Mummy on the Orient Express

Start the clock!

The Twelfth Doctor

Synopsis

After the conclusion of Kill the Moon, the Doctor takes Clara onboard a replica of the Orient Express in space for their final trip together, where the passengers are terrorised by a mummy.

Review

Well, this is the second review in as many weeks to feature Mummies!

In the show How I Met Your Mother, it is stated that one of the leads is able to watch Star Wars in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad. Doctor Who fills that criteria for me, and this episode is certainly one that never fails to lift my spirits. The story comes at a crucial time for the Twelfth Doctor heading towards the end of his first series as the titular Time Lord and seems to see him beginning to soften from his harder persona from the start of the series. That being said, he still does let a lot of people die in order to get answers!

Jamie Mathieson deserves a lot of plaudits for his work here. Although not his first script for the show (the following story, Flatline was Mathieson’s own idea and his first script), it feels as though he is a veteran scribe for the show. There is an argument that Mummy on the Orient Express is one of the perfect jumping on points for new viewers to Doctor Who and this is in no small part down to the script. The story requires very little foreknowledge of the show or even the series it fits into – besides the fact that Clara and the Doctor have fallen out. Mathieson’s script moves through moments of melancholy (Clara and the Doctor realising that this is their final adventure together), to moments of sheer terror (pretty much any moment the Foretold appears on screen) and finally to moments of humour – the whole cast, especially Capaldi and guest star Frank Skinner, get opportunities to show off their comedic abilities. The director, Paul Wilmshurst certainly deserves credit for making this story as strong as it is, especially when it comes to the Foretold. I especially like the use of the sixty-six second countdown which intercuts between scenes of the Foretold advancing, usually with characters delivering exposition about it.

I’m not a passenger. I’m your worst nightmare.

A mystery shopper. Oh great.

Really? That’s your worst-? Okay, I’m a mystery shopper. I could do with an extra pillow and I’m very disappointed with your breakfast bar. Oh…and all of the dying.

The Twelfth Doctor and Captain Quell

The main villain of the piece is the computer, Gus, who is manipulating the Foretold to attack the passengers onboard the Orient Express. John Sessions is perfectly cast as the initially innocuous and gentlemanly train’s computer, who gradually reveals himself to be ruthless in his pursuit of his ultimate goal of analysing the Foretold. The murder of the kitchen staff purely because of the fact that the Doctor will not terminate his call with Clara perfectly highlights this, and it is further reinforced by his destruction of the train after the Doctor has figured out the truth behind the Foretold. The Foretold in itself is suitably sinister, similarly to the Mummies in Pyramids of Mars. There is something about the way it shambles along which is particularly creepy. In 2015, my then-fiancée now wife bought us tickets to go and see the Symphonic Spectacular at Wembley Arena where one of the performers was dressed as the Foretold and I was absolutely obsessed with how creepy the foot drag is. I like the idea of it picking off passengers by frailty, be it physical or mental, as it is with Maisie.

This story has a particularly strong cast, led by Capaldi and Jenna Coleman, even though the episode sees them spend most of the episode apart. That being said, I’m not a massive fan of the resolution of the Doctor and Clara’s spat with her lying to both Danny and the Doctor, but I think that’s probably best addressed in a later review when this really comes to a head. I distinctly remember the outcry when the news of Foxes’ casting was released, which seems ridiculous now as it is purely for a brief cameo and I quite like her cover of Don’t Stop Me Now. Frank Skinner really steals the episode as Perkins though, becoming the de facto companion for the episode and it still makes me sad that we didn’t get more of him in the rest of Capaldi’s run. Having listened to his radio show for a long time, I know how sad he will have been to have seen that moment in the script, as Skinner is a huge fan of the show.

It’s quite a vehicle you’ve got here, Doctor. I won’t pretend to understand half of it. Having said that, I did notice that you have a couple of drive stacks need replacing.

Oh you did, did you?

Yeah. You should get someone in. And a job like that takes forever.

Really? Well, I suppose whoever I did get in, might be easier to have them stay on board for a while. I don’t suppose you’d know of anyone?

No, Doctor, I don’t think I do. That job could, er, change a man.

Yes, it does. Frequently.

Perkins and the Twelfth Doctor

Verdict: If the above review isn’t clear, I love this story. A highlight of Capaldi’s era, if not Doctor Who as a whole. 10/10

Cast: Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), Jenna Coleman (Clara Oswald), Samuel Anderson (Danny Pink), Frank Skinner (Perkins), David Bamber (Captain Quell), John Sessions (Gus), Daisy Beaumont (Maisie), Janet Henfrey (Mrs Pitt), Christopher Villiers (Professor Moorhouse), Foxes (Singer) & Jamie Hill (Foretold)

Writer: Jamie Mathieson

Director: Paul Wilmshurst

Behind the Scenes

  • The Foretold was deemed to be too scary for Doctor Who and meant that the story was broadcast at 20:35, the latest transmission time for a televised Doctor Who story. Producer Brian Minchin attempted on multiple occasions to have footage included on the Series 8 trailer, but was unsuccessful.
  • Like The Robots of Death, Terror of the Vervoids and The Unicorn and the Wasp, this story utilises elements from the works of Agatha Christie.
  • One of the few examples of a non-digetic visual appearing on Doctor Who – the timer can only be seen by the audience and not the characters in the story.
  • The character of Perkins was based on a friend of Mathieson’s who is a train buff and helped him with details of the Orient Express.
  • Steven Moffat approached Mathieson to write this story whilst he was working on Flatline, giving him the title to work with.

Cast Notes

  • Christopher Villiers previously appeared in The King’s Demons.
  • Frank Skinner is a self-professed die-hard Doctor Who fan and had previously appeared in The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot as well as making a brief cameo appearance in Dark Eyes: Eyes of the Master for Big Finish and would later go on to appear in the Fourth Doctor audio The Sinestran Kill.

Best Moment

The scene of the Doctor talking to himself in his cabin, where Capaldi channels his inner Tom Baker.

Because you know what this sounds like? No, do tell me. “A mummy only the victim can see?” I was being rhetorical! I know exactly what this sounds like.

The Twelfth Doctor

Best Quote

Oh, I remember when all of this was planets as far as the eyes could see. All gone now. Gobbled up by that beast. And there’s that smile again. I don’t even know how you do that.

I really thought I hated you, you know?

Well, thank God you kept that to yourself. There was this planet, Obsidian. The planet of perpetual darkness.

I did. I did hate you. I hated you for weeks.

Good, fine. Well, I’m glad we cleared that up. There was also a planet that was made completely of shrubs.

I went to a concert once. Can’t remember who it was. But do you know what the singer said?

Frankly, that would be an astonishing guess if I did know.

She said “hatred is too strong an emotion to waste on someone you don’t like”.

Were people really confused? Cos I’m confused. Did everybody leave?

Shush. Shut up. Look, what I’m trying to say is, I don’t hate you. I could never hate you. But I can’t do this any more. Not the way you do it.

Can I talk about the planets now?

The Twelfth Doctor and Clara Oswald

Previous Twelfth Doctor review: Kill the Moon

Other links:

How I Met Your Mother, Season 4, Episode 1: Do I Know You?

Pyramids of Mars

Your evil is my good. I am Sutekh the Destroyer. Where I tread, I leave nothing but dust and darkness. I find that good.

Sutekh

Synopsis

Continuing his attempts to return Sarah back to UNIT Headquarters, the Doctor and his companion find themselves in a Gothic mansion where mummies are killing people. Underneath a Pyramid, the last of the Osirians is imprisoned and plotting his escape to destroy all other life in the universe.

Review

Pyramids of Mars is an undisputed classic story, worthy of mention in the same breath as other great stories from Tom Baker’s seven year run as the Doctor and the show’s entire history. Similarly to another great story, Ark in Space, this was a page one rewrite by script editor Robert Holmes after the initial script by Lewis Greifer was deemed to be unworkable and almost rewrites the Doctor into being a guardian of time, unconsciously sowing the seeds of what the character would certainly become after the 2005 revival. It also features one of the great one-off villains in the form of Sutekh, voiced by Gabriel Woolf – who has reprised the role for audio but the character has never returned in a televised episode.

Deactivating a generator loop without without the correct key is like repairing a watch with a hammer and chisel. One false move and you’ll never know the time again.

The Fourth Doctor

Something that is really striking here is the fact that the Fourth Doctor seems remarkably grumpy in this story. I am not sure whether was due to Holmes’ writing or Paddy Russell’s direction and also ties into the Doctor’s reluctance to take on this role of protecting the established time line. From the behind the scenes documentary and Elisabeth Sladen’s autobiography, I know that both Tom Baker and Sladen found Russell difficult to work with, especially due to her insistence on exploring every possible variation on a scene despite the actors’ feeling that they had got the required material to the point that they . In her autobiography, Sladen recalls Bernard Archard comparing the experience to being kept behind after school. In Russell’s defence, the direction in no small part contributes to this story being so memorable and it is probably hard to imagine how difficult it was to be a female director in a male-dominated BBC at the time, possibly why she was so insistent on Elisabeth Sladen firing the gun, not stuntman Terry Walsh later on in the story, especially when you factor in the fact that Sladen is the only female performer in the production. Despite the actors’ finding the experience draining, the results can’t be argued with and the mummies and Sutekh look particularly terrifying, but it is one possible explanation as to why the Doctor might be in such a bad mood even in his few moments of levity. I found the mummies particularly effective and unnerving in the early scenes when they are released from the sarcophagus.

Baker’s portrayal of the Doctor might be down to the script, which is a really strong one but one that sees the Doctor having what might be best described as a Time Lord mid-life crisis – not wanting to carry on his affiliation with the Brig and UNIT, but reluctant to turn back toward the traditional Time Lord policy of non-interference. A scene that really struck me was when Sarah suggests leaving 1911 England as they all know that the World didn’t end then. The Doctor then takes her and Lawrence Scarman to the year that Sarah comes from (1980) to show them the future should they not interfere, a blasted wilderness of thunder, rain and lightning besieging a destroyed Earth. The reason that this scene had such an impact on me was probably because I watched this shortly before watching The Shakespeare Code, where Martha states a similar thing, but the Tenth Doctor simply tells us that the world could end now as time is in flux. I feel that this scene is much more effective way of communicating this to the audience – in the school of ‘show don’t tell’ – but equally, as the modern show is trying to tell a story in less time, I can see how it’s better to be explained in a sentence. The story does fall off slightly in Part 4, as I didn’t really find the puzzles within the pyramid containing the Eye of Horus particularly compelling, but the story does hang together really well as a whole. The Gothic feel and Hammer Horror influences are obvious here, stalwarts of the Hinchcliffe/Holmes era with the plot circulating around Egyptian history and mummies.

It’s difficult to find a weak link in the guest cast in what is a remarkably solid production. Gabriel Woolf is superb as Sutekh, which is a part that in other hands could feel really rather overblown, but Woolf underplays the majority of his dialogue at almost a whisper which makes him all the more menacing. Bernard Archard is particularly good, looking like a cross between Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in a Hammer Horror film as the possessed Marcus Scarman and Michael Sheard is great in the role of the slightly meeker Lawrence. Archard’s performance in the scene where he gets shot by the poacher, Ernie Clements, and the direction there is really rather wonderful. It is simple effect, shot backwards but the execution is really good.

Verdict: An extremely strong episode, deserving of the label of Classic, Pyramids of Mars is only slightly let down by the concluding part. 9/10

Cast: Tom Baker (The Doctor), Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith), Bernard Archard (Marcus Scarman), Michael Sheard (Lawrence Scarman), Peter Copley (Dr. Warlock), Peter Maycock (Namin), Michael Bilton (Collins), Vik Tablian (Ahmed), Nick Burnell, Melvyn Bedford and Kevin Selway (Mummies), George Tovey (Ernie Clements) & Gabriel Woolf (Sutekh).

Writer: “Stephen Harris” (Louis Greifer and Robert Holmes)

Director: Paddy Russell

Parts: 4

Behind the Scenes

  • The story was originally written by Lewis Greifer but it was considered unworkable. Robert Holmes completely rewrote the story, which was credited under the pseudonym of Stephen Harris.
  • Pyramids of Mars contributes to one of the biggest controversies in Doctor Who: the UNIT dating controversy. Sarah consistently states that she is from 1980, which contradicts earlier adventures featuring UNIT and the Brigadier.
  • The new TARDIS console introduced in Planet of Evil does not appear again until The Invisible Enemy. Due to the cost of setting up the console for a handful of scenes, a cheaper new console and set were designed.
  • The first of two stories in the original run in which the only survivors are the Doctor and his companion, the other being The Horror of Fang Rock. The only character who does not die on screen is Ahmed who was killed off in the novelisation written by Terrance Dicks, despite their being no evidence of him being killed off in the televised story.
  • Sarah is the only female character in this story, the first time that this has been the case since The Smugglers and this would next occur in The Ribos Operation.

Cast Notes

  • Michael Sheard previously appeared in The Ark and The Mind of Evil and would go on to appear in The Invisible Enemy, Castrovalva and Remembrance of the Daleks.
  • Bernard Archard had previously appeared in The Power of the Daleks.
  • Michael Bilton appeared opposite William Hartnell in The Massacre of Saint Bartholomew’s Eve.
  • George Tovey was the father of Roberta Tovey who played Susan in the Peter Cushing Dalek movies.
  • Gabriel Woolf would return to voice the Beast in The Impossible Planet and The Satan Pit.

Best Moment

This one is difficult one this week. I’m going to go for two, both of which have been mentioned in my review above:

  1. The scene where the Doctor takes Sarah and Lawrence to the new 1980; and
  2. The scene where Ernie shoots Marcus Scarman, only to see the shot disappear in a puff of smoke.

Best Quote

What’s the matter? You should be glad to be going home.

The Earth isn’t my home, Sarah. I’m a Time Lord.

I know you’re a Time Lord.

You don’t understand the implications. I’m not a human being. I walk in eternity.

What’s that supposed to mean?

It means I’ve lived for something like seven hundred and fifty years.

Oh, you’ll soon be middle aged.

Yes! About time I found something better to do than run around after the Brigadier.

Sarah Jane Smith and the Fourth Doctor

Previous Fourth Doctor Review: Planet of Evil

Reviews mentioned:

The Ark in Space

Books referenced:

Elisabeth Sladen: The Autobiography, published 2011

The Hungry Earth

It knows we’re here. It’s attacking. The ground’s attacking us. Under the circumstances, I’d suggest…Run!

The Eleventh Doctor

Synopsis

The Doctor, Amy and Rory arrive in a small Welsh town where an ambitious drilling project is about to reach a point deeper beneath the Earth’s crust than ever before. However, the Earth is fighting back.

Review

When I was came to revisit this episode, I found myself quite pleasantly surprised. When I think of this coupled with the concluding part, Cold Blood, I found myself being quite negative about both parts, however, when I came to rewatch it for the blog I quite enjoyed it. I’m not going to stand here and argue that this is a classic, but it does a good job of bringing the Silurians into the revived series.

One of the biggest criticisms levelled at this first part is that it feels derivative of The Silurians, which certainly seems valid. The Silurians is one of my favourite Jon Pertwee stories but I do think it is difficult to do something different with them without utilising elements from the classic serial. What this feels more similar to is the first two-part stories of every series under Russell T Davies which would either introduce or reintroduce a classic or recurring foe, and in a way this feels quite out of place in Steven Moffat’s first series as show runner, where changes had started to be made to the usual format. Unlike stories like Evolution of the Daleks, Rise of the Cybermen or The Sontaran Stratagem, this does not include the name of the alien in the title and actually holds off on revealing the Silurians until around the 25 minute mark. In this way, casual viewers or those who did not follow the show obsessively (like myself in 2010) were left surprised when this foe came back. This allows for some nice atmospheric moments where the Doctor and the viewer aren’t aware of the identity of the foe. Additionally, thinking about the episodes listed above and this story’s similarities to The Silurians, they all present the main antagonists main motivations, whether that be wiping out all other life in the universe or reclaiming the planet from the ‘apes’ that are now occupying the surface.

The story is also similar to a base under siege story with a small guest cast and the small town being sealed off by the Silurians. The reintroduction of the Silurians is quite effective, especially in the scenes of them flitting through the darkened graveyard and Neve McIntosh is great as the captive Alaya in the lead in to the cliffhanger. McIntosh’s delivery of the majority of her lines, especially when talking about homo sapiens is fantastic and I absolutely bought her hatred of the human race. The interrogation scene is probably a high point of this episode. It is rare to see Smith’s Doctor deal with his PTSD from being the sole Time Lord survivor of the Time War – off the top of my head, I can think of his response to House in The Doctor’s Wife. Alaya’s the only Silurian we get a clear look at, and I especially love the direction of the shots of the Silurian scientist through the frosted glass.

With regards to the central cast, it is another strong showing for Matt Smith and Arthur Darvill, whilst Karen Gillan is reduced to the role of damsel in distress for most of the episode. In fact, this is a story where the Doctor and companions spend some time apart, with Rory off with Ambrose and Elliot investigating the bodies disappearing from their graves and the Doctor establishing the situation around the disappearance of Mo. We also get a repetition of the concept of the Doctor not realising the impact of his actions on those around him, demonstrated by him allowing Elliot to go and get his headphones despite the Silurians arriving. The majority of the small guest cast are rather non-descript with the exceptions of Meera Syal as Nasreen, whose performance I really enjoyed, especially when she is onboard on the TARDIS and Robert Pugh as Tony, even if his inclination to immediately dissect Alaya seems a bit out of character.

Verdict: A better first half of this story than I remembered, it has some nice moments of suspense. 7/10

Cast: Matt Smith (The Doctor), Karen Gillan (Amy Pond), Arthur Darvill (Rory Williams), Neve McIntosh (Alaya), Meera Syal (Nasreen Chaudhry), Robert Pugh (Tony Mack), Nia Roberts (Ambrose), Alun Raglan (Mo) and Samuel Davies (Elliot)

Writer: Chris Chibnall

Director: Ashley Way

Behind the Scenes

  • The first appearance of the Silurians since Warriors of the Deep and this story introduced a new branch of the species and female members of the Silurian race. It is the first television story to mention the name Homo Reptilia, although this was originally included in the novelisation of Doctor Who and the Silurians.
  • The story is set in 2020, which places it 50 years after the broadcast of The Silurians. Due to the UNIT dating controversy, it is unclear as to when the story is supposed to have taken place in universe.
  • Matt Smith’s 27th birthday took place during the filming of this episode.
  • The first story since the revival to feature a returning monster not to credit the creator of the alien species.

Cast Notes

  • Neve McIntosh would go on to play Madam Vastra, who would go on to appear in A Good Man Goes to War, The Snowmen, The Crimson Horror, The Name of the Doctor and Deep Breath as well as reprising this role for Big Finish and play Silurians in the UNIT series.
  • Robert Pugh had previously appeared in the Torchwood episode Adrift and went on to appear in one episode of the second series of The Diary of River Song for Big Finish.
  • Nia Roberts was in The Wrath of the Iceni for Big Finish, as well as appearing in the Torchwood audio play The Hope.

Best Moment

The interrogation scene between the Doctor and Alaya.

Best Quote

I’m the last of my species.

Really? No! “Last of the species”. The Clempari defense. As an interrogation defense it’s a bit old hat I’m afraid.

I’m the last of my species.

No you’re really not. Because I’m the last of my species and I know how it sits in a heart! So don’t insult me!

Alaya and the Eleventh Doctor

Previous Eleventh Doctor review: Amy’s Choice

Colony in Space

It’s always innocent bystanders who suffer.

The Master

Synopsis

The Time Lords discover that the Master has stolen their file on the Doomsday Weapon, and so enlist the Doctor and Jo to help deal with the crisis. On arriving on the planet Uxarieus, they became involved in a struggle between human colonists and a powerful mining company determined to evict them.

Review

Colony in Space marks the first time since Patrick Troughton’s regeneration story, The War Games, that the Third Doctor has left Earth. From a production standpoint, this was to prevent the monotony of what they saw as the two main Earth-bound stories, the evil scientist and the alien invasion. Whilst the production is undoubtedly filmed in a rain-sodden quarry somewhere in England, it is quite refreshing to see this Doctor and companion pairing given some time away from the Brigadier and UNIT. It has quite a clear political message – even in the future, the corporations are calling the shots – which isn’t exactly subtle!

One of the story’s biggest issues is that it does feel quite slow and repetitive in places, with the dispute between the Interplanetary Mining Corporation (IMC) and the colonists on Uxarieus feeling like some quite mature science fiction and I think that children would certainly struggle with this story. At six parts long, it feels as though it would be much more effective and memorable as a four-parter, as having the colonists attack the IMC twice and win twice does feel quite repetitive here. I really enjoyed the first two parts of this story but thought that it began to drag once Jo was captured by the Uxarieans and struggled to regain my interest until the Master showed up in Part 4. The native aliens are very much bog standard Doctor Who aliens, and their inclusion does feel like a bit of an afterthought, as does the whole Doomsday weapon subplot, which is built up to be important by the Time Lords at the start of the story, but seems to be largely forgotten.

The story does feature some really good direction and the general production standard is good. The titular colony and the Uxariean underground civilisation are excellent examples of set design, and whilst this might not be Michael Briant’s best story to judge his talents as director, he definitely has moments of visual flair and manages to make the robot look threatening at the end of part one despite the ridiculous ‘reptile’ hands. The show also deserves a lot of credit for finding the quarry of the week as it does appear to be completely inhospitable and so it is believable when the Doctor and Ashe discuss the failing crop yields at the beginning of the story. Briant also makes the colony feel claustrophobic and uncomfortable especially in the scenes when they are unaware that they have a traitor in their midst in the shape of Norton.

The main villains of the piece are Captain Dent and Morgan from IMC, alongside the Master when he eventually shows up. Dent and Morgan are good villains, shown to have no scruples about their attempts to convince Ashe and the colonists to leave Uraxeius and their actions and dialogue make it clear that they are unafraid of the leaders of the overcrowded planet Earth and any potential consequences that they may suffer. Hulke here is clearly warning about the dangers of unaccountable corporations acting in similar ways. Caldwell presents a more sympathetic character, expressing some concerns about the legality and morality of what they are doing in order to get their hands on the substantive amounts of Duralinium, but he is prevented from taking his concerns further by Dent’s threats that he will ensure that Caldwell never works again. These three actors all do good jobs, especially Morris Perry as Dent who is really sinister at times. The other antagonist is the Master, who continues his streak of appearing in every story in Season 8. I know some are critical of this, however, I rather enjoyed the fact that his appearance on screen was held back here and found that his presence elevated the latter half of the story which could have really dragged otherwise. Delgado is such an engaging presence on screen that it almost distracts from other deficiencies in the story, especially in his scenes with Pertwee, even if the Doomsday Weapon subplot is a bit rubbish.

Speaking of Jon Pertwee, this is another good performance from him as the Third Doctor and his delight at being able to travel off the Earth is palpable in part one, even if he is annoyed at the fact that this does not mean he can control his TARDIS again. The Doctor and Jo spend very little time together once they have travelled to the planet and as much as I like the character and Katy Manning’s performances generally, she is portrayed as a typical damsel in distress here. Amongst the colonists, there are also no real stand out performances and the characters largely feel bland and interchangeable.

Verdict: A good if not exceptional first adventure off Earth for the Third Doctor would have benefited greatly from being shorter. Michael Briant and the rest of the production team deserve praise for some lovely direction and set design though. 6/10

Cast: Jon Pertwee (The Doctor), Katy Manning (Jo Grant), Nicholas Courtney (Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart), Nicholas Pennell (Winton), John Ringham (Ashe), David Webb (Leeson), Sheila Grant (Jane Leeson), Roy Skelton (Norton), Helen Worth (Mary Ashe), John Line (Martin), Mitzi Webster (Mrs Martin), John Scott Martin (Robot), Pat Gorman (Primitive, Voice, Long and Colonist), Peter Forbes-Robertson (Time Lord), John Baker (Time Lord), Graham Leaman (Time Lord), Bernard Kay (Caldwell), Morris Perry (Dent), Tony Caunter (Morgan), John Herrington (Holden), Stanley McGeagh (Allen), Roger Delgado (The Master), John Tordoff (Alec Leeson), Norman Atkyns (Guardian) & Roy Heymann (Alien Priest),.

Writer: Malcolm Hulke

Director: Michael Briant

Parts: 6

Behind the Scenes

  • The first off-Earth story recorded in colour and Jo Grant is the first companion to travel with the Doctor in the TARDIS since The War Games.
  • The story introduces a new model of the sonic screwdriver and also marks the start of it being used more often.
  • The first directorial credit for Michael Briant, who had been with the show since the Innes Lloyd and Peter Bryant eras. He also provides the voice-over for the propaganda film in the second episode.
  • The working title for this story was The Colony.

Cast Notes

  • Susan Jameson was originally cast as Morgan, however, after the BBC’s Head of Drama Serials made an intervention, the role was given to Tony Caunter as the role was deemed inappropriate for a woman to play in a show targeted at families as it could have been unintentally deemed to be sexual. As Jameson had signed a contract, she was paid in full.
  • Tony Caunter had previously appeared in The Crusade and would go on to appear in Enlightenment.
  • Sheila Grant previously voiced the Quarks in The Dominators.
  • Roy Skelton makes his first on screen appearance here, and would later appear in The Green Death. He had done voice work for the show since The Ark and is probably best known as the voice of the Daleks from Evil of the Daleks until Remembrance of the Daleks. He also voiced the Monoids and Cybermen.
  • John Line appeared in the stage play The Curse of the Daleks and the audio adaptation of the same produced by Big Finish.
  • Mitzi McKenzie went on to appear in The Green Death.
  • Peter Forbes-Robertson previously appeared as a guard in The Power of the Daleks and was the Chief Sea Devil in The Sea Devils.
  • John Baker appeared in The Visitation.
  • Graham Leaman makes his fourth of five appearances in Doctor Who here. His final appearance would be in The Three Doctors.
  • Bernard Kay makes his final appearance in a Doctor Who story, having previously been in The Dalek Invasion of Earth, The Crusade and The Faceless Ones.
  • John Herrington previously appeared in The Daleks’ Master Plan.
  • Stanley McGeagh and Norman Atkyns would go on to appear in The Sea Devils.
  • Roy Heymann would later appear in Death to the Daleks.

Best Moment

It’s not a traditionally great moment, but I do like the top and tail scenes with the Brigadier, especially when the Doctor and Jo decide not to tell the Brigadier that they have been on a trip away from Headquarters.

Best Quote

One must rule or serve. That is the basic law of life. Why do you hesitate? Surely it’s not loyalty to the Time Lords, who exiled you to one insignificant planet.

You’ll never understand. I want to see the universe, not rule it.

The Master and the Third Doctor

Previous Third Doctor review: The Claws of Axos

The Idiot’s Lantern

Men in black? Vanishing police cars? This is Churchill’s England, not Stalin’s Russia!

The Tenth Doctor

Synopsis

The Doctor and Rose arrive by accident in London in 1953 on the eve of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II where something is lurking in the televisions sold by Mr Magpie

Review

Series Two of Doctor Who really frustrates me because it varies so widely in terms of quality. So far on this blog, I have revisited the high points (School Reunion and The Girl in the Fireplace) and the lows (New Earth) and there are more of both to come in this series. Sadly, The Idiot’s Lantern falls at the lower end of the series and continues to contribute to an uneven debut series for David Tennant. Equally frustrating from my point of view is the fact that I know that Mark Gatiss is a better writer than this. For evidence of this, you need look no further than Gatiss’ first script for the revived show, The Unquiet Dead, or Big Finish stories like Invaders from Mars, and there are other stories in the future for this blog which are far better than this.

I will praise the work of the set dressers and others who worked so hard on making sure that this story really evoked the feel of the post-war period. There is fantastic attention to detail to ensure that the story looks right, whether this is costumes or the appearance of the street party at the conclusion of the episode. Gatiss has clearly set out to create a feeling of nostalgia for the post-war period and specifically the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II for a backdrop for his story and the production team deserve a huge amount of credit for bringing this to life. Of course, Gatiss goes on to show us that the perceived idyllism of the post-war period isn’t as rosy as it would first appear, and this has been subtly alluded to by the shape of the television aerials being similar to that of swastikas, setting up the eventual plot point that Eddie Connolly has been informing the authorities about the people whose faces have been taken by the Wire. I find the direction really strange here, though, as it feels as though Lyn (who is generally quite decent) is afraid to tone down some of the more over the top performances and the majority of shots are shot at an angle that it makes me feel as though the camera stands were all broken.

The drama of the Connolly family certainly forms the B part to this episode, with the patriarch, Eddie Connolly being abusive towards his wife’s mother, his wife and his son. I must admit that I haven’t seen Jamie Foreman in anything else but I’m sure he is a good actor. Sadly, the character of Eddie is such a one-dimensional Hitler-allegory that it does Foreman a disservice and really means that the story hits a bum note in the conclusion when Rose encourages his son to try and build bridges with his father, especially considering how he talks about beating Tommy for being homosexual or his emotional abuse of his wife Rita, telling her to put a smile when her mother has been taken away. The rest of the Connolly family are good and we certainly sympathise with their treatment at the hands of Eddie, and Debra Gillett is particularly good in the scene where she sends Tommy off with the Doctor and kicks Eddie out. Tommy is a good companion of the week, and Rory Jennings and David Tennant have some good chemistry together, and I particularly liked the moment where Tommy is reunited with his grandmother at the conclusion of the story.

I’m the Wire, and I’m hungry!

The Wire

Speaking of the one-dimensional fascistic Eddie Connolly, we have another one-dimensional villain in the shape of the Wire played by Maureen Lipman. The idea of televisions taking people’s faces feels as though it should be a classic Doctor Who idea – taking something so prevalent and usual in this modern culture and making it scary. However, the Wire is so one dimensional and irritating that it means that this doesn’t really work. Lipman’s performance at the beginning, but she starts to gain power, it becomes almost unbearable. It is a running joke between my wife and I that we will screech the line above at each other around meal times. Ron Cook’s Mr Magpie, who is manipulated by the Wire into selling the affected television sets, feels largely wasted in this story, but he does well with what he is given. The effect of the ‘stolen’ faces on the actual people looks really unpolished and cheap, whilst, conversely, the effect of the faces on the television screens in the shop is rather effective and unnerving.

I am talking!

And I’m not listening!

Eddie Connolly and the Tenth Doctor

Now to address the Doctor and Rose. It is clear through this series that the intention was to establish the fact that the newly regenerated Doctor and Rose are perhaps overconfident throughout this series, but sadly for me it largely across as them being smug. This is not a problem that is exclusive to this story, but in a story that is quite poor anyway it really stands out. It is interesting to see the Tenth Doctor and Rose separated as this hasn’t happened a lot since the start of the series and Tennant is good in the scenes where he can be a bit quieter, like the interrogation scene where he flips the scenario on Detective Inspector Bishop. In contrast, the louder scenes, like the one the quote above is taken from are so hideously overacted and cringe-worthy. Since The Christmas Invasion, the production team have been hinting at this rage bubbling under the seemingly amiable face of the Doctor, but here it just across as he is a bit of a bully, especially in the scenes with Magpie. There is also the fact that the Doctor doesn’t seem to be too interested in solving the mystery until it directly affects him when the Wire takes Rose’s face. As a character who is supposed to stand up against the wrongs of the universe regardless of how he is impacted personally, this is really glaring. Rose is pretty poor too for the most part, reduced to a shadow of how she was in Eccleston’s series as the Doctor to an obnoxious and lovelorn character. We do get a hint of what the character like last series when she investigates Magpie’s shop though.

Verdict: This story really does flounder with one-dimensional villains and the central cast aren’t good enough to raise this one. Kudos on the production design though. 3/10

Cast: David Tennant (The Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler), Maureen Lipman (The Wire), Ron Cook (Magpie), Jamie Foreman (Eddie Connolly), Debra Gillett (Rita Connolly), Rory Jennings (Tommy Connolly), Margaret John (Grandma Connolly), Sam Cox (Detective Inspector Bishop), Ieaun Rhys (Crabtree), Jean Challis (Aunty Betty), Christopher Driscoll (Security Guard) & Marie Lewis (Mrs Gallagher).

Writer: Mark Gatiss

Director: Euros Lyn

Behind the Scenes

  • The working titles of Mr Sandman, Sonic Doom and The One-Eyed Monster.
  • Mark Gatiss originally wrote this episode for Christopher Eccleston’s 9th Doctor, and it was originally intended to be broadcast as the ninth episode of Series 2. It also contained a sub-plot about Tommy having a crush on the Doctor, but Rose mistakenly believing that he had a crush on her.
  • Magpie Electricals is a brand that would reoccur throughout the revived series, including Martha’s television in The Sound of Drums, a microphone in Voyage of the Damned, some parts of the Eleventh Doctor’s first TARDIS and a shop is seen in The Lie of the Land. The brand has been retrospectively inserted as an Easter Egg in several animations of Patrick Troughton episodes, including The Power of the Daleks.
  • The street on which the Connolly family lives is Florizel Street which was the original name for long-running soap opera Coronation Street. Coincidentally, Doctor Who producer Phil Collinson went on to be producer of Coronation Street from 2010 to 2013, whilst Russell T Davies had previously briefly been a storyline editor in the 1990s.

Cast Notes

  • Margaret John holds the record for the longest gap between appearances at 38 years, having previously appeared in Fury from the Deep.
  • Rory Jennings played teenage Davros in I, Davros: Innocence.

Best Moment

It’s always hard to choose these with an episode that I don’t particularly like. Probably Rita finally kicking out her abusive husband.

Best Quote

Twenty years on the force, I don’t even know where to start. We haven’t got the faintest clue what’s going on.

Well. That could change.

How?

Start from the beginning. Tell me everything you know.

Detective Inspector Bishop and the Tenth Doctor

Previous Tenth Doctor Review: The Age of Steel

Reviews mentioned:

The Christmas Invasion

New Earth

School Reunion

The Girl in the Fireplace

Invaders from Mars