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Doctor Who: The Reign of Terror (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 Reign of Terror originally aired in 1964.

Hush, child. Say your goodbyes and remember, we shall be leaving almost immediately

– the Doctor, about two minutes into the first part of a six parter

The Reign of Terror represents a fairly disappointing conclusion to a reasonably solid first season of Doctor Who. I won’t argue that the show’s first year can be ranked among the finest in the fifty-year history of the show, but I do think that the stories generally did quite a decent job of introducing the characters and concepts and setting them up so that they could support a lot more. It’s interesting to compare the title character introduced in An Unearthly Child to the version presented in The Sensorites.

While The Sensorites is still a story far too long and far too generic for its own good, it still feels like it solidifies a version of the character who – broadly speaking – resembles the Doctor we know and love. While I’d argue the Doctor was only absolutely solidified as a hero in The Dalek Invasion of Earth, there’s a very clear through-line from An Unearthly Child to The Sensorites which charts the evolution of the character. The Sensorites would make a decent (if unspectacular) place to end the first season.

Unfortunately, the first season continues on for one more episode. The Reign of Terror is just as over-long and just as padded out as The Sensorites, but it suffers because it feels like a massive step backwards in a season that has been very clearly moving forwards.

An animated sort...

An animated sort…

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Doctor Who: Attack of the Cybermen (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.

Attack of the Cybermen originally aired in 1985.

We realise this must be confusing for you.

– Threst tells it how it is

There is a tendency, these days, to be more sympathetic in appraisals of the Colin Baker years. Everybody – including Baker – accepts that his tenure could have gone a lot smoother. Watching Attack of the Cybermen, I can’t help but feel sorry for just about everybody involved. Rewatching Colin Baker’s first season, I can’t help but feel that the problem with this period of the show wasn’t that the production crew were making new mistakes or deviating from good ideas. It seems quite apparent that a lot of the major problems were embedded during Peter Davison’s time in the role.

The problem with Colin Baker’s first year on the show was that the writers and producers allowed those already significant flaws to attain critical mass.

A crushing blow...

A crushing blow…

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Doctor Who: The Sensorites (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 Sensorites originally aired in 1964.

There’s one thing about it, Doctor. We’re certainly different from when we started out with you.

That’s funny. Grandfather and I were talking about that just before you came in. How you’ve both changed.

Well we’ve all changed.

Have I?

Yes.

Yes, it all started out as a mild curiosity in a junkyard, and now it’s turned out to be quite a, quite a great spirit of adventure, don’t you think?

Yes. We’ve had some pretty rough times and even that doesn’t stop us. It’s a wonderful thing, this ship of yours, Doctor. Taken us back to prehistoric times, the Daleks.

Marco Polo, Marinus.

And the Aztecs.

Yes, and that extraordinary quarrel I had with that English king, Henry the Eighth. You know, he threw a parson’s nose at me.

What did you do?

Threw it back, of course.

– Ian, Susan, Barbara and the Doctor discuss character development

The Sensorites feels like a bit of a mess of an episode. It’s a six-part adventure, but one that feels quite a bit longer than it should be. The trip to Skaro in The Daleks ran for seven episodes, but it never felt quite as padded as this. There are some decent ideas and some nice character moments to be found in The Sensorites, if you’re willing to look hard enough, but there’s also quite a lot of padding, quite a lot of nonsense, and some plot developments that feel just a little bit convenient or contrived. This isn’t Doctor Who at anything approaching its best, but there’s still some measure of potential here.

Using your head...

Using your head…

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