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 despise 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 Child, Tomb 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

The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos

This review contains spoilers for The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos.  You have been warned…

tardis team battle.jpg

Roughly translated, means Disintegrator of the Soul.

Oh, another cheery one.

Thirteenth Doctor and Graham O’Brien

Synopsis

On the planet of Ranskoor Av Kolos, lies the remains of a brutal battlefield.  But as the Doctor, Ryan, Yaz and Graham answer nine separate distress calls, they discover the planet holds far more secrets.  Who is the mysterious commander with no memory?  What lies beyond the mists?  Who or what are the Ux?

The answers will lead the Doctor and her friends to a deadly reckoning.

Preamble

Personally, I feel that finales of Doctor Who are best served by being made up of two parts.  This allows for further development of ideas established in the series and generally means the story has more of an impact, helped along by the cliffhangers. Since the show’s revival, this has allowed for moments like the Daleks coming out of the void ship in Army of Ghosts, the Eleventh Doctor being locked in the Pandorica by an alliance of his greatest enemies, alongside the destruction of the entire universe in The Pandorica Opens, and in more recent times, the reveal of the Mondasian Cybermen and the return of the John Simm incarnation of the Master in World Enough and Time.  The first part usually does most of the heavy lifting, allowing the second part to delve into some more interesting areas.  The only stand-alone finale to date that has really worked for me (and I know there have only been two excluding this one) has been The Name of the Doctor, but this is probably because of the hype leading up to the 50th-anniversary special.

As always, I went into this episode with a perfectly open mind, and having largely enjoyed this series so far.  Without further ado, I’ll get to the review.

Review

The Battle of Rankoor Av Kolos brings to a close Jodie Whittaker’s first series of Doctor Who, which has been in my opinion, a solid series with the only issue of having a consistent lack of a compelling villain.  It almost goes without saying, but the music, direction and casting are fantastic again here, as they have been throughout the series.  The show looks and sounds the best it has in years.

andi

Speaking of a lack of compelling villains, this week’s finale sees the return of Tzim-Cha, last seen in The Woman Who Fell to Earth, who I quite liked as a villain, even if he was underdeveloped, understandably, in favour of the new Doctor.  In a series of humans as the true baddies, or aliens who can be redeemed, Tzim-Cha stands apart, as we have seen him hunting innocents and here, willing to commit genocide on six planets in his quest to seek revenge on the Doctor for her role in his situation on Rankoor Av Kolos.  His defeat on Earth and his 3,407 year exile seem to have unhinged him even further, and he is truly beyond redemption.  Equally, I understand the frustration that the main villain is not a recurring enemy, like the Master or the Daleks, but this wraps up the Grace storyline for both Ryan and Graham quite nicely and I feel serves the story and series much better than if this had been left until Series 12, especially with the news that this won’t be broadcast until 2020.  Tzim-Cha is an intimidating and threatening screen presence, even if he does throw armies of battle droids at the Doctor, Paltraki and the TARDIS team.  His deception of the Ux, who believe him to be their creator, also marks him out as a master of manipulation and the strongest bad guy this Doctor has encountered, which admittedly isn’t saying much.  I also quite like the fact that this adversary isn’t one who is terribly well known to the Doctor, and therefore the audience.  This makes his ultimate plan less predictable and the Doctor actually have to work hard to try to counter his evil machinations, which add meaningful stakes to the story.

From a story perspective, I found the central premise and the more science fiction basis interesting and I liked the idea of the race of the Ux.  I also like the fact that this story takes place away from Earth, and although Earth itself is threatened as part of the grand plan, it genuinely does feel as though the TARDIS has landed galaxies away.  However, I do feel that there are too many ideas in play here, which means that the story feels as though it would have benefitted from a second part.  Specifically, I feel that the use of the neural blockers to prevent the memory loss effects of the planet really should have had more of an impact on the plot.  I feel that they’re quite effective when being used to allow the gradual recall of Paltraki’s memories through the story, but when the Doctor removes them from herself and Yaz, I feel that there should have been more consequences for either one of them or both of them.  As it happens, the only ill effect is a bit of a headache, which feels a bit frustrating.  I’m also not a massive fan of the Doctor being able to summon the TARDIS with her sonic screwdriver, which I know is not without precedent as far as the audios are concerned (for the record, I’m not a fan of it there either).  The explanation that alignment to Stenza technology helps this happen feels a bit like lazy writing and I feel like a simple throwaway line expressing surprise that it worked may have reconciled it a bit for me.  As it is, it feels like a deus ex machina and makes the sonic screwdriver feel even more like a magic wand than it already does.  It did make me shout at the screen, which I never feel is a good moment.  The climax does also feel very abrupt, which seems to be a recurring issue when Chibnall is writing.

battle

What happened to “never do weapons”?

It’s a flexible creed.  Doors, locks, walls, buildings, fair game.  If it can be rebuilt, I’ll allow it.

No, no, you stopped me shooting at Sniperbots before.

You were new.  I have to lay down the rules if someone’s new.  Also, don’t quote that back to me, my rules change all the time.

Ryan Sinclair and the Thirteenth Doctor

Bradley Walsh continues to be the beating heart of this TARDIS team, and we see him here brought face to face with the creature responsible for Grace’s murder at the beginning of the series.  I completely bought him as someone who was willing to kill Tzim-Cha to get revenge and was completely accepting of what this meant for his relationship with the Doctor.  The interchange between him and the Doctor when they realise that a member of the Stenza is present and the Doctor states that if he goes through with it, he can no longer travel in the TARDIS is one of my highlights of the episode.  Of course, when Graham does get the chance to kill “Tim Shaw”, he is unable to go through with killing him, and the overall resolution of this plot strand does feel a lot more satisfying in general.  I’m looking forward to seeing more Bradley Walsh in the TARDIS, something I didn’t think I’d say ten weeks ago.  There are nice moments between him and Ryan, but Yaz again has little to nothing to do.  I really feel that this team is a bit too large and I really hope that this gets addressed in the not too distant future!

I’ve said it so many times and I’m not going to go into massive detail here as this blog is longer than I intended, but Jodie Whittaker gives another strong performance.  My personal highlight of her performance was her enthusiasm at meeting the Ux which I felt was perfectly played.  I have not been entirely onboard with not having returning foes this series, but it has allowed this element to come to the forefront in the majority of her stories.  Ultimately, the Doctor should be excited by elements she experiences in her travels – the First Doctor did leave Gallifrey because he was bored, after all!

You’re kidding! The Ux?  As in the duo-species, only ever two of you?  Lifespans of millenia.  Only found on three planets in the whole universe?  I’ve never met an Ux!  Congratulations! It must be so cool!

Thirteenth Doctor

Verdict: All in all, I feel that this does give us closure on the major themes of Series 11, aided by another fantastic performance by Bradley Walsh.  There are elements of this story that did fall flat though. 7/10

Cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Bradley Walsh (Graham O’Brien), Tosin Cole (Ryan Sinclair), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), Phyllis Logan (Andinio), Mark Addy (Paltraki), Percelle Ascot (Delph), Jan Lee (Umsang), Samuel Oatley (Tzim-Cha)

Writer: Chris Chibnall

Director: Jamie Childs

Behind the Scenes

  • The Doctor refers the TARDIS having regressed Blon Fel-Fotch Passameer-Day (aka Margaret Blaine) Slitheen into an egg in Boom Town and towing the Earth back across the universe in Journey’s End.  Equally, the use of planets to power a weapon was previously seen in The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End
  • The Doctor has previously encountered planets being shrunk before, in the Fourth Doctor story The Pirate Planet.

Best Moment

The moment the Doctor meets Andinio.

Best Quote

Yippee ki-yay, robots!

Graham O’Brien

Because a Die Hard reference always wins.

graham battle