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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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Doctor Who: The Ribos Operation (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 Ribos Operation originally aired in 1978. It was the first part of The Key to Time saga.

Your name!

What about my name?

It’s too long… by the time I’ve called out “Look out Romanadv…” – what’s your name again?

Romanadvoratrelundar!

By the time I’ve called that out you could be dead! I’ll call you Romana.

I don’t like Romana!

It’s either Romana or Fred!

All right, call me Fred!

Good! Come along Romana!

The Key to Time was a rather ambitious project for the time – the idea being that an entire series of the show would centre around one core arc, suggested in the first story, developed through the rest of the season, and tied up at the end of the year. It helps, when you’re doing something like that, to have an experienced hand at the reins. While The Ribos Operation doesn’t stand as Robert Holmes’ finest contribution to the series, it’s a suitable introduction to the adventure.

Time Lord and Lady...

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Doctor Who: Frontier in Space (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.

Frontier in Space originally aired in 1973.

To celebrate the tenth anniversary of the show, the four-part serial The Three Doctors was produced. However, it was also decided that Jon Pertwee’s fourth season in the role should also contain something quite a bit grander than the average Doctor Who serial. Clearly intended to rival the epic (and lost) Daleks’ Master Plan in terms of scale and scope, an epic twelve-part adventure was conceived that would run across two back-to-back serials. It would open with Frontier in Space, before easing gently into Terry Nation’s Planet of the Daleks.

Unfortunately the adventure was never quite able to measure up to the series’ earlier Dalek epic, primarily due to problems with the second serial. Still, though somewhat weakened by the necessity to dovetail into the story directly following, Frontier in Space remains a rather wonderful example of the series on its largest scale, offering epic space opera with large-scale consequences.

Lost in space…

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Doctor Who: The Seeds of Doom (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 Seeds of Doom originally aired in 1976.

Very impressive. What do you do for an encore, Doctor?

I win.

– Chase and the Doctor

“The mixture of styles is charming,” Miss Ducat notes of Harrison Chase’s impression mansion, and it’s also true of the story itself. I think that part of the reason that The Seeds of Doom works so well is because it’s actually a rather wonderful blend of any number of pulp subgenres, mixing a spy adventure, a trashy sci-fi adventure, an end-of-the-world catastrophe story, a gothic horror tale and an alien invasion saga, all within one six-part story. The story’s meglomaniac, Harrison Chase, might believe hybrids are “a crime against nature” (which opens up all sorts of avenues of plant racism), but I think this works quite well.

Hamilton Chase goes green…

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Doctor Who: Frontios (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.

Frontios originally aired in 1984.

“You know, we can sort this all out in no time at all, if everyone just stays calm.”

– The Doctor sums up the tragedy of Peter Davison’s time as the Timelord

Towards the end of Peter Davison’s time in the title role, Doctor Who was becoming gradually darker. While Colin Baker’s brightly-coloured take on the character would convert this grim fare into a surreal and grotesque pantomime, there was something tragic about Davison’s iteration confronting a quickly darkening universe. Steven Moffat once explained, “this Doctor takes the emphasis off the eccentricities and turns it into a pained heroism of a man who is so much better than the universe he is trying to save but cannot bear to let it stand”, and that’s very much the case here. While the cynicism and pointless darkness would reach their zenith during Resurrection of the Daleks and pay off spectacularly in The Caves of Androzani, Frontios feels like the perfect illustration of these ideas.

The Doctor's surgery...

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