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Doctor Who: Battlefield – Special Edition (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.

Battlefield originally aired in 1989.

Pitiful. Can this world do no better than you as their champion?

Probably. I just do the best I can.

– the Destroyer gets to know the Brigadier

Battlefield gets a bit of a bum rap as the weakest story in the final season of the classic Doctor Who. This isn’t entirely fair. Battlefield is a well-produced and thoughtful piece of Doctor Who, it just happens to be inferior to The Curse of Fenric, Ghost Light and Survival; it’s hardly the most damning indictment possible. After all, Battlefield would arguably be treated as an unsung gem had it aired during Colin Baker’s time on the show.

In keeping with Ben Aaronovitch’s last season opener, Remembrance of the Daleks, Battlefield is preoccupied with the history of the show – of its legacy and the artifacts that it carries with it. Archeology is a key theme here, but juxtaposed against a near future setting and the clever conceit of the Doctor manipulating his own history. There’s a wealth of great material here, even if the production never quite lives up to the potential teased.

A beacon of light...

A beacon of light…

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Doctor Who: The Five Doctors (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 Five Doctors originally aired in 1983.

There was one chap we tried to get hold of. What was his name? Used to be your scientific advisor.

Oh, the Doctor.

Yes that’s right.

Wonderful chap. All of them.

– Crichton and the Brigadier get into the spirit of things

The Five Doctors is a big anniversary celebration for the franchise, reuniting all five… er, four… er, three of the actors to play the lead role and one guy in a dodgy wig. Written by Terrance Dicks, The Five Doctors is 100 minutes of pure celebration, without too much in the way of depth or drama or development. It’s a beautifully packaged “greatest hits” collection for the franchise, to the point where the generally nostalgic atmosphere of the rest of the twentieth season (pairing up the Doctor with foes from his twenty-year history) can’t help but feel a little a little shallow in comparison.

Producer John Nathan Turner and script editor Eric Saward tended to fixate a bit too heavily on the show’s history and its continuity, with stories often becoming oppressively burdened with in-jokes and references to events that took place decades ago. In contrast, Dicks is able to craft a healthy slice of nostalgia that remains accessible and enjoyable, giving everybody their moment in the sun.

Well, everybody but the Cybermen.

Terrance Dicks does not care for the Cybermen...

Terrance Dicks does not care for the Cybermen…

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Doctor Who: Terror of the Zygons (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.

Terror of the Zygons originally aired in 1975.

Right, let’s see what other damage we can do. Anybody know what this is?

I haven’t the faintest idea.

You tell us.

I will. It’s a self-destructor, and it works like this.

– the Doctor demonstrates to the Duke and Lamont that you don’t ask a question without knowing the answer

Terror of the Zygons is a strange beast. Tom Baker’s first season was bookended by two relics from the Jon Pertwee era. Robot was essentially a Pertwee-era invasion story where the only real difference was Tom Baker’s larger-than-life performance; Revenge of the Cybermen had been commissioned by Barry Letts and felt more like a Pertwee-era space story than anything Hinchcliffe and Holmes would produce.

In contrast, Terror of the Zygons is very definitely an episode of Doctor Who produced by Philip Hinchcliffe and script edited by Robert Holmes. It kicks off one of the show’s strongest seasons, and plays into many of the recurring themes of the era. There are fallen gods and body horror and a sense of the Doctor as a bohemian who won’t be bound by society’s rule. And yet, at the same time, there’s also a sense that Terror of the Zygons is derived from the same basic structure of Pertwee-era invasion story.

In short, Terror of the Zygons feels like it straddles two very different eras of the show, and provides an opportunity for the show to very definitely transform from one form into another.

Let Zygons be Zygons...

Let Zygons be Zygons…

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Doctor Who: The Three Doctors (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 Three Doctors originally aired in 1973.

Well, Sergeant, aren’t you going to say it that it’s bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. Everybody else does.

It’s pretty obvious, isn’t it?

– the Doctor and Benton

The Three Doctors never seems entirely sure what it’s supposed to be. It knows what it has to accomplish. This was the first serial of the tenth season of Doctor Who, so it has to feature the three versions of the character to date. It also wants to radically shake-up the status quo of the series and to allow Jon Pertwee’s Doctor to take to the cosmos. Those are really the two primary objectives of The Three Doctors, and writers Bob Baker and Dave Martin accomplish them quite well.

The problem is that the story itself isn’t sure what it wants to be. Pertwee-era script editor Terrance Dicks would be a lot more confident when juggling The Five Doctors, conceding that the whole thing was a gigantic nonsensical spectacle. The Three Doctors seems almost like a regular story with the tenth anniversary grafted on to it – it’s easy enough to imagine a rough outline of this story that could work with only Jon Pertwee and without the end of his exile.

As a result, the two strongest beats in The Three Doctors feel almost like afterthoughts, grafted on to the outline of a generic and somewhat bland Doctor Who adventure.

Why does the Doctor hate himself...?

Why does the Doctor hate himself…?

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Doctor Who: The Green Death (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 Green Death originally aired in 1973.

Where are you off to?

To pack a suitcase.

Oh, good. Give me a couple of minutes and we’ll be off.

Off? Off where?

Well, Metebelis III, of course.

I’m not going to Metebelis III.

Why? Where are you thinking of going to?

Well, South Wales, of course. Llanfairfach.

– the Doctor and Jo discuss travel plans… why would you want to go to Metebels III when you can visit South Wales?

The Green Death is a great example of the Jon Pertwee era. It offers a pretty solid showcase of the best of the era, along with the glaring structural and thematic weaknesses that the show never really tackled head-on. It’s a great yarn, an affectionate run-around. There is a reason, after all, that the overgrown maggots have managed to wedge themselves in British popular consciousness. There’s a conscious sense that The Green Death is a season finalé, in the biggest and boldest terms possible.

In an era where television wasn’t really structured in that way, you can trace a pretty clear line between The Green Death and the big epic series finalés of the Russell T. Davies era of Doctor Who.

And the Beatz go on...

And the Beatz go on…

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Doctor Who: And the Silurians (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.

And the Silurians originally aired in 1970.

Doctor Who and the Silurians always struck me as a very strange episode title. I know that some of the spin-off media, like the books, have a habit of titles like “Doctor Who and the [title]”, but it really feels strange to have an episode title like that. Perhaps it’s because it seems to suggest the character’s name is actually “Doctor Who”, or perhaps it’s my internal OCD flying out of whack, finding it very strange that there’s only one televised episode to use that particular naming convention. Still, all of this debate about naming conventions aside, there’s no denying that The Siluriansstands as one of the highlights of Pertwee’s era, a fitting instalment in a superb first season that proved there was more to science-fiction than strange monsters each and every week.

The Doctor attempts to take the matter in hand...

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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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