The Sontaran Experiment

fourth doctor transmat
The Doctor fixes an army of BB-8s.

It’s absolutely typical of Harry.  How anybody in his right mind can fall down a whacking great subsidence like that…

The Fourth Doctor

Synopsis

The Doctor, Sarah and Ian arrive on a desolated Earth and discover some shipwrecked astronauts, who are being experimented on by the Sontarans.  Can the Doctor stop Styre’s experiments?

Review

The Sontaran Experiment could be seen as padding between the weighty Ark in Space and Genesis of the Daleks, but to do so would be to do it a disservice.  In fact, it demonstrates the economy with which a Doctor Who story can be told, with no need for padding which can be seen in a lot of earlier stories.  It is well directed and the use of film for this entirely on location story shot on Dartmoor, although the Sontaran robot does look particularly wobbly, even for Doctor Who.

I feel a bit like a Morse message: slightly scrambled.

Harry Sullivan

My biggest problem with the story is probably the fact that the Sontarans need to conduct experiments on an uninhabited Earth, and don’t simply invade straight off the bat.  This element of the story really doesn’t work for me, especially if they have a battle fleet ready to invade, I believe that any warrior race championing themselves as the best soldiers in the galaxy would move in straight away and conduct these experiments later.  However, the experiments carried out on Sarah Jane and the GalSec crew are truly horrifying and give the story some of it’s more memorable moments.  The moment where Harry comes across the astronaut left to die of dehydration by Styre is horrifying, and the fear experiment on Sarah is really shocking. On a slight tangent, I like the fact that Sarah recognises that she has met Sontarans before – it’s a nice moment of continuity that Baker and Martin didn’t need to throw in. All in all, despite the leap that the initial premise of the story requires, the story is good and builds up fear in tension in a much shorter running time than other stories in Baker’s predecessors’ eras.  It is perhaps unfortunate that it falls between two stories widely considered to be the best that this era, and in some cases, the show, in general, has to offer.

styre sarah roth

Rodney Bennett’s direction also helps this story and the fact that this story was shot entirely on location in Dartmoor aids this story as it busts through the claustrophobia of entirely studio-based stories.  The story takes full advantage of this location, doubling up as the site of the abandoned London, and certainly helps the story when Harry starts wandering off.  The image of Styre’s head deflating at the end of the story is really startling and is definitely something that will stick with me for a while after watching this story.  The choreography of the fight scene between Styre and the Doctor (whilst obviously not being Tom Baker) is also pretty spectacular.  Bennett’s direction particularly effective in convincing you that this is a futuristic and abandoned Earth and really aids the story.

The cast here is small but pretty fantastic.  Tom Baker is particularly great, especially in the interrogation with the GalSec astronauts and there is a particularly lovely moment where he believes that he has misplaced the sonic screwdriver, only for Sarah to reveal that she picked it up earlier.

What would I do without you?

The Fourth Doctor

The story also separates the TARDIS team up a bit and allows Harry to do something affecting the plot.  It is Harry who discovers the first of Styre’s sadistic experiments on the astronauts and him who attempts to save Sarah from the psychological torture inflicted on her as well.  I have to say I really like Harry, despite his old fashioned nature, and Ian Marter plays the part really well here.  The GalSec astronauts are all well played, especially Vural and Roth, and I find the idea of the South African accents being a demonstration of the evolution of language through time interesting, as championed here by Bob Baker and Dave Martin.

sarah sontaran experiment

Verdict: A good story which demonstrates how easy it is to tell a compelling Doctor Who story over a relatively short duration for the Classic Era.  It does suffer from being in the middle of two absolutely superb stories.  7/10

Cast: Tom Baker (The Doctor), Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah-Jane Smith), Ian Marter (Harry Sullivan), Donald Douglas (Vural), Glyn Jones (Krans), Peter Walshe (Erak), Kevin Lindsay (Styre and the Marshal), Peter Rutherford (Roth), Terry Walsh (Zake), Brian Ellis (Prisoner)

Writer: Bob Baker and Dave Martin

Director: Rodney Bennett

Parts: 2

Behind the Scenes

  • Whilst this is Tom Baker’s third broadcast story, it was second in the production order.
  • This story is the second to be filmed entirely on location, after Spearhead from Space, and is the first not to feature any studio scenes.  Unlike Spearhead,
  • This is one of ten stories not to feature the TARDIS at all.  Coincidentally, the following story, Genesis of the Daleks also does not feature the TARDIS.
  • During shooting, Tom Baker broke his collarbone.  His scarf was used to cover up the neck brace, and stunt performer Terry Walsh doubled for him in some scenes.
  • Kevin Lindsay returns for the second and final time playing Sontarans.  He played Linx in The Time Warrior but died due to a long-standing heart condition shortly after this.
  • Glyn Jones, who plays Krans, wrote The Space Museum, making him one of five people to write and act in Doctor Who.
  • This is the first two part serial since The Rescue and the last until Black Orchid.

Best Moment

The moment that will stay with me is Styre’s defeat and his head deflating.

Best Quote

Doctor! I thought you were dead.

Not me.  (Holds up a piece of metal) Piece of the synestic locking mechanism from Nerva’s rocket – popped it in my pocket.

Fortuitous.

Foresight.  You never know when these bits and pieces will come in handy.  Never throw anything away Harry.  (Throws it away)  Now, where’s my 500 year diary?  I remember jotting some notes on the Sontarans…It’s a mistake to clutter one’s pockets, Harry.

Harry Sullivan and the Fourth Doctor

Sontaran globe

Victory of the Daleks

dalek bracewell churchill doctor amy

Would you care for some tea?

“Ironside” Dalek

Synopsis

Responding to Winston Churchill’s call, the Doctor and Amy travel to World War Two where they find the Daleks. But why are they helping the Allied cause? Why don’t they recognise the Doctor? What are the Daleks planning?
Review

When I rewatched Victory of the Daleks for this blog, I realised that I still had vivid memories of watching it on it’s initial transmission in 2010. This may seem bizarre, as it is a divisive entry into Doctor Who canon, but thinking about it, I realised that this was the first Matt Smith story I watched live. I’d been away for the broadcast of the previous two, and having caught up and having been utterly convinced by this new Doctor, sat down excitedly for the next instalment of his adventures. This makes me sound like I was 8. I was actually 18, just about to take my A-Levels and probably in the midst of panicking about exams, university and life beyond. When I came to watch this episode nearly ten years later, my reaction to it was probably about the same as it was then. I’m not going to say that Victory is the best Dalek story that the new series or the original have produced, however, I feel it does get a rough ride. Matt Smith puts in a good performance as the Doctor, as does Karen Gillan as Amy, and the guest stars of Ian McNeice and Bill Paterson certainly help this story along. It is hindered by some poor direction in places by Andrew Gunn, and I really feel this story could have benefitted from being a two-parter.

Listen to me. Just listen. The Daleks have no conscience. No mercy. No pity. They are my oldest and deadliest enemy. You can not trust them.

If Hitler invaded Hell, I would give a favourable reference to the Devil.

Eleventh Doctor and Winston Churchill

I’ll talk about the elements of the episode that I’m not so keen on first of all. This story definitely feels too short, and at forty minutes it feels as though something is definitely missing. There is potentially more to be done with the Daleks posing as Bracewell’s Ironsides, and in my mind, if this were a two-parter, perhaps either the Doctor’s “testimony” or the reveal of the New Dalek Paradigm would have been a good place for the end of the first part. Additionally, I’m not a fan of the direction of Andrew Gunn here, especially of the scene in which the Eleventh Doctor confronts the Daleks triggering his testimony. Equally the Cabinet War Rooms feel a bit too wide and open as opposed to claustrophobic and the Dalek ship, supposed to be ramshackle and damaged from the climax of Journey’s End feels extremely overlit. However, I do like the scene in which Churchill, Amy and the Doctor are discussing the Daleks and a sole Dalek wheels by. In Steven Moffat’s interview after his departure as showrunner, he did say that he felt that he had taken his eye off this block of episodes, and it does certainly show in some regards. The design of the new Dalek Paradigm did not bother me at the time and still to this day does not bother me too much and I really wish that we learnt what the purpose of an Eternal Dalek was (come on Big Finish!). Nick Briggs does modify his original Dalek voice to being slightly deeper and booming which makes them feel more menacing.

the new daleks

One of the more positive parts of this episode is the fact that it marks the end of a run of stories that see the Daleks as scavengers, a side effect of the Time War. This is the start of something that I like about the Moffat era in general is that there is a greater feeling of a wider universe. With this story depicting a rare and relative victory for the Daleks, it kickstarts a new Dalek empire and leads to the Alliance being set up at the end of the series. The stories since the Time War that have featured one last surviving Dalek are all very well and effective, but a regenerated race of Daleks to fight against a relatively newly regenerated Doctor is a potentially frightening prospect for the universe. I am not overly enamoured with the climax with the Bracewell bomb, although I do like Karen Gillan’s delivery of the line “Hey Paisley. Ever fancied someone you shouldn’t have?” and additionally, the Spitfires in space sequence is a bit silly but is a nice idea. The idea of the Daleks acting as servants to the British army is an obvious homage to Power of the Daleks, and part of me wishes that it did go on for a bit longer.

battlefield

The central and guest performances are strong in this story again. Matt Smith gives a particularly commendable performance as the Doctor, battling with his guilt when he realises that he is responsible for this new, shiny, multicoloured variety of Daleks. He is particularly good in the scene where the Supreme Dalek gives him the ultimatum – he can destroy the Dalek ship and condemn the Earth to destruction, or let the Daleks escape and potentially save the world. Of course, there is no doubt that the Doctor will save the world, but Smith’s performance makes you believe that this is really a choice that the Doctor is really grappling with. Karen Gillan is good here too, and the fact that she does not remember the Daleks works really well as it isolates the Doctor when he is warning of the threat. This also is the first story to demonstrate to Amy the dangers of travelling with the Doctor, as the fairytale feel of this series falls away with the arrival of the Dalek. Ian McNeice and Bill Patterson also put in good supporting performances, with small to medium size roles, making them feel really memorable.

Verdict: Victory of the Daleks does fluff it’s lines a little but allows us to see Matt Smith taking on the Doctor’s most famous adversary. 6/10

Cast: Matt Smith (The Doctor), Karen Gillan (Amy Pond), Ian McNeice (Winston Churchill), Bill Paterson (Bracewell), Nina De Cosimo (Blanche), Tim Wallers (Childers), Nicholas Pegg (Dalek 1), Barnaby Edwards (Dalek 2), Nicholas Briggs (Voice of the Daleks), Susanah Fielding (Lilian), James Albrecht (Todd), Colin Prockter (Air Raid Warden)
Writer: Mark Gatiss
Director: Andrew Gunn

Behind the Scenes

  • As part of the Cracks in Space and Time arc, it is revealed that certain events in the show’s modern history have been retconned, such as the Dalek invasion of Earth in 2009.
  • The ‘New Paradigm’ Daleks were initially intended to replace the bronze Daleks reintroduced in Dalek, however, due to the mixed response the new design received, the bronze Daleks and the new design would appear side by side in their appearance in Series 7.

Best Moment

The scene in which the Supreme Dalek gives the Doctor his ultimatum.
Best Quote

You are everything I despise. The worst sin in all creation. I’ve defeated you time and time again. I’ve defeated you. I sent you back into the void. I’ve saved all of reality from you. I am the Doctor, and you are the Daleks!

Correct! Review testimony.

What are you talking about, testimony?

Transmitting testimony now.

Transmit what? Where?

The Eleventh Doctor and a Dalek

churchill and the dalek

The Ambassadors of Death

liz doctor console

Something took off from Mars…

Charles Van Lyden

Synopsis

The Doctor and Liz join the investigation regarding Mars Probe 7, which has not communicated with Space Control since setting back from Mars seven months ago.  A further vessel, Recovery 7, is encountering similar problems.  When Recovery 7 returns to Earth, the ship is found to be crewed by three alien ambassadors…

Review

Sadly, and perhaps understandably, Ambassadors of Death is a bit of a mess, and certainly the worst story of Jon Pertwee’s first series as the Doctor, although, considering the standard of the stories around it, this is certainly not shameful.  I still enjoyed this one, although it does suffer with pacing issues and it definitely feels as though it needs a couple of episodes for the story to really get started.  However, there are some superb examples of model work in the space scenes, whilst there are some great moments of tension and the episode is perhaps notable for a sympathetic portrayal of Carrington’s madness, along with benevolent aliens.  There is some fantastic model work in this story and Dudley Simpson’s score is simple but really effective.

Doc Brig Liz

The Ambassadors (OF DEATH) is an episode which features no overtly hostile aliens, with the titular aliens instead being vilified by humans such as Reegan and Carrington.  The species of aliens are capable of killing with a single touch who encountered General Carrington on a previous Mars mission and accidentally killed his partner, triggering a xenophobic grudge between them and the new head of the Space Security Department.  Despite being benevolent, the Ambassadors really look sinister, especially in the spacesuits with blacked out visors, and certainly feel like a threat, although they are being exploited by humans.  The idea of a simple touch being able to kill is particularly effective and helps with the fear factor.  A particularly good example of this is the scene where the three Ambassadors surround Liz in their containment cell.  We only get brief glimpses at one is under the helmet, which makes them all the more spooky.  Carrington’s xenophobia, paranoia and madness increases as the story goes on, culminating in his reaction when the United Nations refuse to sanction the nuclear first strike on the Ambassador’s ship and his decision to arrest UNIT as being alien collaborators.  I think what makes the conclusion all the more effective is the fact that the Doctor actually gently tells Carrington that he understands why he did what he had.  This is by far the most effective part of this story and sold by the performance of John Abineri.

Jon Pertwee delivers another assured performance as the Third Doctor, and I particularly enjoy his facade of being a doddering old man in the scene where he reclaims the stolen truck carrying Recovery 7.  I also appreciate the fact that at the beginning of the story, the Doctor is still harbouring resentment and bitterness towards the Brigadier for his actions at the end of The Silurians.  This story does go some way to mending this relationship, with the Doctor and the Brigadier’s scene when they say goodbye to each other before the Doctor goes into space, which also shows their mutual respect for one another.  The Third Doctor, despite being quite an establishment figure, really prickles against figures of authority such as Quinlan, and demonstrates that beautifully here.  The Brigadier demonstrates that he is one to shoot first and ask questions later, especially towards the end where he acts effectively when moving to rescue Liz and the Doctor.  Additionally, Liz gets some good scenes, especially with her attempted escape from Reegan’s men and helping Lennox escape, although this is ultimately futile.

Sadly this story does suffer from pacing issues and does feel very heavily padded to get it up to seven parts.  The opening episodes of the story feel particularly slow and padded, with the gunfight at the end of part one really goes on a bit too long, as does Liz’s chase and the sequence around the retrieval of Recovery 7.  There are also a number of elements that feel like they are unnecessary, such as the presence of Taltalian sabotaging the Doctor’s initial efforts to help Cornish, which feels unnecessary – and not just the actor’s strange French(?) accent.  That being said, it is perhaps notable for being a story in which the Doctor and the Brigadier are almost consistently one or two steps behind their adversaries for the entire course of the story.  The scenes in space are quite gripping and the model work is really well done, especially with the docking sequence, evoking a sense of apprehension.  I also feel that every Doctor Who story requires a bearded newsreader sitting in the corner of the studio explaining the story!

ambassadors model shot

Verdict:  A good if not exceptional story, which does suffer from some pacing issues.  I like the aliens and the handling of Carrington’s madness though and the model shots and general idea are good. 7/10

Cast: Jon Pertwee (The Doctor), Caroline Johns (Liz Shaw), Nicholas Courtney (Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart), Ronald Allen (Ralph Cornish), Robert Cawdron (Taltalian), John Abineri (General Carrington), Ric Felgate (Van Lyden), Michael Wisher (John Wakefield), Cheryl Molineaux (Miss Rutherford), Ray Armstrong (Grey), Robert Robertson (Collinson), Dallas Cavell (Quinlan), Bernard Martin (Control Room Assistant), Juan Moreno (Dobson), James Haswell (Corporal Champion), Derek Ware (UNIT sergeant), William Dysart (Reegan), Cyril Shaps (Lennox), Gordon Sterne (Heldorf), Ric Felgate, Steve Peters and Neville Simons (Astronauts), Max Faulkner (UNIT soldier), John Lord (Masters), Tony Harwood (Flynn), John Levene (Sergeant Benton), James Clayton (Private Parker), Joanna Ross (Control Room Assistant), Carl Conway (Control Room Assistant), Roy Scammell (Technician), Peter Noel Cook (Alien Space Captain), Peter Halliday (Alien Voices), Steve Peters (Lefee), Neville Simons (Michaels), Geoffrey Beevers (Private Johnson)

Writer: David Whitaker

Director: Michael Ferguson

Parts: 7

Behind the Scenes

  • This is the last story written by former script editor, David Whitaker.  It is also his least favourite.  Whitaker originally started writing the story for Patrick Troughton’s Doctor but proved incapable of adapting it for the new format and cast that had come in with Jon Pertwee.  Eventually, Terrance Dicks, Malcolm Hulke and Trevor Ray rewrote the story but agreed to give full credit (and the fee) for the story to Whitaker.
  • The story depicts the first occasion on which the Doctor travels to space without his TARDIS.  It is also the first story to show the TARDIS console in colour, with the Doctor having disconnected it from the machine and put in a study at UNIT H.Q.
  • This story marks the first appearance of John Benton since The Invasion.
  • The UNIT uniforms worn by everyone other than the Brigadier are solely seen in this story.
  • There are two actors who appear here who would return in more significant roles later.  Michael Wisher would go on to be the voice of the Daleks during the Third Doctor’s era, as well as going on to reappear in Terror of the Autons and Carnival of Monsters, eventually going on to be the first actor to play Davros.  Geoffrey Beevers would go on to play the Master in The Keeper of Traken and for Big Finish.
  • By a strange coincidence, this story was being broadcast during the Apollo 13 crisis.
  • This is the first and only time that the opening credits would be interrupted for a recap of the cliffhanger, to be followed by the story’s title.  It is also the first to feature the now common sound effect at the cliffhanger.

Best Moment

Pertwee’s acting as the doddery old man is a personal highlight, but I also enjoy the cliffhanger with the Ambassador reaching out towards the Doctor as he inspects the body of  Quinlan.

Best Quote

My dear fellow, I don’t have a pass!  (pause) Because I don’t believe in them, that’s why!

Third Doctor

John Wakefield

Tooth and Claw

victoria

You want weapons?  We’re in a library!  Books! The best weapon in the world.  This room’s the greatest arsenal we could ever have.  Arm yourselves!

Tenth Doctor

Synopsis

Accidentally ending up in 1876, the Doctor and Rose find themselves trying to keep Queen Victoria safe from a mysterious order of monks and a werewolf.

Review

It’s quite rare for a new Doctor to hit the ground running for me – in the complete rankings of their debuts stories so far, only Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee and Matt Smith have had 10/10 scoring.  Upon rewatching David Tennant’s era, I’ve realised quite how long it takes for him to feel like the Doctor, but happily, Tooth and Claw, for me is the moment he truly inhabits the role.  I must stress that this era was my entry point into watching the show, albeit later in this series – I remember seeing a bit of The Impossible Planet and then nothing until Doomsday – so I do have a lot of fondness for this Doctor.  From here on the quality does (by and large) improve, and while I still have issues with his relationship with Rose, Tennant seems more assured in the role here.

Is that the Koh-i-noor?

Oh yes.  The greatest diamond in the world.

Given to me as the spoils of war.  Perhaps its legend is now coming true.  It is said whoever owns it must surely die.

Well, that’s true of anything if you wait long enough.

Rose Tyler, The Tenth Doctor and Queen Victoria

Speaking of the Tenth Doctor, this is quite a significant episode for this incarnation.  We see his sorrow at his status as the last of the Time Lords during Victoria’s speech about her late husband, Albert, as well as seeing this Doctor’s fondness for 20th Century culture and his propensity for licking object to ascertain their chemical make-up.  I feel that this is a better demonstration of the kind of man that the Tenth Doctor is developing into and Tennant certainly gives a good performance here.  I like his enthusiasm about the telescope and his disappointment when he realises that it is “a bit rubbish”, but my favourite moment of his in this episode is where he first sees the werewolf/Lupin Waveform and states that it is beautiful.  This is one of my favourite things about the Doctor and moments like this are really lovely, and allude to the reason why the Doctor left Gallifrey in the first place.

household staff

This story shows the establishment of the organisation of the Torchwood Institute, the arc for series 2, which we first heard mentioned in Bad Wolf in Series One, but I do feel that the story doesn’t really do enough to justify Queen Victoria’s decision to set up the organisation to counter the Doctor in the closing moments.  The Doctor’s banishment feels really sudden, especially following immediately on the heels of his and Rose’s knighthood.  Otherwise, considering the story was a rushed job, it stands up surprisingly well.  The story is quite scary in places and certainly gripping, aided by the two stars and guest performances such as that of Pauline Collins as Queen Victoria.  I like how real-world elements are worked into the story here, such as the Koh-i-noor diamond and that the plot is based around an assassination attempt on the monarch, as well as elements from fantasy novels about werewolves, such as the full moon, silver bullets and the lesser known element of mistletoe being used as a deterrent for the creature.  I also really like the fact that Sir Robert does get redemption in the end, as he is put into a difficult position by both the Queen and the monks, but dies with honour saving his monarch.

I saw last night that Great Britain has enemies beyond imagination.  And we must defend our borders on all sides.  I propose an institute.  To investigate these strange happenings and to fight them.  I will call it Torchwood.  The Torchwood Institute.  And if this Doctor should return, then he should beware.  Because Torchwood will be waiting.

Queen Victoria

The villains of the piece also really stand out here.  The opening sequence with the monks fighting against Sir Robert’s household staff is really well choreographed and visually striking, making them seem like an effective foe.  The performance of Tom Smith as the Host is particularly unnerving and particularly memorable, although it is brief.  The delivery of the lines is very creepy and the transformation effects are particularly effective moments of body horror.  When it comes to the werewolf, the CGI really stands up and helps it feel like a real and believable threat, which does help the story.

the host

Verdict: A solid episode if not exceptional, Tooth and Claw is an important episode in terms of the second series and Tennant’s era in general.  7/10

Cast: David Tennant (The Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler), Pauline Collins (Queen Victoria), Ian Hanmore (Father Angelo), Michelle Duncan (Lady Isobel), Derek Riddell (Sir Robert), Jamie Sives (Captain Reynolds), Ron Donachie (Steward), Tom Smith (The Host), Ruth Milne (Flora)

Writer: Russell T Davies

Director: Euros Lyn

Behind the Scenes

  • This story was written in a rush by Russell T Davies.
  • Due to the difficulties in realistically creating the werewolf using CGI, the Mill imported a CGI hair specialist for this story.
  • The Doctor identifies himself as “Doctor James McCrimmon from the township of Balamory” – Balamory was the fictional setting of a CBeebies programme but also is a reference to the royal palace at Balmoral, whilst the name is a reference to Second Doctor companion, Jamie McCrimmon.
  • In the same conversation, the Doctor states that he studied under Doctor Joseph Bell, who was a lecturer at the University of Edinburgh.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle served as Dr. Bell’s clerk and Sherlock Holmes is thought to be loosely based on him.

Best Moment

When the Doctor sees the werewolf for the first time.

Best Quote

I’m sorry Ma’am.  It’s all my fault.  I should’ve sent you away.  I tried to suggest something was wrong.  I thought you might notice.  Did you think there was nothing strange about my household staff?

Well, they were bald, athletic – your wife’s away, I just thought you were happy.

Sir Robert and the Tenth Doctor

werewolf