The Keys of Marinus

kom court

Synopsis

The TARDIS crew are forced to fulfil a quest for the people of the planet of Marinus to retrieve four of the five keys of the Conscience of Marinus, which are scattered around the planet, to ensure that the Voord do not get control of the planet.

Review

The Keys of Marinus is a really ambitious story which is potentially constrained by trying to do too much with little material and let down by repetition of plot points in each of the locations.  Due to the limitations of telling stories set in different locations on the same planet, a lot of time has to be spent establishing the threat in each different area before the story can get moving again, and I don’t feel there’s really enough story to justify the six parts.  The Key to Time arc would do it better, telling six four-part stories as part of a larger arc.  Despite this, there are some parts that work really well.  The last two parts of the serial work really well, with a murder mystery story dominating the final one and a half parts of the story, but the additional time spent in this final location really helps this to be one of the more memorable parts of the episode.

keys of marinus dress

I will start with the elements that I did not like.  The direction from John Gorrie is largely flat and lifeless, with the exception of one scene in The Velvet Web, where Barbara sees through the illusion that the others are convinced with, and there are some lovely POV shots which demonstrate this beautifully.  Otherwise, the direction is distinctly functional, with very little other directorial flairs to report.  The biggest impact this has on the story as a whole is that it makes the establishing scenes in each of the different locations feel very repetitive and really frustrated me.  The blame cannot solely be laid at Gorrie’s door, however, as Terry Nation’s writing is pretty atrocious too, although, admittedly, this story was written in a hurry.  Sadly, despite the narrative’s ambitions to tell a story set in five different locations, it does really suffer from the feeling of repetition which gets extremely tedious, however, the production team deserve a large amount of credit for making the story look as good as it does on an already stretched budget.  Additionally, the story has some really troubling moments for a family drama, including the attempted seduction of Barbara by the trapper in The Snows of Terror, which really just made me cringe, and the guard seemingly beating his wife after she has been questioned by Barbara and Susan.  I know this story was made at a different time, but it really feels out of place.

The Voord are also largely disappointing.  I quite like the design of the Voord as it leans into the limited budget of the show by using modified wetsuits for the design of the aliens.  I also am really fond of the simple and effective way it is used to convey the horrific nature of the death of one of the Voord in the first part – it is quite an effective and creepy image to show that the acid has completely destroyed the body of the alien.  As they only feature in the first and final part of the story, they are ultimately quite forgettable and I would have liked to have seen them crop up in attempts to stop the Doctor and his friends gathering the microkeys or providing some kind of competition to get them first.  As the story stands, they feel rather like a last minute addition and I had almost forgotten about this central part of the plot by the end of the story.

The story’s saving grace is indisputably three of the four leads – I’m sure that Carol Ann Ford would agree that her characterisation is pretty awful and infantilises her character even further, despite her best efforts, and the two members of the guest cast who stick around for the majority of the story are pretty wooden.   However, Jacqueline Hill and William Russell are superb throughout, and William Hartnell seems extremely reinvigorated following his absence in the middle of the story.  Hartnell does by and large improve in each performance as this incarnation of the Doctor seems to soften story by story and it is nice that his relationship with Ian and Barbara has drastically improved from the rocky foundations their relationship started on.  His enthusiasm on his reintroduction at being Ian’s defence counsel is great and he seems to be giving as close an impression as possible to Sherlock Holmes here.  It is to Hill and Russell’s enormous credit that the middle parts of the story do not suffer through Hartnell’s absence.  Both are particularly great throughout, but credit must especially go to Hill for her performance in the second part.

kom ian barbara brains

When we get to Sentence of Death and The Keys of Marinus, the story manages to pique my waning interest again.  The story switches to a murder mystery for the majority of the remainder of the story, with Ian framed for murdering a guard and the tone ultimately shifts.  Welcoming the chance to do something a bit different seems to invigorate Hartnell, as mentioned above, and he gives possibly one of his best performances to date.  The mystery tone seems to return from the first part when the TARDIS team are investigating the temple, and Hartnell’s courtroom performances are fantastic.  The resolution of this subplot almost came too soon, and I would rather have had more of this type of story than the rest.

Verdict: The Keys of Marinus cannot be faulted for its ambition, however, in the execution it seems to fail in a number of ways and feels particularly repetitive.  Hill and Russell are superb, and the final two parts are buoyed by a returning and reinvigorated William Hartnell.  5/10

Cast: William Hartnell (The Doctor), Carol Ann Ford (Susan Foreman), William Russell (Ian Chesterton), Jacqueline Hill (Barbara Wright), George Coulouris (Arbitan), Martin Cort, Peter Stenson & Gordon Wales (Voord), Robin Phillips (Altos), Katharine Schofield (Sabetha), Heron Carvic (Voice of Morpho), Martin Cort (Warrior), Edmund Warrick (Darrius), Francis De Wolff (Vasor), Michael Allaby, Alan James, Peter Stenson & Anthony Verner (Ice Soldiers), Henley Thomas (Tarron), Michael Allaby (Larn), Raf De La Torre (Senior Judge), Alan James (First Judge), Peter Stenson (Second Judge), Fiona Walker (Kala), Martin Cort (Aydan), Donald Pickering (Eyesen), Alan James (Guard) and Stephen Dartnell (Yartek).

Writer: Terry Nation

Director: John Gorrie

Part: 6 (The Sea of Death, The Velvet Web, The Screaming Jungle, The Snows of Terror, Sentence of Death and The Keys of Marinus)

Behind the Scenes

  • William Hartnell does not appear in The Screaming Jungle or The Snows of Terror as he was on holiday.  Hartnell had been working solidly from October 1963 through to April 1964.
  • John Gorrie was reluctant to work on Doctor Who due to apathy towards science fiction but was persuaded to by Verity Lambert.  Gorrie was a member of the BBC Plays Department, and was particularly dismissive of the scripts, but signed up to further his career.
  • Only one of two stories written by Terry Nation not to feature the Daleks.
  • Between The Velvet Web and The Screaming Jungle being broadcast, BBC Two was launched, meaning that The Screaming Jungle was the first episode to be branded as being on BBC One.
  • This is the first of 34 six part stories and the first of several “travelling” stories where the main cast move location multiple times within the same story.
  • The Voord were an unsuccessful attempt to rival the popularity of the Daleks.
  • The Screaming Jungle saw the show’s first plagiarism controversy as Robert Gould complained that he had outlined a story with plants as the final point of evolution to David Whitaker.  Whitaker argued that Nation had arrived at the similar idea independently and that the idea was derivative of The Day of the Triffids anyway.
  • This was a late replacement for a problematic story written by Malcolm Hulke, called Dr. Who and the Hidden Planet.

Best Moment

Possibly the scene where the Doctor, Susan and Ian are all possessed and only Barbara can see things as they truly are.

Best Quote

I don’t believe that man was made to be controlled by machines.  Machines can make laws, but they cannot preserve justice.  Only human beings can do that.

The First Doctor

The Stones of Venice

Let’s travel in style! Let’s raise a glass as we steam down the canal and before the world ends, it turns completely upside down.

The Eighth Doctor

Synopsis

Looking to take a break from the monotony of being shot at, chased and general standard activity of travelling with the Doctor, he and Charley travel to Venice in the 23rd Century, where the city is preparing to sink below the water for the last time. However, once there, they encounter a dodgy cult, a proud art historian and a love sick aristocrat, as well as a rebellion by the web-footed underclass and a disappearing corpse.

Review

Perhaps the biggest compliment that can be paid to The Stones of Venice is that it would not feel out of place in the early Tom Baker era, with the story wearing some horror influences quite close to its sleeve. Tom Baker would not have sounded out of place in this environment, with a possessed companion and a story involving a subplot around class warfare. My biggest problem with it is how predictable the story is, however, it is beautifully produced and performed, and is a high point of McGann’s first installment of stories, which is remarkably uneven.

My biggest problem with the story is that the plot is very predictable, there are no sudden moments of surprise. However, this was prevented from being too much of an issue for me by my fascination with the setting. For some bizarre reason, the fact that the city of Venice will one day sink into the sea has always fascinated me and it is nice to see the Doctor visit this point in time, even if the story concludes with the city restored to it’s former glory. The revelation that Duke Orsino’s wife, Estella is alive and is in fact Ms. Lavish is pretty obvious from the get go, but I don’t think Magrs was aiming for it to be a mystery. There are elements that are references classic literature and some that evoke moments from the Hinchcliffe era, however, this story is rather unique, which may be why some are not so keen on it. There is no imminent alien invasion and, as Charley states at the conclusion, the story is really all about love. I really like the fact that the story opens and we find the Doctor and Charley towards the end of an unheard adventure, which for me is a reference to the beginning of a lot of the James Bond movies, where the cold open generally finds Bond in a bombastic opening sequence. This worked well to establish the central motive for going to Venice in the first place: for Charley and the Doctor to have a get away from being shot at.

The direction is also pretty good and the background sound design fantastic, especially in the opening scenes. The direction fantastically evokes horror themes, and the majority of performances are played pretty straight, with the exception of Ms. Lavish, but that can be excused as I believe this is necessary for the plot. I do have one slight quibble with the sound design, which is particularly geeky and demands some context. Outside of my hobby of watching (and blogging) about Doctor Who, I am a church bell ringer. For those reading who are unaware, in England and some other parts of the World, such as the US, Australia and Canada, bells are rung full circle, meanwhile in other places, especially in Europe, they are hung to be rung differently – mainly just to be chimed. When I was listening to the first part I noticed the bells ringing, and listening closely, observed that they sounded like they were ringing the “English” way, which unless this style spreads in the intervening centuries wouldn’t be heard in Venice. Listening to this admittedly background noise did serve to take me out of the story in the first part, but I appreciate that this will probably not bother anyone else! Geeky spiel over. I also appreciate that the director did not insist on the actor’s attempting faux-Italian accents for this story, though the full context of this appreciation will become evident when I come to review the next Eighth Doctor story, Minuet in Hell.

The cast here is small but actually this really serves the story rather well. None of guest cast feel superfluous, they all have clear goals and desires and I feel that the story does them all justice. When the story finished, I didn’t feel as though any of them had been underserved by the story and that they all had pretty complete arcs. The guest performances are fantastic, and I feel that I must particularly mention the performance of Michael Sheard as the cursed Duke Orsino, who gives the part the required feeling of world weariness due to his artificially extended lifespan. Mark Gatiss is superb and I almost didn’t recognise his voice whilst he was playing the sinister leader of the Cult of Estella and it was only when compiling the cast list that I realised that it was him. Elaine Ives-Cameron is evidently having a ball playing Ms. Lavish and Estella as well and Nick Scovell is good as the pseudo-companion, as the Doctor and Charley become separated early on by Barnaby Edwards amphibian gondolier Pietro. As mentioned earlier, all of these characters have clear motivations and it is easy to keep track of them all through the story.

McGann and Fisher have lovely chemistry together, despite not sharing very many scenes together, and it is remarkable considering that this is their first recorded story together. I particularly like India Fisher’s performance as the possessed Charley, as I feel that this is a different kind of possession to that which we normally see in Doctor Who, and the script allows her to maintain a real sense of personality, which does not always happen in stories like this. McGann’s Doctor feels fully formed here, and I do enjoy his disdain for humanity’s predilection for spreading myths about curses and prophecies as I feel that these are never really fully comfortable in Doctor Who. At times it feels as though Tom Baker could be the Doctor, as it does certainly carry some hallmarks of his earlier stories, however, I feel that it is unique enough and there is enough to distinguish between Baker and McGann’s incarnations.

Verdict: The Stones of Venice is a different type of Doctor Who story to what has gone before and actually what has followed, which makes it interesting enough despite the predictability of the plot. The cast is on great form and the direction gives a great horror-influenced tone. 8/10

Cast: Paul McGann (The Doctor), India Fisher (Charley Pollard), Barnaby Edwards (Pietro), Mark Gatiss (Vincenzo), Elaine Ives-Cameron (Ms. Lavish/Estella), Nick Scovell (Churchwell) and Michael Sheard (Orsino)

Writer: Paul Magrs

Director: Gary Russell

Parts: 4

Behind the Scenes

  • This was the first contribution to audio-based Doctor Who for Paul Magrs but he had written novels for the Eighth Doctor for the BBC Eighth Doctor Adventures range.
  • This was the first Eighth Doctor story recorded by Big Finish, and therefore the first story that McGann recorded after agreeing to return to the role and the first performance by India Fisher.
  • The story marks the seventh and final appearance in a Doctor Who story for Michael Sheard, who appeared alongside every Doctor except the Second and Sixth, with his most notable performance coming in Pyramids of Mars, where he played Laurence Scarman. Sheard died in 2005.
  • Duke Orsino is also a character in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, whilst Mrs. Lavish is derived from E.M Forster’s A Room With A View. The story title is also a reference to The Stones of Venice, a collection of essays by John Ruskin written in the 1850s.

Best Quote

There she is! There she is! Bright, bold, beautiful and bright blue and waiting for us!

The Eighth Doctor

Dragonfire

cliffhanger

Do you feel like arguing with a can of deodorant that registers nine on the Richter scale?

Ace

Synopsis

As trouble brews on the space trading colony of Iceworld, the Doctor and Mel encounter their sometimes-ally Sabalom Glitz – and a new friend who goes by “Ace”.
Review

Dragonfire wraps up a rather indifferent debut series for Sylvester McCoy, which at times feels like it is stumbling towards the finishing line. There are some interesting ideas here but there’s no time to flesh any of them out, and as a result everything feels quite flimsy. Despite this, there are signs of promise to come in the following series coming up to the show’s cancellation in 1989, especially with the debut of Ace, played by Sophie Aldred, and hints at the sort of character that the Seventh Doctor will become. This story also features a good, if underdeveloped villain in the shape of Edward Peel’s Kane, and sadly does show the lack of budget available to the programme at this time.

ace glitz doc mel

I’ll start by talking about the two companions, one incoming and one outgoing in this story. Firstly, the outgoing incumbent, Mel Bush, as played by Bonnie Langford. Langford certainly is possibly one of the least popular Doctor Who companions, which isn’t entirely her fault, as her character feels like a regression to some of the 1960s companions, with her response to everything being to scream. I don’t blame her for wanting to leave, although it feels as though it almost takes the entire production team by surprise in the way that her departure is completely shoehorned in. It seems completely out of character for Mel to go off with Glitz, and this is certainly up there with Leela’s exit in The Invasion of Time for the most rushed way of getting rid of a companion. Don’t even get me started on Liz Shaw’s off-screen departure between Inferno and Terror of the Autons though, which is probably the only problem I have with the Letts era, however, equally, it would have been a tragedy not to have had Katy Manning in the show. With that out of the way, it is nice to see Mel get to interact with another companion and it is perhaps notable that she probably spends more time with Ace than the Doctor does. Sophie Aldred’s Ace seems much more rounded, if not entirely believable as a teenager, character than companions that came before her. Her propensity for yelling out her own name and phrases like “Mega!” make me think that no-one in the Doctor Who production office had ever spoken to a real teenager in their life.

The story here can be seen to be a bit of a throwback to the 1960s as well as being a comedy in places, however, there are some elements which are genuinely quite disturbing. Belusz’s admission that she is having doubts about signing up with Kane to Kracauer is almost looking at the naivety of youth and the idea of consent, with the Doctor stating explicitly that her debt to Kane won’t be easy to be repaid. There is also a pretty explicit criticism of capitalism, with the shops on Iceworld acting as a front and Kane confident in the belief that every soul has its price, his coin acting as a bit of an obvious but effective way of getting this message across. Kane is sufficiently menacing and sinister and despite his icy demeanour, there is clear emotion bubbling away under the surface. Edward Peel deserves a great deal of credit for doing the most with a limited character.

The story does act as a pastiche of science fiction, with elements paying homage to films like Alien and Star Wars. There are moments of black humour in there too, like Stellar drinking her milkshake in the café where everyone has been murdered and playing with her teddy bear in Kane’s dungeon. There are also hints here of more of the scheming Doctor we would see later on in McCoy’s run when he tells Mel that the signal coming from Iceworld has been going on for a little while – as if it’s been on his list of intergalactic wrongs that he will one day get round to putting right. This put me in mind of the setup for Mummy on the Orient Express, one of my all-time favourite episodes, so that’s no bad thing really!

Well? Do you fancy a quick trip round the twelve galaxies and then back to Perivale in time for tea?

Ace!

But there are three rules. One, I’m in charge.

Whatever you say, Professor.

Two. I’m not the Professor, I’m the Doctor.

Whatever you want.

And the third. Well, I’ll think up the third by the time we get back to Perivale.

Seventh Doctor and Ace

Sadly, I feel that the story has lost something from the transition from page to screen and it feels as though there is some disconnect. A much-lambasted demonstration of this is the famous cliffhanger at the end of part one, which finds the Doctor hanging by his umbrella on an actual cliff face. This is not clear in the transmitted episode, but the passage leading to the cliff was supposed to be a dead end, meaning that the Doctor would have to climb down. This seems to almost be symptomatic of the problems of the production in general. There are great juxtapositions, for instance, as the design of the dungeon looks fantastic and evokes The Tomb of the Cybermen and is all the more impressive considering the constraints of the budget, but then the caves look cheap, in no small part due to the sets being overlit. The story also never really gives us a good enough reason for Glitz to be in this story other than to give an exit for Mel, and I’m not sure what he adds to this story otherwise.

doctor and ace

Verdict: Dragonfire brings Sylvester McCoy’s first series as the Doctor to a close, and though it hints at the direction the show was going to venture into in the next two, it really hits stumbling blocks. 6/10
Cast: Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Bonnie Langford (Mel), Sophie Aldred (Ace), Tony Selby (Sabalom Glitz), Edward Peel (Kane), Patricia Quinn (Belazs), Tony Osoba (Kracauer), Shirin Taylor (Customer), Ian Mackenzie (Anderson), Stephanie Fayerman (McLuhan), Stuart Organ (Bazin), Sean Blowers (Zed), Nigel Miles-Thomas (Pudovkin), Leslie Meadows (The Creature), Lynn Gardner (Announcer), Miranda Borman (Stellar), Daphne Oxenford (Archivist), Chris MacDonnell (Arnheim)
Writer: Ian Briggs
Director: Chris Clough
Parts: 3
Behind the Scenes

  • The story sees the return of Sabalom Glitz, the departure of Mel and the debut of Ace. This was Sophie Aldred’s first role on television.
  • Sylvester McCoy requested that the farewell scene with Mel was changed to incorporate dialogue from one of his audition scenes, which Ian Briggs and Andrew Cartmel inserted into the script.

Best Moment

Kane’s face melting moment is fantastic and very similar to the Indiana Jones effects.
Best Quote

I’m going now.

That’s right, yes, you’re going. Been gone for ages. Already gone, still here, just arrived, haven’t even met you yet. It all depends on who you are and how you look at it. Strange business, time.

Goodbye, Doctor.

I’m sorry, Mel. Think about me when you’re living your life one day after another, all in a neat pattern. Think about the homeless traveller and his old police box, with his days like crazy paving.

Mel Bush and the Seventh Doctor

girl and dragon

The Mark of the Rani

The Master and the Rani.jpg

He wears yellow trousers and a vulgarly coloured coat, but tread carefully – he’s treacherous!

The Master

Synopsis

In the 19th Century, the population is turning violent and unpredictable ahead of a meeting of the brains of the Industrial Revolution, and the Doctor has to get to the bottom of what’s causing it.

Review

The tone of The Mark of the Rani feels different from what’s come before it, which is probably the biggest plus point in its favour.  The inherent bleakness that seems to have saturated the show since the Saward era of script editing began disperses for this two-part story, which does lapse unfortunately into pantomime at times.  The story features a new Time Lord adversary in the shape of the Rani, but seems so keen to establish her as a serious villain that it comes at the expense of the Master.  This story also features a rather more standard portrayal of the Doctor, with the Sixth Doctor being generally more amiable.

One thing the story does massively benefit from is the location shooting, carried out at the Blist Open Air Museum in Ironbridge, which really helps evoke a sense of atmosphere and helps the story along.  Sadly, the direction doesn’t feel very cohesive and is very pantomime-y at times, which doesn’t help when the story feels particularly simple and threadbare at times.  Sequences like the scene with the Doctor wheeling towards the pit attached to the stretcher feel extremely ridiculous at times, the blame for which can be pointed at Pip and Jane Baker and Sarah Hellings in equal measure.  I would like to praise the design of the Rani’s TARDIS interior which looks absolutely beautiful, however, on the flip side, the land mines that turn people into trees are utterly ridiculous and the resulting trees look utterly ridiculous.  Where the use of a wonderful location helps to make the production look glossy, elements like these trees and Peri’s dress (combined, of course, with the Doctor’s garish costume) make it look cheap and are easy fodder for the programme’s detractors.

The Doctor Mark of the Rani

The best part of this story are any scenes where the Doctor, the Rani and the Master are together.  As much as it may stretch credulity to find three renegade Gallifreyans in the same place and time, it is quite fun to see the Doctor interact with his own people.  In fact, when this trio are separated, the story does feel as though it slows immeasurably to feel like a bit of a slog. Kate O’Mara is clearly having an absolute ball, and the scene where she has captured the Doctor in the bathhouse is a particular delight as Colin Baker and O’Mara really spark off each other well.  The Rani is an interesting villain making her debut here and I largely feel that she would have benefitted from not having the Master present too, as the pair are really quite different as characters.  The story does seem to complete Anthony Ainley’s Master’s transformation into a moustache twirling parody of the character.  The fact that he thinks that he can destroy the Doctor’s TARDIS by throwing it down the pit really highlights this – the Master is supposed to be an intellectual equal to the Doctor, but this harebrained scheme really damages the character. Through I largely like his incarnation, especially from his first appearance in the late Tom Baker era and through the Davison era, however, his presence feels stapled on here and some of the dialogue he is given here is just plain ridiculous.  I feel that he was probably inserted to allow the story to show how evil the Rani is, but really it does do more harm than good to both characters.

He’d get dizzy if he tried to walk in a straight line!

The Rani

The story does have a lightness of tone which is much needed in this era, and I did broadly enjoy the bits that didn’t seem to lapse into pantomime.   The story is also relatively straight forward and continuity lite, despite the reappearance of the Master.  There are elements of it that I do find generally quite entertaining, but as stated above, when the three Time Lords are off-screen, it can feel a bit flat and slow.  This was my first time watching the story, and I felt as though the first part was coming towards a cliffhanger on several occasions before it eventually arrived, and when it did arrive, I felt disappointed by it.  The resolution is particularly frustrating too, with George Stephenson appearing as if from nowhere to rescue the Doctor.  There are no real interesting guest characters, and it is perhaps fitting that Luke turns into a tree considering a largely wooden performance.  The death of the Rani’s assistants is also particularly overacted – and again demonstrates issues with the direction and tone.  It certainly feels as though the story almost hypes up the entrance of Stephenson and also mentions other industrialists whom we never see.  This is a story that potentially promises a lot, however, when it comes to delivery, all we have is a rather light-hearted romp through history, which is fun in places but lacks any real feeling of stakes.

Verdict: The introduction of the Rani is positive, however, some lacklustre direction and writing really lets this story down. It is quite fun in places, and drags in others. 5/10

Cast: Colin Baker (The Doctor), Nicola Bryant (Peri Brown), Anthony Ainley (The Master), Kate O’Mara (The Rani), Terence Alexander (Lord Ravensworth), Gawn Grainger (George Stephenson), Gary Cady (Luke Ward), Peter Childs (Jack Ward), Richard Steele (Guard), William Ilkley (Tim Bass), Hus Levent (Edwin Green), Kevin White (Sam Rudge), Martyn Whitby (Drayman), Sarah James (Young Woman), Cordelia Ditton (Older Woman)

Writers: Pip and Jane Baker

Director: Sarah Hellings

Parts: 2

Behind the Scenes

  • The Rani makes her first appearance.  She was originally intended as an ongoing nemesis, however, she would only appear on television one more time.
  • With the appearance of historical figures George Stephenson and Lord Ravensworth, this story features historical figures for the first time since The Gunfighters.

Best Moment

The moments that really spark are the moments between the Doctor, the Master and the Rani, with the three renegade Time Lords sparking off each other.

Best Quote

I will venture just one question, Doctor.  What precisely do you do in there?

Argue, mainly.

Lord Ravensworth and Sixth Doctor

The Visitation

android visitation

I have appeared before some of the most hostile audiences in the world.  Today I met Death in a cellar.  But I have never been so afraid until I met the man with the scythe.

Richard Mace

Synopsis

Failing to take Tegan to Heathrow Airport, the TARDIS lands in the 17th Century.  After exploring, the Doctor and his companions find a space capsule has crash-landed, and three Terileptil prison escapees intended to wipe out the population of the Earth by releasing rats infected with an enhanced form of the great plague.

Review

The Visitation is a notable episode in Doctor Who history for being the debut of Eric Saward, who would play a major role in shaping the tone of the show as the script editor.  This doesn’t feel as dark, violent and grungy as some later Saward stories would become, however, and it largely comes across as an enjoyable if rather a straight-forward romp for the Fifth Doctor and his companions.

Visitation Adric and Tegan

The story feels really atmospheric, largely because of the large amount of location filming and the amount of research that Saward did into making it feel authentic to the period.  The story is notable for being the first since Horror of Fang Rock to solely be set on Earth, and while it’s a pseudo-historical tale, it feels true to the period.  There are hints of the violence that would come to be synonymous with Saward’s time as script editor, with the Doctor being involved in hand to hand combat and the killing of the family at the beginning of part one.  It is far from a perfect story, and feels quite straight forward in places, and only features one really developed guest character in the shape of Richard Mace.  Peter Moffatt’s direction is, as usual, pretty standard and fairly non-descript, but he is well known for having happy casts and crew and this may have helped some of the performances here.  One of the biggest problems with the story are the scenes with Nyssa making the sonic booster on the TARDIS, which seem to just be there to fill space without really adequate explanation of why Nyssa is doing this.

How do you feel now?

Groggy, sore and bad tempered.

Almost your old self.

Fifth Doctor and Tegan Jovanka

I do quite like the Terileptils, especially their design and the use of animatronics to give them more expressive faces.  This is all the more impressive considering the limited budget that they would likely have had to work on in this story, which is essentially a period drama, thereby requiring lots of costumes and hair work.  The remaining Terileptils plan to commit genocide by modifying the plague to make it all the more potent is quite a good idea, and the fact that Terileptils are fond of beautiful items is an interesting element to add to villains that could be quite one dimensional.  The android still to this day looks pretty decent, except for the cricket gloves, but these can be overlooked in the grand scheme of things.

visitation death

With regards to the central cast, Peter Davison is pretty solid here as the Doctor, and I particularly enjoy his frustration and resignation when he is told that he is going to be executed is superb.  He also gets to spend some time away from his bickering companions, which seems to be just in time for the character, as I think he is ready to just leave Tegan at the next destination he comes to.  This being said, there are signs of a promising relationship between this incarnation of the Doctor and Nyssa, with them exploring the house, showing the same kind of inquisitiveness.  Sadly, Tegan is pretty insufferable, being written as being determined to get back to Heathrow rather than actually appreciating the situation that she is in, whilst Adric yet again gives up the fact that the Doctor is a time traveller yet again!  Fortunately, the saving grace of the story is the performance of Michael Robbins as a failed actor turned highwayman Richard Mace.  Robbins has fantastic chemistry with Davison and steals every scene that he is in, which is perhaps fortunate.  Every other guest character in the story has no development, and is under the control of the Terileptils for the majority of the story, which feels like a bit of a waste, all things considered.

Verdict:  A good story which does suffer sometimes with pacing and being a bit too straight forward.  6/10

Cast: Peter Davison (The Doctor), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa), Matthew Waterhouse (Adric), Janet Fielding (Tegan Jovanka), Michael Robbins (Richard Mace), Peter Van Dissel (Android), John Savident (The Squire), Anthony Calf (Charles), John Baker (Ralph), Valerie Fyfer (Elizabeth), Richard Hampton (Villager), James Charlton (Miller), Michael Melia (Terileptil), Neil West (Poacher), Eric Dodson (Headman)

Writer: Eric Saward

Director: Peter Moffatt

Parts: 4

Behind the Scenes

  • This story marks the last appearance of the sonic screwdriver until the TV Movie.  John Nathan-Turner wished to get rid of it as it allowed the Doctor to escape difficult situations too easily.  Eric Saward originally intended for the Doctor to replace it at the end of the story.
  • First contribution to Doctor Who by Eric Saward, coming prior to his promotion to script editor.
  • This serial had very high ratings – it is one of the few serial stories to improve ratings episode on episode.  The final episode is one of only five episodes produced in the JNT era to achieve viewing figures of more than 10 million.  It was also one of only four times in this era that an episode broke into the top forty most-viewed programmes of the week.

Best Moment

I quite like the ending of Part Four, showing the Doctor’s actions in stopping the Terileptil plot causing the Fire of London.

Best Quote

Where is this Doctor from?

He’s never told us.  He likes to be mysterious, although he talks a lot about…er, Guildford.  I think that’s where he comes from.

You’re being a very stupid woman.

That isn’t a very original observation.

Terileptil and Tegan Jovanka