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Doctor Who: The Two 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 Two Doctors originally aired in 1985.

That is the smell of death, Peri. Ancient musk, heavy in the air.

– welcome to the Colin Baker era

The Two Doctors is an oddity. It’s the only story of the Nathan Turner era that runs over two hours, unless you choose to count The Trial of a Time Lord as a single story. It’s also the only “multi Doctor” story that wasn’t filmed on one of the show’s significant anniversaries. (Time Crash was, after all, filmed in the show’s forty-fifth year.) It’s also notable for the fact that it completely eschews the charmingly impish portrayal of the Second Doctor that fans have come to know and love over the course of reunion stories like The Three Doctors or The Five Doctors.

Indeed, The Two Doctors is almost the exact opposite of the show that you would expect it to be. The low opinion in which fans seem to hold the serial confirms that writer Robert Holmes has delivered a story that is markedly different from what those waiting for a team-up between Colin Baker and Patrick Troughton would have been expecting. Far from a nostalgia-packed love-in, The Two Doctors is written with Holmes’ trademark cynicism. This time the writer is directing that cynicism towards the show itself.

Patrick Troughton! In colour!

Patrick Troughton! In colour!

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Doctor Who: The Hand of Fear (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 Hand of Fear originally aired in 1976.

Come on, where are we?

We’re in a quarry.

Yes, I know we’re in a quarry, but where?

Well, how do I know? I don’t know all the quarries that–

– the Doctor and Sarah Jane get a bit meta

The Hand of Fear is odd, because it’s the end of an era – but it’s not the end of the era for the rather obvious reason that it bids farewell to one of the franchise’s best-loved companion character. The Hand of Fear is best known as the final story to feature Sarah Jane Smith. Indeed, the DVD comes with a helpful sticker informing any potential purchasers of the story’s significance.

However, watching The Hand of Fear with the benefit of hindsight, it isn’t Sarah Jane’s departure that is the most striking part of the show.

Keep it handy...

Keep it handy…

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Doctor Who: The Trial of a Time Lord – The Ultimate Foe (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 Trial of a Time Lord originally aired in 1986.

In all my travellings throughout the universe I have battled against evil, against power-mad conspirators. I should have stayed here. The oldest civilisation, decadent, degenerate and rotten to the core. Ha! Power-mad conspirators, Daleks, Sontarans, Cybermen, they’re still in the nursery compared to us. Ten million years of absolute power, that’s what it takes to be really corrupt.

– the Doctor

There really are no excuses for the mess that The Trial of a Time Lord became. I mean, seriously. The producers had eighteen months to plan everything out. The task shouldn’t be that difficult. If you are going to fictionalise the persecution of Doctor Who by the BBC in the form of a trial, you really should have some idea what you plan to do or say at the end of it. If your fourteen episode season-long story arc is about defending a show that is coming close to cancellation, then perhaps it might be a good idea to be able to tell us why it shouldn’t be cancelled. The Trial of a Time Lord is a gigantic mess, and something that makes a stronger case in favour of Michael Grade’s attempts to cancel that show than it does against them.

The Ultimate Foe isn’t as soul-destroyingly horrible as Terror of the Vervoids, but that may be because Pip and Jane Baker only wrote half of it.

Only himself for company...

Only himself for company…

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Doctor Who: Arc of Infinity (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.

Arc of Infinity originally aired in 1983.

We know who you are.

That changes nothing.

– the Doctor and Omega set one thing straight

There really should be a bare minimum threshold of enjoyment for a Doctor Who story set on Gallifrey. I mean, these are beings who claim to control the whole of time and space. Their guards look like they modelled themselves on Adam Strange, replacing his jetpack with a cape, and there’s always an excuse for some good old-fashioned science-fiction ray-gun-related fun. How hard can it be to entertain an audience for four episodes in that particular setting?

Unfortunately, Arc of Infinity answers that question. Quite boring indeed, it seems.

Going around in circuits...

Going around in circuits…

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Doctor Who: The Keeper of Traken (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 Keeper of Traken originally aired in 1981. It was the first instalment in the “Master” trilogy.

He dies, Doctor. The Keeper dies!

– Tremas heralds the end of an era

Of course, the entire season has been less than subtle about the point, but The Keeper of Traken is the point at which Tom Baker’s final season builds to critical mass, and reaches the point of no return. Entropy, decay and death have all been crucial ingredients in the year’s collection of adventures, but The Keeper of Traken is the point at which it seems like our character has set himself on an incontrovertible course, a path from which he cannot diverge. Baker’s approaching departure gives The Keeper of Traken a great deal of weight, and helps balance a story that might otherwise seem excessive or overblown. There’s melodrama here, but it feels strangely appropriate.

Lawrence Miles has argued that Logopolis was the funeral for the Fourth Doctor. If so, The Keeper of Traken is his wake – and it’s fitting that Irish poet and writer Johnny Byrne should provide this strangely lively (if morbid) celebration.

Hell of a wake...

Hell of a wake…

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Doctor Who: Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS (Review)

“Good guys do not have zombie creatures. Rule one, basic storytelling.”

– Clara understands the way the universe works

And here our big theory that this anniversary season is a “greatest hits” collection runs into a bit of bother. Okay, Cold War was definitely a Troughton-era throwback. And Hide had a definite Hinchcliffe-and-Holmes feeling to it. (“The Baker Street irregulars” in 1974.) Maybe you could stretch it a little bit and argue that The Bells of St. John is a tribute to the Pertwee era by way of Russell T. Davies; and The Rings of Akhaten definitely feels a little like a classic bit of Hartnell-era world-building.

Making the case for The Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS is just a little bit harder. After all, The Crimson Horror is another throwback to Hinchcliffe and Holmes, while Nightmare in Silver is another “base under siege by classic monster” tribute to Troughton. So there’s only one missing piece here. If that “greatest hits” argument holds, then Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS must be one gigantic shout out to the John Nathan Turner era.

Hear me out.

A shining beacon of light...

A shining beacon of light…

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Doctor Who: Hide (Review)

Say we actually find her. What do we say to her?

We ask her what she is, how she came to be.

Why?

Because I don’t know and ignorance is… what’s the opposite of bliss?

Carlisle.

Yes, Carlyle. Ignorance is Carlyle.

– the Doctor and Clara

Hide is the best episode of Doctor Who to air since The God Complex, almost two years ago. Writing an affectionate tribute to gothic horror Doctor Who, Hide allows even the most skeptical member of the audience to forgive writer Neil Cross for his somewhat clunky script for The Rings of Akhaten. It’s a nostalgic and atmospheric trip back in time, and a reminder of just exactly what this show is capable of, offering a creepy haunted house horror that manages to morph into an epic love story by the time the credits have rolled.

What lies beyond?

What lies beyond?

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