Archive for Pertwee Era

Doctor Who: Planet Of The Spiders

Format: DVD

Warts & All: Eight Legs Good, Two Legs Bad

Quote: A tear, Sarah Jane? No, don’t cry. While there’s life there’s…

Review: Another Robert Sloman six-part season finale could be a Time Monster, could be a Green Death. It’s a lottery. Spiders comes up much closer to the latter, thankfully. In some respects, it’s almost like Dinosaurs – a terrific story let down by production limitations. As monsters go, the eponymous spiders (titularantulas?) are a doozy. The stuff of common nightmares, right up there with Green Death’s M-words. And while they’re not always well-realised – with the best will in the world, I can tell string from strands of web – they are for the most part not bad where it matters. They spend quite a bit of time invisible, which always helps, making like Heinlein’s Puppeteers on people’s backs.

Lis Sladen plays her part too in the spiders’ effectiveness, channelling all our primal fears and injecting it into her performance. Her conviction sells you on a mechanical spider or a rubber dangly one or a spider on a stick sat on a cushion. Doesn’t matter, her fear’s real, so of course the spiders are too. The Great One herself is pretty fantastic and there’s something particularly chilling in seeing Pertwee’s Doctor reduced to a puppet in her thrall, gave me the chills. Voiced supremely (by Maureen Morris, I believe), this is an enemy truly worthy of a Doctor’s swan song. She is destroyed too easily, of course, victim of her own megalomania, but the Doctor forced to confront his own greatest fear mitigates the simplicity. There’s a genuine sense of the high price being paid by the Doctor. Love it.

What lets proceedings down more than its monsters are the two-legs on Metebelis (mind how you pronounce that). The studiobound terrain is limiting, but better actors might have assisted with the suspension of disbelief. Interior sets in the spider city are just as basic, with the council chamber being just a couple of benches. You have to wonder where all the budget went? Oh, right. Yeah, on that chase episode. A whole episode of shameless, indulgent padding for Pertwee to clock up the miles on every kind of vehicle he hadn’t driven yet. For all the fast-paced motion, it moves things along not a jot and I really should grumble bitterly about that, but – but – d’you know what? I found it fun. It’s varied, pretty well staged, gyrocopters and speedboats and hovercraft and Bessie, and the Whomobile turns flying saucer and there’s a comedy policeman in a panda car. What’s not to like? Well, it’s all sort of wasted effort because it all ends with the fugitive teleporting away, so maybe I would have worked in some plot mechanics that prevented that somehow.

I also would’ve rejigged the episode 5 ending, since of the two dramatic cliffhangers they could have chosen, they opted for the less interesting one. Surely, the reveal of Sarah’s possession by the Queen would have been the one to go with, not the members of the Extra-Curricular Meditation Club attacking Tommy at the door. Of the attendees at the retreat, (aside from Yates), Tommy and Lupton are the only ones of note. Lupton is a strange sort – like an accountant with a power complex. He’s well-played by John Dearth (who voiced BOSS so excellently in Green Death – fair enough as they use the same set of BOSS headphones on poor doomed Cyril Shapps in Episode 1), but he’s odd villain material, given that he is the main enemy for a large stretch of the story.

Tommy, well, it’s an endearing portrayal by the actor, until he softens his accent when he’s suddenly smart. As though a West Country accent is somehow connected with being simple of mind. Hmmph! In truth, I did wince a little at Cho-Je, one of those racially inappropriate castings of the time, but Kevin Lindsay (that can’t be the same guy as played Linx!) wins me over despite that and George Cormack as K’Anpo is fine, sage, enigmatic, just as you’d imagine that old hermit the Doctor’s talked about from time to time throughout his era. It’s an affecting moment when we get to meet this figure at last – and a good touch that the Doctor doesn’t initially recognise his old friend and mentor. And of course his death and transformation into Cho-Je (who is a sort of regeneration in waiting, like the Fourth Doctor’s Watcher in Logopolis) prepares us for the end.

I say prepares us and I’ve seen it plenty of times before and I know what’s coming, but damnit, on this current journey through the whole series, Pertwee’s departure definitely brings a tear to the eye. It’s a fitting end. Understated but emotional and but for the floating monk giving the process a boost and the change into the strange looking bloke with the big eyes, it is played like an actual death scene.

Generally then, a flawed and often cheap-looking gem but like the blue crystal of Metebelis 3 I find myself drawn in and fascinated by the light within.

Doctor Who: Monster Of Peladon

Format: DVD

Warts & All: Bad hair day!

Quote: You’re sure you don’t want to stay and take the job, Doctor? Civil service post with a pension.

Review: You know, I used to find this really frustrating because the first half relies mostly on characters like High Priest Ortron and Queen Thalira being so stubborn, obtuse and blind to the evidence before their own eyes that it stretched credibility. But now in a post-Brexit world, I realise it’s actually pretty credible. It’s still frustrating, mind you. But this is a six-part visit to Peladon and it’s plain the writer has to spin events out and generate drama, with another pig-ignorant High Priest and the most painfully naive monarch imaginable totally unwilling or slow to believe the Doctor, despite being vouched for by his old friendly hermaphrodite hexapod, Alpha Centauri. It gets tedious and there’s three whole episodes before the Ice Warriors show.

At which point, the story totally misses a trick and bungles a thread which could easily have filled out the middle and replaced some of the tortuous contrivance and running around tunnels in the earlier stages with some interesting intrigue. It is unreasonable of me to expect nuance and subtlety in a story with Dr Tyler from The Three Doctors looking like Hair Bear with silver streaks. (His bunch of miners have similar perms and it’s really tough to take their rebellion seriously as a result.) But within less than the space of episode 4, the Ice Warriors are revealed as villains and I’m left with a sense of missed opportunity.

After taking that step to show them as a reasoning civilised race and members of a Galactic Federation, it’s fair enough and another decent twist to have them return as baddies, but why squander the potential to have the Doctor – and us – deceived a good while longer? Azaxyr is a ham-fisted conspirator at best, not bothering with any pretence at playing a representative of the Federation, ordering mass executions and what have you. Eckersley’s complicity is better concealed and it’s not especially relevant to anything but Donald Gee (last seen hunting miner Clancy in The Space Pirates) looks a bit like Tom Baker in his Genesis Of The Daleks Thal guard outfit. Albeit, unlike the Peladon miners, he doesn’t have the perm.

The ghost of Aggedor plotline is all a bit too Scooby Doo for my liking and it’s a bit distracting having the Ice Warrior with the exceptionally big head stomping around. It’s good to have a bit of variety within an alien race, but that one stands out like a sore thumb. And because the overall story’s not brilliantly engaging, my mind tends to wander and I wonder what that Ice Warrior’s story might be. Merits would have to be Pertwee and Lis Sladen who are thoroughly engaging and it’s lovely to see the affection Sarah Jane has developed for the Doctor at this point, most notable on the two occasions she believes him to be dead. And she demonstrates some of that famous SJS pluck, pressing on even when she might be stranded on this alien world, with the Doctor lost to her. Centauri is quite endearing too, although I don’t remember him (?) being so uppity about females before.

And I felt sorry for Aggedor when he’s shot in the struggle with Eckersley at the end. Beyond that, I can’t claim to have cared a great deal about the other characters involved or the situation on Peladon. Sarah gives Queen Thalira nice lesson in womens’ lib, but there’s not any great sense it will stick – mainly because Thalira is sooooo pathetic.

So while everything ends on a positive note, in contrast with the actual optimism in Curse, back when Peladon joined the Federation, I was left with the impression of a planet that was ultimately doomed. But maybe that’s also an element of our post-Brexit situation colouring my experience of this visually colourful but mediocre tale.

Doctor Who: Death To The Daleks

Format: DVD

Warts & All: Flying Hubcap!

Quote: It’s rather a pity in a way. Now the universe is down to 699 Wonders.

Review: What a great first episode. Terry Nation gets only four parts on this occasion to rework his standard Dalek story template and the first one is a cracker. The TARDIS dying due to a mysterious power drain, the planet in darkness, Sarah and the Doctor separated, monsters stalking in the mist, tense creepy atmosphere and a great double jeopardy cliffhanger with Sarah captured and prepared for sacrifice while the newly-arrived Daleks mercilessly open fire on a defenceless Doctor and the members of an expedition from Earth. And most of the remaining three parts aren’t bad either. Without the need to pad things out to fill six whole episodes, Mr Nation keeps things moving along like a freely trundling Dalek – not quite as smooth as a Dalek on rails, say (ahem) but perhaps one on a slightly bumpy down slope.

One of the limiting factors is that I’m watching this through a filter of previous Dalek stories and it’s tricky to ignore the transplants – Earth mission instead of Thals, Exxilons instead of Spiridons (one faction enslaved by the Daleks, one bunch of rebels), a city that needs breaking into if all is to be resolved. But in many ways this recipe of similar ingredients is more interesting. The City is ‘one of the Wonders of the Universe’ – an ancient, living city, complete with lethal robotic snake-like roots (which, visible wires aside, are reasonably well realised), that is draining all the power from everything, TARDIS, Earth ship and Dalek hubcap alike. There’s a spot of workaround dialogue about psychokinetic energy to explain how the Daleks can move (we’re not meant to notice the rails in the sand) but the factor that makes this truly memorable is their inability to fire their weapons – which, not coincidentally, is what makes that first cliffhanger so terrific. Of course then the Daleks show tremendous ingenuity and adaptability by kitting themselves out with machineguns, wonderfully test-fired with a spot of target practice on a tiny model TARDIS. It’s unfortunate that – perhaps under some obligation from the title – a number of the Daleks expire from simple beatings and, while it does give rise to great imagery of a flaming Dalek, I’m never that fond of stories which show some of the Doctor’s greatest enemies as weak and pathetic. We could maybe attribute the death by clubbing to the power drain, weakening the Dalek’s defences or something. But there’s even one Dalek that self-destructs because some prisoners escaped on his watch.

It’s a facepalm moment. Earth crewmember Galloway’s self-sacrifice at the end makes almost as little sense, given that he’s been shown as an ambitious, self-serving hardcase who takes command in spite of his dying commander’s wishes in a thread that goes precisely nowhere. That and the way everything is wrapped up in record quick time suggests to me that perhaps there were two more episodes originally intended and this was cut down.

Maybe not and it works okay as it is, albeit with a bit too much of two episodes given over to puzzle-solving in the City, as the Doctor and native friend, Bellal – a nicely realised little alien chap, and it’s good to see the Doctor treating an alien companion just as he would a human – work their way towards the centre. It doesn’t help that the puzzles, as usual in these kinds of setups, are rubbish. One of them makes for possibly among the weakest cliffhangers ever, as the Doctor points at a red and white pattern on the floor. It’s not even a particularly scary shade of red. The greatest levels of artifice needed here are to avoid showing us the Daleks solve things like the touch-sensitive maze on the wall. A shame because I would have liked to see how they did that.

Generally then, there are niggles aplenty, but for the most part it’s decent SF adventure with quantities of action and perils, memorable moments and half an eye to events going on in the wider Who universe (space plague!), with an entertaining twist that the Daleks aren’t so much interested in the cure for themselves as they are for its value as currency for coercing others. Not epic but enjoyable and I know this story is in part to blame for my villainous character, Dexter Snide, and his mission to vandalise all the Wonders of the Universe. So I owe it that much at least.

Doctor Who: Invasion Of The Dinosaurs

Format: DVD

Warts & All: Whadda you think?

Quote: Take the world that you’ve got and try and make something of it. It’s not too late.

Review: You’ve got to admire a can-do attitude, but when the puppet company told Barry Letts sure, we can do you some dinosaurs, they were perhaps over-egging their enthusiasm. There are perhaps two shots in which the monsters don’t look too awfully bad if you squint and have a forgiving nature, but otherwise, let’s not sugar coat the pill here. They are bad. So bad they really need to be on their own spin-off puppet show with either Michael Bentine or Harry Corbett. Or Pipkins. Yeah, maybe Pipkins. Hartley Hare always looked a bit tatty too. Of special terribleness is the scene towards the end, where the well-meaning puppet company attempts to emulate the great Ray Harryhausen with a titanic rubbery duel between T Rex and Brontosaurus. (And yes, I know that’s not the correct name for them, but it was the norm when I was a kid so I’ll use it here.) Their somewhat unconvincing realisation is exacerbated by rampant CSO fringes wherever composite shots are required to marry them with the live action. Another of those cases where parts of a Doctor Who story might be best watched between the fingers of your hands covering your eyes, to guard against the horror.

But for all that, there’s something – or maybe several somethings – I love about this story. For one, I do admire its bare-faced ambition and in many ways, for me, it’s as quintessential Pertwee Who as The Green Death and I would put it in the same Best Of… compilation box set, along with Ambassadors and The Silurians. Only with a clear warning label about the dinosaurs in this case. With the exception of a drawn out chase later on, it fills out its six parts reasonably well, albeit falling into the trap of repetitive episode endings – three T Rex related cliffhangers. The first episode is exceptional, harking wonderfully back to the Dalek Invasion with its shots of deserted streets and so on. (I was actually a bit of an idiot to begin with as I forgot that the DVD featured a colourised version of episode one, but the scenes are highly effective in black-and-white.) And it does well to explore the other effects of these prehistoric visitations on the capital, with Sarah Jane and the Doctor caught as looters in the early stages. Yes, the overall plot of Operation Golden Age has some questions to answer and a few flaws in their thinking, but to be honest I didn’t by and large give a fig because the general progression of the adventure was sufficiently engaging. Even the dubious fake spaceship with all those idealists hoodwinked into believing they’re en route to a new world could easily be equated with some of the modern reality TV Derren Brown style setups, although it would need better preparation and an airlock people couldn’t just slip out of to poke around behind the scenes.

Given that Carmen Silvera is among these hopeful pioneers, it’s possible they have cheese in their ears. Talking of the support cast, it’s graced by some good uns: Peter Miles, Martin Jarvis and John Bennett, and Noel Johnson as Sir Charles Grover is one of the many government ministers of the era, except he’s really nice and charming and amicable – which should have alerted the Doctor to him as a suspect much sooner really. Then you have the UNIT family, this the last time they are all properly together – except, of course, they’re not. One of them is a traitor, and that’s a bold move which brings about a shake-up that is genuinely felt, especially well conveyed in the Brigadier’s reaction when he is met with the truth of Mike Yates’ betrayal. And it makes sense too in terms of character development, post-Green Death. I don’t remember ever particularly caring about Mike Yates, but I imagine for those that did or do this is/was pretty earth-shattering.

For me, it’s more about the effect on the UNIT family he leaves behind and that, along with a core message that ought to resonate with most of us, is what enamours me to this story despite its dinosaur-sized shortcomings. That and the little black kitty who makes an appearance in a shop window in episode six. I always enjoy spotting that cat. He doesn’t seem overly bothered by the rubbish dinosaurs either.

PS. I should just finish by saying… KKLAK!

Doctor Who: The Time Warrior

Format: DVD

Warts & All: Jerky Robot Knight

Quote: Is this Doctor a long shank rascal with a mighty nose?

Review: For a while I used to believe that any Doctor Who story with the word ‘Time’ in the title was A Bit Crap™ – it was like the odd-numbered Star Trek movie rule. Trial Of A Time Lord, Time And The Rani, Invasion Of Time… Then I obtained The Time Meddler plus this one on DVD at around the same time and treated myself to a double bill.

Both were a treat (both featuring anachronistic travellers equipping primitives with advanced weapons) and this is just as much fun this time round. Not least because it is of course the debut of Sarah Jane Smith. It’s a fab intro for her and she doesn’t put a foot wrong, stowing away aboard the TARDIS and navigating her own course to a large extent through the first half of proceedings, even suspecting the Doctor’s involvement and masterminding his capture before becoming his assistant/companion by story’s end. It’s such a great escapade, absolutely tailor-made for Pertwee’s Doctor, replete with swashes and buckles and derring-do, liberally salted and peppered with Robert Holmes’ colourful dialogue as brilliant as Irongron’s star.

We’re introduced to the Sontarans, in the form of Linx, perhaps never realised or portrayed better than here with an exceptional piece of design and a top quality performance by Kevin Lindsay. While the mask gives him a fantastically animate face for what is essentially a large potato, he invests that ‘monster’ with character, such that he’s an actual credible individual within a race of cloned warriors. It’s a helluvan achievement. And he’s chucked into this scenario like A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court, in amongst these medieval characters who are so far removed from Game Of Thrones, they’re actually very like the pageant that Sarah Jane believes herself to be caught up in.

The acting among the pageanteers isn’t always Academy Award standard, but honestly on this occasion it couldn’t matter less. It’s a romp and a half and with the likes of David Daker as grizzled warmonger Irongron and June Brown (Dot Cotton to most of the UK) enlivening the main supporting cast, there’s more than enough charisma around to make up for a few guards sleep-acting their way through. John J Carney is comical as Bloodaxe, about as bloodthirsty as a Wurzel, and let’s not forget there’s also Boba Fett! as Hal the Archer, a character who would’ve been right at home in Robin Hood serials at the time if Robin Of Locksley could stomach the competition. Each of the four episodes dashes by, with their nicely judged helpings of perils and laughs and great use of location in and around the castle.

One of the cliffhangers is one of those slight cheats, with the following recap revealing action previously withheld but that’s just another element that confirms this as Saturday serial material. Some of the fights and action – such as the almost gratuitous chandelier swing – is on the stagey side, but there’s nothing to actively dampen the general enjoyment. I find myself not even caring about the logistics of getting Linx’s spaceship into that pokey castle chamber he’s using as his lab. I think the only thing about it I don’t like is the stiff-jointed robot knight as I’ve never been a fan of futuristic robots that move so mechanically and this one is supposed to be a warrior made for Irongron, but all it does is walk like a mechanical mime artist and make chopping motions with its sword which wouldn’t trouble a slow-moving turnip. It’s a bit Rubeish, if you’ll forgive the pun.

Talking of whom, the Doctor packs all the kidnapped scientists off home at the end while he and Sarah depart in the TARDIS, leaving us to speculate on the scene from the poor Brigadier’s viewpoint back in the 20th century, with the mystery solved but nobody but a batty short-sighted Professor left to explain what the hell’s been going on. Maybe somebody will write that scene one day, as a Time Warrior cutaway. But for the time being, what we have on screen is thoroughly entertaining wizardry.

Doctor Who: The Green Death

Format: DVD

Warts & All: Dodgy Dragonfly Divebomb

Quote: Save me a piece of wedding cake

Review: From the same writing team that brought you the Time Monster comes this bona fide classic that I’d happily present to anyone in a ‘Best Of Pertwee’ box set. As long as the intended viewer wasn’t Welsh, as maybe some of the stereotypical dialogue from the Valleys might bother them, boyo, isn’t it? To be honest, it didn’t trouble me as it’s reasonably easy for me to watch such things with an eye to the mindset and culture of the time, and even if miner Bert’s habit of calling Jo ‘Blodwyn’ could induce a cringe or two, it serves well enough to lend the characters that brief connection so when Bert succumbs to the eponymous expiration it’s given some proper emotional acknowledgement rather than treated as the throwaway death common to members of a Doctor Who supporting cast. Nice touches like that plus the casting of well-known character actors (Roy Evans, Talfryn Thomas) invite the audience to care about the lot of these miners. Much as the story invites us to genuinely care about the issues – issues of the day which are every bit as relevant, if not more so, now.

The message is not subtle – it’s about as crude as the oil pumped from the depths of the Earth. The greenness of the death is ironic, since green is pretty much the political manifesto this tale espouses. We identify readily with what’s at stake and even if the locals are a bit colourful, it’s easy to identify with them as an ordinary community. Then you throw in one of the most horrific horrors the show has ever chucked at your Saturday teatime screens – that’s right, the giant M-words! Yes, creatures so disgusting that I am reduced to calling them M-words in case my sister is reading this, because she can’t even stand the word let alone the memories of this story. (Also why I’ve had to exercise some due care in choice of accompanying image!) The M-words are pretty well realised for the most part and even the giant plastic fly towards the end is only rendered truly awful by some overambitious experiments with CSO. It’s an expected feature of many a story from the period and not for the first time there are some odd uses of it when you would’ve thought a simple location shot would’ve done – the Brig and Co on site, for example, where we’ve already seen them in location filming, transferred to the studio with a crappy CSO backdrop. Did the production team run out of time on location or something? Ultimately, it’s all forgivable when the rest is so good.

Every episode is a lovely balance of action, intrigue, horror and humour – complete with a couple of star comedy turns from Pertwee as a milkman and a cleaning maid. And the absolute highlight of Mike Yates’ UNIT career, really, as he is hit with a bucket by an indignant Pertwee in domestic-cleaner drag. These are perfectly natural Pertwee comic creations but there is something special in seeing his Doctor transition from the suave sophisticate to these roles and back again. The most outlandish aspect of proceedings is BOSS, a riff on mad computer HAL 9000, who hums and sings along as his plans for Global Chemicals’ global domination are initiated, but it’s voiced with such booming and unabashed aplomb by John Dearth, you can’t help but relish this unseen electronic villain.

The technology and aesthetic is so seventies, all that’s missing is a downtrodden Reggie Perrin on the company staff. “Eleven minutes late, giant M-word on the Llanfairfach bypass.” In keeping with that full-on Seventies vibe, the hippy commune of the Nuthutch is very much of its time, but Professor Jones is a likeable chap and a much more convincing romantic match for Jo Grant. That particular thread is quite nicely developed and written – complete with a scene where the Doctor further surprises us all by cockblocking Professor Jones, taking him off to discuss scientific matters just when he’s trying to get intimate with Jo – ultimately leading of course to a beautifully understated and sad companion departure. (Albeit I’ve no need to be sad for long as Sarah Jane will be along very soon. Yay!)

It’s Pertwee’s Doctor we feel for, as he drives off alone. What a great ending to the season. And in the end the seventies backdrop is as readily updateable as the CSO effects. Sure, coal-mining is dead now and that’s one element you’d have to change if remaking this story today, but industry pollution and poisoning the environment is – I’m afraid – going to be a relevant issue for quite a while to come yet.

hich is great news for this Doctor Who adventure, meaning it will be something we can continue to enjoy long after it’s no longer safe for us to go outside.

(NB. This review in no way endorses or supports the policies of the Green Party.)

Doctor Who: Planet Of The Daleks

Format: DVD

Warts & All: Toy Daleks and Flashlight Monsters

Quote: We have been delayed, not defeated. The Daleks are never defeated.

Review: Terry Nation delivers a script from his Dalek-story-by-numbers book, with Thals having to find their way into a Dalek base, via pipes/shafts and a jungle infested with hostile life forms, with two of the Thals a couple while another Thal develops the hots for the Doctor’s companion, and the Daleks set to unleash a weapon of mass destruction to wipe out all life on the planet’s surface. Somehow the vibrant colour palette and the way in which the familiar elements are bolted together prevents the thing from feeling like a tired retread. It’s never riveting, but it’s entertaining, with some striking visuals and some neat ideas.

Daleks enslaving the natives is nothing new, but these natives are invisible (when they’re not wearing their bright purple furs) and the Daleks are experimenting with this power of invisibility. The tropical jungle planet of Spiridon turns ultra chilly at night and is unusual in that it has a core of molten ice. Which is the kind of geology you’d expect to find in a fantasy world, but never mind, it’s an interesting enough gimmick and I half wonder if an actual science fiction author like Hal Clement might’ve been able to make that work. To be honest, my main issues are with the logic that happens within that illogical setup.

Things like the Daleks building a massive refrigeration unit to freeze their entire 10,000-strong toy Dalek army deep inside a volatile icecano, the Daleks going all out to hunt down the Thals and the Doctor et al even while they’re preparing to release their totally life-destroying virus, which by the way they keep in a fish tank that is easily pushed over. By an invisible Spiridon who, er, chooses to sneak into their base by pretending to be one of the enslaved locals in a shiny purple fur coat rather than, I dunno, sneaking inside *invisible*. Indeed, beyond some CSO trickery with a bowl and a stick and some other floaty objects, plus the neat idea of an invisible Dalek with ‘light-ray sickness’ and a rather nice cliffhanger ending involving the Doctor and a can of spray paint, the invisibility angle is not really explored or exploited. Points though for giving the planet a variety of terrain – with plains of stones as well as the jungle. The jungle is studio-bound and not a patch on the one in Planet Of Evil, but it’s not too bad and the filmed location work is as good as any other quarry, but it doesn’t exactly blend with the studio footage of what’s supposed to be the same rough locale. The scenes on this plain of stones are rendered most cringeworthy by the predators which surround the camp fire at night. It’s the stuff of bad cartoons, brought to horrible unconvincing life. I mean, less convincing than the romance between Jo and her Thal beau. That bad. Perhaps the strangest thing about this story though is that in spite of the myriad bits of rubbishness, I actually quite enjoyed it on the whole.

Pertwee gets several nice speeches, Jo gets a spell of intrepidness venturing out on her own in the early stages, there are some decent actors among the Thals – notably Bernard Horsfall and Tim Preece and Jane How aren’t bad with the limited material. Okay, there’s also Prentis Hancock, but I’m trying to focus on the good points here. It’s colourful, as I say, and packed with the stuff of Boys’ Own Adventure – complete with that especially memorable cliffhanger with the Doctor and Thals set to make their escape in a hastily improvised hot-air balloon. There’s a really cool Supreme Dalek, a lovely black and gold with a flashy eyestalk, who turns up in the final reel to take charge a bit before delivering a speech that Terry Nation can expand upon later in Genesis Of The Daleks.

The Dalek spaceship model is pretty well shot and Maloney does a fair job of challenging scenes such as the Dalek floating up the shaft after the rogue ballooners. And yeah the toy Daleks are toy Daleks but he has a go at investing those shots with a dash of atmosphere, which mitigates them some. And at least I feel like I learned something: namely, that if ever I find my arm covered with strange alien porridge oats, the best survival technique is to coat it in melted chocolate.

But as serials (ahem) go, this is more like Lucky Charms, full of colourful sugary crap and not much in the way of nutrition or substance, but somehow you find yourself going back for another bowlful. Individual servings are quite fun and reasonably filling. It’s rubbish but it’s quite exciting rubbish.

Doctor Who: Frontier In Space

Format: DVD

Warts & All: Fearsome Orange Balloon Monster!

Quote: Anyway, they put me under one of these mind probes things, you see, and tried to get me to tell them where I was going. So, I said I was on my way to meet a giant rabbit, a pink elephant and a purple horse with yellow spots.

Review: A game for you: if you ever watch this in one sitting, make sure to have a drink every time the Doctor and/or Jo is put in a cell. At an episode a day it doesn’t quite work because you easily sober up between incarcerations. But I at least made a game of counting the imprisonments and I think they got up to 13 before story’s end. At heart this is a great story, two great space superpowers being played off against the other by a mysterious third party, but it could have been better told. There’s more apprehending of escaped prisoners than there is apprehension about an intergalactic war. Hulke does a decent job of showing us the various sides in this interstellar Cold War, but the contrivance required to deliver the Doctor to the different places he needs to be – as well as to pad it out to meet the six-episode runtime – is as visible as the strings keeping the Doctor afloat in his spacewalks. The action may be laboured at times – and a spacewalk to affect repairs in episode six slows things up just when we ought to be racing towards a climax. But it scores major points in the universe-building stakes as this was another story that excited my childhood imagination with its elements more than its events.

The Draconians are an awesome addition to the DW universe, the alien masks being fabulous creations and the costume design and dialogue hinting sufficiently of an actual culture. We have another few allusions to the Doctor’s past, with a prior visit to Draconia and a story of a very strange peace conference (which surely needs to be televised, just to see if the aliens described can be taken at all seriously). Where the Martian Empire or the Arcturans or Centauri were in all this I don’t know, but between this and Peladon there was no doubt in my mind that all of these intelligent races shared the same universe and had some kind of political relations, even though I had no idea what political relations were at the tender age of six. Obviously the Martians stayed well out of this one. And a wise decision too, but it’s good to see the Ogrons stomping around and using a neat hypno device to disguise themselves as humans or ‘Dragons’ as the situation required. (Although I have to wonder why every time the Ogrons show up the Doctor turns into a gunslinger.) Unfortunately, because we’ve only ever seen the Ogrons in the employ of the Daleks, the minor speculation about who they might be working for is pretty poor as a bit of deflection and I can’t imagine many viewers were that surprised to see the Daleks turn up at the end. Although maybe the Master’s presence helped preserve that twist, as it’s not until quite late that he reveals that he too is employed by others.

Delgado is supreme, as usual, and you can easily believe he is behind it all, machinating away. Here, his appearance is tinged with sadness as we know it is his last one – and it’s an ignominious sort of departure as he shoots the Doctor and then seems to disappear amongst a lot of fleeing Ogrons. Not the climactic confrontation his Moriarty deserved with the Doctor’s Holmes. The model work, worth mentioning because we get to see a lot of it for long periods, is pretty damned good for its day and the Master’s borrowed police ship is an especially nice design. The weaponry deployed by the spaceships seems rather lame and primitive for space opera fare, with even Draconian battlecruisers limited to missiles when we’re much more accustomed to seeing powerful beams blasting all over the shop. And the re-use of sets for the bridges of different ships is a bit too obvious.

Finally, the monster on the Ogron planet – which has the Ogrons so terrified that they worship the thing – is perhaps one of the worst realisations of anything ever in the show’s history. It’s only glimpsed atop a ridge, thankfully, but the brief glimpse is nowhere near brief enough. The actors all deserve medals for keeping straight faces while faced with such a monstrosity. There are some notable performances worth mentioning – I like the Earth President, the Draconian Prince and John Woodnutt (semi-regular guest star) as the Draconian Emperor, while General Williams is a little too wooden to properly sell us on his change of heart – when he realises his past error that provoked the previous war between Earth and Draconia.

Nevertheless, in nature if not in portrayal, it is a very characteristic Hulke feature. One of those moments better handled in novelisation form, with a bit more substance in the prose than we are presented here on screen. Ultimately, watched today it excites the imagination more than it captures the attention. Which is probably just as well, with all the capturing going on in the story.

Doctor Who: Carnival Of Monsters

Format: DVD

Warts & All: Functionary Masks

Quote: Roll up! Roll up! Roll up! And see these funny little creatures in their native habitat! Watch them go through their funny little tricks! Poke them with a stick and make them jump!

Review: First off, what a great idea. Multiple miniaturised habitats stocked with monsters and people and the Doctor and Jo – on their first TARDIS trip after the Doctor has recovered his freedom from exile – are trapped in this portable zoo. Fantastic. Obviously a tad beyond the scope (ho ho) of BBC production limitations at the time, but d’you know what, I think they do a grand job considering. Once more Doctor Who gets to play with scale and it gives us what is surely one of the best Episode One cliffhangers ever.

In terms of the possibilities the scenario presents I would love to have seen more of the habitats, more of the exhibits, but within the space and time of a mere four-parter, Holmes does pretty well to weave what we do see with the ongoing situation playing outside the Miniscope. While the Doctor and Jo are experiencing their own little dramas within the machine, we have a lovely contrast between the grey natives of Inter Minor and the abundantly colourful pair of travelling entertainers, Vorg and Shirna. Give those two a TARDIS and there’s no end to the adventures we could see. The wonderfully dry Leslie Dwyer (later to become a drunken Punch & Judy man at the Hi-De-Hi holiday camp) and Cheryl Hall (Shirl, from Citizen Smith) make a great double act in ridiculous outfits that make the Sixth Doctor’s infamous coat look a bit on the tame side. As for the Inter Minorians, the trio of officials, constantly engaging in quiet conferences ‘on the side’, make for another nicely penned – and performed – comedy act, with Michael Wisher, Peter Halliday and Terrence Lodge fully embracing their respective roles and making up (!) for a poor make-up job. The lowly Functionaries are among the worst-realised aliens in Doctor Who, with some very rigid and functional (beg your pardon) masks. Luckily they’re not dwelt on at any great length in too many scenes, their highpoint being when one breaks ranks and in a wonderfully literal way rises above his station on what is, yeah, a somewhat confined city set.

The machine interior sets are similarly limited, but the director does a reasonable job of extracting maximum mileage out of the same stretches of giant circuitry and there’s a sense of the groovy seventies vibe in the design. The script even acknowledges the repetitive nature of the passages etc and that’s a smart move because it was never going to escape the audience’s notice. The script is pretty smart all-round, laced with wit, some terrific moral outrage from the Doctor and a rare ‘pure Pertwee’ moment where he’s able to channel one of those comic voices he was noted for prior to joining Doctor Who. Always nice to see Ian Marter in his pre-Harry Sullivan role. The Drashigs and the Plesiosaur vary from looking sometimes terrible to actually not that bad and the eyes are asked to do a fair amount of forgiving for some ragged-edged CSO shots, but overall it engages really well on a story and character level, albeit Major Daley and his daughter are somewhat stereotypical but they’re sort of delightful stereotypes.

There are a few plot quibbles, such as how the crew of the SS Bernice aren’t a little bit more curious about the large Drashig-sized hole left in the for’ard cargo hold after Major Daley has shot one of the monsters with a Tommy Gun – I mean, that’s some potent hypnotic conditioning to get them to ignore that and return to their programmed routine – but ultimately the more interesting questions relate to the Doctor’s involvement – along with the Time Lords – in banning the Miniscope devices as part of some intergalactic convention. It raises speculation about a wider Doctor Who universe, something at which Robert Holmes is generally as dexterous as Vorg with his yarrow seed and magum pods.

Doctor Who: The Three Doctors

Format: DVD

Warts & All: Singular smoke column

Quote: Three of them. I didn’t know when I was well off.

Review: Maybe it’s just me, but if I had a tenth anniversary coming up I would not be looking to Bob Baker & Dave Martin to script it for me. But the pair actually do a decent job here, crafting something that hangs together pretty well, celebrates the series’ past and builds on the mythology of the Time Lords first introduced only a few years earlier.

It’s dished up with generous helpings of humour, quality sparkle to the dialogue – especially, but not limited to, between Doctors Two and Three, with Pertwee and Troughton in tip-top form and pitching the Doctor-Doctor relationship perfectly between confrontation and camaraderie. Lovely stuff – and on initial broadcast this would’ve been my first ever introduction to the previous Doctors. There’s a side-dish of a touch of sadness because Doctor One’s role is necessarily limited by Hartnell’s ill health at the time. The in-story explanation – energy drain – is passable enough but it’s impossible to overlook how much the actor has aged in the years since he departed the show, confined there on the TARDIS screen.

Still, the overriding mood is upbeat – as you’d expect at a party – and appropriately, for a Doctor Who party, with plenty of dramatic punch. After a relatively quiet and unassuming beginning, we’re bombarded with outlandish events and sights – the gelguards are bizarre orange blobby things and we’re treated to the reverse of Pertwee’s Yeti in Tooting Bec principle, with ordinary terrestrial objects (Bessie, the Brigadier’s computer, the Doctor’s lab bench etc) transported to an alien landscape. All right the landscape is only about as alien as the last quarry or clay pit we saw, but the incongruity supplements the action in commanding our attention and ensuring that this epic encounter with a Time Lord legend is memorable.

The epicness is somewhat tempered by budgetary constraints, with a feeble wispy column of smoke to represent the power of a mighty singularity at the heart of a black hole and one has to wonder at the imagination behind Omega’s mask when, cursed or blessed as he is with the power of creating anything he wishes from thought alone, all this Time Lord God can come up with is a maze of bubblewrap corridors and a couple of chairs. Omega himself, the Wizard Of Oz of this scenario, is nicely realised with a lovely mask design and the SHOUTY stentorian tones of Stephen Thorne last heard belting out of the throat of the Daemon, Azal. Full of overwraught emotion, he’s convincingly mad and it’s entertaining to watch Troughton’s Doc wind him up with questions about his flute. And yes, it’s all resolved a teeny bit conveniently with the recorder, but in fairness that solution is built reasonably neatly into the story without completely advertising it as something that will prove important later. Honestly, the only notable letdowns for me are the tedious slow-mo wrestling match with Omega’s pet gargoyle (wouldn’t that have been so much more entertaining if he’d pitted it against the exquisitely flappable second Doctor?) and the prolonged goodbyes as everyone steps through the smoke column to go home. Always the price of an anniversary special – too many characters, too many farewells.

This one’s just shy of overcrowded, with Mr Ollis being the principal spare limb. No mention (that I can recall) of where Captain Yates is, but he’s not missed and the Brig and Benton have a fair share of the action and great lines. An enjoyable slice of birthday cake. With an unusual orangey gel centre.