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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 Sea Devils (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 Sea Devils originally aired in 1973.

If Horatio Nelson had been in charge of this operation, I hardly think that he would have waited for official instructions.

Yes, a pretty impulsive fellow, if one can believe the history books.

History books? Captain Hart, Horatio Nelson was a personal friend of mine. Come on, Jo.

– Namedropping? The Doctor? Never!

When it comes to Doctor Who, “sequel” stories get a bit of a hard time from fandom. It seems to be easy to dismiss Snakedance in favour of Kinda, and to praise Spearhead from Space at the expense of Terrors of the Autons and even elevate The Daleks above The Dalek Invasion of Earth. It seems that time, and conventional wisdom, tend to favour the original serials. Of course, there are undoubtedly examples where follow-up scripts have disappointed (the ridiculously padded The Monster of Peladon following The Curse of Peladon). Still, for my money, The Sea Devils represents a tighter, complimentary and ambitious sequel to Doctor Who and the Silurians, easily one of the most highly regarded adventures of the seventies. It’s a fairly impressive accomplishment, but The Sea Devils is more than up to it.

Everybody out of the water!

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Non-Review Review: The Omega Man

The Omega Man remains, perhaps, the most high-profile adaptation of Richard Matheson’s genre-busting vampire sci-fi survivalist novel, I Am Legend. Of course, the film has little resemblance to Matheson’s truly iconic piece of literature, save for the basic premise. Charleton Heston is Robert Neville, the last man alive in a world of monsters. While I Am Legend is a bold and thought-provoking exploration of the implications of that idea, The Omega Man seems to have no loftier goal than simply telling an entertaining apocalyptic yarn. There’s nothing wrong with that, but – much like Robert Neville himself – The Omega Man is haunted by the ghost of what could have been.

Goodbye to all of that...

Goodbye to all of that…

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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: Terror of the Autons (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.

Terror of the Autons originally aired in 1971.

That jackanapes! All he ever does is cause trouble!

– nice to see the Doctor taking the Master seriously

I think you can make a fairly credible argument that Jon Pertwee’s first season of Doctor Who stands out as one of the best years the show ever produced. Facing the challenge of migrating from black-and-white to colour, and forced to tell stories entirely set on present-day Earth, the writers and producers managed to craft a season of television that I think stands quite well when measured against the very best of vintage BBC science-fiction. Sure, there may have been walking shop-front dummies, lizard people, animal men and haunted space suits, but the stories were surprisingly mature and relatively clever. The writers used the framework of Doctor Who to tell four very good and very philosophical stories exploring both bold science-fiction high-concepts (alternate universes) and also moral quandaries (how humanity relates to the unknown).

Terror of the Autons is the first story in Jon Pertwee’s second season. I’m actually quite fond of it, and it’s packed to the brim with iconic imagery, so it’s very difficult to be too critical of it. After all, any adventure that left so large an impression on the public imagination must have something to recommend it. However, there’s a very clear sense of regression here. It seems, from this first serial of Pertwee’s second year, that the agenda has changed somewhat.

Terror of the Autons is arguably more indicative of Pertwee’s time in the lead role than any of those stories from his first year. It’s exciting, it’s fast-paced, it has a decidedly man-of-mystery feeling to it, but it also feels somewhat light and a little insubstantial. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it just feels like a definite regression.

Master of the Whoniverse?

Master of the Whoniverse?

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Doctor Who: Scream of the Shalka (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.

Scream of the Shalka originally streamed in 2003.

Doctor Who survived its cancellation across a variety of media. There were unofficial videos starring Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy. There were audio plays. There were mountains of books. The BBC even came up with the clever idea of offering on-line content, with a series of illustrated audio plays, including the Seventh Doctor story Death Comes to Time and the Sixth Doctor adventure Real Time, as well as an adaptation of the aborted Douglas Adams serial Shada. Most of these were little more than powerpoints with sound playing over them. However, for the show’s fortieth anniversary, the BBC came up with an altogether more ambitious idea – a brand new fully animated adventure starring a new Doctor and promising a wave of new adventures, striving boldly forward into the new century.

The Doctor is in…

You can hear the serial, free, here.

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