Archive for TV Reviews

Doctor Who: The Seeds Of Doom

Format: DVD

Warts & All: Polystyrene permafrost

Quote: Hmm? Scorby, bullets and bombs aren’t the answer to everything.

Review: There are plenty of better quotes to pick from for this story – it’s absolutely blooming with colourful dialogue and witty repartee – but really if you’re going to solve the entire thing in the end with bombs, you should take care not to include such statements from the Doctor in your script. It just looks hypocritical. That said, the Doctor does take a proactive role in bringing the bomb run about – he’s under siege and frantically patching together the radio before ordering in the airstrike. So, if you can forgive the resolution – as I appear to have done there – what you’re left with is a great six-parter and a cracking end to a mostly terrific season. Now, it’s often said that six-parters are basically a two-part story plus a four-parter, and this is no exception.

It essentially begins as The Thing From Another World, (the 1950s Howard Hawks movie) (John Carpenter’s The Thing from the 80s plays on identity in the way the original source story, Who Goes There? by John Campbell intended but in that 50s Hawks movie the alien was essentially a humanoid plant.) And that is bolted onto the front end of an Avengers adventure. By which I mean a specific Avengers adventure, The Man-Eater Of Surrey Green. Well, a plant anyway. Robert Banks Stewart penned a couple of Avengers episodes himself, but it’s remarkable how freely he uproots elements from a Philip Levene script for replanting here. What a tea leaf. And he doesn’t stop there. The story has the Quatermass-meets-The Avengers feel of a Pertwee era tale and Banks Stewart further riffs off (and I pick my words with care here) The Quatermass Experiment, with a man taken over by alien DNA and mutating and growing into a giant betentacled monster. He misses a trick by having the Doctor deliver a severe warning that the Krynoid will turn into something ‘the size of Saint Pauls Cathedral’. What he should have said was Westminster Abbey, which is where the creature that was once British Rocket Group astronaut, Victor Caroon, sets up shop for the big Quatermass finale. But in a season of heavy – and successful – borrowing, it’s tough to make any charges stick when the results are this enjoyable. And it is that Quatermass-Avengers mix that makes it so.

We get a fourth Doctor who’s as much the action hero as the third. At times it nudges the Doctor a bit out of character, with him pointing guns and punching chauffeurs – somehow Venusian Aikido strikes as a more acceptable and dignified manner of fisticuffs – but when you consider that Harry Sullivan was dropped because Tom Baker’s Doctor could handle the action, it’s also mildly surprising that this is the first real time we see this Doctor in this much the action hero role. He’s also utterly ferocious at times, absolutely biting Scorby’s head off at one point when he insists ‘there is no chance.’ Sarah Jane never goes full Emma Peel – phew, because that just wouldn’t be right at all – but she gets plenty of plucky girlpower moments, is powerfully persuasive and pragmatic when urging Moberley to amputate poor Winlet’s arm and – among my favourites – wages a brief but brilliant battle of the sexes versus Scorby.

Scorby who is, by the way, one of the best Who henchmen, brought to life by John (Boycie) Challis and handed one half of a nice double act with poor, whimpering, worry-wort, Keeler (Mark Jones). I always find it a bit of a shame that Scorby is too easily reduced to whimpering himself towards the end, but it’s more of a pity that he gets killed by a bunch of weeds, as he’s a character I would’ve loved to see return at some point. Ah well, maybe in a prequel. Maniacal vegophile, Harrison Chase (Tony Beckley), and the wonderful Amelia Ducat (Sylvia Coleridge), have character analogues in Surrey Green who are like peas in a pod, but they are very much a part of the magic blend that helps fertilize this borrowed plot. Chase’s music – Hymn For The Plants, especially, is the worse kind of earworm – ie. you do not want that burrowing in your ears – and I will not be seeking it out on a soundtrack album, but it’s just the kind of mad eccentricity you’d expect from his particularly English breed of maniac. We also have Sir Colin Thackeray, who is very much what you’d expect of a civil servant of the Pertwee-era stripe, one of the more amenable sorts.

And we have UNIT, without any of the UNIT family. That, really, is the aspect that disappoints most. But in a way, even though this is ultimately solved with bombs, the UNIT troops aren’t really given enough of a role to justify the return of the Brigadier and Co. So while they are missed, I wonder if featuring them would have been a nice touch or perhaps come with its own element of sadness that it was, in effect, just a farewell cameo. But in the light of the tragedy that was Android Invasion, I also wonder if a Brig and Benton cameo might have been some consolation. Who knows? Overall, the story boasts a nice set of characters – even the very minor role of Hargreaves, the butler, still doing his stalwart British butlering in the face of all the odd and horrific things going on around him on his master’s estate.

As much as some key points are a tad contrived – the writer has clearly decided well in advance that Chase is ending up in that grinder, come hell or high pollen count – it’s generally neatly plotted and structured to deliver six individual slices of action and adventure. What’s more, other than some too obviously fake snow and perhaps a couple of the CSO shots of the shambling Krynoid beast – it looks great. Not just in the lovely use of location, but some of the more ambitious fx shots of the beast towering over the mansion are pretty damned convincing for the money. Colour me impressed. And the Axons look better in green. Thackeray’s office looks cheap, with the corridor outside more suggestive of a cupboard, and I’m not a hundred percent sure the choices of stock footage of the RAF planes match up, but I’m not going to quibble that.

It’s not perfect and that ending does have to catch me in charitable mood. But the story itself does a lot to get me in that frame of mind. It’s as English as country gardens and cucumber sandwiches for afternoon tea, laced with fantastically grisly Hammer-level horror to chill you to the marrow.

These are a few of my favourite things, as Julie Andrews once expressed it, and they’ve all been blended into this hearty six-part vegetable stew.

Doctor Who: Android Invasion

Format: DVD

Warts & All: Mega Facepalm

Quote: The best laid plans of men and Kraals aft gang aglae.

Review: This opens well, with a soldier striding along all twitchy and jerky before crashing headlong off a cliff. Seriously, if you didn’t know the story had ‘android’ in the title, you’d be thoroughly drawn in by the mystery of what was wrong with him. And the idyllic (actually really picturesque) English village with the locals delivered by truck to start acting really strangely, it all has the surrealist intrigue of an Avengers episode – which makes Patrick (Mother) Newell’s later appearance as the Brigadier’s replacement, Colonel Faraday, a nice touch. The real mystery here though is what have they done to this season’s Doctor Who? They’ve replaced it with a malfunctioning duplicate that, to be honest, marches jerkily along before crashing headlong off a cliff. Probably why I prefer to think of Terror Of The Zygons as the farewell UNIT story, because this is much less a swan song, more of a swan dive. Without the grace.

The Doctor’s got a new coat, but Tom’s performance seems lazy at times, half-hearted as though he knows this is a bit rubbish and not worth the time and effort. He’s not wrong, but it’s a shame when he’s part of the problem. There are occasions when the proper Tom shines through, but he’s given precious little to work with or act against. And he’s not alone there. Lis Sladen is frankly the best thing in the entire escapade, showing some true Sarah Jane spirit (thanks to some of those rusty plot mechanics she gets to rescue the Doctor from restraints twice in one episode) and investing her android self with some nicely nuanced difference. The best bit is (obviously) the Face Off! Moment, Sarah toppling over and having her face fall off to expose her android inner workings – despite her androidness being so heavily telegraphed and confirmed beforehand – is one of the all-time great cliffhanger endings. Never mind that it’s not a very hard fall to dislodge a visage and yet when Max Faulkner’s UNIT soldier he took that tumble into the quarry at the beginning he landed pretty much intact. So intact, in fact, that neither Sarah nor the Doctor manages to detect a hint of artificiality about him, even though surely the basics you’d check for signs of life – pulse, heartbeat, breathing – ought to reveal something a bit amiss.

But that’s entirely illustrative of how this story lurches mechanically along. It’s much more like Sarah’s android, with the face fallen off an and all the machinery exposed, clunking away very hard to make pre-conceived moments happen. Terry Nation appears to have had a jumbled collection of ideas in his head and the writing is like badly oiled clockwork, grinding its gears to contrive assorted moments like that. Few of those moments can match that cliffhanger’s impact, however, and ultimately the overall effect is of pieces of a jigsaw that don’t fit. They’re botched and hammered into place. And he’s clearly obsessed with capsules containing deadly viruses at this point. There’s a small helping of dodgy CSO with the rocket and a particularly poor shot of the android container pods landing behind a hill, but any ropey visuals are secondary to one of the biggest levels of dumb to grace the classic series, as Milton Johns (in a portrayal pitched somewhere in the vicinity of his camp Nazi from Enemy Of The World) realises that he had a perfectly good eye behind his eyepatch all the time. Whatever conditioning the Kraals have subjected him to, this is brain-bogglingly stupid. No matter how far Doctor Who stories might stretch credibility, I can’t believe no-one – like, say, the script editor? – caught this and fixed it.

Even in the company of a long list of elements that don’t make sense, as is the case here, it stands out like a huge facepalm or a Homer Simpson ‘D’oh!’ of epic proportions. The Kraals are among the more rubbish alien villains, which is probably why one ended up running a coffee shop in a comedy short story of mine, with actors Martin Friend and Roy Skelton having to do their best behind rather rigid rubbery masks with no facility for expression and mouths that might as well be in Spaghetti Westerns for all that their movements match the dialogue. Styggron’s great plan is slightly less convincing than the Kraals themselves, with no clear basis for such an elaborate staged re-enactment that I can see. But then, as a Kraal scientist, Styggron does appear partial to orchestrating the odd unnecessary experiment or demonstration. Like when he goes to the trouble of scanning Crayford to construct a new android specifically programmed to be hostile towards Kraals, just to show off his new gun and prove that the androids are not indestructible. Something we already knew when the fake Sarah’s face fell off because she hit a soft tuft of grass slightly awkwardly.

Honestly, I could pick holes in this all day long. It’s a shame that I can’t even find consolation in the guest appearances of Benton and Harry Sullivan, because it’s actually kind of sad to see such favourite characters reduced as they are here. The space-suited androids with the loaded fingers, I guess, make for a striking presence early on, adding to that general strangeness which plays to episode one’s strengths, such as they are, but it really is downhill from there.

A badly engineered robotic story best with limps, tics and a dodgy eye.

Doctor Who: Terror Of The Zygons

Format: DVD

Warts & All: Nessie

Quote: I underestimated his intelligence, but he underestimated the power of organic crystallography.

Review: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, that’s the definition of insanity. So when Doctor Who fields what is essentially another dinosaur, you either have to question the show’s mental health or admire its tenacity to give giant monsters another go. But… Doctor Who pretty much needed to do a Loch Ness Monster story at some point. It was going to happen, irrespective of fx capabilities. And I’m actually partial to the way it turned out.

The Skarasen is the major letdown of this tale, but it’s better than the Dinosaur Invasion dinos and in some shots (slightly murky underwater side-view, plus brief snippets of Poundstretcher Harryhausen animation up on Tulloch Moor) it doesn’t even look all that bad. The director goes to laudable trouble not to show us much, resorting to close-ups and glimpses – in some ways reflecting the ‘evidence’ of reported ‘sightings’ of the Monster over the years. It’s only really on Nessie’s brief visit to London, peering over the banks of the Thames, that she looks properly terrible. But she’s had a long swim down from Scotland, so it’s understandable and in any case by that stage the story has done such a good job of winning us over with its blended malts of mystery, action and adventure.

There’s a sense of familiarity to it, like coming home to the UNIT years – the landlord’s lament for the dead might equally be a farewell to those years, since this is really the last UNIT story – but also there are distinct whiffs of Glenfury, Glenseadevils and Glensilurians in the mix. Rigs being attacked, lone wounded aliens hunted on the moors, figures wading in on haunting shorelines, companions getting shot at on beaches. Okay, the Fury connections are more tenuous, but such are the elements called to mind when I watched. It’s always quite a gift, I think, to concoct something that feels so familiar and new at the same time and Robert Banks Stewart has a clear knack for the game. The story, fairly standard alien invasion stuff, nevertheless has a flavour all its own. It’s a hybrid of organic and machine, like the Skarasen, at times the mechanisms are highly visible and a bit clunky – Sarah and Harry popping back to the castle to ‘see if they might find a clue’ just so Sarah can learn that the Duke is on the Scottish Energy Commission – but there’s also a natural flair to the dialogue and some aspects of the way the mystery unfolds. The local colour is a tad stereotypical, giving the Highlands the Green Death treatment, as it were, but the radio operator asking if the supply chopper can send over some haggis is probably the only bit that induced a slight cringe – and to some extent the ‘character’ of the Caber. It’s great to see Tom arrive in Highlandised regalia (Tom O’Shanter, anyone?) and the Brigadier embracing his clan Stewart heritage.

Having the fabulous Angus Lennie (you’ll know him as the sad wee fella who gets strung up on barb-wire in The Great Escape) and the brilliant semi-regular John Woodnutt as the Duke and his alien counterfeiter, Broton, lend a degree of class and quality to proceedings. Another key quality is in the visuals – the Zygons themselves are exceptionally well realised, one of the best man-in-a-suit alien costumes in the show’s extensive repertoire, the actors do well to add more to the overall effect with movements and voices. The organic design of the ship interior is highly effective, with all those nobbly nodules to twist and turn and I can even sing the praises of the exterior, because the Zygon spacecraft, for my money, represents some of the best model work you’ll see in the Classic series. Tom is having the time of his life and is even given a couple of Pertwee moments, racing around in a Land Rover and practicing tricks picked up from a Tibetan monk. Sarah, Harry and the Brigadier are all written wonderfully and playing their parts to the full – special mention for the chilling fake Harry and his pitch-fork attack on Sarah in the barn, followed later by that lovely moment of doubt when Sarah finds the real Harry – is it really him? and his use of the term ‘old girl’ is the only confirmation she needs. Lovely use of location – and I’ve visited that pub we see from the outside, went there with a very dear friend of mine, seen the photos of the cast hanging on the wall inside. So yes, memories probably add to the affections for the story here. And for no reason whatsoever it appoints a woman to the office of Prime Minister a woman before Thatcher came along and demolished that milestone. All of which amounts to this: there’s more to recommend this adventure than I can possibly include in one mini-review here and more than can be undone by one dodgy dino.

Warts and all, like the category above says, this is as good a taster as any for someone’s introduction to Doctor Who. Sure, the Zygons are a curious lot, going to all sorts of lengths to conceal their plots while also oddly keen to explain their schemes to anyone that happens along. And the whole thing is wrapped up a wee bit conveniently and quickly, with a nobbly-noduled self-destructor mechanism blowing the lovely ship to smithereens. But overall this makes for a decent flavourful dram of comfort Who from the UNIT distillery.

Doctor Who: Robot

Format: DVD

Warts & All: Action Man Tank and Rag Doll!

Quote: Really, Miss Smith, this is absurd. I think you must be the sort of girl who gives motor cars pet names.

Review: Or Giant Robot, as I always used to know it as a kid, thanks to the Target novelisation. And while that particular sequence doesn’t amount to such a massive stretch of the story, it is the King Kong aspect that’s at the heart of it and what sticks with you long after the rest has faded away at the mercy of a metal-eating virus is Sarah Jane’s empathic relationship with the Robot. More so than the introduction of a brand new Doctor, although I’m sure that wasn’t the case when I first saw it. Indeed, I remember being horrified that this strange bug-eyed grinster had replaced my Doctor. While as a kid I knew there had been other Doctors, this was the first regeneration I witnessed. I can’t remember at what point Tom Baker grew on me and became my Doctor. Maybe it was in this one, because watching it now he does make a huge stamp of personality on the role and arrives immediately, but I suspect back in my childhood I took a few stories to adjust. Wildly wonderful, with a voice born for gravitas and authority, he’s handed plenty of great dialogue and opportunities to shine in a very simplistic mad professor story of the exact sort Terrance Dicks and Barry Letts were worried about being landed with when they inherited the show before. Kettlewell, the mad professor in question, is ably played by Ed Burnham with scatterbrained charm, but is far from breaking any stereotypical moulds. The Robot, before he goes Kong, is borrowed wholesale from Asimov (and is exploited as a burglar and killer by malicious and misguided people, very like the Ambassadors Of Death), but is a masterpiece of design. Beautiful and formidable and Kilgariff’s voice does lend it some measure of personality, while Lis Sladen’s performance cements our own feelings for its cruel misuse and ultimate demise.

Honestly, for standard template fare, it’s deftly done for the larger part, sprinkled liberally with humour and effective menace, from the early scenes from the Robot’s POV and as it calmly tries to smash Tom Baker’s head off in the confines of Kettlewell’s garage. That said, while the Robot may pass for a nice piece of engineering, there’s a sense that the story’s construction is more of a cobbled-together thing, not unlike whatever it is the Doctor is busy building while the Brigadier and Sarah are trying to talk to him at UNIT HQ. His creation comes tumbling down and this story doesn’t quite do that, but it takes some will on the part of the viewer to keep it standing upright. Yes, the Action Man tank is bad – and made worse by the fact that it’s part of the episode cliffhanger and therefore gets repeated – and the Sarah Jane Smith ragdoll is almost as laughable as the gingerbread man dropped into a bucket of milk in Keys Of Marinus, but really such symptoms of budget and technical limitations are not so damaging as the plain unfeasible scenario of the world powers trusting Britain with its nuclear launch codes. The dialogue even makes a knowing joke about it – “naturally Britain is the most trustworthy” or words to that effect. Wouldn’t it have been enough for the Science Nazis (headed by the excellently cold Miss Winters) to launch Britain’s own ‘deterrent’ and thus trigger a nuclear war? My belief’s elasticity could’ve stretched to that.

But as with the Robot’s growth spurt brought on by the disintegrator ray, it’s like a piece of the jigsaw hammered in with some determination to make everything fit. These are the things that jar for me more than an untidy CSO fringe. Harry Sullivan and the UNIT family redux, with the Brigadier and Benton manning the fort, win back some affection for the story (I kind of wish more could’ve been made of Sullivan’s turn as John Steed, but he’s an inspired foil for Baker’s Doctor) and overall it’s what the players bring with their performances that render this fun to watch. Technically malfunctioning, emotionally engaging. It’s like Kettlewell, in fact, cut from a standard template, a bit all over the place, but with a quantity of scatterbrained charm.

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.)