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Doctor Who: City of Death (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.

City of Death originally aired in 1979.

It’s quite good.

Quite good? That’s one of the great treasures of the universe and you say “quite good”?

The world, Doctor, the world.

What are you talking about?

Not the universe in public, Doctor. It only calls attention.

I don’t care. It’s one of the great treasures of the universe!

Shsh!

I don’t care. Let them gawp, let them gape. What do I care?

– Romana and the Doctor discuss the Mona Lisa

City of Death might divide fans of Doctor Who, with some regarding it as too silly or childish, but I think it’s easily the best Tom Baker serial the show produced, and probably the most entertaining serial for those unfamiliar with the classic show. It helps that the script combines some of the era’s best writers, with “David Agnew” serving to cover contributions from David Fisher, Douglas Adams and Graham Williams. I’ll concede that the farce tended to get a bit much towards the end of Adams’ tenure as script editor, but City of Deathpitches itself perfectly with some wonderful science-fiction concepts peppered over some fine location work, with a side of superb British wit.

From Paris with Love...

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Doctor Who: Partners in Crime (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.

Partners in Crime originally aired in 2008.

Would you rather be on your own?

No. Actually, no. But the last time, with Martha, like I said, it, it got complicated. And that was all my fault. I just want a mate.

You just want to mate?

I just want a mate!

You’re not mating with me, sunshine!

A mate. I want a mate.

Well, just as well, because I’m not having any of that nonsense. I mean, you’re just a long streak of nothing. You know, alien nothing.

There we are, then. Okay.

– Donna and the Doctor sort out the ground rules

From the outset, Partners in Crime makes it clear that the fourth season of Doctor Who is probably going to be lighter going than the show’s third year. To be fair, it was heavily foreshadowed by a Christmas special that drew heavily from the work of Douglas Adams, whose influence is keenly felt across this entire season – right down to repeated references to the bees disappearing.

Casting Catherine Tate, best know for her work on The Catherine Tate show, as the season’s female companion was a bit of an indicator, but Partners in Crime makes it quite clear – playing more as an affectionate spoof of a classic Doctor Who run-around rather than something equal parts witty and terrifying.

Then again, given that the end of the third season featured the death of one tenth of the world’s population, the assassination of the President of the United States, the destruction of a companion’s life and the Doctor’s crushing realisation that he’s so lonely he’d retire to serving as the Master’s warden, one might argue that “lighter” was the only way to go.

Things are looking up...

Things are looking up…

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Doctor Who: Timelash (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 (and not-so-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.

Timelash originally aired in 1985.

I don’t trust you. You’re being too reasonable.

– Peri’s on to him

Timelash is on the short list of serials broadly agreed to be “the worst Doctor Who stories ever.” Given how prone science-fiction fans are to bickering about absolutely everything, and how impossible it is to find consensus, that’s really saying something. More than that, it ranks with quite a few Colin Baker stories among that list. I can’t help but wonder if part of the problem with Baker’s tenure isn’t a lack of classic episodes (Revelation of the Daleks and Vengeance on Varos surely count), but the batting average skewed by so many truly terrible stories.

Any season containing Timelash would be ridiculed, but it’s hard to imagine that any year of television containing Attack of the Cybermen, Timelash and The Mark of the Rani couldn’t help but raise questions about the show’s future at the BBC.

The face of evil...

The face of evil…

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Doctor Who: The Face of Evil (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 Face of Evil originally aired in 1977.

The Evil One!

Well, nobody’s perfect, but that’s overstating it a little.

– Leela and the Doctor make a great first impression

The Face of Evil is probably the most underrated story of the entire Hinchcliffe era, and it’s not hard to see why. For one thing, it is positioned in the middle of a run of classic stories. Any story sitting between The Deadly Assassin and both Robots of Death and The Talons of Weng-Chiang is probably going to be written off for being anything less than a perfect piece of Doctor Who.

More than that, though, The Face of Evil feels like it arrive a bit too early. Doctor Who is a show that can be many things at many different times, and The Face of Evil eschews the gothic horror evident throughout the Hinchcliffe era for the more intellectual and abstract science-fiction of Tom Baker’s final year. The Face of Evil feels more like a companion to Warriors’ Gate or Full Circle than to Planet of Evil or Brain of Morbius.

Still, it’s a triumph for the show, and one highly recommended. A wealth of good ideas, a great execution and the introduction of one of the show’s more iconic companions.

Face to face with evil...

Face to face with evil…

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Doctor Who: The King’s Demons (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 King’s Demons originally aired in 1983.

Do our demons come to visit us? Bid them attend us.

Demons? Very odd indeed.

Makes a nice change for you not to take everything in your stride, I must say.

– King John, the Doctor and Tegan set the mood

The show’s twentieth anniversary deserved better than this. Okay, there are a number of qualifications that can made, excuses that can be offered. The King’s Demons was never intended to close out the season, and was instead intended as a two-part episode to bridge into the triumphant return of the Daleks, a return that ended up postponed a year and reworked into Resurrection of the Daleks. There’s also the fact that The King’s Demons wasn’t the last piece of Doctor Who to air as part of the show’s twentieth anniversary year, even if it was the season finalé. The Five Doctors would be broadcast later in the year to celebrate the anniversary.

However, none of these excuses take away from the fact that The King’s Demons is an exceptionally weak piece of television, and a demonstration of everything wrong about how John Nathan Turner and the Doctor Who production staff approached the show’s twentieth season.

Hardly a Master piece...

Hardly a Master piece…

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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: 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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