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Doctor Who: The Dæmons (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 Dæmons originally aired in 1971.

I’ve bought you a nice cuppa, Sergeant. I hope you like china.

For goodness sake, Miss Hawthorne.

What’s the matter? Don’t you like tea?

Something’s gone badly wrong. We’ve no idea what’s happening to Miss Grant and the Captain, the Doctor should be back here by now, I can’t get through to the Brigadier and you’re nattering on about tea.

You must learn the art of waiting, Sergeant. The Doctor will come, or else he won’t, and that’s all that can be said. Now, milk or lemon?

– Miss Hawthorne helps Sergent Benton get his priorities straight

Barry Letts was a very talented man. I feel like I don’t stress that often often. I’ll freely concede that the UNIT era isn’t my favourite part of Doctor Who history, but there are times when you really have to admire the skill and competence of Letts as the show’s producer. In fact, he served as both a director and a writer on the series. He had a very clear vision for the show, and he implemented it remarkably well, to the point where his work on the show still stands out as something quite distinguished from the work of other producers.

The Dæmons is a very clear illustration of just how carefully and how thoughtfully Letts had overhauled the show for the seventies. While it’s not the most Letts-ian episode ever produced (he would produce, write and direct Pertwee’s final episode, Planet of the Spiders), but it is a great illustration of Letts’ approach to the programme and perhaps a testament to his lasting legacy.

Rock on, you crazy Master...

Rock on, you crazy Master…

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Doctor Who: The Claws of Axos (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 Claws of Axos originally aired in 1971.

Are you trying to tell me you can absorb the total output of this complex in a police box?

Yes.

– Hardiman and the Master discover that self-confidence is a genetic Time Lord trait

The Claws of Axos tends to come in for a fair bit of criticism for pretty much being the quintessential Earth-based Jon Pertwee story, with very little exceptional to distinguish it from the pack. Personally, I’m actually quite fond of it, perhaps precisely for that reason. I think you’re hard-pressed to find an adventure in the early part of Jon Pertwee’s tenure that so effectively and so efficiently captures the spirit of the show – both good and bad. That kind of makes The Claws of Axos stand out if only because it so perfectly embodies those early Pertwee years.

Eye see you…

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Doctor Who: Terror of the Autons (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 Autons originally aired in 1971.

That jackanapes! All he ever does is cause trouble!

– nice to see the Doctor taking the Master seriously

I think you can make a fairly credible argument that Jon Pertwee’s first season of Doctor Who stands out as one of the best years the show ever produced. Facing the challenge of migrating from black-and-white to colour, and forced to tell stories entirely set on present-day Earth, the writers and producers managed to craft a season of television that I think stands quite well when measured against the very best of vintage BBC science-fiction. Sure, there may have been walking shop-front dummies, lizard people, animal men and haunted space suits, but the stories were surprisingly mature and relatively clever. The writers used the framework of Doctor Who to tell four very good and very philosophical stories exploring both bold science-fiction high-concepts (alternate universes) and also moral quandaries (how humanity relates to the unknown).

Terror of the Autons is the first story in Jon Pertwee’s second season. I’m actually quite fond of it, and it’s packed to the brim with iconic imagery, so it’s very difficult to be too critical of it. After all, any adventure that left so large an impression on the public imagination must have something to recommend it. However, there’s a very clear sense of regression here. It seems, from this first serial of Pertwee’s second year, that the agenda has changed somewhat.

Terror of the Autons is arguably more indicative of Pertwee’s time in the lead role than any of those stories from his first year. It’s exciting, it’s fast-paced, it has a decidedly man-of-mystery feeling to it, but it also feels somewhat light and a little insubstantial. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it just feels like a definite regression.

Master of the Whoniverse?

Master of the Whoniverse?

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Doctor Who: Robot (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.

Robot originally aired in 1974 and 1975.

There you are. Now come along, Doctor, you’re supposed to be in the sick bay.

Am I? Don’t you mean the infirmary?

No, I do not mean the infirmary. I mean the sick bay. You’re not fit yet.

Not fit? I’m the Doctor.

No, Doctor, I’m the doctor and I say that you’re not fit.

You may be a doctor, but I’m the Doctor. The definite article, you might say.

– Harry meets the Doctor

Robot feels a bit like trying to fit a round peg into a square hole, or a Tom-Baker-shaped peg into a Jon-Pertwee-shaped hole. At the time that Baker assumed the role as everybody’s favourite time-travelling phone-booth dweller, Pertwee had just finished the longest stint as the character, portraying the Doctor for five years. Of course, Baker himself would go on to break that record, playing the part for seven years, but it gives you a sense of just how big of a transition it was. As such, it’s easy to understand why outgoing producer Barry Letts felt the need to essentially cast Tom Baker in what feels distinctly like a Jon Pertwee story. As a concept, the central character aside, Robot feels like it would have fit in quite well as part of Pertwee’s last season, which is – I think – part of the problem here.

Tom Baker is a lot of things, but he’s not Jon Pertwee. As a result, Robot feels a little clunkier than it really should, as if the show is actively working against the character who should be driving it.

The Doctor will see you now...

The Doctor will see you now…

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