The Edge of Destruction

I wish I could understand you, Doctor. One moment you’re accusing us, and the next, you’re playing the perfect butler.

Ian Chesterton

Synopsis

After leaving Skaro, the TARDIS team begin acting strangely and unexplained events occur, which cause the crew to become suspicious of each other.
Review

The Edge of Destruction is a critically important episode for Doctor Who at an early stage of it’s history. In the two previous stories, we were presented with a main protagonist in the Doctor who was distinctly unlikeable, erratic and arrogant, with a dysfunctional TARDIS team around him. This story, a late addition to production, allows the Doctor to see that he actually needs Ian and Barbara around in his travels, along with hinting at the true nature of the Doctor’s ship. This Doctor’s fundamental nature of being untrusting and untrustworthy does not suddenly change, but it is important to remember that this Doctor is inexperienced and vulnerable too, and this is the first story to demonstrate it.

This story also has one of the smallest casts in Doctor Who history, and with the four leads experiencing amnesia following the conclusion of The Daleks, the first part feels very eerie and disconcerting. The decision not to have any noise in the opening console room scenes are very effective and puts the audience on edge here, as it makes this almost homely environment seem so much more alien. The writing also divides the characters into pairs in the first part, almost playing off horror movie tropes to ramp up the tension, where as soon as one character wakes up, the characters are split up again. It feels as though this is more of a stage play than a television episode at points in the first part, and it is clear that Hartnell, Hill, and after a fashion, Russell are more comfortable in this environment than Ford is. Despite this, the story is impressive when viewed as being a rushed job and works remarkably well.

I feel it would be an oversight to talk about this story without mentioning the controversial scissors scene with Susan. I feel that this scene was really well directed by Richard Martin with some great striking imagery and the effectiveness of the shadow cast behind the actors adding to the tone of the scene. I also like the camera coming in and out of focus from Susan’s point of view. However, I can see why it was controversial though, with Susan threatening Ian and Barbara with a rather large pair of scissors, with the BBC keen to avoid imitative behaviour. It certainly does feel like a line has been crossed, not for the last time. In general, the direction in the second part is better than in the first – there are too many static shots which didn’t really work for me. Cox’s direction is better, and I in particular found the shot of the Doctor delivering his monologue about the Big Bang particularly effective. This meets the original remit of the show being educational. The ultimate resolution of the show being a faulty spring has been highlighted elsewhere as being underwhelming but I quite appreciate it. It helps demonstrate the inexperience of the Doctor and the way the TARDIS tries to warn them adds to the mystery about his wonderful machine.

Accuse us! You ought to go down on your knees and thank us! Gratitude’s the last thing you’ll ever have…or any sort of common sense either!

Barbara Wright

Comfortably the best part of the episode is the argument between the Doctor, Barbara and Ian at the start of the second part. There has been tension festering between these three for the last two serials, and here it comes to a head with the Doctor unable to accept that he may have been affected by the weird happenings on the ship and unwilling to accept any other explanation than Ian and Barbara being responsible. When Barbara finally does snap at him, highlighting the times that Ian and Barbara have saved him, it does seem to trigger a change in his character. It feels like a perfectly justified attack on this incarnation of the Doctor, and I really like the scene where he apologises to Barbara. This does serve an important character moment which is crucial for the incarnation as well as the show overall. The Doctor does not understand his TARDIS fully, not knowing that it is alive and not having all the answers and needs the help of a team all on the same page.

As we learn about each other, so we learn about ourselves.

First Doctor

Verdict: Strong central performance from Hartnell helps to lift this four hander, which feels quite significant for the show in general. It can’t help but feel a bit like filler though. 7/10
Cast: William Hartnell (The Doctor), William Russell (Ian Chesterton), Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill), Carol Ann Ford (Susan Foreman)
Writer: David Whitaker
Director: Richard Martin (Part One) and Frank Cox (Part Two)
Parts: 2 (The Edge of Destruction and The Brink of Disaster)
Behind the Scenes

  • This story is the last fully surviving story of the Hartnell era, with the next story Marco Polo still currently missing from the BBC’s archives.
  • This story is the first to hint that the TARDIS did not originally belong to him, as he does not fully understand it’s abilities and is the first in which the Doctor alludes to having met famous historical figures, stating that the coat he lends Ian belonged to Gilbert and Sullivan.
  • Doctor Who was originally commissioned as having a 13 episode run, so a new two-part story was needed as a filler in case the show was not renewed. Whitaker wrote the story in two days, and the original director, Paddy Russell, had other commitments due to a delay in filming. The story also had no budget.
  • This is the first story to feature only the Doctor and his companions, and the only full story to only feature them. It is also the first story to have all of its’ action take place in the TARDIS, with only the final moments seeing the team leave the ship, in a lead-in for the first part of Marco Polo.

Best Moment

Barbara’s rant at the Doctor.
Best Quote

We’re at the very beginning, the new start of a solar system. Outside, the atoms are rushing towards each other. Fusing, coagulating, until minute little collections of matter are created. And so the process goes on, and on until dust is formed. Dust then becomes solid entity. A new birth of a sun and its planets.

First Doctor

Storm Warning

Storm Warning

Breathe in deep, Lieutenant Commander. You too, Charley.  You feel that pounding in your heart?  The tightness in the pit of your stomach?  The blood rushing to your head?  You know what that is?  Adventure!  The thrill and the fear and the joy of stepping into the unknown.  That’s why we’re all here and that’s why we’re alive!

Eighth Doctor

Synopsis

In October 1930, His Majesty’s airship, the R101, sets off on her maiden voyage around the British Empire.  Among the passengers are a spy, an Edwardian governess, a mysterious passenger who doesn’t appear on any of the ship’s manifests…and a Time Lord from Gallifrey.

Review

The first story to feature the Eighth Doctor since the TV Movie, Storm Warning kicks off this Doctor’s era in confident and bombastic style.  Alan Barnes confidently tackles the task of reintroducing a relatively fresh out of the packaging Doctor and a new companion in the shape of India Fisher’s Charlotte “Charley” Pollard, an Edwardian lady desperate for adventure, along with an interesting story.  Gareth Thomas’ performance as Lord Tamworth, the Minister for Air with ambitions of becoming Viceroy of India, is a particular highlight.

The main strength of this story comes from the two central characters of the Doctor and Charley.  Paul McGann delivers a performance that makes it hard to believe that five years have passed since he last played the role as he manages to recapture the enthusiasm and charm that we saw in his debut.  He also perfectly captures the Doctor’s compassion for all living things, especially in his outraged reaction when Weeks suggests killing the Vortisaur.  His Eighth Doctor seems perfectly suited to hunting Vortisaurs, maybe due to the parallels between this incarnation and Jules Verne.  Barnes makes quite a bold decision by starting off the story with essentially a four-minute monologue in which the Doctor talks to himself regarding the Vortisaurs attack on a time vessel, which in the hands of a less engaging performer could fall flat, but McGann delivers it fantastically.  After attempting to uphold the integrity of the Web of Time for the whole story, the Doctor berating himself for tampering with it by allowing Charley’s survival is also great.  India Fisher’s Charley comes across as the perfect companion, demonstrating very early on her resourcefulness in stowing away on the R-101 having previously got the real Murchford drunk in a pub in Hampshire.  She also has the required spirit of adventure to be a great companion and she has great chemistry with the Doctor, striking up an immediate rapport, despite her initial misgivings about him given the stories he tells when they initially meet.  The moment of realisation hat the Doctor is telling the truth is one of the story’s best examples of sparkling dialogue.  Charley also is able to keep a cool head in a crisis, evidenced by her spotting the parachutes as a potential way to save the passengers of the R101.

Doctor, does this mean there are other worlds past the the Sun?

A million planets circling a million suns, Charley.  Where starlight makes colours which human eyes have never seen.

You’ve been there, haven’t you? You’ve really been there.  Like you really have met Geronimo and Lenin.  Just think, yesterday the furthest place I could imagine was the terrace of the Singapore Hilton.

Charley Pollard and the Eighth Doctor.

The two aliens of the piece are also quite good.  I especially like the idea of the Vortisaurs and the way that their attacks leaving five-dimensional wounds – thus aging Rathbone’s arm by thirty years – is a really cool idea.  As they are essentially pterodactyls, they seem to fit into this era quite well.  The major alien race introduced here are the Triskele, a previously much-feared race who then decided to change their nature by dividing themselves into three parts; the Engineers, representing logical thought, the Uncreators, the impulsive and brutish part of the race, and the Law Giver, who mediates between the two sides.  This concept intrigued me and put me in mind of the systems of checks and balances prevalent in Western democracy as well as having explicit comparisons in the story itself.  When the R101 ascends to meet the Triskele ship, the Doctor, Lieutenant Frayling and Tamworth are seen to be the three closest equivalents to these parts of the race.  While quite an intriguing idea, the story does get a bit too bogged down with exposition in Part 3, which is a problem that does regularly befall Doctor Who stories.  It does affect the urgency of the pace but does explain some of the intricacies of the story and didn’t completely take me out of the enjoyment of the story, so Barnes manages to make this part work, but it did feel longer than the other three parts.  I do like the R101 being repurposed for meeting the Triskele though and the plan to claim a spaceship for Great Britain is an interesting idea if pretty foolhardy.

The Doctor.  Of most things, and some more things besides, before you ask.

Of most things and some besides?  Steward, what do you mean by bringing some long haired stowaway into the VIP lounge?

I’m wearing a tie!

Eighth Doctor and Lord Tamworth

I feel I must talk about Gareth Thomas’ performance as Lord Tamworth, as it is a real standout.  He delivers his lines with such gusto and aplomb and really embodies the character of Tamworth, who does not suffer fools gladly.  He also has a large ego which the Doctor plays to his advantage, finding it easy to convince Lord Tamworth that he and Charley are in fact German spies (incidentally, I love the fact that the name he chooses for this alibi is Johann Schmitt).  The scenes with McGann, Thomas and Pegg playing off each other are fantastic and it seems that all three actors are having a great time.  I will make a passing mention of Barnaby Edwards’ Rathbone.  Whilst his South African accent is unconvincing to say the least, the fact that this does not distract from him being a menacing and effective human baddy does him a great deal of credit.

Verdict: A good and welcome return for the Eighth Doctor, with the only problem coming with the exposition dump in Part 3.  The Eighth Doctor and Charley have some great chemistry and the performance of Gareth Thomas as Tamworth is great to listen to.  9/10

Cast: Paul McGann (Eighth Doctor), India Fisher (Charley Pollard), Gareth Thomas (Lord Tamworth), Nicholas Pegg (Lt-Col Frayling), Barnaby Edwards (Rathbone), Hylton Collins (Chief Steward Weeks), Helen Goldwyn (Triskelion), Mark Gatiss (Announcer)

Writer: Alan Barnes

Director: Gary Russell

Parts: 4

Behind the Scenes

  • The R101 was a real airship that crashed in France in 1930, however, there were six survivors as opposed to everyone onboard dying as happens here.  All the characters featured in this story are fictional, despite the story’s basis in real-world events.
  • This story features a new version of the theme tune composed by David Arnold, replacing the Delia Derbyshire theme.
  • This is the first Big Finish story to take place after the events of the TV Movie, and the first to star Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor.  Additionally, it was the first Big Finish story to feature the sonic screwdriver.

Best Quote

You know nothing about time.  Do you know about the Web of Time? Do you know how history cant be changed?  You take an alien energy weapon back to England now, in 1930, and then what?  Of course, you strip it down, you study it’s design, master ion beam emission in a few short years.  By 1940, you have Spitfires mounted with laser cannons, fight the Battle of Britain that way.  The British Empire is supposed to be falling apart, her colonies gaining independence.  With weapons such as these, no-one will dare oppose her.  And you haven’t, have you?  You’ve learnt nothing today.

Eighth Doctor

 

Resolution

Warning: This post contains spoilers for Resolution.  If you wish to stay spoiler-free, come back after watching!

The Doctor Resolution

This is the DNA of the most dangerous creature in the universe.

Does it have a name?

A Dalek.

Thirteenth Doctor and Graham O’Brien

Synopsis

As the New Year begins, a terrible evil stirs from across the centuries on planet Earth.

Review

Well, after that teaser after The Battle of Ravkoor Av Kolos, it couldn’t really be anything other than the Daleks, could it?  The obvious comparison is to Dalek, but with added family angst with the return of Ryan’s father, which I really felt slowed the pace of the first half down considerably and the episode struggled to really recover.  I sincerely hope that, given the closing moments of this episode, this whole Ryan and Graham arc is to take more of a back seat when the show returns in 2020.

Dalek Resolution

I will start with our first returning monster of the Whittaker era of Doctor Who – the Dalek.   In a series with a lack of menacing or particularly menacing foes, the Daleks are a more than welcome foe here.  This episode manages to find something new to do with a 55-year-old foe, with the mutant usually controlling the machine shown to be equally resourceful and menacing without armour.  The Dalek mutant being able to control Lin and later Ryan’s father makes them feel like a proper threat again, which they haven’t necessarily always been.  The scenes where it is controlling Lin is where this new is at it’s most effective and makes it much more effective than the Dalek puppets we saw in episodes like Asylum of the Daleks.  This added with Nicholas Briggs’ returning as the voice of the Dalek really helps with the menace of the episode, and the scene in the bathroom with Lin when the creature begins to speak is really fantastic.  Briggs deserves a lot of credit for his new voice for the mutant outside the casing, which was particularly creepy.  In Dalek, we saw the sheer power of one Dalek and this is largely echoed here with the Dalek able to create a makeshift outer shell for itself.  I loved this rusty design for the creature, although I do have a slight issue with the fact that, despite being completely cobbled together out of odds and ends, there is no real feeling of the Dalek not being fully operational until the plot depends on it.  However, this is a successful return for the Daleks and I hope that we get more returning villains when the series returns.

I always think I’m rid of them.  Never am.  Trust me, Graham, even if it’s just one, it’s enough.

Thirteenth Doctor

It is often said that the actor playing the Doctor doesn’t feel like the Doctor until they’ve faced off against the Daleks, and in modern terms, this is quite late for Whittaker’s Doctor (they appeared 12 episodes into Tennant’s run, but he only met them in episode 13).  Fortunately, Jodie Whittaker certainly ups her game to face off against Skaro’s finest killing machines and she certainly feels as though she has the personal history of facing off against the Daleks.  Her first face to face encounter with the makeshift Dalek in this incarnation is really great and we finally get a speech about the Earth being defended, and the final confrontation is also really great.  As this is the last we will see of this Doctor until next year, it is perhaps for the best that the Daleks have waited for now, as this is definitely her best performance thus far.  The nature of the threat seen in this episode means that she has to stop being as scatty and gives this Doctor some gravitas in her fear of the Daleks.

Oh, mate.  I’m the Doctor.  Ring any bells?

Thirteenth Doctor

Chris Chibnall’s episodes have largely been seen as the weakest part of this series so far, and whilst I largely liked the episode, it does suffer majorly with pacing.  This episode does feature more action which is good and the majority of the Dalek element of the episode works really well, and the Doctor gets some great lines.  On the flip side, there are moments that almost creak with predictability, for instance, when the doorbell rings, there is absolutely no doubt in the majority of the audience’s mind that it will be Ryan’s father or that his microwave will be crucial in the resolution of the story.  This predictability is best exemplified when the Dalek mutant is possessing Aaron and Ryan is able to pull him back, whilst there would potentially be more dramatic heft and story possibilities if instead, Ryan was unable to save his dad.  This would actually add an interesting dynamic between the Doctor and Ryan, with the latter holding the Doctor responsible for his father’s demise, and would give the episode some emotional heft.  This would also help absolve the café scene between Ryan and his dad, which really makes the episode feel like has slowed to a crawl.  The scene goes on for almost five minutes but certainly felt like much longer and could have been dealt with better, as you can almost feel the episode creaking as it attempts to move back up through the gears again.   Additionally, the throwaway jokes here don’t really work and again impact the pace.  The joke about modern families is bad enough, but the one that really irritated me was the call centre scene where it is revealed that UNIT has been suspended due to budget cuts.  This joke seems ridiculously heavy-handed and defies logic – UNIT is an international organisation and it’s stretching credibility to suggest that Brexit would have any impact on it.  UNIT have never been a match for the Daleks anyway, so I don’t understand why we couldn’t have had at least a nod towards them here instead of this completely unnecessary joke.  Maybe it’s the Jon Pertwee era fan in me, but this really rattled my cage.

TARDIS team Resolution

This episode does not help resolve the issues of an overcrowded TARDIS either.  In addition to our four series regulars, we have three more guest cast in the shape of Aaron, Lin and Mitch which only add to this issue.  As a result, it is no surprise that Yaz is sidelined yet again, but it is perhaps surprising that Graham gets thrown to the sidelines too.   This does push Ryan front and centre of the story with a lot of time dealing with his relationship with his father, which allows Tosin Cole a chance to show us what he can do.  Ryan has seemed like a bit of a blank canvas for some of this series, but whilst I criticised the café scene above, it has at the very least added something to this character.  The guest cast perform their roles as well as the script allows, but I do wonder how much longer we can go on with this enlarged TARDIS team, as here it seems that Yaz is just the Doctor’s personal assistant and I would love her to have a more major role in the new series.  I feel like I’ve said that quite a lot recently, but sadly she just feels quite a bit like superfluous at the moment.

Ok, stop.  I don’t care how it’s been for you.  This ain’t about us commiserating with each other.  This is about you making things right.

Ryan Sinclair

Verdict: A story in which the Daleks felt as though they packed a real threat again, but it did suffer from some poor writing in places which damaged the pacing.  Jodie Whittaker’s performance facing off against her first Classic monster does help save it a little though.  7/10

Cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Bradley Walsh (Graham O’Brien), Tosin Cole (Ryan Sinclair), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), Charlotte Ritchie (Lin), Nikesh Patel (Mitch), Daniel Adeyboyega (Aaron), Darryl Clark (Police Officer Will), Connor Calland (Security Guard Richard), James Lewis (Farmer Dinkle), Sophie Duval (Mum), Callum McDonald (Teen 1), Harry Vallance (Teen 2), Laura Evelyn (Call Centre Polly), Michael Ballard (Sergeant) and Nicholas Briggs (Voice of the Daleks)

Writer: Chris Chibnall

Director: Wayne Yip

Behind the Scenes

  • This is only the second time that Chris Chibnall has written a story featuring a classic monster – the other time being The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood, which saw the return of the Silurians.
  • Wayne Yip is the first director in this run who has directed an episode of Doctor Who prior to this series.  Yip directed The Lie of the Land and several episodes of Class.
  • The Daleks were last seen in Twice Upon A Time and last appeared as the primary antagonist in The Magician’s Apprentice and The Witch’s Familiar.

Best Moment

The scene with Lin in the bathroom where we see that the mutant is on her back.  It is really well acted.

Best Quote

No matter how many times you try, no matter how long you wait, I will always be in your way, backed up by the best of humanity.  Now, final, final, final warning – cos I’m nice, I really do try my best.  Stop the signal, get off this planet.

Thirteenth Doctor

Dalek Doctor Resolutin

Paradise Towers

Seventh Doctor and Chief Caretaker

Synopsis

The Doctor and Mel decide to visit Paradise Towers, a complex promising a peaceful life for its residents.  However, there is a conflict brewing amongst the Kangs, a race of humanesque multicolour beings who gather in groups according to colour.  There are also killer cleaning robots stalking the corridors and a secret in the basement which poses the greatest threat of all.

Review

At moments, Paradise Towers feels as though it is starting to make moves in the right direction, only to stumble and fall into some of the same issues as Time and the Rani.  It certainly feels as though the Seventh Doctor is moving towards the schemer he becomes later on in his run, and less of the clown in this story which is largely played as a black comedy.  This story boasts a star-studded cast, featuring the likes of Richard Briers and Elizabeth Spriggs, which other directors would gladly kill for, and sadly, at times it does feel as though their talents are largely wasted here.  The intriguing ideas feel as though they are damaged by the translation to the screen.

paradise towers caretaker

The elephant in the room here is the performance of Richard Briers as the Chief Caretaker and Kroanan, which is criticised by certain sections of the fandom.  Personally, as someone who has a childhood love of Richard Briers’ work as Tom Good in The Good Life (through re-runs on BBC 2) and his narration of Percy the Park Keeper’s stories, I found it to be an interesting performance.  The character is a clear allegory for Hitler, unwaveringly sticking to the Rule Book with zeal and relish and Briers plays it comedically but it doesn’t feel like a sitcom character forced into a Doctor Who story for no reason.  At the end of Part 3, the Chief Caretaker is killed by the Great Architect and his body possessed and Briers’ performance completely changes.  The decisions the actor made were not popular with the producer, John Nathan-Turner, whilst script editor Andrew Cartmel was less critical.  It is certainly a unique performance; Briers changes everything about the character, from his walk and posture to his voice.  It is certainly an interesting performance to symbolise possession by Kroagnon, a being that had never had control of a similar body, and whilst I can see how it could polarise viewers and seem overplayed, I really enjoyed it.  This might be due to my fondness for Briers but I feel it definitely is one of the more positive parts of this story.

One of the episode’s strengths is in its direction by Nicholas Mallett, who directs this as a black comedy, which serves to the story’s strength as I feel that if it had been directed straight, it would be a lot more disturbing.  Elements of the story such as the cannibal “Rezzies” Tabby and Tilda capturing Mel in a net and threatening her with a knife would seem a lot more sinister if not for this directing.  In spite of this, the scene still garnered complaints and does feel akin to the worst violence of the Colin Baker era.  The story also features a pseudo-fascist society and killer robots  Something else which helps to build atmosphere is the set dressing of the corridors of Paradise Towers.  The fact that they are littered and graffitied helps to aid the dystopian image of this potential future society, which was added at the insistence of the writer, Stephen Wyatt.  Although the music might not be to the liking of everyone, it does also help with the tone that Mallett is going for, although I’m not keen on the constant reliance on small phrases from the Doctor Who theme.

paradise towers doctor and mel

The performance of Sylvester McCoy definitely registers as a positive in this story for me.  Here, his Doctor is less of the clown and more of a thinker, showing more glimpses of the schemer he would later become.  I particularly enjoyed the scene where the Doctor uses the rule book to escape his imprisonment by two of the Caretakers.  At times, it does feel as though he is just there to spout exposition, however, McCoy does it capably enough to be entertaining, and we do see that he is willing to sacrifice himself for others, in this case, the Kangs, which makes him seem more comparable to his predecessors.  Due to these reasons, it is arguably more of a debut for the Seventh Doctor than Time and the Rani, despite feeling like it could have been an adventure for any of predecessors as McCoy starts to make the role his own here.

One of the major issues with the stories is the casting of Pex.  Pex was initially envisaged as a homage to a trend of 80s cinema, the action hero, and Wyatt did initially believe that the character should be much more muscular than the result seen on screen.  This is likely because it would not work as the character spends a lot of time with Mel, who is short and thin and would look extremely weird on screen.  However, in casting Howard Cooke, who does try his best with the role which is essentially a walking cliché, the eventual reveal that he is actually a coward is not effective as intended.  This is not a slight against Cooke, whose performance I enjoyed but it does undermine the story.  Additionally, Bonnie Langford’s performance as Mel really serves to undermine this story.  Her constant bubbly demeanour and screeching whenever she is scared is really grating.  I did find her less irritating than in Time and the Rani to begin with, but her constant insistence on finding the pool also gets really wearing, and the less said about the swimming pool scene the better.  On the other hand, I quite liked the Kangs and I feel that the idea of them having youth slang quite an interesting and realistic idea, mangling adult words and can be seen as almost a precursor to Ace.

robots paradise towers

Another issue with the story is the cleaning robots.  Although a fantastic idea, they do look pretty ropey and unreliable as the ruthless killing machines that they are supposed to be.  The most effective I found them was when they pulled the two Rezzies through the (admittedly too small) hole in the wall, however, it appears that the technical difficulties suffered when K-9 was on the show are still blighting it nearly ten years after his introduction.  It must be said that the story does look as though it was created on a shoestring budget and with more resources, this element would work much better.

Verdict: The first signs of steps in the right direction are shown in Paradise Towers, but it is let down by a lack of a meaningful budget and, yet again, the characterisation of Mel.  Personally I enjoyed elements here, including Richard Brier’s unusual performance, but it’s nothing particularly special.  6/10

Cast: Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Bonnie Langford (Melanie Bush), Richard Briers (Chief Caretaker/Great Architect), Clive Merrison (Deputy Chief Caretaker), Elizabeth Spriggs (Tabby), Brenda Bruce (Tilda), Judy Cornwell (Maddy), Howard Cooke (Pex), Julie Brennon (Fire Escape), Annabel Yuresha (Bin Liner), Catherine Cusack (Blue Kang Leader), Astra Sheridan (Yellow Kang), Joseph Young (Young Caretaker), Simon Coady (Video Commentary)

Writer: Stephen Wyatt (1st story)

Director: Nicholas Mallett (2nd story)

Parts: 4

Behind the Scenes

  • The story is based on the J.G. Ballard novel, High-Rise.
  • Nisha Nayar, an uncredited extra here, went on to portray the Female Controller in Bad Wolf and The Parting of the Ways.  Clive Merrison had previously appeared in The Tomb of the Cybermen.
  • While the production team were looking for new writers, John Nathan-Turner met Stephen Wyatt and asked him to submit a script for Doctor Who.  Wyatt went on to write The Greatest Show in the Galaxy.
  • Initially, the music score was to be provided by a member of the Radiophonic Workshop, however, the production team decided that an in-house score was no longer required.  A freelance composer, David Snell, was commissioned but this was terminated very late in production and Keff McCulloch provided the final score.
  • This was the first story that Andrew Cartmel was involved in as script editor.  Prior work commitments had meant that he was unable to work as much as he would have liked on Sylvester McCoy’s debut story, Time and the Rani.
  • Richard Briers would go on to appear in Torchwood in the episode A Day in the Death as Henry Parker.

pex

Best Moment

The moment that the Doctor takes his hat off to greet the pump, and when Mel rebukes him, his line “Well, you never can tell.”  I like the fact that this is repeated at the end as well.

Best Quote

I’d hate to live my life by some boring old rule book like you.

Seventh Doctor

The Chimes of Midnight

In the absence of a Christmas special this year, here is a review of The Chimes of Midnight

The_Chimes_of_Midnight_cover

Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without my plum pudding.

Mrs Baddersley

Synopsis

T’was the night before Christmas, and all through the house not a creature was stirring…

But something must be stirring. Something hidden in the shadows. Something which kills the servants of an old Edwardian mansion in the most brutal and maccabre manner possible. Exactly on the chiming of the hour, every hour, as the grandfather clock ticks on towards midnight.

Trapped and afraid, the Doctor and Charley are forced to play detective to murders with no motive, where even the victims don’t stay dead. Time is running out…

And time itself might just be the killer…
Review

This is Paul McGann’s sixth audio adventure for Big Finish and it is possibly one of the best Christmas stories we have had so far. This adventure is written by Robert Shearman, who would later go on to write Dalek for the first series of the revived series, and has a small but superb cast, with Louise Rolfe’s performance as Edith being a particular stand out.

Shearman’s story initially sets out as a pretty standard mystery regarding the mysterious death of the scullery maid in the servant’s quarters of Edward Grove, an Edwardian Manor House, but fantastically placed rug pulls keep the listener on edge as to what the truth behind the story is. Despite listening to this story several times, the moment the story changes still gets me every time. It does tie into the larger arc regarding the impact on the Web of Time by the presence of the Doctor’s companion, Charley, who was supposed to die on the R101 but was saved by the Doctor. Their arrival in 1906 causing a paradox which the villain of the piece uses to create a time loop around Edith, her parent’s cook, who subsequently killed herself on Christmas Eve. However, one of the true strengths of this story is that it can be enjoyed with little or no knowledge of this ongoing story. Another element of this story I really like is the fact that the Doctor and Charley are kept separate from the remainder of the cast for the majority of the first part, as it allows us to understand the relationships between the other characters in the cast. We see that the other servants all look down on Edith as being “just a scullery maid” and that there are tensions between Mrs Baddersley, Frederick and Mary, due to the latter’s affair. The story does start as a traditional murder mystery, but develops into something much more macabre.

Surely you must agree that this one must be suicide, Doctor?

You know, I’m going to stick my neck out and suggest it’s another murder.

Shaughnessy and the Eighth Doctor

The villain of the piece is not revealed until the end of part 3, but his presence is felt throughout the story adding to the sinister vibe of the story. The macabre deaths, such as Mrs Baddeley being stuffed with her own plum pudding and Frederick, the chauffeur being run over with the car are superb bits of black comedy. The house revels in more sinister and ironic fates for its victims, making it all the more ridiculous when the servants suggest that they are suicides. The reveal of the villain being a sentient and parasitic house feasting off the time paradox sounds ridiculous but it is wonderfully Doctor Who. The villain plays games with the Doctor, changing them from being Chief Inspector of Scotland Yard and his niece to amateur sleuths after a throwaway comment and the joke in the cracker referring to Charley breaking the jam jar. The servants also repeat phrases, like “I am nobody, I am no-one” which put me in mind of Hot Fuzz (“the greater good”) and they also tease the Doctor by asking him if he has solved the case yet. The strength that Edward Grove manages to draw is so much that it is able to absorb the TARDIS, keeping the Doctor and Charley trapped.

Do you think you know who did it yet, Doctor?

I’m beginning to think it may not even matter…

Frederick and the Eighth Doctor

The guest cast are also really good, especially Louise Rolfe as Edith and Lennox Greaves as Shaughnessy, who also portrays Edward Grove in the final part, but everyone in this small cast puts in a great performance. Rolfe really stands out in her scenes talking to Charley, with both actresses performing superbly in the most important scenes in the episode – that explain Edith’s fondness for Charley and how poorly she was treated by other members of the Pollard household. Another standout performance in the story is Paul McGann as the Doctor, and it is remarkable that this is his sixth story since the TV Movie. He gives a very commanding performance in the central role and has great chemistry with India Fisher as Charley Pollard. The smaller cast size for this story establishes a fantastic sense of intimacy which helps the listener feel as though they really are in the servant’s quarters.

Verdict: The Chimes of Midnight is a fantastic story that stands on its own, and is probably the best Christmas story that Doctor Who will ever have. 10/10
Cast: Paul McGann (The Doctor), India Fisher (Charley Pollard), Louise Rolfe (Edith), Lennox Greaves (Mr. Shaughnessy), Sue Wallace (Mrs. Baddeley), Robert Curbishley (Frederick), Juliet Warner (Mary)
Writer: Robert Shearman
Director: Barnaby Edwards
Parts: 4
Behind the Scenes

  • Robert Shearman wrote Dalek for the Ninth Doctor, an adaptation of another Big Finish audio story, Jubilee.

Best Quote

I don’t like being given a role to play, Charley. I prefer to choose my own.

Eighth Doctor

The Chimes of Midnight is available to buy from Big Finish (bigfinish.com) for £2.99 to download.

Attack of the Cybermen

attack of the cybermen

Your regeneration has made you vindictive, Doctor.

Not at all.  I’ve never found it difficult to despite people like you.

Lytton and the Sixth Doctor

Synopsis

The Doctor attempts to fix the TARDIS chameleon circuit at 76 Totter’s Lane in 1985, where the Cybermen are planning to change history by having Halley’s Comet crash into Earth.

Review

With so many references to past episodes of Doctor Who, Attack of the Cybermen rarely has time to form a coherent story of its own.  The story also seems to be symbolic of the major problems of Doctor Who of this era – script editor Eric Saward’s bloodthirsty storytelling, as this is a story in which no-one other than the Doctor and his companion survive.  This being said, it is still quite an entertaining episode, bogged down perhaps by too many ideas, especially when it comes to the second part of the story and it does feel like, whoever wrote it, struggled dealing with the new format of 45-minute episodes.

6 gun cybers

My main issue with this story would be the violence and the nastier tone.  Littered throughout the episode are moments of such sadistic cruelty and they feel quite troubling.  The most horrific incidence of this comes towards the end of the story, where the Cybermen crush Lytton’s hands, which just feels gratuitous and wrong.  The Doctor is not exempt from this as he urges Peri to shoot Russell and brawls with one of Lytton’s policemen in the sewers.  The fact that the fight takes place off screen and finishes with the Doctor saying that the policeman is “having a little lie down” feels all the more problematic.  This is symbolic of the new direction the production team were trying to take Colin Baker’s Doctor away from the affable Peter Davison incarnation, but they overstep on too many occasions.  I feel so sorry for Colin Baker because he is giving it his all but he is let down by decisions by the production team to make this Doctor darker than his predecessors.  All this whilst wearing a multicoloured dream coat.  Fortunately, Baker has had his chance to shine through working with Big Finish in more recent times, which has been seen to redeem his Doctor in the eyes of many fans.  However, Colin Baker does deliver a good performance.  Eric Saward is well known for saying that he does not rate him as the Doctor, which is something that bothers me as Baker is clearly doing the best he can do with some pretty ropy material at times.  The dynamic between the Sixth Doctor and Peri is really well played by Baker and Nicola Bryant, and I really like their relationship.  They both seem to get on the other’s nerves, but there is a shared fondness for each other.

The story also suffers from evoking nostalgia a bit too much at expense of doing anything new.  When it comes down to it, the Cybermen’s scheme is actually a pretty good one.  They plan to alter the course of Halley’s Comet to crash into Earth in 1985, which would in turn prevent the events of The Tenth Planet and the destruction of their home planet, Mondas.  This is quite a good “timey wimey” idea but it is sadly not allowed enough time to develop properly.  It only really gets introduced halfway through the second part, and due to other subplots like fixing the Chameleon Circuit, which doesn’t really serve any true purpose to the plot except ensuring that the Doctor and Peri don’t have an easy escape.  It does feel as though the writer struggled with the reduced running time, as they had thirty minutes less to play with.  That being said, the heist set-up is quite well done but also ultimately feels broken up by scenes with the Doctor and Peri, which really kill the pace.  Elements like the scrapyard that they land in being 76 Totter’s Lane or the quarry being the same one that was used for Tomb of the Cybermen end up just feeling like fan-baiting cameos that add nothing to the story.

totters lane

The Cybermen return after we last saw them in Earthshock, where they killed Adric.  The highlight of any Cybermen episode in the 1980s is the performance of David Banks as the Cyber-Leader, and he doesn’t disappoint here.  However, as the story is designed to tie into Tomb of the Cybermen, it also sees the return of Michael Kilgarriff as the Cyber Controller, which feels unnecessary as the actor has sadly put on weight since the 1960s and it looks a bit bizarre to have a portly Cyberman.  There’s also a Cyber Lieutenant, which also makes this story feel overcrowded with Cyber leadership, especially when Banks is so capable of leading the Cybermen effectively.  The Cryons also look fantastic and as they are a race of all female aliens are worthy of note, but the voices are really irritating!  The plot with Bates and Strutton on Telos attempting to escape also feels as though it was a distraction from the main plot, and I never really felt any empathy for these characters or their plight.

peri cybermen

The story does benefit from some great direction by Matthew Robinson, who previously directed Resurrection of the Daleks, and the scenes in the sewers in the first part particularly stand out as establishing a good creepy tone.  The best moments demonstrating this are when the Cyber-Leader emerges in the sewer scenes, and the cliffhanger at the end of part one is also quite good. There is a good jump scare moment towards the end of the second part when Lytton’s ankle is grabbed by a Cyberman, which really made me jump.   Additionally, the story does benefit from a strong performance from Maurice Colbourne as Lytton, playing him as a suave and canny operator.  It does bother me that the story seems to make more of their prior relationship – the Doctor seems to know a lot about Lytton despite the fact that they don’t spend much time if any actually directly interacting in Resurrection of the Daleks.  It’s strange that this episode closes with the Doctor regretting the death of Lytton specifically considering the death count in this story.

Despite the story’s issues and the fact that it seems more keen about the idea of recycling plot ideas from stories like An Unearthly ChildTomb of the Cybermen and Resurrection of the Daleks, I have to say I did enjoy Attack of the Cybermen.  It’s by no means a classic story, and not one that I will be racing to revisit any time soon, but I think it is better than its reputation suggests.

Verdict: A well-directed episode with an interesting idea for the Cybermen, but the reliance on strong stories from the show’s past really damages this one.  The overly violent story is also problematic.  6/10

Cast: Colin Baker (The Doctor), Nicola Bryant (Peri), Maurice Colbourne (Lytton), Brian Glover (Griffiths), Terry Molloy (Russell), James Beckett (Payne), David Banks (Cyber Leader), Michael Kilgarriff (Cyber Controller), Faith Brown (Flast), Sarah Greene (Varne), Michael Attwell (Bates), Jonathan David (Strutton), Brian Orvell (Cyber Lieutenant), John Ainley (Cyberman), Stephen Churchett (Bill), Stephen Wale (David), Sarah Berger (Rost), Esther Freud (Threst)

Writer: Paula Moore (A pseudonym – disputed authorship)

Director: Matthew Robinson (2nd story)

Parts: 2

Behind the Scenes

  • This is the first episode to be produced as 45-minute episodes, a practice which finished with Revelation of the Daleks.
  • The story sees the return of Lytton, played by Maurice Colbourne, who had appeared in Resurrection of the Daleks, as well as marking the only time Terry Molloy appeared not under the prosthetics required to play Davros.  Michael Kilgariff also returns as the Cyber Controller, a role he originally played in Tomb of the Cybermen.
  • Authorship of this story is highly disputed by Eric Saward, the script editor, and Ian Levine, a “fan advisor” to the show at this time.  Eric Saward would have been forbidden from commissioning himself to write a story under contemporary BBC rules, so he commissioned Paula Woolsey to write elements of the script and submit them to him.  Another theory states that it was a collaboration between Levine and Saward, submitted under a pseudonym, while yet another states that Woolsey wrote the story using plot ideas from Levine and Saward aided in the development and rewrote elements.  Ian Levine himself claims full authorship of the story.
  • This story introduces the sonic lance, a successor to the sonic screwdriver, however, it never reappears on television after this series.
  • Following on from the poor response to the new Doctor after The Twin Dilemma, the production team decided to bring back an old foe to test the Doctor.  Gerry Davis was initially commissioned to write a script but this was deemed unsuitable.
  • Director Matthew Robinson went on to create Byker Grove and cast Ant McPartlin and Declan Donnelly, launching their careers.

Best Moment

The reveal of the Cyber-Leader in the sewers beneath London.

Best Quote

Who are you?

I’ve already told you.  I am known as the DOctor.  I’m also a Time Lord from the planet of Gallifrey in the constellation of Kasterborous.

You’re bonkers!

That’s debatable.

Russell and the Sixth Doctor

 

Four To Doomsday

monarch persuasion

And if a frog with funny hair can turn itself into a semblance of a human being in a matter of minutes, there isn’t much of a limit to what it can’t do.  To say nothing of the dress making.

Fifth Doctor

Synopsis

The Fifth Doctor and his companions find themselves on a spaceship heading for Earth, populated by humans from different eras and three Urbankans: Monarch, Persuasion and Enlightenment.  However, the aliens have sketchy motives for heading to Earth – will the Doctor be able to stop them in time?

Review

I’m still no clearer on what the title actually means.  My best idea is that it refers to the fact that the Urbankan ship being four light-days away from Earth, but there’s no saying that this is the real reason behind this title.  Peter Davison’s second story is a rather unusual one for Doctor Who, but one that is sufficiently engaging and has an intriguing premise.  To draw a parallel with the most recent series of Doctor Who, Four to Doomsday feels more like a 1960s story than anything else but also shows the flexibility of Doctor Who.

The main strength of this story is Stratford Johns as Monarch, as he takes a part that could have been hammed up by other actors and is actually quite a compelling villain.  He perfectly captures the charm that is able to hoodwink Adric, who for the second time in two stories is seen to betray the Doctor, however, here he is gullible, whilst in Castrovalva, he is being manipulated by the Master.  Johns’ performance means that we almost buy Monarch as the benevolent being that he believes himself to be, which does make his hoodwinking of Adric slightly more believable.   The scene where the Doctor tricks Adric into believing that he is going along with Monarch’s plan is potentially one of the best in the episode during the entertainment is one of the best in the episode, even if it does feel a bit out of character for the Fifth Doctor.  Peter Davison does give a good performance despite this.

Now listen to me you, young idiot.  You’re not so much gullible as idealistic.  I suppose it comes from your deprived delinquent background.

Fifth Doctor

That being said, there are some elements where this story does raise some issues.  There are some issues with the story which make it seem as though the writer Terence Dudley hasn’t seen Doctor Who before.  Whilst the story does feel quite tonally different to other stories in this era, this isn’t a problem in a format so versatile as Doctor Who.  There are moments like when the Native Australian isn’t translated by the TARDIS whilst the other tribe chiefs are and the most troubling element in the story is the science behind the spacewalk.  Whilst visually stunning and impressive considering the limited resources that the series had at this time,  the conservation of momentum doesn’t seem to exist in space although the physics of throwing the cricket ball to get him back to the TARDIS is okay.  It is evident that Christopher H Bidmead, the former script editor who was keen on ensuring that his science fiction was based on science fact, is no longer involved in the production.

tardis team four to doomsday

There are also issues with the characterisation of the four leads, with characters like Tegan and Adric just coming across as unpleasant and just plain irritating.  The Doctor’s characterisation can be the most excused as this is only his second story and some of his snark and short-temper can perhaps be put down to this.  Of the companions, however, Adric comes off by far the worst, although none of them come out unscathed.  Matthew Waterhouse is well recorded as stating that the writing for Adric varied greatly during his time on the show, making him unable to get a grip on the character.  Adric here is an unprecedented misogynist and extremely gullible despite his ‘boy genius’, meanwhile Tegan even more emotional than usual, even blubbing when she can’t get the TARDIS to escape the ship’s force field.  Nyssa comes across as quite smug, but she does come off as a much more suitable companion than the other two.  According to producer John Nathan Turner, this characterisation of the group was the closest to that originally envisaged, however, this TARDIS team could have come across much more unlikeable if this had been followed for the entire series.

Despite this, the direction deserves to be commended, as the corridor scenes help make the spaceship feel interconnected and aspects like the space walk look visually stunning, and the ending of the episode, where the Doctor shrinks Monarch also looks great.  The story has some interesting elements and the initial mystery of the ship keeps the viewer intrigued.

Verdict: Four to Doomsday is a mixed bag that contains some interesting ideas, but the characterisation of the TARDIS team feels off.  It is well directed and Stratford Johns gives a great performance. 5/10

space walk

Cast: Peter Davison (The Doctor), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa), Matthew Waterhouse (Adric), Janet Fielding (Tegan), Stratford Johns (Monarch), Paul Shelley (Persuasion), Annie Lambert (Enlightenment), Philip Locke (Bigon), Burt Kwouk (Lin Futu), Illarrio Bisi-Pedro (Kurkutiji), Nadia Hammam (Villagra)

Writer: Terence Dudley (1st story)

Director: John Black (2nd story)

Parts: 4

Behind the Scenes

  • This was the first Fifth Doctor story to be filmed, due to production issues with Castrovalva (then known as Project Zeta-Sigma).  Peter Davison attributes filming this episode with giving him a more confident performance in his actual debut episode.
  • This episode was supposed to be the last to feature Nyssa, and the Doctor would have continued with Adric and Tegan.  However, Davison protested this as he believed that Nyssa was the companion “most suited to his vision of the Doctor.”  The production team did relent and Sarah Sutton was retained.  This is why Nyssa collapses at the end of the episode, as the following story had been written before this decision had been made.
  • The title could be seen to refer to the fact that the ship is four light-days away from Earth, the fact that there are four members of the TARDIS team or there are four ethnic tribes.  It could also possibly be due to the fact that in 1981, the Doomsday Clock was at four minutes to midnight.

Best Moment:

When the Doctor shrinks Monarch at the conclusion of the episode.

Best Quote

(After confiscating the sonic screwdriver) You can keep the pencil.

Persuasion