David Fisher

SERIAL
: 5D, 4X25 minute episodes

SEEN IT BEFORE?: No


While the Holmes/Hinchcliffe era of Doctor Who was noted for its homages to horror films and literature, it was far from the only era to take a nod from literary and cinematic sources. Perhaps most notably from the Williams era was the second story from David Fisher, which took as its inspiration the political intrigue and romance novel The Prisoner of Zenda. But would this story surpass the original inspiration?

The Doctor is determined to take a brief break from searching for the Key to Time, and Romana is just as determined to find the fourth segment on her own when they land on the feudal world of Tara. Romana finds the segment easily enough, but she soon gets taken into custody by Count Grendel of Castle Gracht, while the Doctor is suborned into repairing an android double of Prince Reynart, whom Grendel hopes to usurp. It is double trouble everywhere, with Romana resembling Reynart's beloved, Princess Strella, who is currently Grendel's prisoner, and androids everywhere used in a political web of deceit. But with the Doctor and Romana now hopelessly entangled in the power struggle between Grendel and Reynart, can they regain the fourth segment and stop Grendel?

I have noticed that many of those stories that are homages to other stories often have an advantage in terms of storytelling, and The Androids of Tara is not one of the exceptions. While many of the tropes of The Prisoner of Zenda are used, some of the elements that would be more disagreeable to a modern audience (such as the prince's dipsomania and his disdain towards peasants, though Reynart's men have this) are dropped or modified. The power struggle is remarkably singular, but works to fill the four episodes available.

The characters are all written fairly well, with the exception of Farrah, whose disdain towards peasants and the Doctor is disquieting. The acting is all done as well as can be done, with particular praise going to Peter Jeffrey as Count Grendel, who plays the role with particular aplomb, and his consort, Lois Baxter as Lamia. Tom Baker and John Leeson are doign well, but it is Mary Tamm who deserves particular praise. Playing multiple roles, as Romana, Princess Strella, and the androids thereof shows her abilities, even if much of the time she is a damsel in distress. However, Tom Baker's Doctor does get a chance to shine with more than just words when he has a fencing duel with Grendel.

The production design, like with The Ribos Operation, is wonderful, showing off how the excellent period drama design department can be used to great effect to create an alien planet and culture that doesn't age as badly as others. Rich and sumptuous, it is helped by significant location filming in and around Leeds Castle (incidentally, one of the few Doctor Who locations I have ever visited).

There are a few bum notes to the production. The android prince at times looks too much like a dummy, especially when being repaired, and the Taran Beast is so obviously fake, well, it's worse than the giant rat or Shrivenzale. And a few characters are rather grating.

Still, while not perfect, The Androids of Tara is not far from it. Sumptuous and enjoyable, it is an interesting gem in the middle of the Key to Time saga. It certainly surpasses its source material in many respects.



SCORE: 9.5/10


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