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Doctor Who: Terror of the Zygons (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 Zygons originally aired in 1975.

Right, let’s see what other damage we can do. Anybody know what this is?

I haven’t the faintest idea.

You tell us.

I will. It’s a self-destructor, and it works like this.

– the Doctor demonstrates to the Duke and Lamont that you don’t ask a question without knowing the answer

Terror of the Zygons is a strange beast. Tom Baker’s first season was bookended by two relics from the Jon Pertwee era. Robot was essentially a Pertwee-era invasion story where the only real difference was Tom Baker’s larger-than-life performance; Revenge of the Cybermen had been commissioned by Barry Letts and felt more like a Pertwee-era space story than anything Hinchcliffe and Holmes would produce.

In contrast, Terror of the Zygons is very definitely an episode of Doctor Who produced by Philip Hinchcliffe and script edited by Robert Holmes. It kicks off one of the show’s strongest seasons, and plays into many of the recurring themes of the era. There are fallen gods and body horror and a sense of the Doctor as a bohemian who won’t be bound by society’s rule. And yet, at the same time, there’s also a sense that Terror of the Zygons is derived from the same basic structure of Pertwee-era invasion story.

In short, Terror of the Zygons feels like it straddles two very different eras of the show, and provides an opportunity for the show to very definitely transform from one form into another.

Let Zygons be Zygons...

Let Zygons be Zygons…

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Doctor Who: Time-Flight (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.

Time-Flight originally aired in 1982.

I’ve never heard such an extravagant explanation.

– Hayter’s gonna hate

Time-Flight is a much maligned piece of Doctor Who, and hardly the best way to round out a season that has, generally speaking, done a reasonable job introducing a new lead actor following the departure of the most iconic actor ever to play the role. The show’s nineteenth season holds together reasonably well, with Earthshock generally highly regarded and only Time-Flight considered to be a complete failure.

And yet, despite that, I can’t hate Time-Flight. That’s not to suggest that the traditional criticisms of the serial are off-base. They are entirely spot-on. The production is shoddy, the plot is nonsense and the dialogue is terrible. It seems like everybody was trying to push one last story out the door before breaking for holidays, and nobody cared too much about the final product. And yet, despite that, I find myself able to forgive quite a lot of the show’s problems.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not good Doctor Who. It’s not even passable Doctor Who. However, I’d argue that it is nowhere near the worst that the Davison era would produce.

Keeping the nose clean...

Keeping the nose clean…

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Doctor Who: Logopolis (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.

Logopolis originally aired in 1981. It was the second instalment in the “Master” trilogy.

It’s the end… but the moment has been prepared for.

– the Doctor finally figures out what this year has been about

I don’t think the departure of a Doctor has even been a bigger deal than it was with Tom Baker. Sure, Christopher Eccleston’s first season was so fixated on death that his departure seemed preordained, even in the episodes written before his decision to leave. Similarly, Peter Davison’s final year seems designed to demonstrate that the universe is no longer suited to this particular iteration of the Doctor. Maybe David Tennant’s final year is focused on his passing, but the episodes are so spaced out that it makes little difference. However, we’ve just spent an entire year focused on the idea of entropy and decay, the inevitably of change and the notion that death is just a nature part of the cycle of things.

When the Doctor assures his companions that “the moment has been prepared for”, he may as well be looking at the camera, assuring those of us at home that the past year has been spent readying them for the unthinkable: the time when Tom Baker might not be the Doctor.

Final destination?

Final destination?

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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: 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: 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: The Ark 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.

The Arc in Space originally aired in 1975.

I’ll have to link in my own cerebral cortex. That’s the only thing.

That is highly dangerous.

I know. Two more leads, Rogin.

The power could burn out a living brain!

I agree. An ordinary brain. But mine is exceptional.

– the Doctor demonstrates his tremendous ego to Vira

It really is amazing how quickly Philip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes established their mark on Doctor Who. Barry Letts finished up his time as producer working on Tom Baker’s first serial, Robot. The Ark in Space was the second adventure to star the Fourth Doctor, and certainly a lot more indicative of the shape of things to come. While you could argue that Holmes and Hinchcliffe did improved over the following years – for one thing, this first season still has the odd pothole – it is clear that they immediately knew what they were doing.

Hinchcliffe and Holmes would cast a tremendous shadow over Doctor Who, and it’s no coincidence that so much of that influence can be traced back to The Ark in Space, the first indication of their plan for Doctor Who.

The Wirrn really bug the Doctor...

The Wirrn really bug the Doctor…

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