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Doctor Who: City of 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.

City of Death originally aired in 1979.

It’s quite good.

Quite good? That’s one of the great treasures of the universe and you say “quite good”?

The world, Doctor, the world.

What are you talking about?

Not the universe in public, Doctor. It only calls attention.

I don’t care. It’s one of the great treasures of the universe!

Shsh!

I don’t care. Let them gawp, let them gape. What do I care?

– Romana and the Doctor discuss the Mona Lisa

City of Death might divide fans of Doctor Who, with some regarding it as too silly or childish, but I think it’s easily the best Tom Baker serial the show produced, and probably the most entertaining serial for those unfamiliar with the classic show. It helps that the script combines some of the era’s best writers, with “David Agnew” serving to cover contributions from David Fisher, Douglas Adams and Graham Williams. I’ll concede that the farce tended to get a bit much towards the end of Adams’ tenure as script editor, but City of Deathpitches itself perfectly with some wonderful science-fiction concepts peppered over some fine location work, with a side of superb British wit.

From Paris with Love...

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Doctor Who: The Awakening (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 Awakening originally aired in 1984.

The Awakening was the third and final of Peter Davison’s smaller two-part adventures, taken once in each of his three seasons in the title role. Much like Black Orchid and The King’s Demons, it feels like a light and refreshing breather, especially in a final season that was becoming gradually darker and more somber. While Black Orchid allowed the cast and crew to take a somewhat relaxing break before the tragedy of Earthshock, The Awakening feels conspicuously grimmer, but still seems a relatively casual affair when measured against the stories that were to follow.

Malus aforethought…

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Doctor Who: Warriors of the Deep (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.

Warriors of the Deep originally aired in 1984.

“Release the Myrka.”

– three words to create dread in even the toughest Doctor Who fan

I’ve always been somewhat less fond of Johnny Byrne’s Doctor Who than most fans. I can never, for example, understand the high esteem generally reserved for The Keeper of Traken (although it is a better story than Logopolis), and I really disliked Arc of Infinity. So I suspect some of the problems with Warriors of the Deepwere quite fundamental. However, there’s also a sense that those flaws were only exaggerated by a combination of other factors, including a low budget, a tight schedule and a script editor who believed an adventure’s pathos could be measured by its bodycount.

Everybody's dead, Davison...

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Doctor Who: The Sea Devils (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 Sea Devils originally aired in 1973.

If Horatio Nelson had been in charge of this operation, I hardly think that he would have waited for official instructions.

Yes, a pretty impulsive fellow, if one can believe the history books.

History books? Captain Hart, Horatio Nelson was a personal friend of mine. Come on, Jo.

– Namedropping? The Doctor? Never!

When it comes to Doctor Who, “sequel” stories get a bit of a hard time from fandom. It seems to be easy to dismiss Snakedance in favour of Kinda, and to praise Spearhead from Space at the expense of Terrors of the Autons and even elevate The Daleks above The Dalek Invasion of Earth. It seems that time, and conventional wisdom, tend to favour the original serials. Of course, there are undoubtedly examples where follow-up scripts have disappointed (the ridiculously padded The Monster of Peladon following The Curse of Peladon). Still, for my money, The Sea Devils represents a tighter, complimentary and ambitious sequel to Doctor Who and the Silurians, easily one of the most highly regarded adventures of the seventies. It’s a fairly impressive accomplishment, but The Sea Devils is more than up to it.

Everybody out of the water!

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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: Kinda (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.

Kinda originally aired in 1982.

My dear, you can’t possibly exist, so please go away.

– a figment of Tegan’s imagination… or is it?

Every once in a while, there’s a story that undergoes something of a critical reappraisal among Doctor Who fans, as particular fans champion a forgotten story as a classic, attack the assertion that a given story is a classic or even suggest a stinker is in serious need of reevaluation. I actually like that, even fifty years after the show originally aired, there are still discussions to be had around what the good, bad and indifferent stories are. I think Kinda has cycled through this process quite a bit – a story initially overlooked in Peter Davison’s “much better than you remember, if you can get past the cheesy production values” first season, but one that has been somewhat re-appraised in the decades that followed.

A hot-shot colonist...

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Doctor Who: The Power of Kroll (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 Power of Kroll originally aired in 1978 and 1979. It was the fifth part of The Key to Time saga.

What? Well, you’d better introduce me.

As what?

Oh, I don’t know. As a wise and wonderful person who wants to help. Don’t exaggerate.

– the Doctor and Romana meet the locals

The Power of Kroll is a strange little serial, apparently the result of Robert Holmes being told to create the largest monster even on Doctor Who. Holmes wasn’t necessarily convinced that this was the best idea (and one can sense that from the story), but the adventure isn’t quite the mess that most people would have you believe. At the very least, it serves as a dry run (see what I did there) for the much stronger Caves of Androzani, but it also has an interesting idea or three along the way.

The power of CSO, more like...

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Doctor Who: The Androids of Tara (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 Androids of Tara originally aired in 1978. It was the fourth part of The Key to Time saga.

Ah! That takes me back… or forward… that’s the trouble with time travel, you can never remember…

– The Doctor

There are some things that I know I should probably feel guilty about – cases where my opinion is so clearly distinct from the general consensus that I feels some sense of obligation to apologise for my radical and far-out ideas. While it falls just short of that mark, I honestly enjoy The Androids of Tara as the best story of The Key to Time. I’ll concede it isn’t as masterfully written as The Ribos Operation, nor as full of wonderfully clever constructs as The Pirate Planet, but The Androids of Tarais a refreshingly small-scale adventure that manages to accommodate the awkward humour that this era of the show is accustomed to, while remaining an excellent adventure in its own right.

Eyes without a face...

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Doctor Who: Stones of Blood (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.

Stones of Blood originally aired in 1978. It was the third part of The Key to Time saga.

Doctor, might I ask you  a personal question?

Well, I don’t see how I could stop you from asking.

Are you from outer space?

No.

Oh.

I’m more from you’d call inner time.

Ah.

– Professor Rumford and the Doctor clarify things

Stones of Blood was a bit of a landmark for the television show. Not only was it the 100th Doctor Who story broadcast, but it also aired remarkably close to the show’s fifteenth anniversary. The Three Doctorshad demonstrated that the show could celebrate its anniversaries in style, but producer Graham Williams seemed to want a more restrained celebration of the show’s run – vetoing an early scene in the TARDIS where Romana and K-9 give the Doctor a birthday cake and a present (a new scarf). Instead, it was decided that the show would celebrate its time on the air by returning to two of its more defining genres, blending those two distinct types of story into one four-part adventure. So we end up with a story that is half gothic horror and half outer space adventure.

A celebration, out of the blue!

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Doctor Who: The Pirate Planet (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 Pirate Planet originally aired in 1978. It was the second part of The Key to Time saga.

Excuse me, are you sure this planet’s meant to be here?

– The Doctor

I have to admit, I admire The Pirate Planet for its lofty aim. Douglas Adams’ script is vast and impressive and epic, incorporating and number of brilliant high concept ideas, traditional science-fiction story-telling devices, and healthy sense of humour into one Doctor Who story. Unfortunately, the production is restricted both by the technical limitations of the time, but also by the sense that there’s simply too much going on over the course of this four-episode adventure. Still, it’s as bold, fun and imaginative as any Doctor Whostory, and showcases the series at its most ambitious. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Pulling a fast one...

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