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Doctor Who: The King’s Demons (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

The King’s Demons originally aired in 1983.

Do our demons come to visit us? Bid them attend us.

Demons? Very odd indeed.

Makes a nice change for you not to take everything in your stride, I must say.

– King John, the Doctor and Tegan set the mood

The show’s twentieth anniversary deserved better than this. Okay, there are a number of qualifications that can made, excuses that can be offered. The King’s Demons was never intended to close out the season, and was instead intended as a two-part episode to bridge into the triumphant return of the Daleks, a return that ended up postponed a year and reworked into Resurrection of the Daleks. There’s also the fact that The King’s Demons wasn’t the last piece of Doctor Who to air as part of the show’s twentieth anniversary year, even if it was the season finalé. The Five Doctors would be broadcast later in the year to celebrate the anniversary.

However, none of these excuses take away from the fact that The King’s Demons is an exceptionally weak piece of television, and a demonstration of everything wrong about how John Nathan Turner and the Doctor Who production staff approached the show’s twentieth season.

Hardly a Master piece...

Hardly a Master piece…

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Doctor Who: Mawdryn Undead (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

Mawdryn Undead originally aired in 1983. It was the first instalment in the Black Guardian Trilogy.

Oh look, it’s all a long time ago, Doctor. I mean, surely what’s past is —

Very much in the present, Brigadier. You never did understand the interrelation of time.

– Brigadier and the Doctor have a bit of time travel trouble

Mawdryn Undead is a bit of a strange beast. It’s written by director Peter Grimwade, who last wrote the script for the unbelievably bad Time-Flight, which is a serious contender for the worst Doctor Who adventure of the eighties – no small accomplishment in a decade that gave us The Twin Dilemma and Timelash. Still, Mawdryn Undead is an entertaining little romp with a clever central concept that is somewhat overshadowed by the fact that Grimwade seems to have been given a laundry-list of tasks to accomplish with his script. With the serial featuring the Brigadier, introducing Turlough and kick-starting The Black Guardian trilogy, you can understand why the rather nifty little time-travel story tends to get overshadowed a bit.

Faithful companion?

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Doctor Who: The Armageddon Factor (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

The Armageddon Factor originally aired in 1979. It was the sixth and final part of The Key to Time saga.

The Key to Time was perhaps the first conscious attempt to tell a season-long story in Doctor Who. Sure, we’ve had elements of an arc before. The first season, for example, gave the Doctor himself a character arc where he evolved from cowardly curmudgeon into an unlikely heroic figure. Jon Pertwee’s second season was given the Master as a linking element. Tom Baker’s Doctor embarked in a pretty much unbroken series of adventures from Robot through to Terror of the Zygons, with the ending of one serial seemingly leading directly into the next. None of these were necessarily that ambitious and you could argue they evolved more by chance than by design.

So, The Key to Time represented a bit of a learning curve, an attempt to tie a season’s stories together using an over-arching concept. As I’ve discussed quite a bit in my reviews of the season, the result was a little clunky, with those concepts seemingly clumsily shoe-horned into a separate bunch of adventures. That leaves the finalé, The Armageddon Factor to do the heavy-lifting with regards to The Key to Time saga. Unfortunately, the pay-off feels a bit jumbled, over-wrought, disorganised and non-sensical, as it juggles a wealth of elements that never add up to more than the sum of their parts.

While a great many Doctor Who six-parters suffer from being too long, too padded, too stretched for their story and concepts, The Armageddon Game feels curiously over-stuffed, lacking a tight focus on the interesting elements and too many distractions clogging up the story.

The problems are crystal clear...

The problems are crystal clear…

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