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12 Mar 2011, 5:10 am

REVIEW: The Mind Robber by Peter Ling (episode one written by Derrick Sherwin)

SERIAL
: UU, 5X20 minute episodes

SEEN IT BEFORE?: Yes.


From zenith to nadir, and once again to a zenith, we come to one of my favourites of Patrick Troughton's era as the Doctor, The Mind Robber. The Mind Robber is perhaps one of the best examples of what happens when Doctor Who does things really right...

Desperate to escape the lava flow on Dulkis, the Doctor is forced to use an emergency unit that transports the TARDIS outside of all space and time. But what is supposed to be nowhere actually turns out to be the deadliest place of all. A mysterious force tries to force the Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe to remain in the void, and when they manage to escape, the same force apparently makes the TARDIS explode. Recovering in a mysterious forest, the Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe find themselves in the Land of Fiction, where the lines between fact and fantasy are blurred, and what isn't real could easily kill you. But why were they brought here? Who is the Master of this place?

The first episode was written as a replacement for the abandoned sixth episode of The Dominators, and for being such short-notice writing by Derrick Sherwin, it is easily one of the most simple and chilling sequences since the written-under-similar circumstances The Edge of Destruction. First Zoe, then Jamie, and finally, if only temporarily, the Doctor are lured out into a stark white void where mysterious robots lurk. And then, as the episode closes, the TARDIS explodes, and while the Doctor hurtles into the void, Jamie and Zoe are left clinging to the TARDIS console as it hurtles away in a scene that has become infamous in fandom because of the view of Wendy 'Zoe' Padbury's derriere while she is wearing a sparkly catsuit.

The story proper begins in a mysterious world, and I have to feel that the story thereafter, while less striking than the first episode, is so eerie and atmospheric, the occasional special effects goof notwithstanding, you can cut it with a knife. There are many chilling concepts, like being turned into fiction, or fading into a deadly white void, not to mention dying at the hands of various fictional characters.

Another production crisis, Frazer 'Jamie' Hines getting chicken pox, leads to Jamie being played temporarily by Hamish Wilson, who plays an excellent alternate Jamie, and it still feels like part of the story. The Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe all do well throughout the serial, with a highly improbable but highly entertaining fight between Zoe and the comicbook superhero Karkus (I guess she defeated him using a combination of martial arts and a knowledge of the Karkus' weaknesses).

While the fictional characters are written a little flat, given their fictional nature, this can be excused, and they are acted very well. Kudos must go to Emrys Jones playing the Master of the Land of Fiction, playing a role that is both malevolent and somewhat playful, as well as sympathetic. The concept of the story, while it would be trite nowadays, was probably very fresh in the 1960s, and is used well, even if the fictional characters are mostly old-fashioned, and include fictionalised real people.

Despite a few special effects goofs, like the model of the forest of words, this is as close to perfection, I feel, as Troughton Who can get. With many genuinely disturbing images and a mixture of drama and lightheartedness, this is vintage Who at, ironically for using so many fictional characters, its most imaginative...


SCORE: 10/10


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13 Mar 2011, 1:06 am

REVIEW: The Invasion by Derrick Sherwin, from an idea by Kit Pedler

SERIAL
: VV, 8X25 minute episodes

SEEN IT BEFORE?: Yes, except for animated episodes.


From strength to strength, I go from one excellent Doctor Who story to another. At eight episodes (two of them missing, but animated by Cosgrove Hall for the DVD), The Invasion may seem daunting to the casual viewer, but unlike many seven parters from around the same era, barely a minute is wasted...

After the TARDIS reassembles itself, the Doctor, Zoe, and Jamie are temporarily stranded on the far side of the Moon, where a missile is fired at them. Landing on Earth in the modern era, the Doctor, desperate to repair the malfunctioning TARDIS' more pressing problems, decides to visit his old friend Professor Travers, only to find him away in America, and his similarly qualified colleague Professor Watkins apparently disappeared. Assisted by Watkin's daughter Isobel, and the newly formed United Nations Intelligence Taskforce, headed by the Doctor's old ally Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, the Doctor finds out that Watkins' disappearance, and many others, are linked to International Electromatics. Led by affable businessman Tobias Vaughn, IE is nonetheless linked to many powerful people in business and government, but that's not all. Vaughn has allies from the darkest depths of space, allies that the Doctor knows of only too well...

Surprisingly, for a story its length, there is rarely a dull moment in The Invasion. As noted in my review of The Mind Robber, Doctor Who is often at its best when you can cut the tension with a knife, and any sequence where action isn't taking place often has some sort of atmosphere to it. From dim warehouses and factories to the depths of London's sewer networks, we have a story where the dread of attack by either the Cybermen or Tobias Vaughn's human agents is often present.

Here, we see the origins of UNIT, as this was a trial run for what would be the norm throughout the Jon Pertwee years, and it was done extraordinarily well. It's a pity that Lethbridge-Stewart's first story, The Web of Fear (where he was a Colonel instead of a Brigadier) doesn't exist anymore, but the now late Nicholas Courtney *salutes* gives a good performance, balancing scepticism with a firm belief in the Doctor's abilities.

The guest cast all do well, but it is particularly Kevin Stoney as Tobias Vaughn and Peter Halliday as his hapless security officer Packer who steal the show. Halliday plays a snivelling sadist very well, and also doubles up with Cybermen voices that, while comical to a degree, are also eerie. Kevin Stoney, however, showing why the director Douglas Camfield chose him to play Mavic Chen in the sadly mostly-missing The Dalek Masterplan, plays Tobias Vaughn as affable, pragmatic, but when he finally does lose his temper, he really chews the scenery. Unlike Chen, however, he at least recognises when he needs help from others, and Vaughn is a far better-written character for that.

The only real negative point in the story is that the Cybermen do not appear much in it, reduced to (albeit chilling) drones. However, the Cyberplanner, while strangely voiced, is an eerie presence, and certainly the end of episode six, when Cybermen march through London, including in front of St Paul's Cathedral to discordant electronic noises while people reel around, hypnotised, is an iconic image of the series for a damned good reason. And this is a minor quibble.

Even though the story is incomplete, technically, it is available on DVD with the missing episodes animated rather well by Cosgrove Hall. I have to say that The Invasion is perhaps the pinnacle of the Troughton era, alongside the preceding story, The Mind Robber. Long, yes, but never a dull moment.



SCORE: 10/10


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13 Mar 2011, 2:14 am

Oh, and BTW, this was a trailer made by Cosgrove Hall for the animated episodes of The Invasion. I didn't think to include it earlier...

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9FaUxW6NVpw[/youtube]


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13 Mar 2011, 7:50 pm

REVIEW: The Seeds of Death by Brian Hayles, with rewrites by Terrance Dicks

SERIAL
: XX, 6X25 minute episodes

SEEN IT BEFORE?: Yes.


One of the more striking adversaries to come out of the Troughton era were the Ice Warriors, natives of the planet Mars. Big, lumbering, and with sonic weapons that could pulp your insides quicker than you can say 'aargh!', they were one of the more popular adversaries too. A pity they haven't appeared in later series, but their second appearance, and their first fully-surviving story, The Seeds of Death, didn't show them to their best capabilities...

Earth, in the late 21st century, is dependent on T-Mat, a form of instantaneous transportation, but when the relay station on the Moon breaks down, the newly arrived Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe volunteer to crew the first manned rocket in years to investigate what has gone wrong. The moonbase, however, has been invaded by the Ice Warriors, led by Slaar, who intend to use T-Mat to distribute mysterious seed-like things. But what are these seeds? What are the Martians' interest in a weather control station? And can the Doctor and his companions stop this invasion?

The Ice Warriors are very effective adversaries. Practically bulletproof, imposing, and with sonic weaponry that uses a special effect that still stands up today (basically poking the back of a flexible mirror when it shows the victim being hit by the beam), the Ice Warriors do well in this story. But their characterisation, which would be better in later stories and was certainly better in their debut, falls down here. They are one-note villains, even with the intriguing addition of the Ice Lord Slaar. They threaten the humans, and kill them at the drop of a hat. Deadly, dangerous, and threatening, yes, but they also sound more like comic book villains.

Some of the human characters work better. Gia Kelly is at least consistently written, and remains one of the stronger female characters the series has produced. You get the sense of history between Commander Radnor and Professor Eldred. You also have to feel sorry for Fewsham, and while his actor, Terry Scully, does go over the top, you get hints that the character was already close to a possible mental breakdown for some time (something which apparently came true for the actor later, apparently). And Phipps is done fairly well as well, and while I am not sure about his little breakdown in episode 4 given what he manages to achieve beforehand, he gives an all-too plausible reason for it.

While a decent enough story, The Seeds of Death still lags somewhat. The titular seeds' weakness, while set up well, still smacks of laziness on the part of the writers. Let's just say that M Night Shyamalan would use a similar twist for his work Signs. The story lumbers just as much as the Ice Warriors, and there are times when the tension either drains away when it shouldn't, or is mitigated by at least one Scooby-Doo like chase (like the one in the middle of episode 3, and Patrick Troughton even does a comic run). What's more, the costumes of the humans have aged pretty badly. People dressing up in mostly skintight, usually unflattering, uniform...uniforms might have been the sixties vision of the late 21st century, but it looks badly dated today. Some of the production design has too, though not enough to seriously impact it.

Still, there are some very atmospheric shots, and The Seeds of Death, while not the best of Troughton's era, was certainly nowhere near the worst. It just doesn't appear to have much meat to the bones. A decent story, but not the best example of either the Troughton era, nor the Ice Warriors...



SCORE: 8/10


And now, the DVD trailer for The War Games, a 10-part monster. Warning, there is some flashes and strobes for epileptics, but this is also one of the best DVD trailers I have seen...

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kfm2Rz_IuQ0[/youtube]


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14 Mar 2011, 5:02 am

REVIEW: The War Games by Malcolm Hulke and Terrance Dicks

SERIAL
: ZZ, 10X25 minute episodes

SEEN IT BEFORE?: No, not all of it.


I have vague memories of watching the second tape, the second half of this ten-part monster, long, long ago, but this is the first time that I have watched it, I think, from beginning to end. This is the end of an era, not just of Patrick Troughton's Doctor, but also of black and white Doctor Who, and the end of travelling in time, for now...

Landing in what appears to be the middle of No Man's Land in World War One, the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe are soon considered to be spies, and the commanding officer of the English soldiers manipulates the trial so that they are found guilty. Escaping, the Doctor and his companions soon learn that they are not on Earth in 1917 at all. Conditioned soldiers, strange time barriers, and equipment from too advanced a time to be used in 1917, not to mention Roman soldiers, a Redcoat, and American Civil War soldiers, all of this points to a vast conspiracy by a group of aliens. But what is the purpose of the War Games? Why do they have TARDIS-like machines? And why does the War Chief recognise the Doctor? The answers may lead to the Doctor's downfall, and there may be no escape...

Despite the fact that this story is ten parts long, surprisingly little of it is wasted. While the continual run-arounds get tedious at times, they do advance the plot in the end, and are so skillfully written by Malcolm Hulke and Terrance Dicks that the story, while repetitive, is surprisingly not dull. A lot could have been cut out, of course, but it still holds up together quite well.

That being said, the Aliens' (as they were named in the story, although a later spin-off book calls them the War Lords) plot is, to a degree, utter BS. It's a chilling and amoral plot, and certainly human soldiers used as an Alien army is plausible, more so than the more uncontrollable Daleks, but the plot itself seems very wasteful.

The characters are a highlight more than anything else. This is the last story for the regulars, and they give it their all, the Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe showing what they're made of. The farewell scenes at the end are heartbreaking, and the Doctor's final scenes, spinning off into the darkness, howling in defiance and despair, is a good send-off for Troughton.

The human characters are all varied, and I have little complaint about them, save for Arturo Villier, who is bloody annoying with his over-the-top Mexican bandit acting. The Aliens, however, as often the case with Malcolm Hulke writing, are all individual and interesting, from the paranoid and shrill Security Chief, the genial and relatively good natured (despite the fact that he is a brainwashing technician) Scientist, and the calm, collected, but in the end, monomaniacal War Lord. The latter, played superbly by Philip Madoc, is one of the best Doctor Who villains ever seen, calm and pragmatic, rarely losing his temper.

But of note here is the second villainous Time Lord, the War Chief, a form of proto-Master, complete with elegant manner (most of the time) and facial hair. He is an interesting scheming villain, and one who recognises the Doctor the moment that they meet. While some fans believe him to be an earlier incarnation of the Master, it feels a little hard to believe, as the War Chief has a different feel to him, less gentlemanly, and less antagonistic to the Doctor. Regeneration could solve this problem, but when the Doctor is told about the Master in Terror of the Autons, no indication is given that they are related, and I believe them to be separate Time Lords, as does most people. He's not as good as the Master, not quite having the same devious manner.

And now, the people of the Doctor are finally named. Seeing them here, as they were portrayed for the first time, disappoints me. They are portrayed as completely infallible and detached, and good-natured, at variance with their later appearance as Machiavellian and selfish. They are also altogether too god-like, literal deus ex machinas, and I applaud Robert Holmes for taking the brave step of de-deifying them in The Deadly Assassin.

Overall, The War Games is better in principle than you think. A brave and ultimately successful end to an era. The way they set up the new stories to come was excellent, and despite its length, The War Games is far from unwieldy, being instead a veritable epic that probably will never be rivaled in Doctor Who history...



SCORE: 9/10


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14 Mar 2011, 5:44 am

Every so often, I will take stock of my progress, as well as milestones, etc.

PROGRESS REPORT ONE: THE BLACK AND WHITE ERA

STORIES: 19. 13 William Hartnell, 6 Patrick Troughton.

TIME: 13 days

PERCENTAGE NEVER WATCHED BEFORE: 7/19, or 36%

MILESTONES: First ever serial

First Dalek story

First Time Lord villain

First Cybermen story (not watched because not on DVD)

First regeneration (Ditto)

First Ice Warrior story (Ditto)

First appearance of the Brigadier (first appearance of the character not available, but first story of Lethbridge-Stewart as a Brigadier watched)

First full mention of the Time Lords

Two Doctors down, five to go...

Six years (1963-1969)

COMPANIONS: Susan, Ian, Barbara, Vicki, Steven, Katarina, Sara Kingdom, Dodo, Ben, Polly, Jamie, Victoria, Zoe

THOUGHTS: Going back and watching sixties-era Doctor Who after such a long time has been something of a revelation for me. While the amount on DVD are limited, partly by the state of the archives, and partly because of the release schedule, I was surprised at the high quality of the surviving released stories.

While the first Hartnell stories took a while to find their feet, they had some surprising gems. The first Dalek story, The Edge of Destruction, and The Aztecs were all high-quality stories, and certainly the very first episode of Doctor Who must rank amongst the best. Ambitious serials such as The Dalek Invasion of Earth and The Web Planet show that, even with a crappy budget, Doctor Who can sometimes work wonders.

Unfortunately, there are no complete serials for the fourth series, and only one DVD released (The War Machines) that fit my qualifications for the third, with a review of The Ark being, while not impossible, highly unlikely. This lack of completeness, unfortunately, precludes me reviewing these stories, a very real pity, as I have heard of many, like the two Troughton Dalek stories, The Celestial Toymaker, and Fury from the Deep, that I would like to have reviewed in their entirety. However, I resolved only review stories that were completely released on DVD. The experiment with animating the two missing episodes of The Invasion was a brave one, and one that should be tried again if possible.

That being said, the surviving Troughton stories on DVD so far (and there is only one yet to be released as of this time, The Krotons) were consistently high quality, although The Seeds of Death was only just above average, and The Dominators disappointing. But the others were of very high quality, despite the sometimes unwieldy lengths. And the finale, The War Games, was a spectacular epic sendoff to one of my favourite Doctors.

Looking at the difference between The Daleks and The War Games, one can see how much things improved in terms of budget and design, not to mention special effects. The War Games nearly ended Doctor Who, but soon, it was to come to the screen, in colour!

BEST STORIES: The Edge of Destruction, The Aztecs, The Web Planet, The Tomb of the Cybermen, The Mind Robber, The Invasion, The War Games

WORST STORIES: The Keys of Marinus, The Space Museum (after the first episode), The Dominators.


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15 Mar 2011, 12:05 am

REVIEW: Spearhead from Space by Robert Holmes

SERIAL
: AAA, 4X25 minute episodes

SEEN IT BEFORE?: Yes.


When Doctor Who returned to our screens in 2005, it had a story set in modern day Earth, with a new Doctor, and plastic dummies called the Autons, animated by an alien intelligence called the Nestenes. Something not dissimilar happened back in 1970, when Doctor Who was in colour for the first time, a new Doctor was at the helm, and he was stuck on Earth...

A swarm of meteorites land in a forest at about the same time that the TARDIS does, carrying the newly regenerated Doctor with it. UNIT finds him, but the Brigadier is more sceptical, wondering if this man really is the Doctor. But it isn't just UNIT is collecting the meteorites. A poacher looking for money decides to keep one of the strange, pulsating meteorites in case there's a reward, strange animated mannequins roam the woods in search of them. But what does this all have to do with a plastics factory nearby? A spearhead from space has already gained a foothold on the Earth, and it already may be too late to stop the invasion to follow...

Before this story definitively established him as one of Doctor Who's better writers, Robert Holmes had written two stories beforehand: the intriguing but flawed The Krotons, and the slow-paced space opera The Space Pirates. That he be chosen to write a story with a potted track record seems a little unusual, but then-script editor Terrance Dicks' faith in Holmes was rewarded. This is a solid, good story that both establishes the new Doctor and introduces a new enemy.

This story would establish the paradigm of all UNIT stories to follow, and there are enough trappings to give this story a more realistic touch, including reporters trying to get into the hospital to find out if the Doctor is an alien. Not to mention the infamous sequence towards the end of the story where the Autons come to life and start massacring citizens in chilling scenes helped by some spectacular smoke bomb explosions.

The new Doctor, as played by Jon Pertwee, establishes himself rather quickly, with some very good scenes showing himself to be, if not the man of action he would later be (a disappointment), then a competent Doctor, if one more than willing to try out the TARDIS just in case he can get away from Earth. While a little amoral at times (he steals clothes and a car from a hospital he was at, and manipulates Liz to getting his TARDIS key back from the Brigadier), he does have his heart, or rather hearts (as is revealed for the first time) in the right place.

The Brigadier seems to be a little contradictory this time around. Although he berates Liz Shaw for being close-minded, he himself is close-minded, at least partly, to the possibility that the Doctor regenerated, even though in his last appearance, he claimed not to be so much of a sceptic. Liz Shaw's own scepticism is more justifiable, but a little grating, and I don't see it resolved much. A pity, as the character herself had potential, being a scientist on par with the Doctor.

Of the guest characters, it is Channing, the leader of the Autons, who is most interesting. Hugh Burden manages to invest a lot into a character who could have been dead and completely emotionless. While Ransome grates when he turns into a gibbering wreck, it is understandable, but Hibbert, Sam Seeley, and General Scobie seem to be more functional characters than anything with real depth.

I feel that the potential of the Autons, while done well enough here, feel a little undeveloped here. There's a reason why Terror of the Autons was so terrifying, and that was the concept that everything that was plastic could kill you. But there's none of that here. Still, the thought of those in authority being replaced by Replicas, and murderous mannequins breaking store windows and shooting anyone nearby is frightening enough.

Spearhead from Space, overall, was an enjoyable, solid debut for the third Doctor. Not perfect, but then again, I'm not sure that it needs to be.



SCORE: 8.5/10

DVD trailer for the next story, Doctor Who and the Silurians, along with its sequels, The Sea Devils and Warriors of the Deep.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7X9d720gNX4[/youtube]


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15 Mar 2011, 12:06 am

In case you're wondering, I'm still about. I just can't really say much of my opinion on the stories I've not seen. Now, when you get to the Pertwee years and onwards... much different story. :)



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15 Mar 2011, 12:09 am

Case in point. I liked how the first episode of the rebirth of the series hearkened back all the way to the Autons. Particularly the parts where the mannequins burst from the shop windows.

Classic. :)



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15 Mar 2011, 12:45 am

SpaceProg wrote:
In case you're wondering, I'm still about. I just can't really say much of my opinion on the stories I've not seen. Now, when you get to the Pertwee years and onwards... much different story. :)


SpaceProg wrote:
Case in point. I liked how the first episode of the rebirth of the series hearkened back all the way to the Autons. Particularly the parts where the mannequins burst from the shop windows.

Classic. :)


Yeah. A pity they can't do that spectacular coloured smoke explosion that they used to. Apparently that sort of smoke is carcinogenic. And they changed the bloody Auton gun firing sound effect for series 5. :evil: It should be 'ch-tohll!", not a generic laser gun 'pew!'

I love the next story, and the one after it (in terms of what has been released on DVD so far). Doctor Who and the Silurians, and Inferno are amongst my favourite Pertwee stories. Well, to tell the truth, they ARE my favourites. My other favourites, Terror of the Autons and The Daemons haven't been released on DVD yet.


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18 Mar 2011, 4:14 am

REVIEW: Doctor Who and the Silurians by Malcolm Hulke

SERIAL
: BBB, 7X25 minute episodes

SEEN IT BEFORE?: Yes.


Perhaps one of the most important screenwriters for Doctor Who was Malcolm Hulke. While he co-wrote two stories in the black and white era (The Faceless Ones with David Ellis, and The War Games with his former protege Terrance Dicks), his most important contributions were during Jon Pertwee's tenure as the Doctor, with at least one story per season being written. Noted for giving even alien or villainous characters a certain degree of ambiguity and even, at times, sympathy in their motives, Hulke's magnum opus for the program, I feel, was Jon Pertwee's second story...

The Doctor, Liz, and UNIT have been called to an atomic research centre in Wenley Moor, Derbyshire. There, the driven and ambitious Dr Lawrence is trying to create a form of safe and cheap atomic energy process, but there have been nervous breakdowns amongst the staff, and mysterious power losses. What's more, a pair of spelunking technicians were exploring some nearby caves, one of them being killed by some large animal, and the other regressing mentally to a caveman. The security officer of Wenley Moor, Major Baker, is sure that there are saboteurs. But one of the scientists, Dr Quinn, knows the truth: a race of reptilian beings from before the evolution of humanity are present in the caves. He is determined to gain their knowledge. But the Silurians, having revived after millions of years of hibernation, consider Earth their planet, and humanity a race of simian pests, to be wiped out for one and for all...

While I am not fond of seven-part stories, I have been surprised in the past by the quality of many of them. Doctor Who and the Silurians (hereafter referred to as The Silurians), while it does have a tendency to drag at times, is one of the best ever seven part stories. Very little time is wasted, especially compared to the previous Malcolm Hulke (co-written with Terrance Dicks) The War Games.

The characters of the humans, while slightly caricatured in their reactions, are still interesting, with much depth given to them in the later novelisation. Major Baker seems rather too overzealous to be plausibly the security officer of Wenley Moor, but the Brigadier's mention of Baker having messed up adds a perspective that Baker has possibly always been like this. Dr Quinn as the amiable scientist turning into a greedy, information-hungry man is well done, and Fulton 'Porridge' Mackay plays him well. Dr Lawrence's disintegration from a neurotic, ambitious man into a raving psychotic is also handled very well, and it's a pity Peter Miles was not used more often in Doctor Who, as he is a brilliant actor. And keep an eye out for Paul 'Avon' Darrow from Blake's 7 in an early role as Captain Hawkins.

I get the feeling that the Doctor and the Brigadier's relationship has deteriorated somewhat since his regeneration, although I am sure that this is partly due to the Doctor's strengthened anti-authoritarian streak, and partly due to the Doctor raging against his exile on Earth. The Brigadier is protrayed as, while in the wrong with his dealings with the Silurians, a still relatively reasonable man. And the Doctor is protrayed as the moral authority in this story, even if his repeated attempts to make peace with the Silurians does seem a little idiotic after his one Silurian ally is murdered.

The Silurians themselves are an interesting Doctor Who monster, in that they are a people with sympathetic motives. They lived on Earth before humanity (exactly how long ago is still up for debate, but reptiles, and certainly not dinosaurs, didn't exist in the Silurian period, and the Doctor's suggestion in a later story that they be called 'Eocenes' has sparked further controversy), and thus feel, debatably rightfully, that this is their planet. They certainly have a reason more than the usual rantings of Daleks or Cybermen, and they are given at least a small degree of complexity, with the Elder Silurian becoming an ally of the Doctor's, the Young Silurian being bitterly opposed to any kind of peace with humanity (although despite his treachery, he does show some noble qualities to his comrades in the final episode), and the Scientist being more cautious and pragmatic, but still allying with the Young Silurian. The costumes are wonderful, a few malfunctions notwithstanding, and the voices are done very well.

If there are any bad qualities to this story, it's that it does drag somewhat. Not only that, but there are a few dodgy special effects, particularly that relating to the Silurians' guard dinosaur. Finally, some of the music sounds rather comical, and while I have heard that Carey Blyton actually put a lot of intellectual work into the score by selecting the medieval instrument the crumhorn to act as a theme for the prehistoric Silurians, in practice, it sounds like someone going mad with a kazoo, decent most of the time, but other times, camp and humourous when it isn't meant to be.

Still, all in all, The Silurians is probably one of the best examples of the Pertwee era of Doctor Who, and of the writing of Malcolm Hulke. A bit saggy around the edges, but pretty damn close to perfection...



SCORE: 9.5/10


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19 Mar 2011, 1:40 am

REVIEW: Inferno by Don Houghton

SERIAL
: DDD, 7X25 minute episodes

SEEN IT BEFORE?: Yes.


Doctor Who's first foray into parallel universes (and one of the few to be done in the classic series) took one or two cues from Star Trek's own foray, Mirror Mirror, done a few years previously. But Inferno proves to be its own beast, a chilling look into a parallel universe, and perhaps one of the more significant threats to the Earth...

UNIT has been called in to supervise security on the final stages of the Inferno project, an ambitious drilling project headed up by the driven and obsessed Professor Stahlman to find a new source of energy, Stahlman's gas, underneath the Earth's crust. The Doctor has reasons of his own for attending the project, in order to use the nuclear reactor of the project to experiment with a new way to remove the Time Lords' blocks on the TARDIS console. But a series of murders shake the complex. A green slime is turning those who touch it into killers, regressing into primitive creatures. And Stahlman is obsessed with penetrating the Earth's crust, no matter what happens. But when an experiment with the TARDIS console goes awry, the Doctor finds himself in a parallel universe, where Britain is a fascist dictatorship, his friends are foes, and the drilling is closer to penetrating the Earth's crust. The Doctor soon realises that penetrating the Earth's crust may lead to the worst catastrophe imaginable for the Earth, but can he save either Earth?

The addition of the parallel universe concept does wonders to the story, allowing an extra layer of depth to the story. While initially portrayed (with the exception of Sutton) as being pretty much uniformly evil, there is character development in the parallel counterparts, for the most part. It is clear that the regulars, Caroline John and Nicholas Courtney relish playing their counterparts.

The story itself is atmospheric, with an undercurrent of tension always running underneath. This is due, in part, as other reviewers have noted, the constant noise of the drilling. Doom hangs heavy in the air, especially late in the story, when the Earth's crust is penetrated in the parallel world, and the Doctor's priorities change to fleeing the dying world and warning his own. Malcolm Hulke said to Terrance Dicks (shortly after learning about Doctor Who's change to an Earthbound format) that only two plotlines were possible: alien invasion and mad scientist. If Doctor Who and the Silurians was a novel twist on the alien invasion story, then Inferno is probably one of the better mad scientist stories.

While tense and atmospheric, you do get the feeling that the story was dragged out at times. Some sequences set on the real Earth during episodes set mostly on the parallel one feel like padding. What's more, while acted very well, Stahlman and Sir Keith do feel a little flat as characters, with the more colourful Sutton and his love interest, Petra Williams being better written.

However, the biggest complaint I have to make about this story are the monsters, the Primords. In their initial stages, they are actually quite frightening, and still are to a degree in their later forms. That being said, the make-up used to depict the Primords' final stages look too comical, and only the acting saves these creatures from the scrap-heap. Their snarls, however, are eerie, and part of the parallel Benton's transformation is actually quite chilling.

Still, Inferno is a marvellous example of the Pertwee era, and it is such a pity that Caroline John left the program (mostly because producer Barry Letts felt that Liz's character couldn't be developed further, although Caroline John agreed because she was pregnant at the time). Even so, Inferno ends the first Pertwee season with a bang, not a whimper...


SCORE: 9/10


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21 Mar 2011, 7:29 am

REVIEW: The Claws of Axos by Bob Baker and Dave Martin

SERIAL
: GGG, 4X25 minute episodes

SEEN IT BEFORE?: No.

Bob Baker and the late Dave Martin's contributions to Doctor Who cannot be underestimated. This writing team that was colloquially known as 'the Bristol Boys' brought us renegade Time Lord Omega, and the robot dog K9. This, their debut story, is a good sign of the things to come, in restrospect...

A mysterious object is heading towards Earth, at the worst possible time: UNIT is facing an inquiry headed by the pompous, ambitious, and downright selfish minister Horatio Chinn. Meanwhile, the CIA have sent the agreeable Bill Filer as part of a liaison to track down the Master. The object lands on Earth, causing freak weather conditions, and when the Doctor and company investigate, they find a race of apparently peaceful humanoids. In exchange for allowing the ship, called Axos, to recharge on the planet, the Axons agree to give a gift: Axonite, a living, thinking element that can grow things. The greedy Chinn uses his influence to stop UNIT, but thing are more complicated. The Doctor thinks that things may not be what they seem. And when Bill Filer is captured by Axos, he discovers that the Master is their prisoner, and helper...

While the concept of 'fair is foul and foul is fair' is not a new one to Doctor Who (the now sadly missing story Galaxy 4 is the epitome of this type of story), The Claws of Axos does it in an interesting, if not entirely original way. The story, while simple and lacking in a little complexity, has enough entertainment value in it to keep the viewer going. There is even an admirable in-story explanation for the lack of continuity of the weather on location, where Axos is implied to be causing freak weather conditions.

The Axons in all their forms are impressive, and even most of the strange interiors of the organic spaceship Axos stand up well today. The special effects, while trippy and very 70s, are still fairly well-done for the most part, with a few blatant exceptions. Bernard Holley plays the lead Axon and the voice of Axos very well, even if the role itself is a little limited.

Perhaps the biggest failing of the story are the characters. While the regulars, as well as the recently introduced Master (as played by Roger Delgado) all have something to do, the only non-regular human characters worth noting are Chinn and Filer. Chinn is a pretty two-dimensional character ultimately, but his purpose in the story is done well. The same could be said for Bill Filer, although he is a more heroic character than Chinn.

There is an interesting character moment towards the end with the Doctor, which I will not spoil, and while it may seem harsh to the casual viewer to watch, I feel it fits in well with Pertwee's portrayal in the role. Roger Delgado as the Master, Katy Manning as Jo, and the various UNIT personnel all have their chances to shine, even if it is a little muted compared to previous stories.

The Claws of Axos is not the best of the Pertwee years by far, but it is still a decent take on an alien invasion-style story. Good production design, a decent enough story, and decent performances make this a good example of UNIT years Who.


SCORE: 8.5/10


Here's the DVD trailer for the next story, The Curse of Peladon, along with another story, The Monster of Peladon. WARNING: Flashing may not be suitable for people with epileptic sensitivity.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rZSe3XZULiw[/youtube]


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25 Mar 2011, 4:39 am

REVIEW: The Curse of Peladon by Brian Hayles

SERIAL
: MMM, 4X25 minute episodes

SEEN IT BEFORE?: Yes.


Halfway through Jon Pertwee's time as the Doctor, we start to see some more stories breaking free of the confines of 1970s Earth. In the previous story, Day of the Daleks, we had a time-paradox leading to the Daleks occupying Earth again. We have travels to the past in The Time Monster, and travels to the future in both The Mutants, and this story, The Curse of Peladon...

The medieval planet of Peladon is making overtures to join the Galactic Federation. However, one of King Peladon's closest advisors is killed, supposedly by the spirit of Aggedor, the sacred beast of Peladon. And the King's remaining counsellor, High Priest Hepesh, makes no secret of his contempt for the Federation. The Doctor and Jo land during a test-drive in the TARDIS, and find themselves mistaken as ambassadors from Earth. The Federation ambassadors include the coldly logical Arcturus, the shrill, effeminate and nervous Alpha Centauri, and Izlyr and Ssorg, Ice Warriors whom the Doctor suspects are up to no good. With a number of attempts on the delegates' lives, the Doctor suspects a plot. And when the Doctor is manipulated into committing sacrilege, he has little time left. Who is determined to wreck the process? Will Jo and King Peladon hook up? And are the Ice Warriors truly committed to peace?

This is one of those productions where the production values are better than the plot. Creating the world of Peladon, as well as the alien delegates, was a tricky thing on a budget like Doctor Who, and while there are a few naff things, particularly the alien Arcturus, who works better as a character rather than as a special effect (the voice and the puppet being sore points with me), there is still quite a lot of good things. While Alpha Centauri may be annoying at times, it's still a fairly well-realised alien, even if, at least without its cloak, it's a walking double-entendre. Aggedor is also fairly well realised, even if it is basically a short stuntman in a furry suit.

The Doctor and Jo get their chances to shine within the story, particularly Jo, who tries to use a developing relationship with King Peladon to help the Doctor, although she feels disgusted when he rather clumsily tries to get her to cement a political marriage. King Peladon is pretty wet, but this is justifiable, considering it is implied that he was long without a father, and that he is still trying to find his feet as a ruler. David Troughton makes the most of a role that could have ended in disaster. Hepesh is written to be so obviously the villain, that it would have been a surprise if he hadn't been, but his motivations are understandable, being a perhaps more benign version of the High Priest of Sacrifice Tlotoxl's from The Aztecs.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is the Ice Warriors, who are portrayed as, while aggressive, as good guys, with Izlyr being portrayed as suspicious but reasonable. It makes a nice change from the evil Ice Warriors from The Seeds of Death and adds considerably to their characterisation.

While the production values and characters are good, the plot doesn't feel quite right. Why would Hepesh allow the Doctor to escape in order to entrap him further? The reasoning he gave the Doctor was sound, and there seemed to be no reason barring sheer malice for him to trap the Doctor again. Hepesh seems to be more of a pragmatist behind his superstitious trappings. And who put skirts/kilts on the Peladonian guards and the King? Not to mention that, as I mentioned above, Arcturus' realisation is pretty badly done. And from a modern perspective, the political allegory (of Britain entering the Common Market) seems rather trite, with the Federation seeming rather patronising to and contemptuous of Peladon and its people. Maybe it's because of my knowledge of the second Peladon story, The Monster of Peladon, that colours my view.

Still, The Curse of Peladon is a brave attempt that ultimately succeeds in what it sets out to do. With a good fight scene, an interesting relationship for Jo, and a good twist for an old enemy, it's a pretty good example of the Pertwee era...


SCORE: 8.5/10


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30 Mar 2011, 10:48 pm

REVIEW: The Sea Devils by Malcolm Hulke

SERIAL
: LLL, 6X25 minute episodes

SEEN IT BEFORE?: No.


Sequelitis is not an uncommon disease with Doctor Who when popular monsters come back. Subsequent stories with certain monsters sometimes do not live up to the original. The second Jon Pertwee season, where the Master pops up in every story, arguably blunted the edge of the Doctor's greatest foe, forcing the writers to send the Master to jail. So when Terrance Dicks commissioned Malcolm Hulke to write a sequel to Doctor Who and the Silurians, it needed a fresh edge. One that would revitalise the Master, and have a new take on the Silurians...

Visiting the Master at his new prison on an island in the British Channel, the Doctor and Jo soon learn of mysterious ship sinkings in the area. A former sea fort in the centre of the sinkings is being renovated by the Navy as a testing station for sonar, but something has attacked that too. While the Doctor and Jo investigate with the help of Captain Hart of the Navy, the Master is making his own plans, manipulating his jailor, Colonel Trenchard, into allowing him to do as he pleases. For an aquatic species of the Silurians, the Sea Devils, have awoken beneath the sea fort, and they intend to take the Earth back for their people...

The story itself is decent enough, with the usual Malcolm Hulke depth of character, although he doesn't give enough individuality to the Sea Devils, unfortunate, especially considering the Silurians' portrayal in the previous story. The only non-regular characters I have a problem with (in terms of characterisation, as they're both acted well) are Colonel Trenchard, pompous patriot and gullible (not beyond belief, but stretching it somewhat) to the Master's words, and Walker, an idiotic secretary who makes Trenchard look like a genius, not to mention brave. Captain Hart, however, is a well-done character, mixing scepticism and military authority with pragmatism and humanity.

The regulars of the Doctor, Jo, and the Master are on form, indeed, at their pinnacle. We get a strong feeling of the friendship that the Doctor and the Master once had, not forgetting (with an excellent sword fight in episode 2) that the Master is more than willing to kill the Doctor. Roger Delgado is at his best here, turning people against each other without hypnosis, but rather, with rhetoric instead. Jo shows off in this story that she's more than a screaming assistant, pulling off more than one escape and helping the Doctor more than once. And Jon Pertwee? He's in his element here, with more action and fancy vehicles than you can shake a stick at, but with all that humanity showing through as well.

The minor shortcomings of the story are more than made up for by the action sequences, again done at the pinnacle of the Pertwee era. Sea Devils and sailors face off in many an excellent sequence, and these are enhanced with the naval hardware that help give this serial a feel of authenticity.

While the Sea Devils do not work as well as the Silurians as characters, the costumes are quite effective, as is the voices used. That being said, their base is perhaps the only major failure in the production design of this serial, and a major disappointment compared to everything else.

Another disappointment that brings this serial down is the music by Malcolm Clarke. There are times when the music works very well, but the vast majority of the time, it is just plain weird, half of it sounding like sound effects, and the other half just discordant, barely musical noise that makes Carey Blyton's decision to use the kazoo-like crumhorn in Doctor Who and the Silurians look sane.

Still, this is still a fine Pertwee story, whose faults are outweighed by mostly excellent production values. This is the turning point for the character of the Master, where he will become an even better threat that before...


SCORE: 9/10


And now, the DVD trailer for the next story, The Mutants...

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dNqZEzjY7dI[/youtube]


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