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Doctor Who: Planet of the Spiders (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.

Planet of the Spiders originally aired in 1974.

Oh dear, this is getting monotonous.

– the Doctor sums it up

Jon Pertwee’s final season is a real shame. The actor was, at the time, the actor who had served the longest period of time in the lead role. Starring as the Doctor for five years, and appearing as the face of the show during an era of renewal and reinvention, the actor deserved a much strong swansong. The year had started relatively strong with The Time Warrior, which I would rank among the best stories of the Pertwee era. However, every story after that just felt like it was treading water, revisiting old triumphs while biding time until the finalé. We had a Dalek episode in Death to the Daleks. We had a Malcolm Hulke lizard story with Invasion of the Dinosaurs. We had an off-world social commentary story in The Monster of Peladon. All felt like the cast and crew were just worn out, just going through the motions.

Sadly, Planet of the Spiders continues this trend, rather than bucking it.

Kiss of the spider-queen...

Kiss of the spider-queen…

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Doctor Who: The Dæmons (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 Dæmons originally aired in 1971.

I’ve bought you a nice cuppa, Sergeant. I hope you like china.

For goodness sake, Miss Hawthorne.

What’s the matter? Don’t you like tea?

Something’s gone badly wrong. We’ve no idea what’s happening to Miss Grant and the Captain, the Doctor should be back here by now, I can’t get through to the Brigadier and you’re nattering on about tea.

You must learn the art of waiting, Sergeant. The Doctor will come, or else he won’t, and that’s all that can be said. Now, milk or lemon?

– Miss Hawthorne helps Sergent Benton get his priorities straight

Barry Letts was a very talented man. I feel like I don’t stress that often often. I’ll freely concede that the UNIT era isn’t my favourite part of Doctor Who history, but there are times when you really have to admire the skill and competence of Letts as the show’s producer. In fact, he served as both a director and a writer on the series. He had a very clear vision for the show, and he implemented it remarkably well, to the point where his work on the show still stands out as something quite distinguished from the work of other producers.

The Dæmons is a very clear illustration of just how carefully and how thoughtfully Letts had overhauled the show for the seventies. While it’s not the most Letts-ian episode ever produced (he would produce, write and direct Pertwee’s final episode, Planet of the Spiders), but it is a great illustration of Letts’ approach to the programme and perhaps a testament to his lasting legacy.

Rock on, you crazy Master...

Rock on, you crazy Master…

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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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