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Doctor Who: Terminus (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.

Terminus originally aired in 1983. It was the second instalment in the Black Guardian Trilogy.

Tegan?

What?

If ever you had to kill someone, could you do it? Could you?

No. I don’t know. If it was important, to save my friend, to defend myself.

But cold-bloodedly?

You’re weird, Turlough.

– Turlough does seem to “get” Tegan, does he?

Terminus gets a bit of a bad wrap, and I can understand why. It’s a very “eighties” production, in all the wrong ways. There’s too much soap opera, there’s bad acting, there’s a wealth of high concept ideas that are never properly exploited, the monster looks absolutely terrible, and the budget shows in the worst possible manner. Still, despite all these (very significant) flaws, I still kinda like it, admiring the story more for the ambition than for the execution.

The serial has some pretty big garn-damn problems...

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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: 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: Black Orchid (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.

Black Orchid originally aired in 1982.

Why would I attack you? Have you done me any harm?

No!

No, then I’ve no reason to harm you. And besides…

Besides what?

Well, it wouldn’t be cricket.

– the Doctor, Ann Talbot and Muir

Black Orchid is pretty damn frustrating. There’s a lot of interest here, but sadly it’s mostly from a technical point of view. This is the first two-part adventure since The Sontaran Experiment. It’s also the first historical story told with no science-fiction elements excluding the TARDIS crew since The Highlanders. It’s also the penultimate adventure starring this version of the TARDIS crew, and the last Fifth Doctor serial before his world is turned upside down in Earthshock. So there’s a lot that should be interesting here.

Unfortunately, the writing is at best generic and at worst actively crap. Black Orchid feels exactly like the sort of thing that the BBC was doing without countless television shows other than Doctor Who, so Black Orchid needs to be able to do it to a reasonable standard. Instead, it feels like a murder mystery written by somebody writing with an Agatha Christie adaptation on in the background. It’s frustrating, because there’s a lot of potential here, but the end result is just disappointing.

Clowning around...

Clowning around…

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Doctor Who: The Visitation (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 Visitation originally aired in 1982.

It’s survival, Doctor. Just as these primitives kill lesser species to protect themselves, so I kill them.

That’s hardly an argument.

It’s not supposed to be an argument. It’s a statement!

– the Terileptil is in no mood for debate with the Doctor

As far as writing débuts go, The Visitation is not a bad first script. Writer Eric Saward had experience writing for radio, but The Visitation was his first live action script to be produced. It’s a pretty solid piece of Doctor Who, even if it’s not anything exceptional. Then again, Robert Holmes’ first script was the perfectly average The Krotons. So there’s room for improvement, and The Visitation is not a bad place to start from.

Of course, Holmes feels like the appropriate comparison here. Not only was Saward a massive fan of Robert Holmes, with the treatment of the ailing Holmes during The Trial of a Time Lord serving as one of the reasons for his departure from the show, but it also seems that The Visitation was very clear attempt to emulate Holmes’ approach to Doctor Who. In fact, it feels like an attempt to update Holmes’ Third Doctor story, The Time Warrior.

Death stalks the countryside...

Death stalks the countryside…

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Doctor Who: Four to Doomsday (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.

Four to Doomsday originally aired in 1982.

Come along, children. Not in front of our hosts.

– the Doctor finally manages to strike the right tone with his companions

Four to Doomsday is an interesting story, if only because it’s so rarely discussed. The second story of a particular Doctor seems to set the tone for their era. William Hartnell’s second story, The Daleks, introduced the iconic pepperpots. Patrick Troughton’s second serial, The Highlanders, introduced the companion Jamie, who would remain with him for the rest of his tenure. Jon Pertwee’s second story, The Silurians, saw Barry Letts taking over the role of producer. Tom Baker’s second story, The Ark in Space, is one of the most memorable and definitive instances of horror in the history of the show. Colin Baker had the misfortune to have Attack of the Cybermen as his second story, an adventure that set the tone for his time in the TARDIS. Sylvester McCoy didn’t really develop until his second season, but he’s probably the exception that proves the rule.

Peter Davison’s Four to Doomsday, on the other hand, just sort of… is.

Ground control to Major... dammit, why couldn't I get this image a year earlier in the show's run?

Ground control to Major… dammit, why couldn’t I get this image a year earlier in the show’s run?

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Doctor Who: Castrovalva (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.

Castrovalva originally aired in 1982.

Welcome aboard. I’m the Doctor. Or will be if this regeneration works out.

– the Doctor greets Adric

Tom Baker did seven years of Doctor Who. That is impressive. No matter which way you look it, and no matter how cynical you might be, it’s hard to argue that Baker’s departure wasn’t a fundamental and radical change to the series. In fact, his influence is so great that Castrovalva even opens with a rare pre-credits sequence, just to make sure that the viewers know that Baker is gone. (Despite the fact that John Nathan Turner apparently asked that the scene be shot so that the new season could open without having to show Tom Baker.)

Baker was going to be a tough act to follow. In fact, to many people, Tom Baker is still the Doctor. I don’t mean that in a sort of “stubborn fans refusing to acknowledge change” sort of way. I mean that in a “when The Simpsons make a Doctor Who reference they use Tom Baker” sort of way. He cast one hell of a shadow, and it’s hard to truly fathom how daunting it must have been to try and step out from that show.

That Peter Davison manages to do so is nothing short of amazing. Equally impressive is the fact that Castrovalva manages to be its own story. While it suffers – as with so many Bidmead scripts – from the fact that the technical limitations of the show can’t keep pace with his ideas, there’s still a lot to love here. And not just Peter Davison. Though he helps.

“Oh! The brainy specs!”

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