Sunday, 28 November 2010

Invasion of the Dinosaurs

A group of mad idealists are unleashing Dinosaurs on London. The Third Doctor and Sarah invesigate.

Conventional fan opinion holds that this story is a load of rubbish. On this one, I think conventional fan opinion is quite correct. Nevertheless, there do seem to be a remarkably large minority of fans who attempt to defend this story. The usual defence is that though the Dinosaurs are rubbish, the plot is really thoughtful and interesting. I am afraid I disagree. The plot of Invasion of Dinosaurs is an even bigger load of garbage than the rubber Dinosaurs. I can only put the attempts to defend Invasion of the Dinosaurs down to the idiotic adoration of the Pertwee era that is so common among the more traditionalist Whovians.

Tat Wood and Lawrence Miles in About Time use this serial as an example of the error of the "Yet in the loo" concept that came to dominate Doctor Who in the Pertwee years. Pertwee, on becoming the new Doctor, had offered the opinion that a Yeti encountered in a toilet in Tooting is frightening by virtue of its mundane setting. This idea was so embraced by the production team and lead to contrived plots like this one, created simply to engineer a menace into an everyday setting. Miles and Tatwood argue that the "Yeti in the loo" notion obsesses the minds of a large contingent of fans and also non-fan journalists, leading to the mistaken notion that this is what good Dr Who is all about. This gimmickry can be seen quite a lot in the BBC Wales series, such as the deadly satellite navigation devices in The Sontaran Stratagem. Letts and Dicks thought that Dinosaurs in London would be a great idea, so in order to get them there, we are served a plot so ludicrous and unfeasible that it insults the intelligence.

There is so much about this plot that makes so little sense. Are we really supposed to believe that the Golden Age people really have the power to erase human history? I really had a hard time suspending my disbelief about the possiblity of their device actually working. Perhaps it would not have done. Perhaps the Doctor was taking them too seriously. Especially given the paradox that the Golden Agers would be wiping out their own ancestors. We are also supposed to believe that this bunch of middle class idealists are going to survive in the rugged cosmos of prehistoric earth. There is also the question of whether the Golden Agers really have cryogenically frozen a bunch of 'colonists.' If they have it is pretty incredible, if they have not it seems amazing that they fooled their 'passengers.' Why did they bring Sarah on board the 'colony ship?' Surely she was bound to be a 'disruptive element.' Perhaps this was just because General Finch fancied her. We could also ask how all these famous sportsmen and intellectuals managed to disappear without attracting any media attention (including one journalist rather close to home). We could ask why everybody accepts that the Doctor is incriminated by a Dinosaur materializing in his presence when there are Dinosaurs appearing everywhere in London. Or how the baddies managed to build, or at least take over and refurbish, what must be a massive complex underneath Whitehall without anybody noticing. Malcolm Hulke gave us a brilliant story in Dr Who and the Silurians, but he can never be forgiven for coming up with this unfeasible garbage.

We are told by defenders of this story that we should admire the moral ambiguity of this story, in that the Golden Agers are environmentalist idealists. So they may be, but they have Peter Miles with them acting like every other sinister scientist. And a nasty, brutish military type who is very obviously a bad guy. Put simply, they are murdering scum and the Doctor is far too generous in his assesment of them. Still, I must commend the bold move of making Captain Yates a traitor. Though how the Brigadier really believed that the drippy captain would have actually shot him in cold blood is beyond me.

Yes, there are a few good elements in this story. The first episode is quite chilling, with its scenes of deserted London, capturing something of the menance of Day of the Triffids. Sarah Jane Smith is used really effectively in this story, with her investigative skills playing a key part in the plot. The Brigadier's knowlege of who she is has puzzled many fans, but this can be explained by Tatwood's very convincing theory that Sarah was already being employed by UNIT as an investigator before the events of The Time Warrior.

The bit where Sir Charles puts on a spacesuit had me laughing out loud, but I doubt that was the intention.

Face it. This is a bad story, along with so many other stories in the later Pertwee years.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

The Web Planet

Although my main passion in Doctor Who is for Sylvester McCoy and the New Adventures era, I also have a great love of the Hartnell era. A lot of fans choose to ignore this early period of Doctor Who. You even get some fans who continually bemoan the loss of so many Troughton stories while ignoring the reasonably large stock of Hartnell stories that are extant. Common complaints against the Hartnell era are that stories are too slow and that Hartnell was a terrible actor. The first complaint has some substance, but the second is a little unfair. I think most fans don't give Hartnell enough attention to see how he can shine. So, as I said, I am an huge fan of the Hartnell era and I even like some of the stories that have not dated so well, such as The Web Planet. Oddly enough, when I made the decision to renew my interest in Doctor Who, just over a year ago, The Web Planet was the first DVD I bought and watched.

Part of the charm of the Hartnell era is the sheer diversity of the stories. While fans rave about the brilliance of the Troughton years that they have never seen and are unlikely to see, it must be acknowledged that the Troughton era was very limited in its scope. A format set in of producing endless 'base under siege' stories, and where the base was dispensed with, a monster was usually brought in. The Mind Robber avoids the B-movie format, but in my judgment has a weak narrative and fails in its impact. The production team were so used to the formula that they struggled to do something different. In contrast, the Hartnell years of boundless experimentation. As Miles and Tatwood say in About Time Vol.1, it could have been very different. We could have been served a few wondrous, ratings-grabbing, all-guns blazing Dalek stories and a load of budget saving historical pieces to fill in. Instead, we got quite a few stories that did not fit either of those formats. In The Web Planet we have a truly experimental story in which there is an entirely non-human or even humanoid cast, apart from the regulars. The Web Planet takes the bold step of trying to realise a completely alien world.

The complaint that this serial is far too long is easily understood. There are many parts that are clearly padding and could easily have been trimmed. On the other hand, like all of these slow black and white stories the ready defence is that it was never meant to be watched in one go like a movie. These days we are far too used to fast pacing. There are a few rather formulaic elements in the narrative, such as the splitting up of the companions and separation from the TARDIS. The absence of Barbara from an whole episode (while Jacqueline Hill was on holiday) is rather unfortunate, but this is typical of that era.

One of the phrases that comes up most often in reviews of The Web Planet is 'school play.' Its a fair cop. There is something of the pantomime about some of the costumes. The Menoptera don't look at all like real insects and are easy to laugh at. Worse still, the look of their heads changes during the serial! The Optera are even more hilarious to look at. The Zarbi do look like giant ants- if you ignore their hindlegs and their dreadfully unconvincing movements. Comparison is often made with 50s B-movies like Them! which effectively realised giant insects. I think this is an unfair comparison. Doctor Who in this era was not conceived as a televised B-movie with effects that could be compared to the cinema. So much of BBC output in the Sixties was seen as televised theatre. Audiences were expected to suspend their disbelief. I think deep down, classic series Doctor Who fans also take this theatrical view of the show and are able to suspend their disbelief when watching the show. It is more of an exercise with an Hartnell story like The Web Planet. When the suspension is acheived, great enjoyment can be had of this story.

Despite the weakeness of their costumes, both the Menoptera and the Optera come across through their speech and movement as very alien. Their dialogue, the way they mispronounce the names of the regulars, the grunting of the Optera and the balletic movements of the Menoptera all create a quite magical sense of wonder. Andrew Cartmel complained about Roslyn De Winter's plummy voice ruining the effect, but I thought her lovely plumminess quite added to the charm.

The creation of the lunarlike surface of Vortis and its astra skyline is simply gorgeous. The place is so unearthly. The strange architecture of the temple of light is also great. The use of vaseline on the camera lens to create a blurred view is interesting, but does create awkward viewing. On the whole, the low-budget effects suceeding in creating a sense of atmosphere that is much stronger than the story. In The Web Planet, we feel that we are in a totally alien cosmos. If you let it, you can capture a real sense of dreaminess watching this serial.

The Animus is a brilliant enemy. Choosing to use a woman's voice was inspired and it is a chilling one. A lot of fans complain that the Animus is a bit disappointing when finally scene at the end. I disagree. I think the completely alien appearance of the Animus makes her look rather impressive. We are told that the Animus came to Vortis from an 'astral plane.' This suggests that in its natural form, the Animus is an ethereal, incorporeal entity like the Great Intelligence of the two Yeti stories. According to the New Adventure novel, All-Consuming Fire the Animus is Lloigor, one of the Great Old Ones of Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos. This idea is of course where I got the URL for this blog.

The Carcinome, the Animus' lair is very well designed and realised; with it's organic growth and it's gun. It may be seen as a prototype for the amazing Axonite spaceship in Claws of Axos. The moment when Vicki and the Doctor are covered in web is also very well done. It might be asked why the Carcinome is not much bigger if it has consumed most of the plant life on Vortis. There is also the question of why the atmosphere of Vortis and its gravity has not changed if the planet is able to draw in new moons through the power of the Animus!

William Hartnell gives a somewhat uneven performance. He is giggling like a lunatic at the beginning and dreadfully unconvincing, but he later returns to form in his interactions with the Animus and the Menoptera. He does spoil this, however, with his ad lib "Drop down that hairdryer." I am disappointed in anybody who found that line funny, as it is a tragic indication that Harnell was not taking this story seriously. In The Web Planet, we continue to see the morally ambivalent First Doctor. When he learns of the conflict between the Animus and the Menoptera, he shows little inclination to take sides; his main concern is the safety of his companions and the return of the TARDIS. He later shows the same concern about getting his ring back. It is refreshing to see these Hartnell stories where the Doctor is not always so inclined to be the hero.

I am not a big fan of Maureen O'Brien's Vicki. I think she is too obviously an attempt to replace Carole Anne Ford's Susan, which does not feel quite right considering the importance of Susan in the beginning. O'Brien's performance here is hardly brilliant and she shows signs of not taking the story seriously. Jacqueline Hill and William Russell nevertheless give this story their best shot. Of the guest cast, Roslyn De Winter, with her posh voice, is the best. She would also appear in The Chase in a very small part. It is a shame she did not appear in other Dr. Who stories. Martin Jarvis also puts in a good first appearance in the show.

Everybody who likes Doctor Who needs to give this story a chance.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Image of the Fendahl

The Fourth Doctor and Leela face a terrible being that is connected to the evolution of the human race.

Gothic horror in Doctor Who is most associated with the producership of Phillip Hinchcliffe. However, after Graham Williams took over as producer, his first season included two stories, Horror of Fang Rock and Image of the Fendahl. I would argue that these two stories are in some respects rather supeirior to much of the gothic horror of the Hinchcliffe era. Brain of Morbius, Pyramids of Mars and Robots of Death are good stories, though they have considerable faults (most notably a strongly sadistic tendency) and are very much one-trick ponies. I think the two Williams-Gothic stories manage to transcend some of the limitations of Hinchliffe-Gothic. Where Pyramids of Mars was grim and humourless, Image of the Fendahl has a terrific sense of fun. Where Brain of Morbius looked horribly cheap, Image of the Fendahl manages to minimise the impact of its cheapness. Where Robots of Death showed a sadistic delight in violence, Image of the Fendahl tones down the brutality and relies on atmosphere (though the Doctor's giving Stahl the gun to kill himself is a bit of a shock).

The strongest element of Image of the Fendahl is its tremendous sense of atmosphere. Its a perfect story to watch on a dark autumn evening. It creates such a strong sense of overwhelming cosmic terror. This is particularly enhanced by the large absence of a musical score in favour of creepy sound effects.

Image of the Fendahl is a story about a monster that is not really a monster in the conventional sense. We don't see what it is that kills the hiker. We see a sinister old skull, we see maggot-like creatures and we see a sort of goddess figure, but neither is in the fullest sense the Fendahl. The Fendahl is a kind of intangible cosmic terror. Like the stories of H.P. Lovecraft, this serial relies on a terror of something that is never fully realised and never described. The story implies that the Fendahl is really a concept, death itself. This metaphorical idea generates a sense of climate in the story does not really fit with the science fiction trappings. A more effective metaphorical evil would be used later in Curse of Fenric.

The worm-like Fendaleen are very well designed. Their maggot-like appearance makes them as much potent symbols of death as the skull. The goddess-like figure that Thea is converted into is very effective, even with the daft use of make-up to create bi eyes. Seeing Death as a woman is unexpected, but fits in with a number of mythologies. The Fendahl woman is most effective in that she does not speak and interacts little with the characters. This makes her an utterly alien and unfathomable figure. This is a considerable improvement on Sutekh in Pyramids of Mars. Gabriel Woolf was fantastic at playing Sutekh, but the fact that he talks and communicates with the Doctor removes his aloofness as a god-like figure. For all Gabriel Woolf's brilliance, Sutekh remains another masked villain. The same may be said about Azal in The Daemons. In contrast, Image of the Fendahl gives us a Quatermass-like sense of dealing with the incomprehensibly alien.

The stereotypical yokels have been criticised, but they do add a sense of fun that does not really detract from the darkness of the story as happened with The Daemons. Mrs. Tyler is hilariously fun and her grandson is a great character too. Even Ted Moss is a decent enough character, if underused, character.

Adam Colby is a great character that stands out. Usually male non-regular leads are wet and bland, but Colby is given some great witty lines. He comes across as quite a convincing smug young scientist. Wanda Ventham puts in a pretty good peformance as Thea Ransome. Fendelman and Stahl are also well played.

Louise Jameson is on top form as Leela. I am of the unusual opinion that Leela was better used in Season 15 than Season 14. After the departure of Hinchcliffe, the rather banal 'Eliza Doolittle' idea of the Doctor educating Leela seems to have been largely dropped. I feel the idea of Leela needing to be civilized rather demeans her character and does not seem true to the Doctor. I much prefer the idea that the Doctor likes having Leela around because she is funny and is useful for threatening people. In this story, Leela is wearing the dress version of her costume rather than the original leotard. I think this looks a lot better. I have mentioned before that I think it is doubtful that a primitive tribe like the Sevateem would be able to make boots of the quality that Leela wears (let alone that metal knife!). I think it would have been more likely that Leela would have gone barefoot like a female Tarzan.

Tom Baker is also great. At this stage, he was able to lead without always being the dominating centre of attention. We also get to see him being paralyzed by the power of the Fendahl skull. In later stories he would become pretty invulnerable.

This is story is one of the best of the Graham Williams era.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Shadow Of The Scourge by Paul Cornell (Big Finish Audio)

The Seventh Doctor, Ace and Bernice meet extra-dimensional horrors at a hotel conference.

I was really delighted that Big Finish have produced two audio dramas set in New Adventures continuity. On the whole, Big Finish have not used the New Adventures much as a source and have generally stuck to a very 'Trad' direction. In their other Seventh Doctor plays, Big Finish seemed to have developed the character of Ace in a quite different direction from the angst and fury of the New Adventure novels.

This play is of course written by Paul Cornell, who I consider to have been the best of the New Adventures writers. The script for this story certainly does not disappoint. Its a play that really captures the feel of a well written New Adventures novel. Shadow of the Scourge uses the old-fashioned 'base under siege' format, but this is made interesting by the 'base' being an hotel hosting several conferences.

I think the cover is brilliant, especially seeing NA Ace in photoformat! It does however, rather oddly give the impression that the Scourge are insectoid, which does not quite fit the impression gained from the script or sound effects. They are presented more as demonic entities. The Scourge are typical New Adventure monsters, though the way they are used as a metaphor for psychological tension and doubts is very Season 26.

The Doctor is very much the Machiavellian manipulator of the novels, though Cornell takes the interesting step of having the Doctor's scheme falling apart immediately. Its unusual to listen to Sylvester McCoy pretending to come under alien domination. While this happened to the Seventh Doctor a lot in the novels, on television the McCoy Doctor was normally pretty invulnerable, like the Fourth Doctor in Seasons 16 and 17.

Its great to hear Lisa Bowerman playing Benny in a Doctor Who story. Bowerman's Bernice comes across as a lot posher than I had imagined the character. I must admit, I found Benny's snarkiness annoying. Would it really have been that difficult for her to have pretended to be a believer in that psychic stuff and refrained from ridiculing those at the psychic conference?

I was disappointed by Sophie Aldred's performance as Ace. She does not really have a feel for the brutalised, thuggish character of the New Adventures. I have noticed that people who have served in the military often talk differently to civilians and post-Dalek War Ace would certainly have spoken very differently to the teenager in Season 26. Aldred simply plays Ace as she has always done.

The reference to the McGann Doctor in this story is fun. The amount of technobabble was probaly unnecessary. On the whole, this is a really great audio play that is a must for anyone who indulges in NAstalgia.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Birthright, by Nigel Robinson (Virgin New Adventure novel)

The Doctor has disappeared leaving Bernice in Edwardian England and Ace on an alien world. Has Spring-heeled Jack returned to commit grisly murders?

I was pleased to find that this book was totally different and much better than Nigel Robinson's previous New Adventure, Timewym Apocalypse. Apocalypse was very 'Trad' and read very much like a more complicated Target novelisation. Birthright is a much more 'Rad' offering with most of the elements that characterise the New Adventures, those things that some of us love and Traditionalist fans hate.

Birthright has two main settings, the first of which is Edwardian London, which is presented as a very grim place. Birthright has plenty of prostitutes, bloodthirsty mobs, a prison catfight and the obligatory secret society. Bernice is left by the Doctor in this rather lurid place and becomes involved in investigating a series of horrible murders. This is immensely entertaining and demonstrates the fact that the New Adventures set on earth tended to be much more enjoyable than those with futuristic or alien settings (not that those NAs set in the far future are not worth reading- they certainly are!). The other setting is an alien world, where Ace helps humanoids to defend themselves against insectoid oppressors. This perhaps not so interesting, but makes a good contrast with the previous section of the book. This alien world turns out to be earth in the far future. I am not quite sure how well this fits in with other continuity, but Lance Parkin managed to make sense of it within his incredibly vast Doctor Who chronology.

Birthright is mostly characterised by the absence of the Doctor. Yet we feel his presence throughout the story in his reported interactions with the other characters. We are shown something of how he takes care of his former companions after their departure, a revelation that does not fit so well with the absent-mindedness often displayed by the Doctor onscreen. The view we get of the Doctor in this story is the classic New Adventures view of him as a master manipulator, constantly moving the characters around like chess pieces to execute his complex schemes. Those of us who appreciate the Seventh Doctor should love this, particularly the fact that Bernice comes to question the Doctor's integrity in the way that Ace did in Ghost Light and Curse of Fenric.

The cover, depicting the alien moster, is pretty good. The alien Charrl are well conceived. Jared Khan is a good villain too. What is particularly fascinating is his hunt for the Doctor and the TARDIS across the long ages of history. At the climax, he and Benny engage in a virtual reality conflict within the mind of the TARDIS. These virtual reality conflicts are a bit of a NA cliche, but it does give us some 'NAstalgia' when you read it today. Back in the nineties, virtual reality was a very hot idea.

At the story's end it all goes 'Cartmel Masterplan' with the Doctor visiting a mysterious character called Muldwych, in apparent breach of the Laws of Time. Fan consensus seems to be that this chap is the future Merlin version of the Doctor, though the fact that he needs the Seventh Doctor to tell him about his adventures makes this identification odd.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

The Curse Of Fenric

The Seventh Doctor plays chess against an ancient opponent and Ace meets her grandmother.

Despite being a massive Sylvester McCoy and Seventh Doctor fan (and a true believer in the Dark Doctor, the Ka Faraq Gatri, the Time's Champion and all that New Adventures stuff), this is only my third review of a McCoy serial. I think it is easier for me to be objective when reviewing the stories of other Doctors. I'll do my best here, but I can't promise not to praise this story all the way. Where do you even start with a story this brilliant?

The first thing that must be said is that there are two versions of this story. The original version was heavily edited for broadcasting and a lot of explanatory material was cut out. This is unfortunate, as the extra material does help to make sense of the plot. The original unbroadcast version is included on the current BBC DVD as a feature length movie with a remixed score. Remarkably, the script editor Andrew Cartmel claims that only the unedited version is worth watching. While I agree that the unedited version is better, I believe the televised version is still a classic story and one of the greatest moments of Doctor Who.

That score! Its totally unlike any other Doctor Who score, for its a thumping industrial music score that could easily have made by Skinny Puppy or Front Line Assembly. Giving this serial an industrial music score just shows that it is made for goths and rivetheads. The use of industrial music is particularly appropriate given the impact of this story on the New Adventure novels that would come later. The New Adventures would delve in the same sources as the industrial music scene, taking inspiration from cyberpunk, the Terminator movies and the Alien movies.

I think it would be correct to say that Curse of Fenric is only barely a science fiction story. We have the classic sci-fi theme of time travel through Ace meeting her mother as a child and reference to mutation caused by industrial pollution in the far future, but otherwise this is a story that has been stripped of science fiction elements and is very much a fantasy or magic realist story. Nicholas Briggs has taken us in this story into the realm of symbols, metaphors and mythology. Spaceships, robots and aliens are foreign to this kind of story. Fenric is not an alien monster, but a demonic spiritual being. His name is taken from Norse mythology (the apocalyptic wolf that would ravage the world at the end time of Ragnarok) and he is a symbol or metaphor for cosmic evil. The them of chess playing is also used as a metaphor for the cosmic struggle between good and evil. Traditional fans who view Doctor Who as primarily a science fiction show might find this rather spiritual angle hard to swallow. Nevertheless, it totally fits my view of the Doctor and his world. As a Christian I believe in spiritual beings and I believe in a cosmic war between good and evil. I appreciate very much the attempt to bring in a more spiritual cosmology. Let us face it, Doctor Who has always had a spiritual dimension, be that the Buddhism of Barry Letts, the cosmic dualism, resembling Taoism or Zoroastrianism introduced The Ribos Operation and the Neoplatonic mysticism of Logopolis.

If Fenric is a kind of devil, then it also makes the Doctor into a kind of godlike, or at least angelic being, operating on a spiritual and cosmic plane. We have a cryptic reference to a force of good that pre-existed before the universe and if the Doctor is not meant to be that force, he is at least in some way connected to it. Here the so-called 'Cartmel Masterplan' has reached its heights and the Doctor is not merely a Time Lord from Gallifrey, but an elemental force of spiritual power beyond our comprehension. His plans are unfathomable and his ways mysterious. He is a scary figure and we are disturbed by his manipulation of Ace, but we know that he is good and we can trust him. The fact that the Doctor's methods appear questionable is important. As Ace says:

"You always know... you just can't be bothered to tell anyone. It's like it's some kind of game and only you know the rules. You knew all about that inscripiton being a computer program, but you didn't tell me. You know all about that old bottle and you're not telling me! Am I so stupid?!?"

When the Doctor is involved in a clash between straight and narrow good and downright evil, it would be easy for the Doctor to become a dull, saintly figure without any ambiguity. This is what went wrong in the Pertwee era. The Doctor was given an evil archenemy, the Master, which meant the Doctor became a far more black and white character. In my opinion, the Third Doctor was a rather sanctimonious character who tended to irritate through his moralizing. Likewise, the heavy use of the Master in the Davison years reflected the fact that the Doctor was just a little too perfectly good. The Seventh Doctor is a character with a moral purpose, but whose strategy is rather Machiavellian.

The new perspective on the Doctor presented in Curse of Fenric might jar with what we have seen before of the Doctor. The mysterious Dark Doctor of Curse of Fenric is a total contrast to the Third Doctor, who was happy to tell people he was a Time Lord from Gallifrey and to talk about his childhood anxieties. However, we have always had conflicting impressions of the Doctor. The selfish First Doctor is a polar opposite of the kindly Fifth Doctor. It is just as hard to reconcile the pacifism of the Third Doctor with the Second Doctor who jumps for joy as he blows up the Dominators (Ace evidently reminds the Seventh Doctor of his more youthful self). Fans might also be irritated by the revelation that the Doctor has an archenemy of whom we have been told nothing. However, this provides an awful lot of fun for obsessive fans like me who can imagine how Fenric might be connected to earlier stories (arranging the events of Evil of the Daleks? Influencing the evolution of the Fendahl?). Fenric implies that this has been the case with the events of Season 25.

The Sylvester McCoy era made heavy use of Twentieth Century Britain as both a setting and a theme. Delta and the Bannermen used the Fifties, Remembrance of the Daleks used the Sixties and Survival took us to a contemporary council estate. Even the future settings made reference to Twentieth century Britain, with Paradise Towers taking inspiration from inner city housing and Happiness Patrol taking a swipe at Thatcher. Curse of Fenric takes us into wartime Britain and the moral amibiguity of that era. The theme of war is contrasted with love, both in Wainwright's reading 1 Corinthians 13 (in reality he would probaly be reading the King James Bible which uses 'charity' rather than love) and the irony for the self-destruct code-word being 'love.' The moral ambiguity is particularly brought out by the fact that Sorin is protected by his faith in Communism, an ideology that instigated mass murder on a horrendous scale.

The thematic depth goes beyond war and the good/ evil conflict. The talk about 'undercurrents' and 'coming into the water' seems to be a metaphorical explanation of sexuality. We also see hints of a repressed sexual relationship between Millington and Judson. The theme of Ace coming to terms with her anger towards her mother is beautifully handled. There is also a wonderful lyrical depth in Ace's seduction of the soldier (I know it would have been quicker and simpler to just take her top off, but its a nice scene). Her speech about moving faster than the second hand of a watch seems to be referring to the peculiarities of her temporal existence and perhaps her relationship to the time travelling Doctor.

Despite the lack of night scenes, this serial creates a very effective horror movie atmosphere. This is enhanced by the very murky weather during the filming. The underwater scene with the dead Russian soldier openning his eyes is particularly frightening. The Haemovore costumes are obviously rubber suits, but they are very well designed and look quite horrible. The Ancient One's costume is especially good. Questions have been raised by viewers about whether the Haemovores are from the past, present or future. As I understand it (and I have never read the novelisation), the Ancient One is from the far future, when earth is devastated by pollution. He is transported to the Viking-era by the imprisoned Fenric and then creates a colony of Haemovores across the centuries, hence the variety of historical costumes they wear.

Like many other stories, there are clear nods to H.P. Lovecraft in this story. On a purely visual level, there is something of Cthulhu about the Ancient One's costume. On a thematic level we have an extra-dimensional entity at work who has incredible power. This entity has misleading connections with mythology and twisted people seek to revive it. As with Lovecraft's entities, Fenric remains an unseen presence rather than something that actually appears. According to the New Adventure, All-Consuming Fire, Fenric is Hastur, the Unspeakable a great old one from the Cthulhu mythos. The fact that Fenric is an unseen power makes him far more effective than Sutekh in Pyramids of Mars. The problem with Sutekh was that despite the brilliance of Gabriel Woolf's performance it is difficult to regard a masked man in a suit as a godlike being. Fenric is a much more abstract, and in my opinion, much more haunting entity.

As has been said, Fenric is a kind of metaphor for evil itself. This is rather reminiscent of Image of the Fendahl where it was implied that the Fendahl was death itself. This was rather added to the creepy atmosphere of that story, nevertheless that element did not quite work within the narrative of Image of the Fendahl. The problem was that the story was too grounded in science fiction concepts for there to be room for the Fendahl to work as a symbol or metaphor of something more abstract. By stripping away the explanations and logic of science fiction this story is able to operate on that symbolic level.

Unusually for Dr. Who, nobody gives a bad performance. The two teenage girls are not brilliant, but they are not at all bad. This story features some of best acting in the history of the show, both from the regulars and the non-regulars. Sophie Aldred is absolutely stunning in this story. She was never a first-rate actress, but their is a real intensity to her performance here. She looks absolutely wonderful in her 1940s costumem even with her bomber jacket slung over the shoulder. I absolutely adore the red hairnet she wears, an excellent touch.

Although I am a passionate fan of Sylvester McCoy, I understand perfectly well the fans who are unimpressed by his performances and think he was a bit rubbish. He does deliver some of his lines in a very odd way and pull some strange faces, but for me that underlines the mysterious nature of his character. He is a dark and powerful figure, yet he adopts the bearing of a clown. I think Curse of Fenric is probably his best performance. He comes across much stronger here than in his other stories.

Millington is a superb villain. He comes across as nervous and unstable, but full of callous disregard for others. His implied homosexual relationship with Judson is a fascinating character element. His obsession with Norse mythology is a nod to the Wagner obsession of De Flores in Silver Nemesis. Millington is not a suave, mustache-twirler, but an unstable wreck with a lot of skeletons in his psychological closet. Judson is also a fascinating character, twisted by the bitterness of being confined to his wheelchair. In Nurse Crane we get a glimpse of how easily disable people can be abused by those who are trying to care for them.

Nicholas Parson is glorious as Reverand Wainwright. Best known for his involvement in comedy, he really shines in this serious role as a minister troubled by the moral confusion of war and the doubts that this brings.

The subplot about Ace's mother is very important. The reason being that it not only allows the resolution of some of Ace's many inner demons, but also adds a certain hope to the story. Despite the massive body count, a mother and her child are able to survive this story and we know they will live on. This contrasts enormously with the overwhelming darkness and hopelessness of Pyramids of Mars (the most overrated Dr. Who story ever in my opinion).

There are some confusions about the plot of this story. There are some glaring problems in its logic, for instance in Millington's expectation that the Russians will steal the Ultima machine and use it without taking it apart and examining how it works or the unlikeliness of Ace not recognising her mother's maiden name. Nevertheless these problems are no worse than those in many other stories and do not detract from the richness of the dialogue or the intensity of the atmosphere.

I love this story. I totally identify with the way it portrays the Doctor and I love the fact that it set the stage for the Time's Champion concept in the New Adventure novels. While staying at my parents' home in Hastings last summer, I got the chance to visit the church in Hawkhurst where the story was partially filmed. I have to say I was more than a little disappointed that there was no acknowlegement of Doctor Who being filmed there inside the church! I am sure I am not the only Whovian to have made a pilgrimage there!

Friday, 19 November 2010

Black Orchid

The Fifth Doctor, Adric and Nyssa attend a masked ball in Edwardian England The Doctor gets nicked and comes along quietly.

This is the only story after the black and white era to feature no science fiction elements other than the TARDIS. It is sometimes described as an 'historical' story, but it is more of a domestic drama; lacking the grand melodrama of the black and white historicals. The production team must be given a lot of credit for the courage to do something very different from the usual staples of coloured Doctor Who.

The biggest problem with this story is that not very much happens. Like a number of two-episode stories, there is barely anything of any real interest. One can imagine all kinds of sexual subtexts about the creepy relationships between the non-regular characters, but these are not really hinted at. These subtexts remain in the imagination of the viewer. We don't see enough of these characters to generate any real interest in them. One naturally wonders what the point of this story really is. It seems to be a sort of filler, with the added interest of proving that the Fifth Doctor really can play cricket, which is not a terribly interesting thing to learn. The plot is full of holes, even leaving aside the odd and unoriginal coincidence of Nyssa and Ann being indentical.

Remarkably this story has quite a hight reputation, even among fans who are not inclined to celebrate the Davison years. I suspect a good deal of this is the sentimentality of a return to the historical genre and a nostalgia for Edwardian England. Of course, on the plus side, it has the optimum production values of glorious BBC costume drama.

Peter Davison puts in a performance as the Doctor that is characteristically lacking in charisma. The way he gives himself up to the police and shows them the inside of the TARDIS seems to jar enormously with what we have seen of other Doctors.

Black Orchid gives a lot of attention to Nyssa, which is unfortunate because she is a such a bland and uninteresting character. Tegan gets some nice moments in this story, though her surprising knowlege of Edwardian botanists is out of character. Adric does very little in this story.

Monday, 15 November 2010

The Edge Of Destruction

Weird things are going on inside the TARDIS and Susan goes bezerk with a pair of scissors.

Also called by the less inspiring title of 'Inside The Spaceship.' Debating the correct title of early Doctor Who stories seems a good deal less interesting than trying to figure out the dates of UNIT stories, but some fans like to obsess over that particular issue.

Given that the TARDIS concept was completely fresh, it is natural that the viewer would appreciate an exploration of the TARDIS' interior. Thus, it made perfect sense to do a story set entirely inside the ship. Once viewers were more familiar with the TARDIS idea, 80s stories which spent large amounts of time onboard the TARDIS were questionable. Of the later explorations of the TARDIS, I think The Invasion Of Time is the best because of its quirkiness. The trip through the TARDIS in Castrolvalva was rather dull. The Edge Of Destruction got there first and brings home the unearthly character of the ship.

As Tat Wood and Lawrence Miles pointed out in About Time, David Whitaker's view of the TARDIS is completely at odds with that of Terry Nation, who had written the previous story, The Daleks. Nation essentially viewed the TARDIS as an oddly shaped space rocket (with a useless life support system- apparently the crew would suffocate in the vacuum of space, we are told in The Chase). Whitaker reveals in this story that the TARDIS is a thing of almost magical properties, in itself a living being. While Terry Nation's view of the TARDIS had it dependant on a component called 'the fluid link,' Whitaker's idea of the TARDIS would probably have had the TARDIS growing a new 'fluid link.' Whitaker's idea of the TARDIS as a sentient life form has come to be the dominant idea of the ship.

This story captures the creepy atmosphere of an haunted house. The scene with Susan and the scissors is genuinely disturbing. The story also has a very theatrical feel, with its shortness and unity of location. The claustrophobic atmosphere among the TARDIS crew rather suggests one of Harold Pinter's plays. After the excitement and adventure of the previous story, The Edge of Destruction provides some much needed character drama, enabling the resolution of the tense relationship between the characters. In this story, the Doctor reaches the height of his hostility towards Ian and Barbara, yet finally manages to reach accommodation with them (despite his inability to say sorry to Barbara).

William Hartnell is excellent as the Doctor. He becomes quite terrifying as he threatens to throw Ian and Barbara off the ship in their nightwear. Yet it is lovely to see him realising his arrogance at the end and making friends with Barbara, even though unable to utter the words "I'm sorry."

While Hartnell is fantastic, Jacqueline Hill is the real star as Barbara. She gives a truly powerful performance. We see just how hurt and disgusted she is at the Doctor's arrogance. We see her refusal to excuse him until she is sure he is really sorry and she shows real nobility in finally accepting his friendship. This is probably not William Russell's best performance. It is safe to say that he is at his best when he is acting the part of the square-jawed hero, and the psychological drama is not his style.

Susan has never been the most popular of companions. She was often badly scripted and Carol Ann Ford was never the best of actresses, but I have a liking for the character. Susan had a wonderfully ethereal quality that is particularly at home in this story. This is very much a story to suit Carol Ann Ford's role.

This story is very different to what was to come, but it plays a vital part in the early part of the show's mythology in easing in the disturbing and Machiavellian character of the Doctor and enabling viewers to come to terms with him and his relationship with the other characters.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Flip Flop by Jonathan Morris (Big Finish Audio)

The Seventh Doctor and Mel get tangled up in two parallel timelines.

On the whole, Big Finish has something of a 'Trad' tendency, attempting to recreate the feel of televised Doctor Who, rather than push the boundaries of the Who panorama. We get an awful lot of very old fashioned Dr. Who stories with monsters and returning characters. Big Finish have done a few experimental stories like this peculiar piece.

Flip Flop is a two-disc audio play that offers two different narratives. There is no need to listen to the two discs in any particular order. In a postmodern spirit, neither of the two versions of the story has any claim to be the more 'correct' or 'proper' version.

Flip Flop is a story about the mechanics of time being changed, a theme that was dealt with very little in televised Who or in the New Adventure novels. We get to compare too quite different versions of the history of a planet.

Flip Flop is a fun story to listen to and the writer must be given credit for pulling off such a difficult narrative concept. On the negative side, there is an awful lot of running around and getting frantic. There is also a lack of resolution. We all like stories where there is a definitive conclusion to the narrative and this is impossible for this kind of story.

Making this a Seventh Doctor/ Mel story was an excellent choice. It was in Season 24 that Dr. Who began to take a more experimental, off-the-wall direction (sadly coming to a close in Season 26). It was wonderful to hear Sylvester McCoy and Bonnie Langford perform together again. Whatever critics say, I absolutely adore the much maligned Season 24. I can't help feeling, however, that Bonnie on audio does not quite come across as the surreal character that appeared onscreen (she comes much closer in the Colin Baker audio, The One Doctor). Bonnie does give us an hilarious reversal of her classic line about being "as honest and truthful, and about as boring as they come." This reversal is a real gem.

The alien Slithergees are a marvellous creation, constantly heaping self-pity on the humans and using manipulation to dominate. It is hilarious how often the Slithergee leader utters the pathetic line "I am a poor, blind Slithergee." It is unusual for a Seventh Doctor story to go right-wing and attack politically-correct values. This story is clearly hitting out at lobbies that defend the rights of the disabled and ethnic minorities (not necessarily a line I would want to take, though I am a Tory). Seventh Doctor stories have tended to be far more left-liberal than this.

As somebody whose favorite footwear is flip flops, it is a bit disappointing that nobody in the story wears them.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Shadowmind by Christopher Bulis (Virgin New Adventure)

The Seventh Doctor, Ace and Bernice go on holiday to New Byzantium and encounter a sinister plot to duplicate humans.

Shadowmind is very much on the 'Trad,' rather than the 'Rad' side of the fence amongst New Adventure novels. It is a fairly traditional Doctor Who story using the very conventional theme of alien duplicates of human beings. This gives us room for the kind of Body Snatchers paranoia of The Faceless Ones.

Its a fairly interesting story, but it is not the most well-written of New Adventures. The combat scenes are dreadfully tedious. The original characters are not terribly interesting. NA Ace is portrayed as gung-ho as ever, but is kept free from angst. Bernice is not given an awful lot to do in this story. Christopher Bulis has not got a good feel for the Seventh Doctor. He makes him a little more arrogant than usual and a good deal less interesting.

Umbra, the alien villain is a typical New Adventures astral entity. He is fun and fairly well characterised. The alien race, the Shenn are quite interesting too.

If you are a New Adventures fanatic like me, you will want to track down a copy. If you are not, you need not bother.

Friday, 12 November 2010


The Doctor regenerates for the fourth time and the Master has yet another bizarre and dastardly plot (yawn).

A post-regeneration story is vitally important in that it establishes the way in which viewers perceive the new Doctor. Get it wrong and you have problems. Things went wrong with the Sixth Doctor in The Twin Dilemma. We were shown a Doctor who was acting like an homicidal maniac, who actually attempted to throttle his own companion. This coloured our perceptions of this Doctor as a violent lunatic. Things also went wrong in Time and the Rani. In his maiden story, the Seventh Doctor came across as a bumbling clown in a rushed and clumsy story. No matter how brilliant McCoy's later performances, viewers never warmed to him. Contrast this with Power of the Daleks, where the Second Doctor acted a bit oddly, but immediately rushed into action, impersonating the the Examiner on Vulcan. Or Spearhead From Space, where the Third Doctor escapes his hospital bed and steals a motorcar Mr. Toad style. Or Robot, where the Fourth Doctor combines acting like a lunatic with being a very effective advisor to UNIT.

Castrovalva unfortunately sets the viewer up with a rather poor image of the Fifth Doctor. We spend the story watching a Doctor who is weak and helpless, confused and acting really bizarre. He needs to be educated by a child and gets carried by two women in a sort of pram. He only just manages to recover at the climax. The viewer is thus set up to see the Davison Doctor as vulnerable, ineffective and generally a bit wet.

We also have a good deal of time spent in the TARDIS. Too long in my opinion. We have seen enough of the TARDIS in previous stories for it to be a fairly familiar location. The extended TARDIS scenes are just a bit boring.

Even worse, we are given one of the most bizarre and ludicrous of the Master's bizarre and ludicrous plots. There were two Master stories at the end of Season 18, did viewers really need another one? The discovery that the Portreeve is the Master in disguise is not terribly exciting either.

That is not to say there is nothing good about Castrovalva. The set design of Castrovalva is incredible, and the location work is also pretty good. John Nathan-Turner succeeded marvellously in restoring decent production values in the show. It is just unfortunate that a few of stories tend more towards style than substance. Castrovalva sadly comes into that category.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

The Daleks

The First Doctor, Susan, Ian and Barbara land on a strange planet. Is that unearthly metal city inhabited?

This may not be the first Doctor Who story, but it is the story that made Doctor Who what it is. The creation of a vivid archenemy for the Doctor in this story gave the show a creative energy and dynamism that would enable it to last for three decades and then be revived later. In reviewing this story, one is also reviewing the greatest of Doctor Who's creations as a show.

There has been a tendency for some fans to rubbish this story, exagerrating its flaws. I think this is unfortunate. It is true that it has perhaps not dated well, but it is a landmark Dr Who story that is highly crafted for the most part. A common opinion is that the second Dalek story, The Dalek Invasion of Earth is much better. I reject that opinion. The Dalek Invasion is a great story, but the Daleks in that tale are not so well characterised. They are simply monsters with a mad scheme for conquering the universe. The Daleks gives them a history and a personality that is much richer. The Daleks in this story are survivors and victims of war. They are fearful and paranoid, obsessed with survival. They do not care for conquest but want only to destroy potential enemies. They are weak and pitiful. On the whole, I find The Daleks more enjoyable to watch than Dalek Invasion, though this is to a certain extent a matter of taste.

The most common complaint levelled against this story is that it is far too long and gets boring. This is not surprising, given that it is not written to be watched in one go on DVD, but in seven installments. These episodes are each coherent narratives that are gripping in themselves. Each ends with a fantastic cliffhanger. This is a serial, not a feature film and this has to be appreciated.

That cliffhanger at the end of episode one, where Barbara is confronted by an unseen menace, extending a sucker towards her is a truly iconic moment. Its hard to imagine the suspense this must have generated in viewers had never seen a Dalek before. When finally revealed, the visual appearance of the Daleks is brilliantly conceived. While not looking like robots, they completely lack any human features. One could never look for pity or compassion in such a faceless monster. These Daleks are smaller than later versions, which helps to make them look non-human. The brief glimpse of the Dalek creature inside the armour is wonderfully tantalizing in black and white. The malevolent character of the Daleks is slowly revealed through the serial. Their moral character is uncertain during the second episode, when we first encounter them.

The Dalek city is also well designed, both as a model shot (wonderfully complimented by an ambient electronic theme) and its creepy interior, with its narrow corridors and sinister surveillance devices. This is an unwelcoming environment indeed.

As with the previous story, the Doctor is not yet being portrayed as the hero he would come to be. He is very much an anti-hero, lying to Ian and Barbara so he can investigate the city and later quite willing to sacrifice the lives of the Thals. I don't understand the fans who neglect Hartnell; he is a pleasure to watch. The Daleks is probably not William Russell's best performance, but he does a decent enough job of being he stoic Ian. Jacqueline Hill is wonderful as ever as Barbara. Carol Ann Ford was also pretty good in trying to work with a character who was badly scripted as ever.

The Thals have come in for a lot of criticism, which I find hard to understand. I can't agree with the conclusion that they are all played by dreadful actors. They come across very well and each has a distinctive personality. What is most important to recognise is that they, along with the regulars, are taking the story absolutely seriously and playing it perfectly straight. There is no attempt at all to send up the premises of the story. When Doctor Who later failed to maintain this no-nonsense attitude, things would get wobbly. The Thal costumes have been ridiculed an awful lot, but they are interesting. Do we expect the inhabitants of other worlds to where jeans and leather jackets? Barbara evidently approves as she borrows a pair of Thal trousers and sandals (Barbara wears open-toed shoes more often than any other regular character in Doctor Who). Thal society is not well conceived; there seems a fair degree of ambiguity as to their level of technology. Strangely, Lawrence Miles and Tat Wood make the mistaken statement, in 'About Time: The Unauthorized Guide to Doctor Who' that there is only one Thal woman in this story (as in Genesis of the Daleks). There are in fact at least three Thal women.

Terry Nation was clearly somebody who liked the Dan Dare comic strips in The Eagle. Dan Dare, particularly the first story about the mission to Venus. The Daleks is very much an old fashioned space adventure. That is not what the sci-fi viewers of today are used to, so naturally this story comes across a little oddly. While it may not have aged well, it is an highly crafted tale with production values that were outstanding for its time. It is perhaps unfortunate that Terry Nation would plunder so much of the plot of this story for his later stories, which accounts for the sense of deja vu that many fans feel when they watch this story. The Daleks worked best the first time. The derivative Planet of the Daleks was a terrible mistake.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Planet Of Fire

The Doctor and Turlough meet a cute American girl in Lanzarote and the Master has yet another cunning plan (this time subject to the law of diminishing returns).

The best word to describe this story is glossy. Its definitely on the better end of the Davison era, but I can't help thinking that it is more about style than substance, that common failing of the JNT era.

The most notable element of this story is the introduction of Peri. The idea of Peri was that she would appeal to American viewers by having an American accent (which unfortunately Nicola Bryant was unable to portray in any convincing form) and male viewers everywhere by wearing less than modest outfits. In her first story, Peri is actually quite good and lacks the annoying qualities she later developes. Its easy to dislike Peri, but she can be appreciated if you give her the chance. Characters like hers are actually more interesting than companions who adore the Doctor, like Jo Grant and Sarah Jane Smith.

This story has two settings, Lanzarote and the planet Sarn. The former features some great location shooting and allows the viewer the opportunity to see Peri in a bikini. Other than introducing Peri, the Lanzarote setting does not actually play much of a role in developing the plot. The volcanic, desert planet of Sarn also features some nice camerawork, even if its society is not very well sketched. Superstitious people who want to sacrifice people to their god are not exactly original in Dr Who.

The resolution of the Turlough subplot is a bit anti-climatic. Turlough gets to be the great leader he was always destined to be; but he was probably more interesting when he was cowardly and sinister.

Master stories are so tedious. We are treated to yet another dastardly scheme. At least he looks good in the suit he wears, rather better than the Ainsley Master's usual Shakespearean outfit. It probably would have been better for all of us if he really had been killed at the end.

Kamelion was one of the more unfortunate ideas of the series, in that the production team were unable to operate him after the death of his creator. In this story they resort to turning him into a silver humanoid bloke, which is less than convincing. Kamelion's death does not inspire much feeling from the viewer because we have seen so little of him.

The most fun part of the story is when Peri discovers the shrunken Master and chases him with her shoe. Very camp. They probably should have made that scene last a bit longer than it did.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

The Dominators

The Second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe visit the planet Dulcis and foil alien invaders with bad posture and their cute robots.

If you did a straw poll of the black and white story that fans most hate, it is probably The Dominators. This serial is very poorly regarded. What makes the fan hatred worse is the fact that this story had the cheek to survive, while Fury From the Deep, Power of the Daleks and The Macra Terror have been lost. What is it that fans hate so much about this story?

The Quarks

The cutest robots ever to appear in Doctor Who. When you want scary monsters, making them cute is a bad idea. Perhaps, if you trouble yourself to think about it, it might make them a little sinister. On the whole, they are fun to watch and laugh at.

If you are an even more obsessive fan than I am, you will have made at least an attempt to work out how many Quarks the Dominators brought with them and how many are left at the end.

The Costumes

Why is it that whenever you see male characters on t.v. wearing long tunics or flowing robes, viewers describe them as 'dresses' or 'frocks?' It may be the norm in western culture for men to wear bifurcated clothing, but in some parts of the world and in many cultures in the past, men wore non-bifurcated clothing like robes or tunics. That people today have a problem with this is a sign of cultural arrogance (or just ignorance).

I actually rather like the shower curtain robes, gowns and sandals that the Dulcians wear. The female characters look very attractive and the men look elegant in a neo-classical way. They look much more original than the jumpsuits, waistcoats and boots look that so many space age cultures are decked out in across post-Star Wars science fiction. Its great that Zoe gets to wear a Dulcian costume too.

The Dulcians

A boring bunch of tedious pacifists. True. Which makes it fun to watch them getting slaugtered by the Dominators. Not the most edifying entertainment, but you can't say it makes viewing a dull experience.

The Gung-ho Moral Message

Its odd that fans sometimes call Pertwee the 'Tory Doctor' (though often Pertwee fans are more conservative, or at least hostile politically correct tendencies) when it seems perfecly clear that it was during the Troughton era that the show was at its most right-wing and militaristic phase.

During the Second Doctor era, the writers absorbed a lot of Cold War paranoia and so we have a Doctor who speaks about 'corners of the universe that have bred the most terrible things, things that are against everything we believe in. These things must be fought!' Many of the stories of this era echoe the paranoia of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The First Doctor seemed determined to avoid getting involved, the Second Doctor seemed to go out of his way to deal with villains and monsters with dangerous ideological tendencies. This Doctor was much more prepared than some of the other Doctors to use deadly force against his opponents. He had been happy to wipe out the Macra (we have all watched Gridlock, so we know that the Macra were building an empire, but there was none of this in The Macra Terror. The Macra seemed to be happily going about their business) and in this story he blows up the Dominators with their own bomb.

Naturally, the right-wing values of the Second Doctor era are not exactly the ideology of the average leftie Dr Who fan, but is it not a positive thing that the show has adopted different postures and ideologies at different times? Even in the Second Doctor era, The Macra Terror offered some rather liberal sentiments. Besides, was it really so irrational to believe that Communism was a menace that needed to be fought? Surely, Communism was a global terror that brought unhappiness and tyranny to millions.

So what is great in this story?

The Dominators are pretty good. Their costumes are clever; in that they cause the wearer to sluch forward giving them a non-human look without any rubber mask. Unlike a lot of other aliens in Doctor Who, they have individual personalities. The conflict between Rago and Toba is an interesting feature of this story.

And of course, Patrick Troughton is glorious in his mania. He is so funny in his pretence of being stupid. Also charming is the way he jumps for joy when blowing up the Dominator spaceship. I think it is safe to say that the Second Doctor would have got on very well with Ace, probably even better than with the Seventh Doctor! We also get great supporting performances from Wendy Padbury and Frazer Hines.

I would seriously challenge fans to give this story a try, and if they do, they can be sure to find something in it to delight. I would honestly say that this is my favorite surviving Patrick Troughton story, and that is not just because I read the novelisation when I was nine years old.