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Doctor Who: The Reign of Terror (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 Reign of Terror originally aired in 1964.

Hush, child. Say your goodbyes and remember, we shall be leaving almost immediately

– the Doctor, about two minutes into the first part of a six parter

The Reign of Terror represents a fairly disappointing conclusion to a reasonably solid first season of Doctor Who. I won’t argue that the show’s first year can be ranked among the finest in the fifty-year history of the show, but I do think that the stories generally did quite a decent job of introducing the characters and concepts and setting them up so that they could support a lot more. It’s interesting to compare the title character introduced in An Unearthly Child to the version presented in The Sensorites.

While The Sensorites is still a story far too long and far too generic for its own good, it still feels like it solidifies a version of the character who – broadly speaking – resembles the Doctor we know and love. While I’d argue the Doctor was only absolutely solidified as a hero in The Dalek Invasion of Earth, there’s a very clear through-line from An Unearthly Child to The Sensorites which charts the evolution of the character. The Sensorites would make a decent (if unspectacular) place to end the first season.

Unfortunately, the first season continues on for one more episode. The Reign of Terror is just as over-long and just as padded out as The Sensorites, but it suffers because it feels like a massive step backwards in a season that has been very clearly moving forwards.

An animated sort...

An animated sort…

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Doctor Who: The Rescue (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 Rescue originally aired in 1965.

Oh, but Doctor, the trembling’s stopped.

Oh, my dear, I’m so glad you’re feeling better.

No, not me, the ship.

– Barbara and the Doctor

The Rescue is a surprisingly sturdy two-parter, following directly on from The Dalek Invasion of Earth. Despite the fact it’s noticeably brief, the adventure is fairly important in the grand scheme of Doctor Who, representing the first time that the show has a recruited a new companion since our bunch of time-travelers departed Earth. However, it’s also a well-told little story, and one which emphasises the relatively subtle shift in the Doctor’s character and role in the story.

While An Unearthly Child and The Daleks presented the character as a cantankerous and untrustworthy trickster, the show has gradually pushed the character into the role of the hero, culminating in the Doctor’s successful attempt to save the whole planet Earth in The Dalek Invasion of EarthThe Rescue continues this trend, presenting the Doctor as a genuinely sympathetic and compassionate old man, pretty far from the grump we first met.

The version of the Doctor we see in The Rescue feels a lot more like the character we’d come to love over the rest of the show’s fifty-year history.

Here' there be monsters...

Here’ there be monsters…

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Doctor Who: Earthshock (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.

Earthshock originally aired in 1982.

I would suggest you get your people well back. The hatch may be booby-trapped.

What about you?

Well, my arms are only this long. I can’t get any further away.

– the Doctor and Scott

Earthshock is regarded as one of the stronger stories of Peter Davison’s tenure on Doctor Who. It’s easy enough to see why. After all, it features not one but two memorable twists. It also harks back to the classic “base under siege” stories of the Patrick Troughton era. While it’s still very clearly a piece of early eighties Doctor Who, its production values hold up rather well compared to adventures from that era of the show. It’s written by Eric Saward and, like The Visitation, it has that same sense of tension and pace, building towards a truly massive final twist.

And yet, despite that, I find it very difficult to love Earthshock. I suspect a lot of that is down to how it seems like Doctor Who learned all the wrong lessons from Earthshock, retroactively tainting an otherwise very solid serial.

Shattered...

Shattered…

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Doctor Who: Planet of the Daleks (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.

Planet of the Daleks originally aired in 1973.

You know, for a man who abhors violence, I must say I took great satisfaction in doing that.

– The Doctor on demolishing a Dalek

The combined Frontier in Space and Planet of the Daleks serials were intended to mark the tenth anniversary of Doctor Who with a twelve-part epic that could be measured against the lost Daleks’ Master Plan. I’m quite fond of The Frontier in Space, and I’d argue that it stands as the best space-opera of the Pertwee era, but I’ll concede that the story is severely weakened by the links it shares with this little adventure, which is conclusive proof that Daleks were quite stale long before Davros was invented.

Not all Dalek stories are gold…

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Doctor Who: Victory of the Daleks (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.

Victory of the Daleks originally aired in 2010.

Would! you! care! for! some! TEA???!!!

– the Daleks

Ah, the Daleks. They tend to rise and fall. They get built up and then they fall back down. Like the show itself, they come and go in cycles. The Dalek Invasion of Earth has the psychotic pepperpots invade Earth, while The Chase reduces them to little more than comic foils. Destiny of the Daleks makes jokes about them being unable to climb stairs, while Remembrance of the Daleks then proves that they can. In 2005, both Dalek and The Parting of the Ways invested considerable effort in making them scary again. The show eroded that away over time, turning them into bitchy foils for the Cybermen in Doomsday for the Doctor to hover up and competing to create the most phallic monster ever in Evolution of the Daleks.

Steven Moffat took over the show in 2010, and that means that he also took over the Daleks. Tending to the Doctor also means tending to his worst enemies. And, to be fair, that’s a bit what Victory of the Daleks feels like. It feels like an obligation, a bit of business to get out of the way quickly (the first episode not penned by Moffat) so that the fun stuff can commence.

Exterminate the rainbow...

Exterminate the rainbow…

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Doctor Who: The Chase (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 Chase originally aired in 1965.

You’re from Earth?

No, no, Ma’am. No, I’m from Alabama.

– Barbara and Morton set things straight

There are times when Doctor Who seems to straddle the line between genius and insanity, when the viewer is left completely unsure whether they’ve witnessed something profoundly clever, or infuriatingly stupid. The Chase is one of those stories, one of those rare cases where I’m honestly not sure if I’m reading too much into a piece of television or simply scratching the surface of a whole wealth of complex meaning and symbolism. The Chase is, as near as I can make out, either a desperate attempt to cash-in on the then-current Dalek craze, or one of the craziest attacks the show ever made on the fourth wall. It’s either completely terrible or breathlessly brilliant, and I refuse to rule out the possibility that it is both, possibly at the same time.

Cutting to the chase...

Cutting to the chase…

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Doctor Who: Death to the Daleks (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.

Death to the Daleks originally aired in 1974.

Keep away! Keep away!

– the Daleks have an understandable reaction to appearing in another Terry Nation script

I’ve remarked a bit that Pertwee’s final year feels a little like a victory lap, a clear attempt to revisit familiar, sometimes to provide a sense of closer. For example, Invasion of the Dinosaurs feels like the last true U.N.I.T. story, with betrayal and disillusionment closing that narrative strand. Similarly, Planet of the Spiders closes out the recurring New Age Buddhist iconography that the Barry Letts has been injecting into the show. However, some of these decisions to return to familiar concepts feel a little superfluous. Did we need an extended sequel to Curse of Peladon, for example?

And did we really need another throwback Terry Nation Dalek story, only a year after the last throwback Terry Nation Dalek story?

The clue is in the title...

The clue is in the title…

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