Monday, 31 May 2010

Mind of Evil

The Master is up to no good with experiments on prisoners and messing about with missiles.

This story feels a lot like a season 7 story and not just because it is filmed in black and white. Its sci-fi elements are not that overt and there is a strong sense of realism. The prison setting gives it a very gritty feel. What reminds us that it is in season 8 is the presence of the Master and that awful young woman, Jo Grant. I always found Liz Shaw a bit boring, but I simply cannot stand Jo; she is just awful.

I did not like John Pertwee's Doctor before watching this story and once I saw it, I hate him. He is so arrogant. The way he demands for the Keller machine to be stopped. He expects heaven and earth to bow to his wisdom. The way he shows off his knowledge of Chinese and humiliates the Brigadier. Then his final comment to the Brigadier "and I am stuck with you" was unbelievably rude. I really cannot stand the Third Doctor. And to top it all, he is a personal friend of Communist dictator and instigator of the Cultural Revolution, Chairman Mao. I wonder what the Brigadier makes of that?

The plot is overly long and complicated. The Cold War. stuff is exciting, but it does not gel well with the prison narrative.

The Brigadier plays an effective role in the story, successfully disguising himself as a delivery driver and leading the raid on the prison. Unfortunately, in one or two moments, we see the trend towards using him as comic relief.

The Master comes across fairly well in this story. He looks cool in his sharp suit and cigar. The problem is that his plans do not make any sense. What does he need the Keller Machine for? Why take over a prison (can he not get some hired muscle if he is so in with the London underworld?).

It would have been nice to have learnt a bit more about the creature inhabiting the Keller machine.

The Ribos Operation

The Fourth Doctor and First Romana begin their quest for the Key to Time.

This is a classic story; one of the greatest pieces of simple and straight drama in Doctor Who. As many have said this is a very Shakespearean story.

The Ribos Operation begins the quest for the Key to Time, a story arc that occupies the whole of season 16. The cosmic story arc meant that the plots of each individual story of the season could become rather more low-key. Thus, Ribos Operation concerns a con trick being played on a petty interplanetary tyrant.

The quest is introduced by the White Guardian, portrayed as a distinguished elderly gentleman in a white suit, relaxing in a mysterious desert. It is a wonderful scene, given atmosphere by the sound of wind chimes. The wind chimes seem to function as a kind of leitmotif for either the White Guardian or the Key to Time theme, though unfortunately, they were not used consistently this way across the Key to Time season.

The Doctor is given a new companion, the Time Lady Romana. Giving the Doctor a companion from his own people was such a daring idea, but it worked brilliantly. Romana brings out the less magnificent side of the Doctor's personality, his petty jealousy and arrogance. Romana is the perfect foil for the Doctor.

Although Romana 1 is not as well remembered as Romana 2, I think Mary Tamm was Lalla Ward's equal. In Ribos Operation, she instantly exudes elegance and sophistication. Her white gown is delightful. Despite her conviction that she is smarter than the Doctor, throughout the story, she shows herself to be remarkably naive. While sometimes described as an icemaiden, Mary Tamm shows a lovely youthful enthusiasm in this story. This is particularly seen in her delivery of the line "Alright, call me Fred!" She is not being sarcastic or facetious, she is genuinely excited by the quest and is amused at the thought of being addressed as 'Fred.'

Cleverly, writer Robert Holmes, matches the Doctor and Romana with another master/ protege pair, the conmen Garron and Unstoffe. These are hilariously portrayed and help to create a wonderful comic drama. I love the final scene with the Doctor and Garron, in which the Doctor outwits him. There is a sense of fellowship between the Doctor and this rogue. The Doctor, in his own way is just as much a thief and a cheat.

The Graf Vynda-K is a decent villain. He is a petty tyrant who would committ any atrocity given the opportunity. The viewer can cheer as he is cheated by the conmen. He is exactly the kind of humourless villain that works so well in the more comic Williams era. I like the fact that the Doctor plants the bomb on him and kills him. I hate the pacifism of the Third and Fifth Doctors. I like the Fourth Doctor's ruthless streak.

Binro the Heretic does not add much to the plot, but he is adds some nice drama and brings out Unstoffe's more sympathetic side. I hate to be pedantic, but his character does show a tendency in science fiction to romanticise the history of science. Scientific discoveries are not the work of some lone heretic by Binro, but come from the refinement of existing ideas over time. Binro says he took measurements that enable him to come to his conclusions. My contention is that in a society as primitive as Ribos, nobody would think of taking measurements of the heavenly bodies. There would need to be some philosophical tradition that had recognised that natural phenomena is open to scientific investigation.

Nevertheless, Binro is not simply used as a hero of science over superstition. I believe in the character of Binro, Robert Holmes was introducing a fascinating irony into the story. While Binro scoffs at the idea that the seasons are regulated by gods of ice and gods of sun, the viewer discovers that the cosmos is in fact regulated by two Guardians, one of Light and one of Darkness! The natives of Ribos are actually closer to the truth than Binro realises. This is supported by the fact that the power of the Seeker is never explained away as trickery. The Ribos Operation transcends the scientific materialism of many earlier stories and paves the way for more spiritual stories like Kinda and Curse of Fenric.

The Ribos Operation lacks expensive sets, but its production gives it wonderful atmosphere. I absolutely love the costumes that echo Muscovite Russia and the delightful organ score. The rituals performed by the guards suggest Gormenghast as an influence. It feels very otherworldly. Some fans have complained about the screeching Seeker, but I think she fits in well with the medieval atmosphere. The Shrivenzale monster looks fake, but this is Doctor Who.

My only complaint about this story is that the Graf's soldiers look just a little too medieval. I like the blend of medieval and sci-fi, but I think the Graf's men could do with looking just a little more obviously futuristic.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Cold Blood (Second of Two Parter)

Can the humans and Homo Reptilia agree to get on with each other?

Like the previous part, The Hungry Earth, Cold Blood exceeds all of the stories of this current season in excellence. It is not perfect, but we are close too classic Doctor Who.

The sets are excellent. While these Eocenes are arguably too human, they do look great visually.

Matt Smith gives us a top performance as the Eleventh Doctor. Rory is also well portrayed. He has moved from being a neverous little bloke to being a genuinely capable assistant to the Doctor. Karen Gillen as Amy is decent enough.

Having Ambrose brutally kill Elaya was a smart move. It showed how easily men and women can be overcome by fear, anger and distress. Any of us could have done what she did.

Some aspects of the story follow Doctor Who and the Sillurians (and its novelization, The Cave Monsters) rather too much. Nevertheless, a clear advantage of the scenario in Cold Blood over DW and the Sillurians is that in this story, the human characters come into face-to-face contact with the Eocenes. In the Pertwee story, the UNIT team only faced the Eocenes in combat.

I am puzzled by the Doctor's claim that the characters have the potential to change history. Is he really not concerned about the possiblity of an alternate timeline? The Doctor has never been this cavalier about changing history. In any case the negotiations seem heavily academic, as none of the humans has any political authority.

Doctor Who often does not do combat well. I was not quite convinced by the ease with which the Doctor disarmed the Eocene warriors.

The death of Rory was poignant, though we all suspect that we will see him again somehow.

There are lots of puzzling questions about this story. Why does the timecrack not harm the Doctor when he puts his hand in it? If Rory is erased from history, would this not remove his part in the story and thus the outcome of events? Why does Elaya's sting cause Tony to mutate and how exactly?

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

The Invisible Enemy

The Fourth Doctor and Leela encounter a strange alien parasite on Saturn's moon Titan.

Season 15 is one of the less well regarded seasons and this story is considered to be one of the disasters of that season. Personally, I don't dislike Season 15, but this story is rather weak. It is hard to find much that is really good about this story.

The opening has something of a Space 1999 feel. The new direction of Doctor Who as space opera, instead of gothic horror is firmly established in this story. It goes on to give us a daft sci-fi take on cloning. These clones can only survive eleven minutes, though it seems an incredibly long eleven minutes!

None of the guest characters are interesting or believable, though K9 gives a great debut and Frederick Jaeger gives a reasonably good performance as Professor Marius (apart from his silly German accent).

As much as K9 is a bit silly and a post-Star Wars robotic cliche, I cannot quite bring myself to dislike him. It is good to see a new element introduced into the Doctor Who format.

The spaceship model work is good, but the set designs are rather unconvincing. The hospital seems a bit deserted.

As well as Space 1999, the story takes inspiration from Fantastic Voyage, with a journey through the Doctor's body. This particularly unconvincing, as it appears to have an environment in which the two clones can breathe and walk about.

The nucleus' physical form when it appears full size is rather funny, but I like it. Nothing better than a giant crustacean.

The Doctor implies that humanity has not left the solar system until 5000. This would of course contradict earlier stories where humanity has left the solar system at least as early as the Twenty-second century. This must be some second diaspora. possibly connected to the turmoil of the wars involving Magnus Greel a few years earlier (Talons of Weng Chiang)

I think what I like most in this story is the moment when Leela approaches a cold and grim hospital receptionist. The far future is not that different!

Sunday, 23 May 2010

The Hungry Earth (Part One of Two-Parter)

The Eleventh Doctor finds a Welsh village threatened by reptilians from the earth's distant past.

Its always the small things that irritate. When the TARDIS crew arrive in the Welsh village, Amy says that she had dressed for a beach in Rio. Really? A leather jacket. Tights. Boots. No Haviana flip flops. She seems to be dressed as she usually dresses for adventures.

Okay, got that one off my chest. This was a delightful story. The best so far. Obviously, a story that is set in Britain and involves Eocenes (originally and anachronistically called Sillurians) and a drilling station is going to conjure up the Pertwee years, but the storytelling genuinely feels like classic Doctor Who. While I am enjoying the current series, The Hungry Earth really has given me extra confidence in the production team.

Having Amy removed for much of the episode was an inspired decision. One consistent failing of the current series is that it has repeatedly had Amy providing a solution to every crisis and being the real hero. There has been little room for the Doctor to just be the Doctor and do his job. Not that Amy does not impress in this episode. I like her protests at being shushed while being imprisoned.

Matt Smith gives the best performance so far in Hungry Earth. He is no longer constantly spitting out smart one-liners. He has learned that sometimes silence can be effective. So it looks like my two problems with Matt Smith's Doctor have been remedied in this one episode. Well done, Mr. Moffatt.

No doubt every fan was delighted to hear about the return of the Eocenes. The idea of a lost reptilian civilization is a fascinating one. However, their previous return in Warriors of the Deep was a sad moment in Doctor Who. The failing of that story was that the viewer found it difficult to sympahtize with the Doctor's attitude to the creatures. They came across as dangerous and evil and needing to be destroyed. The Doctor's reluctance to fight them (with the resulting deaths) came across as pathetic.

Can this story avoid the failings of Warriors of the Deep?

One obvious way that the production team have approached this difficulty is by changing the appearance of the Eocene. She has a name, has an human-like face and wears clothes. She is a character that viewers can empathize with. I am not sure I like this approach, but perhaps it was inevitable. The orginal Eocenes really were menacing.

Whether this story works will depend upon whether the Doctor will be willing to take action against the Eocenes if necessary. The Doctor shows his pacifist tendency in this episode by rejecting the collection of guns and his expressed determination to find a non-violent solution. But if this fails, he must be prepared to use violence or he will lose our faith like the Fifth Doctor did.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

The Faceless Ones

The Second Doctor and TARDIS crew meet a group of shape-stealing aliens at Gatwick airport.

We should be very grateful that episodes 1 and 3 of this story survive intact. It is always delightful to see Patrick Troughton moving onscreen.

The Faceless Ones is heavily influenced by Invasion of the Body Snatchers and captures a good deal of the creepiness of its inspiration. The idea of stealing an whole identity is rather disturbing.

The airport setting is interesting and creates a sense of claustrophobia, as well as inevitable tension between the Doctor and the authorities. Unfortunately, however, the real atmosphere of a busy airport is missing.

The use of a contemporary earth setting marks out one of the changes that had begun at the end of the Hartnell era and the Troughton. The Doctor was increasingly interacting with the commonplace modern world, a development that would culminate in the earthbound Petwee years. The realism of season 7 has its roots here, with the lack of alien visual elements for much of the story.

We see the unfortunate habit of the black and white period of getting rid of companions for whole episodes. Ben and Polly play little part in their own swansong and their departure is remarkably unmemorable.

The alien race is not well characterised as a whole, though unusualy they all have different personalities (which makes a change in Doctor Who), and come across as a little cowardly. The divisions amongst them are harnessed by the manipulative Doctor.

Patrick Troughton puts in a magnificent performance. He gets so flustered by the red tape of the airport. I love the fact that he is almost as much in the dark as Jamie is as to what a passport is ("It must be some official mumbo jumbo"). Jamie is also used highly effectively.

Jamie is given a love interest in Liverpudlian pseudo-companion Samantha Briggs (Pauline Collins). It is perhaps a little disappointing she was not selected as a companion, as she would have been a stronger figure than Victoria Wakefield. We also see some strong guest cast action in Colin Gordon, who plays the Commandent and Bernard Kay, who plays Inspector Crossland from Scotland Yard.

The Faceless Ones is undeniably heavily padded and slow, but it is a delight from a much unseen period of Doctor Who.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Galaxy 4

The First Doctor and the TARDIS crew meet the amazonian Drahvins, but what of their enemies, the Rills?

You know I really like stories like The Sensorites and The Web Planet. Give me them any day over those horrific Hinchcliffe stories. There is something dreamy about the pace of these stories.

Sadly this is a lost story and even the available photography on the reconstruction is very minimal.

Like most of the stories of its era, Galaxy 4 suffers from being far too long. Still if you have patience, the reconstruction is worth taking a look.

The title of the story is a bit misleading. The story is not set in Galaxy Four, but rather that is where the Drahvins have come from.

The desert setting is not unusual, but the weird rock formations are effective in making it look alien.

The Drahvins are cool. Female villains are a rare treat in Doctor Who. Their leader is chilling, and their rather brutal and spartan society is well portrayed. The stupidity of the lower rank Dravhins is funny. The Rills are also well designed. Having them amonia breathing was imaginative and sets them apart from other Doctor Who aliens.

The moral message is rather simple; don't judge by appearances. This is not laboured on, however. The Doctor shows immediate suspicion towards the Drahvins and their maleovolence is quickly revealed. Perhaps it might have been more interesting had the writers kept us in the dark a bit longer about the evil of the Drahvins. The simple morality of the story has a nice old-fashioned quality.

The 'chumbly' robots are not very menacing, but serve the purpose of keeping the Rills unseen.

The regular cast put in a solid performance in this story. The Doctor is nicely cantankerous. The other two characters, Steve and Vicki are used effectively.

I rather imagine that some of the later Doctors might have been more concerned about the fate of the Dravhins at the end.

If you like Hartnell stories, the reconstruction of this story is definitely worth watching.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Delta and the Bannermen

The Seventh Doctor and Mel help to protect an alien queen in an holiday camp in Wales, 1959.

The first thing to say about this story is that Delta and the Bannermen has the coolest title of all Doctor Who stories. Obviously, it takes off the Indie band Echo and the Bunnymen.

When I first watched this story, in the first fifteen minutes, I felt amazed at how awful it seemed, but strangely as I continued to watch, I started to enjoy it.

A lot of fans hate this story. Many fans grudgingly allow that it made a nice relief after the heaviness of the Colin Baker years, but regard it as rather weak. A small minority of us, including me, regard it as one of the greatest Doctor Who stories.

Why are the really dark and grim stories so popular? I think Doctor Who is often at its best when it is light and fun. Perhaps Delta and the Bannermen is a little deeper in fun than even City of Death, but it works.

Part of what makes it work is the summery atmosphere and the glorious south Wales countryside. This is a pastoral adventure with love in the air. This together with the 50s setting, I am slighted reminded of the comedy drama, The Darling Buds of May.

Delta and the Bannermen is a story about nice people outwitting and defeating a bland, dull and brutal bunch of bad guys, but it is more than this. The pastoral setting is used to create a celebration of love, sex, reproduction and family. It is celebration of life itself. This is brought out through the love story, through the birth of the Chimeron princess and through Goronwy's expositions on the life cycles of insects. It is beautiful.

As the Doctor points out in his confrontation of Gavrok, the Bannermen are totally opposed to life, they only seek to destroy:

"What do you know about life? You deal in lies, treachery, and death. Life? You promise life but in the end it will be life that defeats you."

Pertwee gave lots of pacifist speeches, but in the end he always ended up relying on UNIT and big explosions. Here the Doctor outwits the villains with honey and a little girl singing.

The nostalgia for the 1950s adds to the fun of the story. Perhaps it is regrettable that it is not quite true to life. While the story celebrates the tackiness of holiday camps, it turns a blind eye to some of the darker, more prejudicial aspects of the 1950s. In this, Remembrance of the Daleks handled nostalgia somewhat better, by portraying the racism of the 1960s.

There are other criticisms that can be levelled at the story; the continuity problems, some wooden acting from the guy playing Billy, the Doctor visibly wearing spectacles on the motorcycle, the baby's changing appearance and of course the deaths of the alien tourists which detracts from the lighter nature of the story.

Bonnie Langford's Mel has been much maligned and called the worst companion of all. Regardless of what you think of Mel (and I quite like her) she fits into this story perfectly, being nice, cute and fun.

While Sylvester McCoy does a lot of clowning, he gives us a much darker Doctor. He mysteriously knows about Goronwy, he shows menace in his confrontation of Gavrok and stands at a distance from the other characters by his comment about the 'irrationality of love.'

The alien queen, Delta is as wooden as her lover, Billy. But she is an alien and looks lovely. A pastoral story like this needs a beautiful mother figure.

Ray is a great character too, along with her cute exagerrated Welsh accent. Given that she loses Billy to Delta, the end of the story would have been the perfect moment for her to become a companion. But that would have of course meant no Ace and it would have altered the character of Seasons 25 and 26 enormously to have Ray in the TARDIS.

The two CIA agents don't contribute to the plot and seem to be padding, but it is delightful to meet CIA agents who are just unbelievably kind and jolly!

We must not, of course, forget the fantastic performance Don Henderson puts in as Gavrok. The sight of him eating raw meat is fantastic.

The script has got to be one of the best, with some hilarious lines:

"You are not the Happy Hearts Holiday Club from Bolton, but instead are spacemen in fear of an attack from some other spacemen?"

The music is great too!

I enjoy this story so much more than Pyramids of Mars.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Amy's Choice

Is Amy pregnant and married to Rory, or is she back in the TARDIS?

This story has totally divided opinion among viewers. Some people think it is the best story of the season, while others are deeply disappointed. I am not sure which opinion is more representative of hardcore fandom, but I find myself among those who felt let down by this story.

It is not uncommon for English language teachers to warn their pupils not to write stories about dreams. It is far too easy to close a story with the deus ex machina of it having been a dream. This rule applies just as much in science fiction.

It is difficult for the viewer to really empathize with the dilemma confronting the TARDIS crew in this episode because it is all too obvious that the Earth scenario is false. We know they were in the TARDIS in the last episode. We know Amy has not left the TARDIS and the Doctor yet, so her life in Leadworth must be a dream.

Of course, scriptwriter Simon Nye could have been clever. He could have found a way to make the Leadworth scenario Amy and Rory's genuine future. This would make it a fascinating timeline jumping episode, unlike any other, except for Mawdryn Undead and Warrior's Gate. However, Nye decided to take the easy way out and just make it a pointless dream story.

Simon Nye seems to be using the Dream Lord plot as a clever way to explore the relationships between the Doctor, Amy and Rory. Its dramatic stuff, but is this what we want when watching Doctor Who? It has been clear for too long that the new series has become too much about relationships and lost track of good old stories about the Doctor doing things.

Given the aim of dealing with the realities of the TARDIS crew's relationships, it would have made sense to pitch the story pretty straight as drama. However, Simon Nye opted for a comedic pitch that rather detracts from the drama.

The scene with the alien old people storming Amy and Rory's house is taken straight out of a certain Father Ted episode. I also question the tact of having an army of murderous elderly folks. If the BBC gets lots of complaints about this, they deserve it.

As for the alien creatures within the elderly people, their appearance and brief back story gave me a big sense of deja vu.

Toby Jones puts in a good performance as the Dream Lord. While he is a little like Q in Star Trek: Next Generation, he has a real maleovolence in his bullyish tormenting of the Doctor. The idea that he is some part of the Doctor's subconscious makes sense given the dialogue in which he mocks the Doctor's weaknesses, but it is disappointing to know that he was simply brought on by parsitic 'psychic pollen.' I am sure I am among millions of obsessive fans who were desperately hoping that he would be from the Master of the Land of Fiction or even the Celestial Toymaker!

Friday, 14 May 2010

Planet of Evil

The Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith land on a mysterious planet and lots of people get killed.

This story is one of the lesser considered stories in what is generally regarded as the golden age of Doctor Who.

The story takes some inspiration from The Forbidden Planet movie. There is the suggestion that the anti-matter universe is a kind of hellish, demonic realm. Thus, the horror element of the Hinchcliffe era is maintained. A nice eerie atmosphere is generated throughout this story.

The jungle is quite effective, perhaps because of the very dim lighting. The split level spacecraft is also great. The CSO anti-matter monsters are maybe not so good, however.

Sarah Jane Smith has never really convinced me as a character. She was always just a bit too bold, a bit too plucky and always holding a good smart one-liner handy. I think Elizabeth Sladen's performance was always too knowing. In Planet of Evil this is especially apparent.

The guest characters are rather stereotyped, the paranoid military commander and the obsessive scientist, plus the hapless crew to die off one by one.

The transformation of Sorenson seems rather too much like the Primords in Inferno.

It seems odd that the Sorenson survives, given the typically high body count in Doctor Who. So many people died because of his irresponsibility.

There is the question of whether the Morestrans are humans originating on earth. I think some of the dialogue, as well as the Morestrans names suggests that they are descended from earth colonists.

On the whole this is not the most impressive story, though it is better than The Android Invasion.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

The Daleks' Masterplan

The First Doctor steals the 'Time Destructor' from the Daleks and they chase him across the universe.

They don't make them like this anymore. In fact, there is no other Doctor Who story quite like this one.

Sadly, a good deal of the Dalek Masterplan has been lost and so we are reliant on the Telesnaps reconstruction. The story carries across quite well with this reconstruction.

It is pretty incredible that the production team would attempt a twelve episode story. Even more ambititous is the use of different settings. The recreation of ancient Egypt is particularly incredible.

The narrative is a little uninspired. It is basically a long-winded chase across the universe. It follows on from the peculiar doctorless story, Mission to the Unknown in the jungles of Kembel. Personally, I feel the Time Destructor is a typical dull mcguffin, but this is Doctor Who.

The Daleks are used very well. They are treacherous, gradually killing off the alien represenatavies on the Galactic Council. In a Lovecraftian move, they are identified as evil gods, by both Katarina and the ancient Egyptians.

The various alien beings on the Galactic Council are impressive. It adds a nice variety to the story. It does seem odd though, that the Daleks have gathered them, yet are happy to kill them off one by one. Apart from Mavic Chen who obtains the Taranium, what purpose do they serve? They also seem rather naieve to put themselves in the hands of the Daleks without considering the possibility of betrayal. Not the typical behaviour of dictators.

The story has a rather high body count for an Hartnell story. It is remarkable to see two short-lived companions, Katarina and Sarah Kingdom both die.

I think it is a shame that Katarina was dispensed with so quickly. The writers lacked the imagination to use a character from the distant past. Later in the show, they would successfully use Jamie from the 18th century and Victoria from the 19th, as well as Leela from a primitive culture in the future. It could have worked with Katarina. That said, Adrienne Hill's performance is not particularly confident.

Katarina's interpretation of the Doctor is interesting. She believes he is a god and his TARDIS a temple. In later years, writers would tease us with the idea of the Doctor as a god-like figure. She also sees him not as a wanderer, but having a definite direction in a 'place of perfection.' Her death has real pathos.

It is strange, but still wonderful, to see Nicholas Courtney putting in an early performance as the security agent Bret. His death, killed by his own sister is also deeply sad.

I think it very regrettable that Sarah Kingdom is killed off in this story. Jean Marsh really was glorious as the tough, female agent. I can imagine the First Doctor using her as a strong-arm woman in a similar way to how the Fourth Doctor used Leela. This would be even more in keeping with the much more violent and bellicose First Doctor. Given that her death was planned, it seems somewhat inappropriate for her to be used in the slapstick comedy of the Feast of Stephen. She was clearly being treated as a regular, rather than a guest.

The character of Mavic Chen really brings something special to The Daleks' Masterplan. He is a bit of a Fu Manchu stereotype, but is quite distinct. It is great to watch his arrogant failure to realise how far he is pushing the Daleks. His sinister henchman, Karlton is also fun to watch.

The Christmas special episode, The Feast of Stephen is utterly stupid. William Hartnell's addressing the audience with a Christmas greeting is probably the most embarassing moment in Doctor Who ever. The idea of a Christmas special seems to have impressed Russell T Davies though.

The return of the Meddling Monk is much needed as the story begins to drag. Peter Butterworth does a great job with him. I thought he looked so cool in his sunglasses. Pity he did not return to attempt his revenage on the Doctor.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Vampires of Venice

The Eleventh Doctor takes Amy and her fiance Rory on a romantic trip to 14th century Venice and discovers that some school girls have rather sharp teeth.

Generally this is a fun story. Doctor Who has always been good at dipping into the horror genre. Those hoping for something really scary will probably be disappointed.

I was rather hoping that the vampires would turn out to be the same kind as the ancient enemies of the Gallifreyans, as in State of Decay. However, I rightly expected that they would turn out to be just another alien species.

Vampires of Venice follows State of Decay in its use of Hammer Horror imagery, but is closer to Curse of Fenric in having aquatic, time-hopping 'vampires.' The aliens in their true form looked interesting, but were somewhat unconvincing being cheap CGI. We need more rubbery monsters; when they are done properly they work better than that CGI stuff. It is also rather disappointing that we never see the 10,000 male aliens in the Venetian canal.

I find it difficult to see why destroying Venice is integral to the alien's plans. I can see the need for turning human girls into fish-creatures, but why do they need to live in sunken Venice? Another narrative problem I had was with Isabella's father being so worried about his daughter at the school. What has lead him to be so concerned?

We might ask why the Doctor is not concerned about the male aliens left in the canal. One could reasonably expect a fair few Venetians to fall in and get eaten up by so large a group of monsters.

I am uneasy with the whole 'Amy and Rory on a romantic holiday' thing. It is just too soap opera for Doctor Who. Its nice to have a male companion for a change, but Rory does a lot of moping around. Whinny companions in Doctor Who are really irritating. That was always the problem with Tegan Jovanka.

Helen McCrory puts in a superb performance as the alien matriarch, Rosanna Calvieri. Alex Price's Francesca brings back pleasant memories of Battlefield in his being such a mummy's boy. I don't care if people disagree with me about that!

The climax has more wobbly CGI.

Friday, 7 May 2010

The Mark of the Rani

The Master, the Rani and the Sixth Doctor fall out with each other during the industrial revolution.

In its historical theme and more leisurely pace, this story is unusual for this era of Doctor Who. It also lacks the violence that characterised Colin Baker stories.

There are some historical inaccuracies, such as the fact Luddites never attacked pit machinery.

Colin Baker put in a splendid performance as the Sixth Doctor. Nicola Bryant puts in a depressingly moany performance as Peri.

Kate O'Mara really shines as the Rani and she has some of the best lines. The Rani is a much more interesting villain than the Master. It is a shame that we only got to see her again in the very underwhelming, Time and the Rani. Anthony Ainley also came across rather well.

Pip and Jane Baker's dialogue is a rather mixed bag, but it still allows the Doctor, the Master and the Rani to shine. The interplay between them is the best part of the story. The Rani mocks the Doctor and the Master's rivalry as though they were unruly schoolboys. I rather wished they had reminisced about their time at the academy; I can just imagine the Master pulling the Rani's pigtails!

Seeing the inside of the Rani's TARDIS is very cool. Shame about the dinosaur prop.

As much as the human trees looked really naff and rubbery, the idea of mines that turn the victim into trees is rather cool.

It has been suggested that the plot about the Rani would have come across better if the viewer was showed the planet that the Rani rules. However, Doctor Who has always relied on the imagination to carry such things. Had we seen the planet Miasimia Goria, it would inevitably have looked naff.

It is hard not to be disappointed by the fact that the one of the great inventors mentioned that we meet is George Stephenson. Wisely, Doctor Who tends to avoid showing historical characters, but Gawn Grainger does a good job of portraying the famous engineer.

All those Geordie accents are not very easy on the ear. The luddites in this story were a rather annoying lot.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Power Of The Daleks

The newly regenerated Second Doctor smells a rat when he meets friendly Daleks on a space colony.

Its hard to review a story that has so little of the original footage. At least we have the Telesnaps reconstruction and plenty of photographs. It is a great injustice that so little of this story survives, because it is a really good one.

It must have been a bizarre experience for viewers seeing the Doctor regenerate for the first time. A lot of them found it just too much too handle. The story rather reflects this with the companions, Ben and Polly treating the Second Doctor with suspicion. Perhaps the more recent fan who is familiar with Patrick Troughton might be a little troubled by Ben's hostility and aggression towards the Doctor.

It is probably the Doctor's recognition of the Dalek's and his determined confrontation of them that reassure the viewer that this really is their Doctor.

The great thing about the Daleks in this story is their cunning. They pretend to be faithful servants of the human colonists but are plotting to exterminate them all. In later stories, the Daleks lacked this cunning and needed Davros to do their thinking for them. The Daleks ruthlessly exploit the divisions in the human colony.

Patrick Troughton gives a great perforance as the new Doctor. He has not quite made the role his own yet, but he introduces the new clown-like persona. I particularly like the moment where he avoids his companions' questions by playing his recorder. We also see something of his manic frustration as he fails to persuade the colonists of the dangers of the Daleks.

The story takes a cue from Gogol's The Government Inspector, with the Doctor impersonating the murdered Earth Examiner. David Whitaker's writing is a good deal cleverer than any of the Dalek stories of Terry Nation, who had a tendency to resort to stock plots.

Power of the Daleks has some great, well-drawn characters. The power-hungry woman, Janly is particularly well portrayed, but full marks also go to the misguided scientist, Lesterton. The evil cunning of the Daleks is matched by the ambition, arrogance and ruthlessness of the colonists. The Dalek's question "Why do human beings kill human beings?" is poignant.

The high body count in this story is surprising, one almost feels like the Saward era is here already. I am not a big fan of massacres in Doctor Who. Still, many of the colonists, like Janly, deserve their fate.

One thing I paricularly love; Polly is given a futuristic colony outfit that includes a pair of flip flops. I am glad to see that flip flops will still be in style in the days of space exploration!

Monday, 3 May 2010

Attack of the Cybermen

The Cybermen are messing about with time travel.

This story attempts to clear up some of the continuity and trace the history of the Cybermen, but it ends up causing even more confusion. Additionally,the writers have squeezed in as many gratuitous continuity references as possible, such as Totters Lane and the Chameleon Circuit. It is all a little too much.

The story is action-packed and fairly entertaining, but is absurdly complex. It is in severe need of a trimming.

Peri is dull and irritating in this story. Colin Baker puts in a good and typically pompous performance as the Sixth Doctor. He may irritate, but he is clearly our beloved Doctor.

The Cybermen in this story are pathetic. They are vulnerable to bullets and the Doctor's sonic lance. Their decaptitated heads also appear to be purely mechanical.

Why was it necessary for the original actor from Tomb of the Cybermen to play the Cybercontroller? His voice was not being used. With the advance of age, he simply too overweight for the role.

The Cryons are a well-conceived alien species, but it does seem odd that they got no mention in Tomb of the Cybermen, given that they were around all that time.

There is a lot of violence in this story. The crushing of Lytton's hands is particularly unpleasent and unnecessary.

With the emphasis on continuity, it is odd that the Doctor should know Lytton so well, as they never actually met in Resurrection of the Daleks. Perhpaps they met offscreen. It also seems strange that the Doctor believes he has misjudged Lytton when he finds out he is working for the Cryons. It is not like mercenaries only ever work for the bad guys!

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Flesh and Stone ( concludes two-part story with The Time of Angels)

The Weeping Angels continue to menace the Eleventh Doctor, Amy and River Song, while that crack in the wall comes back.

Its surreal to watch Aliens with the Xenomorph monsters replaced by stone angels. This is the sort of thing Doctor Who is always good at.

This fast-paced story is pretty good. It does have a few weaknesses however. One problem is that it is so busy, with so many teasers and references to possible story arcs being thrown in. We really are in need of a script editor's input.

The angels maintain their creepiness, which is enhanced by their communicating with the voice of a dead man. The fact that we do not see them move makes them more effective than traditional clumsy monsters. Unfortunately this precedent was broken in this story, with one scene showing the angels move their heads. The credibility of the angels is also weakened by the revelation that they do not move if they are fooled into thinking that they can be seen.

There is some excellent acting from the whole cast. The dialogue is great too. One complaint I have is the Eleventh Doctor's talkativeness. He sometimes says just too much. Silence can be effective too. While Matt Smith's performance is very Troughtonish, it seems to be forgotten that Patrick Troughton's Doctor could be quiet at times. He had a wonderful habit of playing his flute when he did not want to answer questions.

Amy's attempted seduction of the Doctor at the end is both clumsily done and inappropriate for a childrens' show. At least he rejected her advances though.