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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: The Android Invasion (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 Android Invasion originally aired in 1975.

Is that finger loaded?

– the Doctor

We’re in the middle of one hell of a season here, aren’t we? Indeed, The Android Invasion is sandwiched between two stories that could legitimately vie for the title of “best Doctor Who story ever.” Perhaps that’s why it feels like such a let-down. The Android Invasion isn’t the worst Doctor Who story ever. Indeed, it isn’t the worst Tom Baker Doctor Who story ever, nor is it the worst Philip Hinchcliffe Doctor Who story ever. It is just sort of… there. It’s a very dull and mundane piece of television, one that feels all the more dull and mundane for the fact that it’s positioned in one of the strongest seasons that the show ever produced.

He needs a Doctor...

He needs a Doctor…

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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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Doctor Who: Robot (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.

Robot originally aired in 1974 and 1975.

There you are. Now come along, Doctor, you’re supposed to be in the sick bay.

Am I? Don’t you mean the infirmary?

No, I do not mean the infirmary. I mean the sick bay. You’re not fit yet.

Not fit? I’m the Doctor.

No, Doctor, I’m the doctor and I say that you’re not fit.

You may be a doctor, but I’m the Doctor. The definite article, you might say.

– Harry meets the Doctor

Robot feels a bit like trying to fit a round peg into a square hole, or a Tom-Baker-shaped peg into a Jon-Pertwee-shaped hole. At the time that Baker assumed the role as everybody’s favourite time-travelling phone-booth dweller, Pertwee had just finished the longest stint as the character, portraying the Doctor for five years. Of course, Baker himself would go on to break that record, playing the part for seven years, but it gives you a sense of just how big of a transition it was. As such, it’s easy to understand why outgoing producer Barry Letts felt the need to essentially cast Tom Baker in what feels distinctly like a Jon Pertwee story. As a concept, the central character aside, Robot feels like it would have fit in quite well as part of Pertwee’s last season, which is – I think – part of the problem here.

Tom Baker is a lot of things, but he’s not Jon Pertwee. As a result, Robot feels a little clunkier than it really should, as if the show is actively working against the character who should be driving it.

The Doctor will see you now...

The Doctor will see you now…

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