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Doctor Who: The Five Doctors (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 Five Doctors originally aired in 1983.

There was one chap we tried to get hold of. What was his name? Used to be your scientific advisor.

Oh, the Doctor.

Yes that’s right.

Wonderful chap. All of them.

– Crichton and the Brigadier get into the spirit of things

The Five Doctors is a big anniversary celebration for the franchise, reuniting all five… er, four… er, three of the actors to play the lead role and one guy in a dodgy wig. Written by Terrance Dicks, The Five Doctors is 100 minutes of pure celebration, without too much in the way of depth or drama or development. It’s a beautifully packaged “greatest hits” collection for the franchise, to the point where the generally nostalgic atmosphere of the rest of the twentieth season (pairing up the Doctor with foes from his twenty-year history) can’t help but feel a little a little shallow in comparison.

Producer John Nathan Turner and script editor Eric Saward tended to fixate a bit too heavily on the show’s history and its continuity, with stories often becoming oppressively burdened with in-jokes and references to events that took place decades ago. In contrast, Dicks is able to craft a healthy slice of nostalgia that remains accessible and enjoyable, giving everybody their moment in the sun.

Well, everybody but the Cybermen.

Terrance Dicks does not care for the Cybermen...

Terrance Dicks does not care for the Cybermen…

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Doctor Who: The Poison Sky (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 Poison Sky originally aired in 2008.

They’ve taken it. I’m stuck on Earth like, like an ordinary person. Like a human. How rubbish is that? Sorry, no offense, but come on.

– take that, Jon Pertwee!

Like The Sontaran Stratagem before it, The Poison Sky is pretty effective at accomplishing what it sets out to do. The first two-parter was always a troubled part of the Davies era, and so it feels strangely appropriate that the production team should manage to nail it on the fourth and final go-round. The Poison Sky isn’t the best episode of the show’s superlative fourth season, but neither it nor The Sontaran Stratagem are the worst, either. Instead, it’s a solidly entertaining feature-length adventure featuring the return of various old favourites from the classic show (U.N.I.T.! Sontarans!) and the revived series (Martha! the Valiant!).

It is goofy, silly, and fluffy, but it’s entertaining fluff.

His finger on the button...

His finger on the button…

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Doctor Who: The Sontaran Stratagem (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 Sontaran Stratagem originally aired in 2008.

Sontar-Ha!

– Sontaran hakka

The expectations for the opening two-parter of any Russell T. Davies season are markedly different from the expectations surrounding the second two-parter or even the season finalé – just as the expectations for the opening few episodes are different from the expectations for a mid-season stand-alone. It should go without saying, but it’s worth stressing at this point. The opening two-parter of a Davies season isn’t meant for the adults in the audience – it’s traditionally aimed towards the kids, with big epic iconic monsters, ridiculous set-pieces, broadly-defined settings and little room for nuance.

That’s not to excuses messes like World War III or Evolution of the Daleks, but simply to place them in context. The Sontaran Stratagem and The Poison Sky aren’t quite as profound or weighty as The Fires of Pompeii or Planet of the Ood. Instead, they offer bombastic spectacle, goofy visuals and a heightened sense of absolutely everything. In other words, The Sontaran Stratagem and The Poison Sky combine to form the strongest opening two-parter of the Davies era.

They hardly represent a crowning artistic accomplishment for the show, but they do a great job of accomplishing what they set out to do.

There's a potato eyes joke here, but I just can't make it work...

There’s a potato eyes joke here, but I just can’t make it work…

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Doctor Who: Planet of the Ood (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 Ood originally aired in 2008.

How many Ood in total?

I’d say about two thousand, sir.

We can write them off. That’s what insurance is for.

– Halpen and Kess remind us that these are not nice people

Planet of the Ood is a bit blunt. And by “a bit”, I mean “a lot.” It’s an allegorical exploration of unchecked capitalism and slavery, using the science-fiction setting to tell a story with a familiar moral.Then again, Planet of the Ood largely works because that moral remains rather timely and relevant, but also because it’s a fantastically produced piece of television. It’s fast and pacey, it looks stylish, it has a fantastic cast and an efficient script. Sure, there are rough edges, but Planet of the Ood continues a fairly strong start for the fourth season.

Soaring...

Soaring…

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Doctor Who: The Hand of Fear (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 Hand of Fear originally aired in 1976.

Come on, where are we?

We’re in a quarry.

Yes, I know we’re in a quarry, but where?

Well, how do I know? I don’t know all the quarries that–

– the Doctor and Sarah Jane get a bit meta

The Hand of Fear is odd, because it’s the end of an era – but it’s not the end of the era for the rather obvious reason that it bids farewell to one of the franchise’s best-loved companion character. The Hand of Fear is best known as the final story to feature Sarah Jane Smith. Indeed, the DVD comes with a helpful sticker informing any potential purchasers of the story’s significance.

However, watching The Hand of Fear with the benefit of hindsight, it isn’t Sarah Jane’s departure that is the most striking part of the show.

Keep it handy...

Keep it handy…

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Doctor Who – School Reunion (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.

School Reunion originally aired in 2006.

You can tell you’re getting older. Your assistants are getting younger.

– Sarah Jane to the Doctor

Coming at the start of the revived show’s second season, School Reunion changed the way that the show related to its long and complex history, explicitly confirming what had been implied at least as early as Dalek and Aliens of London, that this was indeed the same Doctor who had had all of those adventures for all those years on British television. Bringing back the iconic pepper pots was one thing, as was name-dropping the paramilitary outfit from early in the original show’s run.

However, bringing back the most fondly remembered companion of the classic television show and affirming that she had travelled with this man for several years provides a firm anchor to the past. Looking back now, it’s hard to appreciate how dramatic a shift this was, and just what it represented. However, it’s hard to imagine that Doctor Who could get to the point where the Doctor could recruit a Silurian detective and her Sontaran butler in Victorian England without School Reunion.

It changed the game.

(Anthony Stewart) Head master...

(Anthony Stewart) Head master…

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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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